Legends and Lore - Difficulty Class Warfare

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Legends and Lore
Difficulty Class Warfare

by Mike Mearls

Bear with my description for a new proposal, as it takes a dramatically different approach to skill DCs.

Talk about this column here.

I rather like this method. Opens up a lot of possibilities without adding any real complexity.
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If its moving away from 3E's take on skills, I'm all for it. Hell, half of the time what he describes there is how I run skills when I DM.
...whatever
The only thing i dont like about this method is without a good metric to measure against the DCs could wildly vary from DM to DM.

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I wish more of how the middle stuff worked was explained. Would these skill levels be ever increasing like the 4e DCs? Or would you slowly move up and as you reach max level be able to do the impossible. (Maybe not flying by flapping your arms, but walking across a fishing line using only your hands, while drunk, and dodgind the fire of the irrate fisherman.)
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i am not fond of this new method.  it comes with its own shortcomings and is not worth the deviation from the d20 method.

i suggest that mr. mearls focus instead upon converting skill checks into ability checks.  last week's article was fantastic.
The main drawback to a system like this is the same as with all description-based systems - everyone has a different idea of what "easy" or "hard" is, just like the practice of saying "you're moderately wounded" (while refusing to give out hit point numbers) leads to everyone having a different idea of just how hurt the character actually is.

I could see a split-the-difference approach though: keep DCs and the d20, but your skill modifier becomes your minimum roll (rather like Brutal X for damage rolls now) rather than something you add to the roll. Now there's automatic success for activities up to a point, while still allowing unskilled characters to get lucky on occasion. And if something really is impossible then it gets to be DC 21 - unless a clever plan reduces it. (Circumstantial modifiers change the DC rather than providing a bonus/penalty to the check.)

This also allows the subsystem to continue "talking" to the other subsystems, because it's still using a d20-based structure.
I'd really rather just see the skills system that presently exists get overhauled to the smallest degree necessary to make it a bit more dynamic and engaging. None of these proposed changes particularly appeal to me.
There's no reason to decouple this from the d20 system. It just makes "minions" out of trivial affairs and "elites" or "solos" out of absurdly difficult things, but bases it on character ability rather than level. As I read it, it would basically just let experts "take 10" and cut down on wizards rolling a 20 and breaking doors that the fighter failed against by rolling a 1.
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I havent read the L&L yet, but based on reactions, yeah, just make skills work like d20 combat. I would be unhappy with incompatable rules for skills. Anyway, now Il go read what the L&L article is saying.

I like the way this explains away inconsequential die rolls. No reason in rolling when the roll is trivial.

But, I really do like having a reason to have continued investment in skills as part of character advancement. I like skills as a means to define the PC. 3E did this really well, in that you could be a master tracker, skilled diplomat, cunning linguist (ahem), etc. 4E removed that customization, essentially making training an on/off switch. PCs now lack any real definition as to what they do skill-wise. Few players even recall the list of skills in which their PC is trained. I do like that 4E helps the DC system work by having all PCs advance in skills by level but I miss the loss of skill ranks and PC definition.

So, ideally a skill system would have a way that PCs select skills over time in some manner, have a way that untrained PCs could perform basic tasks, would not bother with meaningless rolls, and that would prevent a PC completely breaking the DC system.

One way to do that is to have advancement not consist of ranks but of training and capabilities. For example, you might initially take baseline training in Athletics, but next level you bump up the sub-category of Climbing. There could be different costs to each area, keeping it simple but adding a way that you increase (perhaps from Journeyman to Expert) in the sub-category. A player might have to choose between being really good at climbing and being average at athletics. Or, between being decent at many skills but lacking expertise in any sub-components. A simple system of progression in broad vs sub-categories might allow the player to gain that sense of definition without tracking skill ranks. Feats could potentially address both skills and associated capabilities. Tumble might have a benefit and provide a bonus to (or elevate your proficiency in) Acrobatics.

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A moderately skilled character still faces the hazard of a poor roll leading to failure even at relatively low DCs or high chances of success. The routine skill check is almost always still dangerous in D&D.

Isn't this what the take 10 rule is supposed to be for?  True, PCs can't take 10 in combat, but even simple tasks can be difficult when you're required to perform them in between dodging lethal attacks.  Also, between powers/feats that allow re-rolls and/or set a minimum roll result, there are plenty of ways for a "skilled" character to mitigate the perceived problem even under the most extreme circumstances.

that pressure gives a big incentive for players to absolutely maximize their skills. With an increasing gap between the specialist and the guy who has made zero investment in a skill, a DM might have trouble creating appropriate challenges.

This isn't really a problem of bonuses or die rolls, but rather more so a problem with the binary success/failure nature of most skill checks.  The idea work around is to make more skills work on a system of degrees of success, where it becomes less a question of "do I succeed/fail?" and more a question of "how successful am I?"

Last week's Climb skill was a good example of success by degrees.  Only an unskilled climber would have much chance of failure, while skilled characters are instead rolling to determine how quickly they ascend.
The main drawback to a system like this is the same as with all description-based systems - everyone has a different idea of what "easy" or "hard" is, just like the practice of saying "you're moderately wounded" (while refusing to give out hit point numbers) leads to everyone having a different idea of just how hurt the character actually is. I could see a split-the-difference approach though: keep DCs and the d20, but your skill modifier becomes your minimum roll (rather like Brutal X for damage rolls now) rather than something you add to the roll. Now there's automatic success for activities up to a point, while still allowing unskilled characters to get lucky on occasion. And if something really is impossible then it gets to be DC 21 - unless a clever plan reduces it. (Circumstantial modifiers change the DC rather than providing a bonus/penalty to the check.) This also allows the subsystem to continue "talking" to the other subsystems, because it's still using a d20-based structure.



Ooh! that's good! REALLY cool idea I love it!
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Ok, I read L&L.

It seems wiser for skills to stick with the same math that 4e combat uses.



The article divides skill actions into “skill levels”, but the combat math already has these: the tiers. The skill rankings correspond to the combat math, and refer well to the half-tiers.

Low Heroic (level 1) = “Novice”
Heroic (level 6) = Artisan (Journeyman, Journeywoman, Journeyer)

Low Paragon (level 11) = “Expert”
Paragon (level 16) = “Master”

• Low Epic (level 21) = Headmaster
Epic (level 26) = “Grandmaster”

Divine (level 31) = “Impossible”

With regard to the combat math, each of these half-tiers already has appropiate values for the defenses.

It simplifies the game to use the same system, for both combat and skills. The work is already done.



Using the combat defenses, simplifies the skills.

For example, instead of needing to assign three different defense values to each level - “easy, moderate, or hard” becomes 90 different values! - it is much simpler to assign ONE defense value for each half-tier. You only need 6 defense values. (You can even ballpark it to 3 different values, one for each tier.)

The value of a defense (AC, Refl, Fort, Will) roughly equals the level + 12. Some defenses may be one or two points higher, other defenses may be one or two points lower.

For skills, it seems easier to round the defense to roughly the level + 14. For example, level 11 at Low Paragon would have a defense value of 25. This represents a “moderate” difficulty for someone with moderate specialization.



Defense Values for Skill Action with “Moderate” Difficulty

• Low Heroic (level 1): Defense 15
• Heroic (level 6): Defense 20

• Low Paragon (level 11): Defense 25
• Paragon (level 16): Defense 30

• Low Epic (level 21): Defense 35
• Epic (level 26): Defense 40

• Divine (level 31): Defense 45

(Note, ballparking the defense for improv skill actions: Heroic ≈ 20, Paragon ≈ 30, Epic ≈ 40.)




In other words, a skill action that has a defense of 25 is, by definition, a “Low Paragon” skill action.



Examples:

• A level-11 character with moderate specialization has about a +15 bonus to a skill check (such as +3 ability +5 half-level +3 proficieny +3 enhancement +1 item). Thus the difficulty of the Low Paragon skill action is “moderate”. d20 +15 versus defense 25. About 50% chance of success.

• A level-11 character with high specialization has about a +20 bonus (such as +6 ability +5 half-level +3 proficiency +2 expertise +3 enhancement +1 item). This makes the same Low Paragon skill action “easy”:  d20 +20 versus defense 25. About a 75% chance of success.

• No specialization (namely +0 ability +5 half-level +0 proficiency +0 enhancement) will find the same defense exceedingly difficult: d20 +5 versus defense 25. About a 5% chance of success. But a Take 20 option is still possible if there is no rush, and thus succeed eventually.



Note, a DM can give a circumstantial “advantage” bonus of +2 or +3 if the player comes up with a compelling idea to overcome the opposition.



The L&L article also brings up the point of auto-success at skill actions. Auto-success helps simplify many skill actions by not even needing to check them. Using the above half-tiers values for the defenses, if a person has a total bonus to the check that is greater than the defense, then there is no need to roll. For example: A Paragon character with +20 to the skill check will automatically succeed at all Heroic skill actions, since they their defense will be about 20 or lower.
It's interesting, but I don't really feel the need to move to a differig mechanic for just one part of the game - more d20 consistency is a good/easy thing for players.

As a DM I've never really had a problem with skills.  I already use ability checks (with obviously lower DCs) and I often just give auto passes for PCs who have high enough skills or if they're attempting easy actions.  Rolling is reserved for actions which carry a g enuine risk of failure and a dramatic consequence - otherwise I just RP it, or if a PC has +5/8/22 whatever I say you do it.  Why would anyone do if differently anyway?  I'm not sure what can be gained by changing numbers to titles???  And numbers make opposed checks much easier, as well as giving players more options in character building and specialisation.
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I like this column - I confess I am not very objective, as it is very near of the way I design skills myself in RPGs.
It has many advantages. First, even if it seems to be nothing, words are better than numbers : it is clearer for a player to know he is a Master Lockpicker than having +10 in lockpick. When creating a character/NPC, you just have to chose the "descriptor" you need for the skill, rather than making calculations. This is always good.
Automatic successes are not a problem, especially in a game that wants to be "heroic", as D&D.
It also makes character progresion "stronger" : "skilling up" has a very visible effect on the game, and I like it that way.

There are problems with this method, however, or rather, precautions have to be taken.

First problem is the number and granularity of skills. If the game defines too few skills, it becomes easier to have them all at high level, and challenging becomes difficult. Making "skill levelling" difficult can counter this problem, but will make players unhappy. But I think that 4E skill list can be appropriate, with level 1 characters having 4 or 5 ranks, and a gain of one rank every two levels, maybe - needs testing.

Second problem : every character should be able to try any skill "roll", even if the difficulty class is far over their skill level. For those times where players can't find a way around the obstacle and have to try. Otherwise, it makes non-character specific adventures difficult, and will push players to always select specific skills - those that risk the most to be obstacles in a typical adventure.
When I say "any difficulty class", I also mean "impossible" ones - or rather "divine difficulty" ones, a difficulty just under "truly impossible". Epic characters should be able to try things of a  god-like level, in my opinion.

Third problem : characters with a very high level in a skill always succeed at many difficulty rolls. How can you keep a Grandmaster challenged ? Of course, you can give him "maluses" driving the difficulty to "impossible", and push the player to find ways to lower it, but it can't be done in some circumstances, and can be frustrating. You already gave a way to "challenge" by having a d20 roll when difficulty is equal to the skill level, but I don't know if it is enough " challenge" for the player - or the DM

Fourth problem : You use a random roll to determine success when difficulty = skill. Why not - but my own tastes ( and here insist on the subjectivity of this opinion) as a player and DM push me to think that it would be better to complement this possibility of a random roll with a way for the character to " rise" his skill level for a given task, even if he has no "situational bonus" available. Maybe a class power, or Point spending system ( points either given by class, or skill mastery, or global "hero points/fate points" ). Spend one point and make the next roll as an Expert rather than a Journeyman. It would help for point 2 above, and would give the players a way to get rid of randomness in some situations, in exchange for spending a ressource. Nothing is more "heroic" feeling than being able to succeed at a task you shouldn't when you really need to.

Fifth point : I like this system, but I also happen to like the ideas of "basic tasks anyone can do combined with special abilities" of last column. Combined with this "skill level class" idea, it would mean that the basics are covered by Novice ( and every character is at least Novice in any skill), and rules give a lot of possible situational bonuses lowering the difficulty, and/or ways to be better for a given task than you should be (see 4). It also means that skill progression should be combined with some kind of "skill feats", like what you designed last time - maybe for instance skill feats like "your Athletics skill is one rank higher for climbing tasks"...

Sixth : partial success... Let's take for instance climbing : climbing the cliff is a success, but in some situation, only climbing it fast is really a success. Or climbing it discretly.
Rules must specify ways for the DM and player to appraise the secondary aspects of "success" - this kind of things happen a lot in game. Maybe "success rank" : if your rank is above the difficulty, each rank of difference gives a special effect : faster climb, stealthy climb, etc .

So.
I LIKE this idea. But it is not as easy to design as it seems. " named ranks" systems may be frustrating for players or DMs when they are used at the table. Players don't like to be unable to do something - and DMs don't like systems too "limiting" of what characters can do, as it forces them to be very creative about balance, especially if they write for characters they don't know yet.
I think you need to combine it with a " heroic effort" rule : ressources the character can spend to achieve exceptional success, or you risk making skills too "static". And you then would have my vote
I've read 3 times the column, now - your system seems to work well, combines the "everybody can do" with ranks rather well if the base difficulty is always Novice and you just add modifiers to this rank... I think that a problem with it is that you can't see all the subtleties at first sight - it needs some reflection to be truly understood, it can be a bad "selling point". 

I really like this idea, but I fear many old time D&D players ( many players, old and new, in fact) won't be attracted to it. I think "automatic success" is too far away from their playing habits - this is a concept very convincing if you think more of adventures as stories, less if you think more of them as " puzzles" your characters must solve, and you find both schools, and every step between, in the "D&D crowd". I think this sytem would be really interesting for D&D, BUT you will have to convince the audience that it will make the game more fun at the table. I suggest adding a " heroic ressource", as said above, to give players a new toy. No, it is not me shamelessly insisting on my own ideas Innocent.

I'd like to see this idea more developped, and tested. Really. The fact it is almost the system I'm designing myself for my 4E games since last year as nothing to do with it ;)
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The only thing i dont like about this method is without a good metric to measure against the DCs could wildly vary from DM to DM.


True, although frankly I like the way it's broken down.  I'll probably adapt the whole vague system into a more concrete version in my game:

Easy DC: 5+1/2 level, Moderate DC: 10+1/2 level, Hard DC: 15+1/2 level, Master DC: 20+1/2 level, Grandmaster DC: 30+1/2 level, and in virtually all cases, if your skill bonus total is equal to or greater than the DC, you auto-succeed (with exceptions below).

Novice -> Easy DC, but if you're trained, you auto-succeed.
Journeyman -> Moderate DC or Hard DC, depending on situation.
Expert -> Hard DC, can only be done if trained.
Master -> Master DC, can only be done if trained.
Grandmaster -> Grandmaster DC, can only be done if with Skill Focus.
Impossible -> No amount of training or skill will help you, even if you're a level 30 demigod with all the bonuses granted to you by the game.

And I could also use this to determine varying degrees of success: I could have a task that's journeyman level, but with extra benefits if they hit the expert, master, and grandmaster levels (or maybe just up to expert, depending on situation) Why the 1/2 level?  Because by default the current system uses 1/2 levels and it'd show that for some challenges the DC would always be Easy/Moderate/Hard/Master/Grandmaster, while for other challenges the DC would become much more bearable as your level increased.

EDIT: Granted, I'll probably put only a few things in the realm of impossible, and most will likely be journeyman or expert, because I'm not into overcomplicating the whole thing anyway

EDIT (again): I also have a tendency of shifting up or down the DC, so what might be for an expert or even a master skill might become journeyman (hard) with the right people or the right gear for the given situation, and there is always the possibility that an unexpected turn of events would turn a trivial matter into the realm of Master or even Grandmaster, if at all possible (not that I'd do that unless my players actually DID do something, like I dunno, bear witness to an assassination taking place while your party's master diplomat was speaking to the now-dead king and even if the party killed the assassin, the they are at the risk of having the entire kingdom think that the group is at least an accessory to murder, if not part of the murder plot themselves?  That's a bit too much of a d*** I suppose, but still if it's part of the plot...) ;)
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This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging

This system feels very realistic but not very heroic.  I think this is a case of matching mechanics with genre.  I'd like this system in a modern game but not in a Star Wars game or high fantasy D&D.  However it'd work well in A Game of Thrones RPG where realism trumps high action drama.

Fundamentally at its best D&D is about what happens when the Volcano blow's sky high and you have tor run for your lives.  Not going to happen in A Game of Thrones RPG because its to improbable.  But in D&D this is what its all about and the frantic adrenalin induced dice rolling to see if we can escape is where the fun is found.  Luck, especially improbable luck - good and bad - is what its all about.  THat's when the shouting begins and we get in trouble with the hosts wife because we are making too much noise.

I like the concept... think you can do really cool things with it. Especially when you start adding in the "Heroic Effort" rules that let you bump your skill rating in skills by making certain sacrifices. Things like "you can't lift that because it's too heavy" -> "I'll use Heroic Effort, spend a bunch of Healing Surges and lift it anyway".

With a "sacrifice to boost" system you could add back in all the heroics you always see in adventure movies, where someone does something he shouldn't be able to do, but at great personal cost.
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This system feels very realistic but not very heroic.  I think this is a case of matching mechanics with genre.  I'd like this system in a modern game but not in a Star Wars game or high fantasy D&D.  However it'd work well in A Game of Thrones RPG where realism trumps high action drama.

Fundamentally at its best D&D is about what happens when the Volcano blow's sky high and you have tor run for your lives.  Not going to happen in A Game of Thrones RPG because its to improbable.  But in D&D this is what its all about and the frantic adrenalin induced dice rolling to see if we can escape is where the fun is found.  Luck, especially improbable luck - good and bad - is what its all about.  THat's when the shouting begins and we get in trouble with the hosts wife because we are making too much noise.


I'm thinking that the system simply handwaives rolls that do not deserve to be rolled.  An expert in Thievery will virtually always do normal locks right, unless they're placed in precarious situations (which would be represented in the proposed system by raising the challenge from [so trivial for you that you don't need to roll] to [ok you now must roll because it's much more difficult and stressful than before].  This is likely a codification of what DMs would tend to do anyway -- handwaiving trivial or impossible matters that is, at least for those who don't utilize auto-success on a 20 and auto-fail on a 1 -- so I'm liking that the whole thing's at least put onto paper

Now, if the dev team decide to keep it as an uber-vague system for 5E, I'm just going to modify what I posted awhile ago to fit the 5E skill challenge scenario and use that, to make it easier on me... but if they codify this vague system beautifully, then I'll use that instead.
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57047238 wrote:
If you're crossing the street and see a city bus barreling straight toward you with 'GIVE ME YOUR WALLET!' painted across its windshield, you probably won't be reaching for your wallet.
I Don't Always Play Strikers...But When I Do, I Prefer Vampire Stay Thirsty, My Friends
This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
Considering the dislike I have seen in DMs and players at conventions and game days for take 10 and take 20 I suspect people actually like a bit of randomness and unpredictability in their games even for skills they should easily make. We all know the "only on a 1 I fail" moments ;) Sometimes I personally love these risks, but at other times I dislike them. So I am a bit split on this suggestion...

As for gradual success, while it is missing, you could institute a system were a player can volluntarily raise the required skill level by 1  or more to the point they need to make a role in return for a better result. Depending on the situation you could not penalize the results (still a basic success even if the check fails) or penalize it (on a failed roll the results fail). For example, if you want to open a lock speedily or silently, failure would mean you just use the standard speed/noise, but if you climb hastily the check might lead to a fall.
I like the suggested system, mainly because it is more simluationist, and I prefer that kind of game. One thing I really don't like about 4e is the "auto scaling" DCs as PC gain levels. The only thing I might change is that there shouldn't be an auto failure, just increasing penalties to the check (or maybe 2 ranks below, you still check at a larger penalty, then 3 ranks below ok auto fail).
I like the suggested system, mainly because it is more simluationist, and I prefer that kind of game. One thing I really don't like about 4e is the "auto scaling" DCs as PC gain levels. The only thing I might change is that there shouldn't be an auto failure, just increasing penalties to the check (or maybe 2 ranks below, you still check at a larger penalty, then 3 ranks below ok auto fail).

You do realize that the auto-scaling is supposed to have nothing to do with the level of the PCs, but with the level of the challenge? At level 1 a skill challenge to get from a sinking ship is supposed to be set in calm water without dangerous predators. At level 15 it is in a raging storm with razor sharp rocks and at level 25 in a sea made out of acid with a maelstrom the size of a city. If the DCs for the challenge feel way too high, than what you are running should not be a skill challenge just as that you would not use level 1 kobolds in a fight against level 10 PCs.

I realise that ... but it's still basically just a refluffing cop-out... In older editions you had "hardcoded" DCs for increasingly difficult tasks ... which yes involved lots of tables, but I have no problem with that.
In fact some things are still hardcoded - eg jumping distances, destroying doors, a few other things. I just prefer that kind of certainty.
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i dont like it and heres why. you seem to think this simplifies things by avoiding a few dice rolls, when you are really replacing a simple easy-moderate-hard scale with 6 different classifications, all with their own little rules. it is just more convoluted. although i have always liked the fact that some classes are just not very good in a skill, i still respect the dice, and like that there is always a small chance either way of a lucky success or unlucky failure no matter how great you are at something. the 4e system already has a simple method in place to avoid pointless rolls: passive checks. there is already good advice in the dm books about taking 10, taking 20 if theres no rush, and if you have a pc with 15 athletics, you dont have to have a roll to run and jump a 10 foot pit. i dont think you are taking into consideration that there are already these ways to avoid the dice rolls. finally, it seems you despise when a pc is phenomenal in a skill when this is really a game about heroes who do superhuman things.

to summarize: your system isnt simpler at all, the goals are already in place in the 4e system, your system takes away the luck aspect of the dice roll which is intrinsic in the game and makes for the random aspect, and your system negates a bit of the heroic aspect of the pc


PLEASE spend this same energy on RITUALS and let skills go
I realise that ... but it's still basically just a refluffing cop-out... In older editions you had "hardcoded" DCs for increasingly difficult tasks ... which yes involved lots of tables, but I have no problem with that.



The only thing that changed between then and now is that they removed the tables, nothing else changed. The old system worked in the exact same way. The only thing definite DCs did was break a lot of skill systems (as Mike explains in the article)

If someone comes up with a bunch of tables then 4e will be doing the same thing as 3e. You'll only lose the ability to set your own DCs depending on what you find reasonable. So basically what we have now is 3e with more flexibility. 
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It doesn't work the same because under the old system, you could build a 10th level thief who could scale a sheer glass wall, if you maxed him out to do so... You can't do that with 4e, the difficulty will "auto adjust" to make sure you end up with a challenging roll... which negates any sense of advancement, in my book. Yes, you could get PCs who (by maxing out) could do some crazy things at low level... but I don't see that as a problem. There is an opportunity cost for such over specialization. In 4e however that option (or a toned down version of it) is simply impossible. The suggested system feels more "hardcoded" to me, and thus... I likes it.

You can still do that if you max out the roll, it's just a bit harder and nobody ever does it. If you max Str, get training, focus, item boosts, etc, etc then you can still scale a wall of glass without handholds at 10th level.

I don't really see the issue you're seeing. 
Epic Dungeon Master

Want to give your players a kingdom of their own? I made a 4e rule system to make it happen!

Your Kingdom awaits!
Update 5th Sep 2011: Added a sample kingdom, as well as sample of play.
 
I really like this idea, but I fear many old time D&D players ( many players, old and new, in fact) won't be attracted to it. I think "automatic success" is too far away from their playing habits - this is a concept very convincing if you think more of adventures as stories, less if you think more of them as " puzzles" your characters must solve, and you find both schools, and every step between, in the "D&D crowd".  



Not necessarily we use automatic successes in skilll challlenge currently when somebody gets an idea that well really just seems like it ought to work ie it solves the puzzle aspect ... that steps the progress forward towards the goal. The result isnt purely a puzzle or purely a dice fest. 
  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

This is a very novel approach and I'm not sure what I feel about it.  Let's deconstruct it a bit.

Mearls identifies the following problems with Skills:


  • Skilled PCs have a chance at failing tasks they should never fail.

  • Skill spread means some PCs have no chance at something skilled characters can accomplish with ease.

  • By quantifying everything conceivable, optimizing skills allows PCs access to game-breaking accomplishments.

  • People want scalable Skills to reflect varying levels of expertise.


His solution is, essentially, to have four levels of Skill Training/difficulties (in bold).  I'll provide two descriptors... one for the difficulty and one for the corresponding level of training.  So forgive me, but I'm not going to use Mearls' nomenclature:

  1. Elementary...n/a

  2. Average...Untrained

  3. Difficult...Amatuer

  4. Formidable...Professional

  5. Exacting...Master

  6. Quixotic...Virtuoso

  7. Impossible...n/a

PCs would start at Novice and then train up through Grandmaster.  If your skill exceeds the difficulty, you accomplish it automatically.  If your skill equals the difficulty the DC is 15, modified by armor, Ability, feats, items, etc.  If your skill is less than the DC, you fail. 

My evaluation:


  • The system does take care of the first issue.  A trained character will always succeed at the stuff they should succeed at.

  • The system does not take care of the skill spread issue.  In this scenario, you will have characters who are Untrained while others are Virtuosos at the same task.  The Untrained will never be able to accomplish tasks of Amateur, Professional, or Master difficulty, while the Virtuoso will always accomplish them.  In fact, there's no way to establish a task that can challenge both characters.  So this means, once again, don't bother to train in being stealthy, unless your DM is willing to split the party, because your sneakiness will always be undone by the Untrained sneak.

  • The "Impossible" setting does eliminate impossible tasks.

  • The Skills are scalable.


In the end, this is fine, but it doesn't solve one of the problems Mearls himself identifies: skill spread.  And skill spread is a huge problem.

Here's my take.  Mearls is ignorign a central problem that has plagued Skills since 2e's non-weapon proficiencies: lack of teamwork.  D&D is supposed to be team-oriented.  But skills are individually oriented.  In combat, everyone is competing on the same field: damage.  Even if the wizard is a Controller attacking with Intelligence, and the Fighter is a defender attacking with Strength, they are both working towards the same goal... reducing the foe to 0 hp, while keeping themselves and allies at positive hp.  An  with 4e, they are usually working together at that goal, with the wizard creating zones to harass the enemy and channel them to the fighter, while the fighter is markign the enemy and keeping them from getting to the fragile wizard. 

But in Skills, it's every man for himself.  Even in Skill Challenges, people work as a team incidentally.  Each player tosses his best Skills into the ring, and then they try to make sense of it and see which ones will garner the requisite successes.  The Skills are not designed to make people with diverse abilities cooperate or synergize in any way.  It's not teamwork. 

If he wants a radical change, Skills should be reoriented.  They are designed to work as if the adventurer was operating alone.  They should be designed to work as if the adventurer is part of a team of professional adventurers.
Even in Skill Challenges, people work as a team incidentally.  Each player tosses his best Skills into the ring, and then they try to make sense of it and see which ones will garner the requisite successes.  The Skills are not designed to make people with diverse abilities cooperate or synergize in any way.  It's not teamwork. 

If he wants a radical change, Skills should be reoriented.  They are designed to work as if the adventurer was operating alone.  They should be designed to work as if the adventurer is part of a team of professional adventurers. 



QFT - a radical thing would indeed be bringing the awesome sense of teamwork to the arena of out of combat challenge resolution.
  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

but there is already that in place. races giving bonuses to your teammates skills, powers etc, also wilderness knacks helping the team climb. maybe it could be expanded but its already there
but there is already that in place. races giving bonuses to your teammates skills, powers etc, also wilderness knacks helping the team climb. maybe it could be expanded but its already there



Very faint and not very organized unlike the roles and in general the out of combat is not much in the way of well defined choices either.
  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

but there is already that in place. races giving bonuses to your teammates skills, powers etc, also wilderness knacks helping the team climb. maybe it could be expanded but its already there


Static bonuses is not teamwork.  The elf doesn't do anything to make you better at Perception.  He's just radiating an aura or magical eye-improvement.

The fighter is actively marking people with his attacks.  The wizard is choosing spells to capitalize on the fighter's strengths. 

People need ways to ensure they are able to participate in any skill challenge in a way that is meaningful, active, and consistent with their character. 
but there is already that in place. races giving bonuses to your teammates skills, powers etc, also wilderness knacks helping the team climb. maybe it could be expanded but its already there


Static bonuses is not teamwork.  The elf doesn't do anything to make you better at Perception.  He's just radiating an aura or magical eye-improvement.

The fighter is actively marking people with his attacks.  The wizard is choosing spells to capitalize on the fighter's strengths. 

People need ways to ensure they are able to participate in any skill challenge in a way that is meaningful, active, and consistent with their character. 



i think skill challenges are pretty dead; its kind of artificial, forced roleplay. but i am interested in what your specific solutions to your perceived lack of teamwork in skill use would be, if not providing a flavorful bonus to the skill
Without reworking skills completely from the ground up, I'm not sure how they could re-implement them. The "teamwork" aspect of skills and skill challenges is vague and requires a bit of imagination stretching. Yes, everyone can contribute, but do they really? The old "aid another" part is just silly. "I can't really contribute to this process, so here, have a +1 to help you do it." Did I contribute? Yes...sort of. Did I actively contribute? Nope.

I have never truly seen the issue that so many seem to have with some characters not being able to contribute all the time to every possible scenario. Why is it such an issue for some people? The wizard can decipher the strange runes scrawled into the cavern wall, but the fighter cannot. So? The fighter can push the boulder out of the escape path, and the rogue cannot. Again, so? Why does everyone have to be able to contribute 100% to every action? Each character has their strengths and weaknesses. True teamwork is not as easy as everyone adding their +1 to the guy doing the heavy lifting. True teamwork is being able to take advantage of each other's strengths, recognize each other's weaknesses, and know who can do what and who can't, yet be able to overcome the obstacles anyway.

Now, someone is bound to say, "But the skill monkey will have all the fun and everyone else will have to sit by and watch". This is rubbish, of course, but it gets said every time a conversation like this arises. Yes, the skill monkey will be able to do a great many things that some of the others cannot. Th other side of this coin is that the skill monkey, having dumped so many resources into his skills, is likely going to come up short elsewhere. This is where his teammates come in. The thief might be able to pick a lock while juggling twelve apples and picking someone's pocket, but one good sword-swing and he's in trouble. Without the fighter to help protect him, he's not going to make it alone, especially at lower levels. That's the teamwork payoff. I can't do some of the things you can, and you can't do some of the things I can. Together we can do anything. And that means a whole lot more than everyone adding a +1 to someone else's attempts. It teaches the team to actually rely on each other, not simply use each other as a bonus-generator.
I like it.  Pretty much all of it.  I think this line of articles on skills shows some real promise, to the point where I wouldn't object to figuring out how to implement it in 4e, and not having to wait for the next edition to see it in action.
D&D Next = D&D: Quantum Edition
Wrecan - I agree that team work should be favored.
Maybe a character with a higher skill rank than the difficulty could "give" his excess ranks to a less skilled character for an action (the master helps the novice to climb the wall). Or, if "heroism points" are used, the ability to spend points for some one else in the team. And/or, of course, powers or features allowing to help others...
Or simply : "you can rise the difficulty rank by one for each character of your team you want to help make the skill test. If you suceed, any character you helped succeeds too."

Something like the "perversity points" of Paranoia XP or the "ride along" rules of ToC (one character rolls the dice, his success applies to all member of the team who spent one point of the skill, if they can't, the difficulty is higher...).
Remember Tunnel Seventeen !
So, the system proposed in this week's article is functionally identical to the current (d20) schema interpreted as follows:

DC: Novice 15, Journeyman 30, Expert 45, Master 60, Grandmaster 75, Impossible 90

Skill modifier: Novice +0, Journeyman +15, Expert +30, Master +45, Grandmaster +60

And we have gone from last week's column suggesting +2 for skill training and "circumstance modifiers" (i.e. the DM likes your idea), to +15 for these same situations.

So, the question it boils down to is "do you want the different elements to have a small or a large role in determining success?"
======= Balesir
i am interested in what your specific solutions to your perceived lack of teamwork in skill use would be, if not providing a flavorful bonus to the skill


I would like there to be the noncombat equivalent of combat roles based on group dynamics theories.  In real-world teams, people don't sit around during tasks.  People contribute, based on their personality as much as on their training.  Skills take care of the trainign, but we could use a mechanic that emphasizes the personality.  Are you an organizer?  A visionary?  A nitpicker?  Use group dynamics theories to create noncombat roles that help frame how someone can contribute if their skills aren't directly useful.

Why is it such an issue for some people? The wizard can decipher the strange runes scrawled into the cavern wall, but the fighter cannot. So?


Yes, the skill monkey will be able to do a great many things that some of the others cannot. Th other side of this coin is that the skill monkey, having dumped so many resources into his skills, is likely going to come up short elsewhere. This is where his teammates come in.


That's not teamwork.  You are not a part of a team if you take turns doing things as individuals.  A team is when, while the thief is working the lock, the others also know how they can contribute to the success of the mission.

Wrecan - I agree that team work should be favored.
Maybe a character with a higher skill rank than the difficulty could "give" his excess ranks to a less skilled character for an action (the master helps the novice to climb the wall).


I like that suggestion.  Maybe you can raise another PC's rank by one, take a -1 penalty to your own roll for each PC so boosted.  Or you raise everyone's rank by one but lower your own rank by one.  nobody's rank can be raised by more than two this way.

If that were so, then a couple of Virtuousos could drop down to Master to raise everyone else up from Novice to Master.  Then everyone is making checks and is actively involved.  Of course, the result is a complete homogenization.  It needs work, but I think it has the beginnings of a good solution.

First and most importantly, the biggest issue with skills is the failure to tightly contain the math of skill bonuses.  This STILL has not been addressed explicitly.  Can we get a commitment to fix the math.

Secondly,  I'm not sure the proposal adds value.  IT would be just as easy to say that Trained always succeeds at easy tasks and Well trained always succeeds at easy and moderate tasks as to introduce the convolutions described.

Third, If it doesn't add value, there is negative value in deviationg from a universal system by making one part of the game function one way, and one another.

I would almost rather see skills challenges involve an accumulation of success points (SP).  You roll vs. DC and then based on ability score, feat and item investment you accumulate SP in the same way that accumulationg HPs removes mosnters.  You could even design skill challenges with multiple obstacles each of which has it's own separate DCs and mechanics.  Hmm ... must ponder.