Suggestion: Fixing skills for 4 E

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We already know from designer statements that the Star Wars Saga can be looked at as a preview of the skill system of D&D 4E, even though there will be differences between the two skill systems. Some people are thrilled, but some of us intensely dislike some aspects of the Star Wars Saga skill system. Rather than complain incessantly about the new system and accomplish nothing, I thought I would instead state the exact issues some of us have with the new skill system and suggest how these could be rectified within the system.

My main problem with the new system is the lack of an ability to create characters with serious flaws. Yes, I accept the oft repeated phrase that the characters are heroic, but even heroes can have flaws and it often makes them more interesting. Instead of discarding the automatic advancement of skills every second level, though, this could be rectified by enabling the use of character flaws.

I envision something like a character flow called “Inept” followed by a noun derived from the skill, for example: “inept swimmer”, or “inept climber” and so on. This flaw would mean that the character does not automatically advance in the given skill and would conversely provide some other mechanical benefit. The mechanical benefit could be an extra feat or some smaller benefit to prevent abuse. Another way to prevent abuse would be to have a rule that each subsequent character flaw requires more “inept” skills to be chosen to grant further feats (1 non-advancing skill for 1 feat, 2 more non-advancing skills for a 2nd feat, 3 more non-advancing skills for a 3rd feat, etcetera) or abuse could be prevented through limiting the number of character flaws that can thus be taken. For added flexibility, we could also enable the skill to revert from ‘inept’ (non-progressing) to ‘normal’ (progressing at 1 point every two levels, or whatever the rate of skill advancement will be in 4E).

Many people also have a problem with what they deem insufficient granularity in the new skill system (only three levels at each level: untrained, trained and skill-focus). For me this is less of an issue than the inability to simulate character flaws. In any case, it is easily rectified by simply changing the bonuses trained and skill-focus provide and creating more training levels, such as untrained, trained, accomplished, expert and masterful.

I think hardly anybody has a problem with combining the myriad 3.X E skills into fewer broader skills in 4E. That is just a plain good change.
Do not want. Skills are fine the way they are - the only change they should make is that intelligence increases should be retroactive. Combining skills is good, as long as they are not combined too much. I.E. Open Lock --> Disable Device, but not Spot & Listen & Search --> Perception, or Jump & Climb & Swim --> Moving type stuff. That would not be good.
The massive bookkeeping needs to go when creating skills. The skill point system is a Jawsome /\\//\\//\ (that means awesome like Jaws) on paper, but in practice it is a painful level of bookkeeping. Especially when Crossclass skills come into play.

If skill points are kept, I would like a slightly modified system like this one:


Each class would have a list of "class skills". They would pick a few of them as trained skills, 2-6 depending on the class. These skills would progress automatically as per SECR.

No other skill progress automatically as the character gains levels.

Then the character would gain a small amount only 1 or 2 + Int (retroactively with ability increases) per level that could be spent on any skill that they have had a chance to practice in and/or learn since within the last level.

Also yes, a skill flaw system might be a nice option, maybe a -5 (or even -10) to one skill, can never be trained in it to gain a bonus feat at character gen would be nice.
Do not want. Skills are fine the way they are - the only change they should make is that intelligence increases should be retroactive. Combining skills is good, as long as they are not combined too much. I.E. Open Lock --> Disable Device, but not Spot & Listen & Search --> Perception, or Jump & Climb & Swim --> Moving type stuff. That would not be good.

Yes, that's what I initially also advocated: have fewer, more combined skills but leave the basic system alone. It is clear now, though, that they will move to something similar to the SW: Saga based system. As such, it is more productive to simply identify what we dislike about the SW: Saga system and suggest how the same pitfalls could be avoided. Hence my suggestion of creating an "Inept" skill category that could be taken as a character flaw.

The massive bookkeeping needs to go when creating skills. The skill point system is a Jawsome /\\//\\//\ (that means awesome like Jaws) on paper, but in practice it is a painful level of bookkeeping. Especially when Crossclass skills come into play.

If skill points are kept, I would like a slightly modified system like this one:


Each class would have a list of "class skills". They would pick a few of them as trained skills, 2-6 depending on the class. These skills would progress automatically as per SECR.

No other skill progress automatically as the character gains levels.

Then the character would gain a small amount only 1 or 2 + Int (retroactively with ability increases) per level that could be spent on any skill that they have had a chance to practice in and/or learn since within the last level.

Also yes, a skill flaw system might be a nice option, maybe a -5 (or even -10) to one skill, can never be trained in it to gain a bonus feat at character gen would be nice.

See above. Skill system is almost certain to change to one similar to that seen in Star Wars Saga Edition (SWSE). As such, it is probably best to identify what to change in that system to improve it, rather than assuming that the 3E system will remain.
See above. Skill system is almost certain to change to one similar to that seen in Star Wars Saga Edition (SWSE). As such, it is probably best to identify what to change in that system to improve it, rather than assuming that the 3E system will remain.

Oh, I know. I play SAGA, I even use a FantaSaga mod I made to run D&D with the SAGA rules. I prefer its skill system over 3.x, but that doesn't change the fact that I have my own ideas on how the skills should be.
Oh, I know. I play SAGA, I even use a FantaSaga mod I made to run D&D with the SAGA rules. I prefer its skill system over 3.x, but that doesn't change the fact that I have my own ideas on how the skills should be.

In that case we are on the same page. As I pointed out my biggest issue with the SAGA system is that it does not permit the character to be truly bad at something. Hence my proposal of flaws that would grant "Inept" skills (that do not progress at the 1/2 character level or whatever the rate is in 4E) in return for some other mechanical benefit, such as the ability to chose an extra skill as a class skill.
I like this idea. Flaws can enhance roleplaying, as long as they aren't abused.

How about this: a player can gain an additional trained skill by selecting two untrained skills for which he cannot add half his level.

Keeping it all within the realm of skills would be a little easier to balance than getting a feat.

There's some interesting flavor here too. A Paladin could give up Deception and Stealth to be trained in Persuasion. That's fine by me.

I say lose two to gain one to make it more of a cost; clearly the player doesn't intend to ever use the skills he's giving up. That's what the Paladin in my example did, but those skills are still useful; there might come a time when he really should be hiding.

We'd also have to come up with some way to keep players from giving up Profession: Barber or Craft: Basketweaving, or any other skill that is never useful. Granted, the skill system might be made in such a way that anything could be useful at some point.
In that case we are on the same page. As I pointed out my biggest issue with the SAGA system is that it does not permit the character to be truly bad at something. Hence my proposal of flaws that would grant "Inept" skills (that do not progress at the 1/2 character level or whatever the rate is in 4E) in return for some other mechanical benefit, such as the ability to chose an extra skill as a class skill.

How about allowing something like this (I know I will be in my SAGA and FantaSaga games):

Inpet Skill [Flaw]
Effect: Pick one skill, if it is a class skill you lose it as a class skill.
You may never be trained in the chosen skill.
You do not apply one half your character level to skill checks with the chosen skill.
Chose a different skill:
- That skill is now a class skill for you.
- If it was already a class skill for you, it is now a trained skill.
- If that skill is a trained skill for you, you gain Skill Focus in that skill as a bonus feat.
You may only take this flaw at Character Generation at your GM's approval.

As a personal house rule I have prohibited skill focus in Use the Force (called Spellcraft is FantaSaga) until character level 5, so I would not allow this feat to grant skill focus in that skill in my games, but thats just my house rule, so I would not prohibit this flaw from doing that.


There's some interesting flavor here too. A Paladin could give up Deception and Stealth to be trained in Persuasion. That's fine by me.

using the Flaw house rule I drafted, you can take it twice, dropping deception to get perception as a class skill then dropping stealth to get it as a trained skill.
Well, right now there is nothing stated that you can't be inept at something. There is nothing stating that you can't put into your sheet that you cannot swim, but frankly there are few skills you do not use ever.

Under Saga you use every skill to some varying degree with the exception of Use Force and technically Mechanics though I really disagree with that one as there are plenty of uses I can think of for it's use untrained. The major thing that most fail to take into account is that many skill have advanced use (the main uses really) that can't be use untrained.

My major flaw with Flaws is they promote a degree of min-maxing, and there's already enough of that in d20. If they come out with flaws, I'd like them to be simple and not a method for gaining more advantages. Maybe something like they did in UA, most likely something they might do in a future splat book.
My major flaw with Flaws is they promote a degree of min-maxing, and there's already enough of that in d20. If they come out with flaws, I'd like them to be simple and not a method for gaining more advantages. Maybe something like they did in UA, most likely something they might do in a future splat book.

Min/maxing is not a problem as long as there is a well thought out character supporting all those stats.

Also, with flaws, a DM has to know when to say NO to too many flaws.
Min/maxing is not a problem as long as there is a well thought out character supporting all those stats.

Also, with flaws, a DM has to know when to say NO to too many flaws.

I don't have a problem with well thought out characters that have been min/maxed, I just don't think we need yet another field for min/maxing. I think character flaws are great, do you need a mechanical benefit for that though?

I don't think so, flawed characters are about role-play, not roll-play. That's what I mean by doing something minor like what was done in UA.
I don't think so, flawed characters are about role-play, not roll-play. That's what I mean by doing something minor like what was done in UA.

I don't own a copy of UA to check, so I apologize if I am mistaking this for something else, but don't those flaws give you bonus feats in trade as the counterbalance?
Thats pretty big in my book.

If I were to make a flaw system there would be a unique flaw with a minor unique benefit.
Why can't a player say the following,

"My player can't swim. I don't want to be able to swim". and the DM saying "Ok, you gain no class-level bonus to your swim skill".

No need for Flaws (as honestly, flaws are inherently a min-max concept).
I don't own a copy of UA to check, so I apologize if I am mistaking this for something else, but don't those flaws give you bonus feats in trade as the counterbalance?
Thats pretty big in my book.

If I were to make a flaw system there would be a unique flaw with a minor unique benefit.

There are two versions now that I think of it, and no, I wasn't thinking of the feat one. I was thinking of Traits now that I reference it. Somewhat like Hard of Hearing which gives a +1 to sight based perception and a -2 to hearing for example.

Why can't a player say the following,

"My player can't swim. I don't want to be able to swim". and the DM saying "Ok, you gain no class-level bonus to your swim skill".

No need for Flaws (as honestly, flaws are inherently a min-max concept).

I agree with this, I don't see a need for a mechanic to represent such things.
The problem with flaws, as demonstrated by UA, is that people will likely choose drawbacks which are of minimal consequence to them, but select benefits which will offer the most bang for the buck. Until this is resolved, it will only encourage min/maxing, rather than roleplaying, IMO.

Can't swim? Doesn't really matter if I know that I won't be swimming much, or can somehow circumvent this drawback. Meanwhile, the extra feat I get will grant me combat bonuses, and I know I will be fighting a lot...

Likewise, if you want to suck at swimming, I don't see why you can't just opt not to put any skill points in it, or declare that you want to fail at a certain check, and make the necessary adjustments to your stat sheet. Instead, you require the rules to say that you cannot improve it as well as you would like.
Yes, I strongly feel there is a need for a balanced way integrated into the mechanics of the game to enable characters not to be good at some skill. Sure, a player can always tell the me that he wants his character to be bad at a skill (say climbing, because he lived in the plains all his life) and get no compensatory benefit and I would let him do just that, but to me that is fundamentally flawed game design and it would bug me (in fact, I would probably be forced to come up with a compensatory benefit for him for my peace of mind ;) ). It is exactly the same as saying that it does not matter if races are balanced since a player can play a race (like a half orc) that is underpowered for roleplaying purposes. This is not a solution to the problem, from my point of view it is simply ignoring the problem of the design.

BTW: Bear in mind that I am just using feats as an example of a benefit to be gained, since I don't know the exact workings of 4E and it is thus difficult to design something more specific. My preference would actually be to have a benefit related to each inept skill, such as a slightly improved resistance to dehydration for characters being inept in the swim skill, etcetera, though it may prove difficult to come up with appropriate converse benefits for each separate skill that could be inept.
Well, I can see the implementation to be extremely tricky.

For example, why would said PC suck at swimming? Because he never bothered to undergo training, opting instead to use the time to work on another skill? If so, this could be represented by a penalty on swim checks and a bonus to another skill check. But then this runs the problem of selective bias (for lack of a better term offhand), in that people are going to choose to nerf skills they know they won't use, and boost those abilities they know will see more use.

Is it because he has a fear of water? Just no knack for swimming? Too heavy bones? There are so many possibilities, and each would have a different impact. Again, I am not sure how the pros/cons aspect of this would be resolved.

This is not a solution to the problem, from my point of view it is simply ignoring the problem of the design.

I am inclined to agree. However, in light of the many aspects which must be considered, and the likely complexity of it all, I am wondering if it would simply be easier to just put the onus of fleshing out your character the way you want on the player himself.:P
The massive bookkeeping needs to go when creating skills. The skill point system is a Jawsome /\\//\\//\ (that means awesome like Jaws) on paper, but in practice it is a painful level of bookkeeping. Especially when Crossclass skills come into play.

IMHO having a cumbersome (and the skill rules are not cumbersome) rule that comes into play every 2-5 session is OK with me. I like spending hours/days creating or advancing a character.
The SAGA skill advancement rule does not quicken play (as advancement is not part of a pay), but gives us less option. I think it is a very nice system for Star Wars, but D&D should retain the 3.x skill points.
Why can't a player say the following,

"My player can't swim. I don't want to be able to swim". and the DM saying "Ok, you gain no class-level bonus to your swim skill".

No need for Flaws (as honestly, flaws are inherently a min-max concept).

Pretty much. If a character's blind, just tell the DM that the character's blind and that all his Perception involving sight should fail, so the DM could still ask for Perception checks from everyone and avoid tipping off what it's about.
IMHO having a cumbersome (and the skill rules are not cumbersome) rule that comes into play every 2-5 session is OK with me. I like spending hours/days creating or advancing a character.

That's easy to state, but as DM who might need to design a couple of important NPC's a week don't need to be bogged down with a tedious system that has no REAL benefit.

The SAGA skill advancement rule does not quicken play (as advancement is not part of a pay), but gives us less option. I think it is a very nice system for Star Wars, but D&D should retain the 3.x skill points.

I ask you to prove it.

Fact is you can't.

D&D has always been about the PC's being Heroic, so is Star Wars. Which emulates this better? SP or Trained/Untrained?

Both revolve around High Action. Both have BBEG's. Both are Epic. Both tend to have clear cut Good vs. Evil.

Even in D&D novels the Heroes tend to be jack of all trades, having improved general ability in most skills over the inexperienced. SP fail on this every time.
IMHO having a cumbersome (and the skill rules are not cumbersome) rule that comes into play every 2-5 session is OK with me. I like spending hours/days creating or advancing a character.

Just becuase you like it, does not mean everyone one likes it. Also, it does not mean that the rules should be crafted to make the DM's life harder.

The SAGA skill advancement rule does not quicken play (as advancement is not part of a pay), but gives us less option. I think it is a very nice system for Star Wars, but D&D should retain the 3.x skill points.

I believe quickening advancement and more importantly the DM's preparation time is a valid trade off for the cumbersome bookeeping and slight freedom granted with the skill system.
Why can't a player say the following,

"My player can't swim. I don't want to be able to swim". and the DM saying "Ok, you gain no class-level bonus to your swim skill".

No need for Flaws (as honestly, flaws are inherently a min-max concept).

Absolutely the best way to handle it. Any sort of compensation just encourages people to find out what they need least and junk it for what they want most.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. If you're playing a Barbarian 'cause you like to bash heads and other sundry body parts (for pretend), then it only makes sense to try and maximize the likelihood of successful head-bashing.

Nonetheless, it would add a level of complexity that I don't think is worth the trouble. Then every NPC has to be properly flawed out to maximize function. What about monsters?
I hope that we won't be seeing the same skill system that apeared in saga. If 4E is all about customizating better your character and "playing experience" we soud be expecting something far far diferent from saga. I really hope that the current skill system will be remade to provide more options (not less) and more actions covered by skills.
I hope that we won't be seeing the same skill system that apeared in saga. If 4E is all about customizating better your character and "playing experience" we soud be expecting something far far diferent from saga. I really hope that the current skill system will be remade to provide more options (not less) and more actions covered by skills.

I dunno. Most of the characters I see in 3.5 keep piling the points in the same skills. You get the occasional one who "splits" the points among too many skills, so that some progress at half-rate.

The (presumed) 4e addition of Feats and Talents at every level really means your making important decisions about your character's development in a different way. I mean, if you really need another +2 in Tumble, and you've already trained in it and have Skill Focus you'll take Agile or something that grants +3 to Tumble and Escape Artist...or something. There might be a Talent to grant you rerolls.

Oh, and wrt character customization and SWSE. Its got 3(.5) beat to a pulp. The feats and talents thing is far more diversifying than deciding where to put your last two skill points each level.
Oh, and wrt character customization and SWSE. Its got 3(.5) beat to a pulp. The feats and talents thing is far more diversifying than deciding where to put your last two skill points each level.

Quoted for epic truthfulness.
I wonder if a valid solution to this is to institute another category to the SAGA selection scheme?

Instead of just Untrained/Trained, you have Cross-Class/Class/Trained.

Each character automatically receives a certain skillset depending on his class(basically, the skills that are needed survival skills for a member of that class). These skills recieve a modifier equal to 1/2 his level. Training in these skills boosts this to equal to his level(and allows skill specialties/tricks). (Since 4th ed has 30 levels, this would be +15/+30 at max level)

Untrained, cross-class skills would recieve a smaller bonus (1/3 or 1/4 his level, maybe?) That way, even a high level character would have some skills he just isn't good at.

DMs might also be able to let players swap one class skill for another (in case the rogue is of more of a social bent and never learned to pick locks, for instance).
That's easy to state, but as DM who might need to design a couple of important NPC's a week don't need to be bogged down with a tedious system that has no REAL benefit.

I think 4th ed going to be DM friendly, and NPC do not need to be costumizes as much as characters. I do not see why skill point make a DMs job any harder. Just select Int+class skill point number of skill and say the NPC have max skill in those and 0 in others. Simple as that. I was speaking about the options given to players.

D&D has always been about the PC's being Heroic, so is Star Wars. Which emulates this better? SP or Trained/Untrained?

Both revolve around High Action. Both have BBEG's. Both are Epic. Both tend to have clear cut Good vs. Evil.

Even in D&D novels the Heroes tend to be jack of all trades, having improved general ability in most skills over the inexperienced. SP fail on this every time.

This is your definition of the game. And it about tastes. The basic game should not force people to play like that.

Just becuase you like it, does not mean everyone one likes it. Also, it does not mean that the rules should be crafted to make the DM's life harder.

I believe quickening advancement and more importantly the DM's preparation time is a valid trade off for the cumbersome bookeeping and slight freedom granted with the skill system.

Yes it is about different tastes. And as above I do not see it as making DMs life any harder. Coupled with the shortened skill list (great!), this won't be a problem. And the freedom gained by the SP system is not "slight". IMHO
Oh, and wrt character customization and SWSE. Its got 3(.5) beat to a pulp. The feats and talents thing is far more diversifying than deciding where to put your last two skill points each level.

I agree, but why not having both? Good customization whith skills AND feats/talents
I wonder if a valid solution to this is to institute another category to the SAGA selection scheme?

Instead of just Untrained/Trained, you have Cross-Class/Class/Trained.


True20 from Green Ronin (which AFAIK was the first skill-pointless d20) has something like this. Unfortunately, they have a table-progression for trained vs. untrained skills. It gets a little awkward for multiclassing. If you have a Ftr4, Wiz9 who took Jump as a trained skill in one of Fighter levels, how do you count it? The SAGA system seems to solve this by creating a base level and adding that flat +5 for training.

I think it might be worth it, because the DnD environment is more strongly "classed" than Star Wars. (To my thinking, anyway.)

My personal choice for multiclass method would be to calculate all class bonuses separately then add them. After that, add your +5 for Trained and/or +4 Skill Focus. This would require that the Cross-Class progression start with a +0 bonus to avoid stacking abuse.

I might start playtesting with:
Class Skills: Level/2 round up.
Cross Class Skills: Level/4 round down.
Training: +5
Skill Focus: +4
You can only use class bonus feats for training in your class skills. You can use your "general" feats (every third level) to take training in a cross class skills if you wish.
I agree, but why not having both? Good customization whith skills AND feats/talents

Because the skill point system is tedious and generally pointless (When you have a more efficient system available. 8 Years ago, they were a big step forward). DMs making up multiclassed NPCs feel that pain worse than anyone.

Any rules design is going to have costs and gains in the enjoyment category. You can design a completely flexible system (GURPS, Fudge,..) However, those systems have never really competed with DnD. Fudge is even free, and it has never even come close to having the traction of DnD.

Classes cost you flexibility, but they gain you a quick understanding and base for a character and some other design elements. Those other elements are apparently worth it for a traditional rpg. The benefits of having classes seems to outweigh the costs.

Hopefully, playtesting would reveal what kind of skill systems yield maximum benefit for cost.
I think 4th ed going to be DM friendly, and NPC do not need to be costumizes as much as characters. I do not see why skill point make a DMs job any harder. Just select Int+class skill point number of skill and say the NPC have max skill in those and 0 in others. Simple as that. I was speaking about the options given to players.

It's not that simple.

You forget about these complications...

Intelligence gains.
Multiclassing.
Synergy.
Misc. Bonus.
Lack of improvement in general ability.

Not to mention that BBEG should be on the same page as the characters...


This is your definition of the game. And it about tastes. The basic game should not force people to play like that.

It's not my definition, it's based on it's style, take Conan OGL for instance.

Yes it is about different tastes. And as above I do not see it as making DMs life any harder. Coupled with the shortened skill list (great!), this won't be a problem. And the freedom gained by the SP system is not "slight". IMHO

That's just it, it's not freedom. What you get is a character good at a couple skills, average for some and abyssmal for the rest. With SP, you are constantly manipulating numbers when level or planning character progression.

In Saga, you get really good, good, and average (for your level), meaning that your ability to do general things that don't require training increase with experience, something that should occur in a level based system and SP's fail in that respect. You also pick then play. If you don't want any additional skills you don't need to think about them again, need a new skill spend a feat and pick it. All bonuses to the game.

Top it off, SP supporters tout that they should be terrible at skills they don't use, would you also support not giving HD and BAB if you don't fight at all during a given level? The level system is about general ability increase at each level, hence BAB, Save/Defense, and HD increases. Why should Skills be so different. They shouldn't, they should be on the same page as the rest of the game.

Saga got it right.
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