Skills are a tricky business. They can be a valuable mechanic. But if the GM doesn’t call for a particular skill, then any players who advanced that skill gets fucked over. Case in point: architecture. I do not understand this skill. I’m supposed to ask for an architecture roll if players want to know the age of a wall relative to the rest of the building. Or if they think some bit of floor is unstable. But, if the players are clever enough to ask those questions, I prefer to give them the information outright, without a chance of failure. Which is fine, different GMing styles work for different folks. Except now the player who put a bunch of points into his architecture skill has wasted all those points.
The skill system and the GM need to be in agreement. But you can’t trash skills willy-nilly. There are 9 skills in the base Lamentations of the Flame Princess game. And a Specialist character gains 2 skill points at each level. If the number of available skills is reduced too much, then the Specialist will lack for options. Since there are a lot of skills in Rules-As-Written LotFP that I don’t use (4 out of the 9), I need a better solution than just dropping the skills I don’t like. I’ve made an effort to rehabilitate some of the skills I don’t like, and to create some new ones which fit my play style better.
I should note that I’m also working on implementing a way for any character, not just specialists, to improve their skills. That’s why I’ve noted two of the skills below as “Specialist Only.” I’ll go into more detail with that system in a later post. (Spoiler: it’s mostly stolen from better GMs than me.)
Note also that skills listed with a parenthetical ability are modified by that ability’s modifier (if any). If two are listed, the skill is modified by whichever of the two are better.
-Mostly Unchanged Skills-
(You can probably skip this entirely)
Sneak Attack (SPECIALIST ONLY): Characters with no points in this skill have their damage multiplied by 1 when they attack from hiding, or while flanking an enemy. For each point a specialist puts into Sneak Attack, their multiplier is improved by one. (x2 for 1 point, x3 for 2 points, etc.)
Languages (Int): Whenever a new language is encountered, characters roll their language skill to determine if they already know it. The check is made at a -1 penalty if the language is monstrous or exotic, a -2 if the language is exotically monstrous, and -3 if the language is an ancient, dead tongue. Magical languages, or the languages of outsiders, cannot be known using this method. Players must record both the languages they do know, and the languages they do not know, on their character sheet.
Tinker: Tinker allows characters to manipulate mechanical devices. This includes opening mechanical locks, disarming traps, or activating unfamiliar machines. Locks or traps of particular difficulty may have a penalty to tinkering rolls made with them. Non-specialists who fail a tinkering roll may not attempt it again until they gain a level, or improve their tinkering skill. Specialists may make as many attempts as they wish, but after the first check, each subsequent check takes 1 hr. Characters using this skill must have a tinkering kit, which is an encumbering item.
Stealth: Stealth is used to move silently through a corridor, to sidle up against a door and listen without alerting those inside, to hide a small item on your person, to pick-pocket a foe, or to ready a weapon without observers noticing. When used to move silently, characters should first describe a move roughly within their current line of sight. If they fail, the GM should roll a percentile die to determine how far along their path they were when they were noticed.
Athletics (Str/Dex): Not mere brazen acts of strength or dexterity, but skillful applications of such. Notably, climbing sheer surfaces without obvious handholds is covered by this skill. Characters (except specialists) must be unencumbered to make such a climb. On failure, roll d% to determine where in the climb the character was when they fell. Other applications of Athletics are: moving past a monster without provoking an opportunity attack, unusually challenging swimming conditions, balancing on a rope, and jumping more than 15 feet (up to 30 feet).
Bushcraft: When traveling through the wilderness, a Bushcraft roll is used to forage or hunt for food, as described on page 34 of the Rules and Magic book. A bushcraft check also allows characters to identify natural plants or animals. Additionally, when encountering a natural animal, a successful bushcraft check will allow the player to take the animal as a companion so long as the animal has 2 fewer hit dice than the player.
Prayer (Wis): As a free action, players may beseech their god for aid with a specific task. The referee may adjudicate small bonuses or penalties for tasks in keeping or out of keeping with the player’s faith. Referees may also rule an auto failure if the task directly contravenes the player’s faith. On a successful check, the player may roll the die for that task twice, and take the better result. At the end of the session the character must make a sacrifice to their god. The value must be either 20% of their total treasure haul from this session. Or, the difference in the two die rolls they made, multiplied by 100sp. Whichever is more. If this sacrifice is not made, then during the next game, the player must roll all their dice twice, taking the lower result each time.
Appraisal: A successful appraisal allows characters to know the value of a given piece of treasure, and whether there is anyone who might pay extra for it. Appraisal will also identify fake treasures, such as copper coins painted gold.
Healing: Once after each combat, characters may spend 3 turns attempting to heal themselves or an ally. If the check is successful, the attempt restores 1d4 HP for each point by which the check succeed. (Ex. success chance is 1-in-6, a 1 is rolled, heal 1d4. Success chance is 4-in-6, a 2 is rolled, heal 3d4). Characters using this skill must carry a healing kit, which is an encumbering item.
Vanish: (SPECIALIST ONLY): A vanish check has two uses. First, a specialist may attempt to hide by blending in with their surroundings, using only shadows and foliage to remain hidden. If successful, they cannot be seen until they move, speak, or attack, at which point the effect ends. Second, a vanish check can be used to stealthily disengage from combat without being noticed. This check is made at a -1 penalty for each attack directed against the vanishing character during this round (whether they hit or not). If successful, the vanished specialist can choose to re enter the battle with a sneak attack on their next turn, or skulk away to safety.
I know not including a search or listen skill is unusual, and even controversial, so I may as well address why I’m not using either of them.
The listen skill is already missing from the base LotFP game, but even ignoring that, it never made any sense to me. It’s usually used when a character is pressing their ear to a door to hear what’s going on inside. Failure baffles me. Common doors are hardly soundproof. It could be argued that the roll isn’t a test of hearing, but rather, a test to see whether the creatures inside the room are making any noise. But I find that unsatisfying. If there’s anything beyond the door, I’d prefer to tell players outright, rather than arbitrate it with dice.
The real challenge of listening at doors is doing it without alerting the people on the other side. It’s hard to press your head against a door without causing it to move audibly. That’s why I’ve replaced the listen check, with a stealth check. Not only does it make more logical sense, but failure creates a more interesting situation. The bad guys know something is outside their door, but they don’t know what.
My reasoning for dropping search is similar to my reason for dropping Architecture. I’ve run a lot of dungeons for a lot of players, and I don’t think any of them have yet found a single secret door which wasn’t somehow revealed to them in advance. So why in the world would I want to create a situation where the players have correctly identified an area with a secret door in it, and I’m forced to tell them there isn’t one? I want them to find at least some of my secret doors. There are cool things behind those doors that I want people to experience.
The same goes for traps. If players must roll a check when they’re looking for traps, then they might fail that check. Then the GM has created a situation where a player is killed by a trap immediately after being told that there is no trap. I’ve done this before and it feels wrong to me. I don’t like it.
In previous discussions on this subject, I’ve encountered a common objection: what’s to stop players from just checking everything? There are two good reasons that players won’t search everything they encounter. Both of which are both better than the bad reason of “they won’t check everything because the results would be unreliable anyway.”
- Players aren’t that diligent. Diligence is boring. A game where the primary challenge is diligence is a dull game that I don’t want to play. Players will search when they think there is something to find.
- Searching takes time. Searching a 10 x 10 segment of wall for a secret door takes 1 turn. Searching a larger area takes a commensurately longer amount of time. The number of encounter checks a group of players would earn by searching every single room would not be worth the damage inflicted on them by so many wandering monsters. There should always be wandering monsters.
-Dwarfs and Elves-
By removing the Architecture and Search skills for my games, I’ve crippled the Dwarf and Elf classes, which use those skills as part of their level advancement. This can be solved either by awarding players skill points equivalent to their lost skill’s progression (So for dwarfs, two at level 1, and one more at levels 4, 7, and 10). Alternatively, the GM can select a skill to progress along the same advancement track. I would recommend appraisal for dwarfs, and healing or bushcraft for elves.