Knowledge is power, so it is hidden, restricted, and disavowed.
I have brought up ideas related to this in the past, but this will attempt to bring multiple ideas into a unified theme. There are two elements to this, the value of “dead end” techs, and how skills are available.
This post also intertwines with my posts on Skill Certificate Encapsulation and Ship Hacking. Some of these categories, particularly Unsanctioned skills, would work best as combat and salvage loot, or hacked from pirate ships.
This is a new way to add skills and related equipment, and to do so in a way that the skills have to be earned in some way. It allows for a way to gate-keep access in a way other than basic money. Granted, money makes sense, but it would allow for other forms of achievement than “I done got rich”.
The two simplest forms of restriction are to sell skill certificates in the appropriate certification store, and add conditionals based on level and faction standing. It would also be possible to add other shops, orbital stations, migratory caravans, or even NPC shops (like CE, when a question chain is finished a purchase is possible) which sell based on a narrow theme, and the pilot can only enter at a certain captain level or faction standing.
Pilot level restricted skills make sense and are an established standard in RPG’s, though I think should be used sparingly in PT. Personally, I like the idea that the captain’s training in a specific skill is what matters, and not level. That creates an environment different from most RPG’s. Even so, the idea that some skills will only be sold to established pilots makes narrative sense. My suggestion would be to make these skills few, and have the skills be at levels 5, 10, 15, and 20, with most finishing at 15, and very few to none being above level 20. This would give some incentive and sense of accomplishment to leveling, but would not make it part of the core cycle of game play. There would be an accomplishment to hitting level 20, but the player would not have to keep grinding at levels to get better stuff. Better stuff would still primarily come from investment in skill and time, but a few nice options would be unlocked.
Faction level would be much more common and would make narrative sense. Human Trade Alliance faction standing could give access to Quantum Horizon Tech Freight skill, which allows for use of a subset of slightly better freight holds. Esosian Syndicate standing could give Invisible Star Reactor Tech skill, which allows use of a series of advanced reactors. Also, if weapon types are associated with different factions, faction standing may be required for Large X Weapon Systems skill purchase, and the purchase only available in that section of space.
(On my post about Skill Certificate Encapsulation, that would also open the possibility of finding a skill and acquiring it before it can be “legitimately” purchased, or negotiating/bribing another player to buy it for you.)
This category would be the most interesting. Unsanctioned skills cannot be acquired by purchase from the main vendors. They would be acquired by combat and salvage loot, hacking, and some NPC mission chains. These skills would be rare, possibly sold and traded among players. They should have relatively short learning curves unless otherwise appropriate, and can rely on established skills to learn.
An easy example that would be quick to do is with MicroStar Reactor Tech. Remove it from the shop, boost the energy output of existing MicroStar reactors and perhaps add a few more, and make MicroStar a Martian competitor to Tolarn Space Foundation that Earth is trying to crush. Make the reactors a bit better so players who do not want to invest in Pre Post Sub Tertiary Electronic Engineering because they don’t need large reactors will want it (better output than small reactors, no associated skills because they are self-contained, but no skill progression to the mammoth reactors). Have NPC aligned to Mars Independence sell it. With that, something that was a “dead end” skill to avoid become lore driven and rare. Players who don’t need it may still get it because of its ties to Mars Independence.
Other skills could be related to any tech or aspect of the game.
“Ossiri Endothermic Shielding” Requires “Shield Thermal Systems” at Lv8 to begin learning. A handful of shields developed by Ossiri scouts and less legitimate runners direct thermal energy back into the shield. While based on the life support systems of the heat-loving Ossiri, it also diminishes the heat signature of the shield. A few shield can be found requiring this skill. Each shield with Endothermic Shielding reduces the enemy threat detection of the Captain’s ship. This means a ship has a lower chance of being jumped in transit or during an activity. Attacking a guild-aligned ship will still provoke other ships in the area of that guild. (TTL: 2d22h)
“Wraith Reactor Systems” requires “Small Reactor Tech” at Lv8 to begin learning. Believed to be originally developed by a brilliant engineer of the Wraith Syndicate, a handful of known reactors use this technology. In essence, the reactor’s containment field is so efficient it even disrupts attempts to scan it, and it disrupts the ship’s ion wake. Each reactor equipped that is based on Wraith Reactor technology decreases the time to escape combat by -5 seconds. (TTL: 2d17h)
“Botiallian Novastone Refining” requires “Refining” at Lv8 to begin learning. The Botiallians originally had access to limited mining and refining tech, but had a great need for Cabalite for their war ship armor. This skill unlocks a new refining option at a Commercial Refinery, “Novastone (Botiallian Method)”. Note that the player would still retain standard Novastone refining. The optimal refining for Novastone using currently approved Melar standards is Rawk 210 / Pryavlon 105 / Abaron: 80 / Blissar: 45 / Ostrinite: 60. The Botiallian method is less efficient, but produces more high end resources, ideally being Rawk 160 / Pryavlon 90 / Abaron: 80 / Blissar: 50 / Ostrinite: 50 / Cabalite: 10.(TTL: 6w1d)
“Melar Privateer Jump Gate Hacking” requires “Civilian Jump Drive systems” and “Melar Basic Mathematics” at LV8 each to begin learning. Melar privateers have found hacks to the Jump Gate Network that loosens security and regulatory protocols. Each level of this skill increases the distance the Captain can traverse in one gate jump by two stellar cartography units. (TTL: 3d14h)
“Zellarite Small Harvester Systems” requires “Personal Harvester Deployment” at LV8. The Zellarite were saved from a stellar nova by the Melar, and went through a period of quick adaptation with exposure to technology beyond their own society’s development. As parts of their society were re-settled to ensure survival in case the nova suppression failed, their cultural focus and ingenuity met with advanced Melar science and tech. One outcome was advances in making the small colonies more self reliant. This skill allows for use of small harvesters, what would normally be categorized as Personal class, but with redundant systems turned into parallel chemical processing. These harvesters run longer and are more efficient than standard personal harvesters. There are two established models, the Kylyn Groben Harvester (18h, 14fph, 11yph) and the Gorys Groben Harvester (18h, 15fph, 13yph).
In PT, a pilots abilities are tied directly to skills. Currently skills are the only restrictions on what equipment a pilot can use, beyond availability.
Restricted skills would make some skills feel more directly like part of the game lore. A few would require the pilot prove basic competence, or in game mechanics reaching a level. Others wold be tied to long term support of a faction or industry. If a pilot supports the industry, the pilot gets access to industrial equipment. This is actually used in CE, with Nebula Harvesters tied to ORSA faction standing, and better derelict exploration equipment tied to the Exploration Guild.
Unsanctioned skills would tie a player directly to the game’s lore. A captain would get the unauthorized skill certification to use the shields of pirates or the harvesters of desperate Zellerite terraformers.