Here are some quick questions to set the mood. For the moment, let's assume that everyone (even me!) wants a narrowly-defined skill system:
- Should a person with high Climbing skill be able to climb faster than someone with low Climbing skill?
- Should a person with high Rowing skill be able to row a boat faster than normal?
- Should a person with high Pottery skill be able to make pots faster than normal?
And, as a counterpoint to those three questions:
- Should an immortal person who has practiced one of these skills for millennia, beyond normal achievement, be allowed to have ridiculously high skill levels, climbing or rowing hundreds of times faster than normal, or making a hundred pots in the time that it takes an ordinary potter to make one?
What I often see in skill systems is that skills are treated as raw bonuses: there's a baseline "normal" speed (or power or effectiveness) of various tasks, and being skilled at that task means a linear increase in speed, power, or effectiveness. Thus, theoretically, you should be able to increase skill endlessly, exactly as assumed in that fourth question, but that leads to the ridiculous conclusion that you could climb a wall at a hundred miles an hour, if you only knew how.
What I'm thinking lately is that this way of looking at skills is fundamentally wrong. Instead of a baseline starting speed, power, and effectiveness, there's a baseline perfect speed, power and effectiveness. The real world being what it is, we can't perform tasks perfectly, especially when we first begin training. We're inefficient. When we practice, we get faster and more effective because we learn to be more efficient, making fewer mistakes, wasting less time on decisions, requiring fewer physical movements to complete our task.
So, the model should be that there's a set potential speed, power and effectiveness based on the physical factors involved, and skill level indicates how close a character gets to that potential in comparison to other characters. And, I would argue, that's the way the abilities should be treated as well: high Strength should not mean that you can lift more, independent of your size, but that you are better able to lift what someone of your size could potentially lift.
I imagine that's potentially controversial. Any thoughts?