Wednesday, March 26, 2008

d20 UTH - Skills

*crunch* *crunch* *crunch*

Erm, excuse me. I've just been chewing on rules for skills. Talk about trying to balance ease of use versus detail. I've seen systems ranging from one end of the spectrum (Marvel Saga) to the other end (GURPS). Even in the history of d20/D&D, we've had everything from no skills (other than thieving abilities) to the current incarnation. The questions for this post are what is sufficient/too much detail and what are we looking at for the future of d20?

Let's take a moment to look at the current 3.5 incarnation of skills. The origins of the skill list are based in the old school thief abilities, expanded to include things non-thieves might do. On the surface, the 3.5 system is pretty straight forward. If I have a +5 to my Jump skill, I roll a d20 and add 5.

It becomes a little more complex when you start throwing in feats and synergies (i.e. having 5 or more ranks in Tumble gives me an additional +2 to my Jump checks). Nothing game-stopping or requiring a calculator, just a little more crunch.

Complexity comes from the book-keeping to buy skills in the first place, especially if you multi-class. You have to mind not only what class you took first, but which skill points at what level and class do you use to buy which skills? Maybe not so bad for players, who can spend a week stewing on skill purchases upon leveling, but it can be a minor headache for GMs either auditing PCs or fleshing out NPCs. Of course, being the GM, if you want a blacksmith to have +10 Craft Armor, you can just hand wave it rather than worry about what level Expert the smith would have to be in order to have a skill rank that high.

Also, the current skill list is a little bloated. What almost every other system calls Stealth is split into 2 separate skills, Move Silent and Hide In Shadows. What is normally termed Perception is broken down into Spot, Listen and Search. Some skills seem so specialized that it's almost a shame to waste precious skill points on them (until the lack of Use Rope comes back to haunt you).

The latest wave of d20 material, namely Stars Wars Saga d20, shows the apparent intent of WotC designers. They are doing two things.

First they are consolidating the Skill List. Stealth replaces Move and Hide, Perception replaces Spot, Listen and Search, Acrobatics replaces Balance and Tumble and Athletics replaces Climb, Jump and Swim. I've heard other gamers express dissatisfaction with the latter, citing real world people they know as examples of someone who is a great climber but sinks like a rock. While they are correct, I am okay with this consolidation for game purposes.

They have also eliminated a lot of "fluff" skills. Crafting, Profession, Perform and a few others that I'm missing are out the window. I'm still chewing on the homebrew rules for these under consolidated skills, as skill picks are now more valuable.

The other thing they are doing is simplifying the mechanic. In 4e (and SWS), you don't buy individual Ranks (+1) to skills. Instead characters add 1/2 their level plus Ability Bonus (ie Dex for Stealth) plus Racial Bonus, and if they are Trained in a skill, +5.

This assumes that characters progress equally in all untrained and trained skills (without considering feats). It does make it easy to throw together NPCs and judge their skill bonus (that merchant is a 6th level Expert with a 14 Charisma and trained in Diplomacy, so his total Diplomacy bonus is 3 + 2 + 5 equals +10).

In my 3.8 rules, I added another step, so skills fall into three basic levels. All characters start off as Proficient in the class skills for their first class. They get a number of skill picks (based on class and Int) to improve Proficient Skills to Trained or an Untrained Skill (one that doesn't appear on their class list) to Proficient. All other skills are Untrained. The bonus breaks down to:

Untrained - Ability Bonus
Proficient - Ability Bonus + 1/2 Character Level
Trained - Ability Bonus + 1/2 Character Level + 5

I'm still debating fluff skills, balancing them with crunch. I may add skills such as Craftsman or Performer, where the skill would have a specialization that it counted full value towards, and possibly additional lower valued specialties as you advanced. Or I may create secondary skills... free(ish) fluff skills that may not have a lot of use but would round out characters.

I've also noticed some missing skills, namely Appraise and Gather Info. I'm thinking these will have to be added, especially since the characters in my current campaign have created a trading company and are busy trying to a name (and some gold) for themselves.

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