5E A more dynamic skill system?

Vaslov

Explorer
One system that does something a bit different on skills than most systems is Godbound. The author gives away the core book for free on DriveThruRPG and the skill rules are about half a page. Here is the basics.

  • Each character gets 3 facts. One on their background. One on their profession. One on a relationship with an organization (religion, college, guild, whatever).
  • When making a skill role if they can associate it's use with a fact they get +4 on a d20 check.

Godbound drops the idea of a defined skill list. My off the cuff thought is you could keep 5e skills as is and just layer this on top. +4 is about the same as getting advantage on a roll. This is more a roleplayer approach as it will get players thinking more about their character story than an defined skill. YMMV.

Hope that helps.
 

Ilbranteloth

Explorer
I've made a number of changes to the skill system for our campaign. I'm not sure this is what you're looking for, since our goal is to not only make the skill system realistic and make sense, but also to not make it a "game" within the game. I'm not interested in complex mechanics and skill challenges, I'm interested in rules that help adjudicate the action, but otherwise stay out of the way.

To that measure, I'm interested in a rule set that tells me what you can do, what you are capable of doing, and what you can't do. I'm also interested in minimizing repetitive dice rolls.

It starts with reigning in the bonuses. I'm not a fan of expertise doubling your proficiency modifier, for example. I also adjust most of the DCs up by 5 points from what's been published.

We have three levels of proficiency that is consistent across all types of proficiency (skills, attacks, saves, etc.), although there are a number of things (weapons for example) that expertise is currently not available. I'm still considering what the impact of that would be.

Non-proficient: +/- ability modifier with disadvantage
Proficient: +proficiency modifier +/- ability modifier
Expertise: +proficiency modifier +/- ability modifier with advantage

In other words, expertise increases your chance of success (and effectively raises your base by 5)
--
I make extensive use of passive scores. I think this is one of the best parts of the 5e rules, just not fully developed.

Your passive score is your base. This is a measure of your actual skill. Bear in mind that advantage/disadvantage often applies and alters the base.
--
Your capabilities are 20+your modifiers. Anything higher than this you cannot do. Note that advantage doesn't raise your actual ability, so in the case of expertise, your capability is the same as proficient. You just have a better chance of success.
--
You only need to make a die roll if it's harder than your passive score, but less than your capability, and there is a consequence for failure. We use degrees of success/failure where appropriate. Usually measured at 5 or more, 10 or more, etc.

For example, if you have a modifier of +7, and you are trying to pick a lock with a DC of 25, but there is no pressing danger, then it's just a matter of time. I'd narrate the scene explaining that it takes a few moments to complete the task.

However, if the party is sneaking through a keep, and hear a group of guards coming down the hallway, and you need to pick the same lock, a roll is needed. It's within your capability, so you know you can do it. You roll, but only score a 21. In this case, a failure by less than 5, I'd rule it's just going to take some time, in this case 4 rounds ((DC - your roll; although you don't know that). So while your lookouts are keeping an eye out for the guards, and the fighter is getting impatient and is ready to kick in the door, you continue to attempt to pick the lock.

If you fail by 5 or more, then perhaps your lockpick gets stuck, you may need to make a second check to work it loose, and then it will still take the amount of time equal to DC - your roll.

If you fail by 10 or more, then your pick might break, or your drop it and it slides under the door, etc.

In other words, in the majority of the cases, the numbers plus a single, or at most a second roll, is everything you need to adjudicate the situation. Which means you can spend more time focusing on the action within the game, and less on the mechanics.
--
I don't have tables or many specifics for degrees of success/failure because it's entirely situational. However, it doesn't have to be something that is specifically tied to the skill at hand. It's more based on the scenario.

In the example above, the PCs are attempting to secretly get through a door, so the guard patrol won't know they were there. This is a common trope in books, movies, TV shows, etc. While the skill that is used might be picking the lock, it's really the scenario as a whole that matters. For example, one possibility on a failed save is that you succeed in picking the lock, and get through the door and lock it behind you, but leave some subtle clues that you were there.

You could restrict yourself to something like your actions left scrape-marks on the lock that the guards might notice. We, on the other hand, are fine with expanding the options to something more than that. Perhaps your cloak gets shut in the door, with a part visible in the hallway. Or as you hurry to get inside and close the door, you drop your lock picks which rattle across the floor. There could be a great many possibilities.

A lot of players don't like this approach. They feel that it should only relate to the skill check at hand. The way I look at the scenario is that I only call for a check for the most difficult part of the goal. That is, of all the things that the party needs to do to get out of the hall quietly with their chosen approach is to pick the lock. So from that standpoint, I think it makes sense that failure can be more encompassing than just "you either pick the lock or you don't." I think it also makes for a more interesting narrative.

But the other aspect that we do which is probably different than most D&D games, is that if there is a failure, the players often decide what the consequences are. We use this approach for critical failures, skill checks, and even death. It may not be every time, but it's a lot of the time. We'll use guidelines (like it takes longer to do it), and we take inspiration from our favorite movies, TV, books, etc. For example, we model critical misses on things like Pirates of the Carribean, Princess Bride, and Game of Thrones fights among others.

--

Again, as I said, a big part of our goal is to spend more time focusing on the action in the game than the mechanics. But we also like a robust mechanic that helps us adjudicate consistently and appropriately. That's the basics of the rules, but I'm happy to share them if you think they'll help.
 

Unwise

Adventurer
I like to run a skill system that is just a series of statements about the character, based on their background, personality and experiences.

So instead of Survival Skill, we have "spent 5 years as a frontiersman and shepherd in the wild marchers" and you would apply that proficiency any time it is relevant. E.g. setting up camp, tracking predators, herding, talking to other rural folk from similar regions, etc.

Another person who would have Survival might have "Grew up on ships. After a shipwreck was stranded on a deserted island for a long time". He will also know how to forage for food and make a camp, but probably not run a ranch or interact with rural folk. He would know his way around a ship and sailors bars though.

This really fleshes out characters and means that two people with what would have been the same skills are not necessarily doubling up on specific tasks. It also means that they might have gaps in their knowledge. It also means that you can pick the right person for social encounters, rather than just going for the guy with the highest persuasion skill. A big city bard might not know how to interact with pirates as well as the ex-buccaneer ranger.

Also, as far as high skills stuffing up investigations and mysteries go, I have seldom found that. In fact, PCs having low investigation/perception/persuasion/insight and missing clues is far more annoying. I put the clues there because I want them to be found. They still have to work out what to do with the information.
 

Derren

Adventurer
That is not understanding fail forward.
When people talk about Fail Forward in RPGs, they mean that failure should not stop the action, and failure should always have interesting consequences.
Thats is understanding Fail Forward perfectly especially in combination with all other house rules mentioned, and not pretending that there is a challenge when there is not.

Fail forward is in the end a crutch for bad DMs who base the entire adventure on one check and players who need to be lead with a carrot everywhere and can come up with their own plans.

When you then also add inspiration for clues, relax profiency, etc. then you can remove skills completely from the game as they do not matter.
 
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dave2008

Legend
Non-proficient: +/- ability modifier with disadvantage
Proficient: +proficiency modifier +/- ability modifier
Expertise: +proficiency modifier +/- ability modifier with advantage
I like this quite a bit and works better with BA, it is surprising this wasn't the approach they took really. However, with this approach I wouldn't increase the DC for success.

In other words, expertise increases your chance of success (and effectively raises your base by 5)
Your probably aware, but advantage doesn't work out to a flat +5, the effective bonus is highly dependent on the difficulty of the task compared to your change of success.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
I like this quite a bit and works better with BA, it is surprising this wasn't the approach they took really. However, with this approach I wouldn't increase the DC for success.
I think I see why they didn't go with that approach. It makes advantage/disadvantage significantly less pertinent.

For example, the rogue with thieves tools expertise has no reason to seek a clever way to gain advantage, because they already automatically get it.

Similarly, the human without training in Perception has no reason to light a torch in dim light, because he's going to have disadvantage either way.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
One system that does something a bit different on skills than most systems is Godbound. The author gives away the core book for free on DriveThruRPG and the skill rules are about half a page. Here is the basics.

  • Each character gets 3 facts. One on their background. One on their profession. One on a relationship with an organization (religion, college, guild, whatever).
  • When making a skill role if they can associate it's use with a fact they get +4 on a d20 check.

Godbound drops the idea of a defined skill list. My off the cuff thought is you could keep 5e skills as is and just layer this on top. +4 is about the same as getting advantage on a roll. This is more a roleplayer approach as it will get players thinking more about their character story than an defined skill. YMMV.

Hope that helps.
Over the Edge had similar - you had a major character trait, a couple minor ones and ranked them in skill. So, if your big was cop it covered a lot of things.

Honestly, this is similar to some of the variant skill options in the DMG. One uses one or two "proficient" ability scores. Another just uses background. They are pretty easy to implement if you want less pre-defined and less differentiated design.

Honestly, choosing one ability score for class (from one of their favored ssves), one for race (from one of its bonus ability) and giving them proficiency on those makes a lot of sense. Add to those the two specific skills under background isnt off the cuff sounding crazy to me.
 

dave2008

Legend
Fail forward is in the end a crutch for bad DMs who base the entire adventure on one check and players who need to be lead with a carrot everywhere and can come up with their own plans.
Oh I disagree. I don't use fail forward much because it is to difficult. It is much easier to say you fail and deal with those consequences than it is to say you fail and x,y,z

I think you fundamentally don't understand fail forward if you think it is a crutch. It is, IME, much more difficult to implement well. It either takes a lot more planning or pretty descent improv skills. I bad DM usually lacks one or both of those.
 
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dave2008

Legend
I have thought about implementing a skill system based on background and class: basically if it makes sense for your background and/or class to be able to do something (if it is not obvious, they player must explain the reasoning) then you can add your proficiency bonus to the roll for a relevant ability check.

Basically, you have the skills you should have.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
I have thought about implementing a skill system based on background and class: basically if it makes sense for your background and/or class to be able to do something (if it is not obvious, they player must explain the reasoning) then you can add your proficiency bonus to the roll for a relevant ability check.

Basically, you have the skills you should have.
I'm tentatively doing something along these lines in my latest campaign.

We almost always forget to use background features in my campaigns, so I replaced them with a feature that all backgrounds get. If you can justify how your background can help you with an ability check, you get a +1 for a reasonable argument, or +2 if the correlation is a strong one. I also explicitly called out that players can do this after they roll (so that if they're hunting for that extra +1 they need to pass the check, they'll hopefully think of this rule and them be motivated to use it again in the future).
 

Ilbranteloth

Explorer
I think I see why they didn't go with that approach. It makes advantage/disadvantage significantly less pertinent.

For example, the rogue with thieves tools expertise has no reason to seek a clever way to gain advantage, because they already automatically get it.

Similarly, the human without training in Perception has no reason to light a torch in dim light, because he's going to have disadvantage either way.
We have also experimented with stacking advantage/disadvantage. Interestingly enough, while it seems like rolling 3 dice would significantly increase/reduce your chances, mathematically that's not the case. I don't have the numbers here, but it's kind of a perfect mechanic, because it feels awesome to the player, but doesn't alter the average nearly as much as you think.

It's also very reasonable to add a modifier in addition to advantage/disadvantage. Advantage/disadvantage is the simple and quickest way to do it, but I also regularly assign numerical modifiers as well. Sometimes a flat bonus/penalty, other times by rolling a separate die, because we tend to prefer rules that add a modifier rather than a flat and predictable result.

One thing we've toyed with is advantage/disadvantage is +/- a bonus die. For example, if you have a good advantage (such as when you'd normally have advantage in 5e), then you'd roll a d20 + d4. But if the circumstances were more significant, then it could be a d20 + d6 instead. The main reason I like this approach is that it's still variable, but it also allows more levels of advantage/disadvantage without adding a significant amount of complexity such as adding/subtracting modifiers a la 3/3.5e. The DM assesses, by considering the entire situation, whether advantage/disadvantage applies, then by how much.

We've also considered (and are very close to doing so), granting everybody proficiency in Perception and/or removing it as a skill.

The reality is, this sort of thing matters little in our campaign as we really don't focus on the mechanics much. So the PC with no proficiency in Perception would light a torch because it makes sense for numerous reasons. Where seeking a clever way to gain advantage feels more "gamey" than roleplaying to me.
 

Ilbranteloth

Explorer
Part II of our skill system...

While overall the reduction in the number of skills is a good thing, we also wanted to be able to include more specific skills, and expertise in our campaign. Our method of doing this was to create Fields of Expertise.

A Field of Expertise is a subskill of the main skills. You have to have proficiency in a main skill before you can gain expertise in a given field. You cannot gain expertise in a skill, only a field of expertise.

Although we'll probably continue tweaking, this is the current list;

Acrobatics
  • Balance
  • Climber
  • Dancing
  • Riding
  • Tumbler

Animal Handling
  • Animal Training
  • Falconry
  • Riding
  • Wagonmaster

Arcana
  • Alchemy
  • Astrology
  • Fortune Telling
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Local
  • History, Magic Items
  • History, Racial

Athletics
  • Athlete
  • Craftsman
  • Dancing
  • Riding
  • Swimming

Deception
  • Disguise
  • Fortune Telling
  • Oratory
  • Swindler

History
  • Etiquette
  • Heraldry
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Local
  • History, Magic Items
  • History, Racial
  • Navigation

Insight
  • Artist
  • Animal Training
  • Appraising
  • Diplomacy
  • Ear for Deceit
  • Eavesdropping
  • Etiquette
  • Fortune Teller
  • Linguist
  • Navigation
  • Rumormonger
  • Tracking

Intimidation
  • Brute
  • Oratory

Investigation
  • Eye for Detail
  • Heraldry
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Local
  • History, Magic Items
  • History, Racial
  • Linguist
  • Rumormonger
  • Tracking

Language
  • Linguist
  • Literate

Medicine
  • Herbalism
  • Surgery

Nature
  • Herbalism
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Local

Perception
  • Ear for Deceit
  • Eye for Detail
  • Eavesdropping
  • Know Your Enemy

Performance
  • Acting
  • Artist
  • Dancing
  • Disguise
  • Hide in Plain Sight
  • Juggling
  • Musical Instrument
  • Oratory
  • Poetry
  • Singing

Persuasion
  • Diplomacy
  • Fortune Telling
  • Oratory

Religion
  • Astrology
  • Fortune Telling
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Local
  • History, Magic Items
  • History, Racial
  • Oratory
  • Singing

Sleight of Hand
  • Craftsman
  • Juggling
  • Locksmithing
  • Musical Instrument
  • Rope Use
  • Surgery
  • Tinker

Stealth
  • Camouflage
  • Hide in Plain Sight

Survival
  • Animal Lore
  • Camouflage
  • Navigation
  • Survival, Terrain
  • Tracking
We don't have any problem adding things if appropriate, and you'll note that a lot of the fields can be gained from multiple skills. We grant one skill for any ability score that you have a bonus in, plus one field of expertise for each point of bonus. So if you have a +2 bonus for Strength, you can take Athletics, with Athlete and Riding, for example.

You have advantage on checks in your field of expertise, and it's a normal proficiency check for your skill.
 

dave2008

Legend
Part II of our skill system...

While overall the reduction in the number of skills is a good thing, we also wanted to be able to include more specific skills, and expertise in our campaign. Our method of doing this was to create Fields of Expertise.

A Field of Expertise is a subskill of the main skills. You have to have proficiency in a main skill before you can gain expertise in a given field. You cannot gain expertise in a skill, only a field of expertise.

Although we'll probably continue tweaking, this is the current list;

Acrobatics
  • Balance
  • Climber
  • Dancing
  • Riding
  • Tumbler

Animal Handling
  • Animal Training
  • Falconry
  • Riding
  • Wagonmaster

Arcana
  • Alchemy
  • Astrology
  • Fortune Telling
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Local
  • History, Magic Items
  • History, Racial

Athletics
  • Athlete
  • Craftsman
  • Dancing
  • Riding
  • Swimming

Deception
  • Disguise
  • Fortune Telling
  • Oratory
  • Swindler

History
  • Etiquette
  • Heraldry
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Local
  • History, Magic Items
  • History, Racial
  • Navigation

Insight
  • Artist
  • Animal Training
  • Appraising
  • Diplomacy
  • Ear for Deceit
  • Eavesdropping
  • Etiquette
  • Fortune Teller
  • Linguist
  • Navigation
  • Rumormonger
  • Tracking

Intimidation
  • Brute
  • Oratory

Investigation
  • Eye for Detail
  • Heraldry
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Local
  • History, Magic Items
  • History, Racial
  • Linguist
  • Rumormonger
  • Tracking

Language
  • Linguist
  • Literate

Medicine
  • Herbalism
  • Surgery

Nature
  • Herbalism
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Local

Perception
  • Ear for Deceit
  • Eye for Detail
  • Eavesdropping
  • Know Your Enemy

Performance
  • Acting
  • Artist
  • Dancing
  • Disguise
  • Hide in Plain Sight
  • Juggling
  • Musical Instrument
  • Oratory
  • Poetry
  • Singing

Persuasion
  • Diplomacy
  • Fortune Telling
  • Oratory

Religion
  • Astrology
  • Fortune Telling
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Local
  • History, Magic Items
  • History, Racial
  • Oratory
  • Singing

Sleight of Hand
  • Craftsman
  • Juggling
  • Locksmithing
  • Musical Instrument
  • Rope Use
  • Surgery
  • Tinker

Stealth
  • Camouflage
  • Hide in Plain Sight

Survival
  • Animal Lore
  • Camouflage
  • Navigation
  • Survival, Terrain
  • Tracking
We don't have any problem adding things if appropriate, and you'll note that a lot of the fields can be gained from multiple skills. We grant one skill for any ability score that you have a bonus in, plus one field of expertise for each point of bonus. So if you have a +2 bonus for Strength, you can take Athletics, with Athlete and Riding, for example.

You have advantage on checks in your field of expertise, and it's a normal proficiency check for your skill.
In general I really like this approach, though I might disagree with some of the areas of expertise. It is not very 5e in simplicity, but adds some more detail and choices for those who want them.
 

Ilbranteloth

Explorer
In general I really like this approach, though I might disagree with some of the areas of expertise. It is not very 5e in simplicity, but adds some more detail and choices for those who want them.
Yeah, the fields we've come up with is what my players have wanted. I've tried to keep it as simple as possible and the reality is, it's pretty clear as to when you have expertise (gain advantage) on the check due to the narrow field.
 
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.
With 5e BA does that even matter that you have a skill 'buffed' (good stat & proficiency?) Or are you talking Expertise or the equivalent?
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.
"no magic?"

5e prettymuch doesn't work without magic - you're down to 5 sub-classes in the PH, and basic party functions can't be covered. You'd need more than just more refined skills to get it working.

For Degenesis, if you don't like it's native system, maybe try PbtA or Savage Worlds or something? If you do want to go D&D-ish, consider picking up an older edition of Gamma World. The 4th (not the one based on 4e, that's the 7th) is generally well-regarded.
 

dave2008

Legend
5e prettymuch doesn't work without magic - you're down to 5 sub-classes in the PH, and basic party functions can't be covered. You'd need more than just more refined skills to get it working.
Sure it does, I am sure you are familiar with AiME. In one of my current groups we have very little magic: no cleric, half caster max (we have on player with a few levels of wizard and one with some druid). Not no magic, but not a lot.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
"no magic?"

5e prettymuch doesn't work without magic - you're down to 5 sub-classes in the PH, and basic party functions can't be covered. You'd need more than just more refined skills to get it working.
Sure, it will. I bought a supplement which provides six classes and a total of 18 archtypes, all geared towards a post-apoc setting. The enemy doesn't have magic, so the power level evens out. I use the optional healing rule and added stimpacks (with the serial numbers filed off), took some firearm concepts fro Aces & Eights, and Bob's your Uncle.

For Degenesis, if you don't like it's native system, maybe try PbtA or Savage Worlds or something? If you do want to go D&D-ish, consider picking up an older edition of Gamma World. The 4th (not the one based on 4e, that's the 7th) is generally well-regarded.
Sorry, I can't use either system. I have a condition which prevents me from using systems that stink. ;)

Actually, my players like 5e and don't want to buy new books for a while.
 

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