This past September I proposed a system I called Streamlined Skill Rolls. I thought it was a pretty solid idea, though it wouldn’t be a stretch to call it derivative. Earlier today I was pondering various means by which the Pathfinder character creation process could be simplified, and I ended up formulating an entirely different simplified skill system. I woulnd’t use it for Pathfinder, but I could certainly see myself implementing it in a new game.
Since I’ve created another one of these before, but this one is not related to the other in the slightest, I’ll call it “Type II.”
When a character wishes to perform an action which needs to be resolved by dice, but they have no ability to determine the method by which they perform that action, success or failure is resolved by a roll-under ability check. For example, if a character with 15 strength wishes to lift a large stone, they roll 1d20. On 15 or less, they succeed. On 16 or more, they fail. (For really large rocks, the GM might penalize them with a +1 or more on their roll).
The game has a list of such skills. For lack of a better list, we can use the reduced pathfinder skill list I ended up with at the conclusion of my Skills Overview. At first level, characters may select a number of skills from this list equal to their Intelligence bonus, with a minimum of 0. Rogues and bards, as the jack-of-all-trades classes, are each allowed to pick 2 additional skills beyond the ones their intelligence grants them. A character’s skills may be chosen at character creation, or during gameplay, at the player’s option.
When making a roll-under ability check relating to that skill, the player receives a bonus of -1 on their roll. Characters cannot choose the same skill multiple times to receive stacking bonuses. Once chosen, the skills remain unchanged until level 5.
At level 5, the players are again allowed to select a number of skills equal to their intelligence, with rogues and bards again being allowed to select an additional 2. The player has the option of selecting new skills, or of selecting their previous skills again, gaining a -2 bonus in those skills. This process repeats every 5 levels.
I haven’t determined how broad the skills should be with this stystem. On the one hand, if something is going to be itemized, I think the list should be kept short. On the other hand, if the players are allowed to simply select any ability they want (with a note about the appropriate broadness in the book), then the potential number of skills could be endless, and I find that somewhat interesting. If lifting and pulling are different skills, then players will be more inclined to pick new skills every 5 levels rather than just grind the ones they have up to the max. On the other hand, you risk emulating the D&D 3rd edition skills system, with its numerous skills that are absolutely pointless.
The major problem I see with this system right away is that automatic success becomes far too simple. That’s why it would never work in Pathfinder, because characters often end up with ability scores of 20+, at which point a roll under ability check cannot fail unless the GM imposes penalties. Even oldschool D&D, with a maximum of 18/100, would allow automatic successes by level 5 when the player is able to gain skills with a -2 bonus.
Maybe it’s okay for some skill checks to be automatic successes, thus rendering the die rolling unnecessary. I do like mechanics which allow players to simply do cool stuff, rather than roll to see if they can do cool stuff. At the same time, I worry a mechanic like this may fly out of control and allow players to do stuff they shouldn’t be able to. Perhaps this system would work better if high rolls represented success, rather than low rolls.
It’s also possible this is a terrible idea. It just sorta came to me, and I thought others might find it interesting.