Author Topic: The Problem With Skills  (Read 3100 times)

Offline Amechra

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The Problem With Skills
« on: April 17, 2016, 03:45:29 PM »
As I mentioned in my chargen houserules thread, skills scale the same way a drunken monkey drives.

Now, why is that?

1. Ability Score Disparity Starts High, and Grows
At 1st level, you're looking at a 7-point spread between a "good" ability score modifier and a "bad" one. By the time you have reached 20th level, you're looking at about a 12-point difference, even if no one is optimizing (20 base + 5 for level  + 6 for magic item).

This is a... problem when balancing skill bonuses - since they are the one part of the rules that actually cares about all six ability scores (unless you made dubious class choices).

2. No Baseline Scaling
At 1st level, you're looking at as much as a 4-point disparity, between "I put points in this skill" and "I didn't put points in this skill". At 20th level, that difference can be as much as 23 points. Combined with the previous, that means that the difference between someone "focused" on using a skill versus someone who doesn't care is between a -2 and a +9 at 1st level, and a -2 and a +33 at 20th level.

Even if you check lower levels, you'll find that the difference between a good skill and a bad skill has completely fallen off the RNG by 8th level-ish, even if no-one is scrounging for other bonuses. Speaking of which...

3. Skill Bonuses are Undervalued
Magic items that give you a big ol' bonus to skill checks are cheap (a +5 bonus is 2,500 gp, for example); many spells give you a +4 or +8 bonus to skill checks as side effects. This is what stops this from being an easy problem to fix - you'd have to go through and fix the bonuses from magic items and spells, which is a big project.

4. Large Skill Bonuses are Pointless
At least, for unopposed rolls. Most skills cap at DC 30, which you can hit on a 10 at 7th level if you've got a masterwork item. If you hunt around for bonuses, you could reliably hit that DC at 4th level. Something is deeply wrong with a system that's supposed to last 20 levels that can be "beaten" before 5th level.

5. Not Enough Points
Seriously - we have a system with 30+ skills, and an optimized character might get enough skill points to raise 14 of those to the cap at 1st level. Seriously? I could understand if those skills were broader, but a lot of them are piddly.



What could be done, then? I'm not sure.

Some ideas I've seen:

1. Do it Saga style - you train a skill to get a +5 to it, and you can take Skill Focus to get another +5.
2. Limit ranks (this is dumb; ranks aren't really the problem here).
3. Cap skill bonuses to something like 10+Level - this doesn't entirely sit well with me.
4. Give everyone a rank in all of their class skills at 1st level and every even level afterwards. This would be in addition to the skill points they get each level.
5. Cut down on the skill list; I like Sirpercival's skill consolidation here, with the addition of a Theology skill to round it out to 20 points.



In my personal character creation houserules, I'm letting players pick 2-10 skills at 1st level that they'll have full ranks in (using a cut down skill list, so each individual PC will cover 10% to 50% of the skill list). I'm debating a change to that - too bad skill tricks are mostly garbage, or I'd probably toss on some nice ones as freebies.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2016, 03:50:59 PM by Amechra »
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Offline Samwise

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2016, 10:33:02 PM »
I'd be even more direct with the problem:

Skill points as done in D20 are more a point buy system (like Hero System) system than a level-based system (like D20) system.
As a result, they are skewed because not everyone has the same amount of points.
Worse, such systems must inherently equate a skill with a "power" of equal value. (Essentially, it says that +1 to Open Locks is the same as a 2nd level spell slot, or even BAB +1, something that is clearly absurd, even in games like Hero System.)
Of course in Hero System, characters rarely take more than 10 (out of 300 points) of skills, other than direct martial maneuvers (sort of halfway between "ordinary" feats and full martial maneuvers in power), so it is barely burning a feat on "flavor" in overall effect.

Compared to that fundamental issue with the system itself, the discrepancies in Stat bonus differences, skill baseline, and difficulty scaling are almost irrelevant. (And of course in some of those, like Hero System, the system is 3d6, so the bell curve itself restrains the effect of big swings.)

So how to fix it?

1. Handwaving the "other" balance issues for the moment, give every class the same number of skill points to start and every level.
Depending on how "skillful" you want your PCs to be, I'd say go with between 5 and 12 skills to begin with, and between 1 and 4 skill points per level gained.
No Int bonus or penalty. No human racial bonus.

With DM restraint on DCs (epic usages aside for the moment), that should make the scaling and large bonus issues disappear.
Stat disparity should be there, as there should be something to account for prime reqs vs dump stats.

2. For cutting down skills, the first place I'd start is with Craft, Profession, and Perform, which are way overdone. They cut down Knowledge skills in 3.5, and cut Craft (to 7) and Profession (to 1) severely in D20 Modern. I would copy that as well as eliminate the Perform specialties. I'm not sure I'd go as far as SirPercival's version for cutting down skills, but a trim here and there wouldn't be bad (which I've done myself), particularly with the redundant psicraft and use psionic device when they are supposed to be fully transparent.
Mostly that is going to depend on how much complexity you want in the game. Which brings me to,

3. You can just outright delete skill bonuses in items, though that requires repricing a bunch of items.
On the other end, I was contemplating this revision:

You get Skill Focus with all class skills when you point a skill point in them.
Skill Focus is also treated as ranks for purpose of qualifying for Prestige Classes. (This is a modification of the PFRPG +3 class skill bonus.)
Every 5 ranks in a skill you get to choose one of the following bonuses:
Synergy Feat with another skill - pick any two physical or two mental skills. Get +2 with each of them. This is treated as an appropriate feat for purposes of qualifying for Prestige Classes. (choose once to link any two specific skills)
Really Skill Focused - get another +2 with the skill. (choose once)
Really Synergistic - get another +1 with two previously linked skills.
Ultra Skill Focused - get another +1 with the skill.
Skill Trick - just because? (but really, make up some useful ones, or better yet, let the player make up useful ones)

If you want to be"a specialist is someone who knows more and more about less and less", go for it.
If you want to be a jack-of-all-trades, and master of none, go for it.
Along the way, pretty much ALL skill related feats disappear.
If someone wants to insist on burning feats for skills, I'd combine "Educated" - gain all Knowledge skills as class skills - and "Open Minded" - gain 5 skill points - and make 5 skills class skills with 1 rank and the bonus. I'd still call that a relatively weak feat, but . . . skillmonkey.

Offline Dr_emperor

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2016, 06:08:13 PM »
As I mentioned in my chargen houserules thread, skills scale the same way a drunken monkey drives.

Now, why is that?


3. Skill Bonuses are Undervalued
Magic items that give you a big ol' bonus to skill checks are cheap (a +5 bonus is 2,500 gp, for example); many spells give you a +4 or +8 bonus to skill checks as side effects. This is what stops this from being an easy problem to fix - you'd have to go through and fix the bonuses from magic items and spells, which is a big project.

4. Large Skill Bonuses are Pointless
At least, for unopposed rolls. Most skills cap at DC 30, which you can hit on a 10 at 7th level if you've got a masterwork item. If you hunt around for bonuses, you could reliably hit that DC at 4th level. Something is deeply wrong with a system that's supposed to last 20 levels that can be "beaten" before 5th level.

5. Not Enough Points
Seriously - we have a system with 30+ skills, and an optimized character might get enough skill points to raise 14 of those to the cap at 1st level. Seriously? I could understand if those skills were broader, but a lot of them are piddly.



What could be done, then? I'm not sure.


You missed that skills don't do enough so the assertion that they are undervalued for bonuses may need to be defended.  I mean the best use of skills seems to be investing all points into knowledge devotion.  Maybe a few ranks in balance.  Diplomacy/bluff/Forgery can be used disruptively.  Intimidate/sneaking can be impressive.  Craft is so slow as to be useless.  Profession is a flavor thing.  I should look at the shortened list.

The best solution I've come up with is to take un-optomized feats and have them scale based on either base attack or skill ranks.  I'm probably working on different presumptions though  Obviously ones casters don't really get though.  My solution tends to make Bards/Beguilers really good though.  I tend to do this for under performing characters though.  As an example I've normally pair quick draw-sleight of hand to give iajitsu(sp) focus
« Last Edit: April 18, 2016, 06:10:20 PM by Dr_emperor »

Offline Amechra

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2016, 07:33:28 PM »
Samwise, I disagree that they're fundamentally broken due to being a point buy system - it certainly doesn't help, but it's perfectly possible to balance it within the framework of the d20 system. After all, once you figure out that, say, 5 skill points = 1 feat, you've got an equivalence that can be used to balance stuff like the human racial bonus or the Nymph-Kissed feat.

Having everyone run off the same number of points is a good idea, though.



I assert that they're undervalued because:

A. Don't look at the shitty skills - look at good skills like Diplomacy, which you can break pretty trivially by 4th level (I've built characters with a +21 to Diplomacy at 3rd level.) All skills are valued the same by the system, even if their actual power level is all over the place.

B. Undervaluing the bonuses is probably why a bunch of skills suck in the first place - someone noticed that you can get really good bonuses at early levels, so the response was to make skills shittier to compensate.

C. Effects that replace some other value with a skill check are broken due to how easy it is to pump skills - the maneuvers in Diamond Mind that let you replace saves with Concentration checks are a prime example.
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Offline Samwise

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2016, 08:30:33 PM »
Not fundamentally broken, just skewed.
And while you can figure out the relationship between a feat and a skill point, that still doesn't fix the relationship between both and a spell level, which is where the system "breaks", or at least resolves into Tiers that are fundamentally unequal.

And I agree with you about skills being unequal to each other, but there is little that can really resolve that due to "flavor" concepts tied to skills.

Offline Amechra

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2016, 08:37:05 PM »
I'd say at that point that we're not so much talking about skills being broken, and more about the fact that spells were designed with a cavalier disregard for the rest of the system.
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Offline Bronzebeard

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #6 on: April 19, 2016, 04:08:12 AM »
All of what I read are valid points. Problems are being pointed and missing features are mentioned.
There's also the relation of skills - spells, like sleight of hand vs. knock, that represents how spells are such a huge cacophony of a thing. But that's besides the point.


I think that in order to make this a benefiting initiative we'll have to turn this all on it's head: Instead of highlighting the mistakes of previous tries let's make a checklist of what we do want the skill mechanic to be:

  • we know that the 'roll 20 add bonus is paramount to d&d, it's in the beginning of the every edition books. So we'll want something that gives the same framework.
  • I would love to keep ranks as a thing (The introduction of trained/not trained really irks me - I really really really don't like it). There a few options to treat "gaining" them, but in general - ranks!
  • For each class there are skills that are crucial: Wizards use Spellcraft and Arcana, front Wizard also use Concentration, Psionics use Autohypnosis and Psicraft, Warriors use Tumble, arguably also attack bonus (every level they "invest" 1 rank in it). All classes have option to take skills such as Ride and Climb, etc'

By setting a starting line and going forward we, I think, will get a better result. I hope.


(P.S. I love lists  :D )

Offline Samwise

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2016, 11:10:45 AM »
I'd say at that point that we're not so much talking about skills being broken, and more about the fact that spells were designed with a cavalier disregard for the rest of the system.

Pretty much.
And so of course that cannot be fixed by adjusting skills.

It is just something to keep in mind while adjusting the skills - that "nothing" is going to make them as good as spells, and trying is just going to make things worse.
I think the Trope Namer on that is Truespeech.

Offline Bronzebeard

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #8 on: April 19, 2016, 03:36:57 PM »
Pretty much.
And so of course that cannot be fixed by adjusting skills.

It is just something to keep in mind while adjusting the skills - that "nothing" is going to make them as good as spells, and trying is just going to make things worse.
I think the Trope Namer on that is Truespeech.

Can you treat this as a hypothetical theorycrafting in a system where the spells does not exist? Like, say I play a non-spellcasting setting where only martial and skills exists.

Offline Samwise

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #9 on: April 20, 2016, 01:27:07 AM »
Can you treat this as a hypothetical theorycrafting in a system where the spells does not exist? Like, say I play a non-spellcasting setting where only martial and skills exists.

That's what my first reply was - handwaving the caster vs. mundane issue and just doing the skills, winding up with:
1. Equalize skill points by class.
2. Cut some excessive skill choices for "flavor".
3. Eliminate feats and skill tricks by making them elements of class skills, with only one feat to gain a LOT of extra class skills with skill points.

Then all you have to deal with is balancing BAB versus feats versus sneak attack, with a few special bits leftover.

Offline RobbyPants

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #10 on: April 20, 2016, 07:45:26 AM »
2. Cut some excessive skill choices for "flavor".
Another option is to have two pools of skills. One could be close to what they are now, called Skills, and the other could be the more flavor-oriented ones, called Trades. This would allow people to put some mechanical representation of the fact that they have a background in hunting, blacksmithing, or underwater basket weaving on their character sheet without dipping into the same pool that fuels Knowledge, Concentration, and UMD.
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Offline Bronzebeard

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #11 on: April 20, 2016, 09:20:20 AM »
Using two types of groups as skill choices begs the question of why not make it two separate groups altogether, as in different pools of point buy and on. I honestly think that it should be a single list with an option to master an ability within the skill. e.g. buying 5 points in athletics and further 5 points in climbing inside the athletics skill set (That's a horrible example, I know, but it's what I got. I misplaced where I wrote down an idea for it from before).

I also hate, personally, everything that crosses the feat-skill boundaries. I loath the +2 bonus feats, and the use int instead of dex feat and even the 'gain additional points to spend' feat. In my mind feats have a certain specific implementation purposes and skills have a different mechanic reasoning. And I would like to keep them apart.

I would also point out that part of the problem could be alleviated by using a different look at the numbers. What I mean is that instead of upping the bonus a skill grant by handing a +1 bonus (thereby inflating the system) it can be given by rolling twice and picking the highest result (or lower) - which gives a better chance but does not raise the highest and lowest possible roll of the player.
I would've loved to see how I can implement a highest-widest multiple die roll (you roll a bunch of dice, say 10d10, and then not only use the sum of the dice but also the number that appeared the most and the highest singular result). It's an option.

Speaking of numbers, I think that having a framework for a rough draft would be nice. We can say that there are target numbers we want to see: An easy mark that most will succeed in, a standard mark giving  50-50 chance, a hard mark for the more skilled and an epic one that those without some sort of training or help would not be able to traverse.

As a side note - I'd like to decouple the int' bonus to skill. Even if it's logical, I hate it when I have to calculate where did the ranks came from and when whenever I'm drained of a level, or even try to haggle int gain before leveling up so I can squeeze another skill rank. That's minmaxing I would like to live without.

Offline Amechra

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #12 on: April 20, 2016, 01:04:11 PM »
Even if it's logical

It's not.

At all.

If it's tied to any stat, it should have been Wisdom (reliable performance), not Intelligence (peak performance). But it really should just be entirely static.
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Offline RobbyPants

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #13 on: April 20, 2016, 01:20:14 PM »
Using two types of groups as skill choices begs the question of why not make it two separate groups altogether, as in different pools of point buy and on.
That's exactly what I meant. That's why I said it keeps you from spending from the same pool to take Craft(Underwater basket weaving) and Use Magic Device. To help clarify that, the other pool would be called something different (I'd suggested "Trades", but it can be anything).
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Offline Nanshork

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #14 on: April 20, 2016, 02:00:58 PM »
If you want something different from Skill Tricks, Pathfinder has an optional rules system called Skill Unlocks where you can gain bonuses for skills based on having ranks in a multiple of five (and this is Pathfinder so max ranks = character level).

For example:

Intimidate

5 Ranks: If you exceed the DC to demoralize a target by at least 10, it is frightened for 1 round and shaken thereafter.* A Will save (DC = 10 + your number of ranks in Intimidate) negates the frightened condition, but the target is still shaken, even if it has the stalwart ability.

10 Ranks: If you exceed the DC to demoralize a target by at least 10, it is panicked for 1 round or frightened for 1d4 rounds (your choice) and shaken thereafter.* A Will save (DC = 10 + your number of ranks in Intimidate) negates the frightened or panicked condition, but the target is still shaken, even if it has the stalwart ability.

15 Ranks: If you exceed the DC to demoralize a target by at least 20, it is cowering for 1 round or panicked for 1d4 rounds (your choice) and frightened thereafter.* A Will save (DC = 10 + your number of ranks in Intimidate) negates the cowering, panicked, and frightened conditions, but the target is still shaken, even if it has the stalwart ability.

20 Ranks: If you exceed the DC to demoralize a target by at least 20, it is cowering for 1d4 rounds and panicked thereafter.* A Will save (DC = 10 + your number of ranks in Intimidate) negates the cowering and panicked conditions, but the target is still shaken, even if it has the stalwart ability.

Offline Garryl

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #15 on: April 20, 2016, 02:50:18 PM »
If you want something different from Skill Tricks, Pathfinder has an optional rules system called Skill Unlocks where you can gain bonuses for skills based on having ranks in a multiple of five (and this is Pathfinder so max ranks = character level).

For example:

Intimidate

5 Ranks: If you exceed the DC to demoralize a target by at least 10, it is frightened for 1 round and shaken thereafter.* A Will save (DC = 10 + your number of ranks in Intimidate) negates the frightened condition, but the target is still shaken, even if it has the stalwart ability.

10 Ranks: If you exceed the DC to demoralize a target by at least 10, it is panicked for 1 round or frightened for 1d4 rounds (your choice) and shaken thereafter.* A Will save (DC = 10 + your number of ranks in Intimidate) negates the frightened or panicked condition, but the target is still shaken, even if it has the stalwart ability.

15 Ranks: If you exceed the DC to demoralize a target by at least 20, it is cowering for 1 round or panicked for 1d4 rounds (your choice) and frightened thereafter.* A Will save (DC = 10 + your number of ranks in Intimidate) negates the cowering, panicked, and frightened conditions, but the target is still shaken, even if it has the stalwart ability.

20 Ranks: If you exceed the DC to demoralize a target by at least 20, it is cowering for 1d4 rounds and panicked thereafter.* A Will save (DC = 10 + your number of ranks in Intimidate) negates the cowering and panicked conditions, but the target is still shaken, even if it has the stalwart ability.

IIRC, it doesn't explain it that well, but PF's skill unlocks require you to also spend a feat on the skill or use the class feature of the Unchained Rogue class for each skill you want the unlocks of. They aren't free.

Offline Bronzebeard

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #16 on: April 20, 2016, 02:59:26 PM »
@Nanshork:
Do I need to pay something? Like skill rank? for the special interraction?

I really like that everyone is able to Sunder but you still have an option to invest in order to become better at it.
I'd much prefer that approach.


Also, I had a talk with someone who suggest paying more and more for skills as a way to prevent inflation: 1 point for 1st rank, 2 points for 2nd rank, 4 points for 3rd rank, etc'. Basically you pay the sum of the previous ranks plus one more for that rank. Other could be used, like that rank number (3 = 3), or something else.
Another option was to have skill ranks limited by other skills - you need a skill at one rank lower to be able to buy this rank. e.g. only if I have a skill that is not riding skill at rank 5 then I could buy rank 6 of riding. This sets a sort of a pyramid. I think it's from FATE. But I'm not sure.

Offline Nanshork

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #17 on: April 20, 2016, 04:13:45 PM »
It requires a feat or class investment like Garryl said, but even skill tricks require an investment technically. 

I was just bringing them up as an option if there's going to be some sort of skill overhaul.  It wouldn't be that difficult to just give them to people without a cost (although yes, it would require a houserule but that is the part of the board we're in).  Amechra brought up giving free skill tricks in the OP so this could be an alternative.
« Last Edit: April 20, 2016, 04:18:27 PM by Nanshork »

Offline Samwise

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #18 on: April 20, 2016, 05:38:02 PM »
Another option is to have two pools of skills. One could be close to what they are now, called Skills, and the other could be the more flavor-oriented ones, called Trades. This would allow people to put some mechanical representation of the fact that they have a background in hunting, blacksmithing, or underwater basket weaving on their character sheet without dipping into the same pool that fuels Knowledge, Concentration, and UMD.

At that point, just go AD&D and have a single "secondary skill" for background, which are generally trades or professions, and current skills as the actual skills.

Or, using the D20M reference I made to professions with the D20M backgrounds adapted into the current version of the game, just have players select such backgrounds and include some set of additional things they can do, unrelated to identifying monsters, sneaking about, scouting, and other such "functional" skills.

About the only thing people might get twitchy about is Craft (alchemy) with that, which is given some enhanced use in the current system.

Offline RobbyPants

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Re: The Problem With Skills
« Reply #19 on: April 21, 2016, 02:32:57 PM »
About the only thing people might get twitchy about is Craft (alchemy) with that, which is given some enhanced use in the current system.
That, and potentially Knowledge. Being educated could make sense as a background trade, but Knowledge skills can have a pretty tangible effect in combat.
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