The Problem with the Jack-of-all-Trades

By | February 21, 2015

Hello and welcome!

As we’ve been developing and playtesting Forthright Open Roleplay, one particular type of Vocation keeps being mentioned as being missing from the list of Vocations, with various suggestions on how we could do it.  Namely, the Jack-of-all-Trades, a Vocation that effectively encompasses all Vocations, but either without some of the perks or with a smaller bonus to Skill Checks.

This role actually existed in the alpha iterations of Forthright, and was later removed.  We removed it because there were several problems with the role:

  • Can do everything or nothing.  A Jack-of-all-Trades can, by definition, do pretty much anything.  He might not do it as well as more specialized vocations, but in order to be viable he must have some measure of success at anything he wants to do.  If he can do everything, he becomes entirely too powerful; there’s no reason for anyone else to specialize, or necessarily even be there.  If tweaked too far in the other direction, though, he can do nothing, which makes him overall irrelevant.  We found after several iterations that there was no real “sweet spot” for the Jack.
  • Great for you, boring for everybody else.  If a Jack can do pretty much anything (as he would need to do in order to be viable), the game very quickly gets boring for other people because they don’t feel quite as necessary or relevant.  The Jack-of-all-Trades becomes another variant of the “Batmage/Batman Wizard,” who can do pretty much anything.  The best example I have for this is actually my druid tank in World of Warcraft:  he can act as a tank, he can heal himself while tanking, and his damage is pretty decent to boot.  He is, in fact, so good at doing all of the three tentpole roles in the game that other members of my guild tend to get frustrated at how powerful he is and jealous that their own roles aren’t as versatile.  (It doesn’t help that I’m constantly making bear puns.)
  • Erodes niche protection.  Jack-of-all-Trade roles work best when they’re in a system with heavy niche protection, and serve to free players from having to take otherwise-necessary roles.  We’ve never had strong niche protection in Forthright, making this aspect of the Jack-of-all-Trades relatively meaningless.

Ultimately, for our skill system, we sat down and analyzed what would make the most sense for what we were trying to accomplish.  Vocation was the role of interacting with the gamescape in a non-competitive manner, and as a result we decided to effectively make everyone a Jack-of-all-Trades.  Now, interacting with the world is done through a character’s Acuity bonus.  The size of the Acuity bonus is determined by slotting one, two or three stars in Vocation.  Choosing an actual Vocation role (such as Facedancer or Infiltrator) provides a character with specializations that Bolster rolls for certain types of checks (Disguise and Stealth for the named examples).

We think this serves to solve the problem of characters logically being able to do whatever their players’ cleverness should allow them to, while still providing significant benefit to specialized characters.  Forcing all characters to choose a specialization further helps to illustrate a character’s heroic competence and helps make that character more-unlike other characters.

Thanks for reading!  As always, we’d love to see your comments!