I’ve started going through the first step in seriously playing and or running a game. Last night, while my daughter was catching up on math homework, I rolled up a couple of Call of Cthulhu characters.
I have played Call of Cthulhu before, but it was a very long time ago, and I remember almost nothing about it.
Yes, “rolled up” characters, as in, rolling dice for attributes. Even though I wasn’t making characters that I intend to play (some of the more interesting ones may be pre-gens for a con game, though), I still did it the honest way — roll all stats and either keep the character or throw it out.
There is a very good reason why I always start a new system by going through char gen — and I also encourage others to do so as well. It is your first real, practical application of the game mechanics.
Let me explain: as I’m assigning my EDUx20 points to the various skills in my profession, a very important question popped in my head: What is a reasonable chance of success?
Call of Cthulhu uses the Basic Role Playing rules set, which is based on percentile dice. I’ve not used percentile dice in a game, except for the occasional table result. I’m a 3d6 or less guy.
So I went back to my experience at a GURPS table: I consider skills to be low-competent at the 12-13 range; skilled at 14-15; expert at 16+ ; and legendary at 18 or higher.
So to convert to percentages, a low-competent skill should be around 75-80, skilled at 90-95, and expert … wait a minute … how many skills do I have to buy? Nine.
Nine skills. And I have 340 points to distribute between them. That’s about 37 points each if I divide them evenly. That’s a GURPS skill level of about 9. That kinda stinks.
(yes, I know I get to add the default to the points I put in, but it’s still low for most skills).
This brought some realizations:
- Unless I’m a min-maxing munchkin (which I’m not), I can only really have one skill at what I consider a low-competent to skilled level
- In Call of Cthulhu, I don’t get to make a bad ass. The rules are stacked against me. It’s little, barely competent antiquarian vs. a giant cosmic cephalopoidal horror and his vast conspiracy. I’m not supposed to win.
(everyone who plays CoC is rolling their eyes, saying “yeah, tell me something I don’t know)
But it also got me thinking about skill mechanics and how different system apply those numbers to real in-game situations.
Take Mongoose Traveller. In Traveller, you’re trying to beat an 8+ on 2d6 plus your skill level, possibly an attribute modifier and another modifier determined by how routine or difficult the skill test is.
All of this “other stuff” puts a skill level of “1” into a different perspective, doesn’t it?
Take GURPS for another example. Much of the “crunch” is GURPS comes from the die roll modifiers, and there are hundreds of them. You may think my minimum competent skill level of 12 is a little high (since it gives me a 73% chance of success), and without the context of the game system, it does.
But imagine, it’s my sword skill, and I’m trying to hack some poor guys in the neck. that’s a -5 to my skill level. Now my effective skill level is 7 (17% chance of success) — AND my opponent gets a defense roll as well.
Now my Navy SEAL sniper with a Guns/Rifle skill of 21 doesn’t seem so min-maxie, does he?
There’s another — even more important — consideration when putting skills rules in context: when are skill rolls called for?
Back to Call of Cthulhu:
There is no need to roll dice to walk or run, to talk or see or hear, nor is there reason to roll dice for any ordinary use of a skill.
Attempting to perform ordinary actions or to use skills under dangerous conditions, under critical scrutiny, or in ways that demand concentration requires resolution with dice.
This gives us some context as to when skills are rolled and when they are not. In fact, having such “only under stress” types of rules for skills are fairly common — as they should be.
All of this means the 37% skill level fits both in the context of the setting and in the context of when skill rolls are called-for.