Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Extraordinary skills for D&D 3.x

For quite a few years the only tabletop / play-by-post role playing game I've used is D&D 3.x (or the Pathfinder variant). As far as I can tell it's still fairly popular, despite the fact that D&D is up to a 5th edition, and various OSR (Old School Rules) have emerged. But it has always suffered from the problem that magical power is roughly quadratic with level, whereas everything else is linear or worse. My online gaming colleague Keith Davies has designed a whole new system, Echelon, in reaction to this, but Echelon is in flux and I'd rather not take quite so big a step away from the familiar just yet. So I've looked into some (as yet unplaytested) house rules that would beef up mundane classes, at least for a few levels more than at present.

This post is about some ideas for improving skills. If you think they ought to be totally mundane ("skillmonkeys can't have nice things"), this is not for you.

The basic idea is that at high levels, magic-based characters are essentially demigods who can cause earthquakes and alter reality with wish and miracle.  So maybe a 20th-level fighter should be able to create an earthquake by pounding the ground with his fist. Wushia-style levitation-like leaps ought to be possible at much lower level.

The Echelon tier definitions  give rough guidelines for what ought to be possible at various ranges of level, but the basic guiding principle (elsewhere on the site or in Keith's many blog posts) is that if a mage can cast a spell with a particular effect at a particular level, then a non-mage specializing in some related ability or skill ought to be able to do it (by taking a specialized "talent") at a very similar level.

In these house rules, the basic principles for associating special abilities with skill levels are:
  1. To have access to the special abilities, you must use the skill focus feat.
  2. A special ability with bad effects, usable on others, is a spell-like ability, so it can be resisted or dispelled. Otherwise it is an extraordinary ability.
  3. Spells with multiple targets become self-only.
  4. Abilities are based on the number of ranks you have invested in the skill.
  5. At four ranks (achievable at first level) you get a fairly mundane ability usable at will.
  6. At eight ranks (achievable at fifth level) you get an extraordinary ability roughly equivalent to a first-level spell usable once per day, or some class feature roughly equivalent to it usable at will.
  7. At 12 ranks (ninth level) you get an ability roughly equivalent to a second or third level spell usable once per day, and your eight-rank ability can be used one more time per day.
  8. At 16 ranks you get an ability roughly equivalent to a third or fourth level spell, and your 8- and 12-rank abilities can each be used one more time per day.
  9. At 20 and 24 ranks or abilities are roughly equivalent to fourth or fifth level spells, respectively, and lower rank abilities increased by one per day again.
Like Pathfinder, I combined some 3.5 skills into a single skill, though sometimes in a different combination. For example, Climb and Jump become Athletics. For this Athletics skill, possibilities include:


I combine Search, Spot, and Listen into Perception.
Use Magic Device:
  • 4: touching an object tells you whether it is magical, usable at will.
  • 8: with a skill check, DC 15+ spell level, identify the School of any touched magical object, usable at will.
  • 12: as the Identify spell
I haven't yet come up with abilities for higher ranks of UMD. I also haven't worked out possibilities for every skill, but am reasonably confident these principles can be applied to any of them.