Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Skills - Some Ponderings on Bonuses

Skills in 3E have been bugging me for some time. I look at the multiple pages in the PHB, the horrors of skill synergy, the almost wholly nonsensical variation in utility, and something inside me shudders and dies a little. The 3E skill system might be an improvement on non-weapon proficiencies (now there's a classic Gygaxism for ya!), but the system is still a horrible dogs dinner of a thing.

Compare, for example, points sinks like Heal, Intimidate, Knowledge:Nobility, Profession{Anything}, or Use Rope when compared to actually useful things like Sense Motive, Spot, Tumble, or UMD. That's quite aside from the accidental win button that is the 3.5 version of Diplomacy.

"So Mr Advancing PC, would you like another 5% chance to recognize some heraldry, or would you prefer some real skills that might actually see use in the game we're supposed to be playing?"
It's a bit of a no-brainer, eh?

Now, I've already made something of a start on rendering 3E skills a little less scattergun (increasing stingy skill points allowances, cutting the list from 40+ to ~20 or so), but there's still a lot I'd like to change to make skill use faster and more meaningful in play.

My particular gripe today is against skill bonuses. These are - not to put too fine a point on it - demented. By the RAW a player can graft away building up his character's innate skill ranks for 10 levels or so, and some bozo with a single skill rank and a few K in gold can breeze past him thanks to a low level spell or some ridiculously underpriced skill boost item. Not only that, but there are no effective caps on skill bonuses. As a direct result of this the bonus stacking paradign of 3E gives us the horror of the +100 skill bonus before 10th level (and +220 by 20th), as well as the triumph of rules lawyerism over gentlemanly play that is the Diplomancer build.

Skills being so cheaply and easily boosted it has somehow been decided (probably by the same putzes who feel small in the pants if 'mundane' characters can outdo 'magic' characters at...well, anything) that skills shaln't be allowed to scale in a meaningful way. Skill monkeys must stay within the bounds of mundane capabilties while their caster buddies go haring gleefully off into crazy town at higher levels.

So skills are worthless because they're so easily boosted to absurd levels, and can be easily boosted because skill don't do anything fun or interesting. Seems like a vicious circle to me.

My personal fix: Cap skill bonuses...

(*waits for the outraged squealing to die down*)

...and allow skills to do level appropriate things at high levels.


Max skill = skill ranks + innate bonuses + capped bonuses + untyped bonuses.
  • Skill ranks: These are as we already know them. Max = lvl+3 (1/2 that for CC skills)
  • Innate bonuses: Ability and Racial modifiers only. Derive from qualities inherent to the character. Even if buck naked and out of luck on an ice floe somewhere a character will still enjoy the benefit of these.
  • Untyped bonuses: bonuses with the untyped descriptor. These, by the RAW, already stack with themselves and everything else.
  • Capped bonuses: All other bonus types. Maximum is capped at a level = skill ranks.
The rationale behind capping most bonus types is that a character of limited skill simply doesn't have the experience and know-how to exploit all the possible advantageous conditions open to him. Someone with 4 skill ranks shouldn't be able to co-ordinate 6 different situational bonuses.

Net result: skill ranks mean something again, and a semi-hard limit on skill DCs now exists. That makes scaling by level much less of a downright arbitrary exercise, and means that skill monkeys can now have nice level-appropriate things to do at high level. Tangentially: note, even the expanded skill uses in the Epic Level Joke Book are things that should be available to pre-Epic characters.

More on this anon.
Thoughts please?

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