Balanced Skills (3.5e Variant Rule)

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Author: Ghostwheel (talk)
Date Created: January 9, 2010
Status: Complete
Editing: Clarity edits only please
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Balanced Skills[edit]

The way skills are currently handled in D&D is truly a travesty; individuals are completely outclassed in various pursuits by others who have specialized in specific skills, a fighter is no better at jumping or climbing in armor despite the fact that he's been travelling in it for twenty levels, adventurers don't accumulate any more general experience in skills in which they do not invest, and many characters have no chance whatsoever of catching a hiding character if they haven't specialized in perception skills. This variant attempts to fix things while keeping the current state of skills relatively the same so that neither players nor DMs need make massive changes to character sheets.

How it Works[edit]

Rather than rolling a single d20 against a DC which decides whether a character failed or succeeded at the check, one has a dice pool of d6s based upon a number of things. All characters gain a base dice pool of 2d6, and another one at fifth level and every five levels hence (5, 10, 15, and so on). For every 5 modifier to the skill (rounded down), one gets another die to the check.

  • A level three fighter in full plate with a Dexterity score of 10 attempting to hide would have a dice pool of 2 (base) - 2 = 0d6; the -2 comes from the fact that he's wearing armor that gives a -6 penalty to his hide attempt, which when divided by five and rounded down comes out to -2 dice. In this case, the fighter would have no chance of hiding whatsoever, though at level five he would gain one more die, allowing him the chance of hiding successfully.
  • A level ten rogue with a +22 modifier to hide would have a dice pool of 2 (base) + 2 (level 10 character) + 4 (modifier) = 8d6.

The number of successes is equal to the number of 5 or higher rolled on the six-sided dice. In general, tasks of a DC 15-24 take a single success, 25-34 two successes, 35-44 three successes, and so on. Tasks with a DC below 15 require only a single success, but rather than a 5-6, a success counts as a 4-6 on the die when rolling for DCs below 15. If a character gains more successes than needed, the DM should allow them to gain an extra benefit; for example, if a monster is invisible and a character rolled two extra successes over what's required, the monster might be denied its concealment bonus for a round or three at the discretion of the DM

In the case of opposed checks, use the "defender's" modifier as a basis for the number of successes required as detailed above; so for example, in a bluff vs. sense motive situation, the one using sense motive would set the number of successes required, while in a case of hide vs. spot, the one using spot would set the number of successes required. In such cases, take the "defender's" modifier and add 10 for the DC that one derives the number of successes needed to beat.

The "DM's favor" rule of +2 in the old system is replaced with simply granting another die. Other conditions might also give extra dice; for example, Invisibility might grant two extra dice to one's hide check. For every three characters that assist a character (rounded up), that character may add another die to the pool. The same goes for any feat whose sole purpose is to increase the modifier of a skill; if it's in the player's interest, the player may gain an extra die when rolling checks for the skill instead of getting the bonus to the modifier. Feats that go under this category need to be approved by the DM, and the kind DM might even give two extra dice for feats such as Skill Focus while only giving one to two skills in the case of feats such as Stealthy or Alertness.

Some skills usually have limits on them; for example, one needs to be trained in order to make Knowledge checks with a DC higher than 10, and without Trapfinding one can't find traps that have a DC over 20. To emulate these, a DM could rule that one needs to be trained in order to succeed at Knowledge checks that require more than one success, and have trapfinding to find traps that require more than two successes.

Taking 10 and 20

With this rule comes a chance to taking 10 and 20; change taking 10 to getting a success for every three dice you would have rolled, while taking 20 grants a success for every two dice you would have rolled (rounded up).

Tome of Prowess[edit]

Tome of Prowess, a revolutionary new sourcebook that allows skillful characters to truly shine gives some great rules to on how skills can be expanded. When combining Tome of Prowess with the Balanced Skills variant, one may keep things relatively the same as in the explanation above with a few key differences. The base number of successes required for any skill's use is the number of ranks required divided by four, rounded up. Thus, an ability which requires six ranks would require at least two successes. Skills that have a variable DC use the above instructions.

  • If one achieves two less successes than is required, treat as though one had failed the DC by 6 or less.
  • If one achieves one less success than is required, treat as though one had failed the DC by 1 to 5.
  • If one achieves one more success than is required, treat as though one had beaten the DC by 5 to 9.
  • If one achieves two more successes than is required, treat as though one had beaten the DC by 10 or higher.

Mathematical Analysis[edit]

As one can see from the graphs below, this variant fulfills its goals impressively. The standard Random Number Generator of the d20 is 1-20 as can be seen below. If one assumes that one usually needs to roll an 11 in order to succeed at comparative skill checks (succeeding 50% of the time), and one also assumes that one rolls 10.5 on average, then getting a bonus of 10 from miscellaneous sources can completely push one off of the RNG. This also comes into play when one looks at the chance a fighter at level as low as five has of seeing a rogue who's sneaking around; due to the great difference in their checks, the fighter has virtually no chance of seeing the rogue.

This system fixes that due to the wider range of numbers before the RNG breaks. In fact, since one never has a 100% chance of succeeding at a task, the RNG never truly breaks, though for practical purposes reaches a number of dice rolled equal to six times the number of successes required, success is virtually guaranteed (approximately 90% success rate). However, this also means that one must be on a completely different level than the other character, having a far higher bonus or being at a far higher level than one's enemy before the RNG breaks. In this way, even characters who have a bonus that would normally break the RNG easily are going to have a chance of failing with this system, rather than no chance at all.

Another upside, as can be seen by the graph, is the ability of characters to get better at general adventuring skills, where before they would have learned nothing throughout ten levels of watching the rogue move silently atop eggshells. Even a level 10 character with a +5 modifier to a check would have 5d6 to roll on a sample skill, giving him over a 50% chance of succeeding on tasks that require two successes where. Two successes is approximately a DC 25-34 check, and before the character would have had virtually no chance of succeeding even with the +5 modifier, where a character who specialized in said skill could easily beat those checks without rolling at all. In this way, it allows characters to remain competent for longer, while allowing others who specialize in specific skills to still retain their supremacy and superior ability in those specific areas.

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Ghostwheel's Homebrew (310 Articles)
AuthorGhostwheel +
Identifier3.5e Variant Rule +
Rated ByHavvy + and RiverOffers +
RatingRating Pending +
TitleBalanced Skills +