Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Skill Ranks for the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (from LSotN)

Wow, time is flying when you are having fun ... I'm very busy right now behind the scenes, most of it is because I want to get Monkey Business out there, some of it is because I want to get the beta document for Lost Songs of the Nibelungs updated so we can start play testing it again (see my last post for more on that). While I was doing the latter, I finally got one of the missing pieces for the game written down: a skill rank system. Since Lost Songs has some solid roots in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (and similar systems), I thought I'd share it with you guys.

Skills (then and now)

I just like the picture and
it is about skills, so ... [source]
The D&D RC has optional skill rules and they are quite easy: you basically get 4 skill points with character creation (more if your INT score is high) and for them you buy skills. To use a skill, you make an ability check. Most (all?) skills come with additional gimmicks (little bonuses here and there). Skills start with no bonus, but if you use a second skill point for a skill, you get a +1 a third gives you a +2 and so on.

The next time a character will get a skill point (really, just 1 point each time) is when reaching level 5, after that you'll get another point at level 9 and every 4 levels from then on ... So skills are rare and far between. It's really just a nice little thing that adds flavor to the game.

With our games the house rule was that a skill point always buys you a +1 to a skill (because ability checks already do what skill checks are supposed to do otherwise and that's just lame ... plus, it's easier to explain).

Lost Songs is not much different: a skill point buys you a +1 on a skill and that's a permanent bonus you add to an ability check when using the skill. Characters will have a few more skills, but not much. Advancement is also faster, but not much. Additionally you can raise a skill one point if a skill check comes up with a natural 20.

So having a skill of +10 or more would be very rare in both games. 

Well, one thing that didn't make it into Lost Songs, was that with the RC every skill is unique and has one of those little gimmicks I talked about. It's okay, but most people will forget it most of the time and in my experience it's not used often enough at the table to get it internalized by the players (or me, I'm just as guilty in that regard). So I didn't bother with it for Lost Songs. But without it, skills are just reduced to a bonus and that's boring too.

I wasn't happy with it and it bothered me some time how I could solve this problem and give skills that little extra back without all the bloat. Here's what I came up with (and I think it would work just as well for the Rules Cyclopedia or similar systems):
Skills & Contests 
Skills are not Reserves but Permanent Bonuses. It's a trade-off, really. When characters are young, they have lots of raw potential and while they lose some of that potential over time, they will specialize in some areas and get stronger through experience in others. This chapter will give a short outline how skills work. How they are learned and advanced will be in the Codex Historia
Other than doing what skills usually do (giving an advantage in something a character does), skills also come with Ranks. The higher a characters Permanent Bonus is on a skill, the higher is his Rank. There are 3 Ranks in LSotN and each of them gives a character a new advantage when using that skill. 
Rank I – Novice (+1 to +5) = Every result above 10 on d20 can't be a total failure. 
Rank II – Master (+6 to +10) = 1. Benefit (chose one of four possible benefits for the skill: Earn your Keep, Produce & Maintain, Fight with Skill or Teach Others). 
Rank III – Grand Master (+11 and more) = 2. Benefit AND your tribe benefits from your skill between adventuring seasons (heal more permanent damage, see Codex Historia for details). [that healing bit won't apply in D&D, of course]
Skills can have two out of four Benefits that anchor a characters abilities in the narrative of the game even if a player isn't using them actively. When evoked (that is, the player actively narrates how the character is applying himself), a character can get a regular income, equipment, Combat Statics or he can teach others without the need of a Test to see if it works (as a Test would usually resolve this): 
Earn your Keep: Character is able to apply his Skill in a way that would earn him his keep everywhere he is a guest. Alternatively he could earn some coins (amount and currency as appropriate). Evocation is to describe what the character does in his off-time to earn it. 
Produce & Maintain: The character is able to apply his Skill in a way that will either produce, refill or maintain a resource the group has available (armor, weapons, rations, healing herbs and so on) on a regular basis. Evocation is to describe what the character does in his off-time to achieve that. 
Fight with Skill: The character is able to apply his Skill in combat and gains a Combat Static for it (see blow). Characters can have one Master and one Grand Master Skill as Combat Static. Evocation is to describe how the character is applying the skill in Combat. [as a D&D variant I'd let the player roll 1d6 per static as a pool in a fight that can be spent on attack or damage rolls until the pool's used up ...
Teach Others: Character is able to apply his Skill in a way that will teach others the skill. As long as the teaching character is close (shouting range), pupils get a +1 to the skill (as long as the skill value is 1 point lower than that of the teacher). Successful Tests under stress determine if the pupils internalize the Skill and get to keep the +1 as a Permanent Bonus (see Codex Historia for details on learning). Evocation is to describe how the character helps others to use his Skill effectively. 
Example: Wilgar the Bald advances to +6 in his Riding Skill and decides that he wants to be able to Teach Others. The group benefits from this, because all get a +1 to their Riding Skill as long as he's around to advice them and the player remembers actually describing that his character teaches the others. Over time it could even turn into Permanent Bonuses for the others, as successful tests under stress could make that happen. But their Teaching and/or Permanent Bonus can't get as high as the teacher's Skill that way, so somebody with a Riding Skill of +5 couldn't learn anything new from Wilgar and wouldn't receive the +1 for Wilgar being around.
And that's that. Players decide what the ranks mean and have to talk about it to activate it. Ideally it takes some of the dice rolling from the table and enriches the narrative. It'll go into testing in a couple of weeks, but I'm confident it will work as it's supposed to.

Comments and thoughts about this are, as always, very welcome. Next up should be another post about rereading classic Vampire: the Masquerade ...


  1. Neat. I didn't know the RC had my system for skill points in it. haha. Figures. Nothing new under the sun. I'm curious though, just for my own personal interest, when this point buy system for skills was first introduced in D&D? Any idea? What year? I'm curious because I wonder if I beat them to the punch, or they beat me... hehe. Anyway, yep, I can say I've been playing it this way for, oh, heck - a long time. Works great. My Players are fans of the concept, and I think it really does the job nicely. Looking forward to seeing LSotN in action.

    1. You are talking about the skill system I describe in the beginning, right? (because the skill rank system is what Lost Songs adds to it ...). I don't know when they started this, but if it started with the RC, it's way after Elthos :)

  2. Sounds Great Jens... I like anything that makes skills more than just a +2 or what have you.