D&D General Weekly Wrecana : a six parter - unbloodied heroes.


Arcadian Knight
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Categories: Dungeons & Dragons

For this blog, I plan to tackle the Noncombat System of D&D. The blogs in this series are:

  • Introduction
  • Exposition from Point of View
  • Interludes : Backgrounds and Training
  • Travel and Group Efforts
  • Exploration and Individual Efforts
  • Skills Reimagined
Related to this blog series is my series on Social Challenges
I have never, in any edition of D&D, been satisfied with the manner in which noncombat abilities have been represented. Too often they feel like an afterthought, or they use a one-size-fits-all approach that I feel is inappropriate. This blog follow up on concepts I discussed in my prior blogs on Combat Investment, Social Challenges, and Protagonocentrism.

I believe noncombat abilities should be tailored to the uses they will be put by adventurers. My analysis looks at a campaign as an ongoing shared story told by the DM, who controls the world, and secondarily by the players, who control the protagonists.

I firmly believe that numerical mechanics (particularly those tied to the use of dice) should be limited to the resolution of conflict, not the furtherance of narrative flow. Literary scholars identify four types of conflict, though I replace “Man” with “Character”: Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Nature, and Character vs. Society. If an activity is not directly related to one of these types of conflict, then it should not involve dice.

Moreover, mechanics should be related to the actual characters in the game, not hypothetical characters in other people’s campaigns. For example, there should be no need to compare a character’s Arcane skill with the Arcane skill of a character in another campaign. Instead, what matters is a character’s Arcane Skill in relation to the encounters he faces, and in relation to the other characters (in order to determine which character may be considered an expert in the area).

I have identified six story-related endeavors in which characters engage during a campaign:
Combat: Obviously, PCs engage in combat. Much of the games mechanics revolve around combat, and for good reason. Combat is the quintessential form of conflict in D&D (Character vs. Character). However, this blog discusses noncombat, so I will only touch upon combat tangentially. Primarily, I consider any skill that might be used during combat, including the need to disarm traps occurring during combat, to be a combat-related skill use.
Exploration: The Jester had an excellent blogon this subject. When characters are traversing through a hostile environment, but not fighting or socializing, they are exploring. Exploration involves poking and prodding, trying levers, and solving puzzles. This was a major component of earlier editions, but seems to have fallen to the wayside in recent years. It is time for this to be restored to its place of prominence, and this is a form of conflict (Character vs. Nature), so dice should be implemented.
Exposition: Any time a DM needs to give information to the players, he is engaging in exposition. In my opinion, this is a bad reason for skills. A DM should always give out only that information the PCs need. Dice should not be a factor. This is one of those areas where dice does not resolve conflict. (Note, that drawing admissions from a reluctant NPC is social conflict, not exposition.)
Interlude: In between adventures, characters are likely to want to imagine what their characters do. Some may have a day job, or family obligations. Others may engage in study, or politicking. Still others may do nothing. This is primarily a narrative activity for which no dice should be needed.
Socialization: When PCs communicate with NPCs, they are socializing. However, Socialization, here, only refers to instances in which the PCs seek to accomplish a goal through social interaction. A night on the town, or at a Duke’s soiree, is not conflict. It’s simply narration for which no skills are needed, and which the characters should simply roleplay. If there is conflict (either Character vs. Character or Character vs. Society), then dice should be used. See my Social Challenges Blog to see how I would handle socialization.
Travel: PCs need to get from point A to B. Until they all gain flying mounts or teleportation, they will be traveling, whether by foot, mount, wagon train, ship, or spelljammer. They need provisions, to keep from getting lost, and to endure harsh environmental hazards. This is conflict (man vs. nature) and might involve dice.
As stated above, D&D already handles Combat fine (or at least it is beyond the scope of this blog). Of the remaining five activities, two (Exposition and Interlude) do not require dice, and three (Exploration, Socialization, and Travel) do require dice. I have already set forth, in great detail, what I would like to see with regard to Social Conflict, and will not repeat it.
In my next two blogs in this series, I will discuss my ideas for the two categories of noncombat that do not require dice. In my fourth and fifth blogs in this series, I will discuss my ideas for the two remaining categories of noncombat that do require dice. In the final blog of this series, I will discuss the Skill system in particular, and why the Skill system should be reduced to a mere nine skills. (How’s that for a tease?)
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Arcadian Knight
Exposition from a point of view

More from Mark Monack

Exposition from a point of view
This is the second blog of my Unbloodied Heroes series exploring alternatives to 4e’s noncombat mechanics. In this blog, I will describe proposed mechanics for Exposition. The blogs in this series are:
Related to this blog series are my prior series on Combat Investment, Social Challenges and Protagonism

[h=1]Exposition[/h]Exposition occurs any time the DM needs to convey information to the PCs. This involves giving characters background information, telling them what they can see, smell, taste, hear, and feel. (Sometimes, a Dm will tell them even what they intuit.) In 4e, this is often handled using a combination of passive skill checks and the Arcane, History, Insight, Nature, Perception, and Religion Skills. I propose that these skills be eliminated.

Rather, I will take a cue from OD&D and 1st edition. If the players need to know something for the adventure, the DM should just tell them. The DM should not need to roll to see if something is hidden. If he wants something to be hidden, he declares it to be hidden. If he wants something to think it’s hidden, he declares that it failed to hide.

Now, before you complain that I’ve eliminated half of the Skills from the game, let me assure you – active searching will remain, though in a different form. (That form will be described in the fifth blog of the series.)

I would replace these Skills with a new diceless mechanic called “Point of View”. If the DM wants to convey information, he can simply convey it. But how do you handle characters who seek to have expertise. Well, the DM can choose to convey information through a PC’s POV. I have divided all the information a DM might want to impart into 36 discrete categories of knowledge. When a DM seeks to convey information, he determines in what category the information most appropriately fits (and might in fact split the information across categories). He then conveys the information to the character or characters who possess this POV, and the can then share the information with the party (or not) through roleplaying.

The benefit of POVs is several. First, the DM no longer has to worry about the party failing to catch something because someone rolls a “1” on a knowledge-related Skill check. Second, the players no longer need to call for active Perception checks every five feet. If the DM wants them to notice something, he’ll tell them so. Third, the process of selecting POVs will help counter Combat Investment, requiring players to consider in which of the 36 categories their characters have an interest.

One thing to remember is that having a POV does not necessarily mean the character is an expert in that area (though it might). POV does not represent an objective level of knowledge. Rather, it represents a player character’s knowledge compared to the other characters of the party. It determines which character will receive information, not whether any character will receive information.

The 36 categories, which I’ve grouped into three “schools”, are as follows:
Creatures: Aberrations, Beasts (including Dragons), Civilized Humanoids, Constructs, Demons, Elementals, Fey, Immortals, Plants, Savage Humanoids, Shadow, Undead
Fields: Alchemy, Appraisal, Arcane, Architecture, Empathy, History, Geography, Nature, Religions, Small details, Tells, Writings
Terrains: Aerial, Aquatic, Arctic, Astral Planes, Elemental Planes, Far Realms, Feywild, Shadowfell, Subterranean, Temperate, Tropics, Urban

A playing group should agree on one of the following methods of distributing the POVs amongst the PCs. These methods are ordered, not my preference, but from simplest to most complex:

METHOD I: Don’t Bother: Perhaps nobody cares who is given exposition. Then don’t bother with POVs. The DM should simply give the entire party all the exposition.

METHOD II: Overlapping Selection: Each PC chooses seven categories personal to their character. If you like, allow each player to select an additional number of categories equal to the character’s Intelligence bonus. If multiple characters take the same category then each should be given the appropriate exposition. (The DM may decide to break the information into pieces and give each character with this category one piece.) If nobody takes a category, then the entire party should be given this exposition, being presumed to be equally knowledgeable (or equally ignorant) in this category.

METHOD III: Even Distribution: Beginning with the character with the highest Intelligence score and continuing to the lowest (flip coins to break ties), each character selects a category. Once a category is taken no other character can take it. Continue until there are no categories left. Players should be encouraged to discuss their choices beforehand so people do not feel robbed of a category that really should be given to them.

METHOD IV: Competitive Distribution: Each category is given a numerical value. Characters begin with 2 points in each category. They then get 36 points to distribute amongst the categories. Every level, the character gets an additional point to add. At eleventh level and at twenty-first level, every category increases by two points. Characters may retrain 1 point per level per the retraining rules. The DM will need to track all of the PCs’ points. When exposition is to be disseminated, the DM will tally the points in that category, and randomly determine which character gets the information.

For example, let’s assume a party of four: Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion, and Woodsman. They are confronting a wizard, and he wants to see which of them realizes the wizard is using chicanery to appear more powerful than he is. He decides this will depend on their knowledge of Architecture to see the pulleys and curtains where he hides his devices. Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion, and Woodsman have 8, 2, 3, and 6 points respectively. This totals 19 points, so the DM rolls a d20. 1-8 means Dorothy, 9-10 means Scarecrow, 11-13 means Lion, 14-19 means Woodsman, and 20 means roll twice (a second 20 means roll twice more, and a third 20 means all the PCs are given the exposition). The DM rolls a 6, so Dorothy is given the information. The player decides her animal companion notes the curtain and tugs is open, revealing the wizard as a fraud.

Stay tuned for my next blog where I discuss rules for interludes.
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Arcadian Knight

Interludes describe what happens to PCs when they are not adventuring as a team. “Adventuring” in this context is not limited to combat, but to any attempt to engage in an endeavor as a team, and includes most skill challenges, traveling, attempts to garner information, to engage in a business venture, etc.

Interludes generally occur when the characters go their separate ways in between adventures. A wizard may seclude himself in a library to engage in arcane research. A cleric may perform routine duties at the local shrine. A bard may perform in tavern-halls about the town. A fighter may visit his mentor and share war stories. Equipment is upgraded, and skills are retrained during interludes.

Generally, interludes should not be played out. An interlude involves a single player and the DM. The rest of the party will be twiddling their thumbs during this time, something I try to avoid. For frequent players, the Dungeon Masters Guide 2 has some good ideas for involving players in other people’s interludes, but I generally, simply gloss over them.

Players can dictate what they do during the interlude between adventures as long as they do not dramatically change the world. Unless your players are very tolerant of watching someone else get a solo adventure, do not roleplay out these interludes. Try to incorporate these stories into the adventures themselves. You can include exposition imparted to the warrior through his mentor. Maybe the wizard uncovers a hidden prophecy during his research. This rewards the player directly for his commitment to thinking of his character as fully developed with a life outside adventuring without taking gaming time away from the other players.

In Fourth Edition, two mechanics govern what players may do in between adventures: the Background mechanic, introduced in the Players Handbook 2, and Retraining, introduced in the Players Handbook 1. At first blush, these mechanics appear utterly unrelated. Backgrounds are static, chosen at 1st level and never touched thereafter. Retraining affects feats, powers, and skills, and can be used every level.

But both these mechanics handle activities of the characters that occur “off-screen” as it were. Backgrounds describe what a character did before becoming an adventurer, and retraining describes a character’s priorities in between adventures (as it pertains to their adventuring skills). I propose these mechanics be expanded and then harmonized.

[h=1]Expanding Backgrounds[/h]Presently, characters can choose from a dazzling array of Backgrounds, but only one can give any sort of mechanical benefit. And the benefit is often a +2 bonus to a Skill. (I’ll explain why this benefit is a bad idea in a future blog in this series.) I think it would be more helpful for fleshing characters to expand the Background mechanic into three categories, each of which will give separate benefits:

Culture represents the circumstances of one’s birth and upbringing. These backgrounds might be specific to a race, social caste, geographic culture, or family. Characters born under an omen or subject to a prophecy might be able to reflect this with a Cultural Background. Some characters may wish a background in which they were raised in a variety of cultures. A Cultural Background called “Cosmopolitan” can accommodate this as well. The benefit of a Cultural Background can include granting fluency in one or more languages, proficiency in an exotic or superior weapon, or granting a character a learned trick borne from being raised in a specific culture.

Environment represents the physical location in which a character was raised. Environmental Backgrounds can exist for each different type of terrain, from tundra to desert. An urban Environmental Background should exist for city-dwellers who have never previously left the confines of civilization. Exotic Environmental Backgrounds, for characters raised in the Elemental Chaos, in an Astral Dominion, or even in the Hells, should also be available. For characters whose childhood was spent constantly traveling from one location to another, an Environmental Background called “Itinerant” should be made available. The benefit of an Environmental Background can include bonuses when attempting to travel through or survive in a given environment. The Background may also be used to improve other skill checks made on specific terrains. An Environmental Background of Tundra, for example, may grant bonuses to defenses against attacks that render the target prone.

The Occupational Background represents any formal training the character may have received prior to becoming an adventurer. This category should accommodate most occupations, including performers, craftsmen, and laborers. This Background should not be used to make additional money, but it can be used to prioritize exposition concerning certain types of appraisal. An Occupational Background may also place a Skill on a character’s Skill list, or grant a character a new way to use a trained skill (but not a straight bonus).

[h=1]Retraining Harmonized[/h]Retraining recognizes that as a character develops, priorities might change. Presently, in between levels, a character can retrain a single feat, trained skill, or power. I propose expanding this. Each subcategory of Background (Culture, Environment, and Occupational) can be given a series of expansions that can be taken instead of a character’s usual retraining. This allows a character to delve more deeply into their culture, environment, or occupation. One Background retraining should be allowed in each tier of play. Each Background should explain the benefit that one gains by expanding this Background.

By allowing characters to expand their Backgrounds, it keeps players focused on the non-combat, role-playing aspects of their characters. They will be developing not only their character’s combat ability, but their roleplaying as well. (Note these benefits should not replace or obviate roleplaying; they should enhance it.)

These expansions should not grant advantages in combat. Rather, they should be additional uses of a skill or a new way to garner information or to interact with an environment. The Paragon and Epic Tier expansions can also allow characters to accomplish impossible tasks with their Background.

Stay tuned for my next blog where I discuss rules for travel and other group efforts.
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Arcadian Knight
Group Efforts

A group effort constitutes any effort in which the party must fail or succeed together. Travel is the most obvious example of a group effort. The entire party will reach its destination together.
My Critique of Skill Challenges
Presently, group efforts are handled as Skill Challenges. I am not entirely satisfied with this approach for several reasons.

Skill Challenges generally require training in a handful of Skills. Individuals who are not trained in any of the Skills designated for a challenge are generally relegated to the role of support staff, rolling Aid Other checks, a relatively unsatisfying position.
In Skill Challenges, we generally receive a description of what each Skill represents as an action, but successes and failures are generally abstracted. This can make the challenges seem repetitive and uninteresting as the party is encourage to attempt the same action over and over (if allowed), or simply jumps from Skill to Skill with the DM getting little narrative guidance as to how PCs should react to failure or to success.

[h=1]Group Efforts[/h]To address this, I have developed an approach I call "Group Effort", which differs from Skill Challenges in the follow ways:

Rather than describe how skills are used in the challenge, the challenge describes specific hurdles the PCs need to overcome to succeed in the challenge, with specific consequences for each failure. In a travel challenge, the hurdles might include “sheltering from a storm”, “foraging for food”, and “avoiding notice of the King’s Guard”. Failure should have specific consequences. Starvation could result in a loss of healing surges. The storm may result in a disease. The King’s Guard may have time to prepare for the next adventure, eliminating a chance for surprise.

Rather than having individual characters pore over their character sheets looking for ways to shoehorn their best skills into the challenge, the party, as a team, discusses how they are to approach each hurdle of the challenge. This should occur narratively, without reference to the party’s skills. Once the party has determined how they want to proceed, the DM can then determine what rolls should ensue, which brings us to...

The party will roll skill checks in a Group Effort as a team. The check for each hurdle is determined as follows:
Step One: Choose the Skill. The DM should determine which skill best represents the party’s approach to a hurdle. If multiple Skills might apply, choose which you believe is primarily applicable.
Step Two: Determine the Mean Ability Bonus. The DM takes the median bonus of the entire party for the ability that applies to the Skill chosen.
Step Three: Add a Half-Level Bonus: Add a bonus equal to half the mean level of the party.
Step Four: Add Training Bonus. For each character trained in the Skill, grant a +1 bonus to the check, up to a maximum bonus of +3.
Step Five: Add Ancillary Bonuses. If the party has magic items, ancillary skills, powers, feats, backgrounds, or other features that might apply to this hurdle, grant a +1 bonus for each such ancillary source, up to a maximum bonus of +3. No ancillary source can be used more than once in a Group Effort.
Step Six: Apply Circumstantial Bonuses and/or Penalties. If the party comes up with something surprisingly clever, or surpassingly absurd, the DM should feel free to grant the party a bonus or penalty to the skill between -3 and +3. (If the party’s idea is so good that it by all rights should obviate the hurdle without any likelihood of failure, or something so astoundingly boneheaded that they could not possibly hope to overcome the hurdle, the DM can of course declare an automatic success or failure.)

Because the applicable bonuses are capped, the results are relatively predictable. Generally, it can be assumed that the median party Skill check will be approximately 14 + ½ level +3/tier. An easy DC check should be about 11 + ½ level +3/tier, a moderate DC check should be 15 + ½ level +3/tier, and a difficult skill check should be 19 + ½ level +3/tier.

Because the party works as a team, everybody is encouraged to come up with ideas that might contribute to a circumstantial bonus, or come up clever ancillary sources to use in the Group Effort. Moreover, because each success or failure represents a specific hurdle to be overcome, the Effort plays in a much more natural and narrative manner than a Skill Challenge.

Stay tuned for my next blog where I discuss rules for exploration and other individual efforts, as well as a chronic problem with Skill checks I call Skill Spread.
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Arcadian Knight
Exploration and Individual Efforts

Individual efforts constitute any efforts in which characters succeed as individuals, even if as part of a larger group effort. Combat is the quintessential individual effort because even though the party generally succeeds in combat as a team, each individual’s fate is different; some characters may escape unscathed while others have spent daily powers, consumable items, healing surges, or even their lives. However, combat generally does not exclusively use Skills. This blog will discuss the use of Skills in individual efforts outside combat.

Skill Spread
The problem in the current system is illustrated through Skill Spread. Skill Spread is the hypothetical difference between the best bonus for a Skill in any given adventuring party and the worst bonus for that same Skill. Even at low levels, the Skill Spread can be daunting. A first-level character can conceivably begin the game with a +17 bonus (+5 [ability] +5 [training] +3 [skill focus] +2 [background] +2 [race]), while his companion might begin with a -1 penalty (-1 [ability]) in the same Skill, for a Skill Spread of 18. As characters gain levels, they gain access to new powers, items, feats, and Ability increases that increase the Skill Spread even further. By 30th level, the potential Skill Spread can exceed 30 (+10 [ability] +6 [item] +5 [training] +3 [skill focus] +2 [background] +2 [race] +2 [power]). Even ignoring Skill optimization, the expected Skill Spread for 15th level characters is around 14. “Combat Spread”, in contrast, rarely exceeds 5, barring corner case optimization.

Skill Spread makes it difficult to estimate DCs for a Skill Check that any member of the party may need to pass. If a trap is going to require an Acrobatics check, you might set the difficulty at 19, so the +15 character almost always passes, but the -1 character requires a natural 20, or at 8 so the unskilled character has a chance to succeed, but the trained character can never fail. This is an untenable dilemma.

Unsatisfactory Solutions
The Dungeon Master’s Guide suggests that any given challenge have multiple avenues of success. This is of limited value because most secondary Skills in a Skill-based encounter are modified by the same Ability as the primary Skill. Characters unable to use the primary Skill will usually be equally unable to succeed in the secondary skills, making the characters feel useless.

Some Dungeon Masters craft Skill checks that only the maximized character can succeed, such as placing a trap only the Thievery-trained rogue can overcome. These Spotlight Skill checks tend to marginalize the unskilled party member even further. Moreover, the skillful characters are essentially marginalized too, condemned to working on the problem only they can solve while the rest of the party handles the meat of the encounter.

Some Dungeon Masters rely on the Aid Other action to keep characters involved. Not only does the bonus from Aid Other further increase the Skill Spread, it is simply not very satisfying to serve as somebody else’s sidekick.

[h=1]Skill Opportunities[/h]Sadly, without a major overhaul to the Skill system, little can be done to remedy these problems. In addition to implementing the Group Efforts and Points of View. I have earlier described, and avoiding the mistakes described above, I have one suggestion: Skill Opportunities.

Skill Opportunities enhance an encounter without becoming thresholds or requirements for the encounter. To implement Skill Opportunities, follow these simple steps:

First, write encounters as if no character would be trained in any applicable Skills. The encounter can be a puzzle, or simply a room where the characters are inspecting objects and working with the exposition you give them. Do not continue until you are comfortable that the party can surpass the encounter without ever rolling a Skill check.

Second, imagine ways characters might use Skills to enhance the encounter. One example of Skill Oppurtnities is the “Properties” described in the Dungeon Masters Guide 2, in which players unlock encounter powers when they use an object in the room. A Thievery check, for example, might allow players to reveal a secret compartment that would otherwise require a bludgeon to access. A Heal check can ameliorate the ongoing necrotic aura guarding an idol. Acrobatics may allow a character to swing from a chandelier.

Third, ensure these Skill Opportunities are not overpowered compared to the party’s other options. A Skill Opportunity should be only slightly better than encounter powers a player might invoke with the action required to use the Skill Opportunity. Moreover, the consequences of failing the check should rarely be more severe than loss of the action.

Finally, because Skill Opportunities are unnecessary to finishing the encounter, you can set them to the difficulty of the trained character. Rather than using the charts provided in the game, simply set the DC so that the trained characters will need approximately an 8 on the roll to succeed. Unskilled characters should still have plenty to do without feeling excluded.

Even with these fixes, the Skill System could use an overhaul. Stay tuned for my final blog in this series where I discuss my proposal for reforming the Skill system.
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Arcadian Knight

Skills Reimagined
In prior blogs in this series I discussed how exposition should be handled through Points of View, how there should be an expansion of Backgrounds and Retraining, how team endeavors should be handled through Group Effort, and the problems of Skill Spread. How else would I change things from the ground up?

Lessons as Noncombat Feats
4e set a laudable goal: players should not have to choose between combat and noncombat effectiveness. And yet, within the Feats, some noncombat mechanics remain, such as Skill Training, Skill Focus, Linguistics, Ritual Training, etc. I propose a new category of Feats – Lessons – which would apply exclusively to noncombat mechanics. Points of View, Group Efforts, Backgrounds, and Skills could all be built upon through Lessons.
Two Abilities per Skill
Skill Spread occurs in part because many Skills use a character’s worst score. By giving every character an option of two abilities to use, the Skill Spread can be lessened. This also affords players more leeway to describe how their characters use Skills. An otherwise unpersuasive character can still impress people with his physical presence, while a person who stumbles over his toes can still use his Intelligence to figure out how to disarm a trap.
Limit Numerical Bonuses
Skill Spread also occurs in part because characters can accumulate Skill bonuses too easily. Training, Skill Focus, Backgrounds, Aid Other, and magic items all contribute bonuses. Eliminate almost all of these bonuses and limit the bonus from Skill Training to +2 (equivalent to the attack bonus one gets from training in a weapon). Mechanics that enhance Skill checks should do so by “unlocking” a new option for a Skill rather than by granting numerical bonuses. For example, a character might learn to use Acrobatics to get up from prone as a minor action. This makes Skills feel more dynamic, encouraging their use.
[h2]Track Skills to Defenses[/h2]Skill bonuses should follow the progression of NPC defenses, just as attack bonuses (in theory) do. This may require us to add inherent bonuses to make up for the lack of enhancement bonuses from magic items. However, I feel the benefit of letting Stealth be opposed by Will, Thievery’s pick-pocketing by Reflexes, and an Athletics-based grab opposed by Fortitude, is well worth the trade-off.
Consolidate the Skill List
Reduce the Skill list to a mere nine Skills. Although this seems small, remember that non-combat mechanics would be supplemented by Points of View, Interlude mechanics, and Lessons. Each Skill would have two Abilities assigned to it, so each Ability would be related to three Skills. Every character would then get to choose three Skills in which to be trained. This could be supplemented by Lessons. However, no Ability can modify more than two skills. Characters would choose which Ability modifies which Skill at first level, but would be able to reassign Abilities during retraining.

With each character trained in one-third of the available Skills, it is more likely that a character can find a Skill to use in any given Skill-based encounter. By limiting the possible bonuses, Skill Spread is reduced and it becomes easier to assign DCs to a Skill check (particularly if they track the progression of defenses).

The nine Skills I have selected are as follows:
Acrobatics (Str or Dex): This Skill remains mostly unchanged.
Athletics (Str or Con): This Skill remains mostly unchanged.
Bluff (Wis or Cha): This Skill remains mostly unchanged.
Heal (Int or Wis): This Skill remains mostly unchanged.
Impress (Str or Cha): This Skill allows a character to use physical presence and natural charisma to sway characters. (This incorporates and expands upon Intimidate.)
Rhetoric (Int or Cha): This Skill governs the ability to sway characters through effective, rational communication. (This incorporates and expands upon Diplomacy.)
Survival (Con or Wis): This Skill helps the character navigate and survive hostile environments. (This incorporates Endurance and the non-expository elements of Nature.)
Stealth (Con or Dex): This Skill remains mostly unchanged.
Thievery (Dex or Int): This Skill remains mostly unchanged. (In the expanded rules -- see below -- the Skill allows access to Thatrics.)

Optional Rules: Expanded Skill List
One very small problem with this method is that only three skills – Impress, Survival, and Thievery - offer a choice between a physical and mental Ability. An optional rule I’ve considered is to add a Skill for each of the power sources. (Obviously this assumes future editions would use the same power sources as are in 4e.) Such Skills would not operate as vehicles for exposition (like Arcane, Religion, etc. do now). Rather, they would give characters access to cantrips tailored for the power source. Thievery would serve as the Skill for the Martial power source in this scheme. You can see a sample of what these cantrips might look like in my related blog Cantrips Expanded. The "Power Source Skills" would be:
Arcane (Con or Int): Allows access to Cantrips.
(Str or Wis): Allows access to Orisons.
Elemental (Con or Cha): Allows access to Twists.
Primal (Dex or Wis): Allows access to Obsecrations.
Psionic (Str or Int): Allows access to Charms.
Shadow (Dex or Cha): Allows access to Imprecations.

Players using this expanded list would still train in only three Skills, and no Ability could be used as the modifier for more than two Skills. The “Power Source Skills” would be “trained-only” Skills that operate as exceptions to the limit on how many Skills a single Ability may modify. (In other words, the Power Source Skills are always modified by the higher Ability modifier.)

Thank you for listening to my ramblings about noncombat mechanics. I hope you were entertained.
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I remember thinking that the existing 4e 'knowledge' skills (though any skill can imply a certain amount of knowledge) work as well as Wrecan's 36 category breakdown, so you are as well off to stick with the existing skills. The advantage being we already have a well-established way of deciding who is better at each one.

The question which immediately comes to mind is of course the relationship between exposition and the rest of the action. Wrecan handily puts it into it's own category, but in truth its central to all action, which fundamentally contains a perception -> decision -> action loop. What is at least implied is that EVEN DURING A CONFLICT exposition will happen as outlined. The GM will determine all the things that require exposition and simply provide the appropriate character with the information (which may be color if the player simply shares it immediately, and thus is often ignored in favor of Wrecan's Method I). The point here is that some information may represent the fruits of resolving a conflict. When the goblins try to hide in the underbrush and the ranger is looking for them, that is both gathering information AND conflict. It is by no means certain that the ranger will succeed! Thus we find that both passive and active Perception have been born. I never was able to get Wrecan to really clarify his thinking on this point.


Great ideas. Love the twin-stat skills. So coherent with the defenses logic. By itself, though, it feels wrong to have so little skills, but... I think it shines when you take all your ideas together:

* a constrained, well-tuned, balanced skill scale (e.g. with limited bonusses, as you suggest),
* using a limited skill selection (allowing everyone to shine, as you point out),
* but enhancing the results with "bonus details" (dependent on bg-based, sub-skill aspects, e.g. your 36 categories), which would yield small bonus rewards or the mere satisfaction of knowing/doing something special because your PC is special.

In a word: rather than piling up bg+items+feat on your +35 Intimidate, you get a reasonably good score, but get to describe why and how you are intimidating, and see the impact it has. I'm convinced that even power players would rather have that. Also if you used to forever stink at Insight, you get to add a little something to the results sometimes - and not through Aid or a lucky roll. I love it.


I think it shines when you take all your ideas together:

Just a quick note that the "you" in question here is actually Wrecan, who, quite sadly, passed away several years ago. Garthanos, our poster, struck upon the inspired idea of revisiting some of Wrecan's posts from the old WotC boards here, for which I applaud him most heartily!


Arcadian Knight
Great ideas. Love the twin-stat skills. So coherent with the defenses logic.
That is my thought....

By itself, though, it feels wrong to have so little skills, but... I think it shines when you take all your ideas together:
Wrecan was pretty big picture with his ideas and they fit together rather well. I am with Weekly Wrecana performing rescue work to keep some of that wonderful thinking, a part of the play base.

I love it.

I had an idea where people picked areas of interest for their characters or even obsessions ... A scene could then be looked at in terms of how the task at hand conformed to one of their interests and whether an interest was in scene but distracting from the task at hand.

I think perception is too broad of skill and having reasons for your perception is even better indeed.

That is my thought....

Wrecan was pretty big picture with his ideas and they fit together rather well. I am with Weekly Wrecana performing rescue work to keep some of that wonderful thinking, a part of the play base.

I had an idea where people picked areas of interest for their characters or even obsessions ... A scene could then be looked at in terms of how the task at hand conformed to one of their interests and whether an interest was in scene but distracting from the task at hand.

I think perception is too broad of skill and having reasons for your perception is even better indeed.

Read the sidebar on Background Elements in PHB2, it flat out states that you can use them like this. The suggestion is a +2 untyped bonus to checks that relate to something in a character's background. So if he's a Farmer and he needs to milk the the magic cow, well, guess what? Or likewise if he needs to examine the cow, or explain something about cow care, etc.


Arcadian Knight
Read the sidebar on Background Elements in PHB2, it flat out states that you can use them like this. The suggestion is a +2 untyped bonus to checks that relate to something in a character's background. So if he's a Farmer and he needs to milk the the magic cow, well, guess what? Or likewise if he needs to examine the cow, or explain something about cow care, etc.
Yes enabling a skill that is just described in the background is how I implement every mundane craft skill (which is why the lack of awesome on some MP annoy me )

Does that background include the fact that I love Obsidian ;) LOL My brain is shooting at a more personality quirk level in this case, not a skilled field, which is probably a bit silly


Arcadian Knight
Yes enabling a skill that is just described in the background is how I implement every mundane craft skill (which is why the lack of awesome on some MP annoy me )

Does that background include the fact that I love Obsidian ;) LOL My brain is shooting at a more personality quirk level in this case, not a skilled field, which is probably a bit silly

So my love of obsidian distracts me from milking the cow right...and I mess up the princes boots.


Arcadian Knight
I like the idea of Lessons as Noncombat Feats to separate advancements that affect combat and those which do not. I am also very happy with the idea of double attribute skills and how it could be used to keep the skill spread lower. I am like Abdul fine with the core games larger skill list and larger number of trained skills but I would like that to be balanced out for all classes.

I would like the cantrips that essentials brought in for skill swapping turned in to something else not sure what

maybe even situational effects of known rituals ie because you know "speak with the dead" you can apply Arcana for discovering information from a crime scene with a dead body (or for the other branch martial practices. )

Perhaps a group of rituals or martial practices would be purchased using a Lesson.
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[h1]Skills Reimagined[/h1]

Interesting, I'm sure I read this back in 2009-ish when it was written, but I don't recall really.

HoML does some similar things. Backgrounds are 'minor boons', that means they are acquired through purely narrative means, and not related to character advancement (directly at least). You can't 'retrain' them, but you can get more. Each one offers a standard training bonus (+5) in situations specific to that background, but HoML also has a 'no checks without conflict' rule, so in essence what Wrecan calls 'Point of View' exists in the sense that if your character is simply moving between scenes and exploring/receiving exposition then no checks will happen. Any necessary information will be obtained, some characters may receive some information preferentially, or may receive additional facts, or be able to adduce additional things. This can work like the DW 'Discern Realities or Spout Lore' as well.

Also because in HoML you get new abilities purely in reference to what happened in the story, there's no need to 'balance' combat and non-combat particularly. So, something like 'lessons' in Wrecan's parlance are not really needed.

I consider the simplicity of one ability per skill to be fine. Instead I simply limited spreads in other ways, by reducing the game to 20 levels, largely getting rid of ability score increases, and limiting enhancement bonuses to +3 maximum, and then making all other bonuses into one category, so they rarely stack (and untyped don't exist!). This means there's only about a 20 point maximum variation, and most skills stay within a 15 point band.

Because skills and weapons all get the same training/proficiency rule, they all track one another (and thus defenses) perfectly. The only difference is, you may actually use a poor skill, you'd simply never use a poor weapon/attack!

I kept the 4e skill list, there seems little reason to really change it, the advantages are small at best.

I do have trained skill powers, and as a general rule you need training in a skill to master rituals, which are a rather bigger deal in HoML now.

I think it achieves a lot of what the intent is here. There are a few areas that aren't perfect (some abilities like CON still have few skills).


Arcadian Knight
Also because in HoML you get new abilities purely in reference to what happened in the story, there's no need to 'balance' combat and non-combat particularly.

Not sure I entirely see it that way, in story driven learning still amounts to weighing the cost of acquiring the one or the other only so much time to be had you know ;), most cases we generally assume off screen learning for the majority of rpgs...

But I do like the context for onscreen learning like GMTs and similar, but requiring it all to be that way might feel heavy handed in a way, not sure, cut down to 20 levels like you do and other things interact with it.

That lesser boons not being artificially limited, with plenty of non-combat being lesser boons to encourage them might indeed be the element that gets the job done.

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