Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Campaign Notes : Our Second Season (so far)

So far, lack of time (ah ah) has prevented me from posting more detailed accounts of our scenarios. I've not given up on that idea, however, and will try to convince Sylvie (Lady Penelope's player) to help me write some actual-play stuff from our ongoing campaign - perhaps as some sort of journal entries. In the meantime, here are the two-line blurbs for the first five episodes of our second season, using the same format as in this previous post.

Episode 1: Space Princess
In which Lady Penelope experiences the joys of a 25th century luxury space cruise, including high-stakes gambling, dinner at the captain's table and, of course, an attack by space pirates.

Episode 2: For Queen and Planet
A most adventurous journey from a cursed temple in India to the farthest-reaching colony of the British Empire - the mysterious planet Mura. And yes, it all happened in 1894.

Episode 3: Operation Strikeback
There is no Mission:Impossible when you can jump back in time. Lady Penelope faces Felicity Warburton, the Triumvirate's Time Assassin, and saves Britain's future - again!

Episode 4: All Yesterday's Tomorrows
New York, 1933. Nikita Nova, inventress extraordinaire, is testing her new teleportation machine... but who the Hell is Nikita Nova and how come she looks so much like Lady Penelope?

Episode 5:The Doctor and the Angel
London, 1608. The Angel of Death has extended his dark wings over the city, heralding the reign of an even greater Terror. The dying Dr Dee sends a desperate call through Time...

That's all, folks - for now!

Next session/episode : Saturday!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Campaign Notes : Episode Templates (Part Two)

Template 6: Major Alien Crisis

The name says it all; aliens (or unearthly creatures) have decided to conquer, destroy, enslave or recycle Planet Earth, usually causing panic on a worldwide level, with lots of alarming TV broadcasts, government communiqués, emergency meetings, armed forces running around and, of course, UNIT intervention.

Because of the scale of events involved, episodes which follow this pattern are almost always two-parters, like The Aliens of London / World War Three, Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel, Army of Ghosts / Doomsday, The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky or The Stolen Earth / The Journey's End... but this template can also be found in some Christmas specials, such as The Christmas Invasion or The Next Doctor.

Combining this template with the previous one (Lives Less Ordinary) gives us what we might call the "smalltown invasion variant", in which the perception of the alien menace has not reached the authorities or the medias and is limited to a small community, either because some secret plan is only beginning to unfold (The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood) or because the goals of the aliens is more limited or specific in scope (Human Nature / A Family of Blood) - but the pattern remains the same: all these stories deal with the ways human beings deal with menaces which threaten their world, whether "world" here means planet, family or village. In all cases, enemies must be fought and tough choices (including some sacrifices) must be made.

Template 7: Timey-Wimey Stuff

These episodes deal with the more complex, subtler or chaotic aspects of the Doctor Who reality - time loops, paradoxes and other weird temporal phenomena. In these stories, the Doctor and his companion(s) must face the sometimes very dangerous consequences of travelling through time and tampering with history - whether this tampering is caused by their own decisions (such as in Father's Day) or by someone or something else's actions (such as In The Girl in the Fireplace, Doomsday, The Sound of Drums / Last of the Timelord or Turn Left). In most cases, the solution of the problem comes from the same source as the problem itself, the possibilities and implications of time travel and temporal manipulation (as demonstrated by Blink and its wonderfully non-chronological storyline).

This template can also be extended to stories in which reality is warped or manipulated, such as in Amy's Choice; it works equally well on a personal, almost intimate level (Amy's Choice, The Girl in the Fireplace), in which case it is often combined with template 8 (Crossroads, see below) or on a grand, universe-shattering scale (The Sound of Drums / Last of the Timelord or The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang), in which case it is often combined with the Big Season Finale template (see below too); both extremes can also be combined, such as in Turn Left, in which the apparently trivial decisions of a single individual actually affects the whole of reality.

Template 8: Crossroads

This template, which could also have been called "dilemmas", deals with crucial, life-affecting choices which must be made by one of the Doctor's companions or, perhaps more rarely, by the Doctor himself - and with the often painful consequences of such decisions. It is probably the more personal and intimate template, since it deals directly with a major character's conscience, morality or feelings and often involves a touch of tragedy. Ultimately, all these stories deal with the theme of Destiny. It should be noted that this template is often combined with the previous one, Timey-Wimey Stuff (Father's Day, The Girl in the Fireplace, Turn Left or Amy's Choice); it is also present in The Waters of Mars, in which the Doctor makes the decision of altering a fixed point in history and must deal with the consequences of this choice (the fabulous "Time Lord victorious" bit). It can also be found in Big Season Finales, especially those in which a companion leaves the story (as Rose in Doomsday) or in which the Doctor regenerates.

Template 9: Who is the Doctor?

This template corresponds to what many DW fans call "Doctor-lite episodes", such as Love & Monsters and Blink, i.e. stories in which the Doctor merely lurks or runs around in the background while another character (such as Sally Sparrow in Blink) occupies the front stage; such episodes tell the story of someone's encounter with the Doctor - but from that person's point of view. In RPG jargon, these are episodes in which the Doctor and his companion are treated as NPCs - which makes this template a bit difficult to use in a campaign with Time Lord (or, at least, time travelling) player-characters... but makes it particularly interesting for one-off scenarios which use "normal people" as their main protagonists; it is definitely the template to use if you want your players to discover during play that they were actually playing Doctor Who all along.

This template is also present (without being prevalent) in The Lodger, in which the Doctor does play the "mysterious visitor" part, but which cannot really be labelled as a Doctor-lite episode. Because they deal with ordinary people facing extraordinary events, such episodes often combine this template with the Lives Less Ordinary or Crossroads templates.

Template 10: Big Season Finale

This template is always used for the epic two-parters which conclude each season of the show: Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways, Army of Ghosts / Doomsday, The Sound of Time / Last of the Timelord, The Stolen Earth / The Journey's End or The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang. More than a scenario template in its own right, it combines the elements of several templates (such as a Major Alien Crisis, Timey-Wimey Stuff or Crossroads) into a grand-scale, spectacular, climactic confrontation. In most cases, this combination is made even more powerful by what we might call the "Nemesis element" - the opponent(s) the Doctor must face in such episodes are almost always old enemies of his, such as the Daleks, the Cybermen or the Master, arch-enemies which go back to the days of the Classic series and whose destinies seem to be cosmically tied to that of the Doctor himself; we also see this logic at work in the two-part special The End of Time (a "season finale" of sort), in which the Master AND Rassilon return (you probably don't get more "major" than this as far as Time Lords are concerned) to bring the Doctor's Tenth Incarnation to a tragic, beautiful end.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Campaign Notes : Episode Templates (Part One)

(Wow... it's been almost two months since I last updated this blog - I guess I was lost in time...)

Designing a Doctor Who RPG scenario can be quite challenging, mostly because the Whoniverse is so full of possibilities, from aliens and weird science to time travel and even alternate realities - indeed, with all of space and time to play with, it might well be one of the most possibility-rich fictional universes around. Faced with so many possibilities, the aspirant DWAITAS gamemaster may feel a bit dizzy at first - and the question he should ask himself here is : HOW DO THEY DO IT ?

Well, Doctor Who episodes tend to follow a fixed pattern or format – the episode from the latest season featuring Vincent Van Gogh, for instance, clearly follows the same pattern as The Shakespeare Code: in both episodes, the Doctor and his companion meets an artistic or literary genius and helps him battle some hidden menace; in both cases, the genius’ particular talent (Shakespeare’s words or Van Gogh’s vision) plays an essential part in the resolution of the struggle and in both cases, a trace or echo of this struggle can be found in the genius’ artistic work – Van Gogh’s painting showing the TARDIS or Shakespeare’s lost play “Love’s Labours Won”.

Template 1: Historical Errors

The Doctor travels to the past and discovers that something has gone seriously wrong, disrupting, contradicting or threatening history as we know it; in most cases, this historical divergence or distortion is the direct result of alien interference and must be straightened out to avoid serious damage to the continuum. Episodes which follow this pattern include The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, The Idiot’s Lantern, Daleks In Manhattan, The Fires of Pompeii, The Vampires of Venice and The Next Doctor. Episodes which include a major historical figure, such as Winston Churchill, Queen Victoria or William Shakespeare tend to follow Template 2 (Meeting Famous People) - see below.

Template 2: Meeting Famous People

The Doctor travels to the past and meet a major historical figure – usually an artist or writer (Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Vincent Van Gogh) – only to discover that weird, otherworldly events are unfolding around that famous personage. In most cases, the mystery or its solution is directly tied to the historical character’s life, personality or creativity. Epsiodes which clearly follow this pattern include The Unquiet Dead, The Shakespeare Code, The Unicorn and the Wasp and Vincent and the Doctor. The artist / writer may be replaced by a major historical ruler (such as Queen Victoria in Tooth & Claw and Winston Churchill in Victory of the Daleks), in which case the episode also tends to follow Template 1 (Historical Errors).

Template 3: The Darkness of Space

This is our aforementioned Alien-like template: The Doctor travels to a futuristic location (such as the inside of a spaceship, a space station, an underground base, a spaceship crash site, a gigantic museum / library or any other reasonably high-tech and claustrophobic place) and quickly realizes that some unspeakable hidden menace is lurking in the shadows. Such episodes always feature a significant supporting cast (spaceship personnel, fellow passengers, soldiers in the field etc) who either start disappearing one after the other, as they get eliminated, devoured or possessed by the menace or make the Doctor’s job more difficult by losing their self-control – until our heroes manage to solve the mystery, beat the entity and save the day. Many episodes follow this template, including The End of the World, Dalek, New Earth, The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit, 42, Voyage of the Damned, The Doctor’s Daughter, Planet of the Ood, Silence In the Library / Forest of the Dead, Midnight, The Waters of Mars and Flesh & Stone / The Time of Angels.

This template also has a more ‘social’ variant (found in episodes such as
The Long Game, New Earth, Gridlock, Utopia, Planet of the Ood or The Beast Below), in which the Doctor travels to Earth’s future (or to another futuristic place), discovers the darker secrets (or the less pleasant aspects) of a society gone wrong and (of course) attempts to make things better. These dystopian scenarios, which usually involve a fair amount of social satire and present-day topicality, often deal with moral or even philosophical themes and conflicts (e.g. society vs. the individual, freedom vs. control, morality vs. practicality, ends vs. means etc); nevertheless, they follow the same pattern as the more classic Alien-like episodes – simply make the hidden horror a social horror and voilà!

Template 4: The Truth Is Out There

In this somewhat X-Files-like pattern, the Doctor investigates some mysterious events in the present-day– such as unexplained disappearances, abnormally high-levels of what-have-you radiations in some ordinary-looking place, weird scientific experiments or the public trumpeting of some revolutionary, far-too-advanced technology such as a rejuvenation machine or a miracle diet. Episodes which follow this pattern include Boomtown, Rise of the Cybermen, School Reunion, Army of Ghosts, The Lazarus Experiment, Partners in Crime, Planets of the Ood and The Sontaran Stratagem. It should also be noted that quite a few of these stories feature a powerful corporation (such as Atmos or Ood Enterprises), a government agency (such as Torchwood in Army of Ghosts) or some sort of institution (such as the school system in School Reunion) acting as a façade for the conspiracy. Also, such stories are often used as the first part of a Major Alien Crisis two-parter, as in Rise of the Cybermen (prelude to The Age of Steel), Army of Ghosts (prelude to Doomsday) or The Sontaran Stratagem (prelude to The Poison Sky).

Template 5: Lives Less Ordinary

The normal life of a normal person is troubled, warped or even shattered by alien interference or some other weird, out-of-this-world events (which are often a forewarning or manifestation of a forthcoming alien attack or similar large-scale menace). Such episodes are often firmly rooted in some aspect of everyday life or deal with common personal themes – such as family life, work, childhood memories, complicated love stories etc. Episodes which follow this pattern include Rose, The Idiot’s Lantern, Fear Her, Smith & Jones, The Eleventh Hour and The Lodger; as this list demonstrates, this episode template is often used to introduce new companions, who are pulled away from the ordinary routine of everyday life by otherworldly events, meet the Doctor and end up adventuring in space and time. Like template 4 above, this template is also present in the first half of two-part stories like Human Nature / The Family of Blood and The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood, where they serve as the ideal introduction for major alien trouble.

Next time : Templates 6 to 10!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

House Rule : The Nemesis Effect

So, Lady Penelope’s Odyssey is back for a second season - and we’ve already played the first three episodes!

The inter-season break has allowed me to toy with some new story ideas and future campaign events – but it has also given me the opportunity to do a ‘debrief’ regarding the various rule variants I have used in my games – including the most important ones about Story points (see these two previous posts).

Restricting Story points to the most important (and presumably recurring) NPCs has allowed me to run the game in a far smoother manner – and to focus on the use of Story points by the arch-baddies and other prominent NPCs… but even with this variant approach, I found that these NPCs didn’t really needed these Story points, especially because they tended to have very high attributes and skills, as well as some powerful traits, which already gave them significant edge in play - in terms of game mechanics as well as from a purely narrative angle.

Every single time I spent Story points on behalf of a major NPC, it was during a conflict with the heroine, usually to counteract a corresponding expense by the player. I did not premeditate this: it was simply how things turned out in each and every case - and it's not very surprising, since the concept of conflicts is one of the core elements of the game system. Still, all this got me thinking and I decided to do a retrospective analysis of these moments - how they had flowed in play and what the use of Story points had added or changed to their outcome or dramatic tension. In most cases, I found that such Story points expenditures had not really added anything to the story itself – and could even have worked against it in some cases, giving some NPCs a chance to nullify the effects of an inspired action or decision by the sheer abstract power of their Story points, without providing any rationale for this in story terms.

The only case in which NPCs’ Story points really added extra tension and dramatic power to a story was when the character faced her nemesis (and mother), the witch-queen Morgaine . During this scene, the use of Story points really “raised the stakes” of dramatic tension and helped convey the feeling of a truly climactic and desperate confrontation. Why did it work so well in this particular case and not so well in the others ? Because in the case of the Penelope / Morgaine confrontation, we had a dramatic rationale for such a clash of fates – let’s call this the Nemesis Effect.

In the series, we see this same Nemesis Effect at work when the Doctor faces arch-villains like The Master or Davros… but not when he faces, say, the Pyroviles of Pompeii, the Cybermen or hordes of nameless Daleks. Sure, these creatures are formidable opponents in their own right – and this is precisely what their attributes, skills and traits reflect in game terms: thanks to the alien Armour trait, any Dalek or Cyberman will only take 3 points of damage from a normally Lethal damage result, without having to spend any Story point… The same reasoning applies to Pyroviles: these beings ARE powerful - but if they really had Story points, there is no way the Doctor could take them out with a few squirts from a water pistol.

Running fifteen game sessions and re-watching various episodes from the show have only convinced me to go one step further in the direction described in my previous posts about Story points and NPCs. Giving Story points to NPCs should have nothing to do with “raw power” or “lethalness” (as reflected, for instance, by the various traits of Daleks and Cybermen) - but everything to do with the NPC’s relationship to the heroes. If there’s nothing personal at stake, if we are not talking about a “clash of fates” with the heroes, then giving Story points to a villain will probably work against the game rather than in its favor.

Of course, this is only my personal take on the matter, but after fifteen game sessions and numerous re-visions of various DW episodes, I feel I have some solid arguments to back it up. And DWAITAS is all about possibilities, experiments and alternatives…

So, in my next games, I will take this extra step and restrict Story points to those NPCs who can really qualify for the Nemesis Effect – something which should normally only occur once or twice in a single season, usually during one of those epic, climactic two-parters. And if this proves to be Not Such a Good Idea After All, well… I guess I’ll just have to jump back in time!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Campaign Notes : The Merlin Connection

Although he has never appeared in person (so far...), the Time Lord known to humans as Merlin has played a prominent part in the backstory of Lady Penelope's Odyssey - for he is, in fact Penelope's true father, making her the heiress to a very special legacy indeed.

But before I go into further detail, let's get a few basic Merlin / Dr Who facts straight - or as straight as possible, anyway.

The question of Merlin's identity in the Whoniverse is actually quite complex to begin with and concerns no less than three different characters : a mysterious and otherwise unidentified Time Lord, the Doctor himself (who retroactively posed as the legendary wizard at least once in his long adventuring career) and the High Evolutionary known as Merlin the Wise from the classic Doctor Monthly Comics - a character who was (unless I'm mistaken) created before the "Doctor as Merlin" idea came into existence in the TV show (in the Battlefield episode)and - just to make things a bit more fun - may actually be the same character as the Merlin from the Marvel Universe, who played a prominent role in Alan Moore's run on Captain Britain back in the early 80s.

To cut a a long story short :

To be honest, I wasn't aware of all these different incarnations when I decided to build my own Merlin character, whom I wanted to base on Captain Britain's Merlin, who, of course, seemed very Whooesque to me and I already had developed a pretty solid backstory featuring Arthur, Morgaine and Mordred when I discovered how complex the whole Merlin issue was - not to mention the fact that all the aforementioned arthurian characters had actually appeared, in one form or another, in the Battlefield episode...

And of course, there was the sword Excalibur - which I had wanted to use as the central "McGuffin" of my first season...

I was faced with a pretty classic DW GM's dilemma here : either follow the canon or ignore it and go with my own ideas. Since I had decided early on that my campaign would be set in an alternate universe, following the canon was by no means mandatory - especially since the "official continuity" was, in this specific case, pretty labyrinthine and that its inclusion in MY continuity would probably complicate things a lot, without actually adding anything to the campaign in terms of possibilities for the player... so at first, I was tempted to forget completely about Battlefield and all that - but the more I read about this TV episode, the more I was struck by the similarities between its take on Arthurian legend and my own ideas, which were intiially inspired by the portrayal of Merlin in Captain Britain as well as in Camelot 3000. There was so many similarities and convergences here that I simply couldn't forget about it.

So in the end, I decided to take both roads at the same time : I'd build my own Merlin and my own backstory, with my future campaign's plot as a priority (as opposed to orthodoxy to the DW canon)... and using the Battlefield storyline as an additional source of inspiration (and as a way to involve the Doctor into the whole thing) to recycle, reinterpret or alter as needed.

Over the next weeks and months, I'll try to post actual play reports of the first season - which will include the whole "Merlin backstory", presented in a progressively unfolding manner, just like Lady Penelope herself discovered it... but here are a few facts.

Merlin (who was dubbed "the Wizard" as others were dubbed "the War Chief" or "the Doctor")
was a very powerful and whimsical renegade Time Lord - a rebel, a manipulator and an architect, with a tendency to move other people like pieces on a chessboard, when he was not toying with the laws of time and space. But he was also a dreamer - perhaps even an idealist, a truly promethean figure. Unlike the Doctor, he was more a builder than a wanderer, though - he crafted Excalibur, the Sword of Possibilities, and created the dimensional sanctuary of Avalon... but in the end, his creation was destroyed - or rather "corrected" - by the Supreme Council of the Time Lords, leaving only legends and dreams in the memory of Albion... and Merlin the Wizard was sentenced to imprisonment.

But before his dream was erased from History, he sired a child - a "daughter of Time", whom he hid in the future, knowing that she would one day claim the legacy of Avalon - and protect it from her mother, the sorceress Morgaine, who had been Merlin's ally before becoming his nemesis... but hey, that's another story !

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

House Rule : Some Notes on Skills

The Meaning of Skill Levels

There seems to be some slight contradictions in the DWAITAS rules regarding the exact meaning of skill levels (as opposed to attribute scores, which are very clearly defined). The Gamemaster’s Guide states on p 25 that a skill level of 2-3 reflects a “quite confident” degree of ability, while on p 36, we learn that “The average human attribute is 3, the average skill level is 2-3 and the average die roll is 7, so an average person should be able to accomplish something with a difficulty of 12 more often than not.”

This latter statement seems to imply that a skill level of 2 or 3 is the standard level for an “average person”, which could explain why a fairly ordinary 21st century girl like Dona Noble has been given pretty impressive (or , depending on how you look at it, seriously inflated) skill levels of 2 in Fighting and 3 in Survival. Yet, it seems more logical (and intuitive) to equate a skill level of 2 or 3 with a fairly confident degree of ability. For the sake of clarity, skill levels should be interpreted on the following scale :

1 = Novice

2 = Amateur

3 = Proficient

4 = Seasoned

5 = Expert

6 = Master

Unskilled Attempts

Another feature of the skill system that does not really work for me is the -4 penalty for unskilled attempts. At first sight, it seems perfectly reasonable but is actually completely superfluous (IMHO) when you double-check the probabilities of the system.

Even with an excellent attribute score of 5, a character with an effective skill level of 0 already has to roll 10+ on 2d6 to succeed at a Tricky (15+) action and has no chance whatsoever to succeed at a Hard (18+) or really Difficulty (21+) task unless he spent Story points to boost his roll.

In other words, unskilled characters already have little or no chance of succeeding at actions where their lack of skill should logically hinder them (i.e. actions with an above-average difficulty), without having to add a -4 penalty on top of that. I've dumped it in my games and it works just as well. If you feel an unskilled character should have absolutely no chance of succeeding at a task because of his lack of training, simply set the difficulty at Hard or higher.

My Views on the Craft Skill

(Get ready for a loooooong rant - I knew I HAD to share this with you :)).

Even for an “all-encompassing skill” which “covers all manners of talents”, the Craft skill does seem a bit too, well, all-encompassing. Regardless of how you try to justify things, it does seem very difficult to accept the idea of a skill covering anything from carpentry to guitar playing or farming. Yet, treating every possible craft as a separate skill would have little interest in a game like DWAITAS and would also overlap with the concept of Areas of Expertise.

It should also be noted that this skill tends to be far less useful on adventures than most (if not all) other skills – something that is directly reflected on the sample character sheets of the Doctor and his companions : most of these characters have a Craft skill of 0 but have a level of at least 1 in all other skills – and the Doctor himself only has a Craft skill of 2. This actually makes perfect sense, since this skill is the only one which clearly fall outside of the usual repertoire of time-travelling adventurers – in fact, one is left to wonder why this skill was included at all in a game system which does an excellent job of representing a wide array of abilities with a very limited, tightly-packed skill list. Was the Craft skill added to the list simply to have a neat, well-rounded number of twelve skills ?

Getting back to the character sheets of the Doctor, and his companions, it is also quite difficult to figure what the Craft skill actually represents in the case of such characters. Only three characters have it – at a very modest level : 2 for the Doctor, 1 for Captain Jack and Sarah Jane. All the other companions, including Rose, Martha and Donna, have been given a Craft skill of 0.

My personal hypothesis is that these characters were given this skill to reflect some kind of jack-of-all-trades quality, adaptability or general ‘know-how’ born from experience – which would explain why none of the Doctor’s younger, less-experienced companions have any level in the Craft skill. On the other hand, one could argue that the Doctor 'sjack-of-all-trades aspect is already well-reflected by his levels in various other skills (such as his 6 in Knowledge) as well as by some of his traits, such as Technically Adept or Time Traveller – which, let’s face it, do feel more interesting and more genre-relevant than our increasingly dubious Craft skill.

Taking all these issues into account, the simplest alternative seems to dump the Craft skill altogether (which does not greatly differ from having a skill nobody will select anyway)… but this leaves us with the ugly, odd number of eleven skills, whereas the original six attributes / twelve skills pattern really created a neat, well-rounded package (yes, I know, when it comes to game systems, I probably qualify as a symmetry whore).

I’ve thought about several possibilities of solving this problem – including replacing the Craft skill by a general Jack-of-all-trades skill à la Traveller or by a character-specific Wild Card skill à la Buffy / Ghosts of Albion but neither option really proved satisfactory – the specialist / Wild Card approach, for instance, seemed interesting and fun but tended to overlap too much with the Areas of Expertise concept and did not seem to make much sense in the case of the Doctor, Captain Jack or Sarah Jane, since their Craft skill obviously goes in the opposite, "jack of all trades "direction. I had also considered splitting the Craft skill into four broad “proficiencies” (worker, artisan, artist and performer), each with its own Areas of Expertise but in the end, I felt it only added extra complexity to the system, without really making the Craft skill more interesting in the game.

I finally came up with the following house rule, which IMHO combines all these ideas but in a much simpler, more elegant and freeform manner.

If you really want to take the Craft skill then you must normally specify an Area of Expertise, even if your skill level is less than 3 (so yes, this is the proverbial exception to the rule) but you get this Area of Expertise for free, without having to spend one skill point for it. Note that this system can be used whether or not you use Areas of Expertise for other skills in your game.

Since every Craft skill will now comes with an Area of Expertise attached, it becomes much easier for the GM to decide whether or not a character can use his Craft skill in a given situation. A character with a Craft skill of 1 and Guitar Playing as his Area of Expertise would thus have an effective skill of 3 (1 for the skill level, +2 for his Area of Expertise) when playing the guitar but could also be allowed to use his level 1 skill for, say, singing or playing the piano, since this character’s version of the Craft skill is obviously musical – so his Craft skill would not come into play when trying to run a farm or repair a broken piece of furniture.

As an additional option, you may allow a character to select the Craft skill with no specific Area of Expertise (that’s the proverbial exception the exception), in which case he qualifies as a Jack of all Trades : he will never get the +2 bonus that an Area of Expertise would grant him but on the other hand, will be able to use his Craft skill in a much wider variety of situations – such as, say, playing the guitar and fixing a broken piece of furniture. This Jack of all Trades option seems to be the most logical choice for (and was inspired by) characters like the Doctor, Captain Jack and Sarah Jane.