Overview of Pathfinder’s Skills: Disable Device to Fly

Lockpicking Rogue. Artist unknown. Disable Device (Full Description on PFSRD)(-C’s Post): Disable Devices has always seemed, to me, to be one of the most solid skills in the game. But, in recent months I’ve started to notice its flaws more and more. For picking locks, it works fine. Though I dislike the fact that “you should always take 20 when picking locks” is a kind of unwritten rule. It’s crap like that which serves as a barrier to new players trying to understand the game. As a lover of rogues myself, it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that the skill was balanced around taking 20. It’s almost as though the game is trying to force you to learn to manipulate the system. But the simple solution to that is just to inform your rogue players that they’ll want to take 20.

The real conundrum with Disable Device is traps. Sometimes the skill makes perfect sense as a means of disabling the trap. Other times, the players can simply tell you how they want to disable a trap. If you really wanted, the GM could even go so far as to come up with a mechanism for how each trap works, and let rogue players actually try to figure out how to bypass traps. But if you do that, then the skill is unnecessary. And if you only use the skill roll for some traps (like pressure plates, or doorknob needle-traps) but not for other traps (like trip wires), then where do you draw the line?

I’m honestly not positive about how I want to handle Disable Device in the future. For now, I’m trying to give my players more opportunities to figure out traps on their own, to see if that’s something that will even work at the table. But, if players prefer to make a disable device check, I’m not going to force them to do anything.

Judgement: Could use some refinement and there should never be “suppressed rules,” but is otherwise a solid skill.  Could possibly be made more interesting, but I am not yet sure.

Disguise (Full Description on PFSRD)(-C’s Post): One of the major flaws with the skills system is that not all skills are created equal. Young Woman in a Classic Glasses-Nose-Mustache DisguiseSome skills will be needed three or more times per play session, while other skills may only be needed once every two or three play session. Some skills might have a major impact on play, while other skills impact the game in more subtle ways. Some skills even provide small tactical advantages in combat, while most simply don’t. It’s not a perfect system, but so long as everything remains within a standard deviation of usefulness, the game works itself out. I’ve never met a player who felt they needed to put ranks in acrobatics, simply because it makes it easier to move through an enemy’s square.

But disguise doesn’t fall within that standard deviation. It is an outlier–an extreme outlier. Disguising yourself is less of a general skill, and more of a specific plan. It comes up so infrequently that I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a player use it, aside from that one sorceress who thought it was hilarious to disguise herself as the prince just to see whether or not she could fool the palace guards. Disguise painfully fails the ‘frequency of use’ test. If you absolutely must have it as a skill in your game, consider merging it with bluff. But I don’t understand why this needs to be a skill at all.

Lets say the players attempt to disguise themselves as guards. That is probably the most common way of disguising one’s self in a fantasy adventure game. Either the players have access to guard uniforms, or they don’t. If the players don’t have guard uniforms, then it’s going to be damned difficult for them to disguise themselves as guards. They might be able to convince someone that they are guards, but that would be handled by bluff, not disguise. Yet if they rolled a 20, they could (ostensibly) throw some cheap paint on a burlap sack, and nobody would question whether or not it was a guard’s uniform.

I think a far better idea would be to allow all players to disguise themselves with a basic level of competency. For more difficult disguises, there can be a “Chameleon” feat available, which allows players to disguise themselves even if they lack the materials which would normally be necessary, or to disguise themselves as a specific, recognizable person. (For example: they could disguise themselves as the king just convincingly enough to fool a guard who has only met the king a few times.)

Judgement: House rule this skill out of the game. Allow all players to disguise themselves, and make a feat available to anyone who wants to improve their ability.

Escape Artist (Full Description on PFSRD)(-C’s Post): It’s kinda awkward for me when two skills with essentially the same problem appear right next to each other.This was a really great episode of Batman: TAS It seems as though I’m repeating myself, because all that stuff I said about Disguise? It applies to Escape Artist as well. This is a skill which rarely comes up in the game because it is only useful in stupidly specific situations. Just how often are the players going to be bound, manacled, or in a tight space? Hint: if it’s happening often enough to justify this skill, then it’s happening too often. The only other use for Escape Artist is to escape from a grapple, but it’s only the secondary method of performing that task. It’s as though they were writing the grapple rules, and realized “Oh, hey, if people have points in Escape Artist, they’ll wonder why they can’t use that to escape.”

The worst part about this skill is that if you take a moment to break down the mechanic, you realize that the entire thing is absolutely meaningless, even in those few situations when it would ostensibly be useful. Unless a character is pressed for time or actively being threatened, they can simply take 20 on their roll. And while you can probably imagine a few situations where a character would be pressed for time, or threatened, those few situations would be even more uncommon than being bound, manacled, or in a tight space in the first place. When a character takes 20, they’ve done the absolute best that they can possibly do. So either the character succeeds and frees themselves from the bonds, or fails and the bonds are proven to be impossible to wiggle free from.

Which brings me to another problem with Escape Artist: it’s not even comprehensive! You would think that when a skill is only useful in an extremely specific situation, it would at least cover that situation thoroughly, but Escape Artist doesn’t. It only counts if you’re attempting to wiggle your way free of bonds, not if you’re attempting to break them with sheer strength, or cut them on a nearby blade. So why not simply combine Escape Artist into Acrobatics, if it must be a skill at all?

Personally, I like -C’s thoughts on this skill. Make “Escape Artist” a class skill of some kind for rogues and monks. Everyone else can either take an “Escape Artist” feat, or try to escape using their wits.

Judgement: House rule this skill out of the game. Make it available as a feat for players if they wish–it could even have a 100% success rate. Otherwise, let players attempt to figure out a method of escape themselves, rather than forcing them to rely on a fun-neutral die roll.

Is this, or is it not, amazing?Fly (Full Description on PFSRD)(-C’s Post): Who the fuck thought this was a good idea? I’m not even going to dignify this one with a thorough write up.

All I’m going to say is that Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, and all the editions prior to it that I’m aware of, had a very simple system for handling flight maneuverability. It was called, “maneuverability,” and creatures could be either perfect, good, average, poor, or clumsy. It was an elegant solution, and I never wanted anything better. Yet, for some reason, Paizo decided that we needed another completely useless movement skill, like “Swim,” and to a lesser degree, “Climb.”

Judgement: This is the single worst change Paizo made to the game. House rule this skill out, and house rule the D&D 3.5 maneuverability system in.

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3 thoughts on “Overview of Pathfinder’s Skills: Disable Device to Fly”

  1. And if you only use the skill roll for some traps (like pressure plates, or doorknob needle-traps) but not for other traps (like trip wires), then where do you draw the line?

    I think that is the key point here. It all boils down to what defines a trap for the purposes of the skill. This definition has steadily broadened as the editions have progressed. In OD&D it was literally just poison needles and similar small mechanical devices.

  2. Escape Artist is the only the second most important skill for arcane casters, next to spellcraft. The grappled condition happens frequently enough that if you don’t have the means to get out of it, you’re screwed (some argue casting defensively, etc). Also taking 20 doesn’t mean anything past level 5 cause the DC for anything worth doing is going to be 25.

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