member, 71 posts
 Just a RPer
 Not much else to see here
Sat 25 May 2019
at 13:00
A game in which the players don't know their skills?
I'm working on a game for my IRL playgroup. I already have player buy-in, so I'm not worried about them not liking the concept, but I need advice on choosing a game system.

We recently got a chance to try paranoia. And the players were very enthused with the fact that they didn't really know what their characters were capable of until we started playing and they actually tried it. So they've requested a game where they don't see their character sheet until I start telling them things about their skills (but maybe with less paranoia). This is obviously something that would be best with some form of point buy system, I assume, because if we were to play D&D...the second I say "and you get a second wind," they would know they're a fighter. Not much granularity there.

The other option I thought of was just...a game they aren't particularly familiar with. That way they just don't understand their capabilities. But I'm at a loss for what exactly I should run this game in. Should I just grab some kind of PBTA system where they don't know the playbooks? Should I try and run Mutants and Masterminds, or maybe a white wolf game? I have no idea.

Any advice?

This message was last updated by a moderator, as it was the wrong forum, at 13:06, Sat 25 May 2019.

 member, 1261 posts
Sat 25 May 2019
at 13:52
A game in which the players don't know their skills?
Second wind is not limited to fighters. Anyone with a decent constitution can do that. I had a mage once with really good physical stats (and an 18 Int which is why I went with mage). Could have been a good fighter to, but Human only campaign.
Anyway there are all kinds of ways of putting things that may hint at one class but actually having little to nothing to do with it. Just good stats, but being a different class instead. Also nothing says the character has to be Good at their class (fighter with low physical stats but high mental ones could be fun, if a tad delusional about themselves).
 member, 448 posts
Sat 25 May 2019
at 15:06
A game in which the players don't know their skills?
  In general, it won't work well with any system that wasn't designed for it from the ground up, and those tend to be built around 'normal, real world' characters (whether or not they stay that way for long) as the protagonists.

  You'd probably have more luck achieving something similar in the way of avoiding predictable combinations with a system that doesn't tend to lock competence in an area to a single predictable stat. Star Trek Adventures by Modiphius is a good example - feats do provide some specific hooks for specialization but the six core stats (what would be ability scores in D&D) tend to define how you're good (or not) at a given field rather than whether you are. AFAIK their other games use a similar approach, but I haven't looked at them myself.
 member, 1554 posts
 Ocoee FL
 40 yrs of RPGs
Sat 25 May 2019
at 15:53
A game in which the players don't know their skills?
You might take a look at Chaosium's Basic Role-Playing (BRP) system. Like GURPS, it's designed to accommodate any genre and rolling percentiles for skill checks (roll under skill percentage) shouldn't give them much sense of what they're playing, but it gives them a good idea of where they stand in terms of competency, once they catch on that it's low roll=good.
 member, 1476 posts
 I should really stay out
 of this, I know...but...
Sat 25 May 2019
at 17:50
A game in which the players don't know their skills?
PBTA sounds difficult to make this work in - if you don't know what your Moves are, you can't really do anything.  You could totally customize a game from the ground up for this, creating Moves like "Have a hazy memory", but... I don't think you could just pick it up and go.

I think you're right that the basic problem with D&D is the classes.  Any class or archetype based system is going to be too easy for them to figure out.  Any skill-based system should work just fine for it, though.

There was, a long time ago in dark ages past, a game called Immortals that was absolutely designed for this, but the rules are very disorganized.  Cool, just... not well laid out.

...if you want to go a little crazy, Eclipse Phase could be an amazing basis for an amnesia plot.  It's skill based, and built on the idea of people being able to copy their minds into different bodies.  Not only could the characters not know what their skills are, but their bodies wouldn't necessarily tell them who they really are (eg, the usual problem of, "I look in a mirror.  Oh, I'm 6'2 and 250 pounds of pure muscle?  Probably not the mage, then.")  If your starting point was some kind of accident at a transfer point (where bodies are basically cloned and minds written into them), you could create the characters as they should be, and then mix up the bodies so they're in the wrong ones -- and as they figure out that wait, no, this person would do better in this body, they can fix that.

...And of course, that would be when they find out they're only copies, and the "real" versions of them have found out they're running around making trouble and have decided they need to get rid of them, because full copies are illegal in most of the solar system.

But it is a game with a steep learning curve.  Starting out with no idea who they are would smooth that out a lot for your players, but put all the burden of it on you.
 member, 94 posts
Sat 25 May 2019
at 18:11
A game in which the players don't know their skills?
A Fate game maybe? Relatively simple character sheets, so it's not too much work for you to keep track of, and a skill list, so the players will at least know what they can try to do.
 member, 754 posts
 Wayfarer of the
 Western Wastes
Sat 25 May 2019
at 20:04
A game in which the players don't know their skills?
Well, it looks liked I got caught in the move, so I'll just try again.

I can see the attraction to point-buy systems as I rather like them myself.  Players have more control over the creation of a character they really want to play, and things tend to go quickly if the overall system is not too over-burdened with rules for all occasions.

The trick with concealed or unknown skills is how to manage that aspect during character creation and early play.  You might just have players create their stats, and purchase any resources (or start without resources - and by resources I mean stuff like equipment, vehicles, magic gewgaws, etc., that are purchased with build points.)

Do you intend to start tabula rasa with just stats and a big pool of build points remaining which will get used in early game play as players attempt to do things?  Fate or Fate Accelerated might adapt well to this, as skills, feats, and stunts can be created on the fly during play.  You can even view the system reference document for free at https://fate-srd.com/

This is an interesting concept, and sounds like an interesting player group, too.  I wish you well in getting this off the ground.  Let me know if I can help.

This message was last edited by the user at 20:05, Sat 25 May 2019.

 member, 24 posts
Sun 26 May 2019
at 01:26
A game in which the players don't know their skills?
I have done a concept like this twice: once with Vampire: the Masquerade and once with Mage: the Ascension. In both cases, the players woke up with no memory of themselves or their capabilities. As they did things, they started learning what their attributes, abilities, and even powers were. In both cases, I had a tiny handful of things I gave the players that gave them a little say over their characters: Sex/Gender, loose physical description (e.g. you wanna be tall? No problem. You wanna be fit? Fine. You wanna tell me that you are ripped like Jesus? Newp, that's telling me about your stats, which is counter to the point.

Ethnicity, age, and a few other demographics. These were all fine. For the Mage game, I let people name their Paradigm and Practices (this was M20 Focus) but I figured out their Instruments. I also let them pick their Avatar Essence, but I wrote up their Avatar.

I enjoyed running both of these and I learned things from both circumstances. For one, the players have to actually trust the ST. If the players think the ST is going to screw them over, it's going to be a bad time.
 member, 1071 posts
Sun 26 May 2019
at 04:22
A game in which the players don't know their skills?
A possibility: GM has a list of skill, which could be quite long. Players try to do something; success means gaining in the  relevant skill(s). Getting better may require more than one successful attempt. GM could award bonuses for above-average descriptions of attempts.
 member, 594 posts
Sun 26 May 2019
at 06:30
A game in which the players don't know their skills?
I've actually been in two games that did this, or at least variations of it.

In one the system was completely "black box".  Players were given narrative control over their actions, but knew none of the mechanics.  This would be a bit of a variation on what you described because the narrative choices made informed the characters.  The fist parts of the game were when the characters were younger.  Choices made then informed the "stats" the GM put down for them that then came more into play later.

Those choices and the narrative feedback from the GM gave the players an idea of what things the character was good at, and what they might not be, so they could make the appropriate choices and increase the probability of a favorable outcome.

This actually worked out very well because there was an element of discovery, but the blindness wasn't absolute, and players didn't always make choices based on what was "on the sheet" (or what they thought was there) but instead tended towards what made sense in regards to their perceptions of their character's likely actions.

The second was an "amnesia" style game.  Characters woke up and knew nothing about themselves, where they were, their names, etc.  Playing it involved a lot of trial and error, sort of like an old school text adventure game but one where you don't have a list of commands.  Perhaps due to being on RPoL where things generally take longer, there was a degree of player frustration involved in just how opaque everything was.  That game was specifically designed under GURPS, so the players (theoretically) at least had a framework to work under for some bits of context.  Likely due to that conflict between concept and play medium, that game did not last very long, so I don't really know how well it would have worked in the long run.

That said, if you're trying to do the "slow reveal" I would go with something sufficiently granular, so you can pull the curtain off of things a bit at a time without having to reveal great swaths all at once.  I'd also lean towards something the players are at least somewhat familiar with.  Telling a player they got "a second wind" when they have no idea that's a mechanic, or what it means, is perhaps a bit less exciting and useful.

However if the system allows, I'd also change things up as much as it makes sense.  So maybe "the fighter" figures out they're pretty martially inclined, but doesn't realize they're not fully trained on every "martial and simple" weapon like a generic run of the mill fighter, but instead the player has that notion until the first time they pick up a weapon that isn't say, the sword they've been using that they found, but is instead an ax.  They try to swing it at the bad guy and whiff, and realize though they can swing it ok, they obviously have no muscle memory for the weapon and it feels odd and ungainly in their character's hands.  Just stuff to keep the surprises coming.
 member, 285 posts
 Portal Expat
 Game System Polyglot
Wed 29 May 2019
at 20:10
A game in which the players don't know their skills?
This is really, really difficult.  It requires the GM to not only be hyper-vigilant of the players' actions, but also their background roleplay, to drop the right hints of the right nature in order to give the players some ideas of their capabilities.  the GM has to be intimately familiar with all the players' sheets, so they don't miss a cue.

You run into a lot of the same problems one does when presenting riddles as progress gates in a game - many times, a clue or hint that simply doesn't land with a player will never land, and the inability to close the loop of logic will essentially disadvantage a player with a different mental approach to their character.

This can doubly backfire because the problem can work in reverse - a player might take an action that he or she believes would reveal some information about themselves, while the GM either misses or misinterprets the cue.

This might actually be easier in a more broadly narrative game, like FATE, where you can have a broad capability or descriptor like "fairy magic," or "fire hands" that don't rely on rigorous mechanics.  If you do use a more mechanically intricate game like D&D, it's important to just throw up your hands at concealing things like attributes, AC, and proficiencies.  There are too many chances to miss those, and the moment you miss them, the GM will be subjected to the "fact finding" session where everyone tracks down a stack of 10 pound rocks to determine strength, and starts throwing them at each other to determine Dex/AC... and that gets really, really awkward when Charisma gets involved...