Tag Archives: Skills

Skills: Mastery Versus Uncertainty

OR YOUR MANIES BACKSkills have been my buggaboo for nearly as long as I’ve been writing about RPGs. Every time I look at a skill system I see some new problems that I want to fix. I don’t know whether I’m working towards some platonic ideal, or if I’m just fickle. Either way I can’t help myself. There’s always something that can be done better.

For the last few years, most of the referees I play with and learn from have been using some variation on Skills: The Middle Road. If you’re unfamiliar, the breakdown is pretty simple. When you check a skill, a roll of 5 or greater indicates success. For untrained characters, each skill check is rolled with a d6. As a character advances in a given skill (either through class features or training), the die they’re allowed to roll increases from 1d6, to 1d8, to 1d10, and ultimately to 1d12. The elegance of the system has always appealed to me. As recently as last year I was planning to integrate it into my games, and a variation of the system was originally going to be described in my LotFP house rules. But then I sat down and did something I almost never do: math.

I love math, but I’m shockingly bad at it. It was never my strong suit to begin with, and being homeschooled from the 3rd grade up didn’t help. As such, obvious mathematical realities sometimes escape me. Using AnyDice, I tried to work out the functional difference between The Middle Road, and the way skills work in Rules-As-Written LotFP. (Skills start at a 1-in-6 chance of success, improving to 2-in-6, then 3-in-6, etc).

While The Middle Road gives players a higher success rate at lower levels, RAW LotFP quickly outpaces it. The very highest level of ability in Middle Road only gives a 7-in-12 chance of success, or 66.67%. In RAW LotFP, a character with a 6-in-6 skill rolls 2d6, and the check fails only in the event of double sixes. That’s a 35 in 36 chance of success, or 97.22%.

Now when I first figured this out, it convinced me that I wanted to stick with RAW LotFP. At the time, my reasoning was that players ought to be able to truly master a skill if they choose to devote themselves to it. After all, choosing to master a skill completely leaves other skills underdeveloped. There’s a natural balance there.

More recently, my thinking has changed. A system which allows total mastery of a skill is a system which allows certain challenges to become completely trivialized. If the players can always unlock a locked door, why even place locked doors at all? As a means of justifying the player’s investment? Even players seem unenthusiastic about rolling dice when they feel certain of success. And in the rare events that they fail one of these nearly-certain rolls, they seem more upset by it than usual. As if the dice just told them they’d failed a “walking” check.

When failure doesn’t seem like a possibility, it’s a lot more frustrating when it happens. It might be better to allow players to reach a level of mastery that no longer called for a roll at all. One where locked doors simply no longer existed for a master locksmith. It’s not the sort of system I want, but I think it would be better than a 2.78% chance of failure.

It could be argued that if players have reached such a high level of mastery, they ought to be adventuring in areas with locks that require checks made at -1 or -2. This is a possibility described in the LotFP rules, and is entirely legitimate. But I don’t like it.

Part of the reason oldschool skill systems appeal to me is the lack of any need for the referee to determine the difficulty of a task. Getting rid of Difficulty Checks was one of the best things about quitting Pathfinder. DCs are the fuckin’ worst. They add a ton of boring, yet necessary preparatory work to the referee’s job. They encourage the referee to reduce player agency by saying “Well, this door allows the players to skip half the dungeon. So it’ll have a REALLY high DC.” Furthermore, when a DC has to be improvised, it’s difficult to choose a good DC off the top of your head. And finally, if the referee is placing ever-increasing DCs in the game, at the same pace that the player’s ability to surpass those DCs is growing, then why have any advancement at all?

If I place a lock that requires a check at -2 in my adventure because of the fact that my players are really good at opening locks, then why did I allow them to waste skill points that I was just going to invalidate through future dungeon design?

The Middle Road has none of these problems. Furthermore, it has two great benefits.

First, it enables the referee to include weirder skills in the game. Consider the problem of the Law skill that I mentioned when I drafted the Lawyer class a few months ago. I think the law skill is super neat and fun, but it’s also powerful. If a player were able to master it, they’d be unstoppable. But so long as they still have a decent chance to fail any given check, they won’t be able to push their luck too far.

Second, and more importantly, it preserves the low level experience. It’s almost universally agreed, at least within the OSR, that low level play is the best play. The most challenging, the most engaging, the most fun. People prefer low level play so much that many campaigns (much to my frustration) are terminated just as the PCs start to reach mid levels.

The reason low level play is so treasured is that the game fundamentally changes as it goes on.  As PCs reach higher levels, more and more challenges become trivial for them. They don’t need to worry about torches once the magic user learns Light, they don’t need to worry about rations once the cleric learns Create Food and Water, and they don’t need to worry about locked doors once the thief has an almost certain chance of opening them easily.

Keeping skill checks uncertain, even at the highest levels of mastery, maintains that low level play that we all enjoy.

And as an aside, Skills: The Middle Road could easily be expanded using a d14 and d16. Not all Zocchi dice are reliably random, but those two are. I’d love to see them come into more common usage, since they so nicely fill in a lot of the gap between the d12 and the d20. And even with a d16, a player would only have a 75% chance of hitting 5 or higher. Which is still a respectable failure rate.

Crafting Weapons & Armor in Pathfinder

Another Lego Blacksmith
Another photograph of a Lego Blacksmith

Building on what I determined last week, I’d like to move on to actually producing a working craft skill for Pathfinder. I have a lot of ideas for how to proceed, but for this particular system, I’m working within two important design constraints.

  1. The the resulting craft skill must use the Pathfinder skill system, without circumventing or subverting it. Regardless of how far this system strays from the game’s original design, it must involve rolling a d20, modifying the roll with the character’s skill level, and comparing the results against a DC to determine success or failure.
  2. Feats should not be necessary to craft an item. If a character invests skill points in a crafting skill, they should receive the benefits of that skill without needing a feat to turn it into a useful ability.

Unfortunately, due to the titanic level disparity between moderately invested, and focused characters, I’ve needed to abandon the third of my original criteria; that the difficulty of crafting an item would be determined by the DC, cost, and crafting time alone. Unfortunately that’s simply not feasible when a focused character at level 10 has the same crafting ability as a moderately invested character at level 20.

Were I to insist that the number rolled represent the absolute quality of the item being crafted, then either:

  1. The 26-45 range allows characters to craft the highest level weapons, in which case everyone should focus on crafting, because it allows you to make a +5 Vorpal Sword at level 10.
  2. The 26-45 range allows characters to craft weapons appropriate for level 10, in which case no one should ever bother with crafting, because it requires a lot of investment, and stops being useful at mid level.
  3. A middle ground is attempted, which would only mitigate the problem slightly; not fix it.

None of these alternatives are acceptable to me. Which is why I think the system should also take the character’s level into account. By limiting the power of crafted magic items based on level, I keep the focused character from leaping too far ahead of the game, without simultaneously forcing the moderately invested character to fall miles behind. Both heavily focused characters and moderately invested character will always be able to make the same items as one another (assuming they are the same level). But while a focused character will almost always succeed in making a magic item on their first try, a moderately invested character will likely fail a few times first, perhaps creating cursed items.

In Pathfinder, weapons and armor can have two different kinds of magical properties. There is the common numerical bonus, which ranges from +1 to +5; and the special ability, which can take many forms. Perhaps it’s a “Flaming Burst” weapon, or “Shadowskin” armor. These special bonuses each have a numerical equivalent listed in the book, to help determine the item’s pricing and the maximum power of the weapon. For example, “Arrow Catching” armor is equivalent to +1, while “Spell Resistance 19” is equivalent to +5. Each item can have a maximum of +10 effective bonus (only five of which may take the form of a numerical bonus). This is all standard Pathfinder stuff, which can be found in chapter 15 of the core rulebook.

Using this method of determining weapon and armor ability values, a craftsperson can create an item with an effective item bonus equal to 1/2 their character level. But only 1/4 of their character level may be numerical bonuses.

So at level. 1, a character can craft masterwork armor. At level 2, one half of their level is 1, allowing them to create Arrow Catching armor. However, since 1/4 of 2 is still less than 1, the character could not create +1 armor. They can’t do that until they reach level 4, at which point they can create armor with an effective bonus of +2, so they could create +1 Arrow Catching armor if they so chose.

(Note: For those familiar with Pathfinder’s item creation rules, you will notice that I’ve removed the requirement that all magic items must be at least magically +1. I don’t think that’s necessary)

The base DC for crafting a masterwork item is 20. The DC for the crafting check increases by 2 for each effective item bonus added to the item. So a set of +1 Arrow Catching armor (an effective item bonus of 2) thus has a DC of 24.

Here’s a chart of how this would break down over the course of the game. Under bonuses, the numerical bonus is listed on the left, while the special ability bonus is listed on the right. Though, of course, there’s nothing to stop characters from ignoring the numerical bonus entirely, and simply using all of their available effective item bonuses to add special abilities to the weapon.

Crafting Skill Table

I think a week of crafting time for most items should be sufficient, though I’d rather leave that up to GM discretion. Gold pieces required to craft the item should be equal to 1/2 the items value. And any special materials would need to be acquired separately from that. If a spell is called for, a scroll will be sufficient, though if the character wishes to avoid that route, then they can seek out a special reagent at the GM’s discretion. (“Want to skip the scroll of Darkseeing? Then you better bring me a Drow’s eye!”)

If a roll is failed, then the character has a 10% chance to create a cursed item. Otherwise, they’ll simply create the best item their roll would have allowed for. So if they’re trying to create a +3/+4 sword, but they roll a 31, then the GM should roll first to determine if the sword will become a cursed item. If not, then the player has successfully created a +2/+3 sword.

I’m not convinced that this is the best way to handle crafting, but it’s the best way that I can come up with which still uses the Pathfinder skills system.

Designing a Pathfinder Skill

Lego Blacksmith
A photo of the undisputed best toy ever.

I’ve long intended to redesign the Craft and Knowledge skills from the ground up. I’ve even taken a shot at it a few times in the past. I’ve got a completed, but unpublished post from mid Summer where I went on a rather vitriolic rant about the failings of the skills system, based on one of those unsuccessful attempts. Regardless of the system’s failings, though, I do think that both of these skills are beneficial to the game and could be improved from their RAW state without fundamentally changing the way the skills system works. So with some new ideas in hand, I’d like to give it another try. This time moving more slowly, and “showing my work.”

It seems logical to me that any skill must be created with at least two different types of characters in mind. The Moderately Invested Character, and the Focused Character.

The focused character is one who has made this skill their top priority. Whether the skill is a crafting or knowledge skill, or any other skill for that matter, this character is determined to be the best at what they do. Through luck or point-buy, they start the game with an 18 in the associated ability score, and they select a race which grants them a +2 bonus to that ability score. Every four levels, they improve that ability score by 1 point, culminating in a +6 modifier at level 8, and a +7 modifier at level 16. The focused character also takes Skill Focus at first level. And, obviously, this character has selected a class for which this skill is a class skill, and places new points into the skill at each level.

Now, it wouldn’t be hard to take this further. Their are races with better than a +2 ability score bonus. There are magical items and spells which–temporarily or permanently–increase a character’s ability scores. Some races receive bonuses for specific skills, such as the gnomish +2 racial bonus to craft. Often, masterwork tools give characters a functionally permanent circumstance bonus to their checks. There are even magical items which increase competency with a skill, though in my opinion these should be almost entirely ruled out of the game for reasons which will become obvious in a moment.

If a person really wanted to max out their skill, and the GM was willing to humor them, then I think the skills system is so fundamentally, mathematically flawed that it would be impossible to create a well balanced skill. But when attempting to craft these skills, I will assume that the players are not quite so obsessive, and the GM is not so foolish to indulge them if they are.

The other type of character which the system must be balanced for, the Moderately Invested Character, is much simpler. They do not make this skill a priority, but it is a class skill, and they do put skill points into it at each level. Their associated ability score is a +2, which is above average, but not great. That, I think, is a sufficient level of involvement that a player should expect to see solid, level appropriate returns on their decision to invest in this skill, whatever it may be.

For all of these characters; the focused, the moderately invested, and every character who falls between; the skill ought to work ‘right.’ Certainly, within this gradation, there will be players who are more or less skilled than others. That’s fine, and in fact it is one of the benefits of the Pathfinder skills system. However, a moderately invested character should never feel as though the skill isn’t useful to them, nor should a focused character receive such significant rewards that they become overpowered. Players with less skill than a moderately invested character can be legitimately viewed as handicapped in the skill, and should not expect full at-level rewards from it. And characters with greater skill than a focused character can be considered overpowered already.

So how do the numbers work out?

Pathfinder Skill Analysis

Not great.

At first level, there’s already a variance of 6 between the moderately invested and the focused characters. By level 20 that variance has widened to 11. Those may not sound like very large numbers, but notice that a 10th level focused character has reached the same level of expertise that a 20th level moderately invested character can.

Forging ahead, now that we know which ranges the two character types will have available to them at each level, the question becomes: what acts should a character be able to perform at a given level? For example, according to the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, +1 swords cost 2,000 gold pieces. They’re also available for sale in large cities, so in the assumed Pathfinder campaign setting, +1 swords should be available to a character who has sufficient gold. According to the wealth by level guidelines, a level 4 character should have 6,000 gold, so I think it’s safe to say that a character is meant to have +1 weapons by level 4. If characters are to be able to craft magic items using the crafting system (as is my goal), then what should be the DC of crafting a +1 sword? 25? That gives the moderately invested character a 25% chance of success at level 4, and the focused character a 40% chance of success at level 1.

Clearly an additional layer of complexity is required here. Materials cost will obviously help limit this crafting, but it’s important to me that I avoid requiring feats in this system.

Further work on my part is required, but at this juncture I’m eager to hear what others think. Perhaps one of my betters can save me some time?

Moving with Subtlety, and How to Roll Dice for it

Promotional image for "Beware the Batman" from D.C. and Cartoon Network
Promotional art for “Beware the Batman,” from D.C. Comics and Cartoon Network

I’ve been pondering how stealthy action could be handled better at the table. When I assessed Pathfinder’s stealth skill earlier this year, I came to the conclusion that while the rules were dangerously unclear on specifics, they could still be interpreted as a pretty solid stealth mechanic. To refresh: Pathfinder’s stealth skill is rolled as an opposed check. The character wishing to be subtle makes their check, and any characters they wish to avoid the detection of rolls a perception check. Highest result wins. If the GM only calls for the check under the proper conditions, and the D&D 3.5 optional facing rules are used, then the skill as written works respectably well, all things considered.

Nevertheless I’ve recently found myself attracted to a ternary stealth system. I hesitate to call it simpler, because in some ways it is more complicated, but ultimately I believe it is more enjoyable and more streamlined than Pathfinder’s raw ruleset. In many ways, it is similar to the Streamlined Skills System I wrote about back in September. It would function thusly:

Characters are either “Subtle,” or “Unsubtle.” If the game is a retroclone, then characters like the thief or assassin will obviously be the subtle ones, whilst all other classes would be unsubtle. In Pathfinder, a subtle character is one who has a bonus in stealth not less than their HD + 1. (So a level 6 rogue must have a +7 or more in her stealth skill if she wishes to be a subtle character.) -OR- if you are concerned about stealth becoming a skill tax, a subtle character is any who has 10 ranks or more in the Stealth skill. (I would discourage my fellow GMs from having subtle characters be those of a class for whom stealth is a class skill. While it is reasonable, the entire benefit of the skill system is that any character can use it to excel at a given task).

Anytime any character wishes to go unseen, and that character has a reasonable chance of failure (more on this below), they must make a stealth check. In a retroclone, the check would likely be defined by the subtle character’s class abilities. In Pathfinder, the DC will be based on the environment. A field of grass would be the baseline of 10, a stone floor would be  DC of 15, creaky wood a DC of 20, crunchy leaves or a floor filled with trash a DC of 25. Darkness would reduce the DC, while something like a large mirror would increase it. Obviously, armor check penalties would apply. GMs of both type of game are encouraged to grant circumstance bonuses to characters who take extra precautions like camouflage, and impose penalties on characters who fail to observe common sense precautions like moving at a slow pace.

Attempts at stealth should be rejected by the GM outright in any circumstance where moving undetected would be completely unreasonable. For example, moving in plain sight of the creature you wish to hide from.

If an unsubtle character fails their stealth check, then something has happened which alerts those around them. Perhaps they kicked a stone or scraped their foot on the floor. Perhaps something out of their control occurred, like the door they were opening being poorly maintained, and causing a loud squeaking sound when it opened. If an unsubtle character succeeds on their check, then they are moving pretty quietly. However, nearby creatures may be entitled to a perception check to detect the character anyway. In a retroclone, this perception check is a 1d6 roll, and could have a range of 1, 2, or 3, depending on how likely it is that the nearby creatures heard the player. In Pathfinder, this perception check is a skill check, directly opposed to the result of the player’s stealth roll.

If a subtle character fails their check, they receive the same result that an unsubtle character would on a successful check. If a subtle character succeeds on their check, then they are (within reason) moving with absolute stealth. Their victims are not entitled to any perception checks at all.

A single successful check is only good for so long, however. It would be ridiculous for a rogue to succeed on a stealth check, then move all the way down to bottommost level of the dungeon, retrieve the treasure, and walk back without requiring any further checks.  A new check must be rolled any time the situation changes. Some examples of when a new check must be rolled include:

  • Anytime the character enters a new area, such as moving into a new room.
  • Anytime the character abandons something which aided them in their stealth, such as moving out of an area of darkness, or moving into an area where their camouflage would no longer be effective.
  • Anytime they attempt a maneuver which might get them caught, such as making a quick dash from one hiding place to another, or when they open a door.

As mentioned above, checks should only be called for if there is a reasonable chance the character will be detected. Checks should not be called for if the player is crawling on their belly to glance over a hill at an enemy fortress in the valley below. Nor should checks be called for if the character is merely attempting to use some form of cover to hide themselves, without moving. Anybody can crawl inside of a barrel and be essentially undetectable. Exceptions may be made if the character needs to remain in their hiding place for an extremely long time (perhaps an hour or more), or if their hiding space is ill suited to them (such as hiding behind a pole barely large enough to conceal your body while standing sideways).

Ultimately, I hope this system will turn sneaking into a more active process, where players must discuss their actions in detail with the GM. I’m quite happy with this, and plan to implement it in all of my games so I can work out any bugs there may be. I’m eager to hear what others think as well.

Identifying Magic Items in Pathfinder

A dude from the '70s holding a sparkle of light with the caption "IT'S MAGICAL"
I’m trying to get better with attributions…but I have no fuckin’ idea where this came from.

All the way back in April, I declared that I was fed up with the way magic items are identified in Pathfinder. Furthermore, I said that I was going to fix it. I’ve been lazy, but I’m going to work on not being lazy anymore. So lets get to work. Forgive me if this post is a little more brusk than my writing normally is.

There are two steps to identifying a magical item. The first step is to determine whether the item is magical at all. In some cases this may be obvious, such as in the case of a glowing sword. But not every magical item will be obviously magical. And some items which seem as though they should be magical might not be. A jewel encrusted shield might just be a fragile display piece, good for selling, but not for using. Once it has been determined that an item is magical, the second step is to figure out what the item actually does, and how a character can make the item do that thing. Depending on how the game works, a +1 mace might always be a little more accurate and deal a little more damage, but something less obvious could require some know-how in order to use. Such as an activation word for a wand.

Before I go further, I’d like to review precisely how Pathfinder’s item identification works according to the core rule book. That way we’re clear on where we’re starting from. Relevant parts of the system are described in a number of places. First, from the “Spellcraft” skill description.

“This skill is also used to identify the properties of magic items in your possession through the use of spells such as detect magic and identify.“, “Attempting to ascertain the properties of a magic item takes 3 rounds per item to be identified and you must be able to thoroughly examine the object”, “When using detect magic or Identify to learn the properties of magic items, you can only attempt to ascertain the properties of an individual item once per day. Additional attempts reveal the same result.”, “Identify the properties of a magic item using detect magic: 15 + item’s caster level.”

The spell description for Detect Magiccan be found on page 267 of the PFCRB, but essentially all the spell allows you to do is identify that magic auras are present, and help you determine the school of said aura, and which specific items or persons they are emanating from. The spellcraft skill can then be used as described above (DC 15 + item’s caster level) to determine the item’s specific use and activation word, etc. The spell description for Identify can be found on page 299 of the PFCRB, but it pretty much only says “+10 to spellcraft checks made to identify magic items.”

 I don’t like this system because:

  • I hate it when spells are neutered so that they can fit within the broken skills system. Identify should not be a +10 to your identification ability.
  • I don’t see the point in having a failure chance for identifying magical items. At least not a completely random failure chance. It could be interesting to construct the rules so that players could miss magical items through poor play.
  • I’ve recorded game sessions in the past. I like to listen to them and judge what works and what doesn’t as an outside observer. Here’s what the discovery of a magic item sounds like:

ME: You find 100 gold pieces and a sword with a silver blade and a dragon’s head carved into the wooden handle.
Players: Check to see if it’s magical.
Sorcerer/Wizard/Whatever: I roll to see if it’s magical.
[Success]Me: It is a +2 sword.
[Success]Players: Yay! Who needs it?
[Failure]Me: It does not appear to be magical to you.
[Failure]Players: It was a low roll. Lets keep it and try again tomorrow!

This conversation is boring. It is pointless. And it is a waste of everyone’s time.

Here is my proposal for Pathfinder magic item identification. I haven’t playtested this yet, but I’ll implementing it in my game, and hopefully it will be an improvement over the way the system currently works.

Magic Users–Wizards, Sorcerers, Clerics, etc.–can identify whether an item is or is not magical by focusing on it for about five minutes. Characters who cannot cast spells are unable to do this. If the party does not wish to spend the time necessary to determine whether an item is magical, the spell Detect Magic can be used to immediately identify all magical items within the caster’s field of vision. When using this spell, the items will glow a particular color, corresponding to the school of magic which the item is most strongly associated with. Only the caster is able to see these auras, and they do not provide any more information than the fact that the item is magical, and what school it is associated with.

Each magical item in Pathfinder has a “Caster Level.” If the caster level of an item is equal to or lower than the caster level of a magic user, then that magic user may determine the item’s function and method of activation by studying it for 5 minutes. If the players do not wish to spend this amount of time, or if the items in question are too high level to be identified, then the caster may use the Identify spell. This spell must be cast individually for each item which needs to be identified, but works instantaneously. Also, using the Identify spell, a caster may determine the properties of a magic item up to 3 caster levels above their own.

If no magic user is available, or if an item is too high level to be identified by the party’s magic user, then the party may seek out and consult a sage. Sages are very learned, and often have magical powers of their own to call upon. For a fee (200gp * Item’s Caster Level) the Sage will identify it for the party. It will require at least one week’s worth of time. For particularly powerful magic items, or artifacts, the sage may require additional funds and time, or may be entirely unable to identify the item at all. In that case, the sage would likely know of another sage which the party could consult, and offer them at least a partial refund.

What do you think? I’m open to criticism here.

Streamlined Skill Rolls

Sentaigrehsk Affliction Spec for World of Warcraft patch 3.0
‘Affliction Mach 3, My World of Warcraft spec in January 2009

I have a really bad habit.

I have numerousf little creative projects I’m working on at any given time. I enjoy it, but I always overestimate the time I have available to work on them. I tend to stress a lot about devoting enough time to each project, and I end up forgetting to make time to rest. More importantly, I don’t make time to play games, or read stories, because it takes time away from creating them. But working without pausing to recharge my creative energies quickly reduces me to a withered husk. Seriously, it’s gross.

The worst part of it is that I don’t even get any more work done when I push myself beyond my limits like this. I just procrastinate a lot at my desk, re-watching JonTron videos for the billionth time (Bro, seriously? Seriously bro? Make more videos) or bothering my ladyfriend while she’s trying to study or draw. And since I spend the whole time feeling guilty about not working, these deviations from my work don’t actually rejuvenate me at all. They just wear me down more. It’s a stupid thing to do, and I somehow never realize I’m doing it until its been going on for at least a few days.

I recently realized I’d been at it again, so the other day I closed all my browser windows, cleared all my notes off of my desk, and sat down on the floor to read the Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG core rulebook, which I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while. Shortly after I started reading, I got to the chapter on skills, which opens with this excerpt:

”A character’s 0-level occupation determines the basic skills he can use. If the player can logically role-play the connection between his occupation and a skill in a way that the character’s background supports the skill in question, then his character can make what is called a trained skill check.”

Without reading another word, I slammed the book closed, and grabbed my notebook, because I knew how I would build a skill system based on that starting point. Once I had written mine down, I finished reading the skills chapter in DCC to confirm that I hadn’t just come up with the same thing they had. I think it’s different enough that I can legitimately call it “mine” without feeling unethical. Particularly considering I used something similar to the basic concept when I made Twittertop RPG. And that was months before I had a copy of DCC.

At character creation, each player should choose a profession. This is what they did in their life before they became an adventurer. A list of examples might include farmer, merchant, school teacher, sailor, scribe, or blacksmith. The profession is not limited to those, but it should be something similar. “King” would not be an acceptable choice. A good rule would be that if a profession cannot be easily found in a small town, it is probably too specialized to be selected.

During play, if a player would like to attempt something which would not be covered by the skill-set they have from their class (such as navigate a ship by the stars, accurately evaluate the price of a painting, or repair a broken sword) , they may argue that they know how to perform this task based on their profession. If the GM agrees, then the character may attempt the task with a “trained” skill check. If the task being attempted is not covered by the character’s profession, then they can still attempt an “untrained” skill check.

Both trained and untrained attempts have four levels of difficulty, which are determined by the GM. They are Easy, Challenging, Difficult, and Impossible. Note that these four levels are not necessarily the same between trained and untrained characters. If a farmer wants to plant a field, that would be an easy task, while for an untrained character it would be a challenging one. While navigating by the stars would be a challenging task for a sailor, but an impossible one for—say–a baker.

If a task is easy, it can be completed without any roll. If a task is impossible, it is failed automatically. For challenging or difficult tasks, a D20 is rolled against the appropriate difficulty number, which is determined by the character’s level.

Papers & Pencils Streamlined Skills Chart - Beta

This chart would be universal, and used by any character regardless of their class. So each character would have a total of three numbers associated with their skills, which only need to be updated according to the chart’s progression as the character levels. No bonuses or ability scores need be factored in, though circumstance bonuses & penalties may apply.

What do you think?

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