5E A more dynamic skill system?

Jd Smith1

Explorer
The 5s skill system covered the basics, but it is a touch simplistic for investigative scenarios, especially since by 5th or 6th level a party will have virtually every skill buffed. My next campaign will be in the Degenesis (no magic), and I was wondering how/if the skill system could be made a bit more refined.

Has anyone done anything with the 5e skill system? Or is there an aftermarket/3rd party option?
 

dave2008

Legend
I haven't done anything with it yet, but PF2e has an interesting mechanic for the Exploration mode (avoid notice, defend, detect magic, follow the expert, hustle, investigate, repeat a spell, scout & search) that I have thought of adapting to 5e and expanding into Social encounters too. Fate of the Norns has a social combat mechanic that they have/are porting to 5e. That might be worth looking at as well.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
I haven't done anything with it yet, but PF2e has an interesting mechanic for the Exploration mode (avoid notice, defend, detect magic, follow the expert, hustle, investigate, repeat a spell, scout & search) that I have thought of adapting to 5e and expanding into Social encounters too. Fate of the Norns has a social combat mechanic that they have/are porting to 5e. That might be worth looking at as well.
Thanks!
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I port skill challenges over, use fail forward, allow Inspiration to be spent to establish a flashback to the backup plan or bait and switch or “lucky I had this in my kit” solution to a problem, and also treat proficiency more loosely.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
I port skill challenges over, use fail forward, allow Inspiration to be spent to establish a flashback to the backup plan or bait and switch or “lucky I had this in my kit” solution to a problem, and also treat proficiency more loosely.
I don't use Inspiration, and if it isn't written in your gear list (at my table) you don't have it. What I'm looking for (for my table) is more player development choices, fewer 'roll a dice to solve it'. I value role-play rather than roll-play. I feel that a more detailed skill set involves players on a thinking level in investigation or Social situations, rather than "I got a +6 to Char, I'll roll'.

Not that there's anything wrong with others using that style, but I'm looking for something else. 5e has brought the dungeon crawl to perfection, but what it is still weak in (IMO) is in investigation and social encounters.
 

NotAYakk

Adventurer
I don't understand; if you don't want to use game mechanics to judge what happens in social situations, why do you want game mechanics?

"More refined" "dynamic" don't descriptive what you want at all; they are generally positive sounding adjectives that carry next to no meaning.

What are "player development choices"?
 

Derren

Adventurer
I port skill challenges over, use fail forward, allow Inspiration to be spent to establish a flashback to the backup plan or bait and switch or “lucky I had this in my kit” solution to a problem, and also treat proficiency more loosely.
So basically no one can fail ever. How is that more dynamic?
Whats needed is that failure have consequences and that not all parties can automatically do everything by the virtue of existing. That would put an actual gameplay element back into skills.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
I don't understand; if you don't want to use game mechanics to judge what happens in social situations, why do you want game mechanics?

"More refined" "dynamic" don't descriptive what you want at all; they are generally positive sounding adjectives that carry next to no meaning.

What are "player development choices"?
Player development choices are the choices the players make to develop their characters with finite resources, meaning that one PC cannot do everything. In short, getting players involved in developing their PCs over time, rather than "I put six points into Char, I'll do the talking'.

Dynamic and refined, well, let's take an easy murder scene. The PCs need to solve a murder. They have a body in a room, median room temperature, cold night outside, body has developed lividity and five to six joint rigor. Cause of death appears to be systematic shock brought on by organ damage from stab wounds. You have signs of forced entry at the room door and one window, minor damage to a free-standing table, defensive wounds on the corpse's outer left arm. A rune cut into the victim's forehead precludes raising or communication with dead.

Pretty straight forward and simple, but all you have in terms of skills is Investigation, Medicine for the autopsy, and perhaps Survival for checking for tracks outside the window. Toss in a Perception roll or two, and that's it. Two, maybe three skill rolls, and you can be sure that every group is going to have a proficiency and high stat in each. There is zero player involvement, no incentive to learn and improve skills,

But with narrower-application skills, you can feed the players the bits of evidence singly (perhaps with a failed or less successful roll to create uncertainty as to the value of a piece of data), and then the players have to assemble the bits of information into a whole.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
So basically no one can fail ever. How is that more dynamic?
Whats needed is that failure have consequences and that not all parties can automatically do everything by the virtue of existing. That would put an actual gameplay element back into skills.
Exactly. As it is, there are so few skills that every group is going to have, within the group, a high stat and a proficiency in every skill.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
Exactly. As it is, there are so few skills that every group is going to have, within the group, a high stat and a proficiency in every skill.
Keep in mind that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Take a look at how the Gumshoe system (which is a system specifically designed for RPG investigations) handles it.

Information that is needed to progress isn't gated behind a check, because a failed check could otherwise stonewall the investigation. Non critical actions, on the other hand, do have a chance to fail.

It's all well and good to want the possibility of failure, but you need to have a plan for failure if you do so. If a few bad rolls means the investigation is permanently stuck in with the cold cases bin, and the players run off to take out their frustration on some goblins, then the game has lost its investigation aspect before it really began.

To put it as an analogy, the DM has prepped a dungeon for tonight's adventure. There are three doors, all locked. The doors are magicked such that they can't be broken down or otherwise circumvented, only picked (and only one try for each). The rogue fails all three lock picking checks. Now you may as well toss the material you prepped in the garbage for all the good it will do you. Of course, you could backpedal and have a convenient monster exit through one of the doors, thereby permitting them entry, but then what was the point of the fail condition in the first place? You could have left that door unlocked to begin with (with that same monster waiting on the other side of it, if desired).
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
Keep in mind that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Take a look at how the Gumshoe system (which is a system specifically designed for RPG investigations) handles it.

Information that is needed to progress isn't gated behind a check, because a failed check could otherwise stonewall the investigation. Non critical actions, on the other hand, do have a chance to fail.

It's all well and good to want the possibility of failure, but you need to have a plan for failure if you do so. If a few bad rolls means the investigation is permanently stuck in with the cold cases bin, and the players run off to take out their frustration on some goblins, then the game has lost its investigation aspect before it really began.
I've read Gumshoe. I don't agree with it's premise. A zero-failure situation is nothing more than a railroad. If the players can't find all they need at the scene, then they had better get out and knock & talk until they make up the slack. A solution to an investigation is not going to an A-B-C-D-E=solution. Investigations are messy, sprawling, and never 100%.

If the players get frustrated and leave, they they forfeit any reward, which is their choice. Failure is always an option. But they'll take a hit to their reputation.

I go with a sandbox approach. Groups can fail. They can die. Or they can be the guys who get stuff done. Or they can be the guys who got stuff done but died in the process. Or they can get rich in schemes of dubious moral standing. It's up to the players, really.

But proper investigations need more nuanced of skills, IMO.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I value role-play rather than roll-play. I feel that a more detailed skill set involves players on a thinking level in investigation or Social situations, rather than "I got a +6 to Char, I'll roll'.
YMMV, I suppose. I have found that the more detailed the rule set is (in any area, not just in social challenges) the more the player is apt to sink their head into the rules, about how to manipulate the system to get the roll to work out. A simple system doesn't require the player's attention, so they can spend the cycles on being in the character's mindset, about the role.
 

dave2008

Legend
I've read Gumshoe. I don't agree with it's premise. A zero-failure situation is nothing more than a railroad. If the players can't find all they need at the scene, then they had better get out and knock & talk until they make up the slack. A solution to an investigation is not going to an A-B-C-D-E=solution. Investigations are messy, sprawling, and never 100%.

If the players get frustrated and leave, they they forfeit any reward, which is their choice. Failure is always an option. But they'll take a hit to their reputation.

I go with a sandbox approach. Groups can fail. They can die. Or they can be the guys who get stuff done. Or they can be the guys who got stuff done but died in the process. Or they can get rich in schemes of dubious moral standing. It's up to the players, really.

But proper investigations need more nuanced of skills, IMO.
I'm starting to not follow you. You say you want role-playing, not roll-playing; then you you say you want more nuanced skills which suggests: more roll-playing! I'm a bit confused.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I've read Gumshoe. I don't agree with it's premise. A zero-failure situation is nothing more than a railroad.
You may have read it, but I am not sure have understood the implications - reading doesn't necessarily show you how it operates in play.. Gumshoe doesn't remove the possibility of failure - it shifts where that failure may be.

In a typical old-style D&D scenario, the hard part is finding the clue, but the content of the clue is blatant and makes what is going on bleedingly obvious - the puzzle is in finding information, but once you have it, you know exactly what's going on.

In Gumshoe, that is reversed. Getting the clue is easy, but the content of the clue does not automatically give you The Answer. You have to put several clues together, and interpret them correctly, to figure out what is going on.

Investigations are messy, sprawling, and never 100%.
Yep. And a good Gumshoe scenario is that. Remember, it isn't that the characters walk into a scene, and the GM just starts reading off clues. The players have to consider what it in the scene, and choose what skills to use to find information. They only get the clue if they have the right skill in the right place, and they interact with the scene appropriately. The only thing removed is the die roll.

For example, if they come into a scene with a bunch of forensics gear, but don't talk to the NPCs, they won't get information the NPCs have. In Gumshoe, you have to expect that the players will not find every single clue.

I go with a sandbox approach. Groups can fail. They can die.
"Sandbox" is orthogonal to the questions of failure, consequences, or character death.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
I'm starting to not follow you. You say you want role-playing, not roll-playing; then you you say you want more nuanced skills which suggests: more roll-playing! I'm a bit confused.
Well, my view is this: in an investigation, the (successful) skill rolls give the players some raw data; the players use that raw data to formulate an expanded investigative plan, which requires role play, more skill rolls, and ultimately more raw data. The key is never to let the players get all the raw data, or clues, so that in the end, the players will have to work out the who, how, and why themselves. As it is, with the broad-application of the 5e skills and the unlikely chance of failure, the players will get too much information for zero role play.

In our last campaign, I kept a murder investigation loosely based on the Ripper killings going for three sessions (five players), 14+ hours of time 'at the table' plus the player discussions during the week.

The dice control the flow of information, and some rolls should (statistically) fail, but to solve the matter requires the players, not the dice. In 5e, the dice are unlikely to fail, and the players always have the skils they need.

Did I explain it better?
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
You may have read it, but I am not sure have understood the implications - reading doesn't necessarily show you how it operates in play.. Gumshoe doesn't remove the possibility of failure - it shifts where that failure may be.

In a typical old-style D&D scenario, the hard part is finding the clue, but the content of the clue is blatant and makes what is going on bleedingly obvious - the puzzle is in finding information, but once you have it, you know exactly what's going on.

In Gumshoe, that is reversed. Getting the clue is easy, but the content of the clue does not automatically give you The Answer. You have to put several clues together, and interpret them correctly, to figure out what is going on.
OK, I see your point. But the Gumshoe concept assumes that an investigation is linear: clue 1 leads to clue 2, and so forth. That's just back to railroading. Investigations are a cloud of data which never completely explain what happened, but which will hopefully provide enough material to establish the core facts.

"Sandbox" is orthogonal to the questions of failure, consequences, or character death.
I had to look up 'orthogonal' :unsure:. I disagree: in a sandbox environment, whether a party succeeds or fails in a given scenario is immaterial to a campaign (barring TPK). Only in a linear campaign will failure in a scenario be something the GM mist avoid.
 
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Fanaelialae

Adventurer
I've read Gumshoe. I don't agree with it's premise. A zero-failure situation is nothing more than a railroad. If the players can't find all they need at the scene, then they had better get out and knock & talk until they make up the slack. A solution to an investigation is not going to an A-B-C-D-E=solution. Investigations are messy, sprawling, and never 100%.

If the players get frustrated and leave, they they forfeit any reward, which is their choice. Failure is always an option. But they'll take a hit to their reputation.

I go with a sandbox approach. Groups can fail. They can die. Or they can be the guys who get stuff done. Or they can be the guys who got stuff done but died in the process. Or they can get rich in schemes of dubious moral standing. It's up to the players, really.

But proper investigations need more nuanced of skills, IMO.
I'm a sandbox GM myself, who is perfectly comfortable with party failure.

Giving the players the clues they need to proceed in an investigation isn't any more an example of railroading than not locking the entrance to a dungeon behind a single pass/fail skill check.

The players still have the option to not investigate, or quit the investigation at any time. They are able to pursue the investigation by whatever methods they deem suitable. They still need to come to the right conclusions about the clues on their own. And they still might miss facts that are relevant but not critical to the investigation. Nothing about any of that is a railroad. All I'm saying is that the puzzle shouldn't become unsolvable due to a single bad roll (and, IMO, generally not even due to a bad rolling streak).

What I'm basically trying to get at is that you don't force the players to roll a Perception check to notice a dead body lying out in the open, do you?

Similarly, it's not unreasonable (IMO) to assume base competency for characters in other areas. In my opinion, the character performing the autopsy should get the basic facts that can be derived from the corpse without rolling (such as obvious cause of death, as well as a general timespan during which the death likely occurred). Then the Medicine check, if successful, can grant additional information such as the fact that this person was poisoned before they were stabbed, as well as a more precise time of death.

Along those lines, any character who thinks to check by the window should notice the footprints in the garden outside. A good survival check might give them an idea of the assailant's weight, based on the depths of the tracks.

If your opinion is that any of what I just described is a railroad, then you and I differ greatly in how we define that term.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
I'm a sandbox GM myself, who is perfectly comfortable with party failure.

If your opinion is that any of what I just described is a railroad, then you and I differ greatly in how we define that term.
Basic competency, yes. But automatically establish a cause of death? No. That requires specialized training.

Of course an investigation should not come down to a single roll; that is a scenario design flaw, not a system flaw. A decent murder investigation should incorporate 20-30 pieces of data or more, any one of which being equal to the others. The players could possible solve the matter with ten or more (or at least frame someone), but ultimately they will have to figure things out from the data; the dice just determine how many and which items they acquire.
 

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