Developer's Blog #17: What a Concept

Discussion on the 1879 roleplaying game.
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Developer's Blog #17: What a Concept

Postby TarlimanJoppos » Tue Mar 11, 2014 2:21 pm

Originally posted at ... -a-concept

Let's talk about character build for a minute. 1879 uses the CoreStep game mechanic, which is derived from the Earthdawn Step System. Now, Earthdawn is a high magic world, where belief creates reality. When enough people believe you're a great hero, you become a great hero. The legends of great heroes create the Disciplines. Your character advances in Circle through their Discipline like a martial artist advances through belt ranks in their school.

1879 has magic, but not on that level. The worlds won't support Disciplines, much less Circles. Earth has been low-magic for a very long time, and is just starting to pick back up, a hundred and some-odd years earlier than it ought to be. (More about that in another blog post.) The Gruv has been at a steady state for a good long while, despite the Samsut draining the manasphere to power their Weird Science technology, but it doesn't have the population that Earth has to push its mana level higher. People in either world can't just magically know how to do things by tying their legend to that of a Discipline, so we have to rely on Skills instead of Talents. No Talents, no Disciplines. What we have then are Concepts. Everybody has a reasonable idea what a Cowboy is like, or what a Journalist does, or what a Brassman is. We just need a framework to structure the Skills, handle character advancement, and give us a few things to key off of for Durability and Karma and so forth.

The character Concept starts with the description and the Profession Skill. The description tells us in plain English what the Concept does, what its priorities are, and how it functions in the game world. The Profession Skill is the one you just can't do without, the Skill that ultimately defines the Concept. All other Skills support the Profession Skill in some way. Let's look at the Airship Pilot.

Not just a dab hand at the tiller, the Airship Pilot knows the workings of a Giffard inside out and back to front. He understands the delicate balance between lift and gasbag tension, can tell when the engine is straining by the vibration of the deck, and knows what winds are likely by the shape and movement of the clouds. He can refill his ship's hydrogen from the Kipp in the midst of battle without spilling a drop of acid on the deck, and put his ship down on a shilling and give you thruppence change. He also plays a savage hand of cribbage. If you want to get there, quickly, and there's no rail or road, the Airship Pilot is your man. Bring plenty of dosh. Between his fee and the cards, you'll need it.

From that description, we have a pretty good idea of what the Airship Pilot does and should know. We'll give the Airship Pilot a Profession Skill of Pilot Airship. This allows the Concept to take the wheel of a Giffard with some expectation of success. As the character's Pilot Airship Skill rises in Rank, they'll become more competent. They'll also get more Karma refresh each game day, giving them extra dice to spend on their dice rolls. When their Profession Skill Rank is high enough, the character can start looking at advancement, but that also depends on the Rank of their Core Skills.

Core Skills are the critical abilities needed to support the Profession Skill. In the case of our Airship Pilot, they're going to have Crew Airship, so that the pilot knows how to work the rest of the vessel, not just the tiller; Mechanics, so the pilot can make repairs if they have to; and Knowledge (Chemistry), so the pilot can handle the Kipp apparatus that generates hydrogen for the gasbag. Being Core Skills, these can have Karma spent on them to boost their dice rolls in critical situations. Character advancement also depends on Core Skills. The character has to have their Profession Skill and a number of their Core Skills at a high enough Rank in order to advance.

Optional Skills provide more choice for the player for rounding out the character. Optional Skills are things the character would reasonably know, but aren't directly related to their Profession Skill. In the case of our Airship Pilot, Optional Skills include Climbing, Gambling, Haggle, Sense Danger, Taunt, and Unarmed Combat. These are Skills that an Airship Pilot might know, but doesn't absolutely have to know in order to do their job. Optional Skills don't count towards character advancement, and can't have Karma spent on them (unless the Skill requires it).

Character progression divides into Tiers. Our Airship Pilot starts out as an Initiate, barely knowing the bow from the stern. As an Initiate, the Airship Pilot automatically gets the Profession Skill of Pilot Airship, the mandatory Skills of Read/Write Language and Speak Language that everybody gets, and then has open slots to fill from the list of available Core Skills and Optional Skills. Once the Airship Pilot has raised Pilot Airship and a few Core Skills, they can advance to the Novice Tier. That adds a new list of Core and Optional Skills to pick from, and adds more slots to fill with Skills. Past Novice is Journeyman, then Warden, and finally Master, each Tier adding to the pools of available Skills with new lists of Core and Optional Skills, and opening up more slots that Skills can be plugged into. At any point after Initiate, the character can learn Skills that are not on either the Core or Optional lists if the player can come up with a reasonable explanation where the Skill might be learned, and the Gamemaster approves.

The Concept structure allows the player to pick their own pathway to Mastery of their profession. Starting with the fundamental Skills that everyone doing the job must have, the player can pick and choose from an increasing number of options to build a unique character. This gives players flexibility in their characters, and avoids the cookie-cutter approach, while still being realistic, in that advancing in your profession requires you to learn things that are relevant to the job. Sure, you can pick up Creative Basket Weaving if you want to, but that's not going to help you get a promotion as an auto mechanic.
Andrew Ragland
Line Developer, 1879

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