Welcome back to another PPoPPoSWSE (yes, I'm using that acronym). Since the last one was wildly successful - that is, it received a comment - I thought I'd do it again. I'll just dive right in.
I get annoyed with people wanting to roll Climb, Jump and Swim into a single Athletics skill.
Now, I should probably expand on this a bit. Had Saga Edition come out with Climb, Jump and Swim replaced as separate skills by a single skill called Athletics (or whatever), I wouldn't really have minded. I don't really care one way or the other.
It's just... they didn't. And people go on about it to this day as though it were game-breaking (not as much as they used to, but it still comes up from time to time).
I just don't see it as a problem. Yes, they're related skills, but they're not so incredibly similar that it's illogical for them separate. A brilliant swimmer is not automatically a brilliant climber (many Athletics house-rulers present an addendum that Skill Focus can only be gained in one of the specific components). And Climb, Jump and Swim factor in to several species traits individually (Wookiees live on an arboreal world, so it makes sense they're good climbers, but not necessarily great swimmers; the aquatic Mon Calamari have the opposite situation).
But of course, these arguments could be made for any number of skills. Deception encompasses lying to someone face-to-face and forging documents, things that in real life have little correlation. So why not have a single Athletics skill?
Well, like I said, I don't really care either way. It just niggles me slightly that people keep going on about it. If it bothers you, house rule it (is that a verb? "To house rule"?). And I guess that part of the reason it niggles me so much is that, as it see it, they're are bigger problems with the skill list as it stands.
Like what, you ask? Persuasion.
Persuasion encompasses the previous edition's Diplomacy and Intimidate skills. And at first glance, this makes sense. Both skills use Charisma to convince another character of something, be it with a subtle word, or through the blunt threat of violence. Not that different from consolidating the different aspects of lying into the Deception skill (or indeed, combining Climb, Jump and Swim into Athletics).
But where I see things differently is in the conception of the character. A character that can lie through his teeth to an Imperial customs officer as easily as forge the papers to pass that checkpoint makes sense. I can easily picture a shady, con artist character being good at both.
Persuasion, on the other hand, crosses character boundaries. The silver-tongued diplomat who can convince anyone of their argument and the brutish thug who scares his opponents silly are two very, very different concepts. Persuasion turns a single character into a master of both disciplines.
Furthermore, look at the species traits and the talents that involve Persuasion. How many call out the specific intimidation aspect of Persuasion? Well, I don't have the numbers with me right now, but I know it's quite a few. I'd be willing to bet that there are more abilities that revolve around the specific intimidation ability than any other sub-skill.
So here's what I propose: split Persuasion back into Diplomacy and Intimidation. Diplomacy is a class skill for nobles and scoundrels, and covers changing attitude and haggling. Intimidation is a class skill for Jedi and soldiers, and obviously covers the intimidation aspect of Persuasion.
Now, this of course means that you have to change any references to Persuasion in species traits, talents, prestige class prerequisites etc, but really, it's not that difficult. Just go with whichever seems most appropriate. As a rule of thumb, unless the intimidation aspect is specifically mentioned, Diplomacy is probably the skill you're looking for.
Furthermore, the controversy surrounding the Diplomacy skill in D&D 3.X got me to thinking it could do with being revised. Not because it's necessarily insanely overpowered (as was the major problem with the skill in D&D), but because of the way it works.
In this article by Rich Burlew, he identifies one of the key problems with the Diplomacy skill as it stands:
"In 3rd Edition, Diplomacy is defined as 'Making people like you.' I want to change that definition, for I think it lacks depth and is poorly understood. In my new system, Diplomacy will be defined as, 'Getting people to accept a deal you propose to them.' The idea is that anything you need to ask another person can be phrased in the form of a trade-even if you are offering 'nothing' on one end of that trade, or something very abstract."
Between Burlew's article and this follow up by Justin Alexander,1 I was convinced. Diplomacy should be task-based, not relationship-based. It just doesn't make sense for a single check to determine how someone feels about you for the rest of your lives. (To be honest, I very much doubt that I can make a more persuasive - no pun intended - argument here than either Mr Burlew or Mr Alexander. Just read their articles. Both are excellent.)
So what to do? Well, I like Alexander's fix, which transports over to Saga Edition very well (just replace "Bluff" with "Deception", "Sense Motive" with "Perception", and "with a DC of 15 + the subject's HD + the subject's Wisdom modifier" with "against the subject's Will Defence"). Persuasion becomes about making a deal, not determining whether you and someone else are going to be best buds for ever and ever.
So yeah, to summarise, I couldn't care less about a single Athletics skill, but I'd be very open to new Persuasion rules. Farewell one stop persuasion shops and lifelong relationship decisions, hello sly diplomats, imposing thugs, and a way of cutting deals that actually makes sense.
1 If you read my previous blog, you might remember that I quoted the same two authors. Well, as it happens, Rich Burlew's Giant in the Playground and Justin Alexander's The Alexandrian are my two favourite websites for information about roleplaying. Don't be surprised if I quote from them a lot in this blog.