Scattered Jewels of Southsea
Houserule - Skills
The Skills system in D&D 4E limits characters too much. Your class determines what skills you have available, and your attributes determine which ones you’ll be good at. Characters are thus railroaded into their skill selection and cannot use this system to differentiate themselves, which makes for anemic characters. Since the classes determine which skills are chosen, the DM is constrained as to which ones he can require. Add to this the total lack of equality between skills (Perception is much, much more useful than Athletics) and you have a right mess.
The central goal of this revamped skill system is to give everyone more options, and make those options better and more interesting.
The basic idea is stolen from White Wolf: in any given roll you pair an attribute and a skill, add their bonuses, and roll with that combined bonus.
Think of this as a “what plus a how”:
- The skill used determines what you’re interacting with.
- The attribute used determines how you’re interacting with it.
- Your RP determines how those work together toward the end you desire.
Say you want to climb a tree. A cliff is the “what”, and it’s natural. Climbing is the “how”, and it involves strength. So combine
STR and up you go. The chart below lists lots of combinations.
This allows any class to be good at most any thing. High
INT is useful for knowing things about sports as well as magic; high
WIS is useful for understanding people and mechanical systems.
The skill list is streamlined to make the combinations work better. See the examples to see how.
|Physique||Dealing with your own body and making it do what you want||(replaces Acrobatics/Athletics/Endurance)|
|Arcana||Dealing with magic stuff|
|Presentation||Dealing with how others see you in a social setting||(replaces Bluff, Diplomacy)|
|Mechanics||Dealing with man-made non-magical stuff||(replaces Dungeoneering, Thievery)|
|Heal||Dealing with live bodies|
|History||Dealing with what has happened in the world|
|Insight||Dealing with other people in a social setting||(replaces Insight, Intimidate)|
|Nature||Dealing with the natural world|
|Religion||Dealing with Gods and their followers|
|Tactics||Dealing with a group in a dangerous situation||(Replaces Stealth)|
|Streetwise||Dealing with urban areas and large anonymous groups of people|
The Skills can be broken down into two broad categories: those that deal with “things” and those that deal with “people”. Within those categories the skills gradiate on different criteria; “things” skills are differentiated depending on the origin of the “thing” in question, whereas “people” skills are differentiated by the number of people you’re dealing with at any given time.
Note the directions of the arrows in this diagram: they point toward the thing being affected by the skill in the most common case. Mechanics usually affects the machine in question. Insight affects the user, whereas Presentation affects others. Nature and some others can be used either to affect the natural world or to control how it affects you. There are always exceptions– Mechanics + INT will let your character know how a machine works, without actually operating it– and clever players should find them.
If something gives you training in a specific skill, you instead get training in whichever skill you want that “replaces” the core skill. If you already have that skill, train in any skill you like.
If you have a something that requires training in a specific skill, it instead requires training in whichever skill you want that “replaces” the core skill.
If something gives you a bonus in a specific skill, you instead get a bonus whenever you make a skill check and can convince the DM that the bonus applies. Your lockpick set isn’t useful for palming, but it is useful for small mechanical objects. Talk to the DM to decide wording and guidance for when a bonus is useful.
Aiding in this system becomes a simple matter of succeeding on any role you can convince the DM will help, which provides a +2 bonus to the “main” roll. If you can identify plantlife that is good cover, it can aid tactics. If you can recall a parable about the temple you’re in, it might aid in disarming the traps. Good players will be able to roleplay their way into lots of aid rolls, and good DMs should be lenient in accepting them. Rolls that fill will give a small penalty. Advising your allies of a tale you heard about flame jets in the Ice queens Artic Ice Temple aren’t very helpful.
Further, if the in-game rationales work together, the bonuses should stack: if your plant-covered approach is during the gnoll’s daily religious ritual, your main roll gets a +4. DMs should take this into account when setting DCs.
Making It Interesting
Using these rules with the revised Skill Challenge system makes for interesting non-combat encounters where the PCs have many, many paths to victory. Keith Baker of Eberron fame has a good article on making the Skill Challenge system works that boils down to:
- Roleplay what you’re trying to do, then make a roll to see how effective you are
- Allow any roll, but make some more useful than others
- Some monsters are vulnerable to fire and some are immune: not every tactic works everywhere
- Count Critical Successes as two Successful Rolls
- Smart RP or good rolls will open up new opportunities
- Encourage aid rolls, utility powers, and feat usage; be liberal in what you accept
The folks over at At-Will have a great series on making them fun, which I’ll summarize as:
- Make it about what the PCs are doing, not what they’re rolling
- Only use them when failure is an option
At-Will also has a series on designing them, which basically says:
- Vary the skills
- Make different skills have different consequences
- Not every success contributes to the total; some just give bonuses or open up new opportunities
I’d also draw special attention to At-Will’s All in the Cards, which describes an interesting way to run a complicated set-up for a single big roll, by using a skill challenge to model Aiding.
These are exactly as they appear in the revised DMG. The PCs need to roll X successes before 3 failures. X is dependent on how hard the challenge is:
|Complexity||Successes Needed||Before This Many Failures|
|5||12||3||Same as a combat encounter|
How hard are those successes to get? Well, that depends on the PCs level:
And remember that some routes may be easier than others.
This system came about after reading a lot:
- At-Will has a good big-think article about how skills play on multiple levels, from mechanics to social networks.
- Keith Baker of Eberron fame has a nice defense of the Skill Challenge system that shows how to make it work with real roleplay.
- Mike Mearls wrote a good article on the history of skills in D&D and their future; it spawned a huge forum thread that provided some good ideas.
These are just some examples; clever PCs will come up with many more. The DM should be liberal in what he accepts, but do not be afraid to assign high DCs for unlikely tactics.
|Dealing with your own body and making it do what you want|
|STR||jump a long way (old Athletics)|
|CON||run a long time (old Endurance)|
|DEX||land a double backflip (old Acrobatics)|
|WIS||recognize a disease you have|
|CHA||sex appeal; network with circuses, laborers, etc|
|Dealing with magic stuff|
|DEX||perform a ritual|
|INT||monster knowledge; rune reading|
|WIS||recognize an artifact; notice a magic item/area/etc|
|CHA||network with extraplanar beings, scholars, etc|
|Presentation||(replaces Bluff, Diplomacy)|
|Dealing with how others see you you in a social setting|
|STR||cow someone (old Intimidate)|
|CON||fake feats of endurance (lame?)|
|DEX||palm an item|
|INT||identify a lie; lie to someone logically (the old Bluff)|
|WIS||lie to someone emotionally (the old Bluff)|
|CHA||lie to someone via charm (the old Bluff); schmooze someone (the old Diplomacy); perform in front of a group; network with bards|
|Mechanics||(replaces Dungeoneering, Thievery)|
|Dealing with man-made non-magical stuff|
|STR||build a device|
|CON||Operate a device|
|DEX||operate a device; pick a lock; steal something|
|INT||recognize makes and models|
|WIS||recognize the purpose behind something|
|CHA||network with laborers, handymen, etc|
|Dealing with live bodies|
|INT||recognize a disease|
|WIS||heal someone (the old Heal)|
|CHA||bedside manner; network with medical professionals|
|Dealing with what has happened in the world|
|INT||know details of the past (the old history)|
|WIS||know why the past happened|
|CHA||know the minds of those from the past; network with scholars|
|Insight||(replaces Insight, Intimidate)|
|Dealing with other people in a social setting|
|STR||cow someone (the old Intimidate)|
|INT||understand someone’s motivations|
|WIS||read someone (the old Insight)|
|CHA||know someone’s desires|
|Dealing with the natural world|
|CON||trudge through the wilderness|
|DEX||climb a cliff|
|INT||recognize a plant|
|WIS||know how to use a plant|
|CHA||deal with animals: ride, tame, etc|
|Dealing with Gods and their followers|
|DEX||perform a ritual|
|INT||recognize symbols; know history|
|CHA||lead a worship service; network with priests, followers|
|Dealing with a group in a dangerous situation|
|STR||muscle into a good position|
|DEX||move silently (the old Stealth)|
|INT||create a plan|
|WIS||observe an enemy plan|
|CHA||Inspire others; plan an advertising campaign|
|Dealing with urban areas and large anonymous groups of people|
|INT||know a city’s layout and character|
|WIS||find hidden details and clues|
|CHA||know and talk to contacts|