- Jun 2005 -
19235 Posts

Secondary: Intro and Backgrounds

In my recent article, What's Next for Skills, I proposed a modular system that could allow for a variety of optional mechanics for skills that fit off a single core (that is completely compatible with the way Backgrounds work currently).  Some people, however, commented, that they thought all those options may be overwhelming.  To me, that is a problem of presentation, not mechanics.  So I have revised the Options System.  Given this is a proposed alternate series of mechanics, I am calling this series, "Secondary", after the 1e mechanic, Secondary Skills.  The articles in this series are:

Secondary: Intro and Backgrounds
Secondary: Abilities and Subabilities
Secondary: Skills
Secondary: Proficiencies
Secondary: Skill Points

I propose that the Skill Section be introduced as follows:

When a player attempts something that has nothing to do with combat, such as climbing a wall, fast-talking the local constable, or identifying an unusual rock formation, they utilizing their "skills".  If a character attempts something that anybody should be able to succeed at (like climbing over a white picket fence), they will succeed automatically.  If a character attempts something that nobody should be able to succeed at (like jumping to the moon), they will fail automatically.  But in between these extremes are a number of actions that the DM may have trouble adjudicating.  In such cases, he should call for a check, which is a d20 roll, modified by any appropriate modifiers.

"Appropriate modifiers"?!  What does that mean.  Well, usually, a d20 is adjusted by the modifier that applies to one of the six Abilities -- Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.  In addition, a DM may impose "circumstantial modifiers" depending on specific conditions (like a slippery rock, or a knotted rope, etc.) that might alter (for good or ill) the chances of success.  Moreover, if you opt to include a "Skill System" in your game, there may be additional modifiers that are added to the check.

Difficulty Class
Insert discussion of DCs from the playtest packet*

The game offers a default skill system known as Backgrounds.  Backgrounds are chosen during character creation and establish the sorts of checks at which the player may excel.  A Background is a pre-packaged suite of traits and skills.  Each background offers three "skills" at which the character excels.  If the character makes a check that implicates that skill, they get a +1 to the check.  Every three levels, they may increase the bonus of one skill by +1.  Backgrounds will also give other benefits described in the Background.

Skill Options
The Background is just one of many options that the gaming group may decide to use.  Each option allows a player to customize a character's noncombat abilities with increasing level of detail  As DM, you can decide whether you want to allow one or more of these other options.  You might also decide to disallow all of these options, including Backgrounds, if you so choose.  However, doing this may affect your players' ability to overcome level-appropriate challenges under the math used to calculate DCs; we recommend at least using the Ability Option (see below), which is the least complicated of the options.  Including Backgrounds, there are 6 optional skill systems presented.  In increasing level of complexity these options are:

1. Ability Option
2. Background Option
3. Subability Option
4. Skill Option
5. Proficiency Option
6. Skill Points Option

All of these options are designed to work together if the group decides to include them.  A group may also decide to restrict the players to only a few, or one, or even none, of these options.  If you are happy with Backgrounds, or you don't care to have any skill options at all, you need read no further.  However, if you are interested in giving players more choices in creating their characters, please consider these options, which are described in more detail below.

* Some people have advocated that skill checks not be a simple binary pass/fail, but rather indicate degrees of success or failure.  While I am sympathetic to this, I think that is beyond the scope of the Secondary Series.  Maybe I'll tackle it in a future article.

And that's the introduction (and the description of Backgrounds).  At about 500 words, it's barely a column of text.  (With the DC discussion, maybe a column and a half.)  In future articles, I will go through the Ability, Subability, Skill, and Proficiency Options.  These options will resemble the Options I provided in my prior article, but I have edited them in response to comments I have received and my own evolution in thinking about the nature and utility of skills in the game.  Stay tuned.  Next week I will present the revised section on the Ability Option!

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