Saturday, April 8, 2017

Goblins and Greatswords: A resolution to the thief skills conundrum?

I've been busy with lots of other things lately, but after letting ideas ferment in the back of my head for a while, it's time to take up the mantle of amateur game designer once again and look at my fantasy heartbreaker project with fresh eyes.

I've toyed with a lot of ideas, all of which have strong appeal for one reason or another, and also some drawbacks, and I've tried to pick and choose and integrate the ones that offer the lowest costs for the biggest bang.  As a playable beta version looms, the skills system is finally coming together.

My design goals here were simplicity and intuitive ease, with minimal dice rolling, but at the same time providing a relative wealth of information beyond a mere pass/fail. Scalability to higher levels is a must so improvement is meaningful, but at the same time it shouldn't make low-level characters incompetent at their professions.  The math should be minimal and easy for the average person to calculate in his or her head.

What I've settled on for the playtest version is a roll-under system using 2d12 (showing some love for the traditionally least-used polyhedron!) with target numbers rising as skills improve.  Unlike a percentile dice system, it's easy to apply standard adjustments of -3 to +3, while retaining an advantage of the roll-under format, allowing the individual dice to add meaning beyond the pass/fail binary.  The rising target numbers allow only low rolls to succeed with low skill, but increasingly large rolls to succeed with growing proficiency.

On any successful roll, the lower of the two d12s is read as the degree of success.  If, say, your healing skill is 11, and you make a healing roll with a 6 and a 4, you heal four points of damage.  Easy.  This provides more skilled characters with the possibility of getting bigger and better results than less skilled ones, as well as simply succeeding more often. If your low die was a 10, you probably rolled pretty high, and with a roll-under system, that means you blew it unless your skill level is superlative.  This is exactly what I want.

If you roll doubles, you've scored either a critical success or a critical failure, with either an enhanced outcome or a mishap resulting.  The higher a character's skill, of course, the more likely that a critical roll will be a success instead of a failure.  A roll of double 6, for instance, would be a critical failure for a character with a skill of 11, but a critical success for one with a skill of 13. Again, pretty easy.

This does entail having a table relating character levels to target numbers, rather than the simple bonus-per-level progression I had envisioned early on, but that was the easiest wish to give up, and I get a lot of functionality and flexibility in return.

Here are some examples of how this system will work with specific skills:

Healing
: The degree of success die indicates how many points of damage are healed or the bonus to a fresh saving throw against disease or poison.  Critical success doubles the degree of success (both dice are "lowest" so add them together!)  Critical failure causes some amount of damage to the patient, probably also equal to the low die rolled.

Tinker: Each lock and trap has a number of Difficulty Points, similar to hit points for creatures.  The degree of success represents how many Difficulty Points are subtracted for each attempt to pick a lock or disarm a trap.  Critical success doubles the degree of success, as above.  Critical failure adds points back on, and if the number exceeds the device's original Difficulty Points, something bad happens -- lock has stymied the character, the trap has been triggered, etc.

Stealth: The degree of success is subtracted from the distance of an encounter.  Critical success doubles; critical failure makes detection automatic.  Say, a character wants to sneak.  The GM knows there are bugbears nearby, and rolls an encounter distance of 60 feet.  The player gets a degree of success of 4, which means the character can sneak within 20 feet of the bugbears without being noticed.  Of course, as GM, you don't tell the player -- let him decide how far he wants to push his luck!

Legerdemain (a.k.a. picking pockets and the like): Any success means the character got hold of what he was after, but if the target scores a higher degree of success on an Alertness check, the attempt is noticed, whether it succeeded or failed.  Critical success doubles the degree of success, and critical failure means automatic detection.

Alertness:  The degree of success determines how far away, in tens of feet, the character can discern and identify sounds or other anomalies.  Critical success doubles, as always, and critical failure indicates a misperception in direction, distance, or some other vital factor.  Alertness can be used to counter Stealth or Legerdemain.

Cipher: The degree of success times 10 represents the approximate percentage of a work that the character can understand.  Critical success doubles this, while critical failure will result in a crucial misinterpretation.

Athletics: The degree of success adds to the character's movement rate while running, swimming, or climbing, probably at the rate of x5 feet, x2 feet, and x1 feet, respectively.  Critical success doubles, and critical failure might be a stumble or a fall.

Any fool can attempt any action at "Untrained" level of ability, which never changes.  Characters who study a skill as part of their adventuring repertoire will improve as they level, at one of three different rates: Basic, Professional, or Elite.  A character can, and probably will, have different skills at different rates of progression, but keeping track requires no more than recording the relative ability with each skill and updating the numbers on the character sheet with each level gain.

Here's the tentative advancement table, which allows for chances ranging from 10.42% for an untrained person to 99.31% for an Elite practitioner at the pinnacle of his career.  (Double 12 is always a critical failure!)  A character with a Professional level skill would begin with a 19.44% chance of success and a maximum degree of success of 3 (unless a critical boosts it to 6 or 8, of course!)  These are subject to adjustment for relevant ability scores, but I prefer to leave it to the GM and player to decide which ability, if any, applies in a given situation.  Foiling a particular lock might hinge on Wit or Agility, while climbing a specific wall may require Might or Agility, for instance.  It's also a very simple matter to apply other bonuses or penalties if the task is deemed particularly easy or difficult.

It all looks a bit complicated in print, but I'm hopeful that it will become second nature with minimal practice.

Level
Untrained
Basic
Professional
Elite
1
6
7
8
9
2
6
7
9
10
3
6
8
9
11
4
6
8
10
12
5
6
9
11
13
6
6
9
11
14
7
6
10
12
15
8
6
10
13
16
9
6
11
13
17
10
6
11
14
18
11
6
12
15
19
12
6
12
15
20
13
6
13
16
21
14
6
13
17
22
15
6
14
17
23
16
6
14
18
24

3 comments :

  1. I have one misgiving about the Healing skill here... if a critical is doubles, and you're using a roll-low system, then even the best critical success will always be worse than the mildest critical failure. If you've got a skill level of 8 then the maximum healing you can do no matter what is 8 (double 4s), and but the harm on a critical failure will range from 10 to 24. Is that an intended result?

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    Replies
    1. You're right; that's an unintended side effect. I may just go with 1d6 damage on a critical failure. It's less elegant, but less devastating too.

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