Blade & Crown: Characteristic and skill combinations

Another observation brought on by gaming with my ongoing Blade & Crown group: It can be quite fun to have players choose the combination of characteristic and skill with which they’re doing a given skill roll.

B&C is meant to be pretty flexible in how a character does a given task. Usually, trying that will use a single combination of characteristic + skill, so for example, climbing up a wall will be Climbing + AGL. But as I said in the original rules,

…in a different situation, the GM may rule that a different set of characteristics or skills may apply to the task at hand.

So, for example, it’s easy to imagine situations where something climbing-related could be Climbing + STR or END. And other, weirder combinations are certainly possible.

There was something implicit in that statement that I probably should’ve clarified, though: While the GM can specify what characteristic + skill can apply, it can be considerably more fun to have the player specify them.

In our monthly sessions, we pretty often have situations where a character is trying to do something for which there is no obvious combination of characteristic + skill. Last session, one character tried to manhandle an NPC onto a travois for traveling; normally, this would be automatic, but there was combat going on at the same time, so it was challenging. Later, another PC was trying to do a sort of prayer to the forces of the forest — mysterious, definitely not usually very friendly to humans, and not the sort of thing that Divine Favor would apply to. In fact, the forces of the forest often seem directly opposed to the human gods.

Both times, I asked the players themselves to decide what combination of characteristic + skill they were using. For the travois-schlepping, the player very reasonably suggested Physician + STR. Not a combination one would normally think of! But, in the situation, completely reasonable. For the forest prayer, the player settled on Folklore + ELO. Again, not a combination we’d normally think would occur, but here it seemed totally reasonable. (Another players suggested perhaps it should be ELO – DF! A very interesting idea, but alas not one that works with the rules.)

There’s certainly some tendency for players to choose skills and characteristics that their characters are good at. But while this could be read as cheat-y, in another way it’s often very logical. If you’re trying to maneuver an unconscious person into a stretcher, but your arm is currently injured, you’ll probably try to figure out a way to do it with your other arm, or your legs, or something. If you’re trying to impress someone into doing what you say, but you’re not especially eloquent, you might try to just be physically imposing instead.

Allowing the players to choose how to combine characteristics and skills, when multiple possibilities are available, nicely aids immersion. It encourages players to think about how their characters would try to approach a situation; and it encourages them to explain that to everyone else, which helps all at the table stay in character. (Contrast this with games where, say, every social interaction is handled with a single ‘Bluff’ skill or whatever. Regardless of how you’re going to do the task, you’re going to roll the same way, so there’s no mechanical encouragement to think of different approaches, or explain them to the other people playing.)

Expertly-balanced rocksInterestingly, we’ve often had situations where a PC could’ve done a task multiple different ways, and each way would’ve resulted in the same amount of dice to roll (say, with a lower skill and higher characteristic here, and a higher skill and lower characteristic there). Yet the player still thought a little about how they wanted to do it. To me, this shows that the players were getting into character: thinking through how their PC would just preferentially approach a problem, regardless of what’s easier or harder. (This applies, too, with games where you just have a single ‘Bluff’ skill or whatever; but I feel like the mechanical encouragement in B&C is overall still better.)

Also, viewing tasks this way tends to make them less railroady. If the hurdle to overcome is just ‘get the NPC back into the travois’, there could be a dozen different ways of doing this. Just like situations in the real world, problems in a game can usually be overcome from many different directions. Framing a problem as necessarily requiring only a single combination of skill + characteristic discourages player ingenuity.

Not every situation allows such a wide range of approaches, of course. Pretty often, climbing a wall is just going to take climbing + AGL, no two ways about it. But when a task can be approached from many directions, give the player choice here. The game will be richer for it.

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