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[Request] Analysis of Failed Design: d20 Skills
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Voss
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 3:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

rasmuswagner wrote:
What I'd really like for knowledge skills used out of combat is a set of rules that quickly and robustly models Cliff Clavin, Homer Simpson and Ross Geller trying to agree on the attributes of a given Steve and moving forward with a plan. Having the usefulness of each characters contribution be hidden information, false information, each individuals evaluation of consensus opinion vs personal opinion, that sort of thing.

The idea of knowledge being the mashup of secrets, lies and opinions seems inherently ridiculous to me. Shouldn't facts have some weight in there somewhere?
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erik
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 4:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Voss wrote:
The idea of knowledge being the mashup of secrets, lies and opinions seems inherently ridiculous to me. Shouldn't facts have some weight in there somewhere?


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Voss
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 10:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

erik wrote:
Voss wrote:
The idea of knowledge being the mashup of secrets, lies and opinions seems inherently ridiculous to me. Shouldn't facts have some weight in there somewhere?


Welcome to the 21st century. You must be new here.


I suppose it depends on what you consider knowledge.

But the idea that a troll's regeneration might be secret, another character claims they have fire resistance, and there is open debate on whether they can cast spells is just fucking dumb.
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erik
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 11:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I mostly just thought my quip would be funny since I already made my stance on knowledge skills last thread page.

Make em backgrounds. I think knowledge skills a shitty thing to roll and not really good as skills at all. I want "knowledge" to just hand them the keys and let them know shit without rolling.

No adventure should be based upon knowledge skills succeeding since then you've wasted everyone's time if it fails. It should just be an exposition valve for the DM to share with PCs so that the PC who is in the know feels empowered.

[edit: Best argument against background knowledge tags is if you need some granularity, and even then if you need it then you can probably break it into a few tiers and be done with it. There's no reason to have 23 tiers or more of knowledge.]


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Zinegata
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 10:10 am    Post subject: Re: [Request] Analysis of Failed Design: d20 Skills Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

angelfromanotherpin wrote:
Franktrollman wrote:
On the flip side, D20's skill system is very bad in pretty much every way it's possible to be bad - so you wouldn't want the skill system to look very much like D20's system. I'm perfectly willing to have a discussion about all the ways D20's skill system is bad, but it's a little off topic here.

I would like to have this discussion. I'm working up a sort of 1e/3e hack system for a retro-style campaign, and since 1e didn't really have a skill system, and 3e's skill system is dreadful, it would be nice to have a better understanding of the failure points.


From a modern boardgame design perspective, the cardinal problem of D&D skills is that they simply aren't very fun at all. Often it is simply boring. Sometimes it is simply frustrating. Very rarely will you resolve a skill check and feel you've really accomplished something. The main reaction players have after a successful skill check is relief - like how you feel relieved that that your character managed to not maim himself climbing a wall.

Mechanically speaking, the core of every roleplaying game is its conflict resolution system - which in most cases is focused almost entirely on combat resolution.

Skills were supposed to be the conflict resolution system for non-combat encounters; but the problem with D&D's system (and most others) is that a skill check is less of a conflict and more of an obstacle that simply needs to be avoided or mitigated.

There is no ebb or flow to a skill check, unlike a battle. A diplomacy check for instance isn't like a conversation, where people bring up arguments and try to convince each other. Instead it's simply a wall - you either succeed climbing it or don't.

That some groups prefer having no skill system is in fact a reflection of how the cooperative problem-solving - despite being very "meta" - remains a very valid and fun way to resolve conflicts. Playgroups want to talk and argue about how to climb the wall in the best way possible instead of rolling a dice and praying for the best. That's why boardgame publishers have released an entire genre of games based on cooperative problem-solving.

Finally, it should be noted that even a group which doesn't like cooperative problem-solving and wants to die-roll every problem will find that the D&D skill system offers a very poor "player investment" vs "in-game effectiveness" ratio. Quite simply, you will read through the manual's huge selection of skills, pick a couple, and very likely not end up using most of them unless they have a direct combat use. In many ways it falls prey to the common pitfall of overly diverse and inelegant designs - it ends up being an exercise in avoiding "trap" options rather than a valid gameplay-enhancing feature.
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hogarth
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 10:42 am    Post subject: Re: [Request] Analysis of Failed Design: d20 Skills Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Zinegata wrote:

From a modern boardgame design perspective, the cardinal problem of D&D skills is that they simply aren't very fun at all. Often it is simply boring. Sometimes it is simply frustrating. Very rarely will you resolve a skill check and feel you've really accomplished something. The main reaction players have after a successful skill check is relief - like how you feel relieved that that your character managed to not maim himself climbing a wall.

For me, the main point of having skills is to give a game world the illusion of having a set of physical laws. So, for example, a game universe where climbing a 10' ladder causes me to fall 9 times out of 10 will feel different from a game universe where I fall 1 time out of 1000.

Is that adding "fun"? Well, I would argue that having some degree of consistency in one's game world is more fun than giving every (non-combat) action an arbitrary result depending on how the GM is feeling that day.
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Mask_De_H
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 7:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The illusion of physical laws in a game world can be created in many ways, so if you use skill rolls to do so, they have to produce reasonable results.

The 3.X system really doesn't.
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hogarth
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 10:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Mask_De_H wrote:
The illusion of physical laws in a game world can be created in many ways, so if you use skill rolls to do so, they have to produce reasonable results.

The 3.X system really doesn't.

For jumping, climbing and swimming, I find that they do as good a job as I require, and they do better than any other tabletop RPG that I can think of. YMMV, of course.
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Zinegata
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 30, 2017 4:13 am    Post subject: Re: [Request] Analysis of Failed Design: d20 Skills Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

hogarth wrote:
For me, the main point of having skills is to give a game world the illusion of having a set of physical laws. So, for example, a game universe where climbing a 10' ladder causes me to fall 9 times out of 10 will feel different from a game universe where I fall 1 time out of 1000.

Is that adding "fun"? Well, I would argue that having some degree of consistency in one's game world is more fun than giving every (non-combat) action an arbitrary result depending on how the GM is feeling that day.


The problem here is that simulation is not the same as conflict resolution.

You could have good and realistic rules for climbing a wall, but it doesn't mean that such rules will be used very often nor will the experience be particularly compelling. And that's because verisimilitude is a facilitator of fun - it provides context and keeps players "in the moment" - but on its own is not inherently fun especially as part of a multiplayer play experience.

To use a video game analogy - you could have the best and most realistic graphics, but if the gameplay is boring then you wouldn't have very much fun. To use a wargame analogy, you could have the armor stats of every battle tank in World War 2 down to the millimeter, but it doesn't mean that the game will actually play well or even reflect real combat.

Indeed, I would note that many of the most stat-obsessed combat games have the absolutely worst and unrealistic combat mechanics - because the designers spent too much time believing that war/reality can be simulated by a spreadsheet. Reality is in fact a lot more random and inconsistent - for the simple reason that simulations very rarely look deeply into the human element (e.g. you woke up with a headache which is why you climb/jump worse today) and simply assume that we're just numbers who will consistently perform at a certain level. That is also a big reason why real-world combat masters tend to be on the humble side - they know that they might be beaten even by a noob if they have an off day.


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Stubbazubba
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 30, 2017 4:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Establishing the illusion of set physical laws is the baseline of what (at least some) skills need to do, but preferably they would be used in decent Chase mechanics or Stealth mechanics or what-have-you that are actually fun to do. D&D resolves chases and stealth and anything besides combat in the most stripped-down, unengaging way possible. It's either a single check, or it's just attrition (roll enough until you win or you lose). That's terrible design on top of the fact that there are 23 different levels of too many skills which are almost entirely useless or meaningless. It's like there's BAB and AC (but the scaling is all off anyway), but no damage or HP and no movement, so no context that builds, changes, or releases the tension. The non-combat system needs a system (or preferably a couple systems) to make those nuts and bolts actually form into something interesting, beyond just creating the illusion of consistency.
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shinimasu
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 30, 2017 1:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Stubbazubba wrote:
Establishing the illusion of set physical laws is the baseline of what (at least some) skills need to do, but preferably they would be used in decent Chase mechanics or Stealth mechanics or what-have-you that are actually fun to do. D&D resolves chases and stealth and anything besides combat in the most stripped-down, unengaging way possible. It's either a single check, or it's just attrition (roll enough until you win or you lose). That's terrible design on top of the fact that there are 23 different levels of too many skills which are almost entirely useless or meaningless. It's like there's BAB and AC (but the scaling is all off anyway), but no damage or HP and no movement, so no context that builds, changes, or releases the tension. The non-combat system needs a system (or preferably a couple systems) to make those nuts and bolts actually form into something interesting, beyond just creating the illusion of consistency.


How do you go about accomplishing this though? I don't think I've ever seen a skill system that didn't boil down to "roll to not eat shit."
I mean a skill system that was as deep and engaging as the combat would be fun in theory but also seems like it would be grindingly slow.
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Chamomile
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 30, 2017 2:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

You can't have a single skill system that covers everything, but you can have stealth and social and chase and so on systems.
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Zinegata
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2017 1:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Chamomile wrote:
You can't have a single skill system that covers everything, but you can have stealth and social and chase and so on systems.


This is getting very close to the core of the issue.

Again, the thing to realize about games is that the fun is largely derived from conflict resolution. The issue, at least with regards to RPG design and thinking, is that its designers focus primarily on trying to come up with better resolution systems. Little attention is paid to enabling the creation of better conflict situations to begin with.

As an example: Watch a game of Arkham Horror. The game has the exact same resolution system for both combat and non-combat encounters - roll a bunch of d6 based on your skill, count up the "successes" (generally every roll of 5 or 6), and compare to the success threshold.

On its own, this resolution system is actually pretty boring and meaningless. The game tries to spice it up with pretty components or text cards that try to describe the check you're making (which is more effort than DMs put in describing skill checks) but it's still not terribly exciting.

What is exciting however, is how your rolls affect the overall board state. Wiping out a group of cultists on a street isn't very meaningful on its own, but if doing that clears the path for two other players to reach and close gates (the win condition of most scenarios) then suddenly that combat resolution gains meaning and earns you the approval and admiration of your playgroup.

In short, despite not having a very original or compelling resolution system, Arkham manages create a fun experience by constantly creating compelling conflict situations for the players to "solve". Your "enemy" in this case isn't actually the individual monsters or non-combat encounters, but the entire game board itself and its interlocking pieces (the most prominent of which is a "boss" character which changes the rules of the board overall; while also being a potential final combat encounter)

RPGs simply do not equip DMs with the tools to create such interesting conflict situations; with the sole exception of combat.

And I would argue that the most important tool in creating conflict situations is not the combat system - but rather the Monster Manual. Even a lazy DM can just randomly pick a bunch of monsters based on the guidelines, put them on a terrain-less board, and have a compelling conflict situation for the players to "solve".

By contrast there is no similar "Challenges Manual" which has a bunch of interesting challenges and how you can solve them cooperatively. That's why chase scenes and stealth situations tend to just be boring "I rolled higher" exercises. DMs don't have a similarly easy resource to draw from; they essentially have to construct situations like these (e.g. an Oceans 11-type heist) from scratch and they only last for an encounter.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2017 8:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Making skills more engaging requires making a new minigame to engage players with. All potential characters then have to be able to participate meaningfully in that minigame because if it is at all engaging then it will eat up table time. Any good minigame you add will probably be reasonably complex which will require both the GMs and players to be able to handle it and want to utilize it. Kingmaker (which I suppose is topical enough) and its settlement minigame doesn't seem to really entice most people I've run it for (anecdotal I know). Maybe 2 people (if I'm being generous) out of any group will really try and get into any other minigame like that outside of combat.

That has been my experience with every add-on to every ttrpg I've played (not even counting the people who don't get into combat or spellcasting). Whether it's Mass Combat, Crafting, or anything else that involves accounting that is more complex than roll over target number seems to not click with most players. That is, if it is not what the system focuses on. That's not to say that having a good ruleset for chasing, exploration, diplomacy, etc aren't good but I can see why not a whole lot of effort goes into making really meaty alternative minigames. It's a lot of time investment that I'd wager most people wouldn't get into for things that probably aren't too important for making a functional ttrpg.
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Pixels
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2017 5:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Now I'm interested in bolting other tabletop games onto D&D with some tweaks to the mechanics to provide use for the PC's abilities. For example, Forbidden Desert would make a pretty compelling "asemble all the bits of the MacGuffin before time runs out" minigame. You could make all of the abilities available to all players - but they require a skill check (or applicable spell) to use. You could even retheme the sand to be hordes of monsters. You have to spend time clearing them out and eventually they are so dense that you cannot get through without using the Climber Sneak abilitiy. At 30-60 minutes it should take an appropriate amount of time.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2017 6:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I've been working at a realm management game for Dark Lord that is basically a slightly modified version of Terra Mystica.
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Hiram McDaniels
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 06, 2017 1:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The solution I like best is to standardize DC's and make skill ranks worth more. So each skill has maybe 4 ranks worth +5 per: call them Novice, Expert, Master, Grandmaster 2E style to keep the grognards from declaring jihad.

Easy - DC5 your bog standard average human mudfarmer can accomplish this task easily. If you have even one rank in the associated skill, it's an auto-pass. Though why anyone would ever bother slowing down the game to resolve this I don't fucking know.

Average - DC10 The baseline. This is a task that's challenging for your everyday, unremarkable schlub. They have about a 50/50 chance of succeeding. 55% unless you're using Phonelobster math. This is shit like climbing a rope or a tree with low branches. If you have 1 rank in the skill, you have an 80% chance of passing; 2 ranks is an auto-pass.

Challenging - DC15 This is meant to be about a 50/50 challenge for a novice and trivial for an expert.

Hard - DC20 This is meant to be a 50/50 challenge for an expert, difficult for a novice and trivial for a master.

Very Hard - DC25 For a master this is a 50/50 challenge; difficult for an expert and nigh impossible for a novice. John and Jane Q. Average are shut out completely at this point.

Nigh Impossible - 30 This is a misnomer. It's actually just very very hard for all but grandmasters, for whom this is meant to be a 50/50 challenge. This is where you're edging into super human territory, so use it only for outlandish stuff. I would cap skill DC's here, because I think there should always be a chance of failure but also a chance for success, and telling a player they can roll for something and then assigning a 100 DC should be considered a war crime. Anyway, DC30 is for shit that edges into superhuman territory without being ridiculous.

Of course, with this paradigm you couldn't really give out a gaggle of skill points every level. One per level and a handful at 1st should do the trick. That way you can max out 5 skills or so by endgame. Also, instead of having to give Professor Dingletits X levels in an NPC class to have more ranks in knowledge: MacGuffins than the PC's, you just give him 4 ranks and you're done.

I'd be tempted to divorce skills from ability scores entirely, but that would leave stats like intelligence with very little to do in the game for people who aren't wizards. But definitely pare down the skill list and get rid of synergy bullshit. Also get rid of skill taxes. You shouldn't have to spend adventuring resources to mechanically justify growing up on a farm.

Alternatively, you could just get rid of discrete skills altogether and move it all over to ability checks with some sort of level bonus. Then if you give out abilities that grant auto successes and special abilities - like say an "Athlete" talent that gives you a climb, swim and fly* speed.

*fly speed representing great leaps, with some sort of rules text that you have to land somewhere solid at the end of your movement.

Here's a separate question - 4E style skill challenges with everyone making skill rolls (ostensibly) to complete a task. Is this something the game actually wants/needs? Or should skill checks be individual spotlight time?
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 06, 2017 7:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Hiram wrote:
The solution I like best is to standardize DC's and make skill ranks worth more.


That's a very GURPSish idea and would be well at home in the late 80s.

The problem of course is that for the purposes of the game and the stories the games tell, the relative difficulty of a task doesn't actually matter very much. Being an expert in something that is mission critical is important and worth character resources. Being an expert in something that is minor character flavor is cosmetic - like your choice of shirt or hair color.

So to give a solid example, consider two skills that Batman has. First, he can sing pretty well, as shown in the Justice League Episode "This Little Piggy." Also, I hear that Batman may be able to stealth pretty good. He uses the latter ability virtually every adventure, and I would be surprised if his singing talents have been particularly important more than 5 times in the last 50 years.

So yeah, you can standardize things between skills, but just keep in mind that all you're actually doing is making sacrifices to the OCD gods. Skills aren't equally valuable, and there's no particular reason that they should be treated the same on any particular axis.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 06, 2017 2:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:
So yeah, you can standardize things between skills, but just keep in mind that all you're actually doing is making sacrifices to the OCD gods. Skills aren't equally valuable, and there's no particular reason that they should be treated the same on any particular axis.


Does that matter more for giving out skill points to players and less for actually using those skills in play? You could just make full training in a given set of skills a default part of each class package, and then give players a small number of skill points to spend on flavor.

I guess the concern there is that if your class package doesn't include something of critical value, like stealth, then you are essentially forced to take it, but you could alleviate that by just restricting which skills are free game or ensure the most important skills everyone should have are just given directly to everyone.
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Hiram McDaniels
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 06, 2017 6:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

@Frank

Agreed 100%.

I would separate skills into 2 categories: adventuring skills for mission critical tasks, and background skills for character flavor. You could use something like 5e's backgrounds to pass out non-adventuring skills like performance or profession. Players can assign skill points to these down the road if they want, but the rules text should explicitly state that these are trap options.

The only places I see where this breaks down is with bards for whom the performance skill is mission critical, and also knowledge skills which straddle that line, as some can merely be flavor and others can help pass the adventure. This can be fixed either by giving knowledge skills more to do, or giving them less and moving the more useful parts of arcana and religion to class features. Bards should never have to make a check to play a flute in combat.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 06, 2017 7:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Nonsense. The bard absolutely should be rolling to see if beasts can be turned on their masters, or crowds can be calmed or whatever. If combat music is playing, you're damned tooting a check is necessary.

Where it isn't necessary is singing for a meal or busking for handful of coins.
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Hiram McDaniels
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 06, 2017 7:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Voss wrote:
Nonsense. The bard absolutely should be rolling to see if beasts can be turned on their masters, or crowds can be calmed or whatever. If combat music is playing, you're damned tooting a check is necessary.

Where it isn't necessary is singing for a meal or busking for handful of coins.


I say that the perform skill should only be used for busking and playing Johnny b. good at the high school dance. The magical bard music should be entirely divorced from skills and moved to class features where the check is a saving throw.
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Voss
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 07, 2017 6:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

In that case, a perform skill is irrelevant. How often do you see professional musicians, or even street musicians just outright fail at music? They might bring in less money, but that's more a factor of the wrong location or some event affecting the crowd.

If you want to run high school musical the RPG, yeah, you'll care about specific instruments and the PCs screwing up the homecoming dance. But the idea that the pied piper is going to magically charm cities but flub his 'get supper' song is beyond inane.

The current model (where it's elventy six different skills) is even more insulting.
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G‚tFromKI
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 07, 2017 9:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Voss wrote:
Nonsense. The bard absolutely should be rolling to see if beasts can be turned on their masters, or crowds can be calmed or whatever.

If a skill is required by a class (Perform for Bards, SpellCraft for Wizards, etc), it should be a class ability instead. That's not even negotiable. "You have 2 skill point per level, but one of those has to go into SpellCraft or you can't learn spells" is bullshit.

Anyway we're talking about D&D. Casting a spell doesn't require any roll. Why should a bardic performance require a roll ? Announce what you're casting, MC rolls save if necessary, end of story.


Hiram McDaniels wrote:
I would separate skills into 2 categories: adventuring skills for mission critical tasks, and background skills for character flavor. You could use something like 5e's backgrounds to pass out non-adventuring skills like performance or profession. Players can assign skill points to these down the road if they want, but the rules text should explicitly state that these are trap options.

I agree, for now it's the best system I've seen for bullshit skills : make it come from a bullshit pool points entirely separate from useful points.

Just add a mention in the rules : "if a bullshit skill appears to be too useful too often, consider transforming it into a real skill. eg : navigation is bullshit in most campaign, but it can be very handy in One Piece D20".


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 07, 2017 2:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Voss wrote:
In that case, a perform skill is irrelevant. How often do you see professional musicians, or even street musicians just outright fail at music? They might bring in less money, but that's more a factor of the wrong location or some event affecting the crowd.


It wouldn't be so bad if the failures people were scared of were simple matters of "you rolled 28 vs DC 30; you play a few tunes but there are few passerby and no one throws money in your hat" but there are threeish additional factors exacerbating the issue:

1) Too many MCs see the natural 1 and natural 20 as opportunities for hilarious slapstick comedy,
2) Even experts aren't immune to the natural 1,
3) People don't take 10 as often as they're allowed to, and often don't realize when they're allowed to.

That's kind of fucked up - the best way to use the skill system in low-pressure situations is manifestly just not to roll at all. When your mechanic actively encourages people to avoid it, you done goofed.

The way I choose to avoid this in my heartbreaker is to define a "critical failure" based on whether you miss the DC by 10 or more, regardless of the number that comes up on the dice. I've got a bunch of math and a big table surrounding what check bonuses a character can have at each level and what DCs are appropriate at each level, but what it boils down to is that nobody is capable of critfailing on a level-appropriate check with the default standard DC. Critfails only become a factor if you're trying to beat a check for a higher level or if you're on the low end of the bonus spread within your level and you're trying a check with DC above the level standard.

This seems to adequately model the reasonable results of sticking Joe the Janitor in a nuclear power plant control room (level 1 Janitor, +0 bonus to Nuclear Engineering) and asking him to monitor the core temperature. He is not going to improve the reactor's operating efficiency 5% of the time (due to the "nat 20 = hilarity" unwritten rule in action); rather, you have a 0% chance of things getting better, a low chance of things being OK, and a high chance of a China Syndrome. On the other hand, if you stick Robert Oppenheimer (level 10 Science Man, +10 bonus to Nuclear Engineering) in that same chair, there is a 0% chance of a meltdown because he's a competent professional doing a routine task.
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