the 3e skill system

Jd Smith1

Explorer
I quit D&D/D20 after 1e, and did not return until 5e.

I like 5e, but I was thumbing through the various editions which I had missed, and I was struck by the way it seemed to do more than 5es, especially in the way it allowed you to customize your character.


How was it in actual gameplay?
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
It worked pretty well at low levels (1-5ish), but at higher levels turned into success/failure based on whether you maxed out the skill or not. Being "decent" at a skill generally wasn't a good option unless you were unnaturally lucky with rolls.
Yeah, in many cases it need up being “go big or go home”. For example, stealthy types (NPC or monster) maxed their stealthy skills, so PCs had to max out their perceptive skills. Anyone who was investing in them cross-class was largely wasting their skill ranks since they were just going to fall behind anyway.

There were some cases in which you could reasonably stop investing in a skill and get a reasonable use out of them. But not that many, and certainly not once the design idea popped up that target DCs should advance with the PC’s level in order to extend the “sweet spot” and have similar challenges throughout all levels of play for all skills.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
The 3.x skill system had more granularity, but that doesn't mean you could actually do more. In practice it meant there were far more ways to mess it up. Especially when talking about books printed later in the edition's lifespan.

First Problem: System Mastery. Some skills were virtually useless, especially when compared to others. You had "fluff" skills like Profession alongside game changers like Use Magic Device, and skills that were point sink requirements for your class to even function properly like Spellcraft on Wizards.

Second Problem: Cross Class skills. You spend all the points for half the effect, hard regulating you to be second fiddle no matter how many points you sink into being different than the average Fighter. Also creates a headache whenever you try and build a character with multiclassing, or the Prestige classes, which is what everyone wanted to do.

Third Problem: INT bonus to skill points. If your character became smarter, they got more skill points. The reverse was also true, if you were a dumb character, you didn't know how to do anything except for like 1 skill. Additionally, putting one skill point in a new skill isn't going to do anything for you other than enable to you fail the "Must be Trained" checks. You need to invest so much of your character into a skill in order to be good at it. This leads into the next problem.

Fourth Problem: Bonus Stacking. I can't even list all the different ways you can modify your skill check by using a wide array of different factors such as; Spells, Psionics, Pure dumb Luck, taking a vow of poverty, sacrificing a goat, having cancer, and receiving a friendly pat on the back. It got out of hand. Heck, the standard DC table in that system goes up to 40 for a reason.

Fifth Problem: Spells and especially custom Magic Item Crafting largely surpassed the mundane skill system anyway. Why hide when you can turn invisible? Why jump when you can fly? Why pick a lock when you could Knock?

Sixth Problem: Skill Requirements. You had to pay for cool Feats and Prestige Classes by spending an arbitrary amount of skill points on things, that may not be directly related to your character. For instance, to be a Duelist, you needed to be level 6, have 3 points in perform and 5 points in tumble. Why specifically those numbers in those skills? Nobody knows.

Many people were quite glad when the system didn't make it back into 4e or 5e.
 

Horwath

Adventurer
this in not a problem of skill system but of d20.

in 3E(and in any other edition) you needed to "pump" up the numbers you do not fail because of bad d20 roll.
My biggest beef with d20 is that 1,10 and 20 have the same chance of turning up.

3d6 is much better and then few +1s in skills over few level means a lot more.

maybe better approach to skills and keeping d20 would be giving advantage to trained skill rolls and with expertise 3d20 "take highest"

another approach could be with adding "floor" to d20.

I.E. if you have proficiency in skill any roll below 5 is counted as 5, and if you have expertise any roll below 8 is counted as 8. That means that with +2 proficiency bonus your minimal check is 7 plus ability mod with normal skill proficiency and 12 plus ability mod with expertise.
Average and max checks remain the same, but for trained people you prevent blunders with easy/normal tasks.

you still need +3 ability bonus at start to have DC 10 an auto success for normal proficiency and DC15 for expertise.
 

Dioltach

Adventurer
My biggest issue with skills in 3.x is that skills are the Rogue's "special ability", but they depend heavily on the extra skill points at 1st level. If your first level of Rogue isn't your first character level, you'll never make up the difference.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
Conceptually the system was great, but the implementation was horribly flawed. There was a playtest version in D&D Next that wasn't too bad, but was eventually dropped. It could be added into the final version of 5E, with a few small modifications.

You get a number of skill points equal to the number of skills you have at level 1, and you get an equal number when your proficiency modifier goes up (levels 5, 9, 13, and 17). The first skill point grants +2, while each additional skill point adds +1 (max Proficiency mod). This allows a level of granularity, but does have the incentive to become a "Jack of all trades" by taking each skill at level 1, as the benefit is higher.
 

dave2008

Legend
Interesting.

I still think they went too far the other way in 5e, and reduced the skills into irrelevance.

My search for a better skill system will have to move on.
What are you looking for in a skill system. There are lots out there. If you give us an idea of what your looking for it might be easier for someone to suggest a skill system from another game or how to modify the 5e system to suite your needs.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
Conceptually the system was great, but the implementation was horribly flawed. There was a playtest version in D&D Next that wasn't too bad, but was eventually dropped. It could be added into the final version of 5E, with a few small modifications.

You get a number of skill points equal to the number of skills you have at level 1, and you get an equal number when your proficiency modifier goes up (levels 5, 9, 13, and 17). The first skill point grants +2, while each additional skill point adds +1 (max Proficiency mod). This allows a level of granularity, but does have the incentive to become a "Jack of all trades" by taking each skill at level 1, as the benefit is higher.
I like that.
 

Greenfield

Adventurer
Each edition has had strong and weak points.

1st edition was fairly freewheeling, as was 2nd. 2nd introduced skills as something other than "noncombat proficiencies".

3e standardized the mechanic and reversed the AC scale. Earlier, lower was better, but from 3e on higher was.

This allowed a dice/combat simplification that eliminated the need for half a dozen charts and accelerated play. They also introduced Feats and a more complete skill system. In addition to that, the formalized the item slot/location rules and clearly defined what stacks and what doesn't. Prior to that 2 magic Rings of Protection stacked, for example.

With the addition of feats and a progressive skill system (you can add points to get better, over time) an amazing thing happened: More rules and more structure allowed for far more flexibility and creativity. Between the improved cross-classing rules and prestige classes it became possible to sculpt and fine tune a character to be just about anything you wanted.

It also opened the door for new levels of abuse, as some people decided that the "anything you wanted" thing included "broken". Additionally it wasn't really play tested for anything above about level 10.

4th edition tried to rein in the rampant abuse, but in doing so lost the flexibility that had become D&D's hallmark. It introduced new concepts, such as Skill Challenges, which were a much needed way to formally address non-combat encounters and situations. My own problrms with it were that it seemed like an attempt to move World of Warcraft to the tabletop, with all the status bookkeeping inherent in that, and without a computer to keep track of it.

Pathfinder, often described as D&D 3.75, also took a shot at fixing some of 3.5's problems, but unlike 4e they didn't just throw everything out and start over. They removed some of the abuse potential by limiting or eliminating prestige classes. They tried to correct some class-related power imbalances, but they did it by powering everyone up. That changed the imbalances, but didn't really address them very well.

I've played 5e, but not a lot, so any opinion or analysis I expressed here would be poorly informed at best.

One thing I saw (and disliked) in 4e, which they carried over to 5e, was the non-progressive skill system. You're either trained or you aren't, but there aren't any gradations. You can't improve a skill through practice and training. Instead you advance all skills (even those you never use in game) based on levels. In 4e that advancement was an illusion, since the DC advances at the same rate.

Over all, the economy of the game world has been broken since day one. Different editions have had different flavors of "broken", but "broken" has been a constant.

The flaws with skill challenges in 4e can be handled by a good DM. So can the abuse of race/class/prestige class in 3e.

The reality is that a good DM can make any system work, and a bad DM can't make any system work. What we need are systems between those two extremes, systems and mechanics that the average DM can keep workable. In that light I see the most potential in 1/2E, 3.*e and Pathfinder.
Your mileage may vary, naturally.
 

dave2008

Legend
One thing I saw (and disliked) in 4e, which they carried over to 5e, was the non-progressive skill system. You're either trained or you aren't, but there aren't any gradations. You can't improve a skill through practice and training.
Not completely true. In 5e you have untrained (no prof. bonus), trained (+prof. bonus), and expert (+prof. bonus x2).
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
One thing I saw (and disliked) in 4e, which they carried over to 5e, was the non-progressive skill system. You're either trained or you aren't, but there aren't any gradations. You can't improve a skill through practice and training. Instead you advance all skills (even those you never use in game) based on levels. In 4e that advancement was an illusion, since the DC advances at the same rate.
The thing is, this was functionally the case in 3.X too. Sure, in theory you got a certain number of ranks each level to put into any skill you wanted. But unless you picked a number of skills equal to the number of ranks you got at level up and always put your ranks into those skills, you fell behind the treadmill and didn’t have a reasonable chance of succeeding at level-appropriate challenges with the skill. Literally the only reason not to just pick a number of skills and keep them all maxed out was if you needed a few ranks in something else to qualify for a prestige class. 4e and 5e just removed the trap option of spreading your ranks too thin.
 

RSIxidor

Explorer
I like the granularity of skills in 3/3.5/PF.
I like that you can take basically any skill, even if its not in your class list.
I dislike how numbers go crazy at high levels.
I dislike how your build may be completely hinged on boosting a skill far enough to pick up a specific feat at specific levels, or be left behind.

I like the tiered (untrained/trained/expert) modes of skill training in 5e (though I wish expertise had a static definition instead of being explained in each class feature that uses it).
I dislike the lack of granularity in choosing how to advance skills (because outside of a few class features and feats, advancing skills is not an option).

It would be nice to have something somewhere between the skill rank system and what 5E has. Pathfinder 2 has a decent system that's somewhere in there, so another good thing to consider. I'm not 100% on it, but it's somewhere in there. You've got tiers of training and you choose what skills you take more training in but the 9 levels where you choose to learn a skill or advance one usually only give a single skill to learn or advance - but at least all characters get to learn and advance skills after level 1. At the same time, like 3/3.5/PF1, I don't like the expectations of skill ranks related to feats.

I liked basically nothing about the 4E skill system, except that classes often had utility powers that improved a significant class skill some of the time (like Bards getting a big boost to charisma skills once an encounter). I wouldn't hate that being a normal part of the game again, in some way.

Anyway, I'll probably never be happy with a skill system.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
The thing is, this was functionally the case in 3.X too. Sure, in theory you got a certain number of ranks each level to put into any skill you wanted. But unless you picked a number of skills equal to the number of ranks you got at level up and always put your ranks into those skills, you fell behind the treadmill and didn’t have a reasonable chance of succeeding at level-appropriate challenges with the skill. Literally the only reason not to just pick a number of skills and keep them all maxed out was if you needed a few ranks in something else to qualify for a prestige class. 4e and 5e just removed the trap option of spreading your ranks too thin.
Sort of. It's definitely true with opposed skills because monsters and NPCs would often have them maxed out - and for monsters it was based on hit dice, not CR, and that meant they could grow even faster than PC scores in some cases.

But many other skills had suggested DCs that weren't level-dependent. Some tasks could only be accomplished by high level PCs, but that was because they involved lots of difficulty. There were skills that a PC could taper off investing in once they achieved their desired level of competence.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
It can feel like your only option is to max out a few skills, because otherwise you fall behind the competition, but that's only in the contrived case where everyone and everything you encounter is exactly your same level. Yes, if you have a bad DM, then the game is going to play poorly.

In any other case, where the DM isn't contriving things to make your choices meaningless, your skill point investment remains important.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
Here’s what I’d like:

Skills have 5 “levels,” that are eligible for increase as the proficiency bonus increases. Each class gets a number of skill points to invest. 1 point to train/invest in skills on your class/background list or 2 points for skills that are NOT on either list.

The first level of every skill is a +2 on your ability check.
Each level thereafter includes some use-case or ability that expands your characters capabilities.

This system would include armor, weapon, and tool proficiencies as well and would probably end up “eating” the feat system.

Essentially, I’d like the customization, I’d like the bonuses to remain relatively small compared to the ability modifiers, and I’d like default settings to be on par with carefully selected cross-classing (meaning, anyone who just sets their skills and auto-invests in the same thing at every opportunity shouldn’t regret that choice).
 
In my experience, the granularity was just too much, especially when it came time to level up certain classes. I'd often get stuck by decision paralysis - sure, if I'm playing a bard, I'm going to want to max out Persuade and Perform, but surely I really want to not be stuck not knowing how to swim. Or should I put a point into Appraise to get better deals? Or what about Bluff, that's a handy skill for a bard. Then there's Spellcraft, wouldn't that be handy?
 

Celebrim

Legend
I quit D&D/D20 after 1e, and did not return until 5e.

I like 5e, but I was thumbing through the various editions which I had missed, and I was struck by the way it seemed to do more than 5es, especially in the way it allowed you to customize your character.

How was it in actual gameplay?
It depends on the GM.

3e is my favored edition, but it does have some problems and can benefit from house rules.

But the biggest issue as to whether skills are meaningful is whether the DM actively works to make them meaningful.

If you have 40' x 50' room that is flat and largely featureless, and all your combats occur in that room or ones similar to it, then yeah balance, jump, climb, swim and to a certain extent even tumble might all be meaningless skills. The same can be said of basically all the skills, though the exact situations required for them to be useful, it's up to the DM to provide for and empower that. Fundamentally it comes down to whether the DM wants them to be meaningful and is willing to see skill usage gain major advantages, solve problems, and so forth.

One important thing you have to do as a DM if you expect skills to be meaningful is routinely provide low DC challenges. That is to say, you need to routinely assume that there are situations with DC 5, DC 10, and DC 15 that come up, where passing the check gives you some small benefit. If you don't, then the only time that skill usage might come up is contested skills, which leads to the impression in some groups that 'spot/listen' (or perception) are the only useful skills.

There are things you have to watch for if you really want to make skills important in your game. Certain spells will need to be rewritten. Magic items which enhance skill are by default based on the assumption that skill isn't that important, and if you make skill important you will break that assumption resulting in skill items being undercosted. Depending on what you do with the skill list, whether trimming it down or expanding it, you may need to tweak how many skill points certain classes get. For example, my skill list is slightly longer than the standard, so Rogues get 13 skill points per level base (Fighters get 5, and most full casters get 3). (Despite this, Intelligence is STILL the preferred highest stat for most Rogues in my game, and I've rarely seen a player dump stat Intelligence regardless of the class he's playing.) Personally, if I was going to tweak the system further, I'd probably adopt the cross class skills system from pathfinder which makes going into a cross class much less punishing while still making class archetypes important, and makes it less important which class you take at 1st level.
 

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