Wednesday, June 28, 2017

USR Wednesdays: Creating Specialisms

One of the keys to USR's streamlined system is its use of Specialisms (another is the simple dice mechanic). It's the same concept as found in a lot of rules light RPGs, like the cliches of Risus, the qualities of Cartoon Action Hour and the aspects of Fate. Specialisms represent skills, supernatural powers, personality traits and occasionally gear and character types, though in USR, races and classes are more often archetypes (as they are in Domino Writing-style USR).

What is a Specialism? As USR 2.0 puts it, "Specialisms are the things that make your character stand out from the rest. They give your character an edge at a specific task, making them more likely to succeed." They explain what a character can do, or how he or she does it, in a way that's appropriate to the setting.

What a character can do: Most often, Specialisms are skills, like lock picking, computers or sneaking (or hand-to-hand fighting, if you're using combat Specialisms). It can also stand for special talents, like magic or a super power like eye beams.

How he or she does it: Specialisms can also be personality traits that not only help define a character's background for role playing purposes, but can also be put to use as abilities. Think of the inspiring leader, the intimidating muscle man, or the even more intimidating loner with a creepy smile.

Appropriate to the setting: Since so much of rules light RPGs like USR rely on tropes and stereotypes familiar to fantasy and science fiction fans, most players probably start the game with a general idea of what fits the setting. But it's easy to be too broad: a sorcerer may not be specific enough; try a fire wizard or an illusionist instead. Likewise, think about Specialisms that won't be available all the time: a wise mentor is a great support for a hero — but Obi-Wan and Merlin aren't supposed to be part of every adventure, they're only supposed to lend a helping hand now and again.

Can your character do this?

Characters that gain levels in USR can either gain new Specialisms or improve their existing ones. In a classic adventuring party, each character has a role (healer, tank, etc.), so improving the existing Specialisms is more fitting. Adding a new Specialism should show how the character has made a major life change — finding a powerful magical item, taking on a whole new set of responsibilities, and so on.

Specialisms and similar characteristics are one of the defining elements of a rules light RPG: the game isn't "weighed down" by pages and pages of skills and abilities! But it can be hard to figure out just what Specialisms really are without a guideline, one like this:

Specialisms are what a character can do, or how he or she does it, in a way that's appropriate to the setting.

What Specialisms does your game have?

(image: Guillaume Riesen)

No comments:

Post a Comment