Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Computer Skill: To have or not to have

Many modern role-playing games contain a computer skill. Justin Achilles observed in the Vampire 20th Anniversary Edition design diary that the computer skill has changed in the past couple of decades. In the 20th century, the skill was about general computer know-how. How to set them up and get them to do what you want. It was a new technology and maintaining a computer was usually done by the same guys that also knew how to handle them.

Fast forward about 20 years. Everybody is using computer, smart phones and tablets. Hardly anyone, except specialist knows how to program or maintain them. Computers have become ubiquitous everyday items. There is no reason to call them out with a special skill anymore. Repairing them can be covered by the Craft skill, using them for gather information is covered by Research (or Investigation). The only remaining exciting use in a role-playing game remains Hacking.

There are two ways to cover this: if a game is all about hacking or it is at least a big part of the setting, create a skill for that. Don't call it Computer, be exciting and call it Hacking or Slicing. If the game is not about hacking, but one player still wants to be an expert hacker, give him a stunt that let's her perform as a computer hacker with a skill already present in the setting.

For my urban fantasy game, I will not include a hacking skill. If somebody wants to be able to accomplish digital intrusion, he can take a stunt based on the Burglary skill.

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