Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On Repeated Skill Use: An Addendum

Several weeks ago I posted an article on why I dislike repeated skill use in RPGs.  Last night's game of Edge of the Empire caused me to re-examine the issue.  I still think the general argument stands, but it bears clarifying that it's exactly that - a generalization.

Early on in the campaign my character stole a swoop bike.  A really nice swoop bike (the Obligation was totally worth it).  So naturally, when the planet we land on is hosting a big swoop race I'm going to enter it.  Unfortunately, my character is the only PC that actually owns a swoop bike, and the only one who is a decently focused pilot, so this was my time to shine with a minimal amount for everyone else at the table to do.

The GM set it up by sketching out the track, and numbering 4 different points where Piloting checks would be called for.  The race was 2 laps, so that's 8 Piloting checks in a row, which could potentially get tedious.  I was certainly wary going in, when he was describing the set-up.  But it actually ended up working really well, for a few different reasons.  Most importantly, the narrative was at the forefront.  Each number on the track was a distinct obstacle (a slalom, a canyon jump, a corkscrew down-ramp into the canyon, and a narrow, one-lane choke point), and so the results were going to be interpreted differently based on which obstacle was being navigated.  Obviously there was also the jockeying for position by the other racers.  And I must admit that I couldn't have done it if our assassin droid hadn't been running interference on the leaders from a covert sniping position just off the track.  Mechanical reasons why the excitement kept flowing included a torrent of Destiny Point use, and the constant fear of what a Despair, or even a large number of Threat, might mean.  This was a tricky run at high speeds with a lot of competition, so there was a lot that could go wrong!  Fortunately, thanks to the Droid's help and luckier rolls than I'm used to getting, I actually placed 1st (I expected 4th or 5th).

Aside from the details of the task itself, there was also a lot riding on this race.  My sponsor (I certainly couldn't foot the bill for that entry fee!) works directly under the Hutt that we're trying to make nice with.  He's also the same guy that just entrusted us with a smuggling test-run (a few "freebie" crates of Booster Blue, on loan, to make sure we were reliable).  Bungling the race could negatively affect the smuggling job, and there is potentially a LOT of Obligation riding on both tasks.  Oh, and the only reason we're even trying to get into this Hutt's inner circle is because the corrupt sector ranger responsible for my Blackmail Obligation from char-gen smuggles for him, and I'm looking for a way to expose the dirt-bag (or more likely to turn the tables and blackmail HIM) to reduce my Obligation.  To make matters worse, our group was teetering dangerously close to 100 Obligation total.

So, yeah.  Aside from making the descriptions of the task itself creative and interesting, with a lot of variation between the different rolls, it helps when the scene is high stakes from a big-picture point of view.

Ultimately, the big difference I see in the above example compared with the examples from my earlier post is that despite the fact that the same skill was rolled multiple times in a row, each distinct roll represented its own mini-challenge.  The scene was the swoop race, whereas the task was a canyon jump, or a choke point, etc.  I'm glad my GM ran it this way.  When he was setting the stage for this, I was thinking "I wonder if it'd be better to just roll a single Pilot check for the race, or for a lap?" but in hindsight that wouldn't have been NEARLY as exciting.  A scene like this needs the constant jockeying for position, the tension of knowing that the GM still has X Destiny points, which makes a Despair that much more likely, ample opportunities for Advantage and Threat to be interpreted, and enough screen time to do it justice.

So I guess the point I'm driving at is that it's important to know when to "zoom in," and by how much.  Definitely do so if there's a lot riding on the scene, or if you're prepared to offer up a lot of juicy description and meaningful consequences.  The point of the game isn't the rolls you make, but the fictional details that are sometimes adjudicated with rolls.  Don't let rolling dice get in the way of the story, and if rolling the same skill multiple times enhances the story feel free to do it, keeping in mind the potential pitfalls (as outline in the previous article).

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