Friday, October 21, 2016

Cultures and Skills

As I go along I am starting to think that the knowledge skill system has more potential than the (admittedly massive) task of defining exactly what information the player character knows about the world, and exactly what capabilities the character has as choices for maneuvering and manipulating in the game world.

I think the knowledge skills could also serve to define the knowledgeability of a society. And this could, for starters, be based on the Intelligence (or other scores) of the society's inhabitants.

Human intelligence, assuming you use 3d6, is an average of 10.5, which we could treat as meaning the maximum number of knowledge points a human can accumulate in any one discipline is 105. In addition, I also note that we could round 10.5 down to ten so that human character scores can go up to 100, a nice round number. I've been treating 100 as the maximum number for my knowledge skills, so maybe I'm biased, but it's nice to have a maximum number is easily understandable by everyone while still having lots of room for fiddliness.

Of course there may be techniques beyond the human racial limit. And furthermore I suggest the limit be based on the average of human intelligence, and not be subject to decrease or increase based on individual character intelligence.

In this case, then I believe that technological and industrial knowledge, in the "Civilization" videogame sense, should definitely be included as types of knowledge ... or, from a different perspective, I believe that the character knowledge skills should fit into and draw from a wider cultural framework. Not just adventuring-type stuff, although some things can be just about that. I'm talking things like pottery, weaving, combined arms attacks, civics, bureaucracy: material, political, and cultural "technologies," i.e. types of knowledge.

This implies that the knowledge skills are accessible to NPCs, which I have already been doing. That's where the "sage skill" concept comes from, after all: the idea that some NPCs have expert knowledge. Knowledge skills as they work now are just granting that knowledge to the player characters, too.

Now let's look at a non-human society.

Suppose the book lists goblin intelligence as 6. Taking that 6 as an average (a die roll of 2d5), then we determine that goblin cultural practices (and the knowledge skills of individual goblins) can't go past 60 points (again, per-discipline.)

If we have skills for theology which actually reveals true facts about the fantasy game world, for the burial of the dead to prevent their rising or to have them go to heaven, for the rituals of marriage which actually bring a real mathematical effect into how characters are played --

-- then those skills in that category which goblins can't access are things which goblin culture has very little of. Only the most advanced goblins (who had actually achieved a 10 on 2d5 for their Intelligence) would even be capable of conceiving of, or exploiting, the social and ritual practices laid out in higher tiers of the religion skill. Thus goblins do not bury the dead "properly" except in one or two goblin towns which have hit on the practice, and thus zombies plague goblin settlements more often than they do human ones. Thus goblins have not grown to be as large a society as humans.

Likewise, goblin society may have not arrived at magical or scientific processes to reliably cure disease, make stirrups, have a political system more advanced than that of individual clans or chieftains, practice advanced alchemy or undeadcraft, and so on. Whatever stuff is located beyond 60 points in the knowledge trees.

The most elite of goblin intellectuals would be arriving at conclusions which are commonplace in human society, but the bulk of ordinary goblin society -- religion, politics, defense, military tradition, sexuality, etc. -- would be based on a max of 60 points in those subjects for the average goblin.

And yeah -- that does suggest there should be a knowledge skill for the social conception of sexuality. The low ends could be "low tolerance for abnormal or unusual sexualities and preferences", with appropriate mechanical constraints on character behavior. Pass a certain threshold and your character is considered tolerant of said features of other people.

Human characters could start with whatever level you wanted in this skill, whatever is appropriate, maybe based on their Intelligence score or Wisdom or Charisma or whatever you want. Setting a base level of points in this kind of social skill would be an interesting way to replace the background result Alexis (and I) use in our character background generators, in which characters of low to middling Int have a chance to be racially or religiously intolerant for the first few levels of their life.


  1. I understand your idea, but I'm wary of linking social sexuality to ideas of 'cultural progress' - if I remember correctly, 18th and 19th c. England accepted homosexual relationships as long as they were coded as special friends, but the society was also institutionally oppressive for women. The linking of sexuality to cultural intelligence just feels problematic. Cultural openness does not necessarily correspond to technical knowledge.

    Now, I think using the racial average to determine the base level of sophistication present in terms of social and technical infrastructure is an interesting one, and it's one that I use, along the lines of how Alexis models Intelligence with reference to different technical ages (Stone, Bronze, Iron, Gunpowder/Clockwork, and so on). This also helps ground cultures that are more intelligent with a series of ways in which they are intelligent.

    Also, one fun thing about fantasy games is that we can strongly question ideas of empirical, scientific truth. Just because bleeding humours makes no sense in a modern medical context does not mean that the belief in bleeding humours (or the medico-magical properties of the different humours) would be wholly harmful like it is in the historical record - we have room for many different 'truths' that are observably true for each culture that propogates them. A cause for intercultural conflict is the disagreements over scientific knowledge (just like the actual world) except that here there is no empirical 'right' answer. The postmodernist in me loves that idea.

  2. I'll admit I was reaching for the sexuality connection. The other stuff is much more relevant.

    Good point on the grounding of intelligent cultures in specific ways that intelligence manifests.

    As far as a lack of the "right" answer: I'd rather consider it as "multiple right answers." Some cultures will arrive at some or all of the answers. Some cultures will arrive at different permutations of the same answer: perhaps you can bandage a goblin's wounds with a special plant which is poisonous to humans, in addition to the stuff you can bandage a human wound with. The bandage-wound "technology" is still there but the ramification is that the goblins understand and exploit their environment differently than humans.

    Thanks for writing, Dani.

  3. Absolutely, Maxwell. I'm interested to see how this develops.

  4. I'm curious to see where this goes...

    Am I correct in assuming you're using modified numbers from Alexis'skill system? Because the sage level is rated at 80 skill points, so goblin society (and similar intelligence creatures) are only missing out on the highest level of abilities. Is the crafting of stirrups a sage ability? What about crop rotation?

    Another way to look at it: when does a skill drop from sage to expert to authority to amateur? At one time, algebra and geometry were understood by math experts; today, we learn them in middle school (and some grade schools).

    1. As of now, I don't stand behind the ideas presented in this post. I think society and tech levels will have to be tackled at some point but this seems a dead end to me. The info presented here e.g. about maximum cultural achievements for goblin society could be useful if there were no cross-cultural contact (such as determining maximum tech/knowledge possible for each of several isolated cultures). However, cross-culture contact does happen in the real world, and since I don't want to model that as some process that acts upon "starting" tech numbers, but would rather take a synchronic view of the world and assign tech levels/cultural knowledge based on geography and population circa the year chosen for the game world to start taking place in, it's not yet time for me to address this issue gain.

      I do still think there's merit to making sage abilities out of certain of these tech/knowledge skills but I"m not sure where they'd fit into the class framework. I also don't have any ideas yet for how non-classes people might obtain those skills (unless we assume that all people with such skills are classes, in which case the demography of the world looks rather different! Decisions decisions.)

      Very good point about skills becoming more common/less esoteric over time. But I'm afraid I don't have an answer to that, and I probably won't consider it. It seems to me much simpler to make one rating scale and then impose limits on certain peoples' ability to achieve within it than to have abilities jump around depending on who's learning.