Alternative skill mechanic

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rremedio
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Alternative skill mechanic

Post by rremedio » Mon Apr 08, 2013 6:38 pm

In my D&D years I've never used the general skill system, but I've been playing Dark Dungeons recently and I really liked how it works (and how the GM plays it) and I'm going to use it in the Darker Dungeons game I'm about to start (my initial idea was to simply ignore the skill system).

My problem is which some specific skills. For instance, a character with high dexterity is naturally good at Balance. If he practiced a lot (acquiring the skill) he will be even better, so the DEX+BALANCE mechanic is nice. But a character with high intelligence which doesn't have the Arcane Lore skill, even if he is a magic user, should probably not be as good as a character with lower intelligence, but a lot more study. But the INT+ARCANE LORE roll will always favor the most intelligent (my character has INT=18, Arc. Lore=0, he has 90% chances of success, the other with INT=13, Arc. Lore=3 will have 80%) and I think it should favor the one with most study (without getting ride of the Intelligence).

So I'm thinking about using different rolls for some specific skills. Instead of Ability+Skill+Modifiers roll I'm thinking about Ability Modifier+Skill Modifier+11.

Skill modifiers are -2, 0, 1, 3, 5.

This would give the following total bonus values for characters (Ability values higher than 8, can be extrapolated to lower values). The drawback is that it doesn't make a difference about ability values in the same range (Int 13 = Int 14 = Int 15).

Ability Scores|9-12|13-15|16-17|18 Ability Modifiers|+0|+1|+2|+3 Skill=0|+9|+10|+11|+12 Skill=1|+11|+12|+13|+14 Skill=2|+12|+13|+14|+15 Skill=3|+14|+15|+16|+17 Skill=4|+16|+17|+18|+19

I would use this for the following skills:
Arcane Lore
Craft
Disguise
Engineering
Gambling
Geography
History
Laws
Lip Reading
Magical Engineering
Nature Lore
Religious Lore

Does this make any sense?

TheHobgoblin
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Re: Alternative skill mechanic

Post by TheHobgoblin » Mon Apr 08, 2013 7:32 pm

I don't know...

First, someone who has a bit of training in a skill such as Arcane Lore but isn't vastly intelligent might sometimes get confused about what they learned while someone with a high intelligence could be figuring things like a puzzle and so when he encounters the situation he has a better chance of passing it than a rookie.

I certainly don't think anyone should be given a flat -2 penalty on any skill rolls. Although what you are proposing existed in 3rd edition D&D as "trained skills".

But dividing trained skills and non-trained skills is a tricky thing. For instance, why is cooking not on your list? Or Performance? Or Riding? These aren't things someone just does naturally either and having taken a proper lesson on doing these things would likely help more than

Other things that might work--
Skills ranks in a skill are worth double. You get a +2 the skill per a rank. No odd skill ranks.

Or, you don't get skill points each level. Instead you start with 4 skills and you choose those 4 and get a +5 bonus in those skills. Then at levels 5, 9, 13, 17, 21, 25, 29, and 33 you can select a different skill (you never get to pick the same one twice) and you get a +5 bonus in that skill.

rremedio
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Re: Alternative skill mechanic

Post by rremedio » Mon Apr 08, 2013 10:39 pm

TheHobgoblin wrote:I don't know...

First, someone who has a bit of training in a skill such as Arcane Lore but isn't vastly intelligent might sometimes get confused about what they learned while someone with a high intelligence could be figuring things like a puzzle and so when he encounters the situation he has a better chance of passing it than a rookie.
The way I see the nature of Arcane Lore, I don't think someone without training would be able to figure anything, even with high intelligence. It's the kind of thing I believe intelligence helps, but the knowledge is more important. But maybe I need to take another look at it.
TheHobgoblin wrote:I certainly don't think anyone should be given a flat -2 penalty on any skill rolls. Although what you are proposing existed in 3rd edition D&D as "trained skills".
I don't see any problem. The -2 was chosen to give the final results I would want in the final table (maybe I should just add +2 to the skill bonus and start with base value 9 instead of 11, one less factor to join the math). This gives a person with basic knowledge of the skill 3 points of advantage above someone who never trained/studied it...it's 15% chance, sounds fair to me.
TheHobgoblin wrote: But dividing trained skills and non-trained skills is a tricky thing. For instance, why is cooking not on your list? Or Performance? Or Riding? These aren't things someone just does naturally either and having taken a proper lesson on doing these things would likely help more than
Well, you are right about Performance, it should have been added to the list.

About Cooking, it would fit the table as well, but its role in the game like preparing meals from hunted animals or from fruits and vegetables collected from nature. Things that every adventurer can do, but some of them have special skills on doing it. Unlike Lore, Craft or Engineering where the chances of untrained people to succeed is much lower.

The same for riding, the description says that it is to be tested in unusual situations, every adventurer knows how to ride, unless the player decides he doesn't from the beginning. If it was to be used in horsemanship contests or something that required professional training, it would be better to have another skill.
TheHobgoblin wrote:Other things that might work--
Skills ranks in a skill are worth double. You get a +2 the skill per a rank. No odd skill ranks.
This was my first thought, but added to the ability scores, they would result in numbers much higher than I would want.
TheHobgoblin wrote:Or, you don't get skill points each level. Instead you start with 4 skills and you choose those 4 and get a +5 bonus in those skills. Then at levels 5, 9, 13, 17, 21, 25, 29, and 33 you can select a different skill (you never get to pick the same one twice) and you get a +5 bonus in that skill.
I like the progression as is. The character starts his adventuring career with basic knowledge of the skills (I assume he has spent much more time practicing for his class abilities than for his other skills) and slowly progress his skills as he levels up.

Of course everything could be adjusted in real time without any changes to the system by me depending on the character backgrounds. "You never designed a siege weapon before, so you get -10 modifier in your roll". But if since we have the skill system, I'd like to make it a bit more realistic.

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Re: Alternative skill mechanic

Post by TheHobgoblin » Tue Apr 09, 2013 4:58 am

The skill system inherently doesn't make any sense the way it currently works.

If you had an NPC who spent 30 years doing something, let's say practicing Law. Then they are going to be far more knowledgeable about it than a PC who had been working on it for only a few months.

However, if that NPC had never once gone out to kill Kobolds, it will only be level 1, it should only fight as level 1. Therefore the NPC would have only a few skill points.

If the PC, having gone out and killed many Kobolds, might be level 4+ even though they aren't particularly old. As a result they have many more skill points than that NPC and will thus almost certainly have more ranks in their chosen skills than the NPC would have.

PCs gain experience primarily through combat, but experience in combat has no bearing on the overwhelming majority of the skills. There are a few that it would be applicable towards, but really-- not that many. The practice of most skills would increase them, but would have absolutely no affect on a character's effectiveness in combat and would generally net no experience for the character. In other words, I would expect that someone would gain a skill rank on average every 3-6 months they lived (primarily in various knowledge, craft and profession skills), but in no way would this give someone a better BAB, hit points, weapon proficiency or so forth.

This disconnect is a much more critical and gaping flaw in the system than someone benefiting more from their natural ability scores than from their ranks in a skill. So long as that critical flaw is not at all fixed, I don't think other issues about the system are worth addressing.

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Re: Alternative skill mechanic

Post by rremedio » Tue Apr 09, 2013 6:33 am

I think the character creation rules are clearly designed to create adventurers. You can give your level 0 judge NPC how many law skill points you want. You don't even need to, you can just assume he knows everything about the law if you want to. And he would be weaker at fighting than a level one character, he is not an adventurer.

I see the rules that way: the character spent his years prior to getting level 1 practicing fighting, learning magic, or thievery, etc...this is their profession. In the meantime they were able to learn one thing or another about other things, that's why they have limited skill points and why some with more Intelligence (quicker learners) got more points.

While they level up, they get better at some of those things and may learn some others. The progression may not make much sense, but it limits the amount of skills the characters may learn without prohibiting them from learning. So I'm good with the progression the way it is. If they want to learn something new that you consider hard to learn (lets say: law), you can rule that to use that extra skill point they earned at level 5, they should spend some time studying, practicing or whatever, maybe they would need a teacher. Someone don't just learn leatherworking without being taught. And this could be even a plot hook. If they spent their four early levels tracking monsters everyday, they well deserve an automatic raise in their Tracking skill when they get their extra points. The rules don't need to be clear about that.

My issue with the current system is that a character with Intelligence 15, but no skills, is as good at Engineering as a character with Intelligence 13 and Engineering 2 which should be better, because he has knowledge that the first one doesn't have.

Not a big deal. In the game I'm playing, we've been using only the skills provided by the book and without any house rules about skills. They work as expected and they are not game changers. Just a nice bonus, I think.

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Re: Alternative skill mechanic

Post by TheHobgoblin » Tue Apr 09, 2013 8:20 am

Perhaps the issue then is-- just how much training does a single skill point actually indicate.

Remember, a single skill point only increases one's chances of success at performing a task by only 5%. Even a basic task typically has a DC of 5. Which means that unless a character has at least a +4 between their attribute bonus and skill ranks before they can reliably perform basic tasks without fear of failure.

For each skill rank or attribute bonus, the increase in chance of success would break down as follows.

Success at basic task: +20%
Success at moderate task: +10%
Success at difficult task: +5%

It really wouldn't seem like a single skill rank equates to a full 6-month intensive training course in something. I have trouble imaging that someone who had spent 6-months properly learning how to ride a horse would have only a 20% better success rate at staying on the back of a horse when it is running full speed than someone who had never ridden a horse before.

While you may want to claim that every adventurer would automatically know the basics of horse-riding and cooking, how is that really any different than assuming that every adventurer knows the basics of Arcane Lore, Nature or Religious Lore (rumors, fables, and myth), Geography and History (are they all lost foreigners dropped into the middle of the land without having ever traveled through it?)?

There is no reason to give them a penalty unless there is a very specific reason they should be more ignorant about a subject than the average person. Living in the kind of world D&D characters live in would give them certain insights on things that you as a player wouldn't have insight on-- same as living in the modern world gives you insight that the characters would not have.

That being said-- it is possible you are underestimating just how great the intellectual level of someone at intelligence 15 is than someone with intelligence 13. Their higher intelligence almost certainly didn't arise in a vacuum either, but probably represents a significant level of curiosity that caused them to dabble in all sorts of subjects and have a passing familiarity in them even if they have no formalized training as represented by rank.

So when it comes to something for instance -- knowing what date a kingdom declared independence from another kingdom, the character with lower intelligence and a rank could represent someone who studied such things.. but they were exposed to just SO many dates and kingdoms and people, it is hard to keep it all straight and might give the wrong number. They can't quite recall if it was 1134 or 1124 or or 1234 or 1242.

Someone with a higher intelligence never really formally studied the subject, but they remember some myths from when they were a child or they heard a song in a bar once or they remember there was a tricentennial celebration two years ago or from other world events they had heard of-- they could estimate the date with better accuracy.

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Re: Alternative skill mechanic

Post by rremedio » Tue Apr 09, 2013 2:35 pm

I don't understand your statements about the mechanics in the beginning of your post. By the rules, the roll is made against the character ability score (ability bonus won't count). A character with score 16 in any ability will have 80% of success in basic tasks even without any training. Each skill point gives him 5% more chances.

You can argue that some knowledge is common sense but not everything is. The book states that every character knows riding and even a failing cooking test will produce useful meal, that every character knows about all the rituals of their own religion. There are 26 skills (not counting Languages) listed and some of them are entries for more than one skill at once. Assuming that a character has a minimum 40% chance of success in all of them (Darker Dungeons minimum ability score is 8 in the beginning) is already giving a lot of unlikely knowledge to him. If you are testing for a task that requires knowledge or training, your intelligence, dexterity, strength, etc should be the bonus.

The roll, like you said, checks not just the knowledge/training, but also the ability to remember, estimate, etc...but, using your example, a character who doesn't have the History skill, has a higher chance of having never heard the date of the the independence, or details that would help him to estimate it than a character who has the skill. On the other hand he has a higher chance to remember/estimate correctly if he heard the details than the other who studied but it's not so smart.

What I don't agree with the rules is that the ability has a much major weight compared the study/training and that high abilities make skills based on them almost pointless.

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Re: Alternative skill mechanic

Post by TheHobgoblin » Tue Apr 09, 2013 5:35 pm

Well here is the thing then...

All characters are presumed to have a passing familiarity with all skills. Same as if we were going to make a character sheet for yourself, chances are you would need a VAST amount of skill points to give yourself a skill point in everything you have done or practiced at least once in your life. Even if we stated you out as you were when you were 17.

Well, everything except where we would put the highest scores would be reduced to 0 and just considered to be basic common knowledge and the results would be determined by your ability scores. Furthermore, the difference in attributes is considerably larger than it might initially seem. a 13 is every clever high school student who can get into college without issue. Maybe 14 are "gifted" students who can score serious academic scholarships. At 15 we are talking about people who graduated with BAs and good GPAs. At 16-17 we are talking about serious college professors and others who probably have masters degrees or the equivalent. At 18, we are talking Einstein and Steven Hawkings. At 19-20 we are talking about a level that only exists in fictional characters-- such as Batman who can accurately predict every move someone will make over the next two days from having met them for 15 minutes.

It is very easy to forget this-- that the range between 12 to 18 is not just some small insignificant bump, but represents the difference between "yeah, not bad for being pretty average" to "highest level of real life human achievement." Furthermore, the skill points don't seem to represent a vast amount of knowledge, they might only represent a relatively small exposure.

In other words, the intelligence level would imply a certain level of collected knowledge of various sources that they don't necessarily have any ranks in because they don't really specialize in it, but they have probably heard something somewhere and can apply it and, if not, when faced with a situation they can extrapolate the likely or approximate answer given the various other things they have encountered. Again, Intelligence score prior to their being a lore skill kind of implied collected lore.

Moreover, there is another issue with those sorts of skills-- GMs would never enforce players spending their skill points appropriately. Virtually never does anyone put points into lore or craft or profession skills-- even if that is exactly what the players and thus the characters have been learning. Even though the GM doesn't enforce the player take ranks in Geography, the character will quickly no longer get lost traveling across the region to all the places they have already been. Characters that have no skill with history will soon show awareness of the history if it has been presented to the players. Players who encounter the same monsters again and again will quickly utilize the proper tactics against the monsters rather than every character they play constantly helplessly fumbling about-- even if the character has no ranks in any skill suggesting the character should know how to approach the monster. And even if the character does fumble the first time to find the right answer, they will soon remember "Trolls don't like fire" but will not be forced to spend a skill point in order to represent this collected knowledge.

So obviously a character is kind of understood to have a considerable amount of collected knowledge from personal experience that is not going to be represented on the character sheet. And it is important to remember that the character was not born the day the player decided to start playing it. The character has grown up and spent anywhere between 17-100 years prior to the day the player picks up the character living in a world filled with dangerous monsters, magic used by mortals everyday, within a region that they have almost certainly traveled across or spoken to people who have traveled across it, have been told the history of their world in stories, fables and myths, they have seen people around play their trades and crafts and have probably noticed a few things about how it is done....

So I think it is very likely that you are vastly underestimating what would amount to common knowledge for beings who inhabit such a place. Particularly, again, if they are starting at the intellectual level of high achieving students or even high level academic scholars.

If it still seems difficult to wrap your head around-- the only functional solution I could offer is to double the bonus that skill points grant and then raise the DC of all difficulties.

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Re: Alternative skill mechanic

Post by rremedio » Tue Apr 09, 2013 6:45 pm

I understand your point and I think we will never convince each other, because I think you overestimate the common knowledge while you think that I underestimate it. ;)

If you need to identify some possibly religious text (let's say, a verse that sounds like coming from a holy book, which I'm treating here as a basic task for those who studied the holy book...say if the text is from the book or not) you would ask this for an Einstein level scholar who did not study religion or to a person of average Intelligence level who has made spent six months studying about religion? I'm not denying that the scholar may be able succeed while the religious may fail, but I would lower the chances of the scholar to succeed, that's why he gets a 12 with his INT=18. He is a genius, if he listened the verse just one time, 10 years ago, he might be able to remember, but there's no 90% of chances that he can identify the verse as part of the holy book or not. 60% is still a high chance for someone who doesn't care for the subject.

I don't agree with you, with my short personal experience with skills, that players who invest in lore or craft are so rare (at least have a some of them, including me, in two groups) . And I don't see why a GM would enforce his players to get skill points in "correct" skills. So, you Magic User doesn't have Arcane Lore? He is able to cast spells, he was a good student and learned well, but he was never taught about the secrets and lore of other schools of magic than his one. He is aware of few spells apart from the one he learned so he won't be of much more help than other characters at recognizing spells.

I would not use a skill to check if a character knows that trolls hate fire. Some things are just too much to ask for the players to ignore (at least most players I know), so I just assume that trolls are famous monsters and everybody knows that they hate fire. But I assume that between two characters that never faced a troll, the one without a skill point (but great intelligence) would have a harder time telling if that detached leg laying on the ground belonged to a troll or not than someone with special knowledge about trolls, who maybe even seen the drawing of a troll leg in some weird book about magical creatures. The common sense would even play against the first one, because trolls can re-attach their legs and everybody knows that, so how is this leg here while there's no sign of the troll?

In my opinion, for some actions the knowledge is much more important than natural talent.

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Re: Alternative skill mechanic

Post by TheHobgoblin » Tue Apr 09, 2013 7:55 pm

Well then, again, the simplest and best thing to do would simply be to double the bonus one gets on a roll for each rank in all skills and raise all the DCs to compensate. That way the bonus given to the rolls by natural attributes is halved.

But trying to pick and choose skills that are somehow super secret sacred knowledge that none can decipher or work out even a basic task without special study regardless of how intelligent or wise they are (unless it is convenient and easy for the PCs to just assume that their characters would know something without needing ranks in the skill because they themselves know it) from skills one is going to assume that all PCs are regularly trained in regardless of whether they have even a single rank in the skill and they needn't even bother making a roll to accomplish basic tasks with that skill...

Again, it sticks out to me that things like Craft, Gamble and Lip Reading are on your list, but Cooking and Riding aren't. I have never taken a formalized class on any of these subjects, but I can tell you that I have a much easier time looking at something broken and working out how to fix it or learning how to play a card game and bet money in a mathematically advantageous manner or figuring out what someone who I can't hear is trying to say than I do trying to figure out how to properly cook a dish I have been served before or riding a horse for very long at all without becoming very sore and having to move at a slow pace lest I fall off... and I have the advantage of a modernly manufactured saddle.

I just don't think the results are going to seem very fair or reasonable because any list you make is going to be subjective and debatable. And, again, it does seem as though you are looking to place that penalty for not having the skill upon the very skills that grant so little benefit anyway that it would be quite unusual for a PC to have it at all. So I don't know why you want to penalize PCs-- particularly when you agree that we can't really expect even PCs who haven't taken ranks in the skill to show a lack of basic knowledge in the subject when the PCs themselves have that knowledge.

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Re: Alternative skill mechanic

Post by rremedio » Tue Apr 09, 2013 10:04 pm

I agree that the list is subjective and debatable. But in my opinion the basic chances depend more on knowledge than on natural skill (for some skills). And what I want is better values for the basic chances.

There's nothing about super secret knowledge, characters with high intelligence still get good 50-60% chances of succeeding in my table and I'm the first to admit that this table was never tested and might be flawed.

About the riding and cooking I've already said my opinion: the skill descriptions say that riding and cooking are trivial to the adventurers. So characters with special training in those skills will perform better than the others, but the others are much more prone to succeed if they have high abilities then with Arcane Lore, for instance. If an unknown spell or monster must be recognized by their effect or description, every character have his chance to succeed, but knowledge database will make a better difference than high intelligence, because characters who doesn't have the skill will rely in myths and histories while I assume that those who have the skill had some kind of teaching from people who really knew the subject.

Of course you can assume that no training or teaching was made, every character had the same access to the myths but some of them payed more attention to the subject and that's why they have a skill point (or some just heard more histories than the others). So intelligence is all that matters and the skill point is just an extra for a specific intelligence test. But that way skills won't be what I'd like them to be...a chance to add more depth to their characters.

I don't want to add penalties to the PCs. I just want their skills to be useful. Add a chance for them to be notable and reliable in something that the others are not. Every magic user has a high intelligence, why can't one of them be much better than the other in historical subjects while the other is good at understanding mechanical devices, if this doesn't change their combat or their class features effectiveness?

Just doubling the bonus and raising the DCs would not create good basic chances, but would give the effect I want for non basic chances. Maybe I need to play with this idea before deciding.

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