The Skill List

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During the many house rule expansions over the years I have changed the list of skills to accomodate the Iourn campaign setting. I’m quite attached to all these rules, but I know that now might be the time to let go of at least a few of them.  Skill descriptions are found on pages 87-109 of the Core Rules (2009) and also on the Pathfinder PRD.

I’m going to assume that the mechanics of how each individual skill works will remain entirely unchanged. What I’m therefore going to do is take each of my changes to the skill list one step at a time and try and justify these changes to you, and say whether I recommend that we keep the house rule or dispense with it.

Alchemy (Int): This skill has always existed in Pathfinder as Profession (Alchemy). By removing it from the Profession skill and turning it into a skill of its own – as was the case in version 3.0 – I restricted its use to only certain classes. I’m not altogether sure what the point of making this change was in hindsight. The skill remains unchanged so I say we stick to the rules as written and keep this as Profession (Alchemy).

Athletics (Str or Con): This is a devisive one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t want to keep it. I do want to keep it, however, as it fills a gap that the skills system currently has. In Pathfinder there is no Jump skill as there was in version 3.5. The ability of Jump was folded into Acrobatics. I can see the logic when applied to tumbling, but not when it comes to the high jump and the long jump. That’s a different discipline and a different skills set. So in the house rules I took jumping out of Acrobatics and put it into Athletics.

But Athletics is far more just jumping, and this is (I think) the strength of the skill. You can use Athletics for any feat of strength or endurance that normally would call for an ability check in the game. Depending on the type of check it might be appropriate to use Strength or Constitution as the relevent ability score modifier. So endurance running, sprinting, holding your breath underwater, bending bars, lifting gates, kicking down doors – all of these things would use the Athletics skill. Characters would actually have the ability to get better at this sort of thing as they gained levels. I would strongly recommend holding onto athletics.

Autohypnosis (Wis): Originally published in the Psionics Handbook (2001), it was updated for Pathfinder in Psionics Unleashed (2010). Although not in the Core Rules I see no reason why this skill cannot stand as it is. Plus Raza has ranks in this, so we need to hang onto it.

Control Shape (Wis): Introduced in the third edition Monster Manual, this skill helps lycanthropes resist their supernatural urges. I think this skill is a bit too specialised and, like Concentration, should probably be treated as a level check in the Pathfinder game. This is a skill that’s never been in the official Pathfinder rules so I say that we let this one die.

Diplomacy (Cha): Under the Pathfinder rules the mechanics of the third edition Gather Information skill was folding into Diplomacy. I didn’t agree with this and took that functionality out of Diplomacy to create a new skill called Streetwise. More on that below.

Intimiate (Cha or Str): No change here except to rule that you can use your Strength instead of your Charisma in the Intimidate skill if you want. Makes far more sense. We want big burly characters to by physically intimidating right?

Knowledge (Int): Okay, this is the big one. Including Knowledge (Psionics) from Psionics Unleashed, there are eleven Knowledge skills in the Pathfinder game. Under the houserules there are thirteen. Some skills have been removed, and some have been added. Here’s a summary, so you can see exactly what has changed.

I’ve elimated the knowledges for The Planes and Dungeoneering, because I think they are a bit too broad. Instead we have knowledge skills for each of the general creature/environment types in the game: Aberrant, Ancients (aka Outsiders), Draconic, Elementals, Fey, Nature, and Undead. Those knowledge skills not only cover knowledge of the creature types, but also knowledge of the environments including the planes in which they live. So if you want to know about the Far Realm you’d make a Knowledge (Aberrant) roll. If you’re in a natural cave formation on the prime material plane then it would be Knowledge (Nature) you would require to survive. Those areas of knowledge are connected, so it makes sense to hang them together. This way a knowledge of the undead is no longer dependent on knowing the Religion skill, which never made much sense to me anyway.

In other changes: I’ve folded Knowledge (Psionics) into Knowledge (Arcana), and Knowledge (Local) has also been removed from the game. It’s been folded into the new Streetwise skill. See below.

Linguistics (Int): A character would choose to learn either a spoken tongue or a written script each time he gained a rank in Linguistics. This change is tied up with the rules for languages, which I discuss separately.

Lucid Dreaming (Wis): Introduced in the Manual of the Planes (2001), I’ve used this skill quite a lot in the Iourn campaign. For the sake of narrative integrity, it has to remain. I think the text we currently have of the skill works well in the context we’ve used it in so far. But I will revisit it to make sure that it properly fits with the Pathfinder rules.

Streetwise (Cha): This is a new skill that folds in the old Gather Information skill (that currently sits under the Diplomacy skill) in Pathfinder, and the Knowledge (Local) skill. So it’s a skill that let’s you know what’s going on and who the movers and shakers are in your community, as well as knowing who to talk to in order to find out information. It works for me.


The Three Tests

I’ve done a lot of work with the skill system over the years, and I’m probably more invested in this than any other part of the game. There are more house rules that I’d like to retain here than elsewhere in the system. Which is not to say that everything is not up for debate. Remember that there are companion rules that go part and parcel with the skill list. All classes have extra skill points because I’ve introduced more skills into the game. The language rules are affected by the way the Linguistics skill works. Changing something here, has a knock-on effect across other house rules in the game.

Narrative Integrity

As we’ve seen in 4e a lack of skills can significantly hurt the narrative integrity of the game. But even if adopted the Pathfinder rules system whole cloth… it’s not going to make a great deal of difference.

Games without Miniatures

Any skill that allows some form of movement has the potential to fall foul of the tactical combat rules. Most seriously, the Acrobatics skill allows you to “move through a threatened square without provoking an attack of opportunity from an enemy”.  That would have to be addressed, although I think it makes more sense to talk about with Attacks of Opportunity.

The house rules I’m working for Attacks of Opportunity don’t allow characters to “threaten” the area around them in quite the same way. Therefore Acrobatics is probably going to be used as means to jump over foes you are actually blocking your path. The enemies are standing so close together trying to go trough them would be an Overrun attempt. Or you could use Acrobatics to close on a foe with Reach, withour provoking an attack of opportunity.

I’d appreciate any additional views on this.

Our Preferences

Well, my preferences are pretty strong on this. I’d like to excise Control Shape from the house rules and rename the Alchemy spell as Profession (Alchemy) but otherwise leave the houserules unchanged. I think that the Athletics and Streetwise skills add more to the game than they detract, and I’m happier with the default list of Knowledge skills in the house rules than the written rules.

You may feel differently, which is fine. If there’s sufficient opposition to retaining these house rules then we can swap to the written rules entirely.


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11 thoughts on “The Skill List

  1. I agree with all of your suggestions on skills. I know I will be shot down for it, but I preferred spot and listen as seperate skills, as opposed to the catch all perception. In fantasy literature, it is entirely possible for a character to be good at one, but not the other so I am not keen on them being merged. I accept that I might be in the minority on this one though

  2. Plenty of games do treat them as different skills, including third edition D&D – they were only merged in Pathfinder. So wanting Perception split into its constituent parts isn’t a particularly radical stand to take. You can make the same argument for Stealth: hiding and sneaking are two different skills and they are only combined for the sake of convenience.

    That said, as Perception is the skill that is used in Pathfinder I’m inclined to keep it simply because it would be easier than not keeping it. Feeble reason, I know, but Perception is referenced in numerous other rules, feats and spell descriptions. I know it would be fairly straightforward to make the change, I just don’t think the gains are worth the hassle.

    Anyone else agree with Steve?

  3. One additional comment.

    I’ve been thinking about skills some more. Although I think that all the house rules listed in the post make for a better, more Iourn-centric skills system, I’m wondering whether we shouldn’t just stick with the book rules.

    Making these changes mean that the list of class skills has to be modified on every single class and prestige class in the game. Bonuses to skills from spells, feats and class abilities need to be looked at again to make sure that the bonus is actually going to the right skill.

    The published Knowledge skills don’t jive for me, and I don’t think that gathering information should be folded into Diplomacy. I like Atheltics as a separate skill. But in the grand scheme of things: the rules for skills don’t have a big impact on the story of the campaign world.

    Should we take the easy road here?

  4. I think we should make as few changes as possible.

    Your language rules are good so bring those in.

    Lucid dreaming and autohypnosis are fine to bring in. They can’t be replicated with the existing skills.

    I understand your point on Knowledges, but it does mean a lot of changes. I don’t know how useful that is.

    Streetwise and athletics are good skills but are they necessary? If I saw them in another rules-set you wouldn’t bat an eyelid. But, other things take their place in PF. Maybe not as well, but the equivalents exist and are designed with the overall system.

    I would keep intimidate as Charisma only. There are feats/traits that can bring Strength into it. Charisma is supposed to represent presence so if you want to intimidate someone you should have high Charisma. There’s no reason why circumstances can’t result in displays of strength intimidating people but that’s not really a skill.

  5. Neil says:

    Been looking at the skills list and I agree with your decisions completely! The knowledge skills make a lot of sense to me but I understand Daniel’s point about keeping things simple. Ideally I’d change them as you have suggested but it may be too much work. I disagree with Daniel on Intimidate though: a character who is very large and powerful looking, i.e. high strength, would intrinsically be more intimidating than someone who looks like Sheldon Cooper! I agree that it is a presence thing but argue that that can be accomplished with both charisma (force of personality) and the aforementioned ‘looking powerful’. How you increase the ‘skill’ level is to do with learning how to manipulate that characteristic. For example a fighter might realise that ostentatious displays of strength get him what he wants or the wizard might similarly realise that being inscrutable with a piercing stare un-nerves people so that they crack. Although not a skill as such I think it can be progressed as one.

  6. You agree with me completely? To think I would live to see the day!

    The problem we have with a different skill list is the knock-on that affects other game elements. Of course, there’s no need to convert everything up front, we could just make the changes as and when they are needed.

    But it’s a hassle, and it’s the thin end of the wedge. As Daniel says Pathfinder does have skills that let PCs do everything that we want them to be able to do – it’s not like 4e where there’s not even a Ride skill.

    The question is whether the hassle is worth it. What looks better on paper doesn’t necessarily make the game run any better. I’ve never come away from a session thinking “Thank goodness we’re using a Knowledge (Elemental) skill instead of Knowledge (the Planes)!”

    Definitely think Intimidate could be Cha or Str-based. There are feats and traits that can let you use Str instead, but why should a character have to do that? What makes Charisma the default?

  7. I stand firm on intimidate being Charisma based. Intimidating someone has nothing to do with how strong you are. Terrier-like sergeant majors are not stronger than their troops, Monty Burns is not stronger than Homer Simpson, Hannibal Lecter is not physically powerful, my old Maths teacher was not obviously stronger than my old English teacher, but he was considerably more intimidating.

    It’s not about physical strength. It’s about presence, which means Charisma. If another stat, or skill, is relevant you can add a circumstance bonus. Rules exist for that already. It could just as easily be someone’s intelligence, rather than strength, that is intimidating. You might not even need to use the skill. Holding someone upside down over a ledge, by their ankles probably won’t need a roll to intimidate them.

    Also, if someone has a strength of 16 (high for a human/elf/dwarf), that would be pitiful compared to many things that might be intimidated. Average orcs, prime candidates for being cowed into submission by a strong (in presence, that is) leader, have a strength of 17. Why would a weaker creature get a +3 bonus to intimidate them? Hill giants have a strength of 25. Strength is irrelevant.

    Being able to tear a spell book in half (and demonstrating so with a strength check) might give you a bonus to intimidate a bunch of halflings, but it is not going to impress an ogre. Force of personality though, can get a whole tribe of ogres following you through fear.

    Finally, game balance demands that charisma be as useful as possible as it is so often the poor relative in the game. In Pathfinder, charisma is more and more useful, but it is still the most likely stat to be dumped in order to squeeze a few more points out of strength or dexterity. By using strength for intimidate, wallflower fighters can suddenly intimidate mobs into doing what they want because of their big biceps. In a point buy system, increasing the range of one stat diminishes the others. A character can focus on building one stat up and perform several roles that others would have to split their resources to achieve.

  8. Neil says:

    Just wanted to reply to Daniel:

    Intimidate is concerned with the RELATIVE presence OR strength of the characters. Taking your example I can easily say exactly the same for charisma: a highly charismatic individual is going to be less fazed by another highly charismatic individual than a rather less charismatic one. Perhaps an opposed intimidate check would be suitable? I never said that characters such as Monty Burns or a sergeant major can’t be highly intimidating, merely that strength could be used as an alternative characteristic to charisma, not in place of!

    I maintain strength could be used as it is an indication of the physical presence of a character: a big powerful looking character is naturally more intimidating, even if he is in fact a pussy cat!

  9. And I say that I do largely agree with Neil. Any skill can be used to intimidate – remember the way Bishop puts his hand over Hudon’s in Aliens and does that groovy knife trick? That’s intimidating with your dexterity.

    In fact there’s a definite argument in saying that your raw training in a skill (the skill ranks) can be modified by any of your ability scores depending on the circumstances. Which I think is how it’s done in the World of Darkness system.

    Daniel, you’re largely arguing for Charisma as the sole modifier to Intimidate because of mechanics and game-balance. It’s a good argument but not as powerful as one that’s grounded in the real world. Big strong people are more intimidating than little ones. That’s the case in real life.

    But…. but, but, but…. if I’m using the Pathfinder skills as they’re written, then I’m using the Pathfinder skills as they’re written. No more tinkering. You see how I’m growing as a person?

  10. I’m not saying it just for game balance. I am partly, but I think the rest of my argument is coherent too.

    You’ve both raised other stats that can be used to intimidate people with. Intelligence, dexterity. Surely that undermines the argument that strength is important? All of those things are circumstantial. Sometimes, strength would be important, sometimes intelligence. Presence (i.e. charisma) is the only consistent factor.

    On the point about high charisma people intimidating each other, I take the point. I guess the only defence is that charisma is intangible and less easily compared. If you’re intimidating with strength, it is usually clear who is stronger (within reason). I think the less obvious nature of charisma, should allow one to influence more charismatic figures more easily than physical prowess. Bullies are easily bullied after all and seducers can be seduced.

    World of Darkness and, of course, D&D Next use whichever ability is most appropriate. We’re not going down that route though, are we? Not now Neil M’s controlling his tinkering urges.

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