Friday, March 29, 2013

Skills Beneath the Broken Moon

I like skills.  Outside of D&D, I appreciate game systems with a moderately-sized list of useful skills.  I'm thinking Call of Cthulhu and Traveller here, mostly.  What's common in both of those games is that there are no classes, and there's probably a lot more investigation and social interaction happening as part of playing the game than in D&D.  Conversely, it's reasonable to say that D&D is mostly about combat and physical exploration, particularly if one looks at the volume of rules published covering those two things. Further separating  D&D from my favorite skill-based games are classes.  Selecting a class and having an experience point-based leveling system already gives a character a default set of improvable skills that mostly involve one of combat or exploration (i.e. fighters can hit effectively, thieves can sneak and climb, clerics can heal and detect/ investigate, etc...).  One can argue convincingly (and many have) that a separate skill system is completely unnecessary to the game.  Ah, but I like skills and I think D&D can afford to have a few broad skills, if not quite so many as those other games.  

Something else I like is BFRPG's mechanic for making ability checks.  It seems to be inspired by the 3rd Edition concept of skills but in implementation keeps it closer to the feel of the old school ability check by limiting the power creep and bloat ultimately introduced by 3rd. This, from the 2nd edition (Release 75) of the BFRPG pdf rules:

There will be times when a player character tries to do something in the game that seems to have no rule covering it. In some of those cases, the only attribute the PC has that seems appropriate may be an Ability Score.  Here is a suggested method for making rolls against Ability Scores that still gives better odds to higher level characters:

The player rolls 1d20 and adds his or her Ability Bonus for the score the GM thinks is most appropriate, as well as any situational bonus or penalty the GM assigns. Consult the following table. If the total rolled is equal to or higher than the given Target number, the roll is a success.


Ability Checks


Level                Target
NM or 1             17
2-3                     16
4-5                     15
6-7                     14
8-9                     13

10-11                 12
12-13                 11
14-15                10
16-17                 9
18-19                 8
20                      7


Ability Score Bonus/ Penalties

Ability Score            Bonus/Penalty
3                                         -3
4-5                                      -2
6-8                                      -1
9-12                                     0
13-15                                  +1
16-17                                  +2
18                                       +3

Using the above two tables to determine results means that both experience and ability will factor into whether or not a character is successful with a given task.   This is fine and good as an ability check system, but it strikes me as even better as the basis for a skill system.

In Beneath the Broken Moon  there is no thief class.  But thieves, as arguably the most skilled class, should be a perfect fit for my tastes, no?  No.  I dropped them because I wanted to remove all implicit and explicit limitations on any character's ability to sneak around, climb things and rob or back-stab to their heart's content.  It's not that I dislike the idea of a specialist, I just didn't care for it being a stealth specialist for this upcoming campaign.

While I've been blogging about my new classes I've made mention of certain class abilities where an ability check was required.  These are my new specialists and the above system is what I had in mind for implementing their skills.  What I haven't yet gone over are the handful of explicit skills that all characters possess (sneaking, climbing and spotting below).  I couldn't possibly have thought of everything so far, so anything not explicitly covered by a secondary ability is probably an ability check; meaning in effect that everything possible is ultimately a secondary ability (or skill) that is adjudicated the BFRPG way.  DM-assigned bonuses & penalties to the roll should separate the truly desperate and one-in-a-million-shots from the merely difficult.   A roll shouldn't even be made for something deemed easy.  Below is a list of both the explicit secondary abilities shared by all as well as those specific to certain classes. 

Sneak (DEX):  All characters may sneak with a successful Dexterity check.  Sneaking includes hiding, moving quietly and any other stealthy activity such as swiping or nonchalantly dropping/ planting small items.  Encumbered characters will suffer a -1 penalty to the roll for every level of encumbrance (more on this later, it's akin to the LotFP encumbrance system). 

Climb (STR): While all characters may use this ability for navigating any vertically-oriented terrain, an actual climb check should be reserved for only when there is a decent chance of slipping or falling.  Climbing a ladder or hiking a steep trail should not require a check.  Doing so while fighting or managing a slippery surface may require a check.  A truly sheer surface, with no handholds or other available means of climbing cannot be climbed without magical or some other aid.  Encumbered characters will suffer a -1 penalty to the roll for every level of encumbrance (more on this later, it's akin to the LotFP encumbrance system). 

Spot (WIS): Hearing, seeing, smelling and even feeling or tasting are all encompassed by the Spot ability.  This is both passive and active in function and all characters posses it.  Intentionally searching for a secret door or a trap will require a Spot roll just as noticing a faint carrion odor or a subtle change in temperature.  Making Spot checks also replaces the Surprise roll.

Tinker (INT): This is both an artificer's and a wayfarer's ability. 

Wilderness Lore I & II (WIS):  This is a barbarian ability described  here

Comprehend Languages (CHA): This is a wayfarer ability described here.

Use Magical Device (INT): This is a wayfarer ability described here.

Create Rune (INT): This is an artificer's ability described here.

Repair Magic Item (INT): This is an artificer's ability described here.

Backstabbing:  Any surprise attack is made at a +2 to hit and causes double damage, enforcing the idea that getting the jump on your opponent can be significant in ensuring your victory.

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