Monthly Archives: October 2009

Road to Amber, Lessons 6 Through 10

Following up on Tuesday’s post with the second half of the lessons from Road to Amber.

Lesson #6. People Lie Without Even Knowing It
If there is one single thing that makes staffing a game absolutely maddening, this is it. I’m not even talking about the people who intentionally lie about things (though there are plenty of those) but rather people who are sure they want one thing, but actually want something entirely different. This comes up most often in the context of risk and conflict, but it can really come up in almost any context.

The simple truth is that the least reliable yardstick of what people are looking for in play is what they say they want. There are exceptions, of course, but you will drive yourself mad trying to find them. Ultimately, you need to apply a skeptical ear to requests until you’ve had time to see people in play (and specifically, how well they can handle being in a bad position).

Lesson #7. Ownership is Powerful, but Stagnates Over Time
One of the most effective ways for staff to delegate responsibility is to give the control of setting elements to players. These prop controllers (“PropCos”) have the autonomy necessary to make the decisions regarding matters that might come up in play without needing to consult staff. This tends to be awesome for a while, but eventually the situation will come up where the prop may be endangered, and the player is put in the unfortunate position where he might end up diminishing the prop if he allows that. Since that would mean diminishing the potential for fun in the future, he makes the rational decision to preserve the prop. Thus, with every good intention, we start a decision-making chain that ends in the prop never changing, ever.

This one’s pretty hard to shake once it sets in, and most attempts to do so result in bad feelings and other unpleasantness. You can try to establish strong rules for what owners can and cannot do, but those are only worth the paper they’re printed on (so to speak). I sometimes wonder if there might be some way to subject props to regular review, but that only feels like half of a solution. I expect this one to bug me for a while yet.

Lesson #8. Nobody Reads Anything Longer than an Elevator Pitch
An exaggeration, sure, but it speaks to an important point – people want to get data quickly and get on to the next thing. Of all things, twitter makes for a good set of guidelines for this: ask how you would express an idea with explicit limits on the number of words or characters you can use.

Lesson #9. It is Easier to Ignore Direction than to Find It
The greatest problem for players in any large game is answering the question “What do I do now?” Some players excel at answering the question, and can enthusiastically make their own fun, but even the best of them will occasionally find themselves bogged down. In those situations, it helps if there is some default action to take or direction to go, something that can be picked up and run with. There’s a lot of resistance to this idea since it tends to manifest as “metaplot” or “Railroading” but unless the GMs are forcing it down people’s throats, then this is a good thing to have. The people who need it can tap into it, and the people who don’t can ignore it.

The dark side of this is that the most effective kind of direction takes the form of a problem. In and of itself that’s not bad, but it becomes a problem when players come to resent problems and want them to go away, not realizing that in doing so, they are taking away their direction. They play and solve the problems of the day, but unless they’re willing to embrace new problems, they are killing their own fun.[1]

There’s no good fix of this, short of people realizing that problems are what fend of boredom in fiction, and that’s not happening anytime soon.

Lesson #10. Finish 100%, Show 25%
This is sort of the flipside of “Prune, Don’t Seed”. Have everything done and in hand, but don’t show it all. The image that the players will create from incomplete information will be vastly cooler and more compelling than whatever your idea was, and the only thing that will ever come from a full reveal is disappointment. This is total man-behind-the-curtain, illusionist sleight-of-hand but it is incredibly potent and incredibly important.

This is one of those ideas that I need to step back from a little because i find it profoundly self-evident. That’s great for me, but it makes for a piss poor explanation, so let me break down the benefits.

  • Because players are figuring things out, they’re more invested than if they were just told
  • Because more players will be thinking about it, they will generate more ideas than any one writer ever could
  • Because you’re not showing it all, you can change things if the players come up with a cooler idea

Of these three, I cannot overstate the potency of the first. People are, by their nature, very strongly invested in conclusions they come to on their own, right or wrong. If you can tap that, your game stands to benefit a lot.

Extra Bonus Rule 0: Work With Ninjas
The simple reality is that Helix, God of the MUSH, is a coding machine, capable of creating entirely new systems and doing so in an incredibly short timeline. That allows rapid prototyping, which is incredibly useful.

However, Helix is also one of the kindest, smartest, and also most pinpoint-orbital-strike-weapon-like people it has ever been my privilege to call a friend. She was a joy to work with, and that underscores the most important point. The people you work and play with may have all the skills and talent in the world, but if they’re not people you enjoy, none of it is worthwhile. I don’t regret my departure from RTA, it was the right decision, but I do miss the collaboration.

1 – I feel like the Lorax here, if he were a nerd rather than a hippie.

Road to Amber: Lessons 1 through 5

As noted in yesterday’s posts, I’m drilling down into the lessons learned from Road to Amber. The first half get run through today, and hopefully the rest come tomorrow.

Lesson #1. Everyone Wants to Control the Network

I blame Neal Stephenson. Basically, if you introduce the possibility that players can control some manner of in-game resource, there will always be a few who want to control actual things, like goods or armies, but the first thing that most geeks will ask for is the network. They want to control shipping or the bureaucracy or some other thing whose power comes from the ability to direct and control other things. This is not a huge shock: gamers tend to be inherently Jominian, and this is where their interest lies.

The problem is that they also tend to think they’re being incredibly clever about it, and will often make a big show about how the thing they want is clearly boring and unexciting. This I kind of novel and amusing once, but eventually it just makes me want to bash heads in with rocks. Thankfully, I was given some perspective on this recently. See, my son loves these little dried fruit snacks we give him, but we need to be careful not to let him see the bag. He’s figured out that the bag is where the snacks come from, and he will ignore snacks in favor of pursuing the bag. He’s 8 months old, so I’m pretty proud of his reasoning skills. But I figure anyone older than that needs to realize that this clever idea is one that can be essentially grasped by an infant. Now, when I encounter that phenomena, I just imagine Jamie diving for the bag of snacks, and I smile.

So what’s to be done about it? My instinct is to allow it, but set things up so that they understand why the bureaucrats and shippers tend to get the short end of the stick in any real conflict, but that’s just mean. The reality is that if there’s something that people want that much, it should be enabled. The trick, I think, is to make it more dependent on other players – if you want network play, then nodes really need to be other players.

And that’s sort of the rub. Network play tends to be pretty boring in and of itself because players don’t *need* the network. It’s more fun (and more profitable) for them to horse trade directly among themselves. If I need iron or horses or whatever, why not go directly to the iron or horses or whatever guy? The upshot is that the network guy only ends up working with a very generous player, one who is committed to connecting other people. That’s rewarding, but it’s a lot of work. There are other solutions: network guy is often treated as controlling things no one else cares about, but the myriad ways that can go wrong are just overwhelming.

All of which is to say, I don’t really have a solution for this one yet, except that it’s something you need to keep an eye on. If you’re going to allow PCs to take network roles, then you need to have some reason for people to seek them out as connectors. There may be a temptation to give them more information, but that’s a bad plan, as that tends to turn them into information brokers. That’s cool for them, but it’s a whole other niche.

Ideally, if you have a way for currency or resources to change hands, the network guy should be desirable because he makes such transitions more efficient. Consider a game of merchant prince’s, where one family is dominant in shipping. When two other houses want goods to change hands, only 50% of the goods are transmitted (representing cost of shipping and such). If you can get a member of this third, network-ey house to sign on, then 75% are transmitted and the shipper gets some percentage, either fixed or negotiated[1]. This works because there’s a clear benefit in going to the network, but at the same time if the network is an asshole, he can’t *stop* play, as much as he might want to. As a bonus, our network guy is dependent on the other houses for his resources, so he’s drawn more tightly into play.

Lesson #2. Focus was a Win
So, in addition to experience points, players accumulated another currency called “focus” it was accumulated fairly quickly (about a point a day) but it capped at 10 points, so there was strong incentive to spend it rather than let it go to waste. Generically, Focus represented the effort a character put into things when he wasn’t playing, so it could be spent to study things, build things, influence events and so on. The specific things it could be spent on were cool and all, but the real triumph is that this tapped into the part of our brain that loves gaining and spending points. People enjoyed the very act of earning and using focus, and really seemed to enjoy that they could regularly do things with it.

From this I take the lesson to always include something like this. Whatever form it takes, the main idea is to have something that comes more frequently than advancement, and which can be spent for concrete things.[2]

Lesson #3. Complexity Should Emerge from Play, not Setting
This is the nicest possible way to say that players are not interested in nuance.

When we started things out, I wanted to noble houses to feel like part of the setting, not like one-note caricatures (this is the merchant house, this is the military house, etc.) The same thinking was applied to the creation of the Golden Circle shadows (the alternate worlds near Amber). In both cases the idea is that there might be a strong theme but that it would just be the strongest note in a more complicated piece of music.

This was a knee jerk response to too many years of seeing organizations composed of stereotypes as the norm, and it was just a bad idea.

The reality is that players want the stereotypes. They want the groups to be simple enough to summarize in a word or two. This sounds awful on the face of it, since it seems to suggest that players aren’t that bright, but that’s not the problem. The real issue is that they want clarity, because clarity provides them with clearer impetus for play, and play is the ultimate goal. Creating a simple foundation lets players create exceptions (and oh how they love creating exceptions) and lets the complexity emerge from their play.

This is a pretty simple lesson to apply since it actually calls for less work on the part of the designers. You don’t need to flesh things out – paint them in simple stark lines, and players will (hopefully) take care of the rest.

Lesson #4. When Rushed, Prune, Don’t Seed
The initial rollout of RTA was slightly hurried, partly out of necessity and partly out of the discovery that people were already playing. That meant in a lot of cases we had to plant a flag in the ground where an idea was going to go, but just leave it at that with the expectation that we’d get back to it. It seemed necessary at the time, but as the game went on it became clear that with the pace that new things needed to be dealt with, the time and resources necessary to go back to those seeds was not always going to be available. This would be incredibly frustrating when a player found one of these flags, but it simply wasn’t ready. Either we’d have to sprint to fill it in, or disappoint the player.

The alternative would have been to roll out with less initially – have fewer options available and fewer things going on, limited to those things that were fully fleshed out. That seemed very unappealing at the time, but in retrospect I think it would have been a much better idea. It would have helped forge a stronger central idea of what the game is about, and it would have allowed for staged release of new elements. The fact that this ends up looking like the average MMO release schedule is probably not a coincidence.

Lesson #5. Watch What People Use
Helix[3], bless her soul, loves statistics and hard numbers, and that meant that the game was set up to do really robust anonymized reporting on various game statistics. This meant we could see what people were spending on, what mechanics were being used or not, and generally speaking how people were interacting with the game. This made it incredibly easy to see what wasn’t working, and it also helped to identify gaps that needed filling.

All of which is to say, put some thought into transparency up front. This is not limited to electronic media – do people take home their character sheets? Do item cards change hands? What questions are people asking GMs? Where is play happening? Where is it _not_ happening? These kinds of questions are the ones you want to stop and ask yourself during a game so that you know what’s going to work better in the *next* game.

1 – Negotiated is really interesting since it tends to drive people towards their “fair play” reactions. The optimized transporter might say “You can transport 51% and I will keep 24%, everyone wins”, and while he might be able to sell that to some, most folks will tell him to go piss up a rope. The marginal advantage is not worth the benefit he gains, even if it costs them nothing. Of course, if other members of the transportation family can offer cometing bids, it gets all the more interesting.

2 – Arguably, gold might fulfill this role in some games, but that depends a lot on the surrounding structure.

3 – Chief Poobah and Grand Code Wizard of RTA. Also the ninja referred to in the still-mysterious rule 0.

10 Lessons Learned from Road to Amber

So, a while back I helped create a MUSH[1] called Road to Amber. It’s still going, and you can read more about it on the wiki, but I’ve since bowed out of my role in it due to the time constraints of changing jobs and giving birth to my first kid. I’m pretty proud of what we accomplished, and I think there were a number of ideas in RTA that are going to see use in other games down the line. However, there were also a lot of lessons I learned from what worked and what didn’t work. I’ve been meaning to write them down for a while, and this seems like the venue.

Top Ten Lessons of Road to Amber
1. Everyone Wants to Control the Network
2. Focus was a Win
3. Complexity Should Emerge from Play, not Setting
4. When Rushed, Prune, Don’t Seed
5. Watch What People Use
6. People Lie Without Even Knowing It
7. Ownership is Powerful, but Stagnates Over Time
8. Nobody Reads Anything Longer than an Elevator Pitch
9. It is Easier to Ignore Direction than to Find It.
10. Finish 100%, Show 25%

Bonus rule 0: Work With a Ninja.

Vague enough? This is a bit of a teaser, I admit, but I’m laying these out here so I can start getting into them over the next couple of days.

Edit: And here they are…

Link to Lessons 1-5
Link to Lessons 6-10+1
Unexpected Extra Lesson

1 – A MUSH is an online game played in a text environment – think of it like the old infocom games, except other people are also walking around in it, and play centers around talking and interacting with those people. This type of game has been around for about two decades now, and RTA is far from the first Amber-based MUSH. Amber gives itself well to the flexibility of the medium.

Structurally, it has a lot in common with LARPing, so some of the lessons can migrate back and forth between the two.

Because Monday Needs Cool Things

I read a fair number of webcomics, and while the majority of them follow the standard comic format (and thank god for it) and others have a bit of plot in the background, some of them are genuine narratives, simply telling a story one comic at a time. There’s a lot of meaty stuff here, but one that I am especially fond of is Ursula Vernon’s Digger.

It’s the story of a Wombat caught up in the affairs of gods, and while a lot of elements will be familiar to fantasy fans, there are enough tweaks to things to keep it fresh. Some are twists within genre, like oracular slugs, or the title character’s engineering bias in a magical world, but some are a step outside those. Most notably, this is technically a “furry” story, in that the main characters include many humanoid animals, but the art is the exact opposite of what you would expect from such an endeavor. Not to put to fine a point on it, there’s nary a balloon-breast to be seen. In fact, while the cast is predominantly female, you really wouldn’t know that just by looking – they look more like animals than not. Even more, no mention or emphasis is put on the balance of females and it’s not a big deal. For me, this is infinitely more delightful than waving a stick around.

But in my emphasis on this meta-stuff, I risk moving away from what really makes it work: Strong characters, solid (sometimes hilarious) dialog and a mythology that really feels like it hangs together well. Digger is a joy to read from the first strip on, and I warn that there’s a danger that doing so will eat up most of your day.

As a personal aside, I’m a big fan of Vernon’s art in general. Specifically, when my son was born, we bought a large stack of prints of pieces we thought would be well suited to a child’s room. The thinking was that we wanted art that would delight a child, but we weren’t interested in marketing for Disney. We were delighted with the pieces we got, and I’ve already started telling Jamie stories about them (though he’s still a bit to young to get what’s going on).

(That’s Vasquez. He’s the luckiest bird alive because he pays attention – total nod to Lloyd Alexander there. So far he figures most often in things, though his friend and fellow fez-wearer, Cornelius, is close behind)

Images are, hopefully obviously, copyright Ursula Vernon.

Mechanizing Reincorporation

I am a great fan of the boardgame Pandemic. It’s a tense, cooperative game that really brought things up to the next level with the recent expansion. There are a lot of mechanically neat things about it – for example it makes cooperation incredibly valuable (necessary, even) but also makes it very difficult, which really helps the tension. One mechanic in particular really stands out as something that might be reusable in other games.

The Pandemic board is a map of the world with a number of cities marked. As cities get infected, tokens are put on them to represent the diseases being fought. There is an “Infection Deck” which has one card for each city. This deck is drawn from to determine where the initial infections occur and is drawn from each turn to determine where subsequent infections spring up.

All well and good so far, but where this gets interesting is when an “epidemic” card is pulled – a new card is pulled from the bottom of the deck, that city gets infected, the card is discarded, then the entire discard pile is shuffled and put on top of the draw pile.

The impact of this on the game seems subtle at first, but it’s the engine that makes the game work. It means that your problem areas are going to keep being problem areas, which keeps the tension ratcheted up. That’s good for Pandemic, but possibly even better for other games. This is a great mechanic for systemizing reincorporation.

For those unfamiliar, reincorporation is a technique in fiction used when something brought up early in the fiction comes back in later on. The classic example of this is that a gun introduced in the first act of a story which is guaranteed to be fired by the end of the story. This can take any number of forms from the blatant to the very subtle and is a useful technique for gaming for many of the same reasons it works in fiction. Notably, it means there are fewer things to keep track of (so you don’t introduce another gun when the time comes to shoot someone) and by giving those earlier elements meaning later on, everythign ends up feeling more cohesive and planned, even if it’s not. This means that, as a technique, it makes things easier for the GM and her players and it makes the GM look smart – what’s not to love?

These ideas come together once you start keeping track of the elements that have come up int oyr game. The easiest approach is to use one of the many inspirational decks out there like Story Cards or the Harrow Deck. Draw from it as you normally would for inspiration until you reach a turning point in your game – a big showdown or the like – and shuffle the cards you’ve already drawn and start again[1]. When you draw a card you’ve already drawn, you don’t need to literally use exactly the same elements you used the first time, but the simple act of hitting the same theme again can make everything hang together in a way that will feel like you planned it all along.

Even if you’re not using cards, the idea still holds up well so long as you keep track of things. If you use a 5×5 grid or a similar system, don’t cross things off as you use them, just put a checkmark by them. When the time comes, you know you can come back to those. The same thinking applies if you use element lists, or anything else you can keep track of. Whatever mechanic you use, that reminder to reincorporate previous elements can combine powerfully with inspirational randomness to make even the most impromptu game really hang together.

Bottom line: Track the element you introduce, however you introduce them, and find some way to make it likely that you’ll go back to the things you have already introduced rather than constantly generate new elements. This will allow you to reincorporate themes and elements and give your game a more cohesive feel.

1- This works equally well if you are drawing cards over the course of the game, or if you are drawing them over the course of a campaign. The only trick to it is that if you are drawing for planning rather than play, you need to store the cards carefully between sessions so you don’t lose the order.

Baselines and Outliers

(Note: I put a lot of weight on what characters can do, however it is couched. For purposes of clarity I’m going to talk about skills here, but by skills I really mean “those things that a character can do” so it applies as much to Storyteller or Cortex as it does to a Risus or Over the Edge, or even to some wackier games.)

As noted in my previous post, I’m a big proponent of acknowledging a character’s capabilities as a way of making the character feel cooler to the player. A part of that is the idea of niche protection – every character has a niche or role that they play in the game, and when another character can also operate in that role, it can kind of suck. The classic example is the acrobatic thief and the mage – the thief may have really awesome jump, climb and tumble abilities, but if the mage can casually fly or teleport, then the thief can end up feeling useless. This is a situation to avoid, and when designing classes, powers or abilities I consider this a larger issue than simple “balance”.

To my mind, skills really break down into two categories – baseline and outliers. Baseline skills are those you expect to see used commonly, possibly by every member of the group. Outlier skills are ones which might be limited to only one or two characters, and which provide opportunities to showcase the character’s schtick. Both groups are important, since baseline skills help describe the game, while outlier skills help define each character. Identifying which is which can provide concrete improvements for your game.

Establishing the Baseline
In the show Leverage, each character has a particular specialty[1] but they all have basic criminal skills – pickpocketing, lockpicking, running a simple con and whatnot. Similarly, in a police, military or espionage game there’s usually a baseline level of capability expected, and characters can be distinguished for how they excel beyond those parameters.[2]

A lot of games have at least implicit support of this idea. Sometimes it’s generic – Over the Edge allows players to roll 2 dice for any action that would be reasonably within their experience, like driving a car or programming a VCR. Often it’s more specific to genre. Games may assume certain default starting skill levels, for example, or price skills in ways to funnel competence into appropriate avenues. It can even be handled by the rest of the system: in D&D 4e the assumptions is that everyone can hold their own in a fight, and virtually every rule in the game bends in that direction.

Despite these examples, a lot of games don’t address this at all. This is not a scathing criticism because this is usually done in service of player choice. The bulk of point based games start characters from a blank slate and require that you purchase everything up from zero. I have a great deal of respect for that sort of freedom, and it has a lot of advantages, but it has one concrete drawback – because you have to pay your way up to competence, it can feel like a tax on not sucking.

To illustrate, imagine I am playing police based game. As a player, I want to be able to do a certain set of things – lets say shoot, fight, detect and drive. There are other things like interrogate or knowing the streets I might want too, but they’re fuzzier, since someone might choose one of those as their signature, so let’s stick to the very basics. I will want to buy those skills up to some level of competence[3] and there’s a good chance that I’ve eaten a chunk of my points to do so, especially if I don’t have good guidelines. As a player, this is a frustration tax. If I’m a novice player it’s even worse since I may overlook some skill I need to reach the baseline, and only discover that gap in play.

There are a few steps you can take to help break out and handle your baseline skills in almost any game.

1. Simply lay out your expectations for baseline competence – what skills you expect people to have at what sort of levels and so on. If players want to be actively lacking in some area, that’s great, but make sure they do it consciously. Not only will this be useful for your players, it will help you get a better sense of what skills you need to treat as outliers. Templates can be a great tool for this if they already exist, but don’t stress that too much if they don’t.

2. Figure out how much the baseline is going to cost your players and cut them a break. The simplest thing you can do is just give them the baseline for free or at some discount (say, half price) so you don’t need to worry about someone needing to scrabble for points to pay for things that are mandated by your game (like, say, the merits/advantages that represent the resources and authority of law enforcement).

2a. If your baseline is fuzzy you can also just offer the appropriate skills at half price up to some threshold (so the first 3 levels of guns are half price, for example) and your players will usually just go with the flow. Usually. The problem with this approach is that you still need to deal with things you MUST have (like appropriate merits/advantages to reflect being a cop) and you run the risk of contrary players. The former can be addressed by just handing over the merits, but the latter is more of an issue of knowing your playgroup.

3. Reset your expectations. Depending on the game, you can treat all the characters like they already are at the baseline, and everything they’re buying is over and above that. This mostly manifests in terms of what you don’t call for rolls for. A common example of this is the Drive skill – what does it mean in your game if a character has no drive skill at all? It might mean that they don’t know how to drive a car, but it might also mean that they can drive a car well enough to commute without getting in an accident, but not necessarily well enough for a high speed chase.[4]

3a. This can be mechanically tricky and, to be frank, almost never works well with combat skills since those are hard to gracefully not roll for. It also demands respecting small investments – if a Drive of 0 reflects basic competence, then a drive 1 is noteworthy (as contrasted with 0 == ignorance and 1 == novice). The headaches in dealing with this are a big reason it’s nice to just treat outliers as binary – everyone can drive, but bob is the car guy, and that’s all there is too it.

Calling Out the Outliers
Once you’ve established your baseline, it’s pretty easy to spot your outliers though the process of elimination. The question then is what to do with them.

Now, one solution to this is to make outlying skills exclusive. If one character can pick locks, then the pick locks skill is now off the table, and he is now the lockpick guy. This is especially satisfying for skills that are far from central to the game – if you’re playing a western, then there’s probably not going to be more than one guy with experience as a sailor, so if someone takes boating, he’s the boating guy.

There’s also a good case for weighting the skill prices based on this thinking (and, in fact, the Tri-Stat system does exactly this) – in this case, the guy who purchases “Boating: 1” actually gets “Boating: 4” (or some other arbitrarily high number or multiplier) so that he may very inexpensively claim a niche. Practically speaking, it will mostly be color because these outlier skills don’t come up a lot, but when they do, it really puts the character’s signature on things.

The best solution in my mind for handling this mechanically is as simple as treating certain skills as merits/advantages/stunts/feats/whatever, and this allows you to easily reverse-engineer this model into an existing system. For example, I could take a Storyteller or Cortex skill list and mark off a bunch of skills as “outliers”. Anything not on that list gets bought normally. Anything on that list has a flat cost – something reasonably cheap, but which goes up with each one you buy – to get the skill at 4 dots or d8 or whatever’s appropriate.[5]

[1] – Hitter, Hacker, Grifter, Thief & Mastermind. Why yes, the writer – John Rogers – is a gamer, and he contributes to a wonderful blog over at Kung Fu Monkey.

[2] – Or sometimes, even within those parameters. While it is easiest to make a character distinct by giving them skills outside the common pool, like the cop who is a computer expert, it is also possible to work within the pool if they’re really exceptional. In a police game, everyone can do detective work, but a Sherlock Holmes equivalent can have a niche by doing it at a much higher level. In a military game, everyone can shoot, but one guy might be the shooter. The one trick to keep in mind with this is that the difference needs to be so great that it’s really a difference in type. If other characters could do just as well simply by rolling well, then this is an uninteresting distinction – it needs to be clear there are things that only this character could even attempt.

[3] – Competence is not defined by the color descriptions of the skills, it is defined by my likelihood of success when I roll. It does not matter if the color text says having a skill at level 3 makes me a “Skilled Professional,” the real yardstick is the dice. This was one of the great frustrations of the old storyteller system, and one of my favorite things about the new one – competence no longer demands 5 dots.

[4] – This is a great example of something that can be baseline and an outlier – even if everyone in the group can drive (but haven’t bought the skill), the one guy who has actually bought the drive skill is going to stand out when it’s time to burn rubber.

[5] – The real purpose of this solution is that it works within the framework of existing games without needing any houserules in play, since it’s purely a chargen hack. It is possible to do even more interesting things in play, but doing so makes it much harder to use existing material.