More thinking on non-combat stuff in Cold Iron
Chris's response to this post got me thinking some more about the non-combat abilities/skills in Cold Iron. I think it's ok to have a little bit of stuff just for color, but mostly anything written down on the character sheet should somehow support the gamist agenda. So here's some thoughts about the various bits (I'm basically going to list all the abilities, and a couple other things - most characters get two abilities, warriors get additional abilities at 5th and 8th level, some non-humans get only one or even no abilities).
Scout Ability (Tracking) - This can have two purposes. One is to increase treasure (you track a creature back to it's lair and get more treasure than if you just looted the body). Another is to give the PCs an advantage in a challenge (a creature runs away, you track it back to it's lair and catch it before it rests and comes back looking for you, you get to choose the time of encounter, or you get it before it summons aid). There are spells (and thus magic items) that help this, so there is even some tactics/strategy (beyond chargen/advancement strategy). What needs to be done is make the difficulties systematic. Scout should also give chances to identify creatures and thus their abilities, again difficulties are needed. This ability of course has a mother-may-I factor (if the GM never gives you anything worhtwhile to track).
Thief Ability - Ok, the way I play this is mostly color. I do use a small amount of traps and locks. Systematic difficulties are needed. And systematic penalties for failure (trap damage etc.) It can increase treasure by having chests with contents that are damaged by trying to break the lock open. Thief also entitles a character to take Night Fighting as a fighting proficiency as opposed to having to gain separate experience in it. Night Fighting has a pretty well defined effect on the penalties for fighting in the dark or while blinded. This ability has a mother-may-I factor.
Aletrness attribute - this plays into both thief and scout. It is also useful for getting more warning of encounters and waking up faster at night. Systematic difficulties are needed. Also point out that alertness (and tracking) can be purchased (dogs or other creatures).
Acrobatics Ability - This one definitely needs some work. I need to define the difficulties of various tricks and why you might want to use them. In our game so far, there was one incident where having this defined would have been helpfull. The PCs decided to sleep up a tree, and the high DEX NPC decided to draw her weapon and roll off a branch. Perfectly good action, but needs a defined difficulty. Having the acrobatics ability would make these challenges easier (by adding fighting level to DEX for such checks).
Additional Fighting Proficiency Ability - this one has a pretty clear combat application. May not be all that necessary but doesn't hurt to be there.
Charismatic Ability - This feeds into the Charisma/Renown system. Which right now is very floaty. One way to make this less floaty would be to have defined difficulties for social interractions, and then to tie into the gamism, the result of a successefull social interraction should be information (that improves odds in a future combat), treasure, or other aid, or perhaps even just a promise not to harrass (used against a prisoner). Also needs definition of how additional renown is awarded.
Combat Finesse Ability - This is an attempt to help balance the fact that a STR 18 DEX 12 character really is a better fighter than a STR 12 DEX 18 character. I'm not totally pleased with it. The issue here is that (mostly) both STR and DEX add to melee attack and defense (STR doesn't add to dodge though, and DEX doesn't add very well to grappling, and STR doesn't add well to two-handed weapon users).
Combat Riding Ability - Fighting from a mount is great when you can do it, and not only does you mount get to fight too, but you can protect your mount, so you may actually be better off on your mount than the two of you fighting separately. But this ability more than most others is a mother-may-I ability (the GM can negate your ability by setting all the fights indoors).
Fletching (Quality) Ability - this allows a character to make quality ammunition in the field. Probably a marginal ability.
Medic Ability - this has some very nice defined uses (I do need to clear up what "treating a person in magical reserve" means - I think my intent was that a medic treating someone in magic reserve could significantly extend the time they can live - normally it's just an hour or so, magic reserve is when HP are below zero, between 1/4 and 1/2 hp, for a 40 hp PC, that would be anywhere from -20 to -11 hp).
Quick Draw Ability - very well defined (difficulties and benefits defined).
Sailor Ability - Hmm, perhaps this one just shouldn't be there. It's a serious mother-may-I and doesn't really have any input to combat ability.
Scholar Ability - I probably should ditch this one. I've NEVER been good at making knowledge skills useful in games that have them. Might be better to just assume mages and clerics are very knowledgeable, perhaps with obvious specializations (a cleric of a beast god should be more knowledgeable about beasts than other casters would be).
Sense of Direction Ability - Ok, here's another one that could go away.
Short Sleep Ability - This lets you stand an extra watch every other day, or an extra half watch every day. Useful and easy to administer even when using the extra half watch (the GM just needs to roll which half of the watch the encounter comes).
Terrain Tolerance Ability - Hmm, serious mother-may-I.
Travelled Ability - get extra languages. Assuming languages are put to use, should be a benefit. PCs can also spend time learning languages.
Arcane Defender Ability - This was an attempt to allow a fighter with a little bit of mage magic. My gut feeling is that it isn't worth while, I should eliminate it.
Paladin/Templar/Hedge Priest Ability - This is more useful because they could get some healing at 2nd level, or get STR buffing at 2nd level, or get a decent attack spell at 2nd. May not be worth taking at 1st level (because your cleric level is limited to 1/2 fighting level). There is an Initiate Ability which can be converted to Paladin/Templar/Hedge Mage at any point. One solution might be to allow up to 2nd level cleric even if fighting level is below 4. Making sure they get something useful as a 1st level spell would also help.
Simple Proficiencies - Character choses three simple skills (like climbing, swimming, mule handler, etc.). These are unlikely to be of much use, but do provide a bit of color. Can spend these on extra language points though.
Languages - I need to consistently make these worthwhile.
One thing that is worth considering and pointing out in the rules. If a player takes a mother-may-I ability that the GM hasn't removed from his game, then the GM is obligated to make the abilkity useful. But clearly it would be better to have definitive rules that support the player in demanding their ability be useful.
On a related note - In Cold Iron, blunt weapons are mostly useless. They don't crit as well as other weapons, and some only do fatigue damage. I've been thinking that I should either make them useful or remove them from the game. But the question would be how to make them useful, yet different from the other weapons. Swords are the benchmark weapon. 2-Hand axes do more damage, but you can't use as much strength in your parry (which is a bit bizarre - they are the weapon of choice for low STR, high DEX characters). Spears do less damage, but parry better (if not backed into a wall), and can either swing from the 2nd rank, or get first strike (combat is mostly simultaneous, however, there is some ordering: spears and polearms then other melee weapons then natural weapons). One way to fix blunt weapons would be to make them do significantly more damage yet still crit not as easily, but that might be hard to balance.
I also need to make sure players understand that unarmed combat is not particularly worthwhile as a primary mode of fighting (grappling can be effective though - though usually monsters benefit far more from grappling than PCs do - it's a rare PC who would rather be rolling around on the ground wrassling his opponent than standing up and swinging a weapon). That doesn't mean a warrior should never take unarmed combat as a primary proficiency (warriors get two primary proficiencies, and dodge taken as a secondary works like a primary - so primary sword & shield, primary unarmed combat, secondary dodge, secondary bow, and two tertiary proficiencies is quite reasonable, but so is taking bow as primary and unarmed as secondary).