Alternate-Rule Skills

Pathfinder Unchained has a bunch of little rules and subsystems to replace or augment those in core, and I think I see a way to combine a couple of skills-related changes to good effect.

A bit of background first: I really, really hate fiddling with skill points. I’ve used them RAW, I’ve tried tweaking how they work, but in the end they still annoy me because they’re a resource to be managed that really has little effect. I don’t need all character decisions to be major ones, but they should at least be more than “+1 to a skill” kind of choices.

I want to make skills a little more meaningful, without being overwhelming, and I think I see how, adapting skill groups and skill unlocks.

Rules

The follow rules replace the core rules regarding skills.

A bit of context:

  • PCs will be limited to level 8, with non-level advancement after that.
  • I want to enhance the place skills have in the game.
  • I want skill allocation decisions to be big enough to care about. “+1 rank” doesn’t do anything for me.
  • I want to simplify character construction.

Skill Points and Skill Ranks

Skill points are completely out, this all works on skill slots (described below).

Skill ranks can still be calculated as proficiency bonus plus specialization bonus plus level bonus, for any given skill.

Skill Slots

Each character has a number of ‘skill slots’ equal to half the number of skill points their class grants, plus half their level (rounded down, minimum 0), plus half their Intelligence modifier (rounded down, no minimum), plus two.

Skill Slots = Class Skill Ranks / 2 + HD / 2 + Intelligence modifier / 2 + 2

That is, a level 1 fighter has three slots, and a level 1 rogue has six, before Intelligence modifier. Even the dumbest (Int 3) level 1 fighter would still have one skill slot, while an awfully smart (Int 18) rogue would have eight. A multiclass character uses the highest skill slot value of the base classes. A fighter 1/rogue 1 would have the same skill slots available as a level 2 rogue.

A skill slot can be spent to get proficiency in a skill group, or specialization with a single skill.

Skill Groups

Skilled can be bundled together in several ways. The skill group rules in Pathfinder Unchained suggests half a dozen groups (natural, perceptive, physical, scholarly, social, thieving) that end up covering all the base skills, and the consolidated rules in the same chapter combine the three dozen or so core skills into a dozen new skills. For that matter, Iron Heroes also had skill groups. I’m combining elements of all three below.

  • Each skill group contains two to five related skills. A skill may appear in more than one group, and new groups can be defined for new purposes.
  • Proficiency with a skill group gives you a +3 proficiency bonus to all checks made for the skills in that group, and you are considered trained in all skills in the group.

Skill Specialization

Specialization with a skill gives you a +3 specialization bonus to all checks made for the chosen skill, and you are considered trained in that skill.

You also get a skill unlock for the chosen skill.

If there is more than one unlock available for a skill, you can specialize more than once (gaining the additional unlocks) but the +3 bonuses don’t stack.

Level Bonus

If your character is fifth level or higher, you get a +3 level bonus to all skill checks, trained or untrained. This reflects general experience and competence, but still does not allow untrained skill use where it would otherwise not be allowed.

P8 Modifier: Signature Skill

This campaign will be using ‘P8 Rules’, where characters stop gaining levels at level 8. However, further advancements can gain you additional abilities such as feats or skill slots. Up to one-fifth of these advancements may be spent on ‘signature skill slots’. You must have skill specialization with the chosen skill, and your specialization bonus increases to +6 and the unlock grade increases by 1.

Skill Unlocks

Skill unlocks, as currently written in Pathfinder Unchained, are special abilities granted to unchained rogues (and characters with the Signature Skill feat) that makes skills a little bit better when you have 5, 10, 15, or 20 ranks in the skill. For instance, with sufficient ranks in the Climb skill you get

  • 5 Ranks: You are no longer denied your Dexterity bonus when climbing.
  • 10 Ranks: You gain a natural climb speed (but not the +8 racial bonus on Climb checks) of 10 feet, but only on surfaces with a Climb DC of 20 or lower.
  • 15 Ranks: You gain a natural climb speed (but not the +8 racial bonus on Climb checks) equal to your base speed on surfaces with a Climb DC of 20 or lower, and of 10 feet on all other surfaces.
  • 20 Ranks: You gain a natural climb speed equal to your base speed on all surfaces. If you have both hands free, you gain a +8 racial bonus on Climb checks.

It gives you something a character without the unlock doesn’t have, and it scales with level. I like it… but will refer to the steps as ‘Grades’ 1 through 4 because I’ll be losing ‘skill ranks’ as a concept but want to keep the four steps.

Gaining a skill specialization gives you a skill unlock at Grade 1. In the case above, Climb specialization means you are no longer denied your Dexterity bonus while climbing.

If you also have one or more relevant skill group proficiencies, your skill unlock increases to Grade 2 (gain a natural climb speed of 10 feet, with restrictions).

If you are level 5 or higher, your skill unlock increases to Grade 3 (Grade 2 without proficiency) and your natural climb speed increases.

If you are level 8 and spend a signature skill slot on Climb, the skill unlock increases go Grade 4 (natural climb speed equal to your base speed on all surfaces, and if you have both hands free you gain a +8 racial bonus on Climb checks).

Example

(This example includes some modified-on-the-fly skill unlock abilities; updating all the unlocks to align with the rules here is beyond the scope of this post.)

A young knight (level 1 paladin) of average Intelligence has three skill slots available. He spends the first on the “Knightly” skill group: Diplomacy, Knowledge (nobility, religion), and Ride. He spends the second on Ride, and the third on Intimidate (he’s a little rough around the edges, maybe). Ignoring ability score modifiers, he gets

  • +6 on all Ride checks,
    • Unlock 1: Your mount gains a +2 bonus on Fortitude saves or Constitution checks to avoid becoming fatigued or exhausted. This bonus increases by 1 for every unlock grade beyond 1.
    • Unlock 2: When you spur your mount, its speed is increased by 20 feet, and it gains a +2 bonus on Reflex saves and a +2 dodge bonus to AC.
  • +3 on Intimidate checks,
    • Unlock 1: If you exceed the DC to demoralize a target by at least 10, it is frightened for 1 round and shaken for 1 round more A Will save (DC 16) negates the frightened condition, but the target is still shaken for 2 rounds, even if it has the stalwart ability.
  • +3 on Diplomacy, Knowledge (nobility), and Knowledge (religion) checks.
  • +0 on other skill checks.

When this knight has seen some more of the world (i.e. gained a few levels, he’s level 5 now) he’s gained two more skill slots and the level bonus kicks in. He’s also taking on a greater ceremonial role, gaining the Ritualist skill group (Knowledge (arcana), Perform, Ritual, Spellcraft [this might be a bit heavy –kjd]), with a specialization in ritual magic. Ignoring ability score modifiers, he gets

  • +9 on all Ride checks,
    • Unlock 1: Your mount gains a +2 bonus on Fortitude saves or Constitution checks to avoid becoming fatigued or exhausted. This bonus increases by 1 for every unlock grade beyond 1.
    • Unlock 2: When you spur your mount, its speed is increased by 20 feet, and it gains a +2 bonus on Reflex saves and a +2 dodge bonus to AC.
    • Unlock 3: When an opponent targets you or your mount with a bull rush, drag, overrun, reposition, or trip combat maneuver while you are mounted, you can substitute the result of a Ride check in place of your (or your mount’s) CMD.
  • +9 on all Ritual (based on Spellcraft, subject to change) checks,
    • Unlock 1: Identifying occult items takes 1 full round, and the time required to learn a ritual is halved.
    • Unlock 2: You can identify occult items without using detect occult, though the DC is increased by 10.
    • Unlock 3: Identifying occult items is a standard action, and the time required to learn a new ritual is reduced to 1 minute per spell level.
  • +6 on all Intimidate checks,
    • Unlock 1: If you exceed the DC to demoralize a target by at least 10, it is frightened for 1 round and shaken for 2 rounds more. A Will save (DC 16) negates the frightened condition, but the target is still shaken for 3 rounds, even if it has the stalwart ability.
    • Unlock 2: If you exceed the DC to demoralize a target by at least 10, it is panicked for 1 round or frightened for 1d4 rounds (your choice) and shaken for 3 rounds more. A Will save (DC 16) negates the frightened or panicked condition, but the target is still shaken for 1d4+3 rounds, even if it has the stalwart ability.
  • +6 on Diplomacy, Knowledge (nobility), and Knowledge (religion) checks.
  • +6 on Knowledge (arcana), Perform, and Spellcraft checks.
  • +3 on other skill checks.

After this, while he no longer gains levels he does get some small improvements. These can be feats and skill unlocks, and he can use the latter to gain more skill group proficiencies and skill specializations, and a small number can be used for signature skills, increasing his specialization bonus to +6 and gaining him the next unlock.

Closing Comments

I still need to flesh this out, I’m not finished with some of the calculations and the skill unlock abilities definitely need work. I like how this feels, though. It gets rid of one of the bits I especially dislike about character management, replacing it with something that provides meaningful choices. The layering of skill groups and specializations gives the ability to be particularly good at something while encouraging some breadth, without forcing it, while making specialization attractive enough to be worth doing.

I need to polish this a bit and get it to the table… but so far, I’m happy with how it’s shaping up.

2 Comments

    • I’m glad you like it, Ray. I’m working on something similar for spells, replacing low-level spells with words of power, high-level spells with rituals. I’ve just got a couple of wrinkles to pound flat.

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