Chad Perrin: SOB

7 October 2009

There aren’t enough skill points.

Filed under: Geek,RPG — Tags: , , , — apotheon @ 01:31

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

NOTE: I have not edited the text of this entry to reflect the addition
of the APG to the lineup of PRPG base class options.  I have, however,
added them to the lists of skill point progressions per class as shown
for each of the alternate skill progression systems below.

I like the skills in D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder RPG. They help flesh out a character, granting more life to the concept and more closely tying the character sheet to the character’s background. I don’t think the skill system is perfect, though, by any means.

Leaving aside for the moment the problems of attributes assigned to specific skills and the selection of available skills, the big problem from D&D 3.5 that PRPG solved was the way skill points were handled as a generic game mechanic. There was simply too much arithmetic involved in spending skill points — starting with the 6×4 (for example) at first level and continuing with the broken-ass way class skill and cross-class skill maximums are figured over the course of a character’s advancement to 20th level. The math wasn’t difficult in D&D 3.5, of course, but it was certainly annoying and inelegant.

One other major pain in my tuckus from D&D 3.5 survived the translation to PRPG, though: there simply aren’t enough skill points for many characters. The worst, and most unforgivable, case is that of classes that only get two points per level. Rogues get a veritable plague of skill points by comparison, and the Rangers are doing pretty well for themselves, with plenty of potential for fleshing out the non-combat interests and experiences of the character in terms of the what the character has learned to do.

Fighters and Paladins, meanwhile, definitely get the short end of the stick. Not only do they suffer the indignity of being forced into a much more narrow focus than Rogues or even Rangers, with only two points per level as a base, but they also require attention to more attributes other than Intelligence to ensure effectiveness at the specialties of the class. Intelligence often ends up being the dump stat, which also affects skill points per level. Paladins, especially, tend to end up being rock-stupid, because in addition to needing all three physical stats to be higher than average to excel, but they also need Wisdom and Charisma. Intelligence is the red-headed stepchild of the Paladin class. At least Fighters get to choose Wisdom or Charisma as the primary dump stat instead, if they prefer.

I’ve kicked around a number of ideas in my head for a while. One very minor fix I’ve employed was to create a replacement for the Wizard class, in the form of the Mage class (I’m currently procrastinating on finishing the process of updating it for PRPG). This class helps deal with the problem of Wizards, who are supposed to be learned scholars, having only two points per level as their base skill progression. Only the aid of high Intelligence as the primary attribute for the class has mitigated this problem in D&D 3.5, and I tend to feel they should have a lot more skill points than that if they want to start gobbling up Knowledge skills (for instance); otherwise, they’re nearly as narrow as Fighters. To grant them more skills without eclipsing the skill-monkey specialty of Rogues, I gave Mages lots of skill points, but also required them to use some of their skill points to buy spells they know.

This doesn’t solve the problem of the rest of the 2-point classes having very dull and boring personal lives as reflected in their skills, though. I’ve considered a few options for a while now to mitigate or eliminate the problem, involving just giving some classes more skill points. I’ve been hesitant to actually use any of those options, unfortunately, because I don’t want to overload the game with skills or cut into the benefits some classes gain by being more skill-oriented than others.

I’ve finally pretty much reached the breaking point, in terms of my tolerance for skill point distribution. Something needs to be done in my games. I just need to decide which solution to use as a house rule. The examples I have in mind follow, each of them raising the minimum possible base skill advancement no lower than four.

Minimum 4

The simplest fix would be to take the Minimum 4 approach. All M4 does is give any class with fewer base skill points per level than four enough additional skill points to bring them up to a base of four skill points per level. The new skill progression landscape for core classes in the PRPG CRB looks like this:

Alchemist   4
Barbarian   4
Bard        6
Cavalier    4
Cleric      4
Druid       4
Fighter     4
Inquisitor  6
Monk        4
Oracle      4
Paladin     4
Ranger      6
Rogue       8
Sorcerer    4
Summoner    4
Witch       4
Wizard      4

Perhaps surprisingly, I rather like the way the vast majority of classes end up with the same number of skill points, with only definite outliers ending up varying from the baseline of four points per level. It assumes a default capacity for learning new skills as embodied in the skill selection for people in general, with exceptions made for those who have chosen life pursuits that require a great deal of flexibility.

Plus 2

Another simple fix is the Plus 2 approach. With P2, just add two skill points per level to the base skill advancement for each of the core classes:

Alchemist   6
Barbarian   6
Bard        8
Cavalier    6
Cleric      4
Druid       6
Fighter     4
Inquisitor  8
Monk        6
Oracle      6
Paladin     4
Ranger      8
Rogue       10
Sorcerer    4
Summoner    4
Witch       4
Wizard      4

My primary concern here is that Barbarians, Druids, Rangers, and Rogues may be getting a bit more out of this modification of the canonical system than is appropriate, though in PRPG at least the elimination of the multiplier for first level skill points does help keep things under control a bit.

5 Plus

Another relatively simple modification of the system, in case four points isn’t enough for the lowest point totals, is the 5 Plus system. With 5P, just take the various categories of skill emphasis for different classes — 2, 4, 6, and 8 — and assign them new numbers only one point apart, starting at five:

Alchemist   6
Barbarian   6
Bard        7
Cavalier    6
Cleric      5
Druid       6
Fighter     5
Inquisitor  7
Monk        6
Oracle      6
Paladin     5
Ranger      7
Rogue       8
Sorcerer    5
Summoner    5
Witch       5
Wizard      5

This has the advantages of keeping the upper bound the same (eight for a Rogue), unlike P2, while keeping the classes categorized the same so that the classes canonically stuck with a pathetic two per level don’t just get shoved up into the same category as the classes that normally get four per level. The downside, of course, is that the difference between categories has been cut in half, yielding only a one-point difference between adjacent categories, which might kind of eat into the specialness of the more-skilled classes such as Bard and Rogue.

4 Plus

The 4 Plus option is achieved by raising the minimum from two to four, then increasing each category’s base skill point advancement by as little as possible to keep it from being overtaken by the previous category. Thus, any two becomes a four, and any four becomes a five to avoid getting overtaken by the twos that climbed to become fours:

Alchemist   5
Barbarian   5
Bard        6
Cavalier    5
Cleric      4
Druid       5
Fighter     4
Inquisitor  6
Monk        5
Oracle      5
Paladin     4
Ranger      6
Rogue       8
Sorcerer    4
Summoner    4
Witch       4
Wizard      4

As long as you think four is high enough a minimum, I think 4P gives everyone enough skill points without running the risk of giving the more skilled classes too many points, all without cutting into the skill-monkey niche of the Rogue class. It does not, however, deal well with the notion that Bards and Rangers might be dependent on notably higher skill point totals than the less-skilled classes.

Constrained Acceleration

The Constrained Acceleration option gives the top half of the four categories double the “velocity” change in their improvement over previous categories. Thus, with CA, the lower two only differ from each other by one point, but the upper two categories each differ from previous categories by two points:

Alchemist   5
Barbarian   5
Bard        7
Cavalier    5
Cleric      4
Druid       5
Fighter     4
Inquisitor  7
Monk        5
Oracle      5
Paladin     4
Ranger      7
Rogue       9
Sorcerer    4
Summoner    4
Witch       4
Wizard      4

Unconstrained Acceleration

Unconstrained Acceleration is the same as Constrained Acceleration, except that it accelerates by one point for each higher category, rather than only accelerating once beyond the second category. This results in the second category being one higher than the first, the third being two higher than the second, and the fourth being three higher than the third:

Alchemist   5
Barbarian   5
Bard        7
Cavalier    5
Cleric      4
Druid       5
Fighter     4
Inquisitor  7
Monk        5
Oracle      5
Paladin     4
Ranger      7
Rogue       10
Sorcerer    4
Summoner    4
Witch       4
Wizard      4

UA is clearly not for those who think that increasing the number of skill points available to a Rogue is playing with fire. Not only do Rogues get two more points per level in UA, but they also get three more per level than Bards and Rangers. Otherwise, its benefits and detriments are the same as those of Constrained Acceleration.

Constrained Plus

The Constrained Plus system is identical to CA, except that it starts at five instead of four:

Alchemist   6
Barbarian   6
Bard        8
Cavalier    6
Cleric      5
Druid       6
Fighter     5
Inquisitor  8
Monk        6
Oracle      6
Paladin     5
Ranger      8
Rogue       10
Sorcerer    5
Summoner    5
Witch       5
Wizard      5

For those who like the way CA works, but believe a minimum of five is more appropriate than a minimum of four, and aren’t worried about Rogues getting into double-digit range, CP might be a suitable choice. Many, I’m sure, would balk at giving any of the core classes double digit base skill advancement, however.

Unconstrained Plus

As UA is to CA, so Unconstrained Plus is to CP. The only difference from CP is that in UP the Rogue is not limited to a two point improvement over the next lowest category:

Alchemist   6
Barbarian   6
Bard        8
Cavalier    6
Cleric      5
Druid       6
Fighter     5
Inquisitor  8
Monk        6
Oracle      6
Paladin     5
Ranger      8
Rogue       11
Sorcerer    5
Summoner    5
Witch       5
Wizard      5

If the Rogue’s base skill progression having two digits in previous systems made you uneasy, UP should give you a definite case of the willies and an outbreak of goose bumps, at the very least.

4 Refactored

The 4 Refactored system starts with a minimum of four, and changes the way the various classes fit into differing categories. After all, the fact that some classes get extra skill points need not mean that all of them do. Perhaps some classes are exactly where they should be, while others need more skill points to escape the arbitrary limits placed on them in the PHB and CRB:

Alchemist   5
Barbarian   4
Bard        6
Cavalier    5
Cleric      5
Druid       4
Fighter     4
Inquisitor  6
Monk        4
Oracle      4
Paladin     4
Ranger      6
Rogue       8
Sorcerer    4
Summoner    5
Witch       5
Wizard      5

4R brings the minimums up to four, but it also keeps the maximums down to 8. Clerics and Wizards, as classes likely to benefit from some amount of scholarly background, get more of a boost than other classes with a canonical two point base skill progression rate. Of course, you may choose to do things differently; this is just a suggestion. As long as I’m not using a systematic modification to the already extant system, it would be difficult for me to claim you shouldn’t make any changes you like, but if you like my version that should make things pretty easy for you.

5 Homogenized

I suppose I could be a dick about it, and just say everyone gets five skill points as base skill progression. In some respects, this seems to have the greatest sense of verisimilitude of all the options I’ve considered, but I’m distinctly hesitant to even seriously consider this option without changing a lot of the rest of the game system.

Making a Decision

I haven’t settled on what I’m going to do, yet, but I’m definitely going to do something by the next time I have anyone make characters for a PRPG campaign where I’m the GM. I will almost certainly apply such modifications to any ongoing campaigns I have right now, too — an easy thing to get the players to accept, since all it involves is handing out a few more skill points to at least some of the characters. If there is any difficulty in that regard, it would probably result from choosing a system that would grant extra points to only some of the classes in a campaign, leaving others perhaps feeling like they got ignored a little.

Regardless of the potential social issues of changing rules midstream in an ongoing campaign, I’m thinking long and hard about what skill advancement system I will adopt for the next PRPG campaign I start running. Any constructive suggestions, critiques, questions, or additional options are welcome, of course. What do you think I should do? What do you think you’ll do — if anything — to change the base skill progression numbers in your own games?

NOTE: I've started using the 4P system, as have some friends.
It seems to work quite well for all of our campaigns.  YMMV.

18 Comments

  1. If it were me I would simply do the plus 2 system. It has the advantage of fixing the classes like the Fighter/Sorcerer that get jobbed it the skill department, but it still maintains the super skilled nitch for Rogue/Ranger/Bard. It is also easy for players to understand with nobody feeling like they got treated unfairly. Personally I would have a problem with any system that didn’t increase the rogues skill points, 5 Plus particularly stands out as a bad system.

    Comment by Cooperflood — 7 October 2009 @ 05:31

  2. Yeah . . . you make good points.

    A friend of mine who read this told me he favors the 4 Refactored system. Maybe I can get him to post his thoughts here to contribute to discussion a bit.

    Comment by apotheon — 7 October 2009 @ 05:54

  3. I’m not familiar with the Pathfinder skill system.

    How many ranks does one need to be competent? One, four, five, ten, level + 3, half level plus 3/2?

    If we assume that 4 skills is arleady quite competent, then even the dumbest paladin could start competent in one skill and become competent in new one every four levels.

    If the difficulty of skill rolls automatically increases as level increases, what’s the point? To make the gap between skilled and unskilled characters widen as level increases?

    Comment by Tommi — 7 October 2009 @ 10:32

  4. Here is a completely different approach you might try.

    Occasionally give out skill points as adventure awards. So if the characters just discovered a hidden library from an ancient civilization, perhaps one of the books has enough information that reading it effectively trains up the character by a skill point. Better yet, if one of the characters manages to influence the plot in a significant way through the use of a secondary skill instead of (or in addition to) an experience bonus, you could offer them a skill point in that skill. Or even just give out unassigned skill points for players to use as they see fit.

    Comment by Michael Chermside — 8 October 2009 @ 04:35

  5. This is one of the problems that D&D 4e dealt with in a good way. For anyone who isn’t familiar with that system, it’s basically: * There are fewer, more general skills (17 or 18 in total) * Rather than allocating skill points you get to choose a number of skills that you trained in (+5 bonus to that skill, +8 with Skill Focus); spending a feat allows you to gain training in 1 additional skill * Every skill (trained and not) increases by 1 every time you gain an even-numbered level

    It doesn’t have the granularity of 3.5 or Pathfinder, and sometimes seems oversimplified. However, character creation goes faster, every character is good at an appropriate number of skills, and you don’t have to worry about a trained skill falling behind because of the 1/2-level bonus. The next time I play 3.5 or Pathfinder I think might adopt something similar to this (perhaps slightly more granularity). You might want to consider it too.

    Comment by Dave — 8 October 2009 @ 07:55

  6. I think I like the constrained acceleration the most. Lowest tier gets two extra skill points and everyone else gets one. Preserves all the tiers, doesn’t give the skilled classes too much and no one gets left out.

    Comment by Mina — 8 October 2009 @ 08:41

  7. My solution to this was to always give a skill point increase if someone passed a skill roll (in a useful way) with a skill that was set to less than their level.

    Rewarded those with few skill points, as well as those that were honestly trying to use their skills in a thoughtful RPG way.

    Comment by Serax — 8 October 2009 @ 08:54

  8. Tommi:

    There are actually two different ways to define basic competence in the context of a game like this.

    In general, I’d say basic competence is the point where taking 10 on a roll gives you a good enough result that you won’t embarrass yourself when faced with a challenge that is commensurate with the expectations associated with one’s life experience. That’s probably a total skill bonus (ranks + attribute modifier) somewhere between half one’s level and three quarters of one’s current level, but with a minimum of four (which means that in Pathfinder, a first level character cannot have “basic competence” in a cross-class skill without the help of a decent attribute bonus).

    Of course, that’s more a matter of basic competence to tackle the challenges one is likely to pursue, given one’s reputation, ambition, and life experience (i.e., experience level). For a more universal level of competence — say, how to determine whether someone is good enough to be at least middling at a particular profession — I’d say a total skill bonus of five sounds about right. That allows one to take 10 and make enough money on a daily basis to fully provide for oneself.

    Michael Chermside:

    Occasionally give out skill points as adventure awards.

    Actually, I already do that to some extent. See Knowledge(Local) as Roleplaying Reward for more details on that. Unfortunately, that doesn’t solve the whole problem, even if you apply it liberally and to all skills. Specifically, it doesn’t solve the problem of characters who start the game looking very two-dimensional because they don’t have any skills other than the bare minimum necessary to satisfy an optimized character class “build”, lacking any kind of diversity in their background as represented by skills. You’ll never end up with a starting Paladin character whose competence as a Paladin is commensurate with his or her level and who used to be an avid hunter and apprenticed to a carpenter if that’s the only change you make to the skill system.

    Dave:

    This is one of the problems that D&D 4e dealt with in a good way. For anyone who isn’t familiar with that system, it’s basically:

    • There are fewer, more general skills (17 or 18 in total)
    • Rather than allocating skill points you get to choose a number of skills that you trained in (+5 bonus to that skill, +8 with Skill Focus); spending a feat allows you to gain training in 1 additional skill
    • Every skill (trained and not) increases by 1 every time you gain an even-numbered level
    • Pathfinder slims down the skill list somewhat as compared with 3.5, but does so in a manner that doesn’t sacrifice flexibility. I prefer that to 4E’s approach.
    • Your second and third points are basically different perspectives on the same thing — the way 4E handles skill progression, where you just select a skill and never think about it again because it goes up without any involvement by the player. I’m not a huge fan of that system at all, because of the amount of potential for unique character development it sucks out of the character.

    It doesn’t have the granularity of 3.5 or Pathfinder, and sometimes seems oversimplified.

    It pretty much always seems oversimplified to me. I’ve considered the 4E skill system, and I’ve rejected it as relatively unsuited to the kind of roleplaying and character development I find important to an enjoyable experience while gaming.

    Mina:

    Your reasons for liking CA are similar to my Significant Other’s reasons for liking 4P, in that the lower two tiers both get some increase and, while the top two tiers don’t get an increase in skill points in 4P, they still get skill points more than lower tiers tiers that they satisfy the needs of the class concepts.

    Serax:

    My solution to this was to always give a skill point increase if someone passed a skill roll (in a useful way) with a skill that was set to less than their level.

    Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve all the problems created by screwing some classes on their skill point totals. See my response to Michael Chermside for details about my problems — stuff like poor opportunity for defining character background.

    In addition to that, I think the approach of giving a skill point increase when succeeding at a skill will funnel points primarily into the skills at which a character is already competent, thus discouraging diversification a bit after the first three or four experience levels.

    Your solution deals with the problem of characters who don’t have enough skill points, in a purely quantitative manner, but basically ignores the biggest complaint I have about leaving some classes without enough skill points: the need for flexibility in developing a character concept.

    Everybody:

    Thanks for commenting. Even if I don’t use a suggestion you’ve brought up, and give you an explanation why I’m not using it, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the suggestions. I think the discussion is productive. Keep ’em coming.

    Comment by apotheon — 8 October 2009 @ 10:33

  9. Alright, apotheon has been twisting my arm so I will de-lurk momentarily (not that my opinion should matter much.)

    I personally prefer something along the lines of “4R”, maybe with a little more variation in the non-scholarly, non-skilled classes. Something about the bookish classes getting a bit more in the skill department feels sort of “right” to me.

    That being said, apotheon will likely end up replacing the default spellcaster/scholarly classes, so my opinion is somewhat irrelevant.

    Comment by n8 — 8 October 2009 @ 01:49

  10. I believe that characters don’t get enough skill points as well, however I handled it differently in my current campaign. Here are the rules I came up with.

    Everyone gets 1 extra skill point at 1st level. Favored Classes don’t exist, instead every time a level is achieved they may select +1hp or +1 skill point. No xp penalty for multiclassing.

    I think it satisfies players needs for extra skill points as well as giving them the option to always choose to give themselves more skills or hp.

    Comment by Squeezebxox — 8 October 2009 @ 03:50

  11. n8:

    That being said, apotheon will likely end up replacing the default spellcaster/scholarly classes, so my opinion is somewhat irrelevant.

    I figured I’d elaborate on this a bit:

    I’ve had problems with the mainstay spellcaster classes for literally decades. The D&D interpretation of Vancian style spellcasting has always bothered me for purposes of verisimilitude. As a result, I tend to want to develop alternate magic systems which, then, tend to require alternate spellcasting classes.

    At the moment, I’m particularly interested in the idea of learning spells being a matter of spending skill points, which requires players to balance study time between learning to play the lute or mandolin and learning to cast Magic Missile (for example). It also requires significantly greater numbers of skill points, as exemplified by the Mage class (see link in the SOB entry above), which gets a base of 10 skill points per level. In the end, then, how the primary spellcasting classes get their skill points will, in the near future in games I run, very likely fail to be determined by what kind of skill point system modification described above I might select.

    On the other hand, I also hope to give other some good ideas with this stuff, and it may be relevant to them. That, in turn, may then be relevant to me as well, if those others happen to be running games in which I’m playing a character.

    Squeezebxox:

    That’s actually a pretty good system, I think, except that I don’t think getting a base of three points per level is quite “enough”. I’d probably have to make it +2 skill points instead — and maybe +2 hit points to balance that out. Of course, giving all characters the option of having +2 skill points per level might get a little top-heavy when looking at the Rogue class, particularly if someone is playing a Rogue with a high Intelligence.

    Comment by apotheon — 8 October 2009 @ 04:24

  12. Well, I just found out about Pathfinder as I’ve been out of the game for a little while, but in my opinion, eliminating the double cost for cross class skills already gives a lot more flexibility to character builds. For mages and clerics, I’d be more inclined to do something like have them pick 2 or 3 areas of study to concentrate on, and get a bonus equal to half their level to those sorts of checks, similar to the bard, plus their normal skill points on top of it. Like mages could pick from knowledge arcana, engineering, geography, history, nature, planes, and possibly craft. Clerics could pick from knowledge geography, history, local, nature, nobility, planes, religion, and profession maybe. Or possibly for clerics (and paladins) it should be partially dependent on the god they follow.

    This would help reflect the scholarly background without impinging too much on the skill monkeys roles, and still give some additional customization options to the spellcasters. Something just feels really wrong to me about giving free extra skill points to the spellcasters when they can buy any skills cheap, but this way gives them some extra breathing room, but limited to areas that would make sense for what they do.

    I suppose you could do something similar for fighters. If you chose a background for your training, that could determine skill bonuses. Like someone that was a guard type, could get a bonus for perception checks to find hiding people and sense motive checks to see if someone is lying, or someone out on the border patrol could get a survival bonus for finding food and water and to stealth checks.

    Sorcerers I could see just giving generic skill points to I guess, since there isn’t really any defining aspect of the class, but other than that I definitely feel like class related skill bonuses are more appropriate. I’d make the monk jump bonus apply to any use of the acrobatics skill, for instance, not just jumping.

    Just my $0.02 but speaking as someone who likes to play skilled characters, the thought of “lesser” skilled classes getting extra skill points is really irksome and subtracts from the appeal of the rogue, but rogues getting 10 or 11 skill points a level seems a little bit over the top at the same time. Especially under pathfinder, it’d be really easy to make an 11 point rogue that doesn’t really have to choose what skills to focus on, can just take almost all the class skills. Under point buy I could make a human rogue that’s getting 18 skill points a level. That strikes me as a bit ludicrous.

    Comment by michael — 5 November 2009 @ 01:04

  13. I’ll have to think about that “study focus” idea. I think it’s the sort of thing that I might decide needs to be chosen on a case-by-case basis, depending on the campaign’s setting, thematic elements, and so on.

    I’m sympathetic to the need to ensure skill monkeys still get to be “special” somehow. In a PRPG campaign I’m in the middle of planning right now, I’m solving the problem of unskilled wizards (and balance issues between them and sorcerers) by throwing away both wizards and sorcerers entirely, and replacing them with my custom mage class. Mages get 10 skill points per level, but should end up spending the majority of them on spells, since spells known have to be bought the same way one would buy skills, and generally without the benefit of being considered “class skills” for purposes of the +3 bonus PRPG provides for class skills.

    In that particular campaign setting, things are arranged to make magic a bit more rare and special, and generally substantially less flashy in common use, too. I’m redesigning the system of arcane magic schools to make things subtler. In addition, between reducing the overall flashy power of magic (while increasing its utility) by altering the school system and making it more dangerous by way of using the mage class, arcane spellcasters end up a bit less able to stand up to their non-spellcasting counterparts toe-to-toe if they focus on nothing but spellcasting. As such, giving them a bit more skill flexibility and some other minor benefits, but still without letting them compete directly with any other class on its own turf, seems like the ideal way to handle things for this campaign.

    Thus, where a rogue’s value largely lies in its flexibility, so too does a mage’s to some extent — but with very different methods for achieving that flexibility, and a very different focus on what talents within that flexible framework really stand out.

    Ultimately, I think the only class whose niche would really be threatened by this approach to an arcane spellcaster class is the bard, but that’s okay, because I’m replacing the bard in this campaign setting with something else.

    One thing I’m trying to achieve with the extra skill points is greater depth for characters, though. Some of your suggestions seem tailor-made to just make various classes better at what they can already do well (such as expanding the coverage of the monk’s Acrobatics bonus or giving spellcasters extra bonuses on skills they already have), which strikes me more as a way to make them more powerful within their niches than a way to give them more depth as characters. For greater depth, the ability to spread out into additional knowledge or skill areas seems better than simply granting more mastery over those knowledge or skill areas already possessed.

    I do still want to preserve the relative uniqueness of the rogue’s versatility, however, and that’s why I’ve tended to favor the alternate skill point systems that still give them a two-point lead over the next-best option amongst the traditional classes — and why the custom class that has more skill points than a rogue still has to spend the vast majority of them on spells to actually justify being a mage instead of a rogue in the first place.

    Comment by apotheon — 6 November 2009 @ 12:02

  14. Yeah, I think I saw where you were talking about your mage class in another blog entry. But I’m wondering, if you’re assigning point values to spells equating them to skills, have you thought about going all out and doing that for all abilities? Would probably end up with some sort of system similar to GURPS where you don’t have classes in the traditional D&D sense, but customization would be much more fine grained.

    And you’re right about my previous suggestions allowing characters to be better at their niche, but it would also allow expansion into other areas for those that don’t want to be the absolute best of the best. To use the monk example, the way balance and jump have been folded into acrobatics makes it seem to me a no brainer for a monk. A monk without good balance seems odd. By giving them the bonus, a monk can devote skill points to something else, and still be as good as say a rogue that maxes out acrobatics. On the other hand, in my opinion, a monk that really wants to concentrate on balance and tumbling should be better at it than any other character class. Same goes for a mage. A mage should have good progress in at least one area of study just by the nature of the job. But a mage that really wants to focus on research in a particular area should be way better than just about anyone else.

    Let me try an example here to illustrate what I mean. From what I can see under pathfinder this is how it would work. Realistically, a typical mage character is going to get at least 6 skill points a level. 2 from class, 3 from int, 1 from favored class. Could be more, but I think that’s a realistic minimum. Lets say your character grew up in the mean streets, urchin living by his wits, scrawny, acting as a lookout/scout for the bigger kids, what have you. Acrobatics, Climb, Disable Device, Escape Artist, Perception, Stealth. Can buy a new rank every level. Rogue gets a +3 vs the mage, more than that for traps, but otherwise this seems a pretty flexible option and comparable to someone building for instance a combat oriented rogue that may not put points into int. Give this mage character more free skill points and I bet they’d just buy more abilities to subsume the rogue’s role. But give them a bonus to a couple of “typical” mage skills and it’ll still feel like bonus skill points, but be more in theme for the studying a mage requires.

    Also it just occurred to me, if you were in a game using your idea to start at second level, which I like actually, you could easily make your first level rogue, get the bonuses for class skills, and be damn near as good as a pure rogue who wasn’t trying to be just a pure skill monkey. Heh. Now that I’m looking at that character, I’d kinda like to find a game to play it in. Be human and I could get two more skill points and add Bluff and Sense Motive. Not sure I would ever add any knowledge or magey skills, except maybe local, no matter how many points you gave me for that character though.

    Comment by michael — 6 November 2009 @ 09:28

  15. I know this is well after the event, but…

    If I was going to increase the skill points, I would consider the +2 as the absolute minimum. Yes, it means pushing the rogue into duble figures, but it is only a 25% increase for the rogue, against a 100% increase for the fighter. The big problem is the tendancy for something like this to let the Bard and Ranger begin to get close to the rogues specialisations.

    Also, an option that might work instead is something along the lines of give everyone 2 skills to spend on “life skills”, i.e. Craft, Profession, Perform, or Knowledge. Keeps the increase away from the more valued “game skills” like perception and balance.

    Comment by RobbieAB — 28 August 2010 @ 08:08

  16. RobbieAB:

    Do you feel that Bards, Rangers, and Rogues all need skill point increases as well, then? I find that things tend to work out with Clerics, Fighters, Paladins, Sorcerers, and Wizards getting a +2, while Barbarians, Druids, and Monks get a +1, with no other classes in the CRB getting any increases. I guess your mileage may vary, though I’d like to know why you feel classes that normally get six or more base skill points per level should also get a boost. Maybe you have some thoughts on the matter that haven’t occurred to me, after all.

    As for “life skills”, I like to just make the players select them from a general pool. For one thing, it quickly separates the roleplayers from the rollplayers (if you get my drift). Some other possible issues include:

    • If I only give out such points at first level, it’s likely to result in those same “life skills” being mostly neglected later on, at least for characters like paladins (since Intelligence is pretty much THE dump stat for that class, making skill points far to precious to spend on character development).
    • If I start giving standard points for “life skills” every level, this then creates a separate set of numbers to track if I give those points every level alongside standard skill points.
    • Separating “life skill” pools from “game skill” pools can result in some lack of verisimilitude in character development, as (for instance) someone is “forced” to spend points on skills that the character may not have practiced at all since last level.

    I do like to do some ad-hoc skill point hand-outs to players that I feel have earned them through roleplaying, though. Roleplaying rewards are, I think, a pretty powerful motivator, when they result in stuff like the skills related to that experience of roleplaying getting bonus points “for free”.

    Then again, in the games I run, people who spend all their points on Perception and other traditional “game skills” can sometimes run afoul of the fact that neglecting character development decisions with skill points tends to be self-punishing, since the availability of “life skills” for a character that has them often results in benefits for the characters in play. It’s always nice to be able to make some extra money on the side with your Knowledge: Engineering skill by helping the guy running the trading post plan out some additions to the trading post, after all — money that can then be spent on potions and the like if/when they show up in his stockroom.

    There are really only two problems I’ve seen that need to be solved for players to spend points on “life skills”: not having enough skill points to be able to spare any, and not having any use for those skills. The GM can solve both problems. These days, I solve the first by using the 4 Plus system I described in the original SOB entry, and I just described the way I deal with the latter problem in this comment.

    Comment by apotheon — 30 August 2010 @ 01:02

  17. My thoughts are based simply on the idea that the character classes as written are supposedly vaguely balanced within the mechanics of the system – part of that balance being the number of skill points per level each class has. Giving more skill points to the low skill characters while not giving anything to the skill monkeys has to impact on that balance. Afterall, I could claim that Rogues and Wizards don’t get enough feats, they should get another feat every 3 or 4 levels to fix that… (How plausible this argument is depends on how many splat books are being used.) While we can debate how many skill points a level a feat every second level is worth, that is for me is the major point here. Skill point progression is a key part of what leads me to choose a character class.

    Yes, it looks like the Rogue has a lot of skill points, but the fighter has a lot of feats, the wizard a lot of spells. Having played high int human rogues, I can honestly say one of the hard choices is STILL how to spend the skill points. Depending on group size and dynamics, the rogue can have a lot of demands on his skill point pool. This actually gets to the point where most groups I have played with, you are more likely to see the fighters investing points in “life skills”, because A) Their class skill list doesn’t have any “game skills” worth worrying about other than ride once they are in armor, and B) mechanically, their skills are mostly irrelevant for their main role.

    My suggestion on giving a couple of free “life skill” points to everyone is that A) it minimises the impact on the skill monkeys, and B) specifically ensures that those low skill point classes with valuable “game skills” on their class skill list can’t simply drop them there. (Cleric with talkie skills being one obvious option.) The other nice thing about “life skills” is most of them are quite credibly practiced in down time. Afterall, how often do you structure a session around active use of a craft skill or a knowledge skill? Unless you are very lucky, you probably don’t want your players acting out every perform check either… (Perform: Fire Juggling anyone?) The separation is merely to say “these bonus skill points can only be spend on those skills”, somewhat like most classes bonus feats are limited to a specific list. It wasn’t intended to go any further than that.

    Comment by RobbieAB — 30 August 2010 @ 05:11

  18. I’m sure the GMing style of a campaign has a significant impact on the importance of these various factors. In the games I run, and in the majority of them in which I currently play (there is at least one notable exception), character development is a much more important factor than “game balance”. Another SOB entry, high level campaigns: party balance, might give you some insight into how the way I tend to run games significantly alters the landscape when it comes to issues of balance, as contrasted with the strict power balance ethic.

    There are those who regard mechanical combat power balance as some holy grail of game design, necessary to support a well-run game where people feel useful and entertained when playing their various characters. This focus on power balance assumes a very combat-oriented game, however, which I find odd considering that even people who play games that are not so combat oriented fall back on such issues when discussing game design. By contrast, and as I pointed out in high level campaigns: party balance, I do not think it is so important that all the characters are balanced as that they are individually valuable. See that SOB entry for more details on my thinking along those lines.

    Anyway . . . the skill monkeys are for the most part rangers, bards, and rogues. Ranger “skill monkey” concepts mostly tend to focus on maximizing skills that are then enhanced by class features (favored enemy, favored terrain, track, wild empathy); bards use their extra skill points to make well-rounded pools of talent and really stack the deck in their own favor with class features (i.e., Bardic Knowledge); rogues still have two more base skill points per level than the next runners-up, keeping them exactly as far ahead of the pack as ever they were before. As such, even in a purely “balanced” perspective, I don’t see upping the 2-point classes to 4 and 4-point classes to 5 as having a markedly detrimental effect on the “skill monkey” classes’ areas of expertise.

    Comment by apotheon — 31 August 2010 @ 10:21

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