Infinity Design Notes: Skills

One of the goals in design is “to make mechanics that can easily be understood and described in relatable terms”. The idea is to give labels and information which can easily be compared to people’s real-life experiences.

This begins with the Attributes, which are described with labels people can easily grasp. (Not unique to this system, fairly common in fact, but critical to my approach.) We all know what Average is, we know Exceptional people, we know people who are Very Weak in something.

It’s relatable.

This idea is carried into the skill system. We’ve all been Unskilled in an area, right now in fact. We’ve studied and become Minimally Trained, when something is new and even the basics are a struggle. We know of people who are Proficient and even Expert at what they do.

We can relate the abstract numbers to real world experiences. This makes the game feel real.

The Skill Rating labels and descriptions serve the same purpose. But, as they are a combination of Attributes and Skills, there’s some internal logic to how the two relate.

The bonus for an Average attribute is +2. With Minimal training, 1, Average people have a Skill Rating of 3, Novices. An Average person with Minimal training is a Novice.

This is a common-sense, easily understood measurement. People with minimal training/experience are Novices. (Even the very talented but minimally trained are Novices: Skill 1 +3 bonus = Skill Rating 4. Everyone, even those with potential, have to start somewhere.)

Average people (+2) with a Beginner’s training (4) are Skilled (Skill Rating 6).

Average people (+2) with demonstrated Proficiency (9) are Professionals (Total Skill 11).

Average people (+2) with Expert training (14) are Accomplished (Skill Rating 16).

Average people (+2) with a Mastery of the subject (19) are World Class (Skill Rating 21).

Again, all of these are straightforward and make sense. You can easily understand why a Master of a subject would be World Class.

The rest of the Skill Ratings follow similar internal logic, as do the Challenge Ratings. Challenge Ratings are defined by how challenging they are, in relation to specific Skill Ratings. Difficult Challenges are apt for Professionals, for example.

The idea is that not only can players and gamemasters relate to the mechanics, but gamemasters can translate mechanics into real-world equivalencies and vice versa. How this works will become clearer when I post Skill Challenges.

Infinity Relative Skill Ratings

The Skill Rating can be used to gauge how competent a character is in a specific skill:

2-4 is a Novice, a raw recruit or an inexperienced beginner. Part-time employees, like the teen who flips burgers at a fast food joint, are Novices, as are interns.

5-9 is Skilled, someone employable in a field at an entry level. Telemarketers and Tech Support employees are typically Skilled, as are people just graduating college with a Bachelor’s degree.

10-14 is a Professional, possessing a post-graduate degree or equivalent in on-the-job experience. Your general physician is a Professional, as are the vast majority of movie sergeants.

15-19 is Accomplished, a standout in the field, cited and respected by their peers, but typically unknown to the general public. Writers of specialized books (such as textbooks or reference works) are usually Accomplished.

20-24 is World Class, one of the best in the world. (As the name implies.) Olympic athletes, for example.

25-29 is a Grand Master, “The Best There is at What I Do”. Grand Masters are luminaries in their field. Physicist Stephen Hawking, as a real-world example.

30+ is Legendary, one of the best who’s ever lived. Legendary figures are those who dominate history. Their works live on long after they die and their names become synonymous with their field of expertise. Shakespeare, Robin Hood, Einstein: these are all Legendary figures.

Infinity Skills

Skills

There are probably going to be 20 basic skills or so. These cover combat, technical abilities, social interactions, and miscellaneous uses. (Typically, FX powers have their own unique skills.)

Skills are rated in Skill Points, which determine how trained a character is. The Attribute bonuses are added to the Skill Points to get a Skill Rating.

Example 1: A character with an Influence of 11 has a bonus of +3 for all Influence skills. If they have 1 pt. in charm, their Skill Rating is 1 +3 = 4.

Example 2: A character with a Dexterity of 4 has a bonus of +1. With a 5 in firearms, their skill level is 5 +1 = 6.

Skill points indicate how well trained a character is (including book learning and experience).

0 = Unskilled. You haven’t even the slightest hint of training in this area, and no experience either.

1 – 3 = Minimally trained. You have learned the very most basic concepts of the skill. There are large gaps in theory and application.

4 – 8 = Beginner. You have mastered the basic concepts of the subject, but struggle with intermediate techniques. You make mistakes that other beginners or amateurs won’t catch, but anybody who know what they’re doing will.

9 – 13 = Proficient. You have a solid grasp of the theory and practice of the skill. Advanced concepts can be challenging. (The oft-cited “10,000 hours of practice”.)

14 – 18 = Expert. You are very skilled, thoroughly conversant with even the most obscure subjects in your field. If they know of it, your skill impresses people.

19 and higher = Master. There are few more knowledgeable than you.

Infinity Design Goals

The Infinity Gaming System (Infinity for short) is my own little omni-genre action movie system. Infinity is:

  • Omni-Genre. Not universal or generic, but flexible enough to handle magic, guns, car chases, psionics, cyberware, and much more. Infinity campaigns can be set in fantasy worlds, cyberpunk worlds, the real world, and any other place the GM can devise.
  • Action Movie. Infinity is an action-movie system. The mechanics allow characters to emulate the daring feats of an Indiana Jones, Ethan Hunt, or Evelyn Salt. They encourage and reward players who do more than just shoot or punch; witty banter and rapier-fast retorts are often more useful than bullets or blades.
  • Heroics. Player Characters are the heroes of an Infinity campaign world, larger-than life characters who seem marked for greatness, those with the bravery to confront evil and the abilities and drive to accomplish awe-inspiring deeds.

System Design Philosphy

To the maximum extent possible, Infinity mechanics are intended to be simple, direct, and obvious. It is as streamlined and fast-playing as I can make it.

My design motto is: “Simple rules that allow for innumerable situations, limited only by the Players’ and Gamemaster’s imaginations.”

The purpose of streamlining the mechanics is to focus on in-character play and vivid world descriptions. The point is to get the mechanics out of the way, so the players can play their characters and the GM can portray the world in an interesting and colorful manner.

My goal is to make mechanics that can easily be understood and described in relatable terms. Success at using a skill is broken into “barely made it”, “good job”, and “great Shot, Kid, that was one in a million!” Gamemasters can use that mechanical result to vividly describe what happened to the player.

At every point, the system should provide relatable and describable feedback to gamemasters and players. Subsystems, like hacking and hand-to-hand combat, should be built so as to vividly reflect the feel of the activity. Not a point-for-point match to their real-world equivalent (which can bog play down), but the experience of using the mechanic is similar to the experience of the activity in the real world.

When mechanics model the world in concrete terms, and when gamemasters can easily describe what happens, players feel closer to their characters and more grounded in the reality of the game.

That’s my goal.

Infinity: Tell Them the CR

Tell Them the CR

Players, to understand the game world, need the GM to describe it. But descriptions can be enhanced by just telling them the CR they are rolling against.

They want to pick a lock. The character should know approximately how difficult that should be. The easiest and clearest way to let the player know the same thing their character should, is just to tell them.

“What kind of lock is it?”
“It’s a thick padlock, probably CR 15.”

Some caveats:

  • Don’t skimp on the description. Just because you’re giving the CR straight out, doesn’t mean you are absolved of the need to describe the world. Tell them what things look like, smell like, feel like, then give them the CR. It’s your job.
  • If they lack the skill, tell them squat. They haven’t earned the knowledge, the character wouldn’t have that information, so the player doesn’t get it.
  • Always give yourself some wriggle room. Sometimes, circumstances are different than they appear. In such cases, things are more difficult than they seem. Instead of giving the players the true CR (information they can’t know) or lying to them, just say something like “You think it’s a CR 15.” “It appears to be pretty standard, CR 8.” “It should be pretty easy, CR 5.” Do this all the time, so they don’t know when you’re giving them the straight CR or when you’re hiding something unpleasant.

Infinity is all about in-character immersion and vivid description. CR’s, used right, can be a critical part of that.

When it comes to CR’s, don’t be coy. Tell them, and a lot of potential misunderstandings will be cleared up or avoided entirely.

Infinity Design Notes: Attributes

Though different in some specifics from the “standard six stats” commonplace in RPG’s from the time of OD&D, these six Attributes are clearly related. This is deliberate, as the division is useful, widely understood (The given definitions being almost redundant. Almost.), and defensible from a verisimilitude standpoint.

As a omni-genre RPG, the above stats are widely usable in any genre. They make sense. With the use of Characteristics (see later), I can create new Attributes as desired and needed for a specific setting. The core Attributes can be as genre-neutral as possible.

These six attributes are familiar, and hence approachable. In several key areas — such as Initiative — Infinity does things differently than most RPG’s do. Using approachable mechanics makes the game more palatable to players.

Games are often criticized for using the standard six (or close variations). This is a narrow critique, arising from geek love of novelty. Novelty for novelty’s sake, preferring the new just because it’s new, is a mistake in game design.

What’s important is how the rule works in the context of the system itself, not whether its vintage or cutting-edge. Use what works, not what’s modish.

Infinity: Attribute Ratings and Mechanics

Attributes are rated numerically, with higher values representing more potent Attributes. The higher the Attribute rating, the stronger the attribute.

For normal humans, these attributes range from 4 to 12, with average being 7-9.

Rating Description
4 Deficient
5 Very Weak
6 Weak
7-9 Average
10 Good
11 Exceptional
12 Legendary

A 12 is Legendary, an attribute typical of the famous (or infamous). Napoleon had a legendary Influence, Einstein legendary Intellect, Winston Churchill legendary Spirit.

Each Attribute has inherent uses:

  • Dexterity is used in Initiative.
  • Strength determines the amount one can lift and carry.
  • Endurance resists damage, poisons, etc.
  • Intellect determines bonus skills during character creation.
  • Influence determines the base attitude of strangers.
  • Spirit resists social interactions, mind control, and other mental effects.

[Other uses will be added, as needed.]

In addition to the inherent uses, each Attribute gives a bonus to associated skills.

Attribute Rating Skill Bonus
4-5 +1
6-10 +2
11-12 +3

There is no cap no the Attribute scale, so this pattern repeats itself indefinitely. An attribute of 50 gives a +10 bonus to associated skills, for example. This is especially important for superhero settings.

Using the Infinity scale, the Earth itself has a Toughness of (roughly) 136 and the Death Star’s main cannon has a Damage of about 170. That is, enough to vaporize a planet the size of Earth.