A friend and I were having a conversation on Monday about what a "professional" skill level actually represents. To be more to the point, we had posited that in FATE Core a +2 in a skill was about a "professional" level of skill in something, but then started wondering about that because of how things in a game can work. Today I want to put some of our conversation, as I took it anyhow, here and get your own thoughts.
What Does Being At A Professional Level Mean?
A skill being at a Professional Level means that the person is accomplished at the task well enough that it can be there job. For a police officer you could expect a professional level of shooting and driving. An athlete should have a professional level of athleticism. You get the idea. However, that is all that this means and for the purpose of this post all I am talking about. I, in an RPG scale, should have a "Computers" skill of +2 because professionally I help people use and fix computers for a living. I may or may not actually have that, but when looking for a quick and dirty way to represent someone doing professional IT giving them a +2 (at least on FATE's scale) is a good way to start.
Tom Brady Does Not Just Have Throwing At 2
Ah sports, and this is where the argument about what "professional" means. People hear the word "professional" and they think of artists, athletes, and craftsmen. The big one that almost anyone can understand is athletics because that is one of the places where we can see, with big dollars, that you have to be good to do it. The argument then goes that some big name player, like Tom Brady (quarterback for the New England Patriots) has to have a skill over 2. You know what? I agree, but that doesn't kill my argument.
Brady, and almost any sports star good enough for their name to be known by anyone who doesn't follow the sport with dedication, is not just a "professional level" at their job. He is exceptional, arguably the best person to do his job ever. As a PC he would also have stats to make him good at throwing. In FATE he would have aspects to help with throwing. However, what about his backup? What about his backup's backup? The league is full of people who are "professional level" athletes that don't get game time because they're not the best of the best of the pro level athletes. In other words, with something as extreme as pro sports to be a pro player you only need adequate stats and a Athletics skill of +2, but that doesn't mean you're going to be a super star.
In A Hectic Situation Professionals Can Fail A Whole Lot
The other part of the discussion I had with a friend around the +2 for professional level skills was that it meant that in a hectic situation that a professional would fail 50% of the time. This is something important to keep in mind, because it is true. The thing to consider is two fold:
First, in the type of hectic situation that a PC can expect to find himself in (say a gunfight) your average police officer or soldier misses most of their shots. In shootouts I believe the statistic is something like 90% of shots are missed. In the military, among other factors, a whole lot of fire is missed. In January of 2011 it was reported that for every single insurgent killed that U.S. forces spent 250,000 rounds of ammunition. Now some of that is in training and maintaining skills, but a lot of it is also missed shots.
Second, in many of the situations that we, as lay-people, consider hectic aren't actually hectic for a professional. An example I used, and was expanded on later, was with EMT's. When someone has a heart attack or seizure it is a huge, traumatic, and hectic moment for that person. For the attending EMT it is 3:00pm on Tuesday (warning, TV Tropes link ;).) In other words, what is hectic for one person is routine for another. The training and regularity at which someone is exposed to it makes it routine.
PCs Regularly Have Skills That Are Higher
This is exactly the point in a sense, but it is good to think over. In your average FATE game a person will have one skill at +4, 2 at +3, and 3 at +2. That means that your average FATE character is professional level at 3 things, better than PRO at 2 more things, and likely one of the best in the world at one more thing. In simpler terms, PCs are Professional Level or better at 6 things on average in FATE.
However, FATE as a system is interested in being about stories in all their cinematic goodness. In this story, much like one you'd see in a movie theater or read in a book, the PCs are the protagonists and as such are expected to be exceptional people. They have skills and abilities that make them more than "the average person" and let them shine while taking on odds that we could never dream of doing ourselves, and that is the point.
For other games maybe that isn't the point. Maybe people are supposed to be weaker. For those games I'd recommend moving the "professional level" up higher on the chain. Just remember what all that can mean.