Skills

As I mentioned in Design Diary 2, Project Phoenix started with an overhaul of the skill system. I went over the list first, looking for things that could be condensed, and I ended up with:
  • Balance, Escape Artist (contortion), Tumble: Combined into Acrobatics.
  • Hide and Move Silently: Combined into Stealth (a fairly common house rule).
  • Listen and Spot: Combined into Perception (another one).
  • Open Lock: Folded into Disable Device.

I'd already revised several skills, so I had to incorporate/convert those changes along with some of the less absurd epic uses, then make the whole thing work together. Here are my notes on the various skills.


The following skills aren't listed below because they received very minor changes (epic uses and/or DC adjustments): Climb, Disguise, Jump, Ride, Sleight of Hand, Sense Motive, Spellcraft, Swim, Survival, and Use Magic Device.

Acrobatics: This was a combination of Balance, Escape Artist, and Tumble. Pathfinder also combined Jump, but I thought that was too much (well, that and Jump uses Str, not Dex). It could be argued that Escape Artist should remain its own skill, but it rarely ever gets used except for grappling, and it uses the same stat as the other two, so it made sense to combine them all.

Appraise: I have to admit it; I borrowed this one from Pathfinder. Their Appraise system was really well done, and I couldn't see any reason to improve on it.

Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate: Bluff, along with Diplomacy and Intimidate, was revised to use a similar mechanic - the speechcraft system. Diplomacy was a horribly broken skill; it was far too easy to get a huge modifier and change someone's attitude from Hostile to Friendly with a single check (which is patently impossible). Still, it was a decent framework to start with; I also incorporated parts of Rich Burlew's and Monte Cook's Diplomacy systems, adjusted the DCs a bit, added some caps (you can't change someone's attitude more than two steps at a time), and added Fanatical (the epic use). Hateful is a new addition, because I needed something to balance out Fanatical - something that modeled unreasoning hatred better than Hostile.

Another place the Diplomacy system fell flat was a description of the various attitudes. What does Friendly really mean? How far will a person who hates you go to hurt you? Sure, the DM could just figure this out on his own, but I thought a set of guidelines would be useful.

Crafting: The Craft skill received one of the largest changes of all. I overhauled the Crafting system entirely; instead of crafting time being based on price (which led to some really bizarre situations, like a ball of gold taking many times longer to make than an equally-sized ball of iron), it's based on the size and complexity of the item (I got this idea from the d20 Modern crafting system). Small, simple items (horseshoes, tools, etc.) are easy to make, while more complex items (jewelry, masterwork items, etc.) are harder and take longer. High skill checks can reduce the time by up to half.

Artificing (crafting magic items) came along later, when I realized that if I were dropping XP costs for things, I'd have to come up with a different method for making magic items. Then it hit me - just incorporate it into the Craft system. I always thought it was stupid that you could churn out magic items in a few days, but now it takes quite a bit longer (weeks or even months, depending on the item's price). Yeah, I had to base magic items on price, because it's not like the old Craft system - an item has a base time (depending on the type), then is modified by its price. This becomes the balancing factor instead of XP cost - the DM controls how much time you have available to make magic items. You can find more details about Craft (artificing) here.

Masterwork items also got overhauled. The "one size (or DC) fits all" system just didn't make any sense to me, when I started to think about it - how come masterwork leather is just as hard to make as masterwork plate mail? And with the skill system the way it was, a 1st level PC had a chance (a small one, admittedly) to make masterwork plate mail! I changed the DCs around when I revised the Craft system - armor is now 10 + (2 * AC bonus) - but I had to fix masterwork items. I got the idea for the base mastercraft system from a MMO called Mystic Realms of Alhanzar, a very small, pretty obscure java-based game that I played for a couple years. They had a system for armor and weapons where increasing quality gave better bonuses (effectively, they were magical); you could increase the quality through quest rewards, and any enhancements on the item increased along with the quality. That system only had five levels, though, and I wanted 10, so I had to expand it out. The pricing for my mastercraft system underwent several revisions before I finally got something that looked "right". It still took awhile before I got the mastercraft pricing adjustments right; I talked about this in Design Diary 9, so I won't bother repeating it here.

Decipher Script, Speak Language: I've always thought it was absurd that "Either you know a language or you don't" and "If you know a language, you're automatically fluent in it." The 3.5 skill system does nothing to model partial proficiency in a language (like the person who knows enough to ask where the bathroom is, or the student who's taken a couple years of French in high school). The original idea for this system was my own, but I incorporated someone else's house rules after posting it for feedback. Now, each language has three ranks - proficient (you can speak basic phrases), conversant (you can hold a conversation, but you're not fluent) and fluent (you speak the language like a native); each costs 1 skill rank. Some folks might complain that it's a larger use of precious skill points, but I think it's more flavorful - you can have a character who knows a smattering of several languages, for example. With this new system, the Polyglot feat finally has a use - it's utterly worthless as an epic feat, but it serves very well as a general one.

After doing Speak Language, Decipher Script was the next logical choice; the original skill was sadly lacking, and it was easy to tie it into the same system and use the same rules.

Disable Device: Disable Device received very little change on its own, besides having Open Lock folded into it. I adjusted the device complexities to reflect the Craft system, so everything works off the same scale. I also changed locks a bit - the categories were renamed, and DCs are lower. A Very Simple lock should not be DC 20; that's something a kid with a bobbypin (or a L1 rogue) should be able to open in under a minute.

Gather Information: As with many skills, this one was sadly underdeveloped. I incorporated "asking questions without garnering attention", from the epic use, and it gave me the idea to expand the base skill to add that as well. I also added times and costs (borrowed from the research rules; I though having some guidelines would be handy) and put it all in a nice little table for easy reference.

Handle Animal: The Handle Animal skill is pretty usefl, but it doesn't really define times for training (okay, it says 1 week for all tasks). I know from seeing dog handlers work that certain tasks take longer than others; I also found a really good article in Dragon Magazine that I incorporated. Tasks now take varying amounts of time, and some of the more complicated ones have prereqs - you can't teach a dog "long down" without teaching him to "down" and "stay" first. I also included included rules for training magical beasts (i.e., familiars).

Heal: The changes to Heal came about from a weird dream I had, which led to a new idea - that you could make a Heal check and heal a small amount of damage, based on their relative skill and whether or not they had Heal as a class skill. After posting it for feedback, other folks posted some house rules and we came up with a really good system that incorporated a bunch of new rules and made Heal more useful.

Knowledge: I got bored one day about a year ago and decided to expand the Knowledge skills. The result was a netbook called Knowledge is Power; I introduced the concept of specializations (taken from the 1E sage rules) and subskills, along with new rules for sages and research. When I redid the skill system for PP, I cannibalized that work heavily, adapting things where necessary and cutting a few things down. The result is a greatly-expanded Knowledge system (including a new Knowledge skill, combat and tactics) whereby DMs can properly adjudicate what PCs might know, and PCs can choose specializations.

Perception: Perception was one of the hardest skills to do, and remained not-done until well after the others had been completed. The reason for this is that I had come up with an expanded Spot system that accounted for a variety of factors - size of the target, lighting and weather conditions, terrain, and more. The problem came when I tried to combine it with Listen; sound and light don't travel at the same speed, so I had a hell of a time conflating the two. I finally sat down and got it done, though, and I'm happy with the results. I just wish I could remember the modifiers I used to come up with the max distance for sighting a creature…

Perform: Perform, like Diplomacy, was one of those hideously broken skills. Unlike Diplomacy, though, there was no real benefit for getting a high skill score unless you were a bard (although I fixed that; see the new bard class). I adjusted the earnings table and added some rules for performances adjusting people's attitudes - after all, a bard who sings an incredible song or tells an epic tale should get a bonus to speech-related checks against his audience, right?

Search: This system was created as more of a set of guidelines for DMs than hard and fast rules - it's mostly to help DMs who have no idea what to set for a DC.

An example: Fortinbras the wizard is at the city library, seeking a tome on the Elemental Plane of Fire. He knows the title of the book (he found a reference to it in another book), but that's it. Obviously, it's in the "Planar" section, but that's a good-sized room with a dozen rows of bookcases (7 feet high and 10 feet long). The book is Tiny (DC 18) and concealed (placed on a shelf with lots of others, +6), but he knows the title (vague familiarity, -2) for a grand total of DC 22. Each bookcase is crowded with books and scrolls, but since he knows he's looking for a book and not a scroll, that cuts his time down a bit - it would take about 3 rounds to completely scan all the titles in one half of a bookcase.

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