My question is about tabletop games and their skill progression systems. There are some games (World of Darkness, as one example) that allows a player's character to begin play with master-level (in WoD, that is 5 dots) in a skill, even in combat skills (like Weaponry and Firearms). this results in some games which could be described as broken.

Not that this is necessarily bad, but it can be; ie.. this often works for games whose objective is to pose a "what if?" involving godlike power from the outset.

Which games allow a player to begin play with a statistically maxed out combat skill, but which best avoid the feeling they are broken? (in this context, "broken" is: you "steamroll" every challenge dependent on the maxed out skill, without feeling any need for progression).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: an RPG named Exalted has characters which are perfect at anything they want to focus on. Not just maxed out - perfect. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 20 '13 at 23:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome! I like your follow-up question because it looks specific and answerable. However your primary question is geared toward lists which are less specific and hardly count as answers. Stack Exchange lends itself well to questions with a "best" answer and that's really difficult to manage when you're asking specifically for a list. \$\endgroup\$
    – LitheOhm
    Aug 21 '13 at 0:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ In Do: Temple of the Flying Pilgrims, player characters always succeed at everything they try to do. Instead of limiting actions through the potential for failure, the mechanics of the game introduce complications the result from the success, and limit what actions a character can take on a given round. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Aug 21 '13 at 2:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ What kind of game do you actually want? There's no need to have "maxed out" combat skills in order to have godlike power. Exalted is concerned with beings who have godlike powers, without having "maxed out" stats. D&D 4e follows heroes who from level 1 have power unmatched by anyone in civilisation, even without mild optimization. It sounds like you're after some experience and you've decided you need a game that allows "maxed out" stats. Read Describe the Goal, not the Step! What's your goal? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 21 '13 at 5:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe you want to rewrite this to ask "How can I design my skill system so that PCs can start with maxed-out skills without breaking the game?" If that's what you're actually thinking about, that's what you should be asking. (Looking for prior art is... well, let's say the pool is very large. We have no idea of where to start with suggestions, except by just telling you about our favourite games, which is a degree of vagueness that leads to closed questions.) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 21 '13 at 6:31

World of Darkness (WoD) and Big Eyes Small Mouth (BESM) are the only games that I can think of that you can start out with maxed stats to that effect, although some WoD chars can get even larger dice pools then that. With BESM, when you play a char that is very heavily skilled, you are going to be very narrow. your going to accelerate in one area and get your ass kicked in the others. As for in WoD, all the skill dots are # of dice you can roll. You can still get your but kicked even with maxed out pools. It is easier, but its still a matter of luck and rolls. Also, the DM sets the difficulty for those rolls, i.e. the number you have to roll for it to be considered a success.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, you can also do this with Marvel Universe. Once again, if you stack up in one area you will be great at it, and steam roll in your area, but you will get messed up if you come up against anything else. \$\endgroup\$
    – CrimRei
    Aug 21 '13 at 2:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, though one can argue that WoD and BESM both feel broken if you max out from the start. I am looking for something I can study (from a game designer's perspective) which could avoid steam rolling maximum level challenges. Perhaps I am asking the wrong question now that I think about it. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 21 '13 at 4:02

Shadowrun 4th edition and earlier (at least 3rd) are a big example of this; you can't really "cap" out, since there's so many different sources of potential bonuses, but it's possible to build characters who have 6 in their combat skill's attribute and 6 in their favorite combat skill, which is the normal limit. This matters more in 4th because the pool system goes away, but it's one of the major reasons why 5th edition now lets characters accrue up to 12 points in a skill.

For added bonus points, characters can also take magical/cybernetic augmentation, with a maximum limit on dice typically being around a 21-23 die pool in 4th Edition, which is really the system that most lends itself to this. However, all of this is moot because characters need a trifecta of things to really succeed in combat; gear, training, and circumstance.

Basically, you can give a character this massive gun, but he can't bring it with him everywhere, since Johnsons tend to frown upon having an assault cannon at meets. Alternatively, you can make a master gunslinger, but that pistol won't leave a mark on a great dragon or a tank. Perhaps one of the best builds for this is the archer, since technically bows have low availability/legality codes, but even then you're limited in terms of your speed of engaging new foes.

So basically, you can create a character who basically can't advance any further (and yes, there's ways around this, but they are either contradictory or require some wrangling that some GM's won't allow) from the very beginning of the game, and still not win every encounter because you'll encounter some issue or another. That said, you'll be really, really, really frightening when fighting in ways that complement your abilities.


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