In thinking about Skills, I've come to realise that although I really like the basic framework of the skill system from 3e, I don't like the scale that it uses and encourages. What I'm talking about here is the way that it forever scales upwards - so long as characters keep gaining levels, there's no end to how good a character can get. It's fine if you want your game to get superheroic (and D&D 3e does that when you get to the upper levels) but superheroic isn't what I want from D&D. I prefer D&D to hew closer to its pulp fantasy roots, where the protagonists may have been highly skilled, but were generally human in their intrinsic capabilities. That is to say, if you want to do something outside the scope of human ability, you need a spell or a magic item, not more training.
I'm also really not fond of the many situational modifiers and subsystems, and I hate fiddling about with skill points. I want something much more loose and freeform.
So I need to rework the 3e system to work the way I want it to. Here's what I'm thinking:
First off, every skill is going to work off the same Difficulty Class chart. It should look something like this:
Easy Task = DC 10
Moderate Task = DC 15
Difficult Task = DC 20
Very Difficult Task = DC 25
Nearly Impossible Task = DC 30
I haven't actually crunched the numbers to work this out yet, but that's the gist. The DM can just assign a difficulty quickly at the table without going to the book. Sure, they can do that anyway, but I know that I like to follow the rules as much as possible. I'd rather change the rules to suit me than ignore them at the table.
The roll will be the same - 1d20, add your stat modifier, add your skill modifier, try to hit the DC. The stat modifier won't be changing much, except to say that it will be slightly lower than in 3e. But as I'm ditching skill points, the modifier there will be significantly different.
Without skill points, however, I need some other way to measure a character's ability. I'm going to base it off a character's class and background. Say you're a Fighter, and you were a sailor before you turned to adventuring. Looking at the 3e Skill list (and this is by no means the one I'll be using) you would get a flat bonus to the following skills:
So for all the skills above, the character would be rated as Trained and receive, say, a flat +3 bonus to all his checks. Characters can become Experts or Masters in any given skill, and receive a higher bonus. If a character has a skill on his class and profession lists, he'll begin as an Expert in that skill. So the system provides for advancement while still having a ceiling. A rubber ceiling to be certain, since I'm not having a cap on Ability Scores, but in practice I don't expect the numbers to get too high.
That leaves me with the question of Thieves (or Rogues if you prefer). Skills are their bread and butter, and they need to better at them than the other classes. One answer is to allow their bonuses to increase as they gain levels, but I don't like this - it falls into the same super-heroic trap that 3e did, and makes things worse by limiting such actions just to the Thief. The answer comes with the Thief's set of class abilities from old editions, and how they allow the character to do things that others can't
Let's take a look at those abilities now: Open Locks, Pick Pockets, Find/Remove Traps, Move Silently, Hide in Shadows, and Climb Walls.
The trick here is to think of these abilities as extra things that Thieves are capable of, not just things they are better at than other characters. Take Move Silently, for example - other characters can move quietly and sneak up on monsters, but the Thief is the only class that can move while making absolutely no sound at all. Hide in Shadows is much the same - other characters can hide behind objects and out of sight, but the Thief can hide in a shadow and nothing more. Climb Walls allows the Thief to climb smooth surfaces with no hand holds.
Find Traps I'm tempted to allow as an automatic chance for the Thief, and Remove Traps as a chance to just intuitively know how to disable the thing. Any character can try actions that might disable a trap, but the Thief might just know how already.
Open Locks is a bit harder, but I'm toying with making the Thief the only guy who can jimmy locks with sticks and chicken bones and such. Anyone else needs tools.
Pick Pockets is the hardest one to apply this thought to. I may just leave it as is, and give the Thief a higher flat bonus.
So that's how Skills are going to work in my D&D Nth Edition. If you've got any feedback, let me know - the more people I have trying to dissect this thing the better.