Saturday, January 21, 2012

The "I Call On My Years Of Training" System

Once per day a PC may say "I call upon my years of training!" and thereby add his/her level to any ability check involving a task characteristic of his or her class or race.

This can only be done once per day no matter how many different kinds of class-appropriate challenges come up that day.

The maximum is + 1o. (10 total including ability score bonuses, if you're using a DC system). After 10 you get to do it twice a day and split the bonus numbers however you want.


Scruffy The Bandit and Muppet the Sorceress want to try to interpret the hieroglyphs in a dusty old codex. Scruffy has to roll an Int check (at -8 or at a DC of 18, because the DM says so). Muppet also has to roll an int check (also at -8 or at a DC of 18, because the DM says so) however, Muppet may choose to call on her vast sorceressy training to do this and thus can add +5 since she is level 5.

If, later that day, they come upon an obscure alchemical substance, Muppet is out of luck and has to roll like everybody else, as she's used up her training bonus for the day.

If she was level 13, she could add 5 and bank 8 for later that day or add 10 and bank 3, or whatever, up to 10.

Optional extras:

-If you are including thief functions in this, thieves do it all the time--not just once per day--up to +10 total (including any ability score bonuses, if you're using the DC system). Edit: In an old-school system, this means the standard array of thief abilities tops out at +10, so this requires a further hack--maybe at this point the thief starts being able to dip his or hands into other classes' skill pools. Like how they can start to read magic or whatever at a certain point...

-If you want to use it with a whole skill system, then just modify the rule so it says "Once per day a PC may add his/her level to any single ability check involving a skill s/he has"

...and otherwise skills don't do anything.

-This whole system probably doesn't apply to saving throws. But consult your GM

Um, Dude, Why Bother?

I like this system because it creates a situation where tasks that challenge a high-skill PC do not have to be completely out of the range of possibility for low-skill PCs.

It compresses the difficulty scale, essentially.

The high-level adventure does not have to be full of tasks that only one possible class (ranger, thief, druid) could possibly do right.

So you can make a wall at, say, climb check= dex - 4. A fighter might have trouble climbing that wall, but they could make it. A thief of any level could also have trouble climbing that wall, but their level would still matter if they wanted it to.

Or you could make tracking a foe through a marsh check at simply -1 int. The ranger does not have to have a high int to successfully follow the tracks and be better than other people at it, but anybody else still has a shot to follow them. Because, hey, it's tracks in the mud.


Zzarchov said...

I am a huge fan of skills that only give a bonus on rolls you can already make. In regards to a bonus based on level, is that per skill or just flat per day in your system?

Zak Sabbath said...

just flat per day

Jontar said...

my favorite corelation in popular culture would have to be Wesley from the Princess Bride, where he spent a life-time building up immunity to Iocain powder...

I like the ADnD Style of skill checks..either percentile when predefined or D20-under-stat when not so...People will gain bonuses on checks as I see fit if they have good reason why in thier experiences they would be better at said check then usual.

Even in my DnD games I am a fan of having a single reroll/average for one day (depending on the philosophy of the character) I will take a look at this idea and test it out.

bombasticus said...

Nice. The split feels weird though because it models people getting *better* at class-appropriate tasks at 1-10 and then *worse but more prolific* at 11+. Maybe just give people a daily bonus pool = LVL and let them allocate it as they wish?

Dan said...

This is a really cool idea!

Jontar said...

To combat that I would suggest 1/2 level round up...just thinking out loud.

Reverend Dak said...

"Years of training" = "Level" or character background.

I don't use skills in my game. I use class level if it's related to their class as a bonus (I use a DC, which is usually variable, typically 3d6.) If the task is related to their background I bump the difficulty down a notch (1d6).

Zak Sabbath said...


No. At 11 + you get +10 the firs ttime you use it and then +1 on that second roll if you want it.

I would have thought that would have been obvious.

Zak Sabbath said...


Oh, and this is where you say "sorry about the Type V thing, I was completely wrong, that was kind of an overreaction."

Zak Sabbath said...

That's sort of the default old school way to do it and I usually do it that way,

The reason I am considering this system is covered in the Um, Dude Why Bother? section of this post you are commenting on.

Dead Horse said...

Zak, you should really read Castles and Crusades. You have cteated almost tje same skill system they us.

fetfreak said...

while it is useful I prefer my players to have to work to beat their obstacles and not have a 1/day chance to beat it.

If they really want to interpret the hieroglyphs in a dusty old codex I would prefer for them to go on a mini quest and find a specialized sage on the matter than roll a dice.
While when it comes to regular tasks like climbing, it's fun to suck at something.

Zak Sabbath said...


anyone who reads this blog will notice I make a place for player-skill-not-PC-skill. I simply chose the hieroglyphs as an example.

If you are going to have thieves (and non-modellable-at-the-table tasks in general) you need some kind of system to make
them good at whatever it is they do.


everything i do, systemwise, ends up being already in Castles and Crusades. though in this particular case it would help if you described it.

Zak Sabbath said...


....because the SIEGE engine is different in every important way so far as I know and has the exact problem this system was created to avoid:

in C&C, if I remember, you add (ability score + level) _all the time_. which, as I just explained to DAK creates exactly the situation described as undesirable in the Um, Dude Why Bother? section

Jeff Rients said...

This makes perfect sense to me.

Zak Sabbath said...

so, aside from what I described for thieves, it's pretty different--and in their case, the "stop at +10" is still an important difference

Robert Morris said...

I like it. It gives you a once-a-day shot to ace something important. Once you get to a higher level, you have more bonus but also more temptation to split it down the middle. I might have to steal this.

thekelvingreen said...

I've seen a similar loose system used in games before, where a character gets a bonus -- or sometimes no bonus, but is allowed to make the roll -- because it makes sense for the character to be able to do so. For example, if your D&D fighter has a background as a pirate, then of course it makes sense for him to be able to make rolls to navigate at sea or tie knots or whatever, even if it's not listed -- or doesn't exist in the system -- as a formal skill. I use the Know, Luck and Idea statistics in Call of Cthulhu for a similar purpose.

What I like about this system you propose, Zak, is that it has a similar effect, but removes the sometimes tricky negotiation phase; the player doesn't have to convince the GM that their character should be able to try something -- a process which can be tiresome or awkward for some players -- because they pay for the ability with a mechanic. It gives the players a bit of control over the game world, and lessens the load on the GM a bit.

Unknown said...

I do understand what you were getting at. It is a good idea that will probably put into my games from now on. I don't see what is so hard to get?

thekelvingreen said...

All of which is a bit off-topic, I realise, but I wanted to comment on the bit I liked.

Zak Sabbath said...


Again, I think that's what 90% of old schoolers (including me ) do by default.

Doing it ad hoc is really bascially fine, but this makes it a little more of a game, which I think is fun.

Plus if you are using a game with a skill system for nonthieves (or a choose-a-skill system for thieves), it gives it a way for those PCs choice to definitely mean something without creating the scaling problem in the Um, Dude section or the bookkeeping required in skill point systems.

thekelvingreen said...

It strikes me as a much more sensible approach to level-based aptitude than either D&D3 or D&D4 managed. Plus it's simple, and that counts for a lot in my book.

I agree about the fun element too. I like having little mechanical wrinkles and tokens in my games, so this optional buy-off appeals to me. It's a bit like an action point system, but not quite as unsubtle and overt.

NaldoDrinan said...

I think this is pretty cool. I can see it working well with my group's love of talking/making shit up about their character's amazing off-screen adventurers.

Besides, I'm down with any rule that makes people proclaim things aloud at the table.

David S. Goodwin said...

My first thought was, "hey, you've turned character class into a Fate Aspect!"

(In Fate, Aspects are dramatic labels - "you killed my father" or "grizzled veteran" or "vampire-slayer" - that you can invoke x times per session to give you a bonus on relevant skill rolls. Very much the same "can you justify that? ok, go ahead" thinking.)

Anyway, I like it - it seems like an elegant little rule with interesting limits, and not so game-changing that the DM starts increasing all difficulties by 5 to compensate.

wrathofzombie said...

C&C doesn't use the attribute and level bonus all the time. If a fighter is attempting to climb a wall he can get his dex/str bonus (which ever the GM deems applicable) but he doesn't get his level. A thief would get his level bonus however.

Basically in C&C that's how skills are handled. If it is something that fits within your characters class you get to add your level to the roll.

bombasticus said...

To make it more obvious, how about using that as your core illustration and leaving the +5/+8 split as an option? Currently Muppet does indeed fail more often at level 13 than she does at level 10.

-C said...

@Bombasticus, you might want to go back and read what he wrote, which I assume is the source of your misunderstanding.

bombasticus said...

You mean "if she was level 13, she could add 5 and bank 8 for later that day or add 10 and bank 3, or whatever, up to 10?" Sure.

Let's say Muppet needs an 18 to do her thing. When she's 10th level, she gets +10, plus any ability score bonuses, to succeed. She succeeds 65% of the time. Not bad.

Three levels later, she's presumably more experienced than ever. Her peak success rate has stopped climbing -- great, we all hit a wall. But if she follows the example, her failure rate on tasks of comparable difficulty actually climbs from 35% to 55% or more. She's gotten *worse*.

Now if he'd written something about a "keep the 10 and add a new task starting at +1," it'd be something else.

Unknown said...

I read this after reading your G+ post about it, and I have to say: For the life of me, I can't understand what's here to be misunderstood. I don't understand the misunderstanding.

This system is a great example of a good old-school bolt-on: system agnostic, simple, easy to adjudicate, and guaranteed to make the players agonize about burning through the resource.

Plus it's fun; allowing non-skill PCs to pull one outta their ass every so often just has to be an asset at the table. I had a guy who played barbarians who'd just go into a light doze whenever there was something to be puzzled out - at least he'd stay partially awake using this system.

akfu23 said...

Very nice, I think I'll incorporate it into my S&W game to pacify any of the ex-Pathfinder players who go into skill/feat withdrawals. Maybe mate it with the single saving throw mechanic somehow? Hmmmmmm....

Zak Sabbath said...

yes, clearly--point is it's not once per day and not limited to +10

Zak Sabbath said...

yeah, as james maliszewski said "what d&D really needs is an aspect system

semiprometheus said...

For comparison, take a look at the "Good At" system, which dispenses with dice but requires players to note what they're "good at" ahead of time.

Zak Sabbath said...

It sounds like you read the example and not the rule.

You can keep 10 and add 1 or whatever split you like

Zak Sabbath said...


I like that one, too, though it doesn't "dispense with dice", it's a +1 , -1 system, iirc

bombasticus said...

Cheers. The more I think about it, the more I like the Jontar solution as a way to manage scale.

Otherwise, we keep running into the issue where every "year of training" gives Muppet an all-or-nothing 5% better at hieroglyphics and then suddenly, inexplicably she gets the option to regress below Scruffy if she's anticipating a busy day. What's special about the big 1-0 that lets her do that?

On the other hand, no longer interested in letting them split the bonus pool as they like up to LVL times a day. That's really just a level-based luck pool, which has been done.

Zak Sabbath said...

you're thinking too literally:

its not a bonus to a static "talent" it's a bonus to a die roll in a situation.

she's as good at hieroglyphics any day as any other, using the skill just means her talent happened to be useful for that situation that day.

if a thief uses it on climbing a wall, it doesn't mean he's good at climbing that day, it means he found the right footholds on that attempt.

bombasticus said...

So are you. By "hieroglyphics," read "magely doings." Everything else still applies.

Zak Sabbath said...

i do not understand at all, changing the wording does not mean

" inexplicably she gets the option to regress below"

no. not at all.

not slightly.

not remotely.

not a tiny bit.

not in any way.


her experience allows her to do something impressive once per day.


...after she levels up...

her GREATER experience allows her to STILL do something equally impressive once per day and then another, slightly less impressive thing after that.

How has she, in any way, "regressed"?

bombasticus said...

Sure. If and only if she "takes 10" for the first roll and then gets a second, reduced roll later in the day. But that's not what either the rule or the example currently says.

She's ninth level. She can do something magely at +45% once a day.

She gets promoted to tenth level. She can do something magely at +50% once a day.

She gets promoted to eleventh level. At this point, the rule as written allows her to keep on doing the magely at +50% and do something else in a few hours. Great. We all like that.

OR it allows her to do the magely at +5% to +45% and do some other magely thing in a few hours at a lower bonus. Her expertise has gone down. Her failure rate goes up. She has regressed. Why is that?

Zak Sabbath said...

if that's the part that bothers you, just make it _always_ +10 on one attempt and the rest on the second attempt if the PC is over a +10

bombasticus said...

Due to a time travel accident, Muppet at 13th level teams up with Muppet at 9th level. They both need to do a magely thing at DC 18.

Muppet 9 rolls at +9 with a 60% chance of success.

Muppet 13 can roll at +10 with a 65% chance of success or follow the example and roll at +5 with a 40% chance of success.

Statistically speaking, Muppet 13 has used your rule to fail an extra 1 time in 5 more often than Muppet 9, even though she's theoretically four levels better at this stuff.

"Gosh," Muppet 9 says. "Way to give me hope for the future, you forgetting your training like that."

What does Muppet 13 say?

bombasticus said...

That works.

Zak Sabbath said...


bombasticus said...

You're telling me.

wrathofzombie said...


Unknown said...

I like it. I think its an elegant way to model PCs having skill at stuff you'd think they's be good at with out having to write down 50 skills and background abilities etc on a character sheet.

huth said...

Would that be different than the skill system, though?

huth said...

I mean, skills are already sub-attributes, what would another layer of sub-attributes add? Or would it just replace the skill-point-calculation thing?

Alex Osias said...

"I call on my years of slacking off!"

"You fail."


semiprometheus said...

To quote the description of "Good Ats" cited above: "The skill serves ONLY as a guide for the player and the DM, there are no percentages to take into account, no rolls to make (unless the DM decrees it), no mechanical guarantees at all."

The element of DM fiat is what makes it so interesting ... and Old School.

Zak Sabbath said...

which is fine but i like to have the difference between "good at languages and level 1" and "good at languages and level 15" consistently planted in the player's mind like a seed that grows through the levels.

That way it's not like:
"Oh I hope when we get to the ruined temple of zarth my good at languages can help me!" and then it does (yay) or doesn't (what a useless bonus! stupid!) but more like

"It seems like the temple of zarth is going to be at about at a minus 9 dufficulty." "Ah, I see, now I can make a clever plan for how I shall tackle it..."

Trent_B said...

HAHAHAAH.... headdesk.