So you’re rearranged the skills down to a handful of broad categories as discussed last week. But you’re not done yet: now it’s time to use that to make skills work even more like the combat system. Why? Because the combat system is fun and the standard use of skills aren’t often as much fun.

This system takes inspiration from this Rob Donoghue post and my previous attempt at a skill revision.

When should you make skill checks and skill saves?

When using this method for skills, it’s important to ask yourself some questions before asking for a skill check from your players:

  • Is there a limited amount of time to accomplish the task before something happens?
  • Does something negative happen regularly until the PCs accomplish the task?
  • Does accomplishing the task have some independent benefit to the PCs that would be useful to get sooner (even if there’s no ultimate time limit)?
  • Will degree of success at the task create a difficulty for opponents?

If none of these things are true, you probably don’t need to roll a skill check. Either the thing is possible, and the PCs accomplish it after a reasonable amount of time, or they quickly realize that it’s outside their competency for now. This is the essence of the typical Take 20 rule as well. For this system, pretty much every skill check is effectively a skill challenge, and it might feel cumbersome to assign HP to every task. So don’t: only make skill rolls when it’s actually interesting, and just allow players to succeed after what seems like a relevant amount of time for their skill bonus if there’s no time pressure.

This advice also applies to skill saves, even though they’re comparatively more simple. In particular, what has become Athletics saves were previously skills that were almost always rolled. It may be a reflex action to ask for a Climb check, or a Jump check, or whatever any time the PC tries to do something. Again, resist this urge and only ask for skill saves when the consequences of failure are interesting. You probably don’t need to make a roll to climb up a 5 foot wall with a lot of handholds outside of combat. Even in combat, you could probably just assess that it counts as difficult terrain and make it cost double to climb. The idea of making these things saves implies that they’re only rolled when something has gone wrong: “You’re halfway up the face of the mountain, then suddenly BEES! Make an Athletics Save to hang on and keep going.”

Skill Damage

Each skill has a base damage of 1d6 + Ability Mod. For example, a successful use of Knowledge rolls 1d6 + Int bonus.

Skills can get critical hits in the same way as attack rolls: roll a 20 for a threat and then succeed on a second roll against the same DC. Skill specialties increase the threat range to 19-20 for that particular use (e.g., a character with specialty Religion make general knowledge rolls at threat range 20 but Religion-based Knowledge rolls at threat range 19-20). Skills double their base die and bonus on a crit, but not bonus dice (see below), just like combat criticals.

Skills can make iterative attacks similarly to attack rolls. When the base skill hits 6, 11, and 16, you get another skill roll at the regular penalties whenever you can make a “full skill check.” In combat, this works the same way as attacks: on any given round, the character can either move and make one skill check, or make multiple skill checks with only a 5 foot step. Out of combat, particularly for checks that represent more than one round of activity, it’s a little more nebulous what counts as “having to move.” In general, assume that a character that is distracted and/or doing other non-skill things while working on the task gets only a single roll per check, while a character that’s fully dedicated to the task can make a full skill check and take the iterative rolls.

When iterative rolls are allowed, the character can do multiple things that count as the same skill, but cannot mix skills. For example:

  • A Rogue with base Criminal 6 attempts to remain in Stealth while working to Disable a trap.
  • A Wizard with Knowledge 6 attempts to Research in a library where he needs Linguistics to translate the books.
  • A Bard with Social 11 attempts to Perform and entertain the crowd but also Persuade them and also Sense Motive to see how he’s doing.
  • A Cleric with Mundane 11 uses Heal to manage his infirmary while working two separate other Professions.
  • A Ranger with Wilderness 11 is trying to Track a target cross country while helping his party Orienteer and Find Sustenance.

Magic items or spells that would normally give a skill bonus instead give a damage bonus for that application of the skill:

  • If the bonus is less than +5, add half the bonus to the damage (e.g., a skill bonus +2 translates to +1 damage for that type of skill).
  • If the bonus is +5, add 1d6 to the damage (that isn’t multiplied on a crit). Add an additional +1d6 for every +5 (e.g., a +15 is +3d6).
  • If the bonus is greater than +5 but not evenly divisible by 5, combine the two methods (e.g., +7 becomes +1d6+1).
  • For bonuses that apply to saves, add half the usual bonus to the save (e.g., Jumping +10 translates to a +5 bonus to Athletics saves related to jumping).

Finally, GMs may wish to award permanent increases to the size of a skill’s base die as a reward for various accomplishments. For example, the party gains titles in a small kingdom and the GM gives the spymaster Criminal 1d8, the warden Wilderness 1d8, the royal librarian Knowledge 1d8, and everyone else Social or Mundane 1d8.

(Next week, my intention is to provide example challenges.)

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