This is the third post in what has apparently become a series on how to make skills interesting and useful. This discussion is something I wrote up a long time ago, back in the days of 2e. I thought the three-tiered approach to skill progression introduced there, and now continued by Zweihänder, was interesting because it reflected the medieval guild levels of apprentice, journeyman and master. I felt that some more use could be made of those levels, which I called Mastery, other than just +10% success.
I also felt that in an unjust society like the Empire, skill at Law would not determine the outcome so much as who was doing the judging. I therefore concentrated on the usefulness of the skill in getting a favourable jurisdiction or set of laws. The actual outcome of the trial would be determined by charm, connections, bribes and the like.
I’ve updated the discussion somewhat for 4e, but the basic assumption of three Mastery levels remains. In the case of Lore (Law), this could in the new system be reflected in levels in the Savant (Law) Talent.
A few weeks ago I posted on making the Read/Write skill interestingly useful, but that just raises the question of language skills in general. Tim Eccles’s article on this topic in Warpstone #19 is excellent on the historical and linguistic implications of what we knew about (then-)canon, but this post, like the last one, is going to concentrate more on the in-game practicalities of the skills. Because, like with Read/Write, the exclusivity of the language skills may work in favour of flavour, so to speak, but against the kind of communication a game needs to flow:
This is an example of language problems used wonderfully, but unfortunately few of us are Simon Pegg or Edgar Wright!
I’ve always had a bit of an issue with WFRP’s handling of the Read/Write skill, at least in its first and second editions. One of the strengths of the game has always been how it’s rooted its fantastical (and sometimes fantastically silly) elements in a world that felt real. Much of the heavy lifting with the latter was done by the careers system, but it was also observable in the rarity of the Read/Write skill. (Of the six pregens in The Enemy Within, only two were literate, and the Elf wasn’t one of them.) Meanwhile WFRP3 and Zweihänder both fold literacy into a more general education skill, in both cases treated as ‘advanced’. This was a world, the system tells us, dominated by illiteracy; those who could read or write were a privileged few.
But the wisdom of this approach is contradicted by the last 40 years of game design. Generally speaking, GMs now know that it is a bad idea not to give out any information because a lack of leads stalls the game. An entire rules system, Gumshoe, has been designed to address this issue. If the characters can’t read, then that immediately eliminates a major source of clues and leads to keep the action going. The problem cropped up as early as 1e’s intro adventure, The Oldenhaller Contract, itself: the scenario relies on the PCs being able to read the advertisement nailed to the Deutz Elm in Episode 12. So in this post I’m going to look at a few ways a WFRP GM can help keep the game going while still being true to the (pseudo-)historical verisimilitude of the setting.