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Good evening, afternoon, or whatever time it happens to be there, ladies and gents! I happen to be Andy, who happens to be a freelance web designer, musician, writer, and whatnot.

Roman Catholic, student of tabletop gaming, and someday soon I'll have my own designs in the field!

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Filling in the Gaps

So, today's "Fluff" post was inspired by a post that I read on another blog, which was about D&D Fourth Edition, concerning the "powers" system. For those who haven't been familiarized with the edition, powers are essentially cool little things that a character can do (mostly in combat), somewhat like special moves or trading card abilities. The post focuses on using the powers in new and original ways. That's when I realized that Gamefiend's premier post in the series contained a very unique approach to powers that he never really went on to discuss at length in the other examples. Not only that, but it can be seen as a good guideline for playing around with other systems which feature any sort of character ability mechanic, whether it be powers, merits, or advantages.

"Your class is what you do. It’s your “job”. The powers you choose define how you do your job. I’m not a person who believes your job defines you as a person. How you do your job does however tell us a lot about who you are. Are you a wild-eyed dreamer who comes up with brilliant plans at the last minute? Are you a risk -taker? Are you meticulous and controlled? Do you like flash or measured gains?

I know at least half of you reading this think I’m crazy, but looking deeper into the powers you picked gives you insight to who your character is. Many people disconnect ability and personality, mechanics and story. There is no disconnect between these and in fact they often converge –if you let them."
(from the original post)

Here is where the real meat of the issue comes into play. Although the idea is never expounded upon, I feel that the true key principle of this "new way" of approaching the rules is found right here. I just want to take it a step further, and analyze it some more. I felt that this was quite possibly the best of the bunch, for an interesting reason: it shed light on exactly what "powers" are.

A power is picked every so often as a character levels up (2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, etc.), and most powers can be expended on a per-encounter or per-day basis. What a power does is stipulates a specific action, completely defined by the rules, that a character can do. Most powers are geared specifically towards combat. Each power also has a description of what, in story terms, the power does.

Many people see the list of powers that they pick from as they level up to be limits on what their character can do, who their character is. That's certainly one way of looking at it. Gamefiend's suggestion, though, stretches the limits of just what a power does. Instead of Split the Tree merely working to split a double shot of arrows, it also carries with it the training required to reach such a state of skill. It's more than just a momentary blast of awesome: it's also a signification of everything that the character has done to achieve that awesome.

So here's where I reach my proposal: to consider powers, abilities, and the like as, essentially, "points on a gradient". Put simply, there's all sorts of abilities and skills that a character has, and it's very fuzzy. Things like powers don't represent an attempt to track down every and any ability that a character has. They can be thought of as representing focus points for all the little skills and abilities that a character has obtained. In the example provided, the ability Split the Tree was the focus point of much training. Then, Gamefiend suggested invoking that ability to steer the training in a slight different direction.

Does this mean that picking powers is competely pointless, as you could pretty much justify doing anything within the constraint of a power? Not exactly. When you look at the power lists for each class, you often find that the options are so distinct that they can easily represent different paths of training that a character could have taken. The most important bit is "filling in the gaps" between the powers, because they hint at what's already there.

Keep in mind, this way of looking at the rules requires the proper player attitude. If the players are of the type that tries to game extensively, then having rules which clearly state what they can and can't do is of the utmost importance. In which case, allowing for improvisation like this should only be done with great caution. These rulings are far more geared towards making a loosely governed, 4E-Lite in a way, focused more on telling a cool story than being a game. But if that's what you're looking for, this sort of thing could be just the ticket.

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