Character gen - min/max or damage limitation?

I was chatting to Brother #2 about character gen, and realised I may have a peculiar way of doing it. Both of us want competent characters. To achieve this my brother tends to the min/max end of the spectrum. However, in many games I’m doing what could roughly be described as ‘damage limitation’ to achieve what I see as the same end.

As an example, imagine the world’s simplest RPG, where after char gen, me and my brother both have these skills:

  • Hitting Things 30%
  • Shooting Things 50%
  • Putting Things on Top of Other Things 70%

The next stage of char gen is for our Fairy Godmother to award us with a permanent +20% bonus to ONE of these skills.

  • My brother would always choose the 70% skill, making his skills 90%, 50%, 30%.
  • I would always choose the 50% skill, making my skills 70%, 70%, 30%.

It just feels to me that 70%, 70%, 30% is more ‘competent’ and less whiffy than 90%, 50%, 30%. My brother obviously disagrees! What do you folks think?

I think I don’t understand the labels. The obvious strategy seems to me to be raising the 30% skill, so that your worst skill is the one that becomes less likely to take you down; why isn’t that “damage limitation”? For that matter, I’m not sure it shouldn’t be “min/max” also, though I’m not sure I understand the mathematical logic in that case.

Think of it as “minimise and maximise” rather than in the mathematical sense (“minimise the maximum”).

I’d characterise these alternatives as “risk-loving” and “risk-averse”. Guess my profession.

Well, in those terms, the chance of avoiding failure on all three is .105. Buying up the top skill makes it .135; buying up the middle skill makes it .147; buying up the bottom skill makes it .175. So it looks to me as if going to 70%, 50%, 50% is clearly superior to either of DrBob’s options by a fairly large margin.

On the other hand, that’s if you’re going to be a fox. If you’re going to be a hedgehog and let other PCs do the tasks you’re not specialized in, putting points into your best skill is clearly superior. So it may be specialist versus generalist.

Think of the percentage ratings as outcomes and not as probabilities. Both approaches get you the same expected rating if a single task is assigned at random: 56⅔%. Brother #2’s preferred approach has a higher variance — the chance of looking like a bunny with only 30% rating is accepted as the price of looking like a boss with a 90%. DrBob prefers certainty of looking like a competent middle-order pair of safe hands with at least a 50% rating no matter what task is assigned.

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I think that’s the one I was choosing. DrBob expressed a preference for 70/70/30, not for 70/50/50.

My mistake.

Post must be at least 20 characters. Aren’t you glad of that?

I think for it depends on the game and the GM’s style. If my low skill is something that anyone in the party will know how to do and I don’t expect to be on my own much, I’ll probably put the points into making my distinctive skill even better. If I’ll be on my own, or the only one with the skill even when I’m with the party, I’ll try to include it.

Using GURPS as I tend to, there’s a constant game of trying to work out what the campaign will make important. Having standard costs for skills (and advantages etc.) makes it a kind of arbitrage problem, and some of the answers are obvious: if you’re a fighter in a dungeon-bash game, four more points in Sword is probably going to get you more benefit than putting them into Herb Lore. Some are less clear and involve guesswork.

I’m not talking about games where every character has a role and there is no overlap - e.g. only the cleric heals, only the ranger can track.

The made-up example in the OP mostly occurs in games where everyone should have the same set of skills to be competent. For instance you’re all cops, so you ALL need Drive, Law, Shoot, Streetwise, Area Knowledge and Notice even if there are individuals in the party with specialisms like Forensics. However the game system is not good at doling out enough points to be as efficient and effective as an actual Real World cop. Examples include WH40K and Fate (versions with the skills pyramid).

My brother’s solution is to be brilliant at his specialism if there is one (Forensics), or brilliant at one of the ‘must have’ skills if there is no specialism.

My solution is to be good at the specialism and several ‘must have’ skills. I sacrifice being brilliant at Forensics to raise another skill (or two) to ‘good’. I’ll live with the fact that I’m rubbish at something.

In my view, any skill which you have 50% or less chance to succeed (with no penalties applied) is firmly in the ‘rubbish’ category. I don’t want a 50% chance of crossing the road without being run over. I don’t want to be a doctor who only has a 50% chance of diagnosing an illness or curing you. I don’t want a pilot who will fail to take off 50% of the time.

EDIT: Actually in Real Life, I want doctors and pilots to have 100% skill, even when they are practising their skills in darkness, with a hangover, and a full Encumbrance penalty! :slight_smile: But in terns of RP characters, skills of less than 100% are acceptable.

Aha, I think I have a better idea of what you’re getting at now. When I played WH40K I tended to specialise, on the basis that if there’s one thing you can actually do reasonably well (rather than a bunch of things you can do badly) you have some slight chance of survival, especially if you can manipulate events so that it comes up a lot.

But I wonder whether there really is a clash after all - Dr Bob is saying “70% is the minimum that’s good enough for me to feel confident using it so I’ll raise as many skills as possible to that level and ignore the rest”, while Brother #2 is saying the same thing but with 90%.

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There’s definitely a clash somewhere, because people have looked at me as if I was mad when I assigned my +2 ‘stunt’ bonus in Fate to a skill at level 3, rather than to my skill which is 5. :roll_eyes:

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