HD&D: Classes and Multiclassing

We should probably have got around to discussing this long before now. Although various posts on this blog have all mentioned character classes and alluded to mechanics for multiclassing, nothing has been properly set down in black and white. I aim to change that today, because it’s not as cut and dried as I might have hoped. I believe that the system I have come up with is robust, and should survive contact with cunning players. It offers the multiclassing flexibility of third edition, but with more checks and balances so multi-classed characters are not significantly more (or less) powerful than their single class companions. Let’s get started.

Character Progression

A character’s progression in HD&D works far more like the fourth edition game than third. Whereas in third edition all classes gained unique abilities at different levels, and may have enjoyed different base attack bonuses, saving throws or armour and weapon proficiency, in HD&D the progression is completely standardised. Nowhere is this better evidenced than the progression table below: 

Level

 Ability Scores

 Features

 Talents
Known

 Feats Known

 Max Skill Ranks

1st

see race

Gain 3 talents;
gain 1 feat

3

1

1

2nd

Gain 1 feat

3

2

1

3rd

Gain 1 talent

4

2

2

4th

+1 to two

Gain 1 feat

4

3

2

5th

Gain 1 talent

5

3

3

6th

Gain 1 feat

5

4

3

7th

Gain 1 talent

6

4

4

8th

+1 to two

Gain 1 feat

6

5

4

9th

Gain 1 talent

7

5

5

10th

Gain 1 feat

7

6

5

11th

+1 to all

Gain 3 talents;
gain 1 feat

10

7

6

12th

Gain 1 feat

10

8

6

13th

Gain 1 talent

11

8

7

14th

+1 to two

Gain 1 feat

11

9

7

15th

Gain 1 talent

12

9

8

16th

Gain 1 feat

12

10

8

17th

Gain 1 talent

13

10

9

18th

+1 to two

Gain 1 feat

13

11

9

19th

Gain 1 talent

14

11

10

20th

Gain 1 feat

14

12

10

21st

+1 to all

Gain 3 talents;
gain 1 feat

17

13

11

22nd

Gain 1 feat

17

14

11

23rd

Gain 1 talent

18

14

12

24th

+1 to two

Gain 1 feat

18

15

12

25th

Gain 1 talent

19

15

13

26th

Gain 1 feat

19

16

13

27th

Gain 1 talent

20

16

14

28th

+1 to two

Gain 1 feat

20

17

14

29th

Gain 1 talent

21

17

15

30th

Gain 1 feat

21

18

15

 So all classes of a given level will have the same number of feats, the same number of talents (our new name for class abilities) and the same maximum ranks in any skill. Because weapon proficiencies have been folded into the main skills system there is no need for a base attack bonus. A wizard could potentially have the same ranks in a weapon skill as a fighter. Of course, chances are the fighter has a broader chioce of weapons, as well as feats and talents that make him better than any wizard swordsman. In addition to the information in the table above, all characters receive the following standardised abilities at first level:

Racial Benefits: All races provide +2 to two ability scores, +2 to two skills, +1 to one defence and two racial traits. 

Defence Bonus: All classes gain a +2 to their defences at first level. This can be applied as the player sees fit, so +2 to one defence or +1 to two defences. And yes it can stack with the racial bonus, so you could end up with +3 to one defence and +0 to the other two if you wanted.

Favoured Skills: All classes choose sixteen class skills from a list of Favoured Skills. The contents of this list is dependent on your class. To carry on with the comparison between fighters and wizards: all the weapon skills would be on a fighter’s list of Favoured Skills, but only the staff, the dagger and the crossbow is on the wizard’s list. As mentioned in the last post, class skills cost less skill points to advance than other skills. However, the maximum ranks in either is the same.

Hit Points: All characters start with hit points equal to their Constitution score (not Con Modifier), and gain 4 additional hit points each level. Every time you select a talent you either get +0, +2 or +4 extra hit points depending on whether the talent has a scholarly, general or martial bent. This rule seeks to give fighters more hit points than wizards, but notice how the acquisition of additional hit points is dependent on your talent selection, and not your level, class or classes.

Level Modifier: In fourth edition you received a +1 level modifier to initiative, skills, defences, attacks and ability checks at every even level. HD&D also has a level modifier, although its application isn’t anywhere near as broad. In HD&D all your Defences and Saving Throws improve by +1 at every odd numbered level. Starting at level one. So a starting character has a base of 10 in all his defences. He gets +1 to that at level one, so a first level character actually starts with 11 in all his defences before applying the relevent ability modifier and other defence bonuses.

All of the above seek to make it very hard to ‘optimise’ a character by multiclassing. You can no longer multiclass to get additional skill points or hit points; or a better base attack bonus or saving throws. All these things are the same for all characters. The only way to optimise your character is through your selection of skills, feats and talents.

Building a Character

At the beginning of character generation all characters are pretty similar. By the end, they will be very different. One of the first steps in character generation is to select you race and your class. There is some synergy between certain races and certain classes. By and large this plays to the racial stereotype: elves make good archers and wizards; dwarves make good fighters and so on. Humans are adaptable and a good choice for any class. This situation has existed in every edition of Dungeons and Dragons, but HD&D doesn’t take it to the same insane degree as fourth edition did. You’ll have to trust me on that for the moment.

At first level you need to select three talents and one feat. These are in addition to any abilities you might have gained from your racial traits (humans get a bouns feat at first level, just as they have in previous editions). You may select any feat or talent for which you qualify. This normally means any feat or talent associated with your Class or your Race. So a Half-Orc druid selects from a pool of half-orc feats and talents, and druid feats and talents. In addition to class and race specific feats and talents, there are also “General” feats and talents that can be selected by any race or any class. These are also available for starting characters. Inevitably, there are a lot more general feats than general talents.

Note that feats and talents may have further prerequisites in addition to a specific race or a specific class. Further prerequisites for feats and talents are usually your character level, and a requirement that you have already selected certain other feats or talents. For example, the Triple Attack talent requires the character to be either a Fighter, Ranger or Paladin, to be 21st level and to already have the Double Attack talent. Sometimes other prerequisites (such as having a certain skill as a Class Skill) may also be required.

All the abilities that were considered class abilities in previous editions of the game are now Talents. The mantra of HD&D is that no-one gets anything for free. So a fighter needs to select the right talent to give him Armour Proficiency, the wizard has to select the right talent to be able to cast spells. A monk without the Martial Arts talent is just a bald bloke in an orange dress. In order for the system to work, and in order for multiclassing to work, no class can gain any advantage in the game that is not obtained either through a talent or through a feat.

HD&D characters are therefore entirely modular. You start with a blank canvas and a bucket-full of options. You can select what you want from where you want with few limitations, because the game is designed to allow you to create exactly the character you want to play. That’s why we have a point-buy system for stats instead of rolling 4d6 and dropping the lowest die. This freedom of choice is carried over into the rules for Multiclassing.

Multi-classing

In genereal the problem with multi-classing is that it has a habit of breaking the game. Powers and abilities that looked perfectly sane and reasonable for one class, are suddenly transformed into insanely powerful and world-destroying when combined with the abilities of another class. That was certainly true in third edition and, to some extent, I think this will continue to be true in HD&D. Now things are never going get as bad in HD&D as they did in third edition: the fact that you don’t get any extra hit points, skill points, saving throw bonuses or base attack bonuses from prudent multiclassing, goes a very long way to limiting the damage. But I think it’s likely that certain feat and talent combinations from different classes may be unbalancing. I think we’ll have to unpick those on a case-by-case basis when we find them. Hopefully there won’t be too many.

As in fourth edition, you multi-class in HD&D by choosing a special Multi-Class Feat. All multiclass feats have an ability-score based prerequisite. You must have a 13 or more in the Ability Score most associated with the new class in order to take the feat (e.g. Str for a fighter, Dex for rogue and so on). If you can select the feat, it provides you with two benefits. Firstly it allows you to add a prescribed skill from your second class’s list of Favoured Skills to your own list of Class Skills. For example, the Wizard multiclass feat lets you add Spellcraft to your list of class skills. If you already have Spellcraft then you can choose any other skill from the wizard’s list of Favoured skills instead. Secondly, the multiclass feat allows you to select feats and talents as if you were a member of the new class. It doesn’t give you any extra feats or talents – you still have to ‘pay’ for those separately – but it broadens your options.

Note that even though you have added an additional skill to your list of Class Skills, you don’t get any more skill points. A character with one multi-class feat will have seventeen class skills, but still get sixteen skill points at every odd numbered level. You can obtain additional skill points with special feats, or you may decide that you have enough skill points as it is. You are not obliged to concentate on all your class skills, indeed, the rules encourage you not to.

Because feats are gained at even levels and talents are gained at odd levels, it probably takes two levels to fully exploit your choice. So you choose your wizard multiclass feat at one level and gain the Spellcraft skill, then at the next level you can chooe your first Wizard talent. The exception to this are levels 1, 11 and 21 where you gain talents and a feat at the same level. Although not explicit in HD&D, these are levels when the game tends to change up a gear. They generally equate to the Heroic, Paragon and Epic tiers of the fourth edition game. Except that in HD&D “Epic” has the same undetones as it did in third edition. Twentieth level will be the upper end of advancement for most characters. So what happens if you multiclass at level one?

You can choose a multiclass feat at first level if you like. Thanks to their racial traits, Humans and Half-elves can choose two. However, there is a special order in which you apply the effects of multiclass feats to your character. First of all, you select a character class as normal. This is your primary class. You select your sixteen class skills from the list of Favoured Skills of your primary class, and only your primary class. Only when you have done that, do you select a multiclass feat and gain another skill from your second class. Basically, multiclassing at first level doesn’t give you any game advantage. You aren’t able to pick and choose class skills from two lists of Favoured Skills or anything silly like that.

There is no limit to the number of multi-class feats you can gain, except for your ability scores and your number of available feats. There is no penalty for “uneven” multiclassing as there was in third edition. In you have the right multiclass feat, and as long as you meet any other prerequisites, all the talents and feats of the chosen class are open to you. Does this take away from single class characters? Probably not. Single-classed characters are always going to be better in their chosen field than multiclassers because they will have more class talents than a character that is spreading its focus more widely. I don’t think the game owes anything to players who just stick at one class. Multiclassing shouldn’t be less attractive or more attractive an option. It should just be an option.

Multi-racing

In addition to multi-class feats, there are also Multi-Race Feats. So who qualifies for them? Generally half-breed races have the option to select a multi-race feat that gives them an extra racial trait, and allows them access to the talents and feats of one of their parent races. For example, a half-orc is a race in its own right. A half-orc has its own racial traits, and its own half-orc specific feats and half-orc specific talents. However, the half-orc is also a half race. Chances are one of the parents was human and one was orc. Therefore the half-orc can (if the player wants) take a either the Human multirace feat, or the Orc multirace feat – or even both, if the player so desires.

A multi-race feat gives you access to the one of the racial traits of the parent race. So the half-orc could select the Human multirace feat and gain the Human Endeavour racial trait (that gives him one additional class skill, and +1 skill point per level). It also allows the half-orc to select any racial feat or talent of that race. Some races, such as the Genbassi, are able to select the multi-race feat for any race, but usually a race (such as the half-orc) will have a choice of two.

This is also the way HD&D handles things such as exotic bloodlines. If you have an otherwise human sorcerer, but you want to play up his draconic bloodline, the GM may allow you to take a multi-race feat and gain access to a draconic benefit, and the ability to select draconic feats and talents. Obviously, I haven’t worked out those rules yet but you see the principle.

Prestige Classes and Paragon Paths

In third edition, you could move on from the regular classes and graduate into one of the game’s prestige classes. All of these classes had special (and sometimes very complicated) prerequisites; and my god: there were a lot of prestige classes. All this encouraged characters to play to the prestige class. Rather than consider their character in the here and now, they were looking to the future, trying to optimise their character and make sure that they qualified for the prestige class of their dreams. Then, in fourth edition this was thrown out of the window and all (okay, almost all) characters were forced to choose a Paragon Path at 11th level. No thought or planning was needed here because Paragon Paths had few prerequisites beyond being a certain race or class.

So, what are we going to do in HD&D? Well, I like the idea of Prestige Classes, but I think that they should be special. If you have 1000 different options, then they’re really not very special are they? It is also important that Prestige Classes are not any more powerful than regular classes. They should simply do different things, not better things. The choice to enter a prestige class should be based on the story of your character, not on any desire to gain a mechanical advantage over the other players. And probably most importantly:

PRESTIGE CLASSES SHOULD NOT BE GENERIC!! 

Almost all of the Prestige Classes published in third edition (or the paragon paths published in fourth edition) do not need to exist. The powers and abilities of classes such as the Loremaster, the Archmage, the Assassin, the Cavalier, the Drunken Master and so on don’t need to be classes in their own right. They can just become options for the standard classes. Any paladin should have access to the abilities of the Cavalier class without having to bend over backwards to make the prerequisites. Likewise, racial based classes such as the Elemental Tempest (for the genasi) or the Warforged Juggernaut (for the warforged) might as well be converted into a bunch of racial talents that simply aren’t available until higher levels.

Prestige Classes in HD&D take the form of a highly specialised group of talents and feats (usually no more than three talents, and six feats). These abilities are linked in theme, and almost certainly tied to a particular tutor, instititution, group or school. The demon-hunting Knights of the Chalice from the Complete Warrior is a good example of what a Prestige Class should be. All prestige classes should be intrinsic to the campaign setting. They should not exist without reason or tether to Iourn, or the Realms or where-ever the game takes place. As you can appreciate, there are going to be significantly less prestige classes than before. Many players will never bother to consider them as options for their character: which is fine. They should be uncommon.

Taking a leaf out of 4e, the requirements for entering a prestige class are going to be much easier in HD&D than they were in third edition. You don’t need a multi-class feat to enter a prestige class. What you must do is meet three prerequisites: 1) A certain class or race; 2) a certain experience level; 3) you must complete a role-playing based prerequisite in game: this could be a special service, a quest or anything else the GM can devise. On rare occassion there may be additional prerequisites, but it is my hope that they would be few and far between.

As a note, fourth edition’s Epic Destinies are just plain silly. Any elements from them that I want to save (and there are very few) can be folded into the talents and feats of specific races, classes or prestige classes.

Level Dependent Benefits

In fourth edition you never see the phrase the phrase: “inflicts x damage per caster level” or “lasts x rounds per caster level”. This is because 4e has completely divorced a character’s level from his intrinsic proficiency in an individual character class. For example, in fourth edition a Fighter might take the Wizard multiclass feat. He might take further multiclass feats and decide to use the paragon-mulitclassing option to concentrate in the Wizard class instead of taking a fighter-based paragon path. At twentieth level such a character would look like this:

Fighter Powers: 1 at-will, 3 encounters, 3 dailies, 4 utilities
Wizard Powers: 1 at-will, 2 encounters, 2 dailies, 2 utilities

These powers have been gained at various levels, and are the product of retraining. Whereas in third edition this character might be described as a Fighter 12/Wizard 8, that’s just not possible in fourth edition. Whichever way you slice it, this character is a Level 20 Fighter/Wizard, just in the same way a Fighter who dabbles in multiclassing and gains no wizard powers at all, is a Level 20 Fighter/Wizard. There’s no way to tease apart your level of skill in each individual class.

HD&D has the same problem. As we have seen, HD&D characters are modular. Their class abilities are built from a selection of talents. The multiclassing system in HD&D is much freer than in 4e, but still follows much the same rules. You choose a multiclass feat to gain access to the talents (and feats) of another class. As with 4e this means that you cannot tell the level of proficiency in an individual class.

Let’s take that perennial multiclasser Elias Raithbourne as an example. In third edition Elias is 14th level. He is a Fighter 2, Sorcerer 1, Rogue 2, Paladin 5, Pious Templar 4. But how would that translate to HD&D?

Well at 14th level Elias has eleven talents. Assuming Marc still wants access to all these classes, and is willing to spend the required feats, then he can select talents from any these classes. He decides to take Spellcasting Level One and Summon Familiar (from the sorcerer), Evasion (from the rogue), Two-Handed Master (from the Fighter), Double Attack (from the Fighter), Smite (from the Paladin), Lay on Hands (from the Paladin), Summon Warhorse (from the Paladin), Spellcasting Level 1 (from the Paladin), Spellcasting Level 2 (from the Paladin), and for the eleventh talent he decides to choose something related to his blue dragon bloodline.

So what level is Elias in all these classes? Who knows? He can’t be described as anything other than a Level 14 Sorcerer/Fighter/Rogue/Paladin/Templar. So does that really matter? Unfortunately, I think it does.

There are a number of spells, talents and even feats that contain level dependent benefits. The Fireball inflicts 1d6 damage per level to a maximum of 10d6. The Monk’s slow-fall ability lets you drop an increasing distance without taking any falling damage. To what do we peg these level dependent benefits?

Do we just say that they relate to your overall class level? That would be easiest but would it be fair? Say Elias multiclassed into Monk at 14th level and picked up the Slow Fall talent at 15th level. Suddenly Elias is better at slow-falling that Raza (who has been a monk from level one) because Raza is still only 14th level.

There’s a disparity here, certainly. But it should also be noted that there is a mechanical benefit from doing it this way. If you select a talent and don’t get the full benefit of your level from it, then the usefulness of the talent is diminished and may even be considered worthless. If getting Slow Fall will only allow Elias to drop safely 30 feet, while Raza can use it to drop 150 feet then what’s the point in multiclassing at all?

This was a big problem in third edition. Multiclassing had the potential to create under-powered (or rather oddly-powered) characters because many low-level abilities just aren’t that useful at higher levels. Do we still consider this a problem in HD&D, or do we said say that it’s a feature? The system simply shouldn’t encourage you to pick up every class in the game? Personally, I think that multiclass characters should be just as powerful as single class characters regardless of the number of classes they have multiclassed into. They shouldn’t be more powerful, but they shouldn’t be penalised for multi-classing. I suspect some of you might feel differently.

For those of you who do feel differently, I will ask you this:

If we don’t peg level-dependent benefits to a character’s level, then what we do we peg it to? As I have pointed out, there is no conception of individual levels in a multiclass character’s bundle of classes. If Slow Fall doesn’t improve by(e.g.) 10 feet per level, then how does it improve? Do we peg it to talents? Does the text of Slow Fall read something like this: “For every additional Monk Talent you have beyond this one you can Slow Fall an additional 20 feet”?

Now that might work, but I have two reservations. Firstly, it’s difficult to keep track of. If all level-dependent benefits run off you level and you know you’re level 14 then its pretty easy to work out what you can do on the fly. If you have to count up your talents every time you jump out of a window (and you just know that some players will do that) then the game will start to grind. Secondly, although this mechanic works fairly well for something as simple as Slow Fall, it doesn’t work as well for spells.

But then spells are a different animal. Each individual level of spells is a different talent. You can’t get Spellcasting Level Two, unless you have already selected Spellcasting Level One. So in one respect, it’s self regulating. You can’t just choose to get hold of a fireball at 9th level if you’ve not had previous spellcasting experience. Low level spells usually aren’t quite as devastating.

In the above example Elias is able to cast 1st level sorcerer spells. He can’t cast anything higher than that, but he’s mastered 1st level incantations. However, he’s Level 14 so his caster  level is also 14. This means that when he casts magic missile he casts it as a 14th level caster. The range and number of missiles increase accordingly. Is this right and proper? What if Elias chose not to pick up that Spellcasting talent until level 13? He goes from not knowing anything about magic at all, to able to cast magic missiles as a 13th level caster. Is this too much?

We need to decide how these level dependent benefits work, and we need to decide pretty soon. I encourage debate on this topic. I am a little torn as to which way to go. But unless someone comes up with a good alternative, I am inclined to go for the easiest and most mechanically consistant solution – i.e. level dependent benefits simply run off your character’s level. So if you feel strongly, convince me otherwise.

HD&D: A Cavalcade of Skills

Well, this post has been a long time in coming. It was back in February that I uploaded my initial thoughts about Weapon Skills and Knowledge & Magic skills. These posts were billed as the first two parts of a trilogy, with the third post mopping up all the other skills in the game. But it wasn’t that easy. As the subsequent Poll on Weapon Skills and Poll on Spellcraft demonstrated, my initial ideas did not meet with universal support. So I started again.

In this post, I present the full unabridged version of the HD&D skills system. I’ve taken as many of your comments and opinions that seemed prudent into account, and rewritten every skill in D&D to bring it into line with the hybrid rules. I would be happy playtesting HD&D with these rules, but undoubtedly new thoughts will occur to each of you as you read through the following. I welcome any discussion.

The HD&D Skills System

The skills system is uploaded as a PDF file that you can download from the link below. Whether this reflects the final presentation of HD&D remains to be seen. I suspect that the hybrid rules will only be available via a web page for at least the first year of their life. The remainder of this blog entry is a critique of the rules presented in the PDF document. So it might be handy to have the blog and the PDF open at the same time and flip between the two. Certainly, this post won’t make much sense taken out of context.

Download the Skills System

Download the Skills System

The text of the skills has been taken from three main sources: Player’s Handbook (third edition), Player’s Handbook 1 (fourth edition) and the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game (Beta Test). However, I have taken the time to dip into other skills-heavy games such as GURPS and Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying system. In the spirit of thoroughness I even looked at the nonweapon proficiencies from second edition D&D, and I was surprised to find material there I could use. This system truly is a hybrid of all that has gone before – hopefully it’s a hybrid of the best bits.

So what’s changed?

There are now fifty-one skills in the hybrid game. Twenty-two of these are weapon skills, leaving twenty-nine other skills in the list: which is actually less than version 3.5 of the third edition game. The list of weapon skills has been revised since my last post. I’ve taken several of your suggestions on board here and, although I’m sure that many of your will still have issues with the list, at least it shows I’m listening!

Even before playtesting had a chance to begin, I have rejected the only original mechanic I came up with. If you recall I thought we could entertain a situtation where a character needed two different skills to perform a task – i.e. you make a tracking roll by making a Perception check using your ranks in Perception or your ranks in Survival, whichever is less. It’s the mechanic I planned to use in the spellcasting system before we changed it. I decided that such a mechanic was just too fiddly, and would slow play down as everyone continually had to recalculate their skill modifiers. However, in rejecting this mechanic I’ve had to come up with some new skills. For example, Thrown Weapons and Tracking are now skills in their own right.

Onto the critique:

Skills Summary

These are the core rules for skills and there’s nothing here that I haven’t written about or mentioned before. You will note that you now get 16 skill points every odd numbered level instead of 8 skill points every level. This is in direct response to your comments, that because the max number of skill ranks you can have is equal to half your level, gaining skill points every level seemed artficial (at level two you couldn’t spend skill points on the same skills you advanced at level one).

However, this does create a disparity in the system. Odd numbered levels are the levels you get to improve your skills and a get a Talent, while even number levels are just the levels you get a feat. This isn’t a problem overall because everyone is using the same progression, but the levels do feel a little top heavy.

If I said that the max skill ranks was half your level rounded down (and not up) then you could get skill points at every even numbered level. However, that would mean there was no difference between trained and untrained skills at first level.

As it is, the only difference between trained and untrained skills for beginning characters in HD&D is the 1 rank you get to apply to a skill. I am assuming that the you will also put your highest stat into skills you want to be good at, meaning the difference between the best party members and the average party members should be 5, not 1. I could be wrong. I could be very wrong. But I’d like to playtest it as it stands just to see.

Classes and their Skills

The rules state that each class has a list of 30 or so Favoured Skills, but nowhere do I actually mentioned which favoured skills each class gets. This is a deliberate omission; partly for the sake of getting this post onto the blog more quickly, and partly because I think Favoured Skills could better be tackled in a separate post or posts. It seems to me that we should discuss the list of Favoured Skills for each class individually when we deal with each class. I’m currently working on the Fighter, so I’ll have his list of favoured skills ready and post it at the same time as his talents and feats.

In previous editions of the third edition game, the rulebooks have sported a master table of all the skills cross-referenced with all the classes so you can see at a glance whether the skill was Class or Cross-Class. I’m not sure we can do that in HD&D because there are just too many classes. Personally, I think that each invidual subset of a class should have a different list of Favoured Skills:

A Cleric of Moradin would have a different list of Favoured skills than a cleric of Azygous, or Corellon, or Sharrash, or Garl Glittergold. A fey pact warlock may have a different list of favoured skills than other warlocks who have made their pacts with different entities.

Looking at things this way, you can probably see why I have set Favoured Skills to one side, at least for the time being. However, I will ask how you want me to approach this. Do you want to wait and discuss each list of Favoured Skills as we get to each class, or do you want a post purely about Favoured skills where we can look at all the classes at once? Let me know.

Using Skills

Much of the text here is unchanged from the third edition SRD, although I have altered the examples with PCs from my various campaigns. I have clarified the Aid Another action – in HD&D it is perfectly possible for you to be more hindrance than help. The rules for Taking 10 and Taking 20 are back in the game; they were absent in fourth edition.

There are still a number of Trained Only skills in HD&D, but the rules governing these are somewhat kinder than in third edition. Normally, you can always have a go, although the degree of your success is limited. Some uses of skills require you to have certain talents as well as the skill. Obviously, these aren’t available unless you have  the prerequisites.

Have a look at the section on Armour and Skills, because it gives a glimpse of the talent system and the way in which I’ll be handling armour for character classes in the game. If armour is going to work like damage reduction (and I think it’s clear that’s how it is going to work) then wearing armour is a tremendous advantage. While anyone is considered proficient in light armour, Medium Armour and Heavy Armour are talents only available to certain characters. So a wizard who wanted to wear plate mail effectively would have to take a multiclass feat and then two fighter talents. Certainly doable, but a significant investment of resources over a number of levels. That’s probably as it should be.

Ability Checks

In HD&D an ability check is not modified by your level. Ability checks therefore work how they work in third edition, not fourth edition. However, I’m keen to move away from the need to make ability checks at all. That is why I have suggested that skills can be used instead of such checks in almost all circumstances. It also makes the Athletics skill all the more useful.

Skill Descriptions

And finally onto the meat of the article, the descriptions of the skills themselves. The table lists all the skills in the game. Have a quick perusal to see what I have in store for you, and then let’s dive in:

Alchemy

Very little has changed to Alchemy since my original post on the matter, although the 1 gp cost reads a little differently in light of the recent posts on Wealth and mercantilism. I have reduced the number of talents required to master the creation of alchemical items from three, down to one. I think that’s more appropriate, and will hopefully encourage PCs to dabble a little as alchemists.

Acrobatics

This skill encompasses the Balance and Tumble skills from the third edition game. It is also the go-to skill if you want to perform any example of derring-do. The rules to reduce falling damage are taken from fourth edition, not third. Falling damage in HD&D will be 1d10 per 10 feet, not 1d6 per 10 feet as they were in previous editions of the game. However, unlike fourth edition, the amount of falling damage you taken will max out: at the slightly more realistic 60d10.

Athletics

Another very useful skill for all classes. Athletics presents all the strength-based skills that aren’t significant enough to be a skill in their own right. So this skill covers running, jumping, endurance, wrestling and general feats of strength (such as bending bars, and lifting gates). It doesn’t cover climbing or swimming – as it did in fourth edition – they remain separate skills in HD&D.

Bluff

This combines the more detailed third edition description, with the more robust fourth edition mechanics – particulary around creating a diversion to hide in combat. Feinting by using a Bluff vs Insight check is much easier than the third edition mechanic, where a foe’s base attack bonus was added to the DC of the task.

Climb

This follows the third instead of fourth edition rules – including the very high DC for catching yourself while falling. The mechanic has the endorsement of also appearing in the Pathfinder game, so I’m happy to leave it in here. Otherwise, Climb hasn’t changed too much in any edition.

Craft

I’ve rather gone to town on Craft and Profession in my attempt to make them reasonable choices for an adventuring PC. Where possible, I have broadened the range of the skill, making it useful for things other than making items. As you can see I have greatly expanded the text from what has appeared in any edition of the game, and detailed twenty-one craft skills that one would find in a cod-mediaeval society. You will also notice that each Craft has its own governing ability score – everything doesn’t just go off Wisdom as it did in third edition.

The rules for making items are exactly as they appeared in the third edition. They are a bit cumbersome and convoluted, but considering how infrequently they are likely to come up, I think this is a fair price to pay. I couldn’t find anything that worked any better in my opinion. What I did do was to give every item in the game its own Craft DC. You’ll see those when I post the full equipment list.

However, I would like to point out the new rules for constructing masterwork items. In third edition, a crafter created the masterwork portion of an item as if it was a separate item of its own. That’s changed here. Creating a masterwork item increases the DC of the craft check, which seems far more appropriate – and also lessens the number of such items in the setting.

Masterwork weapons give you a bonus to hit. Masterwork armour reduces your armour check penalty. These modifiers can be anything from 1 to 6 depending on the proficiency of the crafter. This is a significant shift away from magic items and toward extremely well made items, as the weapons of choice for warriors. Remember I said that magic weapons don’t necessarily give you a bonus to hit in HD&D. Some might, of course. If they did the bonus to hit from a masterwork item and a magic weapon of precision would not stack.

Diplomacy

Pretty much unchanged. However, if you attempt a diplomacy check and fail badly, then you have the chance of making the situation worse. Obviously, this won’t stop characters like Bane from opening his mouth, but now there will be consequences when he puts his size twenty-threes in it.

I have also added a section to underline the importance of roleplaying the diplomacy check. This isn’t appropriate for all roleplaying groups, but remember that HD&D is largely for the way that we plan games. This is the advantage of not using an out-of-the-box system.

Disable Device

This encompasses the Open Lock and Disable Device skills from third edition. It can double as a simple burglary skill, and can be used for jemmying windows and the like. Once more there are penalties for failure, that didn’t appear in previous editions of the game.

Disguise

Reinstated in HD&D after it was unceremoniously dumped in 4e. There’s no other skill that works quite like disguise, so I thought we’d better have it back. It can be extremely useful, and should be in an adventurer’s potential repertoire.

Escape Artist

Back to being a skill of its own (it wasn’t in 4e), Escape Artist can be used in all the traditional ways: escape from a grapple, wriggle out of ropes or other restraints and squeeze through tight spaces. The skill has an added utility in HD&D in that it can also be used to defeat the properties of certain weapons such as the mancatcher and the net. More about that when I post the master weapons list.

Fly

Fly? WTF? Fly is a skill? Well, why not? Swim is a skill. This is the approach to flying creatures that has been taken in the Pathfinder game, and I’ve been convinced that it’s a good idea. The rules for flying creatures are a bit of a mess in third edition. They’re not really very clear and they’re separated over two books. Putting everything together into the Fly skill makes a lot of sense, and should help to speed play along.

Does a wizard have to take the Fly skill in order to fly? No. The third level spell Fly automatically makes Fly a trained skill, and allows the wizard to Fly with a “Good” manoeuvrability. A good manouevrability grants a character +5 to their Fly check. This means that a wizard with Dex 10 and no ranks would could still Take 10 and get 15 on his Fly check. That’s more than enough for general use. It’s only if the wizard is engaged in aerial combat, or flying in adverse conditions, that ranks would be useful.

Handle Animal

These rules are a slightly simplified version of the third edition text. The entry for training an animal for a “general purpose” in 3rd ed, seemed completely superfluous to me so I removed it.

Heal

The heal skill still doesn’t restore any hit points in HD&D. It works in pretty much the same way as third edition except in regard to diseases. I like the Disease Track introduced in fourth edition, and I’m going to use that as a means to adjudicate diseases, poisons and serious wounds (e.g. broken limbs) in the hybrid game.

Insight

Fourth edition did have a habit of renaming things for the better, and Insight sounds so much better than “Sense Motive”. It also has a broader use than the third edition skill, as it can be used to see through magical illusions or notice if someone is being mind controlled or acting under a Charm effect. I can even use it in the same way as a ‘Know Roll’ in Call of Cthulhu – which can be useful if the party is utterly stumped.

I think the most interesting mechanic is that Insight can be used directly against a target’s Will defence with no messy opposed rolls required. This was how it worked in 4e, but it works better in HD&D because of the way the system is built. In HD&D the relationship between non-weapon skills and defences, is exactly the same as it is between weapon skills and defences. This means that (on average) you’re just as likely to be able to succeed on an Insight roll against the Will defence of an opponent of your level, as you are to succeed on an attack roll against the Reflex defence of an opponent of your level. That’s extremely useful.

Intimidate

Nothing really to add here. The skill speaks for itself.

Knowledge

Ah, yes. Well we’ve been down this road before. Most of this is completely unchanged from the previous version you have seen on the blog. However, you will notice that Knowledge (arcana) has been added to the list of skills. The only thing I would want to point out is to confirm that there is no relationship between Knowledge skills and Magic per se. You don’t need high ranks in a Knowledge skill inorder to cast spells.

Perception

This was by far the hardest skill to write. Even just comparing the third edition, 4e and Pathfinder versions of the skill, left me with myrid options. Obviously, this folds the Spot, Listen and Search skills from third edition into one skill. The general mechanics come from third edition and Pathfinder, rather than fourth edition.

The Pathfinder game went overboard on rules for Smell, Touch and Taste DCs for the game, but I’ve played these down. I don’t think we really need to know that it’s easier to smell a human than an elf. Instead I have concentrated on sight and hearing, which is generally how Perception will see use in play.

Perform

The core of this skill remains unchanged from the third edition version, although I have modified the going rates a performer can hope to obtain. I have added a further use of the Perform skill into the rules, allowing performers to alter the attitudes of their audience (in a similar fashion to the Diplomacy skill). It seemed to be appropriate as I was writing it, let me know what you think.

Profession

Twenty plus profession skills get the same indepth treatment as the Craft skills from earlier in the list. Notice that some skills that used to appear in the list in earlier editions have now been folded into the Profession skill. Forgery has become Profession (forger) and Appraise has become Profession (assessor). Otherwise the skills are largely unchanged.

I think that Profession skills are now potentially useful to adventurers. Profession skills are broad, they overlap with a number of other skills, giving characters basic proficiency over a number of disciplines. For example, you can use Profession (porter) instead of Athletics for lifting heavy objects, or Profession (Guide) instead of Knowledge (Geography) for finding your way across an area.

The Profession skills aren’t meant to replace other skills in the system, but they are a good way to present a number related abilities. In HD&D you should be able to select a Profession skill without feeling as though you’re being shortchanged.

Read/Write Script

No change here from the third edition house rules, although I have finally managed to bring together a list of all the scripts from all the campaigns. These are the rules I have been running since 2000. They’ve worked so far, and I’m happy to keep them.

Ride

The body of this skill description is taken almost entirely from third edition and Pathfinder. I have embellished it very little. However, you will note that I’ve changed how the Mounted Combat feat works. There will be a further information on that when I get onto the feats next month. By that time it may have morphed into the Mounted Combat talent. As an aside, I am considered a feat (or maybe a talent) that allows a Paladin to use his Charisma modifier instead of his Dex modifier with the Ride Skill. It seems oddly in keeping with second edition, where charisma was the only stat to modify Ride. It would also help to cement the paladin as the quintessential horseman.

Sleight of Hand

This is largely used as the HD&D equivalent of the Pick Pockets skill, although it has a wider application than that. I have used the text of the skill to set out how the Quick Draw feat interacts with hidden weapons. More embellishment was needed when it came to describing how Sleight on Hand interacts with the Perception skill, but on the whole the skill remains recognisable from its third edition incarnation.

Speak Language

Nothing more to say here that I haven’t already said in the entry for Read/Write Script.

Spellcraft

The text of this skill is unchanged from the last time it was uploaded to the blog. There are six variations of the Spellcraft skill: Arcane, Divine, Pact, Primal, Psionic and Sonorism. Perhaps there may ultimately be more, but I think those six covers all the various incarnations of magic in the worlf of Iourn. There is some cross-over between the different spellcrafts, but you can’t use Spellcraft (arcane) to know the specific spell being cast by a cleric or a warlock.

Stealth

Ah yes, another pain in the proverbial. There are so many different ways to handle Stealth; there are also difficult issues regarding how stealth interacts with a character’s perception, and how we handly invisible characters. Although the explanation for some of this is more properly found in the Combat section, for the sake of completeness and consistancy I need to raise them here as well.

As in fourth edition and Pathfinder, Stealth is a gestalt skill: it combines the Hide and Move Silently skills from the third edition game. Unlike many of the skills in this list, there is a heavy dose of fourth edition mechanics in the Stealth rules. The 4e rules are slightly easier on the PCs than their third edition equivalents. Actions such as distracting a foe to hide from them, and sniping from the shadows, are easier in the new game. On the whole, I think they make for a better play experience.

Streetwise

The new name for Gather Information, and the skill isn’t too different from what has gone before. The DCs have come from the fourth edition game, but the general thrust and application of the skill is third edition all the way. You will notice that the Urban Tracking feat has been folded directly into the Streetwise skill. Anyone with the skill can attempt to ask the right people the right questions and track a quarry by word of mouth.

Survival

In third edition Survival used to be compulsory for all druid and ranger characters. Survival (and Wildernes Lore before it) was used to follow tracks. That’s not the case in HD&D, Tracking is now a skill in its own right. Does that leave Survival a mere shell of its former self? Is it still worth taking?

Well, I think that it is. This is the skill that you use to live off the land. Without it you can’t forage for food and water, you cannot orientate yourself in the wilderness and you cannot predict the weather. Survival is also the primary home of the Rope Use skill, which has otherwise disappeared from the skill list. If you have certain Knowledge skills as class skills, you will also find that you can use Survival on other planes of existence. I think there is a definite argument for keeping Survival and Knowledge (nature) as two different skills. The former is far more practical and experience-based, while high ranks in the latter could be gained from a good book and the comfort of your own living room. Survival doesn’t seem ‘lite’ to me. I think it still has utility for wilderness characters.

Swim

Swim becomes a skill in its own right again, and you will be pleased to learn that we have abandoned the absolutely ridiculous rules for drowning found in the fourth edition game. The DCs are largely unchanged, except for the -5 to the roll for helping another character. The number of times I’ve had one PC dive into the water to save another, and then try to swim back with them… well, I think we need a formal modifier for that.

Note also that the skill description also includes the rules for holding your breath. If only third edition had done that I would have saved a lot of wear and tear on my books. Why should the rules for holding your breath only be found on p304 of the DMG? Really, where’s the sense in that? You might also notice that a creature with a Swim speed gets +10 to their Swim skill, not +8 as it was in third edition. This is just me being tidy and rounding to the nearest increment of 5.

Track

Right up until the moment I put finger to keyboard, I had intended to keep tracking as a subset of the Survival skill. At the last moment I changed my mind. Why? Well, to my mind the mechanics of tracking a foe has nothing to do with being able to survive and forage in the wilderness. Yes, an understanding of Survival and Tracking often go hand-in-hand but it isn’t always the case. I wanted to keep the concept of the urban tracker or consulting detective who wouldn’t necessarily know how to bivouac down under a hawthorne bush. And besides: tracking is such a useful skill that it deserves to stand alone. It does in almost every other roleplaying game that as ever been published.

The mechanics are almost exactly the same as the third edition game, there’s no great surprises here. However, the limitations to maximum ranks and lack of synergy bonuses will make it harder to track in this edition. High level characters should still be able to make ridiculously prescient rolls. As Track is its own skill these days, there is no longer a Tracking feat in the game. There was only ever one in the past because tracking was considered a quintessential part of the ranger, and therefore the ability had to be somewhat protected. Well, the HD&D Ranger has got enough on his plate without worrying about a Tracking feat. I’m happy to lose that aspect of the game.

Unarmed Strike

Quite simply the skill that covers attacking foes without a weapon. For a human this would mean punching, kicking and head-butting. For a dragon it would be biting, clawing and tail-lashing. It’s the skill of attacking with your natural weapons, which seems fair enough to me.

Weapon Skills

I’ll take the twenty-two weapon skills together before you lose the will to carry on reading this post. Much has changed here. In the Poll on Weapon Skills back in February there were nineteen weapon skills (excluding unarmed strike). Four of you liked my list, five of you didn’t the rest didn’t feel strongly either way. That wasn’t a ringing endorsement, so here is my next and hopefully final attempt before we begin playtesting. So what’s changed?

Flails and Chains have been merged into the same weapon skill. This was my initial idea and was thoroughly poo-pooed then, so I expect the move will also be hated now. It seems similar enough to me. The skill in Net has been renamed “Rope Weapons” which makes it a little broader, and lets me incorporate the lasso into the same skill. Again, not quite the same but similar enough. The Short Blades skill has been renamed “Daggers” to prevent any confusion as to what is represents. And then I have introduced three new skills.

“Light Thrown” and “Heavy Thrown” should be easy enough to get your head around. I really wanted to avoid this, but I guess the skill of throwing a javelin is different from wielding a spear in melee combat. Light thrown weapons use Dexterity, heavy thrown weapons use Strength. So far so good. Then there is blow weapons. Fair enough you might say. The blowgun and the mouth darts don’t really fit into any other weapon group. Where you might start banging your head on the table is when you read that I intend to use this skill for dragons and dragonborn to hit targets with their breath weapon.

When it comes to Supernatural attacks – like a dragon’s breath weapon, a manticore’s tail spikes or a medusa’s gaze – I don’t want to start inventing extra skills. Neither do I want a blanket “Supernatural Attack” skill. What I want to is use the existing skill system in new and interesting ways. So a manticore just makes a Light Thrown skill check to attack with his tail darts. The medusa’s gaze is a passive attack that doesn’t require a skill roll (we’ll get to them in the Combat section), and the Dragonborn makes a Weapon Group (Breath) check to attack with his breath weapon.

Think about it for a moment. Weapons in this category are fired by either blowing or spitting. How does a dragon launch his breath weapon if not by blowing or spitting. Surely the skill at aiming a mouth dart or a blowgun must be the same as aiming a breath weapon? Surely the skills are not too far apart? Well, that’s my argument and I’m sticking with it at least until someone gives me a convincing talking to. Invariably what I think is ingenious most of you think of as simply daft.

In reading the weapon descriptions please take time to notice all the various defaults built into the system. If you attack with a warhammer and you don’t have the Hammers skill then you can use the Axes or Picks skill instead (albeit at a penalty). Also note that many weapons appear in multiple groups – this is especially true of polearms. I would like Neil to notice that if you use the throwing axe as a melee weapon then you can attack using the Weapon Group (light blades) skill as well as Weapon Group (axes). This weapon is, in my opinion, the only true light axe in the game. Which is why we don’t have a Weapon Group (Light Axes) and Weapon Group (Heavy Axes).

I hpoe the weapon skills make sense, and don’t feel like a compromise between twenty different sets of ideas. I don’t want any more skills, and I find it hard to imagine having any less. Each of these weapon groups will have at least one talent associated with it, that fighter types can take to increase their proficiency with the weapon. That’s all in the future of course.

Next

I’m moving onto weapons themselves. However I’ve identified 175 weapons in the game, so it’s going to be a bit of a long project. I will therefore be writing it at the same time as formulating the HD&D Combat system. Once both of those are done, we’ll have a look at the Fighter who will be resplendent with numerous weapon-related talents.