Scaling for Skill Focus and Skill Synergy


Homebrew


It's been bothering me that there's not really a way to properly specialize in skills that aren't baked into your class, and I've been thinking some modification to the Skill Focus and Skill Synergy feats might be the right fix. In order to keep Operative's consistent, Skill Focus maintains its current early level benefit, otherwise mirroring Operative's Edge progression; Skill Synergy follows Envoy's Expertise progression with some modifications, but using Skill Ranks rather than class/character level to determine the bonus (and no longer making it a class skill).

Quote:

SKILL FOCUS

Benefit: Choose a skill. You gain a +3 insight bonus to this skill; at level 11 and every 4 levels thereafter, this bonus increase by 1.
Special: You can take this feat multiple times, but its effects don't stack. Each time you take this feat, it applies to a new skill.
Quote:

SKILL SYNERGY

Benefit: Choose two skills. When you make a check with one of these skills, you may roll 1d4 and add the result to the check as an insight bonus. If you have at least 10 ranks in the other skill, increase this die to 1d6. At 5 ranks in the other skill, you gain a +1 bonus to this roll; increase this bonus by 1 at 15 ranks.

Thoughts?


on the one hand it helps non operatives

On the other hand it kind of means that classes are only being given a slower/watered down two feats as a class ability.


BigNorseWolf wrote:

on the one hand it helps non operatives

On the other hand it kind of means that classes are only being given a slower/watered down two feats as a class ability.

I am effectively ignoring the fact that that design space is "spent" in classes, yes. But I think in this case, that's okay.

This version of Skill Focus is on the same level as Techlore and Bypass though, at least. I did water things down for Skill Synergy, because making the bonus from that straight up better than the bonus from Skill Focus would not be great, and I'm not sure the increased investment required for the benefit is required - after all, how often would anyone really take this feat and not keep those skills topped up? There might be some cases, particularly with especially few skill points, but...

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I'd been thinking in roughly the same direction, but a bit more far-reaching. It really annoys me that (1) operatives take up too much of the skills game, crowding out other classes, because they get bonuses to too many skills, (2) the skill bonuses of various classes are needlessly contrived and different.

So,

* Skill focus starts at +3 and scales up by +1 at level 11 and every 4 levels afterwards.
* Operatives don't get Operative's Edge to skills anymore (they still get it to Initiative). They do still get Skill Focus on their specialization's skills.
* Other classes skill bonuses are now free Skill Focus feats in those skills. Except perhaps envoys, I haven't figured them out yet.
* Skill Synergy is replaced by Skill Training, a new feat that makes a skill a class skill and gives you one skill point in it per level. (This still needs some balance tuning.) Solarians gain two Skill Training feats with their Skill Adept class ability.

The big idea is that key skill challenges in Starfinder use DCs that scale at a rate of 1.5 per level, so without a scaling skill bonus, you gradually stop being competent at skills. Without a class-given scaling skill bonus, you were never going to be a long-term competitor. This sucks for soldiers who apparently are dumb jocks that should just fight and watch in awe as operatives hog all the skill challenge spotlight.

So my take is that operatives still get lots of skill points and two free skill focuses, but anyone can now decide that their character is going to have a particular signature skill, using Skill Focus, and stay relevant at it for their whole career.

And for classes with poor skill points, like soldiers and solarians, particularly in races with Int penalties like Vesk and Kasatha, the Skill Training Feat will help them climb out of that pit.


I would probably suggest reducing the bonus to non-specialized skills rather than straight up removing in - keeps them from being better than specialists, but it still makes them good at filling in for gaps in the party's skill coverage - which I think is the design intent of that ability.

And I definitely wouldn't just take out Skill Synergy - it actually presents some incredibly interesting Rule 0 space, if nothing else. Having it as an additional feat might be worthwhile.

Also, Sidereal Influence could probably stand to upgrade its die a couple times. And sticking something on Fighting Styles to give Soldiers some skill help might be a good plan.

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Well, soldiers can actually afford to spend 1-2 feats on skills. At least until we get some more books with good combat feats.

I think operatives will survive even without operative's edge. They have a lot of skill points, often take above-10 Intelligence, and have lots of class skills. But they'll have to choose what they really want to excel at.

What I really want is that in a gaming group the party has to divide up the skill jobs so that everyone is doing something important and together they cover all the important things. Right now, the operative almost accidentally is good at all the things and soldiers and solarians are easily crowded out entirely.


OK. I haven't played at high level characters yet. So I am trying to understand where the problem here is.

Operatives and maybe Envoy dominate in skills. It is actually hard to build an operative that isn't good at practically every skill. Envoy can do well at most things that are important and can get even higher skill roll results than operative in a few select things.

The other classes don't have anything that compares to this very well.

So in order to do skill challenges at high level, the DCs scale at about 1.5 per level (taking Ascalaphus as citing things correctly). This is in order to make sure that the challenges are still challenging to an operative at high level.

But this leaves the other classes in the dust. A soldier or Mystic has no hope of doing skills stuff at high level play.

Is that a good summary and understanding of the problem?

So what we are looking for is a way for any class to pick a skill or three and be capable of succeeding at the high (base + 1.5 x level) DCs of skill challenges at high level, yes?


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breithauptclan wrote:

OK. I haven't played at high level characters yet. So I am trying to understand where the problem here is.

Operatives and maybe Envoy dominate in skills. It is actually hard to build an operative that isn't good at practically every skill. Envoy can do well at most things that are important and can get even higher skill roll results than operative in a few select things.

The other classes don't have anything that compares to this very well.

So in order to do skill challenges at high level, the DCs scale at about 1.5 per level (taking Ascalaphus as citing things correctly). This is in order to make sure that the challenges are still challenging to an operative at high level.

But this leaves the other classes in the dust. A soldier or Mystic has no hope of doing skills stuff at high level play.

Is that a good summary and understanding of the problem?

So what we are looking for is a way for any class to pick a skill or three and be capable of succeeding at the high (base + 1.5 x level) DCs of skill challenges at high level, yes?

The DC's in the system assume the presence of an insight bonus which scales with level. Unfortunately, that means that if your concept requires your character to be a specialist in any skill not covered by your scaling bonus (if you even have one), that concept is impossible.

You can't have a Mechanic or Technomancer who is a master pilot, for example, because their scaling bonuses don't allow for it. Classes providing specializations can be good; classes gating specializations is often less so.

This is essentially about providing for characters the game does not currently support.


Ascalaphus wrote:

Well, soldiers can actually afford to spend 1-2 feats on skills. At least until we get some more books with good combat feats.

I think operatives will survive even without operative's edge. They have a lot of skill points, often take above-10 Intelligence, and have lots of class skills. But they'll have to choose what they really want to excel at.

What I really want is that in a gaming group the party has to divide up the skill jobs so that everyone is doing something important and together they cover all the important things. Right now, the operative almost accidentally is good at all the things and soldiers and solarians are easily crowded out entirely.

I can't say that's something that's been discussed in any group I've played in, regardless of system - all I usually know about other characters is class and rough concept. I would consider it unwise to devise systems which assume that unless it's only being used at a specific table which happens to be compatible.

Spreading the bonus around is the only way to have a real skill monkey, because the system assumes both full ranks and the class bonus - making skill ranks alome insufficient to the problem.

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breithauptclan wrote:

OK. I haven't played at high level characters yet. So I am trying to understand where the problem here is.

Operatives and maybe Envoy dominate in skills. It is actually hard to build an operative that isn't good at practically every skill. Envoy can do well at most things that are important and can get even higher skill roll results than operative in a few select things.

The other classes don't have anything that compares to this very well.

So in order to do skill challenges at high level, the DCs scale at about 1.5 per level (taking Ascalaphus as citing things correctly). This is in order to make sure that the challenges are still challenging to an operative at high level.

But this leaves the other classes in the dust. A soldier or Mystic has no hope of doing skills stuff at high level play.

Is that a good summary and understanding of the problem?

So what we are looking for is a way for any class to pick a skill or three and be capable of succeeding at the high (base + 1.5 x level) DCs of skill challenges at high level, yes?

Yeah, you got it. The principle is described in the GM section:

CRB p. 329 wrote:

Skill DCs

It is up to you, as the GM, to determine the DCs of the various skill checks the players will attempt during play. Many of the skill descriptions include guidance on typical DCs for skill checks, but there may be times when you need to come up with a DC on your own. If a skill check does not have a predetermined DC, or if a player wants to attempt a task that is not covered in a skill’s description, use the following guidelines. A challenging DC for a skill check is equal to 15 + 1-1/2 × the CR of the encounter or the PCs’ Average Party Level (APL). For an easier check, you might reduce the DC by 5, while increasing the DC by 5 makes for a more difficult check. Changing the DC by 10 or more makes for either a trivial check with little chance of failure or a prohibitively high check with little chance of success, so be cautious when adjusting skill check DCs!

You see this in evidence in various places:

* Trap DCs scale by 1.5x trap CR
* Monster identification DCs scale by 1.5x monster CR
* Starship combat DCs scale by 1.5x ship tier

You also run into it more and more in scenarios where you see a table somewhere in the beginning defining Easy, Average and Hard skill DCs. They began doing this in specials because it helped clean up the text, instead of having to write a DC for every separate subtier they can just say "an Easy Mysticism or an Average Engineering check to open the hybrid tech lock".

Now at low level, the scaling modifier you may or may not have from your class isn't such a huge factor in your skill bonus, class skill and ability modifier matter more. But at higher levels, it really starts to matter.

It was an unpleasant eye-opener moment for me when at some point in the Dead Suns AP my level 7 character took 20 to search for traps, with maxed perception (wis 10), and was just not able to find the trap, because the CR 10 trap had a detection DC of 35 that I just couldn't make.


Trap design, especially higher CR trap design, often seems to assume a relatively small chance to find them, an easier check to disable them.


Would it not be easier to bring skill DCs down than to add ways to be super trained in skills without a class bonus?

And maybe half the operative's edge bonus, or limit to specialization skills.


Garretmander wrote:

Would it not be easier to bring skill DCs down than to add ways to be super trained in skills without a class bonus?

And maybe half the operative's edge bonus, or limit to specialization skills.

Because scaling bonuses exist in the system, being properly specialized in something requires a scaling bonus.

As for Operatives, halving Operative's Edge and allowing it to stack with Skill Focus is probably best. Maintains their abilities as generalists without messing with Trick Attack.


Nerdy Canuck wrote:
Because scaling bonuses exist in the system, being properly specialized in something requires a scaling bonus.

I was thinking more lowering the number required to succeed so that specialists aren't required to pass. Close to where someone with skill focus and max ranks stands a decent chance at passing instead of upping skill focus to equal a class bonus.


Garretmander wrote:
Nerdy Canuck wrote:
Because scaling bonuses exist in the system, being properly specialized in something requires a scaling bonus.
I was thinking more lowering the number required to succeed so that specialists aren't required to pass. Close to where someone with skill focus and max ranks stands a decent chance at passing instead of upping skill focus to equal a class bonus.

It's an option, certainly, but I will say that I find the baked in bonuses to be a really great system for encouraging skill diversity/coverage, deeper flavour, providing an easier sense for beginners how to direct their skill points... It's a rather interesting system, but it has some implications that need to be dealt with.

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Well, scaling "representative" DCs are not a terrible idea. A GM who's looking to challenge his players wants a formula that tells him how hard something should be to be a challenge.

The 1.5x level formula is a decent approximation, if someone making the roll has a scaling bonus:

- Operatives and mechanics gain a +1 per 4 levels => 0.25 per level
- Mystics and technomancers gain a +1 per 3 levels => 0.33 per level

You also gain an ability increase every 5 levels. At best it's worth a +1 per 5 levels so 0.2 per level; at worst it's +1 per 10 levels to 0.1

You can use personal upgrades to boost abilities, at levels 3, 7 and 14. 3/14 = 0.21 per level.

So someone focusing on a skill could gain about 0.33+0.2+0.21 +1 rank per level, so 1.74 per level. Which means you ever so slowly become better than average at skills in your primary ability area, which tends to be the signature skills. You extend your lead over the DC by 0.24 per level. Every four levels you need to roll 1 less on the die.

For someone without a scaling bonus, and not taking that ability as a prime target for augmentations (say, a soldier trying to use Engineering as a starship combat skill because the operative already called dibs on Pilot), the picture is more grim.

He gets 1 rank per level, 0.2 from ability increases every 5 levels, and that's it. Every level he falls 0.3 behind. By level 11, he needs to roll a 13 to succeed at a check that he at level 1 could succeed at 10. He's getting worse.


Ascalaphus wrote:

Well, scaling "representative" DCs are not a terrible idea. A GM who's looking to challenge his players wants a formula that tells him how hard something should be to be a challenge.

The 1.5x level formula is a decent approximation, if someone making the roll has a scaling bonus:

- Operatives and mechanics gain a +1 per 4 levels => 0.25 per level
- Mystics and technomancers gain a +1 per 3 levels => 0.33 per level

You also gain an ability increase every 5 levels. At best it's worth a +1 per 5 levels so 0.2 per level; at worst it's +1 per 10 levels to 0.1

You can use personal upgrades to boost abilities, at levels 3, 7 and 14. 3/14 = 0.21 per level.

So someone focusing on a skill could gain about 0.33+0.2+0.21 +1 rank per level, so 1.74 per level. Which means you ever so slowly become better than average at skills in your primary ability area, which tends to be the signature skills. You extend your lead over the DC by 0.24 per level. Every four levels you need to roll 1 less on the die.

For someone without a scaling bonus, and not taking that ability as a prime target for augmentations (say, a soldier trying to use Engineering as a starship combat skill because the operative already called dibs on Pilot), the picture is more grim.

He gets 1 rank per level, 0.2 from ability increases every 5 levels, and that's it. Every level he falls 0.3 behind. By level 11, he needs to roll a 13 to succeed at a check that he at level 1 could succeed at 10. He's getting worse.

And now you're seeing why I feel like the system needs scaling bonuses which are not class features.

You could also do something where the eyeballing DCs for skills would use something like CR or APL times 0.5, 0.75, 1, 1.25, and 1.5 plus some base DC, so that someone who hasn't really specialized has stuff they can reliably hit, but the difference between being specialized and not becomes more pronounced.


Hmm... One more constraint that we should consider in these suggestions is that we really don't want to have to make DC adjustments to the published APs.

For homemade games, the person making the campaign can just use whatever DCs or DC scaling function that they feel is appropriate for the players that are actually playing the game.

This houserule topic is mostly for people who are using the published adventures at home instead of writing the entire world themselves.

----------

I would think that the better choice is not to change Skill Synergy and Skill Focus, but to instead introduce a new feat. Probably having Skill Focus as a prereq. The new feat could give the scaling insight bonus that is needed. It wouldn't stack with the insight bonus of Skill Focus itself, it would instead be an improvement over Skill Focus at higher levels. Maybe call it Improved Skill Focus, because names are hard.

Could make the bonus match the scaling of the operative bonus, so +1 / 4 levels. Or match the technomancer's bonus of +1 / 3 levels. Though I haven't done all the math on such things. It is a houserule anyway, so pick something that your group can agree on.

So with the +1 / 4 level bonus, it would be equal to Skill Focus at 12th level. and would be an improvement at 16th.

If it was instead +1 / 3 levels, it would be equal to Skill Focus at 9th level and an improvement at 12th.


breithauptclan wrote:

Hmm... One more constraint that we should consider in these suggestions is that we really don't want to have to make DC adjustments to the published APs.

For homemade games, the person making the campaign can just use whatever DCs or DC scaling function that they feel is appropriate for the players that are actually playing the game.

This houserule topic is mostly for people who are using the published adventures at home instead of writing the entire world themselves.

----------

I would think that the better choice is not to change Skill Synergy and Skill Focus, but to instead introduce a new feat. Probably having Skill Focus as a prereq. The new feat could give the scaling insight bonus that is needed. It wouldn't stack with the insight bonus of Skill Focus itself, it would instead be an improvement over Skill Focus at higher levels. Maybe call it Improved Skill Focus, because names are hard.

Could make the bonus match the scaling of the operative bonus, so +1 / 4 levels. Or match the technomancer's bonus of +1 / 3 levels. Though I haven't done all the math on such things. It is a houserule anyway, so pick something that your group can agree on.

So with the +1 / 4 level bonus, it would be equal to Skill Focus at 12th level. and would be an improvement at 16th.

If it was instead +1 / 3 levels, it would be equal to Skill Focus at 9th level and an improvement at 12th.

Yeah, I'm very much aiming for a soft touch here - add a specific bonus without having to go into basically every system to retouch DCs and such.

I'm also trying to avoid making the investment too high - as a legacy feat hailing back to 3.5. Assuming skill ranks and a not-horrible modifier, it did the job of making you a specialist in that skill just fine. I'm assuming that the actual intent is for that to still be the case, but nobody looked at the impact that the skill progression changes had on feats that are meant to be a form of skill specialization.

The other thing I've very much paying attention to with Skill Focus, and the reason I didn't make it just mirror Operative's Edge entirely, is that it's +3 is actually important for Operatives early on - otherwise, a fair chunk more optimization is needed to make Trick Attack properly reliable.

I'm very much aiming to avoid unintended consequences here.

(Also, I'm amazed nobody's commented on the general structure of Skill Synergy - that's what I was actually the least certain about)

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Nerdy Canuck wrote:
And now you're seeing why I feel like the system needs scaling bonuses which are not class features.

I agreed with you on that from the beginning.

I think it's fine some classes get tapped "you're a mechanic, you're going to be good with engineering".

The problems I have are:
"You're a soldier, you're eventually not going to be good enough at anything"
"You're a soldier, you're eventually going to be outclassed by operatives at everything"

I think operatives need a bit of narrowing the range of skills they get a bonus at; it's good that they get big bonuses to their prime skills and it's fine that they have aptitude for many others (as reflected by many class skills and many skill points). But getting a scaling bonus to all skills is too wide.

It somewhat hides the fact that the soldier and solarian can't keep up with skill challenges because at higher levels, the operative will be doing all the skill challenges except those covered by another class' specific focus.

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breithauptclan wrote:
Hmm... One more constraint that we should consider in these suggestions is that we really don't want to have to make DC adjustments to the published APs.

In fact, the DCs are pretty well calibrated for classes that do have the bonus. So if we lower the DCs to accomodate classes without scaling bonuses, they become too easy for classes that do have a scaling bonus.

The solution then should be to make it more equal opportunity for all classes to either start with or obtain a scaling bonus in whatever skills you think should be your character's signature.

breithauptclan wrote:
I would think that the better choice is not to change Skill Synergy and Skill Focus, but to instead introduce a new feat. Probably having Skill Focus as a prereq. The new feat could give the scaling insight bonus that is needed. It wouldn't stack with the insight bonus of Skill Focus itself, it would instead be an improvement over Skill Focus at higher levels. Maybe call it Improved Skill Focus, because names are hard.

I don't think this is a good idea, because you're introducing a really high feat tax that way. Starfinder (happily) drastically reduced feat chain length. The longest chains are the connection/technomancer/psychic chains that take three feats each of which gives you a higher level of spells from outside of your class. Beyond that, the Mobility -> X on the run feats are a two-part feat chain that does something nice. The thing is, they're not feat taxes; Mobility is actually pretty decent in Starfinder if you want to walk past mooks to get to/away from the boss.

So a feat that extends skill focus basically makes skill focus a feat tax. The soldier trying to keep up with the operative in just one skill would be two feats down. I don't think that's a good price.

I'd rather see skill focus scale as follows:

Benefit: choose a skill. You gain a +3 insight bonus on that skill. At 11th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the bonus increases by 1.

That keeps pace with the operative's bonus. It's more in line with Pathfinder's skill focus doubling at 10 ranks in the skill.


Ascalaphus wrote:
I don't think this is a good idea, because you're introducing a really high feat tax that way. Starfinder (happily) drastically reduced feat chain length.

Fair point.

Then yeah. Combining the two feats together as you described is probably the best idea for that one. Though perhaps a replacement name for the new feat is still a good idea.

Nerdy Canuck wrote:
Also, I'm amazed nobody's commented on the general structure of Skill Synergy - that's what I was actually the least certain about

I'm assuming that you are meaning the modified Skill Synergy at the top of the post rather than the one in the CRB. That is why I don't like changing the feats without also changing their names.

I think this one is different enough from the normal Skill Synergy that it shouldn't entirely replace Skill Synergy. For instance, it doesn't give new 'class skill' designations to skills. That untyped class skill bonus is pretty significant.

As a limited version of the Envoy ability, it seems reasonable. Again, I haven't done the math to discuss much on power level. But it is certainly something that seems interesting and useful. It would alleviate the problem of low skill characters being left behind, though I think it would be a bit more unreliable than a static bonus (though that is part of the interest and charm of the feat).

One thing that might be concerning would be how much overshadowing it does to an actual Envoy. Would it still be worth taking the Envoy class instead of running a Solarian with this feat. My gut instinct is that it is fine. This feat is more on the level of the technomantic dabbler feat than an entire class replacement. But for people who find the Envoy lacking already in the Improvisations available - especially at high level, this feat as a replacement may be a bit more tempting.


breithauptclan wrote:
Nerdy Canuck wrote:
Also, I'm amazed nobody's commented on the general structure of Skill Synergy - that's what I was actually the least certain about

I'm assuming that you are meaning the modified Skill Synergy at the top of the post rather than the one in the CRB. That is why I don't like changing the feats without also changing their names.

I think this one is different enough from the normal Skill Synergy that it shouldn't entirely replace Skill Synergy. For instance, it doesn't give new 'class skill' designations to skills. That untyped class skill bonus is pretty significant.

As a limited version of the Envoy ability, it seems reasonable. Again, I haven't done the math to discuss much on power level. But it is certainly something that seems interesting and useful. It would alleviate the problem of low skill characters being left behind, though I think it would be a bit more unreliable than a static bonus (though that is part of the interest and charm of the feat).

One thing that might be concerning would be how much overshadowing it does to an actual Envoy. Would it still be worth taking the Envoy class instead of running a Solarian with this feat. My gut instinct is that it is fine. This feat is more on the level of the technomantic dabbler feat than an entire class replacement. But for people who find the Envoy lacking already in the Improvisations available - especially at high level, this feat as a replacement may be a bit more tempting.

Generally, I use the same name to make it clear that it's meant to be a replacement - avoids silly discussions about "why would you take Skill Synergy if this was around". Plus I suspect, but can't confirm, that what I'm trying to do is actually in line with the design intent behind those feats, and that they were never updated to reflect the DC system.

As for the class skill element, I honestly removed it because I couldn't work the original either/or nature of Skill Synergy into a scaling system.

As for the math, it does at least start at close to the same point - average bonus of 2.5 rather than 2.

I do also wonder if Solarians need to get some scaling added to Sidereal Influence - maybe having the option to "spend" the new skill allocation on that instead at levels 11 and 19.

(And for that matter if Soldiers should get a scaling skill bonus from their fighting styles - ie, Mysticism for Arcane Assailant, Engineering for Armor Storm, and so on)


Giving the other classes the scaling bonus automatically - at least for a couple of fixed skills (like computers, engineering for mechanic) or skills chosen by some other ability would be nice. Would make for more powerful players - or at least make them more rounded.

Might have to balance the other classes at that point though. Especially the Envoy, who has basically nothing other than skill abilities and a small handful of marginal abilities. If a soldier can do as well as an Envoy in skill challenges with a couple of feat choices, then it is starting to completely outshine the Envoy. If the soldier can do as well as an Envoy in skill challenges without any additional cost, then it is definitely too powerful in comparison.


Expertise is a pretty important part of Envoys, but it's also stronger than any other scaling bonus - progressing though 3.5>4.5>5.5>6.5>7.5>8.5. In addition, they get that bonus across something like 6 skills as they level up.

Providing a bonus to Soldiers isn't gonna get in the way of that. Especially if the bonus scales with fighting style, so that you only get the full benefit out of the skill your Primary Fighting Style uses.

Far as the core book goes, though, only Soldiers and Solarians lack scaling bonuses. Envoys just happen to have the best one.

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