Paths Not Taken: Initial Thoughts on Skills

Living Document: Skills

As with so many things, skills can be implemented many ways.

  • Pathfinder first edition followed a model close to the Dungeons & Dragons 3.x model: you get skill points every level and can spend them to advance you skills. This edition simplified the ‘class skills’ mechanic: you no longer double the cost of advancement and half the maximum ranks allowed, you just get a +3 bonus to checks of class skills you have ranks in (a change I liked). Many feats and prestige classes, and some other options, have skill prerequisites and can be considered ‘improvements’ to your use of a skill. Pathfinder Unchained introduced skill unlocks, each of which gives you new things you can do with a skill as your skill ranks increase.
  • Pathfinder second edition simplified the skill model by having several degrees of training (untrained, trained, expert, master, legendary — hmm, these more or less align, except for names, with the class tiers I’m using), with increasing proficiency modifiers to relevant checks. Untrained is +0, trained is your level +2, expert is level +4, master is level +6, and legendary is level +8. The increasing degrees of proficiency can be level-gated: you can’t reach master proficiency with a skill until level 7, and you can’t reach legendary proficiency with a skill before level 15. Skills may allow new options or results at higher proficiency.
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2e had a ‘proficiency’ system that let you make checks against an ability score (possibly modified) to do things that weren’t specifically attacks and whatnot. I mention this only for completeness, the approach does not interest me.
  • AGE System has many actions that can be done, each of which is modified by one of your ability scores. Each ability score identifies some focuses, subsets of checks related to that ability score. If you have a focus you get a +2 bonus to checks of that type, and if you’re high enough level you can double focus to increase that bonus to +3. Because AGE System uses 3d6 for task resolution, the smaller bonuses are more significant than they look to someone accustomed to a d20-based system.
  • Hero System has many skills, which you can buy as ‘familiar’ (8- check — roll 3d6 and you’re successful on 8 or lower) for 1 character point or proficient (check is 9 + ability/5 — nominally 11- for a normal person with average scores) for 3 character points, then +1 for every 2 character points after that. Most settings have ‘everyman skills’ that most people in the setting get for free (in a modern North American setting you can expect most people you meet to be literate, have a driver’s license, and know how to use certain technology). There are also skill modifiers that adjust the cost of these skills (buying the ‘scientist’ skill modifier lets you buy science-related skills at a discount).

I’m leaning toward something of a mashup of the AGE System and the Pathfinder second edition approach, expanded by skill unlocks from Pathfinder first edition. To whit:

  • Move all actions out of the skill definitions (this ties into my ‘limit coupling’ design guideline). Most things you can try without any particular skill… you’re likely to fail, but you can at least try.
  • Your grade with a skill can increase with level.
  • Each grade of a skill provides an increasing bonus to checks of certain types. For instance, ‘Acrobatics’ gives increasing bonus to certain movement checks.
  • Each grade of a skill provides new abilities (things you can do that less-trained characters can’t). This is probably a combination of gated abilities (must have this grade to get this result) or explicit new tricks (as with skill unlocks).

I don’t want to bother with tracking skill ranks or level modifiers, it’s too fiddly for my taste. However, I can see a general bonus as a character reaches higher tiers (experts are more generally capable than basic characters, masters are more generally capable than experts, etc.). I could make it more general, +2 to all checks per five levels or something, but attaching it to gaining a new tier helps highlight that advancement.

Classes may give advancements to skills (a cavalier is defined in part by being a mounted warrior, it makes sense that they would be better at riding checks) or class-specific skill unlocks.

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