D&D 5E Homebrew Idea: Skill Clocks (+)

ichabod

Legned
This is a plus (+) thread. This is about how well my homebrew idea for skill clocks works for downtime, and perhaps other applications. If you don’t think downtime should be done with dice rolls, that is a discussion that should be had in another thread. That’s not what this thread is for.

I had an idea for downtime activities, though it is possibly applicable elsewhere. It’s based on the idea of clocks from Blades in the Dark, and my desire to make downtime more like combat (to cut down on the number or resolution mechanics in the game). As I understand clocks (from Scum and Villainy and Home: A Light in the Darkness) they are basically an set of empty boxes where each box is filled in as skill checks are made or a particular time period passes.

A skill clock has a task to be completed. In downtime terms it might be a language to learn, a topic to research, or a contact to make with carousing. The task has a task DC and a number of task points.

The character makes a clock check, a d20 roll with a relevant ability bonus and proficiency if they have it. The proficiency may come from a relevant skill or tool. If their clock check meets or beats the task DC they can roll for success points. What they roll is based on their tools. Typical tools give a d8. Good or excellent tools could give a d10, while bad or no tools would be a d6. They get to add their relevant ability bonus to the success point roll. The success points rolled are subtracted from the task points for the task. When the task’s task point reach 0 or less, the task is completed. A natural 20 on the clock check gives double success points, and a natural 1 automatically fails.

If you look at the math on this, a 1st level character in their area of expertise (+4 ability bonus with proficiency) will score about 7 or 8 success points on a DC 10 task. On a DC 15 task or if they only have a +2 ability bonus, they’ll get more like 5 success points.

Actual use in downtime would depend on the activity. If you are researching something, it would be an investigation check with the tools based on the library you have access to. The DC could be how obscure the information is, and the task points could represent how much material you have to wade through. If you are working a job, the DM sets a DC based on the difficulty of the task, and the success points are how many days of pay you earn that week. If you are crafting the DC could be based on the object you are trying to craft, and the task points could be how many days you would normally need to craft it.

You could also have downtime features sort of like feats or class features. These could give you different bonuses to different types of downtime activities. I think it would be best if these were grafted on to the current class structure as an extra, rather than have them use up the already limited feat slots. You could have magic items that give bonuses to downtime activities much like magic weapons.

You can also use these for faction clocks. Figure out what the faction leader’s (or their lieutenant’s) skill is, what his tools are, and give it some task points. This can also give some handles for the PCs affecting the factions. Maybe the faction is trying to get better tools, and the PCs can prevent that. Maybe they kill the lieutenant that is working on the task, and a less skilled replacement has to take over.

Thoughts?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

NotAYakk

Legend
You have turned a Skill check from a success/failure flip to a success-and-magnitude. I think that is good; it is why D&D combat often works better than D&D skill checks.

What you have failed to do is make the magnitude scale very well. I get that you are mimicing weapon damage, but compare how attack damage scales to how your system scales.

L1 fighter with 16 strength does 28.5 damage over 3 rounds with +5 accuracy.
L4 fighter with 18 strength does 42 damage over 3 rounds with +6 accuracy
L5 fighter with 18 strength does 84 damage over 3 rounds with +7 accuracy
L8 fighter with 20 strength and a +1 weapon does 100 damage over 3 rounds with +9 accuracy
L11 fighter with 20 strength and a +1 weapon does 150 damage over 3 rounds with +10 accuracy
L17 fighter with 20 strength and a +2 weapon does 202.5 damage over 3 rounds with +13 accuracy
L20 fighter with 25 strength and a +3 weapon does 330 damage over 3 rounds with +16 accuracy

Damage (the magnitude of the success) scales with roughly (L+1)*(10 to 15); accuracy scales roughly with 5+level/2.

L1 rogue with 16 dex and expertise does 7.5 progress with +7 skill
L5 rogue with 18 dex and expertise does 8.5 progress with +10 skill
L11 rogue with 20 dex and expertise and good tools does 10.5 progress with +13 skill and a min roll of 23.
L20 rogue with 22 dex and expertise and legendary tools does 12.5 progress with +18 skill and a min roll of 28.

Progress scales at 7+level/4; accuracy (with expertise) scales with 7+level/2.

The second problem that your system lacks is that your problems aren't "hitting back". Not literally, but I mean in the sense that harder problems are just slower and take longer. Problems above a certain magnitude/difficulty should be impossible to solve by simply grinding away at them.

What I'd suggest is:

1. Make the magnitude portion scale faster. Level 20 PCs should be many many times "faster" than L 1 PCs.

2. Tasks should spawn complications. These can be adventure hooks - "if you want to make more progress, you need to do X" for example. They could be costs - "you can get a map to the bedroom of the queen's concubine, but it means you have to burn your fence contact and turn them over to the cops". (solving that problem is optional)

Complications are not dependent on failure, but on progress (or sometimes on time) - just like monsters attack back not only when you miss, but just because you engaged them.

Complications need not be narratively heavy, at least on average. Ie, imagine a 1 in 6 chance of a complication; now the narrative weight of the complications is 6 times smaller.

The existence of complications means that the rate of progress is no longer just a timer - instead, it determines how many complications you run into (on average), and such complications could prevent further progress (especially if you aren't, say, an adventurer!)
 

Distracted DM

Distracted DM
Supporter
I read the skill clocks idea as a more complex version of "you need this many successes to finish" combined with using degrees of success to finish the task faster- I'm just not clear on what the payoff for the added complexity is.

Off the top of my head A5e uses this with some downtime activities:
1717601625466.png

Every week you make a check, on a success you're one closer to getting your rare spell crafted.

It'd be worth figuring out math-wise re: using better tools reducing time, vs better tools improving chances at success.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Chronicles of Ramlar also used clocks, as a means of tracking experience and other progressions. If, for example, you wanted to increase your Strength score you'd use something like a 12-segment clock. Every time you did a "downtime" activity related to Strength (an example from the rulebook was carrying firewood back to camp, so it didn't have to be a skill check - as long as it was a detail to note you were working to progress towards completing the activity), you'd fill in a tick on the clock. Once complete, you got your +1 permanent bonus to Strength. You might have another clock, say "Become the Ruler of Furondy" and every time you took a significant step towards that goal (ex., say you befriended a noble of Furondy - which might be a whole clock in of itself), you'd fill in a tick. A lot of the clocks could be used to track long-term downtime activities (crafting items, running a business, building a reputation, training, etc.).

As you noted above, the clocks could be used to represent various scenes or encounters, with each tick representing some progress towards completion. I don't think it needs to be tied specifically to a successful roll of a die, as long as the characters are taking actions towards completing that goal. An example of a mixed clock might be "Find out who murdered Mort the Moneylender", with say, 6 segments (ticks).

The characters might fill in a tick with a successful Investigate check, revealing the dagger that was used had an unusual pommel with a skull atop it, and someone had scratched out one of the eyes on the skull.

The next character, who is a sage, decides to research the dagger using his Sage background. While there might be a roll, the DM might instead simply tell the player that their research uncovers that the dagger is used by a nefarious Assassin's guild that works the city, and that losing such a dagger is a blow to the Assassin's honor, who will probably want to retrieve it. This marks off another tick.

And so on.

Also, depending on how you handle XP, getting a tick filled in might grant (custom) story XP. That becomes great incentive for building rich character backgrounds with personal goals the player would want to complete.

<Edit> I also agree some clocks might have built-in consequences for failures to progress the clock. In the assassin example above, a consequence could be if the characters don't act fast enough, there will be another murder - or perhaps if there is a failure or two, the assassin (or their cohorts) comes after the PCs to retrieve the knife that was left behind, leading to some sort of ambush.
 

ichabod

Legned
What you have failed to do is make the magnitude scale very well. I get that you are mimicing weapon damage, but compare how attack damage scales to how your system scales.

[...]

The second problem that your system lacks is that your problems aren't "hitting back". Not literally, but I mean in the sense that harder problems are just slower and take longer. Problems above a certain magnitude/difficulty should be impossible to solve by simply grinding away at them.

What I'd suggest is:

1. Make the magnitude portion scale faster. Level 20 PCs should be many many times "faster" than L 1 PCs.
Should they? I get your point that the success points are not scaling like weapon damage, but I don't see that sort of scaling elsewhere in the skill system. Level 20 PCs aren't many times faster at picking locks or doing research, for example. They are just better at picking better locks and researching more obscure things. It is a good point in that you don't want to scale the task points like you do hit points, since the success points aren't scaling the same.
2. Tasks should spawn complications. These can be adventure hooks - "if you want to make more progress, you need to do X" for example. They could be costs - "you can get a map to the bedroom of the queen's concubine, but it means you have to burn your fence contact and turn them over to the cops". (solving that problem is optional)

Complications are not dependent on failure, but on progress (or sometimes on time) - just like monsters attack back not only when you miss, but just because you engaged them.

Complications need not be narratively heavy, at least on average. Ie, imagine a 1 in 6 chance of a complication; now the narrative weight of the complications is 6 times smaller.

The existence of complications means that the rate of progress is no longer just a timer - instead, it determines how many complications you run into (on average), and such complications could prevent further progress (especially if you aren't, say, an adventurer!)
I had thought about adding complications, but I don't like how they were handled in Xanathar's. And I was going to do it on failure, not progress, like fumbles. I decided against that because fumbles don't create problems in 5E.

I may be misunderstanding what you are describing, but it doesn't feel like the task is hitting back, it feels like the task is just being designed to be more complicated. I feel more like the task would need a stat block, and would roll after you do to see if it creates a complication. I'll have to think about that, it may be farther down this path than I want to go.
 

ichabod

Legned
It'd be worth figuring out math-wise re: using better tools reducing time, vs better tools improving chances at success.
I had meant tools to stand in the place of weapons, for determining how much success was achieved. If you move them to affecting the chance of success, you need something else to determine how much success. However, I'm thinking magic tools would be like magic weapons, giving a bonus to both chance of success and how much success.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
If I remember right, this is almost exactly how Index Card RPG does some of it’s checks. It might be worth checking that game does it.

I’m a big fan of clocks and countdowns, so the general idea is something I dig. But not so much with the implementation. You can simplify things by removing the “damage” roll. That seems like an unnecessary extra step. A d20 roll vs TN is sufficient. If you succeed mark off a day. If you fail, you mark a day off but have to deal with a complication like extra cost an social interaction or similar.

But yeah, setting up a clock and counting days spent works, too.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Should they? I get your point that the success points are not scaling like weapon damage, but I don't see that sort of scaling elsewhere in the skill system. Level 20 PCs aren't many times faster at picking locks or doing research, for example. They are just better at picking better locks and researching more obscure things. It is a good point in that you don't want to scale the task points like you do hit points, since the success points aren't scaling the same.
Outside of magic and combat, in baseline 5e, level 20 PCs are pretty incompetent. They are barely better than their level 1 brethren.

Suppose you want these activities to actually matter. Like, how about making a cool artifact sword? Or researching a level 9 spell?

Then almost certainly level 1 PCs are better off not adventuring, because why not perform epic tasks in downtime - alternatively, level 20 PCs will find these clock tasks pointless. All because the gap between level 1 and level 20 PCs is tiny in your mechanics.

You can "solve" this via fiat, but now your system isn't actually what you described: the actual system is you are eyeballing the PC and determining what they can do, then asking them to roll a bunch of dice to make it seem like the dice matter. Now, this isn't a bad system - it is basically how almost all downtime in D&D works - but it isn't what you described.

The low-tier PC should be able to do low-tier effects on the game world, and the high-tier PC should be able to do high-tier effects on the game world, and (in my opinion) this should be captured in the actual mechanics.

5e flattens the resolution system ("bounded accuracy"), and in combat places most of the scaling in the magnitude portion (damage, HP, and size of the effect of a spell). I personally would want my non-combat downtime mechanics to scale in a somewhat similar way (for the reasons expressed above) - so I'm suggesting adding scaling magnitude.

Now, it doesn't have to match combat magnitude scaling. But the system you had didn't just not match combat magnitude scaling, it was almost completely flat in magnitude scaling - so much so, that it might as well just be counting successes.

I had thought about adding complications, but I don't like how they were handled in Xanathar's. And I was going to do it on failure, not progress, like fumbles. I decided against that because fumbles don't create problems in 5E.

I may be misunderstanding what you are describing, but it doesn't feel like the task is hitting back, it feels like the task is just being designed to be more complicated. I feel more like the task would need a stat block, and would roll after you do to see if it creates a complication. I'll have to think about that, it may be farther down this path than I want to go.
"Hitting back" is an attempt to express making the engagement with a task less of a "roll a 10 or higher 5 times on a d20, one roll per week".

If the task "hits back" (like how a monster does), then progress has pressure. The faster you progress, the fewer problems occur. And overcoming these problems might not be possible, resulting in failure.

Throw in magnitude scaling (higher level / more expert PCs earn more progress with a successful check) and ability to handle complications (and magnitude of complications), and we can have the same system cover "make a breastplate" all the way to "make a cloak of invisibility" (or "undermine the mayor" through to "orchestrate a merger of crowns") without nearly as much "you are level 1, you aren't allowed to try".

Complications could literally be something akin to an random encounter table, with the requirement that the DM do some work on the fly.

As a sketch...

If we focus on tier-based, PC's progress is (tool die) + (stat) + (proficiency) in tier 1. At tier 2 (L5+), you roll 2 tool dice, 3 at tier 3 (L11+), and 4 at tier 4 (L17+).

Tools vary from 1d4 through to 1d12 in quality. 1d4 is a poor tool, 1d6 a professional quality tool, 1d8 a masterwork tool, 1d10 an enchanted tool and 1d12 a legendary tool.

So a level 1 fighter smith (+3 str +2 prof) rolls 1d20+5 vs DC and generates 1d6+5 (8.5) progress.

A level 20 rune knight (+7 str, +12 prof) with a hammer of the gods rolls 1d20+19 vs DC and generates 4d12+19 (45) progress.

Against DC 20, the first one generates 2.7 progress/roll.
The last one generates 44.05 progress/roll.

The base DC for "tier appropriate" task it 5 + 5 times Tier (10, 15, 20, 25 for T1 through T4, with 30 being for T5).

The total progress required to complete (the "clock") might be 30 per tier. (30 Tier 1, 60 Tier 2, 90 Tier 3, 120 Tier 4 and 150 Tier 5).

That leaves Complications. Suppose we express Complications in terms of CR as a first pass. A difficult T1 complication might have a total CR of 5, a T2 a total CR of 15, a T3 a total CR of 50 a T4 a total CR of 150 and a T5 a total CR of 500. (This is total CR; so a T1 complication might be the opposition of a CR 2 Knight and CR 1/2 warhorse and their 20 Guards). This use of CR is not intended to imply the only way around the problem is combat; rather, just an attempt to very roughly scale the size of the problem.

Maybe these complications end up having an "obvious" solution (be it combat, spending money, exploring something, or whatever) that scales with the tier of the task.

Or maybe mad libs style:

You need _____ which is ______ by _____, but ____.

A: An inanimate object, Some information, Help from a person, Part or all a body

B: Cherished, Hated, Guarded, Owned, Hidden

C: Insert tier-appropriate monster / NPC table

D: So does someone else, Time is running out, Taking it risks a disaster, Sorry the princess is in another castle, Have you considered the upgrade option
 

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top