Most Paper and pencil RPG's have a system for skills. It makes the game easier for every one when you know what your character can and cannot do. Different games treat skills in different ways . D&D 5th edition used broadly defined skills while say Palladium Fantasy Role play uses skills that are more tightly defined. That all makes sense to me. Every game is different , there si no "right way" to handle skills
Where I have trouble with skill systems is when I get into science fiction games. Tightly defined skills makes less sense to me in a future setting. In my view (and it could be wrong ) the knowledge base of the average human is become more and more broad as time moves forward. It is easier now to get our hands on general information than it ever has been. Most of us walk around with a cell phone in our pockets that can find us any fact we need in a matter of seconds. That ability is unprecedented in history, it's basically a super power.
This brings me to actual skills.
Take plumbing for an example. I can sweat a pipe. I'm not great at it, but I have done it. A plumber who does it every day can do it twice as fast as I can with better results. He or she will have more repetition of the skill and the tools ready at hand At this point in life I would have to go buy a torch, flux, solder and so on and I have not sweat a pipe in several years.
This easily translates to something like. I have plumbing level 1 compared to an expert with plumbing level 5, or whatever equivalent you choose. I'm not sure that's the best approach.
In my head it works like this, I'm a handyman (anyone who knows me is laughing right now) While the Plumber is an actual plumber. General handyman tasks are things I can attempt without a penalty. Complicated Plumbing tasks are beyond my scope. I could try it but chances are good I would mess something up. Even if you gave me the professional's tools to work with, I' still not a plumber.
I'm looking at it like we both have skills however, one is more specific than the other.
In D&D 5th ed terms I could have a regular D20 roll for actions that are simple enough to fall under "handyman." If the Gm determines the action requires the skills of a full fledged plumber then I would roll at a disadvantage. (though this doesn't work fantastically for D&D 5th ed)
Why am I only applying this to Sci-Fi ?
There is so much possible STUFF in science fiction that writing specific skills for every possible thing would for one thing be very setting specific, and for another be exhausting. In Science fiction as compared to fantasy there are just so many things that a character could possibly specialize in, it screams for broader base skills. Imagine a system where you have a skill called "Samsung television operator" and another skill called "Zenith television operator." That's a bit of a silly example, but it holds true. Any normal person can operate pretty much any normal television, drive most makes of car, and operate most computers. Only Specialists might know how to repair a Samsung, Drive a race car at speed, or hack a mainframe.
So how do we get to be specialists without that long list of predefined skills?
The players do it.
We come up with a list of broad skills each with their own broadly defined scope. Things like Handy man, and pilot. Characters start out having a few of these broad areas of knowledge. When a character advances (however we decide to handle that) The player could decide to write in a specialization for one of their broad areas of knowledge.
Keeping with the Handyman theme:
A character starts out with just the handyman skill. During their first level they make several handyman rolls trying to build barricades with which they fortify subway station against an impending attack by mutant Salamanders.
When the character advances, the player might say to the DM, "Hey I built a bunch of wooden barricades recently, can I specialize in carpentry?"
If the Gm says yes then the next time the character builds something out of wood then that character will have a better chance to succeed. Meanwhile, if the character needs to do some plumbing , the character would still use the broader "Handyman" skill.
this is not to say that in real life just building some barricades is enough to call yourself a "carpenter." It's obviously not. To the contrary, I'm talking about a game system that has to offer some meaningful advancement to characters within the number of sessions any group can be responsibly expected to spend with one system.
In this way a character with "Tv operator" could specialize to being better at operating Samsung television, though who knows why they would. Or a "solider" which is an area of knowledge covering a myriad of useful things, could latter specialize in "AR15", "Military Logistics", "Communications equipment", Or "Light vehicle driver." The possibilities are endless.
Once the system is in place, the gate is opened for a player to specialize again under a skill that had already been specialized.
For example: (Soldier → Communications equipment specialization → Satellite radio operator.)
Granting the character even more bonuses when using satellite communications equipment. while retaining the broader knowledge of communications equipment, and the even broader knowledge gained from being a solider.
Hopefully this system would lead to decisions during advancement.
"Do I try to get another normal specialization or do I narrow my focus on a skill I have already specialized in for extra situational bonuses?"
On one hand getting another broad area of knowledge or a specialization makes a character more versatile. While focusing a specialization further will make a character more effective in certain situations. The player needs to think about how often those situations are going to crop up, and is focusing a specialization further worth using an advancement on?
As with anything I post here this is just something I'm rolling around in my head and your millage with it may vary.
If you enjoy American Football, enjoy the Superbowl today! (I'm not into it myself, but I wont hate on it.)
Thank you for reading