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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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? 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.
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.
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.
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.
Nothing really to add here. The skill speaks for itself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nothing more to say here that I haven’t already said in the entry for Read/Write Script.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.