My zombie-apocalypse game, Fear The Living defines a character's skills, beneficial abilities with Player-described Talents in the vein of FATE Aspects. They're supposed to be written up in short, snappy sentences like "I'm freaking ripped." or "The soul of a poet."
Now my game doesn't have anything analogous to FATE points. I don't want to fool around with a token economy, because the game already has enough moving parts that adding an additional resource to manage would clog things up without adding much benefit. So to solve the ever-present problem of keeping relative balance between the player who writes down "I'm a badass mutha-fucker" as a talent with the player who writes "I'm like a surgeon with my Dad's old shotgun" I've split Talents into three categories: Broad, Narrow, and Specialized
Whether a Talent is Broad, Narrow, or Specialized is up to the player who takes it. Broad Talents apply to a wide variety of different situations, but give only a small bonus when those situations come up. Narrow Talents apply to a few different types of situations, and gives a moderate bonus when those situations come up. Specialized Talents only apply to a couple of situations but gives a large bonus when those situations arise. The game instructs the GM and players to discuss what sort of situations they see a Talent being helpful in for their survivor and thus whether it should be labeled Broad, Narrow, or Specialized.
Now where I'm lost is how the system should adjudicate on a case-by-case basis whether or not a Talent applies. I'm worried that leaving it up to GM discretion gives the GM too much power, and puts too much of a burden on them. As I've said before, I don't want to use any sort of token economy to balance it out, because that gives players and GMs one more thing to keep track of. Here are some solutions that I've thought of. Please let me know if you like the sound of any of them, or if you have some potential solutions for balancing widely-applicable self-defined skills with more narrowly applicable ones:
*A system wherein the group votes as to whether or not a Talent applies. The burden of proof would be different based on the type of Talent. A broad talent could be used any time any other player or the GM agrees with your justification for using it. A Narrow Talent could be used any time a majority of people around the table agree with your justification. A specialized talent would require unanimous consent.
*A system where the player writes down the situations in which the Talent applies next to the talent. This is essentially the same as GM fiat, but it at least provides the GM with some guidelines to make judgement calls about whether a Talent applies.
*A system where the GM rates how applicable a Talent is to a given situation, using a heavier hand with Narrow or Specialized Talents than with broad ones. This could be summarized as "Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down, So-So" Thumbs up lets the Talent be used normally. So-So means that the character using it can benefit from it, but suffers from additional risks. Thumbs Down means that the character using it suffers from additional risks, and can only use the Talent this once in the Conflict.
As you guys/gals/non cisgendered people can probably see, I'm at a loss. Any ideas regarding keeping a handle on self-defined skills that:
*Balances power versus applicability
*Doesn't require a lot of GM fiat or oversight?
*Isn't time-consuming for players?