Big Change for Skills in One Convenient Location

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I was reading the self-stated final column of Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard and, along the way, something made me stop dead in my reading and post on here.

Personally I would prefer to hear the words “resort,” “day spa,” or “theme park” but almost every place we’re hitting has the words “rock,” “out,” and “back” in it. Looks like we’re going to need a climber’s kit. Tabitha’s version would have a grappling hook, hammer and ten pitons. She would also gain a +2 bonus on her Athletics checks while climbing.

That's right. Athletics is in. Obviously, it will include Climb. But, will it also roll up Jump, Tumble, Balance, and Swim?

This is an aspect I was hoping would not make it into 4e to be 100% honest. Now, we're going to have to keep in mind so many different conditional modifiers with one skill that it can be intimidating to any DM. Seriously, how long is that skill description going to be in the PHB? We have to keep in mind that some creatures can't perform certain athletic aspects at all.

I'll reserve some judgement until I play it, but I'm still skeptical about this change.

EDIT: There are numerous other whoppers I'm reading here.

Probably the most important tool I can get my hands on is a staff of defense... Any old wizard could use an ordinary implement to focus her spells, but an enchanted implement is handier than a collapsible java press. Should Tabitha be sporting one of these charming bad boys, she’d get an enhancement bonus on her attack and damage rolls with her arcane powers. Should I be sporting one of these—well—I’d probably be playing a wizard in a D&D campaign. It’s too bad, because the staff can double as a weapon. Should one of those sneaky-ass crocodiles, clingy stingers or disemboweling koala bears (no, really?) get all up in my business, I’d gain a +1 to my Armor Class (which right now is -3 thanks to a wind resistant jacket and a couple year’s worth of kickboxing classes – and yes, -3 is an improvement)... I could also purchase a hippogriff to carry my load for a 1,000 gp

The major points are italicized and bolded for your convenience. The last one about the hippogriff is no big deal, but I happen to like hippogriffs and thought it was cool to know they cost 1,000 gp (this could very well be an exaggerated price for humor in her article, to be sure).
I would imagine that Athletics would cover Climb, Jump and Swim. They're all Strength-based, and should have similar modifiers. I don't think it would need a particularly long description. My guess is that Tumble and Balance (and possibly Escape Artist) would be bundled into a skill called Acrobatics.

I think the -3 AC comment is just hyperbole (though wouldn't it be hilarious if they brought back THAC0 and the negative AC system!) and we already knew about enchanted implements adding to attack and damage with spells. 1000 gp for a trained hippogriff seems reasonable for a high-magic setting, and it would be nifty to have more interesting (and pricy) trained creatures right there in the equipment list, for campaigns where it would be appropriate to go to the market and buy a griffon or whatever.
If I look for a common theme in what the Athletics skill encompasses, this is what I come up with: Getting past terrain obstacles.

So, if I'm right, Athletics will be what PCs use to scale, swim, leap over, or otherwise traverse the 'thang' in their way which impedes progress. Although being able to climb and swim are very different, it makes sense to lump them into the same skill because of the thematic similarity, and because some of the 'sub-skills' (Jump, Swim) wouldn't really pull their weight as full skills but are handy as part of the whole Athletics skill.
Betcha Tumble and Balance are part of athletics. ;)
This is an aspect I was hoping would not make it into 4e to be 100% honest. Now, we're going to have to keep in mind so many different conditional modifiers with one skill that it can be intimidating to any DM. Seriously, how long is that skill description going to be in the PHB?

I don't think I'd find it much harder to remember those random modifiers to apply to a subset of a skill than remembering they apply to one of four skills.
It won't be any longer than the three or four skills it contains were when added together.
I don't think I'd find it much harder to remember those random modifiers to apply to a subset of a skill than remembering they apply to one of four skills.
It won't be any longer than the three or four skills it contains were when added together.

While it may be easy to apply those modifiers as needed, it's somewhat annoying to not be able to have a comprehensive skill list with all the modifiers already calculated. What about synergy bonuses? Are they getting rid of those?
This is something I have been concerned about since I heard that the SWSE was a “template” or whatever for 4e. With the simplification (oversimplification?) of the skill list, we have a proliferation of conditional modifiers. I’ve expressed this with my gaming group, and they agree.
If what is Climb, Jump, and Swim now are all rolled into Athletics, how do I create a character who was born and raised in the desert, who is proficient in scaling the cliffs and jumping the crevices of home, but who has never in his life seen a body of water more than four feet deep? If the skill Athletics is one of his trained, or class or whatever they are calling it now, he becomes equally good at climbing, jumping and swimming. The only to make this character in any way believable is to give him some sort of situational penalty to his Athletics, but only when he is swimming. With the system in place now, I just don't put any ranks into Swim.
The same goes for Perception, but this time with bonuses. We’ve all seen the stat blocks in the previews: +2 to Perception for spot checks.” I’m sure we will see such things as races or monsters that have bonuses only to hear things. And monsters that have a bonus to their acrobatics, but only for balance checks.

The DM cannot really be expected to keep track of all his players’ situational modifiers when he has to everything else to keep track of. And we all know that players tend to only remember their bonuses and penalties when it benefits them.
So, I am having trouble seeing how the new “half-sized” (by Design and Development admission) skill list is that much of an improvement if we have to now remember lots of situational modifiers. Hopefully someone else here can understand my concern and not just brush it off with “the new system is so much easier/better.”
In the end, I will just have to wait and see what our genius developers come up with…
It took me a bit longer than it should have to realize that Shelly was just ragging on herself with the -3 AC thing. :embarrass

I would imagine that kadeton is right about the distinction between Athletics and Acrobatics. Basing it off the pertaining ability scores just makes sense. Plus, piling too many aspects into one skill would make it a no-brainer to train in, thus throwing off the game balance by a small degree. It would be depressing to have a game with all players going through the effort of either multiclassing or getting a class training feat so they could get their hands on the one skill that encompasses all physical aspects of the game.

"Go, my little ninjas. Have fun!"
If you wanted a broader skill list you could probably (probably, haven't seen the skill list yet, obviously) split them back to roughly what they were in 3.5. Then multiply the number of trained skills each class gets by the average of the number of old skills rolled into a new skill.

So, if the average was 3 3.5 skills became 1 4E skills, then you would split them back out and multiply every classes' trained skills by 3. Not perfect, but if you use a Custom Character Sheet I can't see it being all that terribly difficult.
I'm happy as a pig-in-you-know-what, as when I checked out Saga, I thought it was nifty that they combined Balance, Escape Artist and Tumble into one skill - Acrobatics, yet odd that they kept Climb, Jump and Swim separate, instead of combining them into one skill – Athletics.

Of course I and many others instantly house-ruled in Athletics.
to be able to climb,jump,swim you must be ATHLETIC.

to balance and tumble you must be ACROBATIC.

I hope that settles it.
"The DM cannot really be expected to keep track of all his players’ situational modifiers when he has to everything else to keep track of. And we all know that players tend to only remember their bonuses and penalties when it benefits them."

I don't see a problem. It seems to me that skills are meant to show what you can do and I think that is the intent of the developers. If you want to self-impose a penalty upon yourself from a role playing perspective then go ahead. I would have no problem justifying an athletic character that was raised in a desert that can somehow swim as well. Athleticism should not be activity specific, it is more related to an affinity for being able to do tasks that require athleticism regardless of what they are. Keep it simple please.
That's right. Athletics is in. Obviously, it will include Climb. But, will it also roll up Jump, Tumble, Balance, and Swim?

I belive that it has already been stated by WOTC that Tumble will be a class ability for rogues and the like, not a skill. I forget where.
to be able to climb,jump,swim you must be ATHLETIC.

to balance and tumble you must be ACROBATIC.

I hope that settles it.

Which is ridiculous. Just because I can climb a wall doesn't mean I'm a skilled jumper or even capable of swimming. It's dumbing things down for the mmo brats WoTC is trying to pander to.
I don't think I'd find it much harder to remember those random modifiers to apply to a subset of a skill than remembering they apply to one of four skills.
It won't be any longer than the three or four skills it contains were when added together.

Further, you are hopefully unlikely to have a golf bag of modifiers. So it would look something like: "Athletics +10 (Climb +12)", which is actually less complex than the current "Climb +12 (+2 racial underground, +3 in rain)".

Hopefully, they lay out the skills on the sheet so you have room underneath each skill for check-specific modifiers. In 3.5, there were some builds where you had to try to fit a small essay into the 'misc' box to account for all the synergies, racial bonuses and conditional modifiers.
One thing people forget about skills is that in the past, people weren't as specialized as we are today. Even a lowly commoner could farm land, do minor woodworking, mend clothes, etc. In a way they're more knowledgeable that us modern people in survival and self-sustenance situations.

I like the streamlining. It doesn't seem like a big deal that a general athlete (athletics skill) would be able to swim well even if they had never swam before. Animals can swim without training and humans are animals. I also don't think modifiers are going to be a problem. If a climbing kit is +2 to athletics skill checks, I don't think any sane person is going to suggest that it will also enhance their check when swimming.

Finally, there's the rules in Saga about trained and untrained skill usage. You may be able to use a skill untrained, but there are limits to what you can do compared to someone trained in the same skillset.
What's so complicated about this?:
Athletics: 15
Climb: 17
Jump: 18
Swim: 21
Perception: 20
Spot: 24
Listen: 20
exc.

I mean really, you only need to figure out most modifiers once. A racial bonus to hearing needs be figured out ONCE and the total for that effect needs be written once.

Look at these new skills as being a package of several skills bought together for the price of one skill.

If certain effects get modifiers others don't, write them seperately and consider them a maneuver.
I can't really see the problem in the desert-dweller example. If you really want a character that can't swim but has a high Athletics score, just choose to auto-fail your checks for swimming. If at any point you want to learn to swim, take some downtime - you can now use your Athletics score when swimming.

Honestly, just because there's a number on your sheet, that doesn't mean you're forced to use it if you don't want to.
Which is ridiculous. Just because I can climb a wall doesn't mean I'm a skilled jumper or even capable of swimming. It's dumbing things down for the mmo brats WoTC is trying to pander to.

I have to disagree with that. If you're heroically good at climbing, I would imagine that you would be very good at jumping (since it uses similar leg muscles, and is a good way to start an upward climb, or finish a downward climb).

As for swimming, the main reason people fail at it is because they panic and flail about uselessly, not because they're incapable. Being weighed down with clothes or gear will also cause problems, but that's taken into account with the armour check penalty. At a baseline level, everyone can swim, and someone used to pulling their body up the side of cliffs is going to have an easier time pulling their body through the water.

It's not a perfect abstraction, but it's far from the worst abstraction in the game. Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but do MMO games usually use skills for swimming, jumping and climbing? Most CRPGs don't even include those elements.

Regardless, I think having fewer, broader skills is a good change. I always balanced my characters' skills out so that related skills were around the same level anyway, so that it was easier to remember ("My bard makes a Knowledge check... doesn't really matter which one, they're all at +15") and avoided favouring one skill over another ("All right, Diplomacy isn't working, I'll try Intimidate"). Perhaps that's too 'dumbed down' for you, but I'm happy to sacrifice granularity for ease of play, especially when it has a negligible effect on the game.
Mike Mearls, lead designer for 4e, also designed Iron Heroes, which uses a mechanic called "skill groups." I'm not going to explain the whole thing, but I'll give a summary.

There's a few groups, and each has 3-4 skills in it. All classes treat all skills as class skills, and each gets access to a few skill groups - somewhere between 2 and 5 of them. If a character spends a skill point on a group he has access to, he gets a rank in every skill in the group.

This is very similar to 4e's "bundling" of things that were seperate skills in 3.5, and the same designer is doing both, which is why I bring it up.

In IH, there are two skill groups for "getting past" stuff - Athletics, which holds the Str-based "getting past stuff" skills (Climb, Jump, Swim), and Acrobatics, which holds the Dex-based ones (Balance, Tumble, Escape Artist).

I'd expect to see them similarly bundled in 4e.
I have to disagree with that. If you're heroically good at climbing, I would imagine that you would be very good at jumping (since it uses similar leg muscles, and is a good way to start an upward climb, or finish a downward climb).

Sure... whatever. Go tell that mountain climber to try the triple jump from field and track. Or tell the high jump person to try and climb a mountain. They're entirely different skillsets. A lot of climbing isn't just strength, but flexibility and the knowledge of how to climb properly.

As for swimming, the main reason people fail at it is because they panic and flail about uselessly, not because they're incapable. Being weighed down with clothes or gear will also cause problems, but that's taken into account with the armour check penalty. At a baseline level, everyone can swim, and someone used to pulling their body up the side of cliffs is going to have an easier time pulling their body through the water.

The person that lives in a desert and has never seen a pool of water deeper than their ankles or wider than a stones throw, won't know how to swim.

It's not a perfect abstraction, but it's far from the worst abstraction in the game. Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but do MMO games usually use skills for swimming, jumping and climbing? Most CRPGs don't even include those elements.

Swimming, yes. Jumping and climbing, not so much.

Regardless, I think having fewer, broader skills is a good change. I always balanced my characters' skills out so that related skills were around the same level anyway, so that it was easier to remember ("My bard makes a Knowledge check... doesn't really matter which one, they're all at +15") and avoided favouring one skill over another ("All right, Diplomacy isn't working, I'll try Intimidate"). Perhaps that's too 'dumbed down' for you, but I'm happy to sacrifice granularity for ease of play, especially when it has a negligible effect on the game.

Dumbing down the skills like this is ridiculous. There's no need for it at all. Part of the enjoyment I get out of the game is using my skills to customize my character into a specific concept. Fewer skills means fewer options and more abstraction rather than concrete proof.
Dumbing down the skills like this is ridiculous.

Dumbing down is what some people refer to when they don't like something.

Elegance dos not equal dumbing down

Yes, yes, we all know that $th Ed, or £th Ed, is dumbed down D&D geared towards infants…*yawn*
Dumbing down is what some people refer to when they don't like something.

Elegance dos not equal dumbing down

Yes, yes, we all know that $th Ed, or £th Ed, is dumbed down D&D geared towards infants…*yawn*

It's dumbing skills down. Making them simpler and adding nothing to the game. They would have been better off clarifying the skills and changing how class/cross class skills work or just gotten rid of class/cross class stuff period. Then give characters more skill points to further customize their character.
1.) It's dumbing skills down.

2.) Making them simpler and adding nothing to the game.

1.) No, it is not.

2.)
It has added a lot our game, so please don't state your opinion as fact.
Dumbing down the skills like this is ridiculous. There's no need for it at all. Part of the enjoyment I get out of the game is using my skills to customize my character into a specific concept. Fewer skills means fewer options and more abstraction rather than concrete proof.

I agree with your point, but as was stated above, it shouldn't be that hard to separate skills if you really want to.

I, for one, like the new "tight" skill system. I think that especially the combining of swim, climb and jump into one skill will be a great change in my games, because the three skills by themselves just aren't as good/oftenly needed as for example use magic device, spot and search.

I'm have some doubts about the combining of spot, listen and search into perception though. This seems like a skill that is just a little too good for my tastes. The skills in questions are already often picked and used, so the perception skill is likely to be an auto-pick in my games. I might decide to split it up after some testing. Does anyone else have the same thoughts about this?

About the perception skill, I'm also wondering how search will work now. Will it be like 3.x's version of "I search through the rubble" and "I carefully scan every inch of the wall for an indication of a secret door" or will it be a simple automatic skill check performed to see whether you spot any oddities?


So, we have athletics, acrobatics, stealth (hide and move silently) and perception as combined skills. What others are we dealing with? Combined disable device/open locks(/sleight of hand) as "something w. fingers and being nimble" (can't think of a name)? Combined knowledge skills (unlikely, I think)? Combined forgery/disguise(/bluff) as deception?
Anything confirmed or any guesses?
1.) No, it is not.

2.)
It has added a lot our game, so please don't state your opinion as fact.

1. It is.
2. So what? I don't care. It is a fact that removing and consolidating the skills is dumbing down the skill system.
1. It is.
2. So what? I don't care. It is a fact that removing and consolidating the skills is dumbing down the skill system.

…Creepy.

Anyway, I just looked at your post history and noticed your join date – no thanks.
I agree with your point, but as was stated above, it shouldn't be that hard to separate skills if you really want to.

Which requires house rules. I'll have to go through and provide a full skill list and alter how many skill points each class begins with. Yet again, just like with 3rd edition. They had a chance to fix the skill system and make it work properly... but no... they had to dumb it down for the power gamers so they wouldn't whine about being forced to spend points on "worthless" skills.

I, for one, like the new "tight" skill system. I think that especially the combining of swim, climb and jump into one skill will be a great change in my games, because the three skills by themselves just aren't as good/oftenly needed as for example use magic device, spot and search.

There should be some sacrifice when learning skills. Not everyone can learn everything. With the new system, they probably will.

I'm have some doubts about the combining of spot, listen and search into perception though. This seems like a skill that is just a little too good for my tastes. The skills in questions are already often picked and used, so the perception skill is likely to be an auto-pick in my games. I might decide to split it up after some testing. Does anyone else have the same thoughts about this?

Athletics, Acrobatics, and Perceive will probably be the three most picked skills period. No longer do power gamers have to whine about spending their oh so precious skill points on things like Spot, Listen, and Search. Jump, climb, and swim.

About the perception skill, I'm also wondering how search will work now. Will it be like 3.x's version of "I search through the rubble" and "I carefully scan every inch of the wall for an indication of a secret door" or will it be a simple automatic skill check performed to see whether you spot any oddities?

Perception is "on" all the time. It's ridiculous. Basically, the DM pre-determines before the adventure even starts if any secret doors or traps will be spotted or found. A PC with a Percieve of 20 will automatically notice any trap or door or whatever that has a DC of 20 or less. No rolling. Just boom, you notice it when you get within a specific range.
…Creepy.

Anyway, I just looked at your post history and noticed your join date – no thanks.

Yeah, whatever. Welcome to my ignore list.
1. It is.
2. So what? I don't care. It is a fact that removing and consolidating the skills is dumbing down the skill system.

Or simplifying and balancing it a little, as well as making it fit better into the character sheet.
It really depends on whether you're and optimist or a pessimist, and on whether your brain (which for some reson, that might be very valid, needs complex rules) can manage splitting up the skills, reversing them to the old system

Edit:

And regarding yor explanation of search in 4th ed: Thanks, but where does the info come from? If it's true, I'm probably going to house-rule it away. Shouldn't be that big a problem
Or simplifying and balancing it a little, as well as making it fit better into the character sheet.
It really depends on whether you're and optimist or a pessimist, and on whether your brain (which for some reason, that might be very valid, needs complex rules) can manage splitting up the skills, reversing them to the old system

I never had an issue with running out of room on my character sheet and I am quite capable of house ruling skills back to the way they should be. Just like I have been since 2nd edition and npc skill profession things. 3.0 gave some classes way too few skill points. All they had to do for 4th edition, was increase the amount of skill points characters start with and get rid of the ranking system if they wanted to. I prefer to use ranks since it creates a greater range of diversity between characters.

And regarding yor explanation of search in 4th ed: Thanks, but where does the info come from? If it's true, I'm probably going to house-rule it away. Shouldn't be that big a problem

Either a podcast or design and development article.
@Aria: Okay, you just seemed very negative about it. If you can house-rule it, I guess it will work out for everyone. But I can see your dissapointment, if that was what you were hoping for.

I'm personally not completely settled on the new skill system. Some parts seem good, some less so. Overall it seems like a good revision to me though. Playtesting might change things...
@Aria: Okay, you just seemed very negative about it. If you can house-rule it, I guess it will work out for everyone. But I can see your dissapointment, if that was what you were hoping for.

I'm tired of being forced to houserule something that should be gorram common sense. Learning how to climb something is entirely different than learning how to jump really far. Learning how to hide in the undergrowth of the forest or use the crowds to screen your movements in the city is different than learning to move silently.

What about blind characters? Do they get to spot and search too? As if they were sighted? What if someone plays a deaf character? Somehow they're as good at listening as anyone that can hear is.
I think the updates to the skill list will be well received by most of the gaming community.

If you're sick and tired of house-ruling in D&D, I'm sure there are other gaming systems out there that suit your needs better...
I think the updates to the skill list will be well received by most of the gaming community.

If you're sick and tired of house-ruling in D&D, I'm sure there are other gaming systems out there that suit your needs better...

I said I was sick of house ruling skills. They're something quite simple and yet WotC manages to screw 'em all to hell.
I'm tired of being forced to houserule something that should be gorram common sense. Learning how to climb something is entirely different than learning how to jump really far. Learning how to hide in the undergrowth of the forest or use the crowds to screen your movements in the city is different than learning to move silently.

What about blind characters? Do they get to spot and search too? As if they were sighted? What if someone plays a deaf character? Somehow they're as good at listening as anyone that can hear is.

I think this is an instance of conflict within the game design process. In this case, the conflict arises between (I'll call it) absolute simulationism, where every possible manifestation of character ability is represented with mechanical detail; and heroic simulationism, where heroes can do stuff just 'cause their heroes and are painted with broader strokes.

3e seemed to lean heavily (though arguably unsuccessfully) in the direction of absolute simulationism, and got more so over time. 4e seems to be retreating from that and leaning more in the direction of heroic simulation. Whether thats good or bad is a matter of perspective.
*snort* 'mmo brats' and 'dumbing down' eh? All we need now is the 'anime' by-word and this thread will have hit the big three.
My big hope with the trimmed skill list is the same thing as my big hope with the new definition of feats:

That we get closer to equal value for equal cost.

The current skill list is very distinctly tiered - there are skills that are amazingly powerful (Use Magic Device), skills that are quite useful mechanically (Tumble, Hide, Move Silently), skills that people take for their synergy bonuses (Use Rope), and skills that no one ever takes unless it's to fit flavor (Profession).

That's punishing the people who want flavor of that sort by forcing them to spend a resource at the same cost as a lot of things that are MUCH more powerful.
My players occasionally encounter water, or jump-able gaps, or uncircumventable walls, but rarely all three in the same session, and even less often two sessions in a row. I would welcome the consolidation of three uncommonly employed skills into one frequently used skill. I'm willing to trade a finely shaded skill system for a broader system if that system promotes the PCs' participation in every scene.

Also, anime. ;)
I agree with Silverhands! Honestly, though, they didn't go far enough in 3.X. I couldn't customize near enough.

Those Knowledge skills? Way too broad. Just because I studied religion, why should I know anything about sects from across the planet, 800 years ago? And jumping? Man. There are all KINDS of jumps. My character might be good at the long jump, but not great at hurdling or what have you.

Don't even get me started on the social skills. Dealing with different groups alone should be saperate skills. Different races? Lordy.

Man WotC, your catering to anime fans is ruining DnD. I think I'll be skipping $ed.
I can't really see the problem in the desert-dweller example. If you really want a character that can't swim but has a high Athletics score, just choose to auto-fail your checks for swimming. If at any point you want to learn to swim, take some downtime - you can now use your Athletics score when swimming.

Honestly, just because there's a number on your sheet, that doesn't mean you're forced to use it if you don't want to.

This is kind of ridiculous, no offense. :D

As for the Athletic skill, Climbing, Jumping, and swimming are three totally separate skills and I think they should stay as such. Combining Balance and Tumble into acrobatics does make a lot of sense. However being able to climb doesn't mean you are a good swimmer or jumper, although they use the similar physical attributes.
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