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5E D&D without ability scores and separating Ancestry & Culture

CubicsRube

Adventurer
I have made a previous thread on separating Ancestry & Culture and had some great comments on it (and was pointed to some wonderful work someone has previously done on the subject). But I have also done some tinkering as to how D&D could work without ability scores at all.

Given the problematic nature around ability scores in the current conversational climate, I wanted to see how things would work. Turns out I think it would work alright.

This is a thought experiment for those who are interested, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'm obviously not expecting that WotC would take this route or that anyone would adapt it for a home game, but it's something I've enjoyed putting together so far.

The document is attached, but here is the summary:

There are three levels of skills; Untrained, Trained and Expert. The skill bonus per level is as per below:

Skill Bonuses per level
Level
Untrained
Trained
Expert
1-4​
0​
+2​
+4​
5-8​
0​
+3​
+6​
9-12​
0​
+4​
+8​
13-16​
0​
+5​
+10​
17-20​
0​
+6​
+12​


Skill choices come from Culture (never Ancestry), Background (2 choices), and 4 free choices at character creation and at Ability Score Increase levels.
For each choice:
  • Raise one skill you are Untrained in to Trained level, or
  • Raise one skill you are Trained in to Expert level

Some things need to change to move to an ability score less system, but by using the above numbers as a guide, the maths does not deviate too much from bounded accuracy.

For example, hitpoints no longer use a CON bonus, but instead use the maximum value for the hit die type:
Hitpoints per Die type
Die
Half + CON 10
Half + CON 14
Max
D6​
4​
6​
6​
D8​
5​
7​
8​
D10​
6​
8​
10​
D12​
7​
9​
12​


Armour is the most changed. Light and medium armour have a +2 bonus (previously from DEX) embedded into them. This makes light armour inferior to heavy armour. I personally do not have a problem with this.

Armour Class by Armour
TypeArmorCostACStealth
LightPadded
5 gp​
14Disadvantage
LightLeather
10 gp​
14-
LightStudded
45 gp​
15-
MediumHide
10 gp​
14-
MediumChain Shirt
50 gp​
15-
MediumScale Mail
50 gp​
16Disadvantage
MediumBreastplate
400 gp​
16-
MediumHalf Plate
750 gp​
16Disadvantage
HeavyRing Mail
30 gp​
15Disadvantage
HeavyChain Mail
75 gp​
16Disadvantage
HeavySplint
200gp​
17Disadvantage
HeavyPlate
1,500 gp​
18Disadvantage
ShieldShield
10 gp​
+2-


The last big change is the saving throws have to be moved to skills. This makes some skills quite important. I have assigned them as follows:
Saving throws as Skills
Saving ThrowTalent
StrengthAthletics
DexterityAcrobatics
Constitution Athletics
IntelligenceInvestigate
WisdomPerception
CharismaInsight


If you're inclined to read through and give your thoughts, feedback, additions, then all is welcome!
 

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dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
I've played with reducing ability score modifiers and increasing proficiency bonus, because I feel skill and experience should count more for your bonus than natural talent, maybe some knowledge or learn ability (that simply ability score modifiers provided RAW). So, I can sort of see what you are doing here, but my questions are this:

What does removing ability scores and saving throws actually achieve?
How were you limited by them to the point you wanted them removed from the game design?
 

TaranTheWanderer

Adventurer
Having your Hit point bonus be based on an 'Endurance' skill being trained could be a solution to the lack of Con but then it become the 'must have' skill for most classes. Although, Con has never been a dump stat, so might not matter.
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
Having your Hit point bonus be based on an 'Endurance' skill being trained could be a solution to the lack of Con but then it become the 'must have' skill for most classes. Although, Con has never been a dump stat, so might not matter.
That is why we've removed Hit Point bonus from CON, every PC had at least a +1 modifier, and most were +2 for non-warriors (warriors were even higher of course).

Anyway, the OP states HP are the maximum at each level, so it offsets the need for a CON bonus to them. In case it wasn't clear (it took me a minute to get it), by awarding maximum, that is roughly equal to half max + CON bonus in RAW.

d6 = 4 avg, max 6, that +2 difference equals the benefit of a CON 14 or 15.
d8 = 5 avg, max 8, the +3 increase represents the benefit of CON 16 or 17.
etc.

So, this way there is no "must have" to get great HP, granting the max for the die at each level guarantees it. The OP's system probably boosts HP a bit (especially at lower levels, other than 1st), but not too much IMO.
 

CubicsRube

Adventurer
Regarding HP, that's exactly why I removed it. I'm trying to avoid "must-have" skills, although I'm trying to not rewrite the entire skills system.
 

CubicsRube

Adventurer
I've played with reducing ability score modifiers and increasing proficiency bonus, because I feel skill and experience should count more for your bonus than natural talent, maybe some knowledge or learn ability (that simply ability score modifiers provided RAW). So, I can sort of see what you are doing here, but my questions are this:

What does removing ability scores and saving throws actually achieve?
How were you limited by them to the point you wanted them removed from the game design?
One of the intents is to decouple skills and ability scores entirely. This could allow more interesting combinations, such as the fighter who is an expert in history, or the Athletic Wizard.

Without ability scores there's no particular incentive towards certain skills and away from others that there would be otherwise.

A secondary intent would be to make players rolls quicker and more streamlined. Despite claims that adding d20+ability+proficiency is quick, I find it still does slow down the game for some players.
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
One of the intents is to decouple skills and ability scores entirely. This could allow more interesting combinations, such as the fighter who is an expert in history, or the Athletic Wizard.

Without ability scores there's no particular incentive towards certain skills and away from others that there would be otherwise.

A secondary intent would be to make players rolls quicker and more streamlined. Despite claims that adding d20+ability+proficiency is quick, I find it still does slow down the game for some players.
That's all well and good, I guess I just have never had an issue making a fighter who is good at history. It is hard for people who want to be the best in their more "normal" fields, certainly, but possible.

LOL I am all for making rolls quicker! I know what you mean about the process and it does still slow some players down a bit.

I think there is some merit in what you are trying to do, so I'll be interested when you are playing it out. I'll talk to my table about the ideas and see if they have any feedback to offer.

Cheers.
 

ardoughter

Adventurer
Supporter
Not a fan of most of what is presented. I prefer the 5e method of ability checks: with untrained being without proficiency, trained = with proficiency and expert being expertise. In short I like the 5e design in this space. Where I think that 5e went wrong was not giving expertise to one skill for all classes. I am fine with the rogue with multiple expertise.
However, fighter should have got Athletics/Acrobatics, Wizard Arcana and so forth. That way the rogue or Bard do not outshine other classes in their shtick.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Needs something other than proficiency to add to skill checks. Even if it’s a thing where for each skill training you get, you also get a half training in a different skill? It’s good design that in 5e you have two vectors for how good you are at something. If you’re dexterous, you have some degree of bonus to all Dex checks, even untrained.

I’d add a few skills in for good measure if doing this, like Endurance, Streetwise, and maybe Riddle or something similar for deciphering and communicating in coded language.

How would you handle ability checks for things like Counterspell?
 

Stormonu

Legend
Something needs to be done to further differentiate armors, or you might as well reduce it to one per AC. You've also killed the idea of concepts such as Swashbucklers, who depend on their quickness instead of heft of armor.
 

CubicsRube

Adventurer
Something needs to be done to further differentiate armors, or you might as well reduce it to one per AC. You've also killed the idea of concepts such as Swashbucklers, who depend on their quickness instead of heft of armor.
I haven't killed them, but I have made the low armor high dex warrior less viable without magic items or spells. But personally I'm ok with that, as heavier armor should be more of a boon IMO (I address this in the document). It also has the effect of limiting the "God stat" of Dex that some people do not like.

Sounds like this variant is not for you, and that's fine.
 

CubicsRube

Adventurer
That's all well and good, I guess I just have never had an issue making a fighter who is good at history. It is hard for people who want to be the best in their more "normal" fields, certainly, but possible.

LOL I am all for making rolls quicker! I know what you mean about the process and it does still slow some players down a bit.

I think there is some merit in what you are trying to do, so I'll be interested when you are playing it out. I'll talk to my table about the ideas and see if they have any feedback to offer.

Cheers.
That's kind of you. This is mostly a thought experiment to see if it could be made to work without too much rebalancing/re writing being done.

I've heard people on this very forim even say they sometimes feel constrained by their stat choices. In the fighter example above, they might feel that to bump up their INT to have a good history bonus, they have to reduce the effectiveness of their main class function.

The cost to specialise in a unrelated skill without ability scores is higher due to that decoupling.

Most people have no issue with that. For some that do, a variant like this might work for them.
 

CubicsRube

Adventurer
Not a fan of most of what is presented. I prefer the 5e method of ability checks: with untrained being without proficiency, trained = with proficiency and expert being expertise. In short I like the 5e design in this space. Where I think that 5e went wrong was not giving expertise to one skill for all classes. I am fine with the rogue with multiple expertise.
However, fighter should have got Athletics/Acrobatics, Wizard Arcana and so forth. That way the rogue or Bard do not outshine other classes in their shtick.
I agree that every class should have at least one expertise. That would be the other way i would use implement a variant as it then makes the skill bonus more relevant than the ability score.

I'm personally fine with allowing free choice with the understanding of discussion within the group (so you could have the fighter with history expertise for example), but class niche protection is much more in theme with standard d&d design philosophy for sure.
 

CubicsRube

Adventurer
Needs something other than proficiency to add to skill checks. Even if it’s a thing where for each skill training you get, you also get a half training in a different skill? It’s good design that in 5e you have two vectors for how good you are at something. If you’re dexterous, you have some degree of bonus to all Dex checks, even untrained.

I’d add a few skills in for good measure if doing this, like Endurance, Streetwise, and maybe Riddle or something similar for deciphering and communicating in coded language.

How would you handle ability checks for things like Counterspell?
The whole idea of this was to have a single vector approach to see of that could be made to work. I'm not really aware of many RPGs that really do it (savage worlds has a hybrid model).

Sonetimes this may not make sense, but ability scores are an abstraction that don't always make sense either (like an acrobat being good at picking pockets).

The rule 0 is this, if something asks for an ability check and your class should be good at that ability, use the Trained level (normal prlficiency bonus). If something would normally be an ability modifier+proficiency and both are relevant, use the Expert level.

Mathematically, it assumes you'll only have a +2 in an ability modifier to level 4 and so will have a lower overall bonus for most things at lower tier but this picks up to a normal range in mod tier and tops out later.
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
Maybe you addressed this and I missed it, but what about classes with the Expertise feature?
 

jmartkdr2

Adventurer
I'd add a master level (to cover expertise), but only allow that a certain number of times, with certain skills, depending on class. Bards and rogues (and rangers) should obviously get the most (maybe even uncapped), but other classes could choose certain skills, possibly level locked. A wizard can gain mastery with Arcana, but not Athletics.

The light armor rules aren't good - they make very broad, popular and normal concepts (and practically entire classes) magic-item dependent, which is not a good idea. I'd link them to training or level somehow. Maybe a base + trained bonus? (which is how PF2 does it)

Half-plate should be AC 17. I assume this is a typo.

I don't like linking saves to skills. Those are now the "must have" skills for basic survival, and all other skills are massively less useful. Every character will take Athletics, Acrobatics, and Perception. This kills the variety in skills you were going for in the first place. I don't have a good alternative to propose, but this is counterproductive to the goal of encouraging diversity.

Edit to add: I'd use the untrained number for stuff that calls for the ability mod and not a d20 roll. Things like weapon damage, class feature uses (ie bardic inspiration, divine sense) and class feature power (ie spells, auras). You'll still need to pull a number for proficiency bonus in some odd cases (ie hexblade's curse) but those are rare enough to be dealt with case-by-case without needing a general rule.
 


Serious Post

You should check out Chronicles of the Outlands by Better Games

No Str, Dex, Int, or Cha

Bold: Each level advancement select one personal Swaggering; or lock an understood Swaggering as Glorious. Ignore the first forced Escape Method Surrender from failed events. Sacrifice, once per adventure, any Swaggering (including Longboat, not Glorious) to gain Fury Pip for one situation/battle. This bonus must be declared before rolling. Character is Shaken for one round, not for duration of combat.

Clever: Each level advancement gain an extra skill (must have the corresponding Trait). Party shall collectively count the Clever, and Ignore one lost Swaggering forced Irregular or Quest Pip penalty each adventure per Clever character. Unlike other traits, there is no option to pass and accept the foul result. A single bad result that effects multiple player characters counts as a single event to cancel.

Energetic: Gain Fury Pip bonus for any one situation or battle each adventure. This need not be taken at the start of the fight. The bonus does not require a Swaggering sacrifice. At level five, the Trait will additionally create a Command Pip bonus anytime in a single combat.

Gifted: Each level advancement gain one Wizardry, Blade or Mount Swaggering, or lock an understood Swaggering as Glorious. Character may sacrifice, once per adventure, any Swaggering (including Longboat, not Glorious) to cancel a forced Warped Outcome. Result may be gifted to another player.

Methodical: At the start of any adventure, add one longboat Swaggering for every Methodical character. Swaggering do not lock as Glorious. Character may also ignore defensive modifier of enemy once each adventure. At level five, character my gain Catbird Seat at start of one battle during an adventure.

Rugged: Ignore the first Vicious each adventure. At level five, this trait may instead be used to cancel anyone’s wound.
 


GreenTengu

Explorer
I don't know that the specifics are entirely balanced, but-- I will say that I like the general idea.

I notice that there is no Half-Elf ancetry, so why not just turn the half-orc one into "Orc". It is so very difficult to create a balanced PC Orc as long as there is "Half-Orcs" that are not being acknowledged as "Half-Human" (i.e. unlike half-elves, there are no traits clearly derived from the human parent.)
 

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