Attribute & Skill Fallacy

Part of my research for Alpha Blue was watching a whole bunch of science fiction. The Joss Whedon tv show Firefly was one of them.

Midway through the series, there was an episode that illustrated a point I had been trying to make for awhile. The episode was called "Shindig", and the point is this: whatever a character's profession, career, class, occupation, preoccupation, specialty, etc... that's going to be what they're good at, what they enjoy doing, and have a natural aptitude for.

Sure, players can always choose to play a character that's ill-suited for their chosen vocation, but that's just some acting class / story-game nonsense masquerading as roleplaying. If that player really wants to have a bounty hunter who's shitty at hunting his bounties, fine. He can roleplay the character that way. However, the GM should realize and inform such a player that if his character is a terrible bounty hunter, then he's not really a bounty hunter. Instead, he's... whatever the character is good at.

Ok, back to Firefly. In the episode, the ship's captain Malcolm Reynolds has to fight a duel with swords. Mal might be an atypical warrior, but still a warrior. He's seen a lot of combat in his day. He knows weapons and how to use them. Well, in "Shindig", he has to fight with a sword... something Mal's never done before.

At that point, I was reminded of the old West End Games' Star Wars RPG. Despite character occupations, there were individual skills branching off attributes. So, it would make sense that a character who was great with a blaster might be not so good with an energy sword or his fists. Oops, maybe attributes and skills are necessary.

By the end of "Shindig", we see that the necessity of attributes and skills is a fallacy. Captain Reynolds' warrior character class wills out and he wins the day, despite his lack of sword training. Why? Because fighting is what he's good at, despite the type of weapon or differential in strength, agility, etc.

Alpha Blue is an evolution from Crimson Dragon Slayer in that the former does away with attributes and skills. It focuses on careers and all those other little details that go into a character's background.

Side benefits include...

  • Saving wasted space in RPG rulebooks.
  • Not having to anticipate what a certain character class might be able to do or know. No matter how good an RPG designer is, he won't have thought of everything.
  • Ease of creating an additional profession - since everything is interpretive, just a simple word or two is all that's required, rather than a lengthy chart and paragraphs about what such a profession is about. He's an assassin. He assassinates. End of write-up.

Of course, interpreting a character's vocation in the field might be tricky for GMs who aren't good at spontaneity. For those poor souls, I advise the following: take it slow, be flexible, open it up to discussion if you're stuck, and most important of all... learn how to improvise!

It helps having a basic, rules-light system like Alpha Blue. When in doubt, 2d6. If there's a disadvantage, roll 1d6. If there's an advantage, roll 3d6. That's the system's core.


Authored by Venger Satanis


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