Thursday, September 19, 2013

to pay the bills

The DnD Next design has done an abrupt about face on skills.  Previously they had decided to get rid of them entirely and have a hodgepodge of strange and bad ways to be good at things.  What it all amounted to was in pretty much every situation people would roll 1d20, add their bonus (from 0-5) and then see if they succeeded.  If you wanted to play a character that was stealthy as a ninja you were screwed - any random dork guard would catch you sneaking by a good chunk of the time.  This was true of pretty much every sort of ability except combat leaving characters in the silly position where they were supposed to be epic heroes but none of them were good at anything except killing.  Being good at killing is a very useful trait for an epic hero but it shouldn't be the only trait.

The new theory is that skills will be back in the game and will be recognizable as a hybrid of 3rd and 4th edition skills.  There is a list of them which is mostly comprehensive and they will provide bonuses to checks ranging from +2 at level 1 to +6 at level 20.  Overall this is reasonable since basic attributes provide a bonus of +0 to +5 but the problem is (as I have lamented before) that the die is too big.  The ultimate skill master in Next will have a bonus of +16.  This means that if you take a task that the greatest and most heroic athlete in the world can complete every time (DC 17, in this case) then Joe Ordinary with his bonus of +0 will succeed 20% of the time.  If you want to set a task that Joe Ordinary can't manage such as tightrope walking (DC 21, in this case) then you have to accept that the greatest acrobat in the world will fall off the wire quite regularly.  There just isn't any room in such a system for people to perform amazing feats.  If the strongest person in the world only gets a +5 bonus to lift heavy objects they should not be rolling a 20 sided die to see how heavy an object they can lift.

I actually had a model fairly similar to Next in Heroes By Trade with the notable exception that the die was a d8 instead of a d20 so being really good at something actually mattered.  A normal person had a maximum result of 12 while an Olympian would have a minimum result of 17 leaving lots of room for tasks that were easy for pros, impossible for normal folk, and dicey for the people in between.  This was a very important goal for me because I wanted people who invested heavily in a skill to be really excellent at it and not be regularly shown up by the person who had no bonus but rolled a natural 20.  I hate the system where everybody rolls and if somebody rolls well you succeed.  Blech.

One other thing I recently decided was that the Perception skill and its ilk needed to die a fiery death.  That sort of skill was always the best skill from DnD 3.5 to Next because every time something happened the group would end up rolling Perception to figure out if they noticed what was going on.  It became a crutch to avoid descriptions and circumvent specific talents.  If you want characters to roll to see if they notice something then roll Culture if it is a religious symbol or Wilderness if it is a broken branch or Empathy if it is someone acting strangely.  

I needed to have a skill to oppose Stealth and Camouflage though so I added in Alertness to fill that role and it is used just to detect ambushes and people being sneaky.  This allowed me to make HBT free of Search, Awareness, and Perception and I feel so much better for having done so.  I really like people using all kinds of different skills depending on the circumstances and getting rid of the omnipresent 'roll Perception to figure out if you notice anything' always trod heavily on that goal.

The trouble with making updates like this is that I have two active games of Heroes By Trade running.  I don't want to be constantly changing the rules but I do want room for my new ideas to be tested and used.  A tricky situation, that.


  1. On the other hand, because the system is there to support heroes going about their business, a completely unskilled person having a 20% chance to do something really fantastic might be a good thing.

  2. I don't feel like it is a good thing. A completely unskilled person includes a character with no particular skill or stat bonuses - I would prefer a system where such a person can't do cartwheels on a tightrope with just a few tries.

  3. I feel like they probably can't do cartwheels on a tightrope with just a few tries. The first failure should hurt them pretty badly.

  4. Sure, but if 10 regular dorks try to cartwheel across a tightrope and 2 of them make it things seem pretty bizarro to me.

  5. Strangely, doing crazy stuff like running along walls is easier than it looks, if one is shown how to go about it. Seeing it done and then having to do it seems like a one in five sort of thing to me.