Overview of Pathfinder’s Skills: Perform to Ride

Perform (Full Description on PFSRD)(-C’s Post): A skill is a mechanic. It is not a character trait, nor is it a role playing device. Role playing and character development are handled by the player. The player can choose to build their character’s personality off of the character’s mechanics if they wish. Pencil Drawing of a Bard Strumming a Lute. Source unknown. It is fun, and even recommended. However, the fact that character mechanics can serve as the basis for role playing traits, does not imply that role playing traits must be represented mechanically. Why, then, does the perform skill exist? Can’t players simply write down that they know how to play the fiddle without requiring a number to keep track of how good they are at it?

As a mechanic, it simply seems silly. If a character is not a bard, then the skill breaks down to “roll the dice, get some money!” Even if treasure is not the central focus of your game, rolling a twenty sided die to determine the effectiveness of your busking has got to be the least entertaining way to earn money that I can imagine. It’s not even a worthwhile amount of money! The most you can possibly earn in a day is 18 gold. The book goes on to hint at some potential plot hooks for characters who frequently succeed at DC 30 performance checks (“In time, you may draw attention from distant patrons, or even from extraplanar beings.”) but that hardly seems to make it worthy of being a skill in my view.

Bards, of course, are the exception. For them, the performance skill is integral. Many of their bardic performance abilities depend on making a perform roll, and then allowing the bard’s companions to use that roll’s result in place of some other type of die roll. This can be an extremely potent ability, and an effective use of the skills system. For example, consider a level 1 bard with 16 Charisma, 1 rank in performance, and the skill focus(performance) feat. That’s a total of +10 to a performance roll, which the bard can roll in place of his companions will saves (which will probably be +4 or less for most characters). On the other hand, a number of the bardic performance abilities (Inspire Courage, Inspire Competence, etc) don’t use a perform roll at all. Instead, their effects increase in strength based solely on the bard’s level.

Judgement: For non-bard players, this skill should be house-ruled out of the game. For bards, I see two possible options. First, you could make Performance a bard-only skill, and edit the bardic performance abilities to make the skill check more relevant. Alternatively, you could house-rule the performance check out of the game for bards as well, and edit all of their performance abilities to be level based, rather than roll based.

Profession (Full Description on PFSRD)(-C’s Post): The problems with the profession skill are so similar to the problems with the perform skill that it hardly seems worth it to write a separate entry for each one. Medieval Profession: BakerMechanically, both skills essentially boil down to exactly the same thing: roll dice to see how much money you make. There are some subtle differences, (such as the fact that a profession check takes a week, and a perform check only takes a day), but they are largely inconsequential. The profession skill doesn’t even have the dubious benefit of having a class built upon it. As it exists in the game, profession may be the single most useless skill of all. Purge it.

Useless as the profession skill may be, however, there might be some benefit to a character having a listed profession. In my Twittertop RPG, a character’s profession was used as a substitute for an entire skills system. The idea is that if a player can justify their character possessing a certain skill on the basis of their profession, then the character will be able to use that skill effectively. For example, a character whose profession was sailor would obviously be able to swim, tie ropes, and avoid sea sickness. Whereas a player whose profession was miner would be particularly effective at noticing details and dangers underground.

There’s no reason that the same thing couldn’t exist in Pathfinder as a supplement to the skills system, rather than a replacement. Nothing which a player would need to roll for, mind you. Just an extremely simple, rules-light way of determining whether a player has minor knowledge or abilities which won’t come up frequently.

Judgement: House rule this out of the game as a skill. If you are so inclined, make it a stand, alone trait for each character.

Ride (Full Description on PFSRD)(-C’s Post): I like the idea behind this skill, but I feel it lacks solid implementation. It takes some steps in the right direction, though. Medieval Knight and Horse, source unknownUnlike many skills, you can actually do most of what you might imagine is “easy,” without ever spending a point. Characters with 0 ranks in ride are able to saddle, mount, ride, and dismount from a mount without a problem. Even a character with a dexterity modifier of 0 has a 75% chance to avoid falling off their mount when hit. For most players, this should be plenty. It allows them to make use of the standard benefits of riding: moving quickly, and increasing encumbrance limits. A character only needs to put points into the skill if they want to perform more difficult tasks with their mount.

That’s what I like about the skill. What I don’t like is how limiting it is. For example, it would be fair to say that horses can jump further than humans, right? Yet if a human character has 1 rank in jump, and 1 rank in ride, then if he rolls the same on both a long jump check, and a leap check with his horse, then the distance covered will be exactly the same. That’s flat-out ridiculous. I think the game would benefit from advanced riding techniques, and mounted combat, being given a little more spotlight. I’m not certain how it should be done at this point. Perhaps it is something I will direct my attention towards in the future.

Judgement: This skill is fine to leave as-is for now, but it would benefit from some polish, and expansion.

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6 thoughts on “Overview of Pathfinder’s Skills: Perform to Ride”

  1. *looks at the above skills*

    Hmm… dare I say this might be a good excuse to bring back non-weapon proficiencies? Perhaps disguise them as traits?

  2. I’m actually rather disappointed that bards don’t have more performance-related powers. The core Bard (not sure about archetypes) only has two bardic performance powers which actually require a Perform check: Countersong and distraction. Versatile Performance also lets him use perform in place of other skills, which is strange in its own way (how does singing help me tell if someone is lying?). And after applying some of the house rulings here (many of which I fully support) Versatile Performance is sunk anyways.

    If I attempt a Deadly Performance, the DC should not be a static save for the audience. It should be determined by how well I perform.

    Furthermore, perform hasn’t been outlined enough mechanically. Suppose I want to impress the king with my trumpet playing, or distract the tavern patrons with a song, while the party sneaks into the cellar. This doesn’t require any bardic magic, so this seems to be just a perform check. But what’s the DC for these things? There’s no indication.

    Also: why are there so many different perform skills? For most (read two) bardic abilities, you just need to know whether your skill is audible (winds, keyboards, etc) or visual (dance, act, etc). We could easily restrict perform those two categories, or just make it one universal skill: Perform.

    Versatile Performance would take a hit. But really, who’s going to put ranks in four different performances, just so they can double their money at level 12?

    Versatile Performance would make much more sense as: At level 2, a bard may substitute a perform check for any charisma-based skill check. Most of the other skills under that heading get house-ruled out under your rulings anyway.

    This probably delves more into the difficulties of the Bard class itself, rather than perform,
    as a skill, but it’s something that bugs me. You can build a perfectly feasible bard without any ranks in perform. You miss out on two first level powers, but even those are fairly situational. Countersong only works against auditory attacks/spells. Distraction only works against visual attacks/spells. So unless you fight a lot of illusionists, you could easily forget those, and save your skill ranks for other things. And if your bard has no ranks in perform, what is he doing to inspire courage and fascinate monsters?

    1. I feel as though the bard performance mechanic should be

      1. Unique to bards.

      2. Almost as mechanically deep as the game’s spell casting system. Not quite so much (since the spell casting system is utilized by multiple classes) but enough that it feels like the bard’s music makes them truly distinct from a multiclass rogue/sorcerer.

      Also, I just want to add that I’ve very much enjoyed your comments on these old posts lately. I can’t tell you how important comments are to maintaining my self confidence as a blogger. Additionally, it’s always nice to know that my posts aren’t immediately forgotten as soon as they’re off the site’s front page.

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