Monday, January 2, 2017

5th Edition Skills vs Old School Skills

5th edition D&D's skill list has always struck me as a pretty good list of the kinds of things characters try to do outside of combat, but a lot of old schoolers glaze over at any kind of skill-based system and I'm not sure I blame them. When I switch to AD&D from 5e I barely notice any layer of depth missing.

So: how do 5e skills compare to how the same activities would be handled in an old school game?

Perception--Oh boy--first one's the hardest. This is a case of old school being more micromanaged than the current edition. There's Hear Noise which just covers thieves saying "Hey I'm gonna stop and listen carefully", Find/Remove Traps and several different (usually racial) abilities to notice specific things like dwarves have a chance to notice odd stonework in certain editions, etc and then LotFP's Search which is the Specialist (Thief's) active "Look around" ability. There may also be buried away in the originally Unearthed Arcana or 2e some stuff about druids or rangers or barbarians noticing specific stuff but checking would require getting out of bed, which I refuse to do right now.

Popular semi- and unofficial ways old school would handle other aspects of this are:

-The classic "careful examination" which means the player describes that they look at it or turn it over or whatever (some modules include a time limit like "If examined for at least 3 minutes you notice there's a Potion of Gaseous Form hidden in the carpet").

-Wisdom check as a passive perception check

-Some modules would point out special noticeables by being like "A magic-user will immediately notice an eldritch energy in the air". Which gets into the thorny thing about how basically every knowledge or lore skill could be lowkey considered a perception skill if you think about it. (PS in Call of Cthulhu like half the things on that sheet are kinds of perception skills, and in Night's Black Agents even more.)

So what's better? One explicit reason for Perception being a skill in 5e was so that rogues/thieves could have better chances of noticing stuff than clerics. That makes more sense to me than the straight Wisdom check at least in dungeons (clerics are only wise in a non-niche non-technical environment). The hodge-podge of "notices" is just that: a hodge podge, and are hard to DM in a passive situation because you're like "Uh...who has a bonus to sense sloping corridors? No reason..." which leads to these only being used actively.

In practice, I tend to use a passive perception check a lot because:

-I want to convey the layers of information between "It's a stone room" and "Oh, you look at the chandelier? Well you see..." Often this is useless information on purpose that just is some setting stuff because I want to cram in as much detail as possible ("The architecture appears to the paladin to be Late-Decadent-Albino-Dogman").

-If you're doing like overland travel for hours it isn't practical or nice to be a straw old school hardass and go "Aaaand what are you doing the next minute?" for every minute of a journey, but at the same time you want to be able to ambush-murder players while still giving them a chance of a subtle clue first. Passive perception is good for that. having that as an official thing is good. Getting rid of thief Hear Noise doesn't really lose you much, but I like the race and class-based ones, like dwarves notice stonework, elves hear stuff because pointy ears, etc. it's probably easy to be like "Ok, Plover gets advantage to this one"--which does take some effort on the part of the GM but no more than remembering Halfling's get a 2 in 6 to notice pie or whatever so I'm gonna say 5e gets it right on this one.

Athletics--Strength-based feats of physical prowess. In games like Runequest and 3e this would break down into like Swimming and Jumping but at that point it's a detail fetish--this is mostly just stuff old school would handle as a strength check and I'm good with that.

The only reason it's a skill in 5e is technical: so that strength-centric classes get the proficiency bonus to doing strengthy stuff and so are as good at those things as other classes are at their things--ie so that when the druid is extra-wise when looking at a tree, the barbarian is using the same probability math when trying to arm-wrestle.

In other games being good at sports and being strong might be worth hair-splitting about, but in D&D you can be pretty sure that's basically why they took you along.

This skill is a strange outcome of trying to do everything on the same die and on the same scale--skill checks (modifier plus skill bonus, which goes up as you increase in level) typically involve bigger numbers than ability checks (modifier only, which only goes up when the whole ability score goes up--which is often enough in 5e), so for simplicity's sake it's a way to make ability checks into skill checks. In practice it kinda doesn't matter though--see Persuasion/Deception below for an example of how this plays out.

Handling some stuff with broad ability checks and some stuff with training-oriented skill checks (with better math) is only hard once you got a bajillion skills because then the DM has to remember what all the skills are. This is a problem in like Chill 2e. In D&D there's not so many skills so I don't see why they tried to make all the math the same.

The only exception to the pointlessness of Athletics is climbing: Goats, monkeys and thief-types are supposed to be able to climb stuff without being very strong (this is a major point of skill systems: to have people be good at specific parts of things they aren't broadly good at. Like you need to be able to make an idiot who knows a lot of Dr Who trivia.) Old School handles this as its own (usually thief) skill, which makes sense in the more archetypal world of those games, but it works in 5e if you always handle climbing under...

Acrobatics--Agility-based feats of physical prowess. Old school games would handle this with a dex check and--again--it's basically just here to give Dex-centric classes a proficiency bonus to the kinds of things their class does. Outside that technical reason, the only good reason for Acrobatics is it's a place to put climbing (dodging is handled with saving throws).

Sleight of Hand--Gary thought it mattered a lot that while you had a 3 in 10 chance of Picking Pockets, you only had a 2.5 in 10 chance of Opening Locks and a 2 in 10 chance of Removing Traps but he was the only person in RPGs ever to think that. As a long-time AD&D thief player I can definitively say the father of role-playing games was full of shit wrong because what you really have until like 7th level is a really good chance of dying if you try any of those things and many retroclones agree--Lotfp bundles these skills as Delicate Tasks or whatnot. Old School and 5e are almost identical on this score.

This also points to the other reason for skill systems at least in D&D--creating things that only well-trained people can do, but that also (unlike ability checks) you get better at as you level.

Stealth--The Artist Formerly Known As Move Silently and Hide In Shadows and another fine example of pointless Gygaxian 5% difference hairsplitting and another example where LotFP uses the same skill--this time calling it the same name--Stealth.

Arcana--This is the wizard's equivalent of Athletics--the skill they get to represent their smartness is especially wizardy smartness and just balances out the math so they are as good at their thing as the thief is at theirs. (Obviously skills like this also let you build PCs with off-class skillsets like a scholarly thief, an undeniable perk of newer games if you are into that.) In old school you'd just have this be an Int check only wizard-types could do, fine.

History--Old school doesn't have this and as a guy who has literally hundreds of pages of stuff he wrote about his stupid D&D world I like it. It's a nice way to throw useful info and red herrings at my players. Can't think of a lot of reasons for it not to be something any character with a high Int could do, though.

LotFP has Architecture, which overlaps with this but is less useful if you're looking at a chalice and more useful if you're looking for hidden rooms, but then that pokes in on Search.

Some old modules handle this kind of thing as "PCs from Greendale have a chance to notice that..." which is pretty easy to implement.

Investigate--I hate this skill. 90% of the uses for it overlap with stuff I want to rig so the players can try to figure it out themselves ("The corpse looks like it was killed from behind by a bunch of needles and there's some pinholes in the wall, so..."). I have to work to find ways to not cheat players who got proficiency in this out of their 2 points worth of D&D and probably so does every other old-school-minded GM.

Arguably it is also trying to be for Intelligence what Athletics is for strength--the skill that balances out the math. It can fuck right off.

Nature--What rangers and druids have in common (and some barbarians). This is a good new skill because it covers things those classes should be able to do at a level better than someone else of equivalent Int. In Old School systems which have rangers and druids this is broken down into stuff like Identify Plants and whatnot which so far as I can see confers no important playable benefit. Good job 5e.

Religion--Looks at first like a math-balancing cleric equivalent of Athletics (for fighters) and Arcana (for wizards) but it isn't for two reasons.

First: a lot of the time this applies to other peoples' religions, like Iceblood Orcs of the Fuckwastes. So this is not just about how to be a priest but identifying a broad swath of the culture going on in your gameworld (presumably because it's heretical and needs to be annihilated).

Second: it's Intelligence-based and clerics are supposed to be good at Wisdom, so the idea here is that knowledge of scripture and holy lore (especially other peoples') are secondary skills for a cleric, which makes sense. A D&D cleric is not necessarily so much a scholar as an armed zealot.

Old school would typically handle this with an int check that only clerics could do, which loses a shade of subtlety, but maybe not enough to matter.

Animal handling--Arguably part of druid and ranger (and for horses, paladin) skillsets in AD&D 1e but basically new. This is my favorite 5e skill: it's something that comes up a lot (in and out of combat), it defines a medieval world, it makes sense for a variety of classes to have it (it's one of the fighter options because: horses and guard dogs), and ladies love it.

Insight--Telling if people are lying, mostly--plus other interpersonal details the GM might not want to trust to his or her acting ability. The most proximate ancestor is Call of Cthulhu's Psychology skill but old school you could handle this with a Wisdom check, and Wisdom without this is barely Wisdom.

Medicine--An odd one. Somebody smart pointed out that there are very few uses for this skill, rules-as-written. Old school has no skill here, although various Death and Dismemberment tables allow an Int check to help an injured PC in some cases. I put it on my 5e one to give it some more use.

But in the end, even if you rewrite the rule so magic healing doesn't do all it could do and more--do you need a niche for someone who is better at medicine than they are at general Int-oriented tasks? Might be a pointless skill.

Survival--The other thing rangers and druids (and some barbarians) are supposed to be good at, and which AD&D handles kind of scattershot in the abilities for those classes. It makes sense to bundle hunting, tracking, fishing, etc in one skill and it makes sense that a ranger can be wiser when hunting than they are about offering advice. I also like the idea that a druid who takes this skill is typically better at it than a ranger of the same level (better wisdom) because they just like disappear at camp-setting-up time and come back with a pile of dead warthogs like what?

This plus Nature would be identical to the LotFP specialist's Bushcraft though serving a slightly different purpose since there are no rangers or druids in that game.  Ok.

Performance--Old school would handle this as a dex or charisma check (could also see an argument for sleight of hand). It could be argued that if you do that you lose the ability to differentiate a trained musician from a gymnast holding a mandolin but I can't think of any reason any sane person would care in a D&D game. PS still fuck bards.

Intimidation--Surprisingly useful in that it often does what a reaction check does in old school. It is a little weird though because intimidation capacity seems more a function of charisma plus how big, scary or well-armed you look rather than charisma plus a special skill plus level. It's not a skill in old school, but would be derived on a case-by-case basis from those factors. And if it's a matter of looking more dangerous than you are then that seems like a species of Deception?

But then again there's that issue of Daredevil where DD is missing and the Human Torch (who can set things on fire by looking at them) has to take his place as urban vigilante and sucks at it because none of the lowlifes or hoods believe he'll light them up. So maybe Intimidation needs to be a skill. Convince me?

Persuasion--This is just straight up a skill that exists so charisma checks can use the same math as strength checks boosted by athletics etc. Old school would just use charisma. However...

Deception--Well there's charisma as clerics use it and charisma as thieves use it. Fair enough. Old school does not make this distinction at all, though it is meaningful.

Here's a weird result: if they didn't include Persuasion as a skill and just relied on Charisma, yet Deception was a skill, then that would mean that after a few levels you would always be better off lying to someone than telling the truth. At least in the abstract--realistically the GM would/should simply set the DC of convincing someone by lying higher than by telling the truth.
So altogether we've got:

1. Reorganized thief/rogue/specialist skills (Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, Stealth)--these are by most measures just more useful than their old school counterparts and there are less of them, so definitely a vote here for 5e solely on the grounds of simplifying life.

2. Reorganized ranger/druid/maybe barbarian skills (Nature, Survival)--as thief skills, these are a clear improvement because they're simpler than their old versions without losing depth.

3. Skills made necessary by the system math (Athletics, Arcana, Persuasion, Insight) You're not missing much by excluding these from old school play, except the ability to make your PC less archetypal on paper (cleric who is a witch hunter so knows a thing or two about Arcana, for instance)--but you knew that when you decided to roll old school.

4. Borderline, arguably useful depending on the campaign/rulings but could probably be absorbed into parent ability with no big loss (Performance could be assigned to dex or charisma the few times it comes up in a properly bardless campaign, Medicine, History and Religion can be Int).

5. Total abomination (Investigation)

6. Oddball thing I'm not sure should work like other skills do (Intimidation)

7. Genuinely clarifying or adding new level of detail to the game (Animal Handling, Deception, Perception)

My overall verdict is no matter how you slice it, old school games have some weird problems around noticing shit and 5e has players making a few more choices during character creation than they probably need to.

Happy New Year!


Unknown said...

Intimidate is wierd, mostly because it's solely based on charisma and ignores stuff like strength, size, HD or whatever without rulings – so basically you can be what would be fucking scary in a normal context but for some reason being unpersonable on top of that makes you actually worse at intimidation.

That being said, one can be intimidating due to charisma-based performance, and intimidation is definitely something that can be a skill. Not sure if it _needs_ to be, but I can see the logic.

I guess the problem is being overtly focused on charisma, which leads to situations that don't make sense. The unlikeable MC guy or bar bouncer built like a brick shithouse shouldn't be _required_ to pick up a proficiency in it.

phillcalle said...

My case for Intimidation is this: Intimidation is getting people to do what you want based on their fear of you. It is a skill because if you go too far, they faint, tell you what they think you want instead of the truth, decide that since they'll die anyway, screw you, etc...Or like the Human Torch, you could simply not be convincing. Daredevil is OK at it, but Kingpin is a master. He's basically trained people to do his bidding based on their fear of him.

Zak Sabbath said...

seems situational though,
a lot of times fainting isn't going to make sense or telling you what you want to hear instead of the truth wouldn't make sense.
The most common Intimidate use I see in-game is you tell somebody whose friends you just killed to give up and stop fighting.

Unknown said...

Of course, one can always decide that the default attribute links for skills can fuck off and use whatever they want situationally. (Like roll athletics with con to climb that mountainside, persuade with int/wis to write a convincing letter, or something.)

Zak Sabbath said...

true, my main concern is that players not waste time and processing power with skills on the sheet that aren't necessary

Unknown said...

I sort of removed skills from our D20 games a while back (a little more than a year ago?). At first I thought it'd be a bad idea for things like Persuade/Bluff/Intimidate, but it's worked out so far and we are not missing them.

So things like jump/climb are flat yes/no functions (most people can jump about the same distance anyway, but you can also get a trait that makes you better at it if you insist) and social skills play out situationally.

Zak Sabbath said...

so there are no challenges where climbing or jumping come in?

Like enemies dont' chase you through weird terrain?

andrew said...
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Zak Sabbath said...

it's the same idea as a morale check but i like involving the players' ability to intimidate

Malcadon said...

To be fair, a lot of the issues Grognards have with modern skill rules came from burnout with the messy v3.x skill rules (point allocation, class/cross-class, synergy bonus, WTF!) and the bulky 2e AD&D NWP rules before that. I number of Grognards I know, including myself, really like the simplicity of the new skill system used in 5e.

As for Intimidate, I think people get it wrong, much like how people used to get Charisma wrong — seeing it more as beauty and being soft-spoken, (to where female NPCs usually get more of it) instead of being the force of one's personality and personal magnetism. To me, the MGP Conan D20 game handled intimidation rules the best, as they did not treat it as "I'm bigger and uglier than you, bitch!" but more on a near-supernatural level with cold, murderous eyes that drains opponents of their fighting-spirit and being surrounded by a dreadful aura of death and destruction. The rules, guided by REH's awesome yearns, have it so that even dainty little women in scant outfits can scare the piss out the biggest men (read Red Nails to see that played out). So yeah, Charisma alone (supported by other factors) could determine one's level of intimidation.

John said...

I like having everything based off just the six ability scores more than having a comprehensive skill system because it means players can give themselves special skills in a piecemeal, irregular way. Like, if a player wrote on their sheet at the start of play that their character had a background in blacksmithing or snark hunting or something, they could make an ability check to forge weapons or identify bandersnatch spoor or whatever, in situations where a "regular" character would have no clue.

Adamantyr said...

5E definitely has better compatibility with old-school gaming styles than any prior edition. I like how they combined the skills and eliminated the unnecessary ones. On your other points...

Investigation - My own use of it is as a "search" skill, if the player wants to thoroughly look over something, be it a dungeon chamber or a book, for something specific/useful/valuable. The difference between this and perception is that perception is in "real time" and immediate, like spotting the trip wire. Another aspect of it is if how smart you are (intelligence) or how aware you are (wisdom) factors in to seeing something.

Intimidate - How this becomes a charisma-based skill is in how a character can intimidate someone that he WOULD do something violent and awful to them, and yet he's actually Lawful Good and would never actually DO so. For example, Batman started failing his intimidate checks with criminals in The Dark Knight when they knew he had "rules" and he wouldn't actually kill anyone. And other factors that can weigh in on the intimidate attempt really depend on the target. A bureaucratic clerk, for example, may not be impressed with a big bravo type trying to be tough, but perhaps he's completely intimidated by women...

Zak Sabbath said...

2nd Paragraph: how does that interact with just describing what you're doing "I look under the desk" etc.

3rd Paragraph is addressed in the OP--why is that not just Deception or Charisma?

Adamantyr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adamantyr said...

If a player is involved and creative enough to say "I look under the desk" instead of "I search around", and there WAS something there, I'd reward their involvement by giving an automatic success. (Having them roll anyway of course to maintain the illusion of chance.) Another example is spotting a secret door; I'd do a passive Wisdom/Perception check on first entering a room secretly for each player, but if they explicitly say "I'm searching for secret doors" that's where an active Intelligence/Investigate check comes in. And a success on either doesn't mean they FOUND the door, maybe it just leads to "You found an odd colored brick in the wall" which then they have to further interact with to discover the actual door and how it opens.

I'd say Intimidate is a specialized form of Deception... The difference with Intimidate is 1) violence is ALWAYS implied, 2) whether the player is lying or telling the truth is immaterial, and 3) the target is probably going to be angry no matter the outcome. I'd also say that a failed Deception has less consequences than Intimidate, which could lead to a roll for initiative. To compensate for the fact that makes Deception more attractive an option, I'd have much higher DC's to deceive than intimidate.

Zak Sabbath said...

1st P:
But then you're not incentivizing careful searches (bc the skill substitutes for it). Just rewarding it when it comes up while offering a dice-based substitute for thinking.

Second P:

Josh Burnett said...

My 5th Edition players use Medicine fairly often to determine the cause of death of various mysterious corpses or how long something's been dead. It also came in handy once or twice for identifying doppelgangers. I suppose that all could have fallen under Investigation, but Medicine seems more appropriate for such forensics.

Zak Sabbath said...

+1 point for medicine, -1 point for investigation

s7610ra said...

I use and view Investigate skills as essentially 'CSI Fantasy', and essentially it can reveal 'extra' clues. As a GM I find some players (and I am one) are just not that into puzzle/murder-mystery solving when I could be ham acting or twatting monsters .. If you hate it, delete it, it's your table..

Zak Sabbath said...

In theory: yes.

In practice, deleting any skill (or spell, or weapon etc) means you gotta go through the backgrounds and classes and cross them out before you hand the book to the players for character gen. So it's doable but not instantly

Adamantyr said...

Yes, Investigate as a skill is a direct conflict with old-school gaming's design of "If you don't think and ask questions, too bad. You can't just roll a die."

You could restrict its use to only active searching for information in a large data store, such as a library. (Essentially making it a "Research" skill.) That would let you keep it on the sheets but you could forewarn your players ahead of time that it's use is very limited.

It could also be used in a similar way to how the Common Sense advantage was presented in GURPS. It allowed an impulsive player to play a thoughtful character. In a similar fashion, you could use Investigate when you have a player who wants to play a Sherlock character but honestly doesn't have the (real life) skills to do so. It still is a crutch though.

Jonathan Linneman said...

Trying to reason through the details of persuading vs. deceiving vs. intimidating is an interesting exercise. I'm starting to think that they should all be one skill, since those who are most effective at influencing the opinions of others can probably move seemlessly among them in practice.

I do think it's worth keeping at least some general form of persuasion separate from (or on top of) CHA, since inspiring others still feels like a different expression of CHA to me...but maybe I'm just being arbitrary in where I separate my abstractions.

FWIW, this discussion reminds me how Bargain always seemed a little odd as a skill in D6 Star Wars. (If I fail at the Bargain, can I then Persuade someone to take the deal? They seem awfully similar...)

Zak Sabbath said...

well the seducer and the bouncer are certainly charismatic in different ways

Zak Sabbath said...

Yeah I don't like that Common Sense thing. The Cthulhu-style "research" skill has some merit i think

Jonathan Linneman said...

I definitely agree that there are different modes of persuasion, I'm just wondering if they're worth differentiating in the rules. Just like a high CHA might be attributed to beauty, a pleasing voice, an undefinable "it" factor, or any of a million other things, maybe persuasion can be a general ability to convince others...even reading a person and applying the appropriate method. Surely there are, say, some cult leaders out there for whom persuasion, deception, and intimidation are all separated by really fine lines. The player can give it whatever flavor they choose.

I haven't really convinced myself on this yet...just thinking out loud.

Zak Sabbath said...

well beauty and cultish persuasiveness are different _causes_ whereas bouncing and seducing are different effects

Jonathan Linneman said...

Hmm. That is a distinction that might be worth preserving. It's almost like there's a need for two types of CHA that are actually opposites rather than different manifestations of the same trait.

Charisma is a necessarily weird stat sometimes.

Adamantyr said...

Why split it? I think that's the whole idea to having the skills in the first place. Charisma is just a measure of how effective you are at social interactions.

Zak Sabbath said...

Because these two interpretations of "charisma" are not necessarily linked irl. Being good at one thing irl does not suggest you are good at the other irl. If you build a world that way it conflates two different ability sets.

That's why.

There are arguments that it's _practically_ useful as game design, but no reason it's good from a simulatory pov.

Anonymous said...

Ultimately having a skill or tool proficiency is just determining if you get that +2 (at first level) or not. One method I've seen and liked but am not currently using is for the player to make a small list of character description items that could potentially impact their ability checks.
"Studied magic under the great Carlota the Magistrix."
"Regularly hunts boars through the Northern Forest."
"Hired muscle for Crow the Underlord."

Then on an intelligence check you get the +2 to know about magic that Carlota might have taught you, to know anything about the northern forest, and to appraise the sort of items that passed through Crow's black market.

Players will tend to stretch these to their fullest but I don't see the point in stopping them unless they're handing you a line of total BS.

Unknown said...

If you think about it, most encounters go one of two ways: either they are better than you (monkeys chasing dwarves in the jungle) or you are better than them (rare, PCs generally don't have special modes of movement). In fringe cases you can ask for ability checks.

In cool fights while climbing and so on, everyone can climb and fight (because you are an adventurer! You do this shit for a living!) but if you are stunned/paralyzed/unconscious then, again, no skill check required (and for fringe cases I ask for a Str check, for example).

Zak Sabbath said...

yes--though i think there's something to be said for making sure players don't choose descriptors that overlap their class and race skills, which can be easy to accidentally do and so cheat yourself out of a bonus accidentally.

Plus some players--esp new ones-- just hate coming up with those descriptors

Zak Sabbath said...

That's fine if you're playing Vampire or a Mafia game, but it disables the following situation:

There is a difficult situation--there are several possible courses of action, each with upsides and downsides, the player must decide which kind of action (die roll) to gamble on, with all the attendant cost-benefit analysis.

It also makes it impossible for a climbing-while-fighting fight to be any different in any meaningful of dangerous-feeling way than a regular fight until someone is stunned. In which case stunning becomes the optimal tactic and everyone just goes for that.

X said...

I used this same thing during the playtest and had mixed results.

It allowed for some fantastic concepting ("chefsassin", "seedy artifact dealer", "Didn't think that one through" "Feywild Arms Merchant" "known far and wide as the Slayer of Krom the Giant, Doom Drummer, and of course two players independently chose Princess)

Players that weren't that creative had a really hard time with it. We had a player that was "Trained by the retired Sword Master" and just didn't have the ability to understand what that might mean. But athletics, and spending a second wind, they got.

We reviewed it later when 5e Actually launched and jumped over to skills, mainly because the more experienced players felt that concepts as skills were a little too wiggly and thus OP.

Actually making a skill that fits the class too much was broken. We had a ranger who took "underhunter" and spent a lot of time explaining how that skill pretty much applied to every possible action they could take as a ranger.

Unknown said...

We are playing a heavily modded version of True20 so stunning is common, but you are right; every gameplay choice made is a trade-off.

So we lose on complexity (skills for ability checks) but that's fine. It's similar to the trade-off between old-school and "modern" skills as you say in the original blog post. Old-school skills out of the box aren't really any more complex than "Thieves can climb sheer walls. Fighters can too, if they have tools and stuff. Both will eventually get over the wall as an obstacle; it doesn't really matter until the wraiths start fly-by attacks. When they do, I can either ask for climb checks, or for Str checks, or maybe let the thief use Dex because he should be better..." which brings us back to your original post.

Patrick Mallah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

Is an uncreative player necessarily someone whom the rules should cater to? I mean, I understand the idea to cater to everyone equally, but in other games I play we don't usually modify the rules for everybody simply because someone's bad at the game.

Similarly, the player who justifies everything is surely easily defeated by an impartial DM?

Zak Sabbath said...

who are you talking to and what about?
Who are these "uncreative players?"

morikahn said...

1) Skills are not technically tied to a specific ability score. They generally are ASSOCIATED with a certain ability score, but as described on page 175 in the 5e PHB, under Variant: Skills with Different Ability Scores, the DM can ask for a skill to be used in combination with a non-standard ability score.

This means a DM can rule that a nimble rogue can use his Dexterity modifier with Athletics when climbing - or that a barbarian can flex his massive muscles and use his Strength modifier with Intimidation.

This may address the issues you have with certain charisma skills or rogues climbing.

(As a side note: I just allow rogues to automatically succeed at climbing unless there is an exceptional situation. Then they may need to make a skill check).

2) Investigate has a mechanical purpose in 5e. It is used to overcome illusions such as Disguise Self or Silent Image.

Perhaps instead of Investigate being used to shortcut roleplaying and exploration, it could used to determine if something IS as the the DM described it.

* Determining if someone is wearing a disguise (without just assaulting them and trying to pull their 'wig' off).
* If an art piece is a fake
* If something has been polymorphed (it's rarely perfect).

I don't see how a player could roleplay such things as those actions rely on their character's senses, not their own.

And obviously, all the skills are great to use as shortcuts when you just want to summarize a situation quickly.

Roleplaying a wizard searching a library for a certain scroll is boring - better to just say the character is busy for the next 4 hours and will need to make one or more Investigation checks to determine the results.

Zak Sabbath said...

1.True but it's annoying to recalculate the skill bonuses based on new ability scores

2. That is not a good use of the skill as far as I'm concerned because it might as well be perception.

curiouspanda said...

One way I have used the Investigate skill is when the characters are trying to search through a large amount of in-game information for some clue or advantage *under time pressure.*
So they can roll to skim the occult tome to find the one helpful passage to unsummon the demonic assassin before it claims its target, scan through all the computer files to find the one with the important file before the raptors break through the glass wall, etc. It seems most useful to me if success grants an advantage, failure isn't a roadblock, the information isn't so cool you want to just give it to anyone who looks, and you don't want to waste too much time simulating the search experience. Which sounds really restrictive but in play my players who are trained in investigate have seemed happy/had fun when it turns up a cookie.

I'm sure you could handle this sort of niche action as either as an ability check, X in 6 per turn, 'careful examination' as you describe on a case by case basis too.

morikahn said...

1. Oh come on. In 5e you add an ability modifier and a universal proficiency bonus. It ain't that hard :)

2. Well, there are basically three types of skills:

* skills that let you do something
* skills that represent what your character knows
* skills that help a player gather information

Animal Handling
Sleight of Hand



Rarely do I hear complaints about action skills as they are very straight forward. Which makes sense, as these skills are dependent completely on the player's character abilities, i.e. the player just tells the character to do something and hopes they pull it off.

Charisma based action skills are a little more fuzzy as it does involve player abilities as they need to actually talk.

And it makes sense that you don't have problems with the Knowledge skills as they represent character expertise. These determine what areas a player will be able to make a more informed decision.

It is the information gathering skills where the problems arise as many of us DMs want our players to actively seek the information out rather than just roll a die. The SEEKING is part of the fun.

I think the best solution is to limit these skills to discovering information that can not be role-played.


Perception is the counter for stealth. Does the PC see the orc trying hiding behind the bush? If a giant spider is on the ceiling of a chamber and a player says he looks up at the ceiling.. he should automatically see the spider - no perception check is necessary. Its when the players are busy with something else that it matters.

Insight is the counter for charisma skills. Do you notice something awry with the King's speech? Most DMs aren't really good actors and wont be able to put subtle clues into their dialogue that could alert clever players there is some subterfuge.

Investigation is used to determine if something is as it seems. Is this a real ruby or a fake one? Should only be involved in tasks that are at least a little time consuming. It shouldn't be used as a generic search skill that just gives players clues.


The only reason to differentiate these three skills from each other, and not just lump them together as a generalized Perception skill is simply to allow players to specialize in particular types of information gathering.

Else.. every party would just have 'that guy' that dumps everything into perception and acts as the parties Sherlock Holmes.

Zak Sabbath said...

1. I didn't say it was difficult, I said it was annoying,

Stopping the game to calculate extra numbers is annoying, and using an ability check is one less step.

2. You wrote about a lot of things that were not in dispute, but very little about why your description could not fit under "perception".

You simply wrote "it should..." but not why.

I see no reason a character could not be good at both seeing stealth and spotting forgeries--they are very related skills and it is rare that a character in fiction is good at one but not the other.

Your "that guy" character has 4 issues:
-this person has never turned up in any game I've seen
-Sherlock would also require player skill to recognize specific clues so bad analogy
-Even if someone was good at spotting bothe stealth and anomalies, I don't see how that in any way makes the game worse or limits possibilities

Zak Sabbath said...

(that;s 3, sorry)

morikahn said...

I did write a too much. I was a little drunk at the time so it seemed appropriate. I guess I was trying to explain why certain skills bother people more than others.

I wrote 'should' as in to discern which tasks were appropriate for each skill.

Perception skill applies to things that are of the moment. Do you see ambushers right now? Did you see the ambassador dropping poison in the king's goblet? Do you notice the scratches on the floor next to secret door?

Investigation applies to things that require more careful study and a knowledge about the object in question.

This is why perception is a Wisdom skill, as Wisdom also covers keenness of senses while investigation is an Intelligence skill, which is more a reflection of one's education and experience.

If you treat them the same that would mean the barbarian scout with eagle eyes would also somehow be very apt at discovering forgeries in documents - and that the scholar would be apt at avoiding ambushes in the wilderness.

Just my 2 cents. I hope I didn't come off combative.

Zak Sabbath said...

tone is not an issue here

i think the barbarian vs connoisseur issue is covered by allowing a player inspecting a cultural object to roll perception OR history (or whatever) whichever is higher.

I don;t think that leaves much room for "investigate" (sans specialty). I mean, realistically, who has "investigate" but no specific knowledge attached and no general ability to perceive?

Jonathon said...

This just popped into my head as a possibility, not sure how practical it is: what if they're all Charisma-based, but they're all opposed checks and the skill determines what stat opposes it? A bouncer with Intimidate makes CHA-based checks opposed by the target's CON; a lawyer with Persuasion makes CHA-based checks opposed by INT; a con man with Deception opposes WIS. You can take more than one skill and be good against more than one stat, but having just one limits your ability to bring around targets that happen to be strong against your skill - tough guys face down the bouncer, sages see through the lawyer, and the wise aren't blinded by the slick con man.

Lex Starwalker said...

Just want to point out that things in the game that should be really good climbers, like a monkey, can have a climb speed. Normal climbing with athletics takes 2 feet of movement for every 1 foot you move. Using a climb speed doesn't have this limitation. There's no need to make climbing based on acrobatics instead of athletics. Anyone who's climbed a rope in gym class, or done rock climbing, can tell you that climbing is limited by your strength. If you're not strong enough to lift your body weight, you're SOL.

Zak Sabbath said...

1. You haven't explained how to assign a player character a climb speed in characer gen

2. Your idea about strength is wrong and not intelligent. By that logic an 8-pound monkey should always be a worse climber than a human

3. This is because you haven't thought about how "climbing" actually encompasses a variety of different activities and how body weight in _relation_ to strength is the important factor. ie the more you weigh, the more you need strength and climbing a rope in gym is different than climbing a tree

4. Just having a climb speed eliminates the possibility of climbing-based risk and challenge. If you're not rolling, then it's 100% certain you can climb something, which gets rid of a lot of the fun in climbing

Sean McCoy said...

For Intimidate, maybe just switch it from a CHA skill to a STR skill?