Fixing The Skill System

Firstly, here are the problems:
1) New system does very little to reflect mastery over a skill or really make a player feel awesome at something without feats.
2) Skills leveling automatically reduces play choice and character customization
3) The OLD system made skill mastery a qualitative issue that barred characters from attempting a lot of checks, or trivialized them.  Lots of auto-pass and auto-fail which is not dynamic or fun.  Bounded accuracy fixes this, but also somewhat trivializes training.

So here is my fix.  It keeps with bounded accuracy, but makes qualitative differentiations between different characters and their different levels of training in a skill.  I provide loose examples below.


Proficiency ranks

three to four levels of proficiency for each skill.  (low, medium, high...whatever you want to call them is cool)
Don't have it can't use it.  
Each character would start, however, with basic proficiency in most skills.  Climb, Swim, Survival, Sneak, Spot, Use Rope.... anything that a regular person genuinely could attempt using their intuition.  (I would really only bar off things like specific knowledge skills, performance, maybe disable device and sleight of hand.... things that genuinely require training and that a novice would have no real chance of doing.  The following solution does not make this assumption, however and assumes that all players can use all skills with or without training)
At each proficiency level, the character would get access to new skill usages and a bonus based on his proficiency level.  This helps to further differentiate the skilled from the unskilled without barring players from reasonable actions within a bounded system.

So, the first rank of proficiency just lets you use the skill.  The next 3 would give you a bonus of +1d4 each.
Here are some example skills:

Heal
lvl 1 - You can apply first aid to stabilize a dying creature.  You can use a Healer's Kit to allow up to 10 characters under your care to spend one of their hit dice to recover.
lvl 2 - You can use a Healer's Kit to allow up to 10 characters under your care to spend any number of hit dice to recover.  You know how to set bones and create makeshift splints.
lvl 3 - Your knowledge of anatomy and toxins allows you to attempt to treat poisons, although the DM may require you to have access to certain herbs or other materials to do so
lvl 4 - You are a fully competent physician and may use the Heal skill to treat diseases and even invent cures.  You may even be able to delay the effects of magical diseases.

Disable Device
lvl 1- You know the basics of mechanical devices, and can attempt to pick locks but when you do so, they are permanently damaged and cannot be reused or reset.  You can disable traps by springing them harmlessly.  Traps that reset are damaged enough by this process that they no longer reset.
lvl 2 - You can pick locks without damaging the internal mechanics and they can be reused and leave no trace of your presence.  You can disable traps without setting them off, rendering them useless and broken.
lvl 3 - You may choose to set off a trap, disable it permanently, or disable it so that it can be reset in the future.  If you disable and then reset a trap, you may choose to leave no trace of your presence.
lvl  4 - Your mastery over traps allows you to attempt to disable even magical traps,  In addition, if you can improvise the effects of  a set of thieves tools by using any number of common items (slivers of metal, pieces of bone or glass etc.)

Track
lvl 1 - you can use this skill to find and follow markings left by creatures in the last 24 hours.  Recent snow or very hard ground makes this impossible.  When you are tracking, you must move at half of your normal travel speed.
lvl 2 - You are an avid huntsman and can track your quarry at full speed.  You can determine a rough estimate of the number of creatures that you are tracking, and can identify tracks as Humanoid or non-humanoid.  You can also determine the size category of anything you are tracking.  
lvl 3 - You can find and follow tracks even in recent snow or firm ground by moving at half speed.  You can identify tracks that you are following by making a knowledge check related to the type of creatures being tracked.  You also know exactly how many creatures you are following and whether or not they are encumbered, traveling lightly, or wearing heavy armor.  You can find and follow tracks that are up to 3 days old.
1v1 4 - You can track creatures in areas that would otherwise be impossible to track in.  Even through crowded city streets.  You can tell if the creatures you are following are wounded or healthy (full health, more than 50% or less than 50%) and accurately determine their land speed.  You can estimate the approximate age of tracks to within 2 hours.

So these are just some thoughts, and I expect that a module could do this... but I think that a system like this could help to spread out skill training and create real incentives for high levels of training without barring characters from using these skills in their more generalized forms.

You can keep the bounded accuracy for a lock, for example, but the way that characters with different levels of training deals with it could be modified.  This way you can make a qualitative differentiation  for skill training rather than just a quantitative one.  Bob the barbarian might be able to disable a lock and get into a house, but Robby the Rogue can do it without leaving a trace, and can lock up once he leaves even though the DC is the same for both of them.

really like this solution, and would love to see something like it implemented.
Eventually there will be a debate between which skills could literally be done without training and which cant

For example, I might be able to use my intuition and by watching the machine a bit be able to notice that removing the cog in the middle there would probably disable the machine as a whole

or I could use the reverse example, that this isnt merely simple climbing, this is climbing while using weighted gear! or this isnt just being able to see and listen, this is being able to see/hear extremely minor details at extremely fast speeds!

My point is, it should be all skills or none
Eventually there will be a debate between which skills could literally be done without training and which cant

For example, I might be able to use my intuition and by watching the machine a bit be able to notice that removing the cog in the middle there would probably disable the machine as a whole

or I could use the reverse example, that this isnt merely simple climbing, this is climbing while using weighted gear! or this isnt just being able to see and listen, this is being able to see/hear extremely minor details at extremely fast speeds!

My point is, it should be all skills or none



That's why I left that caveat in there.  I can't say, one way or another, which side of that argument should win.  But I think there is merit to the concept of gating skill usages.  It is a more qualitative approach which I think is desperately needed in a bounded binary system.  It leaves the sense of progression and skill mastery in, while keeping things universally possible in the most rudimentary sense.
Eventually there will be a debate between which skills could literally be done without training and which cant

For example, I might be able to use my intuition and by watching the machine a bit be able to notice that removing the cog in the middle there would probably disable the machine as a whole

or I could use the reverse example, that this isnt merely simple climbing, this is climbing while using weighted gear! or this isnt just being able to see and listen, this is being able to see/hear extremely minor details at extremely fast speeds!

My point is, it should be all skills or none



That's why I left that caveat in there.  I can't say, one way or another, which side of that argument should win.  But I think there is merit to the concept of gating skill usages.  It is a more qualitative approach which I think is desperately needed in a bounded binary system.  It leaves the sense of progression and skill mastery in, while keeping things universally possible in the most rudimentary sense.

What about investing in a skill twice? Double the bonus, and you don't need to make too many new rules.

I do also not like the idea of streamlining skills. Part of the fun of the game was rewarding or being rewarded for investing in skills to a master's level.
I do agree that some skills need a requirement before they can be attempted. However, everyone seems to forget the neat little text in the DM Guidelines on p3:

Options for Checks
These four [sic] options apply only to checks.
  Hazards: ...
  Requirements: A check might require a
specific tool, and the training needed to use that
tool, to complete it. For example, you need
thieves’ tools to have any chance of picking most
locks, or a healer’s kit to tend to a badly
wounded comrade.
  A character who cannot meet the
requirements for a check automatically fails. One
who meets them can attempt a check as normal.
  A character might be able to improvise
something to replace a requirement. For
example, lacking a healer’s kit, a cleric might tear
strips from a tabard to bandage a gravely injured
wizard.
  Use common sense to apply this rule. When in
doubt, waive the requirement. Apart from
special items such as thieves’ tools and a healer’s
kit, this step should come up only rarely.
  Skills: ...



In other words, the core rules say to use common sense. If some bit of knowledge is too obscure for all but the most learned experts, then players can't attempt an Intelligence check without the knowledge skill. Ditto for someone who lacks the training to use thieves' tools or whatever.
I like the expert rolling a 1d12 now turning toward 3d4, however the more dice you roll, the more average your result becomes. 1d20 + 6 is very swingy, 1d20+1d12 is less so, and 1d20+3d4 would be even more middle-of-the-line. I still like the possibility of experts failing or doing extraordinary well rather than tending toward above-average, so I'm afraid I believe that the default skill dice are still the way to go.

That said, I do like the idea of new abilities opening up the higher your skill die becomes. I would like to see more advanced skill rules in the core system.
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