Background Resource Silo

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We've been having a discussion elsewhere ( concerning the skill system in 4e, specifically looking at the loss of background skills like Craft and Profession. I've made the argument that Conflict Resolution skills should draw from a separate resource silo than background skills, so that someone doesn't become bad at the conflicts in the game because they wanted to have a cool background. Conflict skills are mostly combat, but also includes social conflict and physical skills conflicts, or I could just make this easy and say "skill challenges," though I think skill challenges can be generalized for non-conflict or background skill usage as well--imagine a poetry competition. Background skills involve things like craft and profession, but might also include things like where you were raised (and how that might give you mechanical benefits in certain situations) and what your interests are. One of the advantages of drawing from different silos is that each system can be designed independently of the other without ruining the balance of either system (background resources can't be spent on combat, unbalancing the game so that one character becomes a combat monster). This means that even if WotC hasn't provided an in depth background system /yet/, they can always do so later and add it to the game with minimal ripples, assuming it's designed correctly.

So, that's what I want to address here: what are some design goals and considerations to make a background resource silo? Here are some of the goals I've got in mind now, feel free to add to it:

1) The system should be meaningful to the mechanics--the background should provide a mechanical benefit within the rules that doesn't rely on the DM throwing the character a bone.
2) The system should preserve the difference between the existing conflict resolution resource silo and the proposed background resource silo. A player should not be able to use their background resources to give them an unfair advantage in combat or social skill challenges (for example) compared to a character who uses their background resources to, say, be a farmer.
3) The system should provide a system of trade-offs. In other words, there should be an opportunity cost for getting a cool background. This can be internally balanced within the background resource allocation system itself. In other words, perhaps the trade-off for being a merchant is that you don't get the benefits of being a prince.

I've got more thoughts, but for now I've got to run. I'm looking forward to hearing what others think. If we come up with something interesting and demonstrate a demand, perhaps we'll see something like this in future WotC products...
When thinking about a background resource, the first thing that jumps to mind is White Wolf's Merit system. I'm most familiar with it from the New World of Darkness books, so I'll comment on it from that area.

Things the Merit System did well:

1) Impact on gameplay--each Merit had a real and quantifiable mechanical impact that benefited the character at some point in the game. Take for example the Status merit--a character could use their Status in a particular organization to get real bonuses in game in terms of equipment, support, or information.
2) Gave unique capabilities different from those found in other resource silos. The abilities you got from your Status merit could be accessed using the skill system with enough effort and role-playing, it's true, but the Status merit gave a way to access those abilities without having to have the (mostly social) skills. Some duplication isn't a bad thing, as long as there's incentive to take either path and both paths are different enough in mechanics and/or flavor.
3) Represented background flavor well. The Mentor merit was a great way to gain an influential teacher, and as a bonus you got a defined mechanical benefit from having such a teacher (see point 1).
4) Gave a mechanical framework for showing how your background benefited you. The sliding scale (1 to 5 dots) gave a real mechanical difference for the kind of mentor you wanted and how much they'd be able to help you. This provides the opportunity cost. Sure, you could have a lot of money with the Resources Merit, but it limited how good your butler could be (the Retainer Merit).

Some things it did poorly:

1) The same resources that were used to define background were also used for physical and supernatural power (i.e., conflict skills). Boxing and Kung Fu competed with Resources and Retainer for the same pool of character generating resources, and all the supernatural templates allowed you to use Merit points to increase your supernatural potency (which was often a superior choice because increasing your supernatural potency usually cost more experience than buying a new merit).
2) Poor balance. Some Merits were so superior to others that it was really a non-choice. See the above issue with the unbalanced experience cost for supernatural potency and new Merits, but also Resources tended to be a Merit point hog.
3) Insufficient resources to cover everything it was meant to do. With only 7 Merit points to start with, and having to spread those out across Mental, Physical, Social, and Supernatural abilities, you couldn't really define your character well, even by comparison to your other character generation resources. Just looking at a social character, you didn't really have enough to represent your money, position in your company, contacts you'd made, resources you could access, etc. Someone with a high position in the company (high Status) couldn't really back that up with any other Merits (like Resources), and this problem got worse if you wanted to have any non-social aspects to your character (like perhaps speaking another language). This encouraged one-dimensional character building, or at least it could.
4) Uneven cost. While it makes sense to have some of the more powerful abilities cost more Merit points (like Giant), putting 4 points into one Merit made it very difficult to define anything else about your character. This made you choose between being effective (conflict wise) and having a neat background. See point 1.
For anyone who's been watching, I'm reposting this at the House Rules forum. It probably should have gone there in the first place, but that's what I get for not scrolling down far enough on the forum select menu. Hope to see you there!
I'd say that background skills should be seperate from stat generation. It would be a simple matter of keeping the current system intact then adding a background section that got a certain number of points. I'd base these on age, which is logical as an older character should have more life experience coming into the game. Then you could have a simple method of allowing the player to plug in the points and construct a history based on that, or you have the DM and player create the history and place the points based on this, with any points left at the end being used at the players discretion. Another feature might be a scale to spend the points so you get the first for 1 pt, the 2nd for 2pts, etc... This way you would make it difficult to become a master, and get people to diversify.

However, if they don't add it, you can always borrow the concepts from 3e and then use the history generation to determine if and how much skill a character has. Although not as well defined it is viable.