A new skill system.

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A new skill system.

#1 Postby Aki » Mon Jan 23, 2012 11:08 pm

I've been toying with a skill system inspired by one of Monte Cook's Legend & Lore articles. It's working reasonably well but like many major changes if I'm to follow it through to it's logical conclusion it has a ripple effect throughout the entire system. What I have played with seems sound and is definitely fun and engaging.

Under this system skills and tasks of skills have named ranks: untrained, beginner, novice, accomplished, expert, master. Skills do not have their own dice to track.

If a character's skill is higher than the rank of the task, the character succeeds - no die roll (can't get faster, more furious, or fun than that). If the character's skill is lower than the rank of the task, the character will fail and knows he or she will fail. If the skill of the character and the difficulty rank of the task are the same an ability check is rolled against target number 4.

Circumstances provided by game master and player modify the difficulty of the task. For example, scaling a 20' craggy brick wall requires a accomplished climber. If you have a rope it drops to untrained, but if it's slippery from ice it might go back to beginner level. Circumstances insufficient to fully change the difficulty rank might apply +/- 2 to the roll, but anything sufficient to be a +/- 4 should probably just change the rank.

The purpose of the approach is to increase dialog between players and storytellers in describing the system - and reduce the rolling of the dice and the accompanying lag time in totaling up modifiers. The ability of ability dice is somewhat unchanged - while they are now directly rolled for the checks that are made, they don't set a governance on how high your skill can be.

Under this system, as a rule of thumb, 1 edge raises a skill one rank. Quite obviously, players are given more edges and skill points are no longer separately tracked - simplifying the system over all. However, narrow skills may go up multiple ranks for an edge - and some especially narrow skills may be mastered for a single edge if they just aren't going to come up much. For example, I have a character who is a master cellist. Under this system this can be represented with a single edge since the skill won't come up often (but it does come up to impress NPC's).

Three skills cannot be ran under this system - fighting, shooting, throwing. For dramatic reasons these cannot be allowed to be automatic success or fail. Hence they have to be governed separately. Investment in these areas has already been very edge heavy, and probably could continue to be done in this way. But it's something I'm kicking around.

I'll stop here and let this settle. I have other ideas which hook into this basic paradigm shift. And yes, I know this is the sort of thing that edition changes are made of and that some aren't going to like this at all because of this. I'm not putting this out there because I think the current system is bad - it's actually very good. But I think this idea might be as good or better if it gets some work. The largest obstacle is establishing some loose guidelines about what the skill ranks mean in play.

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#2 Postby Mylon » Tue Jan 24, 2012 2:59 am

This kinda defeats the whole point of Savage Worlds style rolls. That even an expert can roll a 1 and even a novice can get an exploding die. It helps add dramatic tension to what should be dramatic tasks. If the tasks aren't dramatic, then why are you rolling at all? Success should be automatic for anyone trained.

Driving a car around town doesn't require a skill roll. But Taking a tight turn in an attempt to lose some persuers may be an accomplished task, but with some luck a novice can pull it off or with bad luck an expert could screw it up. This is the whole reason we roll, to find out! This helps make scenes more interesting than, "They don't match up to your skill, you win easily."

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#3 Postby Jordan Peacock » Tue Jan 24, 2012 9:33 am

I'd rather not abandon die rolls for skill checks, but I am sympathetic to the desire to reduce the need to roll for certain circumstances. I am a frequent offender, for example, on too often calling for Notice checks (or Perception, etc., depending on the game) for things that should just be obvious to anyone who is bothering to spend the time to search.

There are times when I've attempted to just "hand-wave" a skill check when the task seems routine, and we've already established that the character in question is capable at it. For example, in my "War of the Dead" campaign, we had a parkour-runner athlete who spent a lot of time scaling brick buildings to scout out side-streets for roaming zombies, to warn the others. I think he had a d8 or a d10 Climbing by that point, and eventually he scavenged a climbing kit; past a certain point, it was just tedious to have him keep making rolls (and burning a Benny on the rare failure), so I'd just waive the check. Instead, I'd save the Climb checks for when there was a NEW factor that reintroduced uncertainty (e.g., climbing in the rain, trying to help someone else climb, trying to climb very quickly to escape a horde of Sprinter zombies).

For my "Pirates" campaign, if someone had a d4 in Survival, I'd figure that, given enough down-time and enough dry kindling, a character could be counted on to start a fire for the group to set up camp for the night. I couldn't necessarily assume the same thing if not a single member of the group had even a d4 in the skill and they were marooned on an island. But once they HAD, I wouldn't be wasting time on calling for die rolls for something as simple as "start a camp fire, set up tents, make camp for the night." You've got the skill? You can do this basic task. But trying to start a campfire after a recent rain, or while wild dogs are circling in the shadows? Okay, fair's fair; I'll ask for that skill roll, since there's some tension involved.

I could envision some value in a list of sample tasks that might be "routine" for different levels of a skill, though it would likely be setting-dependent. As it is, however, right now I'm doing just fine with "GM discretion." After all, my players seem to accept that any time you use a skill, the default assumption is to expect a roll to be involved. If I as GM decide to waive the roll because someone has a high enough skill or we've already established that the character can do that sort of thing routinely, I'm not likely to get much complaint. I just need to make sure that I'm being fair, so that it doesn't seem like one character is getting a better deal than the rest.

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#4 Postby Aki » Tue Jan 24, 2012 10:06 am

Mylon wrote:This kinda defeats the whole point of Savage Worlds style rolls. That even an expert can roll a 1 and even a novice can get an exploding die. It helps add dramatic tension to what should be dramatic tasks. If the tasks aren't dramatic, then why are you rolling at all? Success should be automatic for anyone trained.

Driving a car around town doesn't require a skill roll.

And you just undermined your whole argument. What is routine for me, a trained CDL driver with over a million miles behind me is going to be quite different than what you'd find routine. I'd love to see most of you guys sit behind the wheel of an 18 wheeler and not screw something up in short order even if you do get the thing in gear. A circus tight rope walker does a routine I couldn't even start to do. These are two of many tasks a novice has no chance at - without the correct training its just flat out impossible to do.

And the reverse is equally ridiculous and stupid - if walking a tightrope requires a check every time then with the best skill check in the game (d12) people still would fail a huge amount of time. Nothing could be characterized as routine according to your horrifyingly flawed logic - drama or no.

The dice only come into play when success is possible but in doubt.

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#5 Postby Mylon » Tue Jan 24, 2012 1:16 pm

Aki wrote:And you just undermined your whole argument...

Try taking a 90 degree turn in a high speed chase where one of your pursuers may give you a love tap in the back that could cause you to fishtail out of control. Then tell me if an expert should be able to autosucceed because his opponents are mere d6 drivers.

Tightrope walking is a horrible example. First of all, many use the balancing poll (+2) and have a professional edge (+2). They're doing this under ideal circumstances. It's not an adventuring kind of check, there's no tension (except in the tight rope, har har), so why bother rolling?

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#6 Postby ogbendog » Tue Jan 24, 2012 1:37 pm

I've toyed with a rule of allowing people to "take 2"

when not stressed, they can take a roll of 2, so they will suceed for a typical task as long as they have a +2 bonus.

if a guy had d10 climbing and is scouting, yeah, he doesn't need to roll all the time. only if he is rushing or in combat or being chased or is's pouring down rain or etc.

you should of course have random encounters of "bad climbing location", like he's climbing and a brick comes loose or something.

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#7 Postby GranFalloon » Tue Jan 24, 2012 1:43 pm

I like your idea. I don't actually have much input on it, but I thought you could use the moral support. I think most of the criticism is coming from the fact that this is a forum for a particular game system, and what you've come up with is really just not that game anymore. Believe me, man, I sympathize. Every time I read another game that's pretty neat, or just want to go way off the handle, I think, "Why can't I discuss this game over at the Savage Worlds forums, instead of on its home site, with the tense atmosphere on the forums."

So, two things:
First, I would like to suggest an "Other Games" section of the forums. Now, I totally understand if Pinnacle doesn't want to set it up. It would sorta be stepping on the toes of other publishers, while at the same time advertising for their products. I just figure that Savage Worlds players do play other games, and often want to get some input from other Savages.

Second, man, I hate to bring it up, but I've been seeing some crabbiness on these forums lately, and I feel like I'm seeing the first stages of it in this thread. One of the main reasons I want an Other Games section on these forums is that I've never seen a gaming forum with the level of civility I've found here.

Edited to tone down some hypocritical shootin'-off of the mouth
Last edited by GranFalloon on Tue Jan 24, 2012 4:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#8 Postby The GIT! » Tue Jan 24, 2012 3:47 pm

Mylon wrote:Driving a car around town doesn't require a skill roll.

Actually, where I live, I would say that the general standard of driving suggests that the "Great GM in the Sky" is having everyone make driving rolls to get around town...and most of them fail their roll :eek:

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#9 Postby ogbendog » Tue Jan 24, 2012 3:54 pm

I would think that for routine tasks, you don't roll. Do you roll an Agility check to go down a flight of stairs? I don't think every extra has d6 driving, but efven if they did, and even if they got +2 for a routine tasks, 17% of the drivers going to work every day do not get into an accident or put their car in a ditch.

Take Deadlands. You don't roll ride everytime you ride, you do roll ride vs fatigue for long journeys; that's not "can you ride" that's "can you ride efficiently long distances" and supports most movies, where guys who'd been on the trail a while would need to stop in town to rest and recover.

Your paukur guy should be able to scout without rolling most of the time. If he's rushed, if it's been raining, or if its dramatically approprite, make him roll. But don't make him roll 10 times in a row if there is no need to

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#10 Postby 77IM » Wed Jan 25, 2012 1:08 am

(Note that this big wall o'text reflects my personal game-play preferences. I understand of course that other people may like different gaming styles than I do.)

I didn't like this idea at all when Monte Cook proposed it. Given time, it has not grown on me. I think I like it even less now.

In RPG dice mechanics there's a balance to be struck between the relative importance of your character's traits (i.e. decisions you made during chargen), your tactics and modifiers (i.e. decisions you make during game play), and random chance. This "ranks" system skews super heavily towards tactics and chargen and minimizes random chance.

In my experience, weighting character traits that heavily is a recipe for frustration. Those chargen decisions were made way in the past, and possibly for role-playing reasons. They may help you now when you have the right skill for the job -- but somehow it always feels a lot worse when you lack the right skill, causing auto-fail and removing options. I've seen it too often in games where Player A just can't affect Enemy B without piling on tactical modifiers, because their trait is too low.

I do like the heavy weighting of tactical choices, though. This encourages figuring out smart things to do during game play. Unfortunately, the heavy weighting of character traits works against this. If a player figures out a smart thing to do -- but their relevant trait is poor and the difficulty rank of the task is high -- they are left auto-failing even though they came up with a good idea.

The ranks system is also more complicated than a mathematical system. Like, if you want randomness to matter less, just shrink the die mechanic or expand the modifiers. Imagine Savage Worlds where +4/-4 was the most common modifier, and skill training gave you +4 bonuses instead of die sizes. That's mathematically roughly the equivalent of the ranks system, but easier to understand. (To be fair, the rank system sounds a lot quicker to resolve in game play. I can sympathize with both sides of that trade-off.)

One of the main goals of the ranks system (at least, as described by Mearls in the original blog about it) had to do with allowing PCs to automatically succeed when they do exactly the right thing. The examples are things like, "If the player says, 'I look behind the statue' and there's a compartment back there, they should just find the compartment automatically, no check needed." And I agree. But I DON'T think a formal system is needed for this. I think a GM who calls for a skill check out of habit is doing the wrong thing, but that's something that can't be fixed with mechanics. It's an unfortunate tendency in D&D design over the last few editions to try to correct bad GM behavior with mechanics (they even mention this in the Legends and Lore column). I worry that the ranks system is another approach to this instead of addressing the problem directly.

-- 77IM

PS. Aki, I do really enjoy your variant rules suggestions, even if I don't always agree with them. They are really thought-provoking and sometimes useful, so please keep them coming. :)

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#11 Postby Jeff Carlsen » Wed Jan 25, 2012 1:13 pm

I consider Savage Worlds to be a great base to do mechanical experimentation, so I support the work done here. It doesn't matter if it's right for Savage Worlds. It's merely an experiment.

I like many parts of the rank system proposed. It makes attributes important, which is cool. The ranks have a sense of meaning, which matters less in Savage Worlds with it's fixed d4 through d12 range, but would be a dramatic improvement in d20. Also, it provides the GM a tool for determining automatic success (and failure, but that's a more sensitive issue).

There are some changes I would make right off the bat. I'd change the general guideline of when you roll. If a task is equal to your rank, you roll your attribute. If it's one category higher or lower than your rank, you roll your attribute with a -2 or +2 modifier respectively. If it's two or more ranks lower or higher, you automatically succeed or fail.

As a GM, it could be a fantastic tool. Particularly for Notice, Investigation, or other checks where the plot depends on the characters succeeding, but you still want investment in those skills to seem like they matter. For example, you tell a player, "You pick apart the crime scene. With your character's skill in forensics, you find this information." You could still require a roll for finding a little extra.

Granted, nothing prevents a GM from doing this in the current system. Just that these mechanics make it more obvious.

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#12 Postby Aki » Wed Jan 25, 2012 8:17 pm

Mylon wrote:Try taking a 90 degree turn in a high speed chase where one of your pursuers may give you a love tap in the back that could cause you to fishtail out of control.

Your point? Amateurs can easily make life difficult for professionals. There's a reason why one of Murphy's Laws of Combat reads, "Professionals are predictable - its the amateurs that are dangerous."

You don't have to be a master driver to do the love tap. The manuever itself is expert level - applying the love tap is untrained, and if successful will cause the maneuver difficulty to go up to master level, meaning only the most skilled have a chance at pulling it off.

I might be the best stealth guy in the world, but barring distractions approaching someone facing me across a the full length of a football field with no cover is impossible.

A character may be the best pilot in the world. If a bomb blows the wings of the plane, it won't be flying.

The heart of this system is an exchange of ideas between the game master and the players. It isn't going to work without some common sense and without a shared goal of having fun. It will fall apart if the GM tries to be adversarial.

Now, other thoughts from the original concept.

1) A benny can be used to bump your rank up a notch. In the example above, if you're expert driver and you get love tapped to be spun out of control you can spend a benny to offset the sudden increase in skill.

2) How interactions work needs to be ironed out. What I've went over is the system root - not how it would work out in play - what ranks on each skill mean. What is a "routine" climb for a master climber?

3) The goal isn't to go all Amber and eliminate dice entirely. The goal is to reduce their use, and in turn reduce the modifiers flying around.

4) Not every skill is going to be doable this way. Anything combat related shouldn't be handled this way.

Final note - the GM should know what the party is and is not capable of. Unless the engine allows the building of a bunch of Marty and Mary Sue characters from the get go, there will be individual weaknesses and even team weaknesses. The story should be build with the limitations of the group in mind. To do otherwise is to just be mean to the players, and it really doesn't matter what system is being used at that point, this one - the original one or another entirely.

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#13 Postby Aki » Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:58 am

Over the last two days I've done considerable work on this - I'm up to 15 pages on a draft using this. Things are coming together very nicely from the original concept. Some highlights.

  • Character advancement is now down to a simple "boon" count. You get one boon a session, maybe two if its particularly memorable. Two boons make an edge.
  • Skills have a utility rank which determines how many boons it takes to gain them and advance them. The ranks are dubious (should almost never come up e.g. performance with a specific instrument), marginal (comes up rarely e.g. riding in a modern setting), minor (comes up once a session e.g. boating), major (comes up multiple times a session e.g. notice) and restricted (advancement in the skill requires prerequisite edges be taken to maintain game balance e.g. fighting). Utility ranking can be shifted between settings to reflect technology level and location - boating would be a major skill in a 7 Seas game while riding might be considered of dubious value in a space opera game.
  • Task ranks remain as previously outlined, but whether a skill is autofail when the character is overmatched or not now varies by skill. Some skills can - indeed for guts it must be attempted when the character is overmatched.

I've written expansions to the 3e skill system and the 2e Player's Option one in days past, but this is the first one I think I'll be able to use without constantly referencing a bunch of tables (cause there are no tables). Most of the task modifiers and ranks are rules of thumb.

To clearly show where I'm going, here's the description for the new skill Acrobatics.

Utility: Major
Attributes: Agility

Acrobatics encompasses tumbling, balancing, and similar trained gymnastic and track & field feats. Your acrobatics rank combined with your strength die gives the distances for the following feats in feet:
• Running Long Jump: (Strength / 2) * rank
• Running High Jump: (Strength + rank - 1) / 2
• Standing Long Jump: (Strength / 2) + rank + 1
• Standing High Jump: (Strength + rank - 4) / 2

If you can clear the distance by 2 or more feet you don't have to check. You cannot succeed at jumping a distance more than 2 feet beyond your maximum.

-- Sidebar Reality vs Games --
If these calculations seem a bit random, they're not. They are built to make sure a master jumper can hit at or near the world record for the given feat.

Feat World Record Game Distance
Running Long Jump 29' 4" 30'
Standing Long Jump 12' 2" 12'
Standing High Jump 6' 2" 6' 6"
Running High Jump 8' 8'

-- end sidebar --

Task examples
• Routine: The simple act of keeping your balance is the routine example of acrobatics, a task most all characters can do without even thinking about it.
• Untrained: Staying balanced on ice or on a stable surface the width of your foot, like a train rail.
• Practiced: Doing a cartwheel or basic tumble, walking on wildly unstable surface such as a river log or a surfboard, performing a safe fall to prevent injury when thrown or falling from a failed gymnastics maneuver.
• Studied: High school cheerleader level tumbles, walking a tightrope with the aid of a balance pole.
• Accomplished: Competing in gymnastics at an entry level, walking a tightrope without a balance pole.
• Expert: Competing at an Olympic level in gymnastics, walking a sloped tightrope without a balance pole.
• Master: Winning or placing at an Olympic level, walking a sloped, slippery tightrope without a balance pole.

Task modifiers
• Surface stability. Tumbling on a small boat would have a -2 penalty. The same boat negotiating rapids would be a step penalty, and so on.
• Severe winds. Any wind capable of checking your movement increases most acrobatics checks by a step, though they can work in your favor when jumping with the wind.
• Surface slipperyness. Wet surfaces have a -2 penalty. Icy surfaces are a step penalty change.
• Slowing Down. For each 1" of move you drop off your pace you can drop a step penalty when trying to keep your balance.
• Props. Hand rails, balance poles and the like can reduce the task difficulty one or more steps.
• Small characters reduce difficulties of acrobatics checks by a step.
• Wearing light armor increase the difficulties of acrobatics checks by a step. Heavy armor increases the difficulty by two steps.

Attempt when Overmatched? Yes
Raise Effect: None
Failure Effect: Fall. You may immediately safe fall as a practiced task, though the height of the fall increases this check's difficulty by one step per 5'.
Botch Effect: As above and you are shaken which denies you the chance to make a safe fall as outlined above. Minimum fall damage is 1d6.

Oh, botching. A botch is a failure to hit half the target number. For tasks with a target number of 4 that means rolling a 1. However, if the target number is 12 because you're attempting to walk a tightrope with a balance pole untrained (a Studied task) you botch on a roll of 5 or less (6 would hit half the target number and isn't a botch, just as 2 hits half the normal target number of 4). Not all skills have botches, but those that do can be very bad. For example, you could kill someone by botching a heal check.

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#14 Postby Timon » Mon Jan 30, 2012 5:21 am

Aki, it really strikes me that you have some talent and the drive to design game systems. This forum is probably frustrating sometimes, given that many of us are just happy with the status quo and not very receptive to proposed changes (I am particularly guilty of that).

Seriously and without the intent to dismiss your ideas, I believe that you would get the best mileage from your creativity in designing a full system. Now you find yourself having to deal with unexpected consequences in subsystems you did not create. If you build a whole system based on the aspects of the game you truly care about you would not have that constraint.

I must admit I find the proposed changes to the skill system to be fixing a problem I do not have. I do recognise that some successes should be automatic and some tasks cannot even be attempted at low skill levels, but I would classify those as GM calls to make. I do think that a little guidance on this point would be good in the how to GM section of SW.
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#15 Postby Jeff Carlsen » Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:55 am

You're doing some well thought out work, though it's also becoming rather complex. That might be fine, but it's getting to be time that you consider what your design goal is in regards to simplicity, simulation, etc.

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#16 Postby Aki » Wed Feb 08, 2012 12:54 pm

Thinking on the last comment while drafting things through the last few nights and looking for further simplifications. These are what I came up with.

Instead of five "utility" ranks, skills come in three types: Marginal, Minor, Major. A marginal skill can be mastered for a single experience point and is meant to cover color things like ability to play an instrument or being the world champion at scrabble. Minor skills cost 1 experience point to increase the level, or 5 points to master. Major skills cost 1 experience point / level desired to increase the level - 1 point for 1st level, 2 points for 2nd and so on, costing 15 points to master.

Skills all use the attribute check on tie, or auto fail / auto succeed mechanism discussed above.

Five "talents" are introduced, one for each attribute. Unlike skills, talents are expressed as bonuses +1, +2, etc. They are always checked and, for the most part, are the go too abilities of combat. They are fighting (STR), shooting (AGL), guts (SPR), reaction (SMT) and fortitude (VIG). All of the raw vigor checks become fortitude checks. Indeed, "raw" ability checks are only done when skill level and task difficulty tie, otherwise a talent gets checked.

While the obvious child of its parent, this is starting to become its own system. I'm trying to maintain as much compatibility as possible and not changing things that don't need changing, but it is what it is. This will likely be my last post on the topic since change is always viewed with hostility in my experience - even if it is for the better - and I tend to react to hostile poking with venom of my own which does no one any good.

Also, keep in mind I haven't shown off the whole thing yet so it's a bit hard to say exactly how it will play from the outside (and even difficult to say from the inside since there are considerable areas that aren't done). I hope to have something playable in a month or so and maybe show it off locally and appraise from there whether its worth pursuing.

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