Handle Animal (Full Description on PFSRD)(-C’s Post): Before I start talking about this skill, I’d like to point out that it does not grant a character the ability to improve an animal’s attitude towards the party–that’s a class skill which is possessed by Rangers and Druids. I mention this not to be patronizing, but because I myself made that mistake. I went so far as to write an entire critique of it before realizing my error.
With that out of the way: I don’t like this skill. As best as I can determine, it’s simply intended as a time-sink. Handle Animal presents a remarkably complicated system for spending a week at a time attempting to train a domesticated animal to perform a trick. If you fail, you can simply spend another week, make another roll, and try again to teach your dog to sit. Once trained, either through luck or attrition, another check will be required each time you wish the animal to perform that trick.
Now, I will freely admit that I am not an ‘animal person.’ If I’m being completely honest, I kind of hate animals. And if their barking, hissing, and chattering is any indication, animals don’t really like me either. I’m fine with that. They stay away from me, I stay away from them. But I do know people who like animals, and based on what I’ve heard from them, this model isn’t really an accurate representation of what it’s like to train an creature. It strikes me that a much better method of training animals would be to allow any character who wants to train an animal to do it in a set amount of time. Perhaps that amount of time can even be modified by their charisma bonus. More difficult tricks could be taught if the character had a the “Handle Animal” feat. Perhaps there could also be a limit on the number of animals you could domesticate, which would be raised when a character took the feat.
Judgement: House Rule this skill out of the game, and allow players to train animals as they please. Rangers and Druids can use the Diplomacy skill, rather than Handle Animal, for their Wild Empathy checks. (Both would gain it as a class skill)(Though, I have my problems with Wild Empathy as well.)
Heal (Full Description on PFSRD)(-C’s Post): I’ve always been somewhat dubious on the usefulness of the heal skill. It is not potent enough for a party to feel safe adventuring without a cleric, and if the party does have a cleric, magical healing makes the skill almost completely useless. However, there will always be times in the heat of battle when the cleric is out of range, or perhaps even unconscious themselves. And if the party does decide to go adventuring without a cleric to aid them, then I’m sure they’d rather have the heal skill than nothing at all. In the absence of a clear solution, let’s break the skill down into its various functions to see if they will better illuminate the usefulness, or lack thereof, of heal.
The primary use of heal is to stabilize dying characters. Whether or not this will be needed frequently depends largely on what kind of game the GM runs, and how methodical the players are. It may never come up at all, or it may come up all the time. I can’t think of a more entertaining way to pretend to bandage someone, so the skill doesn’t circumvent fun. But is it necessary that the action’s success is uncertain? I’m tempted to simply allow all characters, or at least those with heal as a class skill, the ability to stabilize adjacent characters automatically with a standard action. In my experience, however, a player dropping below 0 HP is a moment of excitement for the party. Everybody is worried that the bleeding character will die, and those adjacent to him must make a choice: do they attempt to help their fallen comrade stabilize, or do they try to end the battle quickly so they can devote their full attention to the dying character? It’s a tense decision. An exciting decision! A decision whose impact might be lost if there was no chance that the player might fail to stabilize their companion. Though the check might be a little too easy. Perhaps 10 + [current # of HP below 0] would be a more appropriate DC for the heal check?
Long-term care and treating wounds from Caltrops etc. are both a little silly, since neither would be performed in battle. So a character with 1 rank in the skill (and at least 12 Wisdom) can automatically succeed at either of these tasks by taking 10 on their roll. So neither of those can justify the skill on their own. Allowing characters to “Tread Deadly Wounds” doesn’t seem to add much value to the game, to my thinking, but I have no real problem with it so long as it isn’t harming the game. Lastly, treat poison and treat disease are both solid abilities.
Judgement: I had honestly expected that I would recommend this skill be house ruled out of the game, but after consideration, it seems as though it is useful enough to be left in the game in pretty much its current form. I would say, however, that it could use a bit of a redesign.
Intimidate (Full Description on PFSRD)(-C’s Post): Intimidate is the third NPC interaction skill, with the first two being bluff and diplomacy. As I mentioned when I covered those skills: I think there really ought to be a social resolution mechanic which is completely independent from the skills system. But since I’ve said this all before, I won’t bother going over it again. Such a system would be, after all, a large deviation from the rules, and not something I could cover briefly here. In the absence of such a system, my solution for both bluff and diplomacy was to require multiple checks for each interaction, and to place more emphasis on circumstance bonuses from role playing.
My solution for Intimidate is to remove it from the game completely.
Intimidate is probably one of the most ridiculous skills in the game. It honestly makes no sense whatsoever. Consider this scenario: you are a humble bartender. One day, a 9ft tall human barbarian starts a fight with some other patrons. Things turn ugly, and the barbarian starts punching people hard enough to smash their brain pans. Dead bodies are starting to pile up, but the barbarian’s rage is just getting started. He draws his axe and cuts your husband in half. He then grabs your 2 year old child by the head, and holds the child up in front of you. “GIVE ME A FREE DRINK OR I’LL CRUSH THE CHILD UNTIL ITS BRAINS OOZE BETWEEN MY FINGERS!” the barbarian shouts.
“No free drinks!” you reply. “And you’ll have to pay for those tables you smashed!”
Where did you find such courage? Well, the barbarian used charisma as a dump stat, never put any points into intimidate, and only rolled a 1 on his check. Even with the generous +16 circumstance modifier the GM gave him, he failed to overcome your five levels of expert, and wisdom score of 14. Obviously this is an extreme example, but my point is that there are lots of was to be scary: large muscles, brandished weapons, flashy spells, etc. Having the skill tied to charisma makes no sense. Allowing characters to take a feat to substitute their strength makes even less sense, since the feat’s existence seems to acknowledge the problem, yet attempts to solve it by forcing players to jump through a ridiculous hoop.
I don’t see why intimidation requires a resolution mechanic at all, actually. It seems to me as though this kind of thing is best handled by the GM’s own judgement. A mechanic is useful for diplomacy and bluff because those actions represent a kind of subtle combat. The player is attempting to influence an NPC with a series of lies, or arguments which are built one atop another, all while the NPC is trying to look out for their own best interests. Intimidation is not quite so refined. When you put a sword to an orc’s throat and tell it to stop kicking a puppy, there are two possibilities: either the orc cowers in fear, or it attempts to attack. That’s a pretty simple decision for the GM to make on their own.
And for those cases where intimidation is part of a more amicable, subtle kind of discussion, just make it a circumstance bonus for a diplomacy roll. Rename diplomacy to “influence” if that makes you more comfortable.
Judgement: House rule this skill out of the game. Handle it either with GM arbitration, or as a circumstance bonus to a diplomacy/influence roll.