# The scale of ability checks

### 3.5/d20/OGL

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This isn't going to be world shattering. I've been rather irritated by ability checks for some time now. I feel the mechanic is rather poorly thought out. The main problem seems to be that the game assumes all checks vs. DCs use the same scale, but the modifiers are so radically different between ability checks and everything else.

Let's examine a DC 20 example. First, let's assume a DC 20 skill check. Which skill doesn't matter, it could be Tumble, Disable Device, Knowledge (local), Concentration, whatever. In order to have a 50% chance of success, a character must have a +9 modifier (11 + 9 = 20, so a 10 or lower fails, which equates to a 50% chance). A PC can have that many ranks in the skill by 6th level, and likely has a modifier of +9 by 4th level in their key skills.

Now let's examine a DC 20 ability check; again, the kind doesn't matter. Once again, a character must have a +9 to have a 50% chance of success, but they are only rolling with their unmodified ability bonus. That requires a 28 in the score before the character is likely to succeed. A 28 in an ability score is virtually as high as a PC is ever going to see one of their scores. So, this paragon of some human attribute has only a 50% chance to succeed on something which is supposedly of the same difficulty as a task a 4th-6th level character could achieve with the same chance of failure?

That hardly seems right.

Look at the example on page 33 of the DMG, under ability checks. It states that it's a DC 17 Strength check to pry the lid off a jammed container! The circus freak strong man with 18 Strength couldn't take 10 and hit that. Sure, he could take 20, but then, what's the point of having that tremendous strength? A person with 6 Strength could also take 20 and hit that. Not to mention, the 18 Strength guy would be pulling at the thing for perhaps upwards of 2 minutes, assuming a standard action to perform the check. Once again, that seems wrong.

So, that's what's been annoying me. For a while I decided that what needed to be done was effectively double the unmodified bonus (ability score - 10 = modifier, so a 16 would grant you a +6 modifier, and a 7 is a -3). But that just seems clunky and awkward, and flies in the face of having those nice ability bonus progressions that are so integral to 3.x D&D. Plus, it really mucks with things like trip attempts.

Of course, the simpler and easier solution is to realize that the DCs need to have their own scale. That still bugs me, because it means that the RAW's system is poorly designed when it comes to this, and thus it should have a different mechanic all together. But that's more trouble than it's worth.

So, then it comes to making this new scale. I think DC 10 should remain the base- it has a lot of precedence, and anyone could just take 10 on everyday tasks, and like in real life, when you get rushed you might screw up (roll low).

Beyond that, I'm not sure. I think that a +4 bonus for every size category above Medium, and a -4 for every one below, is a good rule with Strength checks. Otherwise, the issue I'm running into is wondering how to make the abilities scale properly, and make sure that the guy with 18 Strength has a real advantage in ability checks over the guy with 6 (which I don't believe currently exists, or at least is as pronounced as it should be).

Again, this isn't world shattering, but it's really been bugging me. So, I look here for the thoughts of other Paizonians.

 Contributor

I've thought about adding skills to the skill list to cover this, or basically allowing people to buy ranks in "strength check" etc.

Not really happy with that though.

Usually, I try to find the most applicable skill check or save and allow that, but strength checks are the hardest, followed by constitution checks I think.

But yeah, it's a weak area of the rules.

 RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32

I usually allow a character to combine two abilities if it is to their benefit to do so.

A few examples:

• Feats of heavy lifting and brute strength use STR + CON, reflecting the character's toughness as well as strength.
• Mental exercises, such as devising a plan to circumvent a trap use INT + WIS to show that raw knowledge combines with foresight and wisdom to form a plan.
• Grabbing something quickly uses STR + DEX to show that not only are your hands fast enough, but your grip is strong enough to support the object you're catching (generally STR is only involved if the object is heavy and cumbersome).

I don't know if this solves the problem necessarily, but it makes some things easier, IMO. Your mileage may vary.

I kind of like the points in to ability checks. I think people who run barbs and fighters would love to be better at breaking down doors. Average door at my table just gets chopped down. Maybe have the max ranks to an ability check be 1/3 character level or maybe make it cost two points. Or both. Might have to play around with this a little....

 Contributor

The more I think about it, the more I think Strength gets screwed the most...

Wisdom, Dexterity and Constitution have Saves related to them that cover a lot of their primary uses.

Intelligence and Charisma have skills to cover almost every situation in which they are needed.

Dexterity and Wisdom actually also has lots of skills for most uses not covered by Saves.

Strength gets what? Climb, Swim etc. very specific use skills.

Of course, Strength Rocks the house in the Attack and Damage department, but it also seems to be the most used straight ability check, with the least number of alternates.

Of course, I'm not actually looking in the rule books right now. I'm thinking perhaps the addition of an "Athletics" skill that covers the application of physical strength in all circumstances not already covered.

Although that might be too useful.

 RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

Fatespinner wrote:

I usually allow a character to combine two abilities if it is to their benefit to do so.

A few examples:

• Feats of heavy lifting and brute strength use STR + CON, reflecting the character's toughness as well as strength.
• Mental exercises, such as devising a plan to circumvent a trap use INT + WIS to show that raw knowledge combines with foresight and wisdom to form a plan.
• Grabbing something quickly uses STR + DEX to show that not only are your hands fast enough, but your grip is strong enough to support the object you're catching (generally STR is only involved if the object is heavy and cumbersome).

I don't know if this solves the problem necessarily, but it makes some things easier, IMO. Your mileage may vary.

Or, if you're trying to lift something by getting leverage, it could also be STR + DEX (such as trying to lift a gate out of it's grooves). Then, to hold it open while someone rolls under it, it would switch to a STR + CON.

Rambling Scribe wrote:

The more I think about it, the more I think Strength gets screwed the most...

Wisdom, Dexterity and Constitution have Saves related to them that cover a lot of their primary uses.

Intelligence and Charisma have skills to cover almost every situation in which they are needed.

Dexterity and Wisdom actually also has lots of skills for most uses not covered by Saves.

Strength gets what? Climb, Swim etc. very specific use skills.

Of course, Strength Rocks the house in the Attack and Damage department, but it also seems to be the most used straight ability check, with the least number of alternates.

Of course, I'm not actually looking in the rule books right now. I'm thinking perhaps the addition of an "Athletics" skill that covers the application of physical strength in all circumstances not already covered.

Although that might be too useful.

That's one reason I think applying a +4 bonus per size category above (and -4 per category below) Medium, similar to grapple bonuses, is a good idea. Of course, that's one more special case and rule that differentiates it from a "true," straight ability check, but it's better than nothing.

A skill called Bash, Muscle, or something like that would probably go a long way towards rectifying this situation, and would also likely skyrocket to the top of every fighter/barbarian's skill choices, as you said.

Aren't there a bunch of non-core feats that give you mega-bonuses on Strength checks (but not on damage, etc.)? Maybe I'm confused, but I seem to remember at least two, way in the back of my mind...

 RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32

Kirth Gersen wrote:
Aren't there a bunch of non-core feats that give you mega-bonuses on Strength checks (but not on damage, etc.)? Maybe I'm confused, but I seem to remember at least two, way in the back of my mind...

There's a few, but requiring a feat seems a bit steep for what Saern has in mind. Most of the Strength-enhancing feats generally involve the use of the Rage special ability as well (like "Destructive Rage" which gives a +8 on STR checks to break things).

Back in the dark days it was roll a d20 under your attribute for an attribute check... (of course they also had percentile strength, what the hell was that)

Personally, I have usually handled the strength check issue by giving everyone a +5 circumstance bonus, which is the same as dropping the DC...

the problem is that DC is a function of a constant (5 = easy, 10 = normal, 15 = ...) AND a variable, almost always character level.

A hard lock for a level 1 rogue (DC20) is cake for a level 20 rogue...

but attributes don't scale like skills or saves...

I think the definition of the problem is that an unskilled check and an attribute check are currently the same thing.

ugh, i am babbling

Fatespinner wrote:
There's a few, but requiring a feat seems a bit steep for what Saern has in mind. Most of the Strength-enhancing feats generally involve the use of the Rage special ability as well (like "Destructive Rage" which gives a +8 on STR checks to break things).

Thanks, FS! Your examples seem to "click" with what I remember--glad I wasn't hallucinating, anyway. On the whole, I agree with your assessment, too--unless they didn't require the rage thing (then they'd be worth a feat).

 RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32

Kirth Gersen wrote:
On the whole, I agree with your assessment, too--unless they didn't require the rage thing (then they'd be worth a feat).

I would replace the 'Rage' prerequisite with 'STR 15+' though, just so you don't get 8 STR Bards taking the feat just so they can smash s&!~ with it.

 Contributor, RPG Superstar 2008 Top 6

The problem with ability checks is that the range of the modifier is small, and the range of the die roll is large. So anything that is "easy" for a high stat is going to be very doable even for a low stat.

The skill system has the same problem at low levels for many skills, less so at high levels.

For most of the feats of strength noted here, physical strength only actually gives you a marginal advantage. Breaking down a door without the use of tools is mostly a matter of momentum, which is defined by your speed and your mass, and not in any direct way by your strength. Placing your impact in the right spot is also important (this might be simulated by allowing an intelligence check or disable device check DC 10, success granting a +2 circumstance bonus on the primary check). For realism, adding/subtracting a size bonus would make sense in this case, but I would keep it as a strength check rather than as a skill check. If you want to add complexity, multiply the character's weight times base speed and divide by 3,000, round down and add that as a circumstance bonus. (And keep in mind that when they smash in the door in a contemporary action movie, we're talking 1/4 inch plywood (DC 10) and not a stout, reinforced oaken dungeon door.) Most dungeon doors should come down through persistence--repeated ramming (take 20) and/or being broken with an axe, unless you are a raging half-orc barbarian who specializes in breaking objects or a monk who can channel his ki into a strike that hits just the right spot.

Other feats of strength, like bending iron bars, are equally difficult and time-consuming.

Two other things to keep in mind when adjudicating these checks. First, the DC should be scaled so that it is impossible for an unassisted character with no tools or other advantages to accomplish unless he has the requisite strength. So, the DCs of difficult but possible strength checks is pretty narrow--say between about 18 and 25, and that's as it should be. And there are a lot of tasks that even Conan just can't do without tools or magic.

I might offer a special feat that is the equivalent of a "skill focus" (+3) bonus on Strength checks, with the idea being that the character has focused a certain amount of his energies in performing feats of strength, and has an instinct for the workings of leverage and other techniques and tricks of the trade that allow The World's Strongest Man to lift a heavy weight at a circus performance, or Sandy MacTavish to win the caber toss, or whatever.

But on the whole, there's a reason they call it "brute force." The problems solved by a strength check are not easily circumvented by skill or technique. They require unwieldy contraptions (battering rams, prybars, pulleys, and whatnot), or magic, or the assistance of creatures with superhuman strength, otherwise. You just have to scale the DCs differently, keeping in mind exactly whom you want to allow to circumvent the particular obstacle and under what circumstances.

Personally I don't think that ability checks and DCs are a design flaw. I think they're pretty much supposed to be more hard and much more boring than other checks. Otherwise, the game gets pretty wonky.

For example, the DM that I'm currently playing under is a great guy but last session he went to great lengths to make Str checks interesting. We were in a dungeon with a lot of rusty doors to open; every time we decided to open one (and there were a lot!), he allowed each of us a Str check and if we failed well tough luck! Granted, this made opening the doors a bit interesting but honestly opening doors isn't supposed to be interesting unless it's in the middle of a fight. It felt like 2nd edition again when you rolled a Str check to see if you could carry the chest of loot out of the dungeon after the fight was over. Honestly, a character is either strong enough to lift/bash something around or he isn't. The only time a roll is necessary is if the character is in a rush, and even then, no there shouldn't be much difference between a 8 Str and an 18 Str.

Sorry, I'm done ranting. If you really feel that a strong character should have a drastically better chance of success than a weaker character, I would suggest using the character's number of ability points difference from 10 as their modifier. So an 18 Str would grant a +8 bonus while an 8 Str would impose a -2 penalty.

Personally I think they ought to remove skills and just use ability checks for certain things. Mainly the Charisma based skills. Essentially these are currently so wonky that its really tough to design a mass appeal adventure that utilizes these skills. I mean one party could potentially have +22 to diplomacy while another has maybe +2.

The other big problem is parties rarely, in my experience, take a middle road with something like diplomacy. Either some one in the party has some ungodly score in Diplomacy or no one has spent even a single point in the skill. How the hell do you design an adventure with that kind of range? I mean one party breezes through every single role playing encounter with ease as they simply can't possibly get anything less then phenominal success while another party might need to roll a natural 20 just to, barely, beat the DC.

The problem is the range is too high. When a 10th level party can reasonably have any possible plus to their Diplomacy checks of between -2 to +24 its no longer possible to design an adventure around these numbers. The very best one can do is throw in 'easter eggs' for high diplomacy characters and thats not really all that exciting. I'd like it if the mechanics supported role playing for characters no matter their diplomacy score - but obviously having a better diplomacy score should give one tangible benefits.

Thats one reason I think straight up charisma checks become a better option in this case. The possible range goes from -2 to +6 or maybe +8. Well with that kind of a range its suddenly possible to make adventures in which these skills play a role. DCs in the 10-15 range will generally be obtainable, the good charisma group might get extra special treatment if they can beat a DC of 20 while even the low charisma party will manage to pull a DC 10 off if there are two or three alternate people one can talk to. Voila - its suddenly possible to make adventures in which people talk to different people and try and convince them to do things without the results being either automatic or impossible.

Mentioned this to a friend of mine, and his group has an elegant solution...

If the DC of an ability check is less than your score, you succeed automatically without rolling.

If two or more work together, you take the highest stat and add the attribute bonuses of everyone else (minimum 1) to yours

...

well that is the elegant part, otherwise they use the turning undead table, using your ability mod... so a good roll with an 18 strength might get you to a 22... shrug, not so sure about the last bit

One of the things that hasn't come up, but can apply in some cases (Fatespinner's 'Grab an Item' check) is BAB, possibly modified via the appropriate ability score. This gives the same sort of measured progression that skill checks do, without the need of spending feats or other resources to do it.

Admittedly, for Doors and other 'brute' situations, investing in a good adamantite weapon, or even better a Maul/Mattock of the Titans is a noisy workaround.

Still, I recall many a 2nd edition game where the party's solution to a difficult door was to pop the hinges. Or a well placed disentigration spell.

Well, I suppose that there are several ways to work around it within the current system (things like the aforementioned popping locks, or getting sledges and battering rams), and possible solutions (I like the auto success if your score exceeds the DC). However, I'd just like to point out to Jeremy that Rich Berlew has an interesting alternate mechanic for Diplomacy checks. You've probably been told this before and have most likely looked at it, but I just feel obligated to point it out.

Saern wrote:
Well, I suppose that there are several ways to work around it within the current system (things like the aforementioned popping locks, or getting sledges and battering rams), and possible solutions (I like the auto success if your score exceeds the DC). However, I'd just like to point out to Jeremy that Rich Berlew has an interesting alternate mechanic for Diplomacy checks. You've probably been told this before and have most likely looked at it, but I just feel obligated to point it out.

I've looked at it but it still fails in a couple of categories.

Essentially Rich takes the fatally flawed NPC reaction table and turns everything into a deal. OK this has some benefits. It clarifies the system and means that the DM is no longer deciding what "friendly" means. On the downside it means that now the player essentially decides what the NPC will do by outlining the conditions of the 'deal'.

Well this brings me to my first concern. Players that can make NPCs do whatever they want on a good roll concerns me - I mean there is no chance that the players would put up with this kind of garbage if it was done to them. I dislike systems that don't involve any kind of play back and I'm not sure how fond I am of what amounts to charm person without all the messy problems of actually casting a spell.

Secondly Rich attempts to to deal with the scaling problem by making the DCs appropriate to the best character at this sort of thing. OK so what does this mean for parties that don't have a bard? Well in an attempt to keep Bards from getting completely out of hand we are pretty much stuck with a system where parties that are not optimized for diplomacy can't help but be shafted by the system. Of course the players will just say "f@!~ you" when faced by any kind of diplomacy encounter and quickly learn not to open their mouths but let the business end of their swords do all the talking for them. The DM in desperation will makes the diplomacy system a completely one way affair - players can use it if it benefits them but the NPCs will still wheel and deal with the players without resorting to the table if the DM wants to actually ever have any kind of NPC interaction. OK so the system fails if there is no bard.

My next issue - the system is supposed to be designed with a bard like player in mind - but my experience is that it fails even here more often then, well then a good system should. Is your BBEG optimized for diplomacy with the Bard? 'cause this whole system is essentially an opposed check for deal making. BBEGs not prepared for special power of 'talk' are in extreme danger of finding that instead of making the evil bad guy speech and then trying to kill the players they in fact actually just agreed to give the players all their treasure and in fact will now work for them for 1 sp a day to help them haul it around. Of course you'd never allow that - well neither would I, but now we are suddenly back to DM fiat except that we have lied to the players and told them how the new system works and gave them Rich's article.

Another problem with this is that it presumes that the NPCs are scaling with the PCs. Well just what level are the NPCs that run the inn the players are staying at when your PCs are 10th level? If your campaign world is anything like mine they where probably 3rd level commoners or experts when the PCs were 1st and guess what! Now that the PCs are 10th their still 3rd level commoners and experts. Big difference is that now they will do absolutely anything that the Bard says.

Finally this whole system does jack for allowing me, or any other writer, to make a diplomacy based adventure. Rich's system scales like mad as the players level - It, sometimes, works with a party with a Bard maxed out in diplomacy, it does not work if the party does not have a character like that. Its a black and white system. This makes it essentially useless for adventure design.

In fact I'd say any significantly scaling system simply does not work. Consider this...what is the EL of your NPC roleplaying merchant encounter? You did not work it out right? I mean why bother. Well the problem with the current D&D system is that roleplaying encounters are not designed with ELs because roleplaying encounters are not really meant to scale up or down depending on the players levels. Merchants get levels but its simply not the case that 10th level players only meet 10th level merchants (were as they are supposed to only meet 10th level monsters). OK so role playing encounters don't really scale - well then why the heck are we using a skill system that does scale to try and adjudicate them? Thats were all of this falls down.

My feeling is we should heavily scale back on the whole scaling factor in this and that means ability checks. That way the NPC merchant has more or less the same chance of dealing with a low level character as a high level one. Except that high level parties can buff themselves, they can buy some Charisma enhancing magic items and they can even put their extra ability points in Charisma. Fine - all of this raises their chances but its a marginal increase. So now its possible that a high level player pulls off a rousing speech to lead the armies of Good on their great crusade against the armies of the Dark Lord UPE. Fine - high level players should be better at stuff then low level players - its just that they should never be so good that the NPC merchant gives his stuff away for free because the player can make him doing anything that they want.

IMO we should essentially have NPCs reactions to players on static DCs. What these DCs mean can be outlined ahead of the time in the adventure. With a comparatively low spread to the ability checks I could make an adventure, heavy on the role playing, and I could give that adventure to you - even knowing nothing of your parties make up - and it would work in your group too. Sure it might play out a little differently if you have a high charisma Paladin and my players did not but fundamentally the DCs and NPC reactions would be usable for both our groups.

I'll note that this is in fact were the current crop of writers are at least edging. Important NPCs basically have static DCs and behave differently depending on the players roll versus this static DC (See Harliss in Bullywug Gambit for an example). What I'm advocating is that the range of these responses be sharply reigned in so that adventure writers are not just throwing out random numbers in the dark because the diplomacy spread of the average adventuring party is so huge that no writer can make any kind of informed decisions when writing their adventure.

So the only thing you can be really good at or work your way up to being really good at is killing things?

After all, as characters advance in level they are better able to deal with lower level combat threats. Why shouldn't they be better able to deal with lower level non-combat 'threats'? Maybe the problem is that non-combat encounters do not have a scale. Sure, now that you are a 10th Level Womanizer you can score with any of the barmaids down by the warf, but Princess Teethsowhite is going to be a bit of a challenge.

Of course this runs into a brick wall with the whole Max Skill Ranks/Level 'feature'.

CourtFool wrote:

So the only thing you can be really good at or work your way up to being really good at is killing things?

After all, as characters advance in level they are better able to deal with lower level combat threats. Why shouldn't they be better able to deal with lower level non-combat 'threats'? Maybe the problem is that non-combat encounters do not have a scale. Sure, now that you are a 10th Level Womanizer you can score with any of the barmaids down by the warf, but Princess Teethsowhite is going to be a bit of a challenge.

Of course this runs into a brick wall with the whole Max Skill Ranks/Level 'feature'.

Well they would get better because they can raise their charisma score, use magic to enhance their charisma or take a feat the bumps it up. The problem with Princess TeethsoWhite is that the DM has simply stepped in and started arbitrarily raising the DC in order to attempt to keep the bard or whoever in line. So what does this mean? Princess Teethsowhite is invulnerable to a wealthy merchants or any other non adventurer? Seems a bit odd that the only person that can win her heart is a high level Bard. No stalwart fighters for her - nope - Diplomacy is a cross class skill for them so she is just out of their reach forever.

Beyond this lets move back to the systems already mentioned. As it stands using the normal rules Princess Teethsowhite automatically becomes 'friendly' with any high diplomacy bard, past a certian level, that shows up. Its pretty much impossible for the bard to fail - DM arbitrarily decides what 'friendly' means. Using Richs system then this is a deal. I suppose the bard offers to 'rock her world' or something and then there is an opposed check - well whats important now is Princess' level. So is she some kind or high level, umm, something? I mean if she's only 16 years old then probably not - so it essentially becomes an automatic success. There is no real chance she can decline the deal to 'rock her world' - she is not high enough level.

So at this point neither of the systems actually make the DC harder for Princess Teethsowhite compared to your run of the mill barmaid. They are both just as easy or hard to seduce.

Now at the end of the day I got no real beef with the DM assigning DCs essentially arbitrarily. In fact I think thats a better option then either of the systems on offer. That way not every bar maid regardless of her personality is automatically seduced and our princess might be rather easy or it might be essentially impossible. What I prefer - and am advocating is creating a system that can essentially handle arbitrary DCs by making the possible differences between the roll between one random group of players and another random group of players smaller so that it becomes possible for an adventure writer to make something resembling informed decisions when actually writing an adventure.

Essentially with an ability check system all adventuring groups would have at the extreme between =2 and +8 for their diplomacy checks. 90% of groups would fall into a smaller range of between +2 and +6. Well knowing this I can design an adventure and assign every NPC in it a diplomacy rating with DC = good but not great, pretty reasonable. DC 15 = very good diplomacy result NPC should react highly favorably. DC 20 = phenomenal NPC reacts extremely favorably.

At this point Princess Teethsowhite can be given DCs and actually worked into an adventure, playable by pretty much any group out there.

The players have to steal an important item from the castle. In a recent encounter they have met Princess Teethsowhite. Having gotten hold of her diary they know that she is conflicted and yearns to throw off the shackles of her social situation - so she is a viable target for seduction and the PCs now just have to figure out some way of getting their friends in with the seducer. Invisibility might work.

They send out the best character for the Job and he tries to romance her. DM has noted that she is open to the possibility but she is not 'easy'.

DC 10 - This is good enough to keep her from screaming for the guards when approached. But not good enough to get her to try and sneak the potential paramour into her bedroom, just to brush him off nicely.

DC 15 - While this result means that Princess Teethsowhite will come down and unlock the door to bring her new paramour up to her bedroom there is some chance of repercussions later. She is still at least somewhat on her guard in terms of her new paramour and can easily be tipped off that this is actually an elaborate ruse. Careful PCs should still manage to keep everything under wraps but extracting 'lover boy' may prove difficult.

DC 20 - phenomenal success, Princess Teethsowhite is so focused on her seducer that A) she won't notice anything else unusual going on and B) she'll explain away stuff after the fact to convince herself that her seducer was not in on the B&E (meaning that the kings and his men will have a much harder time figuring out how they where B&E'd and who the culprits are. Her paramour can also slip away easily enough in the middle of the night with little more then kisses and promises.

Well, then, what I'd suggest is making Diplomacy more like Bluff- perhaps even combining the skills. The judicious application of circumstance bonuses to various rolls and DCs can really have an effect, both to give non-Diplomacy parties a shot in role-playing adventures and to reign in the wild success of bards with maxed and boosted Diplomacy. For example, the heroic fighter gets a +15 bonus to woo the romantic princess because she knows he killed the dragon. The bard who tries to pull a one-night stand gets -15. I believe that's what Rich's system did (been a while since I read it), but you're leaving the "let's make a deal" bit out.

Additionally, I think you should have to at least declare how your character is trying to "diplomacize" the NPC. You have to state what type of Bluff you're trying to pull off, and that has a big effect, so why not Diplomacy as well?

Another thing is to sit down with your players beforehand and tell them what "friendly" and other such attitudes really mean in the game, and that it's going to be different for different people.

Say you're trying to do a little B&E, and have two different guards, Ralph the Bodyguard and Marcus the Imperial Sentry. Ralph is low level, and/or has middling or worse Wisdom, works for a merchant. You make him friendly, and he'll chat with you, tell you about his boss, what he does, etc. If he's not lawful, he might even let you in to the manor house he stands in front of all day, although he'd accompany you around (it's his job on the line, after all!). If he's lawful, or if his Wisdom is just a bit better, he'll probably decline letting you in.

Now there's Marcus the Imperial Sentry at the emporer's palace. Higher level, well trained, loyal to a fault. You can make him as friendly as you want, and he'll sit and laugh and drink with you. Off duty. And he won't tell you squat about the emporer or the palace. And if you ask too much, he's not likely to still be your friend. He may even get suspicious, and if confronted with enough evidence and reason to believe in it, have you arrested.

Essentially, there just needs to be more transparency and understanding up front between players and DMs regarding what the attitudes in the Diplomacy skill mean, and more circumstantial bonuses as warranted.

Just some suggestions.

Saern wrote:
Well, then, what I'd suggest is making Diplomacy more like Bluff- perhaps even combining the skills. The judicious application of circumstance bonuses to various rolls and DCs can really have an effect, both to give non-Diplomacy parties a shot in role-playing adventures and to reign in the wild success of bards with maxed and boosted Diplomacy. For example, the heroic fighter gets a +15 bonus to woo the romantic princess because she knows he killed the dragon. The bard who tries to pull a one-night stand gets -15. I believe that's what Rich's system did (been a while since I read it), but you're leaving the "let's make a deal" bit out.

The problem with this system is its so subjective that I can't write an adventure that your characters can play through using it. If I don't know your players I can't possibly deal with their unique circumstance bonus'.

Rich's system address that problem but then introduces its own quirks because its nearly impossible to deal with the the fact that this scales with levels and because its a system that is essentially designed to try and keep the high diplomacy bard in line - resulting in parties without bards not being allowed to 'role play'.

What is needed is a system that works for all parties, still has a meaningful impact on the game and does reward higher charisma characters. An ability check system with DCs tailored to the adventure addresses all of these issues.

Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:
Seems a bit odd that the only person that can win her heart is a high level Bard. No stalwart fighters for her - nope - Diplomacy is a cross class skill for them so she is just out of their reach forever.

Exactly my problem with Max Skill Ranks/Level and Classes.

This is probably why I am generally not a fan of modules. I understand your conundrum, however, as a player, I am not keen on being shoehorned into a predefined narrow range of ability. Again, my beef with Classes.

I will chalk this one up to a difference in preferences again and move on. I do thank you for your perspective though.

CourtFool wrote:
Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:
Seems a bit odd that the only person that can win her heart is a high level Bard. No stalwart fighters for her - nope - Diplomacy is a cross class skill for them so she is just out of their reach forever.

Exactly my problem with Max Skill Ranks/Level and Classes.

This is probably why I am generally not a fan of modules. I understand your conundrum, however, as a player, I am not keen on being shoehorned into a predefined narrow range of ability. Again, my beef with Classes.

I will chalk this one up to a difference in preferences again and move on. I do thank you for your perspective though.

At this point you and I are just not talking about the same thing. I want to tweak the system to try and smooth over an anomaly. It sounds like you'd like a complete overhaul.

So write the adventure and have scaling hints for "no/low bard". It can be just lower DC or it can be fancy "princess Teathsowhite is very impressed by feats of strength, +10 bonus is she has seen the talker blah-blah" or simple "add STR and CON bonus to diplomicy checks if you have less the five ranks".

You can also give very large bonuses for good "table talk" - I do it for most skills with a gradual decrees as the characters ranks go up (I.e. A player with a book of knots memorized and a little imaganition can get +5 on a Use Rope check if they have one rank in it, but only +1 if they have 5 ranks -- I tend not to give it bonuses if they have no ranks or at least no ranks & low iniate skill)

It is more work, but makes as much sense as scaling combat in an adventure. Or traps "if the party has no rogue replace half the traps with random encounters with the same EL from the following table"

I also totally agree with a "frendly" result having vastly difrent meanings. How many movies have a variant of "I like you, I'll kill you last"? That may be the best you get! Or a 10% discount from the awestruck & bamboozled merchant.

No arguments here saern. The horrible skill system is one of the primary reasons (but not the only reason) I call D&D the "You Can't Do That" Game.

stripes wrote:

So write the adventure and have scaling hints for "no/low bard". It can be just lower DC or it can be fancy "princess Teathsowhite is very impressed by feats of strength, +10 bonus is she has seen the talker blah-blah" or simple "add STR and CON bonus to diplomicy checks if you have less the five ranks".

I'd think that circumstance bonus could and probably should apply to any diplomacy system but feel that this has to be handled in a somewhat reasonable manner if its to prove at all useful. In other words an adventure made for strangers can include a circumstance bonus if its understood, from the adventure, that Princess Teethsowhite has a penchant for physically powerful men.

This sort of flavour is good for an adventure, but there are very significant limits to how much of this sort of flavour should be added.

a game mechanic needs to be easy for players to use but it also needs to be easy for DMs to utilize and for adventure creators to utilize. Its simply not reasonable to expect some one to try and implement a system where every significant NPC has an half page list of all the circumstances and personal quirks that add a circumstance bonus to an NPC. For one thing a DM reading such a list would probably start wondering were all these circumstance bonus' where coming from - but if the author of an adventure is to explain this to the DM we are suddenly talking about a multi-page write up on any NPC in question. But the worst of it, for this system, is that the vast majority of this simply won't apply to any random gaming group. So its a lot of work for the author, its a lot of reading and digesting for the DM and, in the end 90% of this is irrelevant to the players who will never know that most of these circumstance bonus even existed. This is a lot of work most of which will be wasted - in my book thats bad game design.

Keep the circumstance bonus' down to maybe 3 things that work off the main themes of the NPC or the context of the adventure. Anything more is probably a bad idea outside of the role playing of something like a jury trial or election (where dozens of circumstance bonus' depending on what the players have done or not done is appropriate).

Hence this is not really a viable solution to the problems associated with diplomacy in the game.

...

stripes wrote:

It is more work, but makes as much sense as scaling combat in an adventure. Or traps "if the party has no rogue replace half the traps with random encounters with the same EL from the following table"

The thing about scaling combat is that it has been highly integrated into the system. Scaling combat is not really something that makes the game fall down as it now stands so it does not need to be fixed.

make str checks a roll of 1d6 + your str score + your size modifier (the one that adjusts grapple chaecks), you automatically succeed if your ability score is equal to or one less than the DC.

There, no more 22 str raging barbarian psychos failing to unjam a door and no more 8 str wizards rolling 20's and breaking it open for them.

The problem with ability score checks seems fairly easy to adjudicate to me - change the DC. If you expect to have a base 50% chance of doing something, the DC should be altered to reflect that. I don't see a tumble check DC of 20 (which scales with character level based on skill ranks) as being the same level of difficulty as that of breaking a chain at DC 20 (a STR ability check which does not scale). The DM should decide how likely a particular outcome should be, and build the DC accordingly.

If you think (for the sake or argument) a 3rd level wizard should have a 50% chance of remembering something (an INT check) then a DC of 14 or 15 would be right. If you think he should have a 50% chance of identifying a particular spell effect using Spellcraft (OK, I know that there are rules for this, but bear with me) the DC would be in the region of 20. I don't think PCs should be penalised because the game lacks certain skill sets in the rules.

To talk about Diplomacy - well, I'm ambivalent. I guess they wanted to be able to create a mechanic to abstract interactions so that when Billy the Bard, witty wise-cracker and silver-tongues seducer, is played by Monosyllabic Mike then the fact that Mike cannot "inhabit" Billy and do the chat doesn't necessarily render the bard useless in that respect. But on the other hand, important interaction should be roleplayed, not just down to a few dice rolls. A rampaging ogre should not become your best friend just because you have invested in a few skill ranks. I don't have an answer - except that I play it by ear - I'm just pointing out (again) the conundrum.

Aubrey the Malformed wrote:
The problem with ability score checks seems fairly easy to adjudicate to me - change the DC.

I agree wholeheartedly for the most part. I just like this small adjustment because I dislike the idea that having a 20 str just means you have a +25% chance to bust down the door as compared to the wimpy 10 str bard. Plus I hate having to describe to players how their magically augmented fighter just got done shredding a dragon, but rolled a 2 trying to break open the treasure chest and has to spend three or four decidedly unheroic rounds of flustered grunting to pry it open.

Charisma is a real problem with these sort of things depending on the role-/rollplay scale of things since if it's high on the ROLE side of things the scene will be acted out, potentially with the dice being off limits to players if the DM is hardcore ROLEplaying. If it's rollplaying then the dice get involved much more often. This "you can act out the stuff you would be using Cha skills for otherwise" somewhat weakens Charisma and may to some extent contribute to it being the most common "dump stat" in the game, simply because it isn't necessarily all that useful in noncombat situations (dependent on DM style, of course)

Rather than actually changing the DC, or coming up with tables and modifications to the basic system, I think the simplest solution to all of this is to look at what 2E has to offer in the way of compensation (because some of this same complaint existed in the same context then).

{One problem with ability checks as they now stand follows:
“Leon, see if your 17 Muscle fighter can lift that iron chest.”
(rolling a d20) “Missed it. I rolled a 19.”
“Tomas, check if your 6 Muscle wizard can do it.”
“Yes! – I made it with a 4!”

The above reflects that sometimes a character with a high score will fail, only to have a character with a lower score get lucky and succeed. Depending on the number of points in each ability score, the character can make additional attempts at feats. The rule is: for each point in a ability above 15, the player can roll an additional d20 for checks against that ability. For example, because Leon’s fighter has a 17 Muscle, the character can make up to three checks – the initial check, plus two more. So if Leon’s fighter wants to force open a trap door, Leon dolls 3d20. If any of the dice register a successful check, the fighter opens the door. Tomas’ character, with a 6 Muscle only rolls 1d20.

This multiple d20 system does not eliminate the possibility of a character with a low ability score succeeding where a character with a higher ability score fails. But the system does reduce the number of times such an improbably incident will occur.}

Ed. Note: This was actually written in context to sub-abilities (refer to “Old Schooler! 2nd Edition Charisma” thread as well as the “Revamping Abilities” thread for context), but the basic operation also works without sub-abilities.

Giving the character multiple attempts in place of the other suggested changes might work better. I’d be interested to hear if you tried using it and whether it worked out well.

Lawgiver wrote:

The above reflects that sometimes a character with a high score will fail, only to have a character with a lower score get lucky and succeed. Depending on the number of points in each ability score, the character can make additional attempts at feats. The rule is: for each point in a ability above 15, the player can roll an additional d20 for checks against that ability. For example, because Leon’s fighter has a 17 Muscle, the character can make up to three checks – the initial check, plus two more. So if Leon’s fighter wants to force open a trap door, Leon dolls 3d20. If any of the dice register a successful check, the fighter opens the door. Tomas’ character, with a 6 Muscle only rolls 1d20.

This multiple d20 system does not eliminate the possibility of a character with a low ability score succeeding where a character with a higher ability score fails. But the system does reduce the number of times such an improbably incident will occur.}

The weak point of this system is that it essentially solves the problem by making it so that characters with high ability scores can't fail. glancing at this I estimate that the chance of pulling this off for the high muscle character is around 96%-98%. In other words its so close to a certainty that it really does not seem worthwhile to slow the game down and actually bother rolling at all. In this case just have it so that if ones strength is past a certain one always succeeds.

Furthermore this system is going to draw into stark contrast those few times when it does not work. Essentially if its a constant of the game mechanic that sometimes the mage can open doors that the fighter can't - well thats unrealistic but its common enough that the players just ignore it and move on. This system fails to address the realism except to make it less common - but this also makes it front and centre when it does happen. Out of the blue the fighter will shockingly fail to lift the gates and then everyone else is going to have a go. The mage pulls this off and with his 8 strength heaves and huffs as he bench presses 800 lbs. a weight that made the muscle bound Conan type squeal like a girl.

Well once that happens all your players just failed their save vs. suspension of disbelief and you can bet that they won't talk about anything other then how crazy this is for the next 10 minutes.

Much better if this scene never happens - if one considers going this route instead just designate a point after which failure never takes place or success is impossible.