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)