Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Descriptive Skills

Skills in action?
To my mind, the regular kind of numeral skills are needlessly dissociated and kind of confusing. Usually, they need some sort of second-order transformation in order to be useful - so, "Climb 5" becomes "Can climb 30 feet in under a minute 75% of the time" or else "Can climb any wall any distance 83% of the time."

Instead, I'd like to notate skill levels in ways that are inherently meaningful. Here, I'm drawing from Alexis' writing about thief skills that don't suck, and Charles Angus' writing about descriptive damage.

Movement Skills

The movement skills have a base time frame of one minute - your "score" is the number of feet you can move per minute. The first minute is always successful, but every minute after that requires you to check against the linked ability score. All movement skills divide their speeds by the DR of any worn armor. (So, no penalty for leather, half speed for chain, quarter speed for plate.) You can "sprint" with any of these, moving at double speed but taking 1d4 extra stones of fatigue each time.

Climb (STR) - Climbing skill advances in intervals of ten feet. Each successful check, after the first, adds an extra stone's weight in fatigue. Failure means falling, but you can make Might checks (-1 penalty per failure, cumulative) to try to catch yourself every ten feet, until you've fallen farther than your Climbing skill.
So, if you have Climb 30', you can climb 30' free, 90' with two checks, and you get three chances to stop yourself if you fall. Falling damage is 1d10 per 10 feet, to a max of 10d10.

Swim (CON) - Swimming skill advances in intervals of thirty feet. Each successful check, after the first, adds an extra stone's weight in fatigue (and remember that waterlogged fabric can double or triple in weight). Failure means you begin to drown - roll Will checks every minute. Once you fail, you lose 1d4 INT, WIS, and CHA per minute until rescue or death. Diving uses the same mechanics, but the diving interval is 1/3 of your swimming interval, and you have to get back up!

Stalking (DEX) - Hiding, I think, is better implemented as direct player interaction with the environment and any NPCs searching for people.  Stalking is the active element - how far you can move between "hides" without drawing attention to yourself. It's judged more as a defense against being heard, or noticed out of the corner of the NPC's eye - there's no such thing as "stalking" someone by walking directly towards them in their field of vision. Stalking is like being a Weeping Angel - you can only move when they can't see you.

So: intervals of twenty feet. Stalking accrues no penalties for extended time - but the first check isn't automatically successful, and you can't "sprint." Failure doesn't immediately mean detection - rather, it means you've snapped a twig, knocked down a glass, stepped on a weak floorboard, etc. The results are, of course, dependent on the situation. Snapping a twig 100' away from a sentry might not necessarily draw any attention, but doing the same thing from 10' away will certainly get you caught. Wile saves are used to duck into cover if a guard suddenly turns around, or for simple distractions (the old rock throw, etc.)

Non-Movement Skills

The other skills are given a direct time frame, which is the time needed for automatic success. You can try to complete at half-time, rolling against the linked ability score. Each additional halving applies a -5 penalty.

Tinkering (INT) - Tinkering starts at 6 turns, and reduces by 1 turn each "skill level," until it takes 1 turn. Then it reduces by 1 minute, then by the round, etc. Therefore, three Spies of levels 6, 8, and 17, will automatically pick a lock in 1 turn, 7 minutes, and 8 rounds, respectively. If you fail the INT roll when rushing, you jam the lock.
For trapped locks, detecting and disarming the trap is its own separate task and they'll automatically activate if you don't try to find it first, but you get a Wile save to dodge its activation, in addition to the Might save to resist its poison. Failing a rushed trap detection activates the trap.

Tracking (WIS) - Tracking starts at 6 turns, reducing by the turn, then by the minute, then by the round. This is the time it takes to get a pretty good look at a patch of ground - say, 20' square, or 400' in a line (like, along a fence.). You have to re-check the track every four hours, or if it's disrupted by something like a stream, or a fallen tree, or mud. Tracks remain for about a week, by default, but again that's modified by the specifics of the situation. For things half the size of a man, you have to re-check twice as often, half that is twice as often again, etc. For things larger, the time multiplies in the opposite direction - tracking a bear means you re-check every eight hours, twice that is sixteen hours. If you rush it, and you fail, well, obviously you didn't find any traps.

Procurement (CHA) - Procurement is the process of locating things. Things like henchman recruits, uncommon items, or even information - such as rumors and gossip. Procurement doesn't include the purchase itself - though information can sometimes be had for free, or for just a few too many coppers for mead - it only covers the process of finding it. And, of course, it doesn't allow you to find things that aren't there.

Procurement starts at 56 hours - or one whole week, assuming 8 hours of work per day, and a population of about 1,000-3,000 people. Decrease the time proportionally for smaller towns, but for larger cities, the work only covers a single neighborhood. This decreases by four hours per "skill level." If you rush it, and fail, you create a bit of bad blood in town - by stepping on some toes, ignoring some customs, or going to the "wrong people." Obviously, town politics are pretty situational, but "three strikes" is probably a pretty good rule of thumb.

To determine what specialized/rare items are available, you can't go wrong with the vendor saving throw - applying, say, a -2 for items with triple-digit costs, -4 for items with quadruple-digits, and assuming anything more expensive is not going to be hanging out in some pawnshop. A successful Procurement tells you everything that's there and what it costs.

For hirelings, assuming a town of 1,000, you'll find 1d4 capable mercenaries (or other professionals) are found, and 4d6 base laborers. -1 mercenary and -4 laborers each time you halve the town size. So, a village of 250 people has 1d4-2 mercenaries and 4d6-8 laborers. Yes, there can be zero hirelings.
Rumors and secrets have to be Procured by subject, if you want anything more specific than the gossip spouted by every drunkard. Obviously, not all secrets are so easily found - since Procurement involves nothing more than asking around, crawling the pubs, and being generally alert, it will never discover information guarded with any amount of competence. The best you can get in these cases are tips to where the information might be found.

Yes, exactly, a plot hook.


A lot of other skills don't make it in - for the most part, because I think those can best be resolved with simple ability checks and some planning. Sleight of Hand counts for this (and has the added bonus of preventing people from looking at their sheet, seeing "Pickpocketing" and going $$__$$). Hunting is basically Tracking that leads to an encounter (or, like modern duck hunting, sitting on your ass until an encounter finds you).

I moved Tinkering from DEX to INT in order to support different "styles" of thievery, and because picking a lock is to my mind much more about thinking about the manner in which the lock is constructed, and how to circumvent its elements, than simply sticking your pick in the right spot.

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