With a mechanically grainy game like Blade & Crown, there can be a very large difference between unskilled and skilled. If you don’t have a skill, you might be able to use just your applicable characteristic, so long as the situation doesn’t require training. If you have skill level 1, suddenly you’ve got your applicable characteristic, and your skill level, and you can attempt trained-only tasks. That’s a big difference.
Normally, it’s not a big deal. I don’t think this has been a significant problem at all in my games. Has it ever been a problem for you?
But still, it’s interesting to think about. A situation where it’s come up in play, for me — not as a problem, but as a sort of curiosity — was where a character had spent a few weeks learning a language. Not enough to get an actual skill level out of it, but enough to express completely rudimentary concepts. If I wanted to deal with this situation, how would I cover it?
As usual, the ultimate rule is “whatever’s dramatically appropriate”. So when this came up in the game, I think we just said that the character was able to express some very simple ideas, but couldn’t say anything complex. Sentences with much more than a verb were off-limits.
Along the lines of surprise as a stance, though, what if we want a mechanical approach? What if it comes down to a skill roll?
An idea I recently had was to allow skills with a level of 0. There’s space on the sheet to write in a skill and then give it a rating of ‘0’, after all.
How would this work? It allows you to use that skill with your native ability — your appropriate characteristic — but you don’t add anything to that. And, I think, this means you can then attempt trained-only tasks. Pretty simple!
I haven’t yet play-tested this variant, but it seems like a potentially useful one. If you use it, let me know how it works for you!
I like pondering how this stuff shakes out in the real world and how it would map to games. There are some skills where being handed the tools means you can probably figure out what to do. I have no training or particular skill in plumbing, but with a crescent wrench and a bucket and a piece of wire, I was able to successfully unclog a sink trap the first time I tried. On the other hand, there are other things where trying to do a repair can take something from “a little broken” to “hosed beyond all recognition” (apparently there’s a word for this phenomenon in Yiddish, “Farpotshket.”)
The language one is one I have a bunch of personal experience with, because I did a study abroad program in Nepal, with no language training before I went. So I spent 3.5 months in a country where I spoke very little of the language. Even at the end of the program, my Nepali language skills were pretty sketchy. I could buy stuff, express basic needs, and answer common questions, and I once managed an extremely rudimentary theological conversation because someone very patient was interested in chatting with me while we walked for two hours. One of the benefits of even rudimentary language knowledge is that sometimes people will be a lot nicer to you (it’s like a +4 bonus to charisma because you’re at least TRYING to speak their language.)
In a lot of game systems, these kinds of situations aren’t a problem at all. You can just have “skill level 03%”, or whatever.
But in something where a single skill level is quite large, like Blade & Crown, it becomes a little trickier. So yeah, it’s worth thinking about.