Approbriate Skills: Necessary restriction?

I’m planning to run my first BE game sometime next year and started to make myself familiar with the game - burned up a world and a couple of FoNs just to get a feel for it, listened to some podcasts, did a bit of reading in the forums… and one thing keeps confusing me:

What is the design-intend for the ‘hard-coded’ definition of which skills are allowed for the different maneuvers/phases, and for Firefights/Duel of Wits?

I’m asking because I’ve read again and again that this is a point of frustration for new players: “…and I realized I didn’t have a skill to contribute…”. The general advice seems to be: Take a good look at the skill lists when burning your characters to avoid frustration later in game.
But the approbriate skills look very restricted and sometimes arbitrary top me: Why can I use Recon for Assess only in the Ursupation phase, but not during Infiltration or Invasion, even if it would make sense story-wise?

So, my instinct tells me: If I don’t like these restrictions, just drop them. Less book-flipping and frustration during the game, less overhead during character burning. Just use any skill that makes sense fiction-wise.

But my belief tells me: The restrictions probably are there for a good reason and removing them might somehow break the game.

So, should I follow my instinct or my belief?

Our gaming group (Roo Sack Gamers) ran into some grumpiness trying to shoe-horn ourselves into the end of maneuver rolls. But, in retrospect, it wasn’t THAT big a deal. I think the problems stemmed form an almost DnD -like need to “WIN” which results in us wanting the MAXIMUM bonus. It’s the expectations that caused the grumpiness.

In the end, the more things go wrong, the more fun is had… it’s sort of the calling card for Burning Wheel-style games. :slight_smile:

Unfortunately, I can’t give you any hard design data… just a report from the game front… as it were. :wink:

I would say it’s so a wide variety of characters can be created and still be viable for the Infection mechanics. It allows different characters to shine in different parts of the game.

I kinda get that point - but I’m unsure if it is really necessary to use these arbitrary, hard restrictions to archieve this goal.
Eg, if you burn up a straight Hammer-Character with military-related skills only, he won’t shine until the open fighting starts (invasion phase) anyway, with or without the skill lists.

Or, to phrase it differently: Is the additional overhead/distraction created by this mechanic worth the benefit it brings to the table?
I have a hard time imagening that, but since the rest of the game seems very well-thought and balanced to me and I guess Luke playtestet the hell out of it, I might be missing something.

TO make the game go, I would adjudicate the most APPROPRIATE skill of the ones available. This is in opposition to forcing your players to taking at least ONE of the necessary skills. I guess I’m coming down on the side of player freedom. :slight_smile:

But the game ain’t supposed to be all loosey-goosey and easy. There are supposed to be hard choices and consequences. Oh, you opened Thrill-Seeking-Young-Lady-wise instead of Recon? Ah, well, that’s a cool character choice, isn’t it? Tells us your character wants to get laid, doesn’t so much care about saving the world.

The tension between personal priorities and world priorities is built into the game. If you make it so players can just chase one and you’ll pick up the slack to make sure they achieve the other with what they have, that breaks down. Failing a maneuver roll doesn’t break anything. Lacking an appropriate skill doesn’t either: it means you’ll need to make a choice between putting off whatever personal priority you wanted to pursue in that conflict scene so another player can make the maneuver roll, or going for it and taking the roll with Beginner’s Luck.

I totally agree. Hard choices and consequences and the personal goals vs. saving the world-thing is why I want to play the game, after all.
But my problem with the mechanic isn’t Thrill-Seeking-Young-Lady-wise versus Recon. I totally see that the game breaks down when you can use every skill for every maneuver and save the world with Thrill-seeking-young-lady-wise.
There need to be restrictions, but I’m just wondering wether those restrictions need to be hardcoded the way they are.

I’ll try to illustrate what my problem is by picking an example straight from the book [page 418]:
I’m building Vaylen-detection devices as a ‘Converse’-maneuver. I know how to build those, I opened ‘engineering’ during character burning so I could do stuff like this and save the world!
But wait, we are in Infiltration Phase! I can’t do this now. I have to wait another week until we’re in Ursupation Phase, then I can suddenly do the exact same thing using Engineering. But don’t wait to long, as soon as Invasion kicks of I wan’t be able to do this anymore.
Damn, now I wish I’d known during character creation in which phase I wouldl end up building those devices/making this maneuver!

That is what just seems strange to me.

Wow, right after posting my last reply, it suddenly hit me.

Maybe those lists are there because of the competive nature of the game.

If I take what I wrote previously to it’s logical conclusion, I end up with:

[i]So, the player picks the skill he wants to use (Engeneering) and the GM decides wether this skill is approbriate:

  • Yes, you know how to engeneer this stuff, go ahead.
  • No, you need manufacture to produce enough of them to make a difference.[/i]

So now it’s up to the GM to rig the maneuver roll the way he wants. Or we let the majority decide, which would be the players. Doesn’t work either.

I guess the lists are there because the decision of which skills can be used must be impartial to the opposing sides and transparent and predictable for both sides.
This may lead to some strange situations and shoe-horning sometimes, but the competive and symmetrical nature of the Infection mechanic would break down if we’d leave it to GM Fiat or debate wether a skill can be used or not.

And frankly, though I understand the players’ frustration, the list of what skills are useful in what phases is available to everyone. I think part of it is to introduce variety: you can’t just use Engineering every time. You’re going to have to use a variety of skills; and the list is restrictive enough that, in order to guarantee that you’ll have an appropriate skill, you will in fact have to give up some skills like “Thrill-Seeking Young Lady-wise”.

Two further notes:
First, this is to some degree an aesthetic choice in Burning Wheel as a whole. BW does not have arbitrary write-your-own skills, it has a very rigid set skill list, where any given task has a strict, usually short list of skills that can be applied. So tasks, including maneuver rolls, are not “any sneaky-type skill.” They’re specific skills. Often it’s possible to figure out how to achieve the same intent with a different skill: in detailed conflict resolution (including Infection) this often means scripting a different maneuver.

Second, failing and not having the skill are both desired outcomes. Infection isn’t designed to be something that all characters are prepared for at all times. If it were, there would be more and more easily-accessible LPs like Vizier and Circle of 10,000. Instead, the powerhouse LPs are rare and hard to reach. This means most characters will have a hodgepodge of skills from different LPs, which means they’ll be good at widely-varied things (unlike the heavy Firefight/Invasion focus of Co10k) but will fail at plenty of other things.

Getting caught out on some maneuvers is desirable, it produces varied situations in play. It’s good. Roll with it, you’ll have fun.

It’s also about setting what sorts of things are appropriate based on the phase.

The infiltration phase isn’t about uncovering the Vaylen among you. That’s the usurpation phase. The infiltration phase is about border security, smuggling and simple investigations into those matters that turn out to be a lot more serious than suspected. It might be useful to engineer and then manufacture Vaylen detectors as part of your border security arrangements, but doing that during the Infiltration would justify an Infection test using Security or possibly Administration to deploy them in an effective manner.

It’s only in the Usurpation phase that you’ll start wanting to scan people in your immediate circles to determine whether they’ve been compromised or not. That’s when Engineering becomes a go-to skill.

Nice strawman. Let’s look at something a bit more realistic with out the craziness.

Say the group wants to use CONSERVE in the Usurpation Phase. Through chance, no one has any of the Skills… but someone DOES have Bureaucracy. If I were the GM, I would let them use that since it’s very close to Administration… especially if the players had a good compelling reason. Now if a Player wanted to use New-Girl-In-The-Big-City-wise? Well… THAT would be a no.

But that’s just a style choice and I will not fault a GM for saying “This is a hard core game meant to be debilitating to the players… try Beginner’s Luck and see what happens.” That can be just as fun.

Any way… good gaming! :slight_smile:

Ah, no strawman there. That’s a choice you might have to make in character burning. As it happens, it’s a pretty good choice (though Recon is cool too). I wasn’t suggesting that you would allow Thrill-Seeking-Young-Lady-wise to substitute for Recon in an Assess, merely that letting a player sub in their most appropriate ability means they don’t have to choose between a cool, useful Wise or being able to do certain maneuvers. Fewer hard choices: just get something in the right ballpark and you can do both. You might wish to read on to where I talk about how the choice isn’t, as you put it, between letting everyone test whatever their most appropriate skill is or “forcing them to take” appropriate skills. It’s actually fine to just play the game the way it is: take what seems good, make sure some PC or another has several of the major Infection skills but don’t worry about a perfect covering set, and accept that you’ll need to engage with the rules, open skills in play, and use Beginner’s Luck. The game really is better if you don’t always win maneuvers. It’s not about “debilitating” your players, it’s about producing varied and interesting situations for play. If you were running a D&D game in which your PCs were a special ops unit in a mercenary company, would you have their company win every battle? Or would it sometimes be more interesting to have the home team lose, and then have a mission for the PCs about covering their retreat or killing the guy who betrayed them?

(As an aside, Bureaucracy is for using organizations, Administration is for setting up and running them. So Bureaucracy:Administration::Soldiering:Command, and I sure as hell wouldn’t let you test Soldiering in a Firefight. They are both skills about the same thing: bureacracies. But they’re skills for doing different things (getting your tax refund quickly and smoothly versus running the IRS). In this case, you can use Bureaucracy for Gambit or Pin, but Conserve is about big buildups: you need to reorganize your ministry, not just file the right paperwork, to get the most from a Conserve.)

Absolutely… the best time I’ve had in a game was an epic fail resulting in burning down a warehouse district and fleeing the city. I’m not saying you are wrong (stupid internet and it’s failure to provide context). I think we are really closer than this discussion indicates. I was just expressing some flexibility ESPECIALLY if the players are working hard at something creative. Sure, I completely agree with you that NOT allowing a substitution could result in some truly epic play. But I also believe that flatly ignoring the discussion or doggedly holding on to the Rules-As-Written can neuter the game. What if your players come up with a sweet idea that sparks an idea that makes the game epic?

Giving a listen and perhaps making a compromise (not just in THIS specific instance but in general) just might result in something wonderful… and you loose nothing by listening.

Any ways… just my 2 pennies. :wink:

Good Gaming!

I’m with Devin on this one. We built this game on the idea that limitations actually create the space for creativity to flourish. Don’t buck against the limitations, embrace them.

For instance, there’s no stealth in space. There’s no way to mask the heat generated by a ship against the backdrop of space unless you store it all inside the ship, killing everyone inside. So how do you get your Vaylen fleet to a planet undetected? How about replacing the astronomers at the observatories? The ships are hanging there in plain sight, visible for months should anyone look. But only the Vaylen are looking… Suddenly a limitation that’s easy to hand wave away (in this game the Vaylen have magic stealth tech!) has become what I would consider a gripping seed of a situation.

It’s the same when dealing with play during maneuvers and the Infection roll. Bureaucracy and Administration may be close, but as Devin points out, they’re not the same. It makes perfect sense to use Bureaucracy while playing out the maneuver in order to cut through the red tape to get officials to actually look at a new policy. But to actually get it implemented in an effective way that doesn’t backfire on you requires Administration for the Conserve roll. So use that to guide you. Maybe you go forward with the strategem and embrace the fact that your well-intentioned plan gets subverted into something else (which is an awesome result). Or maybe instead of a Conserve you choose to Go To Ground, which does use Bureaucracy. You choose to implement your policy secretly without official sanction using slush funds and burying the trail that leads back to you using paperwork.

As far as getting people to understand the disconnect between success during maneuvers and success in the Infection roll, the closest analog I can think of to the Infiltration phase is the second season of The Wire. I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t seen it. But let’s just say that it’s a perfect example of success in the actions during a maneuver and failure during the Infection.

In general? Absolutely. In this case, though, I’m worried that it’s easy to stick 100% to the rules, and it’s easy to compromise any time a PC has a vaguely appropriate skill, but it’s very difficult to tune that so you’re sticking 95% to the rules. If you just point at the skill lists any time a question comes up, you have a line you can stick to that everyone can feel is fair: they had access to those lists when they made characters. They had access when they chose this maneuver. They picked Conserve knowing that they didn’t have Administration, done deal.

If you let players substitute on a kind of if-you-could-FoRK-it, fairly generous, basis, I think that’ll work too. It will be easy to build consensus, just like I rarely see real unhappiness when a borderline FoRK is refused. (I do think this will have a negative impact on your game, as above. But I don’t think it’ll cause arguments or resentments or feel overly arbitrary in the moment.)

I think you’re going to have a very hard time drawing a sharper line, though. Once you start to allow in stuff that isn’t on the skill list, there’s a lot of pressure to keep doing so, out of fairness. So you let Bureaucracy sub for Admin in Conserve. Next session, a different player wants to use Admin for a Gambit. Well, that’s a harder sell: Gambit is such an aggressive maneuver, it’s not directly affected by how smoothly you run your own stuff. You really do need Bureaucracy to interfere with someone else’s stuff or get them in trouble with their boss, to make a Gambit work. But your players will be hurt! It’s unfair! You let Tommy swap those two last session, now you won’t let Beth?

Further, since I suspect you’re working this stuff out at the end of the session*, there’s going to be a bait-and-switch element to it as well: your players just did a whole session thinking Beth’s Administration 6 had their Gambit locked down, but now suddenly she’s gonna have to test Will 4 at double-Ob for Bureaucracy? Not cool!

*We always did, and if you were the figure-it-out-at-the-start types you probably would have checked the skill lists before choosing your maneuver and would never have had a problem.

Well… I’m getting it from both coasts… so I bow to the more informed. :slight_smile:

I can certainly understand and accept Thor and Devin’s points. My opinion (since I have only PLAYED B.E. and never run it) was the antagonistic nature of the game as I see it… and maybe I completely wrong. The “scoring” mechanic at the end of each maneuver to see whether humans or Vaylen have the upper hand feels very board gamey… game-ish… game-like… oh well, I hope you get my point… even though humanity is destined to lose. Throwing the players a bone on occasion didn’t seem to me all that big of a deal. PROVIDED… and Devin pointed this out when I should have at least mentioned it… you don’t fall down that slippery slope.

Any who… I stand corrected. :smiley:

Thanks for the feedback everybody, especially Thors comments from the designer perspective. That helped a lot understanding the reasons for designing the game that way.
I’ll stick with the book for my first game and see how it turns out. :slight_smile: