Wednesday, July 17, 2013

D&D Next: Disappointing Skills and Saving Throws

 One of the things I thought was odd about D&D Next is the ability score-based saving throws. I couldn't quite formulate how I was dissatisfied with it till now though. Ability-based saves feel like they overlap with skills.

Now, this should be a problem in 3.5 and 4e too, right? Somehow it didn't feel like it. And I think it was because things like the 3.5 grease spell called for a balance check rather than a dexterity saving throw. In 4e, someone attacked your reflex defense, so it also didn't seem like much of an overlap.

Conceptually it might not seem like much of an overlap. If you were trying to balance on a wall, you'd roll a dexterity check plus your balance skill. If an evil wizard cast a fireball spell, you'd make a dexterity save. But your tumble skill, useful for things like rolling down a steep incline or running between the giant's legs doesn't help you dodge that fireball.

I think this comes down to two problems. First, I've become less keen on this whole skill concept in general. In one game I'm playing in right now, I think every character had the spot skill trained. What work does it do for the game when all characters have the same skill trained?

The corollary to that is the skill bloat. 4e trimmed down the 3.5 skill list a little too much perhaps, but having distinct jump/swim/climb skills and balance/tumble ones seems to water these guys down just a bit much. Alternately, they might not be watered down if certain classes had additional access to them, instead of everyone getting 4 skills. If classes could get a 2-4-1 deal on skills within their skill group, for example, that might be the sort of fix needed to get a nice set of diverse skills, but ensure that they're all being chosen by characters.

But why do we need skills in the first place? I think the next packet to come out will give us a skill-less option (rather, a basic no-skills option plus a skill module), and I'd be interested in trying this. Sure skills differentiate characters a little bit, but I might be just as happy to have non-combat roles all rolled into one background/skill package. This would help ensure that your party would have a face, encyclopedia, trapsmith, scout, explorer/navigator, etc. Heck, you could even ensure that certain races/classes fulfilled some of these and that there were options so that a number of classes could fill each non-combat role.

People like rolling for shit though, so I guess skills do give us that. Playing with these older-inspired rules reminds me that 4e's non-armor defenses felt nicer than forcing monsters to roll for saving throws. Though at the table as a DM, I'd sorta rather just tell people what they notice and not ask for all the spot and search checks, and I could give lore-type hints without having people roll for lore skills. That does ditch some of the random chance, however.

It would be nice if the skills and saves could be unified a bit more though. I like some of the feats as presented for the rogue: vault, climb sheer surfaces, etc. By and large, these seem to give the above-and-beyond of what rogues should be doing with their skills. Not just what other characters can do, but they have a chance to do what no one else can. Acrobats just jump much better, and assassins can hide where others cannot. I guess that means I like the feat-based skills, or maybe the proficiency system from Adventurer Conqueror King.

I'm not quite sure what my way would be yet, but it would probably be something more like those feats which grant a bonus above and beyond what others can do, or open up whole new actions that others can't, than a system to add a few points onto an ability check. If I ever make my own version of the game, or make heavily modified house rules, this seems like the direction to go in.

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