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Simplified Skills System

posted Wednesday, April 18th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Game DesignThird Edition

It seems that D&D’s sci-fi cousin Star Wars D20 is undergoing a revision, and one of the big changes is a simplified skills system. This is an interesting development, since the changes have potential implications for D&D – most the flaws with the skills system in Star Wars also apply to D&D:

  • Certain skills have unnecessary or confusing overlap, like Search and Spot
  • The difference between trained and untrained skills at high level is huge; while wizards get at least half the base attack and hit points of a fighter, a twentieth level fighter is no better at discerning lies than he was at level 1 and can be outfoxed by a low level rogue
  • Characters avoid using skills untrained, even at high level
  • Skills aren’t as powerful as other abilities, but take a lot of time to pick and handle
  • Some skills are almost never used (Forgery, Use Rope) or are eventually made redundant by magic (Climb, Heal), while others are important and frequently used (Spot, Concentration)

Star Wars’ solution has been to change how skills work by consolidating the skills into a smaller number of skills. There are interesting parallels with Mike Mearl’s Iron Heroes which uses a Skill Groups system to similar effect, splitting the skills into ten groups to achieve much the same thing:

  • Academia: Appraise, Concentration, Decipher Script, Heal, Knowledge, Speak Language
  • Agility: Balance, Escape Artist, Tumble
  • Athletics: Climb, Jump, Swim
  • Mysticism: Concentration, Decipher Script, Spellcraft, Use Magic Device
  • Perception: Listen, Search, Sense Motive, Spot
  • Robbery: Disable Device, Forgery, Open Lock, Sleight of Hand
  • Social: Bluff, Diplomacy, Gather Information, Intimidate
  • Stealth: Hide, Move Silently
  • Theatrics: Bluff, Disguise, Perform, Sleight of Hand
  • Wilderness Lore: Handle Animal, Ride, Survival, Use Rope

However, this setup draws from the low-magic, Conanesque implied setting of Iron Heroes, which is why Knowledge is considered weak enough to be lumped together into a category along with five other skills, in a category that’s only a class skill group for the book’s only (and optional) spellcasting class. By contrast, the absence of flight and travel magic makes climbing, jumping and swimming important enough to warrant a category of only three skills, which are considered class skills for all heroes.

However you would like to house rule your skills systems, the choice is up to you.

Comments

  1. Alan Oak

    April 18th, 2007

    I’d like to hear more about how they’re allocating skill points. Thieves, for example, could get HUGE bonuses in the new skills quickly. I’m sure that’s not how it works.

  2. Jeffery

    November 15th, 2007

    I’d go one step further and collapse Intimidate into Bluff. Isn’t intimidation just a bluff anyway?

  3. Kerin

    December 8th, 2007

    Jeffery –

    Not if you can beat the hell out of whoever you’re Intimidating. :)

  4. CinnamonPixie

    July 8th, 2008

    I like the skills system the way it is, mostly… I think, for most characters (Rogues excluded – in the example below) there should be some bundling of skills like “Stealth” for Hide & Move Silent. But since they are “lumped together” just make those slightly less effective than the highly trained independent skill(s) (which is why Rogues wouldn’t have them lumped together – gobs of skill points and those are trademark skills of the class which very few rogues I’ve ever seen don’t put a ton (if not max) ranks into). The best way to do this is just make a +2 or +4 (at higher levels the +4 is more appropriate – but that’s a GM’s call) bonus to opposed rolls against those with bundled skills when those with the unique one are opposing them (if both have the bundled there’d be no difference).

    The way I’ve seen this work is with two pairs of skills primarily. Stealth (as above) and “Perception” (being Listen & Spot – but not Search since search is a trained logical and almost forensics-style top-to-bottom intensive look at EVERYTHING in a certain specified area). Basically if you had a class that had the two skills as class skills and had (my GM said more than 4+ skill points as a base) the training (as a class feature, or potential to have the training – you could always not spend points there) then you had the bonus over others who simply had the “2-hour primer course” on the subject and didn’t really have the honed and trained skill set that you did. Therefore you get a bonus to opposed rolls against those (+2 or +4, as above) and your DC is either a little lower or theirs is a little higher (the latter is how my GM did it). It balanced things nicely, and it gave low skill point players a little more skill ability without stepping on the toes of the classes with a heavy influence on skills and with an abundance of skill points (Rogues, Rangers, Bards (to a slightly lesser degree)).

  5. KasraKhan

    July 23rd, 2008

    For those who haven’t seen how skills work in 4.0, I’ll explain, and I think it is a vastly better system.

    Skill points are gone. What does being smart have to do with knowing how to jump, anyway?

    Every skill check is equal to your ability modifier plus one half your character level, rounded down. This means that, sensibly, level 20, experienced wizards can jump higher than level 1 fighters. Level 30, experienced, well-traveled fighters know a little more about dungeoneering than a level 1 rogue.

    Each class has a list of “class skills” they can choose from. The skills offered and the total number of skills still differs based on class. Each skill chosen confers a +5 trained bonus to that skill.

    Feats some every other level for all classes, instead of every 3 levels. That being said, some PCs, like Rogues, can choose the train-a-skill feat, which trains any one skill, conferring the +5 bonus. Additionally, there is the familiar +3 bonus from Skill Focus, as well as a host of feats like Alertness and Athletic. In other words, its far less complicated, albeit a little more rigid, than the old system. Its still fairly customizable, and in my opinion a whole lot better.

    The two things I dislike about 4.0 are the magic item variations and the way epic levels are handled. Breaking the epic barrier in my campaigns was always epic in and of itself, and 4.0 demeans it.

  6. Renthar

    July 23rd, 2008

    Uhm. And someone that, for example, trained in something ’till level 10, and then stopped? You can’t do that in D&D 4.0: you train for life, or you don’t train at all. Very limiting, I think.

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