Let's say you are talking about dog breeds, which Zak mentions. You know the general dog breed is pointer, retriever, tracker, herder, hauler, and you know a breed name, which is basically random (Cooper's retriever. Who is "Cooper"? What's different about a Cooper's retriever? We don't care at first...) The dog's breed is a key, You can do one of the following:
- Zak's Method: Roll percentile dice; you now know that Cooper's retriever is Breed 34.
- Mnemonic Percentile Method: Use mnemonic code, like Lewis Carroll's, to turn "Cooper" into a 2-digit number like (in this case) Breed 17.
- Simplified Mnemonic Method: If you aren't going to use percentile dice, just use the first letter (Breed 1.)
The first time you send a Cooper's retriever to retrieve a specific type of object, you roll percentile dice (for the first two methods.) Success means a Cooper's retriever is good at retrieving that kind of object and gets a bonus any time you would have to make a roll to find that object. Alternately, you can roll to see if the breed is good at retrieving under those conditions, so you can have water retrievers, earth retrievers (diggers,) tree-climbing retrievers, or crazier varieties like magma retrievers. Once you find the breed's specialty, you don't roll the percentile dice anymore. You just keep a list of breeds that have been identified.
With the simplified mnemonic method, you use the single digit number as a bonus to a Target 20 roll instead. So, each breed has a 5% to 50% chance of being good at that specific thing (+0 to +9 on d20 roll, 20+ means success.)
You can also define vulnerabilities. For dog breeds, you can let the first player to buy that breed pick one general vulnerability: Fear, Aggression, Gluttony, Lust. When a retriever is in a novel non-retrieving situation, roll just like you would for a retrieving specialty. If successful, that's the dog's weakness: it's afraid of a particular type of animal, or aggressive and hard to control, or is addicted to a particular kind of food, or ... whatever.
I think what I would use is a d6 version of the Simplified Mnemonic Method, with a couple twists:
- Pick the relevant keyword in the novel situation, like "sand" for retrieving in the desert, and convert to a number (in this case, 6.)
- Roll a d6.
- Compare the single-digit breed number to the single-digit situation number. If the breed number is lower, subtract 1 from the roll. If higher, add +1 to the roll. If *identical*, add +2, or +4 if the keywords are identical.
- If result is 5+, that's the breed's specialty (or weakness.) If 7+, the result is phenomenal (burrows at unearthly rate through sand, screams and starts to dissolve into goo when it sees a snake.) If 9+, it's phenomenal to the point of being supernatural.
You could use this deferred technique for a lot of mundane varieties of animals or objects. You just need to define what the general "breed" types and areas of weakness would be and when you would roll. I may explore some possibilities in future posts.