A game character that specializes to be excellent at something should have that represented by the game's mechanics. If a game isn't doing this, I feel that is a problem, one which can be solved by identifying actions anyone can take and those only available to specialists.
I started thinking about this after playing and reading some rules light games. In these the characters have seemed effectively identical on what they can accomplish. The motivated couch potato fights as well as the career martial artist, or the same martial artists can kick off computer operations as well as some transhuman super hacker, who can persuade as well as the master orator. The cause seems to be systems which give players some dice to roll for their skill, and then more if they can explain how they are emotionally motivated or have appropriate gear.
The counter argument to my complaint focuses around violence, and is that someone could be held at knife-point (or gun-point) by the weakest of opponents. However that situation is basically a special case that is being used to justify the everyone-is-equal-in-skill idea.
To represent the idea of moves that any character can do versus what the specialist can accomplished using, I'll use example from Leverage TV show and how the roles can be described by a game:
Anyone can ambush or take someone by surprise and succeed.
- Hitters can succeed vs multiple opponents
- Hitters can succeed vs prepared or alert opponents
- Hitters can succeed vs drawn out fights
- Hitters are tough and can't be taken out by surprise attacks
- Hitters can identify the biggest physical threat in a situation and their weak points
Anyone can copy a drive, run a computer program or use software with a nice graphic interface.
- Hackers can get into a system from outside
- Hackers can write custom code that has custom results
- Hackers can cover their tracks
- Hackers can research secret info that would be in a database somewhere
- Hackers can identify electronic defenses and weak points
Anyone can steal unattended objects when not watched, break into an empty building without an alarm system, and flip off power or cut telephone landlines.
- Thieves can steal objects when other people are around without being noticed
- Thieves can pickpocket objects
- Thieves can crack safes and defeat security systems
- Thieves can clamber around physical barriers
- Thieves can identify architectural defenses and weak points
Anyone can lie, bluff, and take advantage of the kindness of strangers.
- Grifters can fast talk their way into assistance or access from the moderately skeptical
- Grifters can act out an elaborate fake personae with a complex backstory
- Grifters can charm, seduce inspire or otherwise manipulate emotions
- Grifters can research gossip or information about someone (stuff that might not hit a database)
- Grifters can spot weaknesses in interpersonal social dynamics
Anyone can make a plan and try to act with authority.
- Masterminds can identify the weak points of plans and build in contingencies
- Masterminds can retool a plan on the ground when things change during an operation
- Masterminds can take charge of a room or situation with the force of their personality
- Masterminds can prepare an ace in the hole to salvage a fiasco
- Masterminds can read a situation and spot weak points in an organization's structure