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Old 09-06-2015, 11:05 AM   #1
weevis
 
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Default [Sci-Fi] Managing the player that can have any skill

(alternate title: super-memorization in an information-rich setting)

I'm a sci-fi GM running a cinematic space opera with 150 point characters. One of my players wants Modular Abilities: Super-Memorization as a defining feature of his character. He's willing to spend a lot of points on it. I've never had anyone take that advantage before, and now that I read it over carefully, I can see why he wants it! It appears to be very powerful in my setting: an information-rich future where you are surrounded by computers, libraries, network access, future versions of You-Tube videos telling you how to do things, and you have some money.

This combination makes me realize that this advantage kind of breaks the way I write adventures. I use specific skill needs a lot to manage the plot ("Since your party doesn't have a computer hacker, you'll need to try something else..." "You'd better find a fusion engineer before it's too late!" etc.). But if this player realizes his power, he can say "We need a Xenobiologist? No problem. Give me 1 second per skill point to read up on it on my phone... done."

I'm no stranger to reining in my players (cracks knuckles), therefore I can certainly come up with in-game limits to manage this advantage: the "cash cost" for reference works (p. B71), or "looks like that safe is military hardware, the reference works you need are all classified," or "unfortunately, this detonator is the toughest kind to disarm."

But I'm a little concerned about the play dynamic that this creates. I don't really want to frustrate him, after all. I feel that if you spend big points on something you should get to enjoy big benefits. He isn't trying to mess up the game or exploit the rules, he just wants to use the rules on p. B71 as written. And making many of the things that he tries have obscure, inaccessible, expensive, classified, or impossible limits attached to information about them feels wrong because I feel these limits contradict my setting -- it's an information-rich future except when this guy wants to know something?

Maybe I'm worried over nothing, I'm just not sure how to adjust adventures for a character that could have any skill -- while still allowing him to enjoy having any skill. Do any GMs have experiences or suggestions about running games with modular abilities in similar circumstances?

--

P.S. I realize that I can disallow this advantage, but as you can probably tell from the above, I'd prefer to encourage people when they are interested in a trait. Just not sure how to manage it.

P.P.S. I also read the (extensive) other forum posts on balancing modular abilities, but I didn't find something discussing this "information rich future" situation. Forgive me if I missed it.
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Old 09-06-2015, 11:29 AM   #2
Nereidalbel
 
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Default Re: [Sci-Fi] Managing the player that can have any skill

Plotanium ore in that cave blocks his signal; no easy downloads mid-adventure! Of course, it would be fair if you let some sort of scanners tell him he won't be able to swap points around inside, so that he can set up whatever skills he wants ahead of time. The same can be done inside hostile bases, after a really bad malfunction of a warp drive, etc.
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Old 09-06-2015, 11:39 AM   #3
johndallman
 
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Default Re: [Sci-Fi] Managing the player that can have any skill

Quote:
Originally Posted by weevis View Post
I'm a sci-fi GM running a cinematic space opera with 150 point characters. One of my players wants Modular Abilities: Super-Memorization as a defining feature of his character. He's willing to spend a lot of points on it. I've never had anyone take that advantage before, and now that I read it over carefully, I can see why he wants it! It appears to be very powerful in my setting: an information-rich future where you are surrounded by computers, libraries, network access, future versions of You-Tube videos telling you how to do things, and you have some money.
How is he rationalising this ability? Normal humans can't do it. Does he have an upgraded brain? An implanted AI? Something else? He needs to buy that as well as the actual Modular Ability.
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Old 09-06-2015, 11:46 AM   #4
VariousRen
 
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Default Re: [Sci-Fi] Managing the player that can have any skill

The key here lies in the fact that they are paying a lot for the ability to switch around a relatively small number of points. Need a fusion expert? The super-memorizer doesn't have enough points available to become a true expert, but can figure out where to find one. Need a hacker? The super-memorizer can get you into the system as a generic user, but doesn't have the skill to get you in as an admin.

Scaling the price of information is also a good idea. 1 point may be dirt cheap, 4 is expensive enough to take note of, 16 is an insanely high cost, ect. Something like (points^2)*normal cost should prevent instant-expert forming unless it is very important.

Having every important area shielded to prevent the ability from working seems a little too much like depriving the character of an ability they paid points for. Used sparingly, it can make it interesting when the generalist realizes he's stuck with skill 20 in fusion power and nothing else. Used all the time, they will wonder why they didn't just take +2 IQ and 1 point in a ton of skills.
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Old 09-06-2015, 11:50 AM   #5
Mailanka
 
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Default Re: [Sci-Fi] Managing the player that can have any skill

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Originally Posted by weevis View Post
\
This combination makes me realize that this advantage kind of breaks the way I write adventures. I use specific skill needs a lot to manage the plot ("Since your party doesn't have a computer hacker, you'll need to try something else..." "You'd better find a fusion engineer before it's too late!" etc.). But if this player realizes his power, he can say "We need a Xenobiologist? No problem. Give me 1 second per skill point to read up on it on my phone... done."
It sounds like this is your real problem, not that the advantage is OP, but that you have a particular way of controlling the plot that this breaks.

It seems to me that you have three choices: disallow the advantage (or monkey things around to effectively disallow it without admitting it either to yourself or to this guy), come out and tell him what your problem is and discuss the fact that you'd like to make certain skills off-limits for the needs of your plot ("Well, I know you could just hack the code if you had Computer Hacking, but can you conveniently forget that you have that ability? If forgetting established traits was good enough for Spock, it's good enough for you!"), or you can learn to run games in a different way.

It seems you want to discuss the first option, or a combination of that with the second option (You want the ability to find a way to disallow the advantage under specific circumstances without admitting that you're disallowing it under specific circumstances, so that it feels less contrived, right?), so you're probably going to get a lot of responses in that vein. I'm going to discuss the third option, though, for variety's sake.

I was discussing the nature of mechanically central skills with a friend of mine, the fact that most games seem to turn around a few mechanically central conceits, like a kung fu game turns around kung fu skills, and a stealth games turns around stealth skills and so on, when he pointed out that GURPS Action doesn't work that way. In our discussion, it came out that GURPS Action postulates a broad scenario and then sits back and allows the characters to solve it in their own way.

Problem: Terrorists are holding the president's daughter hostage. You have found the location, but if you come in with a SWAT team, they'll surely kill her. You can't give them what they want, which are the codes to nuclear weapons. How do you rescue her?

Well, that depends on your team, doesn't it? The team with a Face, and a Hacker and an Investigator are going to go about it completely differently than an Infiltrator, a Shooter and an Assassin, because they have completely different tools. When it comes to the fine details, especially if you're writing this as a generic adventure and you don't know what characters will be available, you'll work in little complications for every attack point. You can disguise yourself and infiltrate the group, but they already suspect a traitor in their midst (which will make them extra-suspicious of you, which sucks, but implies that you might have a secret ally in there, which could be a useful thing for the Investigator to figure out). You can try to hack into their network, but they have a crack Russian on their team, which makes them tricky to defeat (but if you know him, you might know how best to defeat him, and also, this implies that they have backing from the group that this Russian usually works for... interesting!).

Your modular character would not break this sort of scenario. He cannot do everything himself, which means he can slot into wherever they need someone (he would fit as well in the tactical team as in the investigative team as well as the infiltration team), and that's really the benefit of his power. In this sort of set-up, he neither breaks your game, nor do you need to break his ability to get your game to work.

That sort of approach would be my suggestion.
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Old 09-06-2015, 11:55 AM   #6
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Default Re: [Sci-Fi] Managing the player that can have any skill

I'm currently running a fantasy game where theres an Akashic Wizard with access to the Akashic Record and some modular abilities . . . . have not broken anything yet so far. It has been helpful 'Need a tracker? Okay, now I have tracking'
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Old 09-06-2015, 12:40 PM   #7
weby
 
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Default Re: [Sci-Fi] Managing the player that can have any skill

It depends a lot on your GMing style.

I have not had super memorization in my games but I have had several characters with multiple levels of wild talent allowing them to roll without any preparation at the attribute level. That has been fine in my view.

As for how to balance it: I would not worry about low skill levels as said above about wild talent, but limit high. A good way would be to limit the learning to the source material level and thus a simple guide would give at best only one point, with the more advanced materials requiring time and money to acquire and some unavailable.

So maybe something like:
Normal skills:
1 point materials are basically everywhere free/nominal sum.(maybe $1-$10 if there is a cost)
2 point materials are easy to find but start to cost money, maybe as much as a full sourcebook (maybe $10-$100)
4 point materials would require a small library and require some searching. (High tech puts this at $350 so maybe just use *10 previous so $100-$1000)
8+ points I would likely require more and more specialized libraries, perhaps multiplying each +4 price by *10 and making finding them harder and harder for each "level".

More uncommon skills:
Multiple costs by a number that seems plausible and add difficulty or make it impossible.

But that is based on my GMing style where I float a lot of skills to other attributes and some rolls to 10 base.
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Old 09-06-2015, 12:41 PM   #8
trooper6
 
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Default Re: [Sci-Fi] Managing the player that can have any skill

I agree with Mailanka that maybe you want to structure your adventures differently.

Wait. First I want to agree with JohnDallman...just because something is in the book doesn't mean a character can have it. What is the in-game justification for the Modular Ability? Modular Ability is listed as an Exotic Advantage, which according to pg. 32: "Exotic advantages are traits that ordinary humans cannot have without ultra-tech body modification or similar tampering; for instance, extra arms or death-ray vision. Nonhumans will often have exotic advantages on a racial basis, but this does not entitle them to add such traits freely. You need the GMs permission to add exotic traits that do not appear on your racial template (see Chapter 7)."

Just because a game is cinematic doesn't necessarily mean that Exotic or Supernatural Advantages are allowed. So, are you allowing Exotic or Supernatural Advantages? Do they fit within the game setting? In what way does this person's character justify having exotic or supernatural Advantages?

I'd work through that first.

Okay, so now let's say that you have decided that as a Robot the character can have the exotic advantage (or whatever)...then you have to rework how your structure your adventures.

I tend to structure mine as Mailanka described, I had the players a difficult challenge and then see how they manage it. They have to assassinate a spy...and the only place they can reasonably get access to them as at an airport. So...how are they going to do that? Or whatever.

Now, the other thing I do is this: The real challenge of the problem is not the skill roll that let's you do it...but being confronted with difficult choices which have nothing to do with skill rolls (which is also why I don't care about niche protection).

For example, I was running a one off spy adventure set in Chad Underkoffler's Campaign in a Box: Spy Games with the two competing agencies: CHESS (forces of "order") vs. POKER (forces of "freedom"). The players chose to be agents of POKER. So they had to stop the forces of CHESS who were using a cancer gun to give world leaders cancer and then blackmailing them for the cure. This way CHESS controls the world!

The agents has the challenge to find out where the lab was, destroy the weapon, and retrieve the cure for cancer (which would then be distributed freely amongst the people). So they had to do all the challenges. That was tough. When they got to the end of their goal, after all the skill checks were done and they had the cancer gun and the cure for cancer both, the CHESS scientist made a plea for keeping the cure for cancer secret...and also a plea for the reason world governments needed to be kept stable. It was a good plea. This left the players/PCs in a conundrum...do they finish their mission? Do they allow CHESS to continue on with their plans? No skill check, no modular ability, no niche is going to answer that question for the players...just knowing their characters and role playing it. Those players chose to destroy the cancer gun and distribute the cure for cancer--but one player was swayed by the argument and secretly sabotaged the cure, so in the end both the gun and the cure were destroyed.

Or the time when the Swashbuckling characters swore an oath on their honor to protect the diplomat on his international mission...but then it turned out the diplomat was possessed by a demon. The players were torn between doing something to stop the demon or keeping their oath to protect the diplomat. I didn't think this would be that difficult of a choice. I thought the trick would be to figure out how to fight the demon while protecting the diplomat (there were also some PC specific choices...like would the undercover Jesuit priest who had the Exorcism skill reveal his true identity in order to battle the demon?). There are no skill rolls required for this challenge. What happened? The Jesuit Priest didn't reveal himself and the PCs decided they would protect the demon/diplomat until the demon's mission was over and they got back to France. Surprise to me! But, oh that opened up a lot of RP possibility later. They used their skills to accomplish the protecting of the diplomat...but the core challenge was...should they protect the diplomat in the first place?

So...don't make the whole thing about 1 skill roll, but about the PCs themselves, who they are, what are they willing to sacrifice, how their choices define who they are, what will they do to attain their goals?
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Old 09-06-2015, 01:29 PM   #9
weevis
 
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Default Re: [Sci-Fi] Managing the player that can have any skill

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Originally Posted by trooper6 View Post
just because something is in the book doesn't mean a character can have it. What is the in-game justification for the Modular Ability?
Thanks JohnDallman and trooper6 -- I appreciate the effort to cover all of the bases, but as I said in my original post: "I realize that I can disallow this advantage." Disallowing it (or justifying its inclusion) is not the thing my post is asking for advice about. My question is how it affects my adventure design and how it "feels" in gameplay. This question assumes I've allowed it in.
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Old 09-06-2015, 01:36 PM   #10
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Default Re: [Sci-Fi] Managing the player that can have any skill

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Originally Posted by weevis View Post
Thanks JohnDallman and trooper6 -- I appreciate the effort to cover all of the bases, but as I said in my original post: "I realize that I can disallow this advantage." Disallowing it (or justifying its inclusion) is not the thing my post is asking for advice about. My question is how it affects my adventure design and how it "feels" in gameplay. This question assumes I've allowed it in.
Right, but why it is allowed in...in other words, the justification, opens up adventure opportunities. So, if the players is allowed to have it because s/he is a robot...that opens up things you can play with for that PCs (robots have built in disadvantages that could be interesting)...if the player is allowed to have it because s/he is an alien race...that also opens up things you can play with.

The justification will give you hooks and possibilities for adventure design.

Also, I don't know if you read the rest of my post, but the entire rest of my post was about adventure design assuming you included the advantage.
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