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.