Nov 29, 2017

Character Creation and Skills Extension in Openquest

I'm working on an extensive redo of Openquest based on the SRD / Developer's Kit. The final version will incorporate all of my house rules and preferences within the system. I'm going to present a few pieces of it in this post.

The first thing is a simple rationalisation of Openquest's skill selection system, which currently involves numerous sub-pools of points split across skill categories. Similarly to my Mythras Without Tears post, the alternative is to simply spend 250 points with one point = 1% of skill rating, with no more than 40 points allocated to a single skill. This is 25 more points than stock Openquest characters get, but the lack of sub-pools makes it simpler to distribute them. It also lets you spend an extra ten points per skill compared to stock Openquest.

The second thing is an expansion and revision of the skill list. I think there should be a few more social skills, and a few more skills covering outdoorsmanship. There are also a few skills that should be beefed up, clarified, or added to cover gaps. I'm also changing the base attributes of many skills.

Anything bolded on the list below is a new skill, anything italicised has changes in what it covers.

New Skill List

Athletics (DEX+CON)
Animal Handling (CHA+POW)
Close Combat (DEX+STR)
Craft (Job) (CON+INT)
Culture (Other) (INT)
Culture (Own) (INT+40)
Deception (DEX+INT)
Dodge (DEX+DEX)
Driving (DEX+INT)
Engineering (INT)
Healing (INT+POW)
Influence (CHA+CHA)
Insight (POW+POW)
Language (Other) (INT)
Language (Own) (INT+40)
Locale (Region) (INT)
Lore (Type) (INT)
Mechanisms (DEX+INT)
Might (SIZ+STR)
Natural Lore (INT+POW)
Oratory (CHA+POW)
Perception (INT+POW)
Performance (Type) (CHA)
Persistence (POW+POW)
Ranged Combat (DEX+INT)
Religion (Other) (INT)
Religion (Own) (INT+40)
Resilience (CON+SIZ)
Riding (DEX+POW)
Sailing (DEX+INT)
Sorcery Casting (INT)
Streetwise (CHA+POW)
Survival (CON+INT)
Track (INT+POW)

Trade (CHA+INT)
Unarmed Combat (DEX+STR)

On the new and changed skills:

Athletics now covers anything that is a sustained action - aerobic activity. Running, swimming, climbing, digging, marching, carrying heavy things, it covers anything where your progress is primarily dependent on your muscular endurance. Brute force now becomes the core of the Might skill. This is so you can have characters who are good runners, climbers, etc. but who aren't powerlifter types and vice versa.

Animal Handling is for dealing with animals, especially animals you don't ride, and is part of a larger break-up of Natural Lore, which in base Openquest is too broad a skill, and therefore almost always a must-have. It swaps in for Influence and Healing when you're doing those things to animals, and also is the skill that lets you train / tame animals.

Craft (Job) is probably the smallest change, simply making the varieties more apparent in the skill name (a constant source of confusion for new players in my experience). Its baseline uses CON as well as INT to represent patience and determination, which are more important to completing crafting tasks than a particularly deft hand or keen eye.

Culture (Other), Language (Other), Locale (Region), Lore (Type), and Religion (Other) all work using variations on the house rules I have for Mythras. So for every 20% rating (rounded up), you have in the skill, you get another speciality that your skill applies to.

Engineering, the skill Newt has threatened to remove from OQ at least once for lack of anyone taking it, gets a bit of a do-over in my version. Now, it applies to building or repairing any complex structure or device larger than a person (so fixing your wagon is Engineering). It also serves as the "dungeoneering" skill that lets you determine slopes and directions in enclosed spaces, provides an alternate way to detect secret doors and compartments (beyond Perception) and allows you to measure or estimate distances accurately. It also covers surveying the outdoors.

Influence now deals with social situations where the number of people involved is small enough you can have a conversation or discussion, with Oratory dealing with larger groups.

Insight is the skill for reading emotions, sussing out hidden motives and desires, determining if someone is lying, figuring out likes and dislikes of someone, seeing through disguises, and the like. You can also use it to investigate bureaucracies or hierarchies to find out who is responsible for what. You can also use it to oppose Influence or Oratory tests, representing seeing through the other person's motivations instead of just stubbornly resisting them with Persistence. This is another gap in the base version of Openquest.

Language (Other) requires one change from stock Openquest. In the original version, where there were multiple language skills, you became literate in a language when your skill rating exceeded 80%. One quirk of this system was that starting characters were never literate in more than one language. Obviously, that won't work in a system using specialities. Instead, I would recommend treating the written and spoken versions of a language as different specialities. I think this gets across the quirks of language acquisition in real life more accurately anyhow - one might read a language fluently but have only a rough idea of how to pronounce the words or carry on a conversation (the difference in being able to read Chinese characters versus being able to speak Mandarin or Cantonese is illustrative of this).

Locale (Region) covers your knowledge of places, including geography, landmarks, climate, foreign affairs, broad history, and important individuals. Lore (History) would get you a deep dive into say, the role of salt in the evolution of trade networks, Locale (Region) lets you know that the city you're outside of is a famous salt market, the name of the river it runs past, and who's in charge of that market and river. This is another gap that's sort-of capable of being filled using existing Lores, but not well and not easily.

Might covers sudden bursts of power, throwing things, and breaking stuff. Any task prioritising muscular power over endurance will probably fall under Might instead of Athletics.

Natural Lore is broken up with Track, Survival, and Animal Handling becoming separate skills. Natural Lore is an amazing skill in stock Openquest because it's got so many disparate uses. Now, it covers plant identification and herbalism; mineral identification and spotting avalanches, fault lines, quicksand, and other dangerous terrains; predicting the weather and navigating overland. I think it's still a bit of a grab bag and a very good skill, but less obviously a "must-have".

Oratory is another social skill, covering addressing large groups of individuals - basically, any group where it's too large for a conversation. Oratory also differs from Influence in that it can get individuals to act against their own instinct for self-preservation - people can get swept up in the "madness of crowds".

Performance (Type) is another minor change similar to Craft (Job). The original skill's wording makes it unclear if you become skilled in all arts or just one. This makes it clear that you learn one.

Streetwise almost goes through the reverse of what happened with breaking up Natural Lore. It still covers finding fences and other criminal contacts, but this is expanded to finding any sort of contact or service in cities, legitimate or not. It also becomes the urban equivalent of the Survival and Track skills, and it covers information gathering, gossiping and rumour-mongering to those ends.

Survival is the survival function of Natural Lore hived off into its own skill. It covers finding food, water, protection from the elements, and related tasks (e.g. identifying if water is safe to drink) while in the wilderness. Even on its own, it's a pretty great skill.

Track covers tracking and pursuing people based on physical traces, primarily in wilderness settings. It's another very useful subcomponent of Natural Lore that's broken off into its own skill.

On changes to the attributes used to calculate the base of skills:

I broke skills up into three groups for this purpose. There are three "cultural familiarity" skills that are INT +40 - average starting characters will have a base of about 53% in these skills before spending points. There are also a bunch of practical skills that are based off the sum of two attributes. Average starting characters will have baselines of between 21% and 23% in these skills. Most of the skills with specialities and a few other skills that I thought were similar enough to them start off with just INT (or, in a lone case off just CHA) as their basis, giving an average starting character a rating of about 13% before points are spent on improvements.

One of my main goals was to get rid of the STAT+10 skill baselines since I've always had trouble remembering which ones are STAT+10 and which are just STAT. Numerically, the option I've outlined will be almost identical to them for characters with average starting stats. Another important goal was to bring a couple of attributes that otherwise aren't represented in the skill system very well into it. CON, POW and SIZ in particular crop up more frequently - POW in nine skills (mostly representing perceptiveness, intuition, or personal presence), CON in four skills, and SIZ in two.

On potential expansions yet:

I'm debating expanding the skill list to a full 40 skills. The main candidates are to split navigation off as a separate skill from Natural Lore; to split stealth off as a separate skill from Deception; to create a separate acrobatics skill from Athletics covering balance, poise, tumbling and other aspects of trained kinesthetic skill and agility; and to create a skill specifically covering lies and social deception that's distinct from either Influence or Deception (which is more sleight of hand and larceny and the like). It's the last one I'm not decided on, and I'd be open to other suggestions.