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Old 06-16-2014, 07:01 AM   #1
johndallman
 
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Default [Basic] Skills of the week: Anthropology and Archaeology

A thread for two skills, because they're adjacent in the list, deal with related subjects, and my local university traditionally taught a combined degree in them, known as "Archnanth."

Basic defines Anthropology as the study of evolution and culture, providing insight into cultures. The boundary between Anthropology and Sociology seems a bit vague, but the real-life fields also blur into each other. Anthropology seems to be studying a culture of which you aren't a member, while Sociology deals with one's own culture, or closely related ones. A simple rule for GURPS might be to use Sociology within one's own TL and CF, but Anthropology outside those.

GURPS Archaeology, meanwhile, is clearly the practical skill of finding and interpreting ancient artefacts and other remains. Anthropology is likely to be a complimentary skill for this, and the two skills appear together in several Talents and the wildcard skill History!

Fantasy has Archaeology as the practical skill for digging up the past. High-Tech lists portable laboratories for skills including Archaeology. Horror and Infinite Worlds have plenty of uses for both skills. Social Engineering has uses for Anthropology to cope with social situations in unfamiliar societies.

These skills are mostly enabling skills for the investigation parts of game scenarios. You really notice their lack when you don't have them. A campaign I'm playing in at present is the first-ever interstellar expedition, and we've found alien artefacts all over the solar system of Alpha Centauri B. We have natural scientists coming out of our ears, but no social scientists at all!

How have these skills come up in games for you?
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Old 06-16-2014, 07:35 AM   #2
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Default Re: [Basic] Skills of the week: Anthropology and Archaeology

I have never, ever seen Anthropology come up. Archaeology, on the other hand...

I've been putting together a GURPS Cabal game and in a discussion with a friend, he commented that it sounded like a bunch of angry college professors got together and tried to rule the world. In part, he meant the way the politics of Cabal go down, but in regards to their sources of power, he's not far off. Knowledge of history and strange languages is very powerful in that game. A character who knows ancient Sumerian and has high levels of Archaeology isn't just a viable concept, but a powerful one. That character is on his way to finding the burial mask of the Radiant One and uncovering the true connection between the Sphinx of Egypt and the Lamassu of Assyria and using the space-bending chambers beneath the lost city of Irem to gain access to the library buried beneath the paws of the Egyptian sphinx.

The ability to uncover and identify ancient artifacts is hugely powerful in any game with enchantment by age, or deep time and lost, powerful civilizations. But there's a reason they made a bunch of action movies about archaeologists (Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider) and almost none about anthropologists.
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Old 06-16-2014, 07:42 AM   #3
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Default Re: [Basic] Skills of the week: Anthropology and Archaeology

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Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
A campaign I'm playing in at present is the first-ever interstellar expedition, and we've found alien artefacts all over the solar system of Alpha Centauri B. We have natural scientists coming out of our ears, but no social scientists at all!
Heh. Some years back, I was involved in a campaign based on a similar premise (very early interstellar exploration) and played the resident social scientist. It turned out to be very important indeed.
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Old 06-16-2014, 07:53 AM   #4
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Default Re: [Basic] Skills of the week: Anthropology and Archaeology

I personally struggle to see where the skill actually gets used, even by some of the fictional heroes who really ought to be using it.

What does Indiana Jones use archaeology for? when does he even use it?
What does archaeology do that History (people in question) doesn't?.

I'm preparing for a game based on exploring ancient alien sites, and while archaeologists are quite necessary, I'm anticipating their more important talents being language (precursers), Cultural familiarity (precursers), and Electronics Operation (precursor computers).
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Old 06-16-2014, 07:56 AM   #5
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Default Re: [Basic] Skills of the week: Anthropology and Archaeology

I might allow Anthropology to function as a complementary skill in some circumstances where an unfamiliar culture penalty would apply. It wouldn't give a bonus, but it could mitigate the penalty somewhat.
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Old 06-16-2014, 08:07 AM   #6
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Default Re: [Basic] Skills of the week: Anthropology and Archaeology

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Originally Posted by ericthered View Post
I personally struggle to see where the skill actually gets used, even by some of the fictional heroes who really ought to be using it.

What does Indiana Jones use archaeology for? when does he even use it?
What does archaeology do that History (people in question) doesn't?.

I'm preparing for a game based on exploring ancient alien sites, and while archaeologists are quite necessary, I'm anticipating their more important talents being language (precursers), Cultural familiarity (precursers), and Electronics Operation (precursor computers).
Right, so, the book is pretty terse on the topic (a "GURPS Academics" detailing how the more lore/scientific skills work in greater detail might be an interesting book, by some definitions of "interesting."), but here's what is says:

Quote:
An Archaeology roll lets you
answer questions about ancient history,
or identify artifacts and dead languages.
It might even reveal information
relating to the occult;
GURPS Monster Hunters 2: the Mission lists some additional uses. Mainly, it helps you find the base of operations for mummies or other critters from tombs/ancient places, it lets you navigate tombs and crypts, and it lets you find ancient "sacred places."

So, it seems to me, first of all, that Archaeology acts a bit like "Connoisseur: Artifact." You could roll it to identify ancient items of power and get an idea of what they might do. A player could also roll it to understand the significance of something in a game laden with ancient lore. It would also let you find tombs/crypts/places of power and navigate them and understand how they work.

So, when Indiana Jones knows where the ancient tomb is, how to get to the treasure, that he should leave something of equal weight on the pedestal, that a trap is around the corner, the proper length of a staff and the right time of day to focus the beam of sunlight on the miniature city to learn of the location of the tomb, or to close his eyes when the ark of the covenant is opened (and that is is, in fact, the original ark of the covenant and not some fake), are all examples of successful uses of the GURPS version of the archaeology skill.

I might, if pressed, allow one to use the archaeology skill to carefully brush dust off of ancient shards of pottery to carefully preserve them, and use the skill to identify from what era the potsherds came from.

(Naturally, this sort of skill is best used in games with lots of deep, ancient lore, or at least ancient monsters/magic items)
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Old 06-16-2014, 08:25 AM   #7
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Default Re: [Basic] Skills of the week: Anthropology and Archaeology

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Originally Posted by ericthered View Post
What does archaeology do that History (people in question) doesn't?.
Both are about understanding the past. History is about understanding and interpreting records of the past, while Archaeology is about learning from things that weren't created as records. The commonest things Archaeology is applied to are rubbish dumps, although abandoned settlements are more glamorous.
Quote:
I'm preparing for a game based on exploring ancient alien sites, and while archaeologists are quite necessary, I'm anticipating their more important talents being language (precursers), Cultural familiarity (precursers), and Electronics Operation (precursor computers).
So, quite a lot is already known about these precursors? Archaeology would have been the skill for finding and identifying the inscriptions needed to decode their language, for learning enough about their society to make it possible to have Cultural Familiarity, and for digging up their computers and working out what they were. Linguistics, Anthropology and computer skills, respectively would also have been necessary for learning those things, but Archaeology would have been the skill for finding the materials those skills needed.
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Old 06-16-2014, 08:41 AM   #8
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Default Re: [Basic] Skills of the week: Anthropology and Archaeology

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Originally Posted by ericthered View Post
What does Indiana Jones use archaeology for? when does he even use it?
What does archaeology do that History (people in question) doesn't?.
It's an amazingly broad History skill - History (people in question) is usually too broad for the RAW to allow, let alone (all ancient peoples). Personally we let you take History at any breadth and slide the modifiers, so it would be about equivalent to History (all Classical and Preclassical cultures), which given there are way more than 10 but probably not more than 100 that are known in any detail, would effectively default to History (any one ancient culture) at -6.

Archaeology is also pretty handy as a skill to roll against to preserve or safely transport a fragile item. I've seen it used to estimate how long something has been sitting somewhere - from weathering, soil accumulation and the like. And it's often quite handy for determining if an artifact is real or a modern fake.

Anthropology we just break up - just because there is a degree in it or a profession called something doesn't mean it needs a separate skill. Depending on your emphasis take Sociology, Psychology, Linguistics, Theology (comparative), Politics (comparative), Archaeology, Paleontology (primates) and a language and [culture] Custom for whichever group(s) you actually did your fieldwork on instead.
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Old 06-16-2014, 08:49 AM   #9
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Default Re: [Basic] Skills of the week: Anthropology and Archaeology

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Originally Posted by Mailanka View Post
I've been putting together a GURPS Cabal game and in a discussion with a friend, he commented that it sounded like a bunch of angry college professors got together and tried to rule the world. In part, he meant the way the politics of Cabal go down...
<threaddrift>That's the best description of the Cabal that I've ever heard!</threaddrift>
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Old 06-16-2014, 09:40 AM   #10
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Default Re: [Basic] Skills of the week: Anthropology and Archaeology

The skill definitions in GURPS seem largely to reflect American academic practice. In this sociology and anthropology are both the study, at a somewhat theoretical level, of entire societies: sociology of industrialized societies that collect statistics; anthropology of nonindustrial societies that don't collect statistics. Though anthropology also includes the study of human and primate evolution, which is one of its interpretative paradigms—human cultures represent "adaptations"—and that doesn't seem to be part of the GURPS model.

There isn't really much of a skill option for the study of large, city-building, state-governed societies that aren't industrialized, but then there isn't in academia either; so far as they are studied it's by historians. But history seems to be mainly the study of concrete events and situations through documentary evidence, whereas archaeology is the same through material relics—the two slightly overlap when the relics are ancient texts carved in stone that haven't yet been fully deciphered. Both of these are separate from the methods of sociology (largely statistics) and anthropology (largely ethnographic fieldwork). Though history has lately picked up on using statistics—derived more from economics, in the form of cliometrics, than from sociology—and there are archaeologists who use anthopological concepts as an interpretative paradigm for relics. There's even been a little work on including statistical methods in anthropology, as in estimates of the frequency of homicide in tribal societies.

None of which has that much to do with the use of such skills in GURPS. But I really haven't run a campaign that called for them. Certainly they don't exist in actual premodern societies such as turn up in fantasy campaigns a lot.

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