Tome of Prowess (3.5e Sourcebook)/Playing the Skills Game

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Playing the Skills Game[edit]

This chapter is going to be somewhat redundant with the actual skills, and this is intentional. There are a lot of changes on the player side in this work, and some of them are worth mentioning in a more conversational way so that the possibilities don't get lost in the technical bits. And for those players who have never thought about the skill system in this way, this section should help to make the new options a little more accessible.

The Combat Game[edit]

The combat game consists of a lot more than just hitting your foe over and over again until they fall down. There's tactical positioning, status effects to apply or remove, enemy action restriction or denial, healing, and plenty of other concerns that are often more important than just hitting the guy in front of you. The revised skills in this sourcebook allow many classes to affect aspects of a battle that they previously didn't worry about, and thus contribute more to the success of their party as a result.

Skills as Mobility[edit]

Getting to your enemy is almost a prerequisite for being able to fight them (unless you rely on ranged attacks, and in that case you're more worried about preventing your enemy from getting to you), and there are several new or updated ways to do that with the Tome of Prowess. The acrobatics skill allows you to reach your enemies over water or air, and at higher levels, you can even fight them reliably on these things without falling. More entertainingly, the acrobatics skill allows you to use other objects, like arrows or spears or ballista bolts, as temporary "mounts" to reach whatever destination they were aimed at. They require a bit of assistance to use, since you can't throw them yourself in most cases, but they are an exceedingly fast way to travel when available. (Or, if you're the type who prefers kiting or fighting from far away, you can do that, too. It's kind of hard to hit someone with a sword when they're several dozen feet away from you; why not go someplace where most people can't follow you?)

The athletics skill allows you to climb and swim, and allows you to maintain your position while you fight creatures fairly reliably from even mid levels, provided you're not trying to use a large weapon. Even two-handed weapons and shields are eventually available through this skill, allowing you to fight more or less comfortably within liquids, while walking up walls, or even across the ceiling at high levels.

Escape artistry, while generally a skill used out of combat, has some applications that make navigating the battlefield easier. Any temporary barrier, and even those barriers made permanent through magic, may simply be ignored for those with sufficient skill. Those truly skilled in the skill can ignore just about everything on the field, slipping directly from one space to another regardless of interposing hazards.

The rather straightforward jump skill, however, can easily be overlooked in tactical positioning situations. The ability to exceed your base move coupled with the ability to ignore interposing terrain and obstacles because you're traveling over them makes jump a very versatile skill for on-the-ground fights. It is also possible to jump up to reach flying creatures, allowing you to use that sword or axe you invested in as handholds while you fly around on their backs, rather than swapping out for a ranged weapon of some sort.

Skills as Offense[edit]

Several skills allow you to do new things to your enemies, to break down defenses that once thwarted the skilled classes, or to do things to them in different ways. Because it needs to allow you to mimic oddly-sized and -shaped creatures to retain its relevance at higher levels, the transformation skill is a rather large source of offensive abilities. Additional attacks, threatened melee range, and more are available to those who know how to operate such a costume. You don't even have to try to make it look like anything real if you don't want to.

Intimidation is one of the more obviously aggressive skills in the game, with some rather obvious combat applications. The shake resolve ability allows you to just frighten foes away or reduce their combat ability, and the bonuses and rushing penalties are designed such that you can just scare a group off immediately after you kill one of them. The new orders ability is less useful in combat, having some reasonably annoying penalties for its use there, but can be effective at just ordering people out of your way in the right circumstances.

The legerdemain skill does far more than just allow you to steal things unnoticed. It allows you to stab someone, with a knife or dagger that might happen to be covered in poison, without anyone around seeing it. At higher levels, you can steal their weapons and hide them from them, even in the middle of combat, if there's a compelling reason to disarm them.

The psychology skill is primarily a defensive and non-combat skill, but has a useful combat ability in Before They Know It Themselves. It provides a substantial bonus against a single target, and so functions very well in a duel.

Stealth is also an extremely effective offensive skill in the right circumstances. Since you don't need cover to sneak up on a foe with Avoid Detection, you can get the drop on enemies just by stacking the odds in your favor. Picking conditions that limit your foes' senses and staying out of sight until the fight has begun so that your foes are extremely distracted are wonderful ways to leave them unaware of your attack and flat-footed against it. Sniping from cover is also an excellent option for those with ranks in stealth.

Lastly, there are several skills that fill the space previously filled by use magic device, and all of these can increase your offensive potential substantially under the right circumstances. The arcana skill can be a substitute for a high attribute score if the item requires it to function. Ciphers allows you to decode and then use any spell completion item that you run across. Geomancy allows you to use items designed for other races. The thaumaturgy skill allows you to use items designed for those with a different alignment. These skills also allow you to use spell trigger items like wands, but only if the spell contained within is of the same type of magic as the skill deals with. And if you have no idea what an item is or does, or no more relevant skill to fall back on, the cultures skill will allow you to throw random activation actions at an item until it works blindly, though such an activation is not without risk.

Skills as Defenses[edit]

There are also new options for avoiding or deflecting abilities used against you. Affability and creature handling have abilities that allow you to hold off attacks from different types of creatures, delaying the start of an encounter or allowing you to talk your way out of it. The bluff skill has an ability designed specifically to help you make your escape, by getting an unobserved move action with which to start running. These abilities can be used in the same round, by different members of your party even, to stop and avoid an encounter before it starts without taking the time to talk things down.

Dowsing is largely a non-combat skill, but has some very extensive combat applications. Dowsers can defeat invisibility and stealth used against them, since you really can just close your eyes and sense their approach or strike at the right square.

Perception is another skill with many non-combat applications that still has very useful combat abilities. It is the primary skill for detecting people who would rather hide their approach from you. It allows you to actively ignore illusions affecting a single sense, and is a great way to negate the defenses of those who rely on them. Eventually, it offers a passive ability to defeat illusions or to spot those who are utilizing an alternate form. These are useful in target spotting, but do little to improve your offense without abilities to take advantage of the information.

Several skills allow you to take actions even after failing a debilitating save, or even fight the effect off entirely. Under the right circumstances, concentration serves as a backup will save, endurance as a backup fortitude save, and escape artistry as a backup reflex save. Even partial actions matter when they're all that's standing between you and attacking your friends or dissolving into a pile of goo. The ciphers skill also has an ability that simply allows an additional save against symbols and similar things, even if they don't normally allow one.

Lastly, a number of skills allow you to remove status effects from party members. The appraisal skill allows you to talk companions out of confusion and fascination effects. Affability allows you to remove morale, emotion, and rage effects from people who'd like to use them against you. The healing skill allows you to remove a wide array of physically debilitating effects. With the intimidation skill, you can remove fear effects from your party members, possibly by slapping their head straight. You can't use these skills on yourself, though, so it's still important to make your save.

The Infiltration Game[edit]

Sometimes it's not feasible or desirable to just kill or run off everything that's between you and your goal. Enter the infiltration game. An infiltration generally means that you need to avoid or render defective encounters along the way to your objective. There are a few ways to go about that in D&D, though for some reason, simple stealth seems to be exclusively used. In this section, we'll go through two methods of obtaining access without alerting the enemy, and discuss how they work with the revised skills. But first it might be helpful to understand the watchers, those who play on the other side of the infiltration game. This should also serve as a general guide to how people notice things under these rules.

The Perception Mini-Game[edit]

The perception mini-game is how the players learn what is going on in the world. Most of the time, people just see or hear things, and it's not really important what else they are doing. When there's a chance that they didn't notice something relevant, however, the DM needs to know how to figure out who noticed what. This can be done by asking what the PCs are doing, determining their bonuses based on that, and giving out information based on their final modifiers.

Under normal circumstances, characters don't roll Perception checks. They instead use their Passive Perception. Passive Perception fluctuates based on the character's activity:

  • Characters "Take 10" if they are standing on guard. The character uses a standard action to Notice.
  • Characters "Take 5" if they are walking around. The character uses a move action to move, and a swift action for a hurried Notice.
  • Characters "Take 0" if they are busy with another task. The character uses a standard action to do something other than notice, and a swift action for a hurried Notice with the −5 distracted penalty.
  • Characters "Take 0" with their passive perception as a free action, regardless of what else they are doing.

The above results assume that your character is acting at normal pace. If your Endurance bonus is good enough, you can instead hustle all the time, or fit in sufficient breaks, and maintain laser-like focus from dusk to dawn without burning out. If you want to actually do everything at double speed, the above results still apply, but if you're still moving at a slower pace with the rest of the party, this gives you leftover actions that you are assumed to spend on a higher Passive Perception, like so:

  • Hustling characters "Take 10" if they are walking around. The character uses a move action to move, and a standard action to Notice.
  • Hustling characters "Take 3" if they are busy. The character uses a standard action to do something other than notice, and a move action for a hurried Notice with the −5 distracted penalty.

When the fight-or-flight response kicks in, most people just stop seeing details completely. The rogue about to hit them in the back of the head with a pipe, for example, can be easily missed when you're dodging blows from someone else instead. In combat, everyone's Perception defaults to one of two results, regardless of their Endurance:

  • Characters "Take −5" if they are not actively threatened. The character uses a free action to Notice passively, with the −5 distracted penalty.
  • Characters "Take −10" if they are defending against an obvious threat or being stabbed in the face. The character uses a free action to Notice passively, with the −10 extremely distracted penalty.

If you like, you can spend an action in combat to roll an actual Perception check, and that's probably a good idea if you have nothing better to do. Characters with 4 or more ranks in Perception do not need to roll checks, and can instead "Take 10" as a standard action to boost their results by 10 or hurry the action for a smaller boost.

The typical senses are not the only ways to learn about events in the world, though. Characters with enough ranks in Dowsing can use Sense Presence instead of Perception to gain access to alternate senses. You can't spend actions on Perception while using Sense Presence, however, which means you default to "Take −5" with your passive perception, as it is also considered distracting to those senses. However, you gain Blindsense, and can find creatures normally hidden to your other senses. You may spend actions to notice creatures with this sense, as if you were spending actions with Perception, but you use your Dowsing skill total instead and your result is only used for your Blindsense. Your options and check results depend on the range of Blindsense you are working with, like so:

  • Blindsense 60' requires a move action to maintain, so...
    • Hustling characters "Take 10" if they are on watch. The character uses a standard action to 'notice' creatures or objects with their Blindsense.
    • Characters "Take 5" if they are otherwise on guard. The character uses a swift action for a hurried 'notice' against creatures or objects with their Blindsense.
    • Other characters "Take 0" if they are passively using their Blindsense or using their swift action for another task.
  • Blindsense 15' only requires a swift action to maintain, so...
    • Characters "Take 10" if they are on watch. The character uses a standard action to 'notice'.
    • Hustling characters can "Take 10" and a move action if they are on watch. The character uses a move action to move and a standard action to 'notice'.
    • Characters "Take 0" if they are walking around. The character uses a move action to move and their passive 'notice' abilities.
    • Characters "Take −5" if they're busy. The character uses their standard action for anything other than a 'notice' check with their Blindsense.

As long as your Dowsing check beats DC 0, Blindsense lets you automatically notice any creature within its range, unless it's masked by a special ability such as Foil Senses (which is available at the same level). It hinders your passive Perception, however, which works at a greater range, especially in good conditions. Sense Presence is very powerful under certain circumstances, such as when you're expecting an invisible foe, securing a bottleneck around a corner, or when you're in very dense terrain, but it won't usually replace a good Perception bonus.

You can remove a distraction penalty with a DC 15 Concentration check. This means that if you have 1 rank in Concentration and at least a +5 bonus, you can Take 10 and never suffer from distraction penalties out of combat, and that boosts your Passive Perception accordingly. This is a free action, so there's no reason not to do it. If you have at least 5 ranks in Concentration, you can take 10 on Ignore Distraction in combat, too.

The Stealth Mini-Game[edit]

The stealth mini-game is how people avoid the perceptions of others in the world. When people talk about sneaking into a place, they are almost always referring to the stealth mini-game. Slipping in and out without the enemy even seeing a stray shadow is a powerful image in most gaming circles, and one that is well-supported within this sourcebook. Most of the time, when you want to avoid notice, you can just do that. When there's a chance that someone important might notice you and perhaps sound the alarm, then the DM needs to figure out how well you are blending in to the background.

Under normal circumstances, those attempting to sneak into a location are likely to be trained in the art and will be taking 10 on the majority of their checks (characters who are unable to take 10 on their checks are very likely to simply be caught, but otherwise function similarly). Their value fluctuates based on the other actions they are performing during their skulking:

  • Characters can "Take 15" when they are standing still, trying to let guards move past them.
  • Characters can "Take 10" when they move up to their base rate.
  • Characters can "Take 5" when they move up to double their base rate (hustling).
  • Characters can "Take 0" when they move up to quadruple their base rate (running).
    • Actions which draw attention to a character may reduce their check results by up to 10 points. These are rare for this sort of sneaking, however, and are unlikely to occur.

This value is the base DC for a guard to notice the sneaking character. This base DC is further modified by conditions and distance, and makes sneaking into medium range of a human guard rather easy to do.

There are times when simply sneaking in under the cover of darkness isn't appropriate. Sometimes you'll need to know if you want to walk past the guards in broad daylight, or slip through a checkpoint, or if you've been spotted fleeing the scene of a crime. These situations function as above, but the background events are likely different for the character. As a result, attention modifiers are much more common. For example:

  • Characters can "Take 15" when they move up to quadruple their base rate (running), as long as they are doing so with a dense crowd and running in the same direction.
  • Characters can "Take 0" when they move up to their base rate, if they are in the middle of a street about to fight a duel.

While the movement taken in these cases is the same as movements above, the values are very different. In the first case, they can take 10 with a +5 bonus because they are moving with the background events, and the background is particularly dense and it is easy to get lost in it. In the second case, they can take 10 with a −10 penalty because they are involved in a spectacle and the center of attention. The take-away here is that you can remain unnoticed even outside of the common breaking-and-entering situations, as long as you work with background events instead of against them and keep your head down.

Other options for stealth include:

  • Characters with at least 6 ranks can take a −5 penalty to their check to use their stealth results in place of their party members'. They may also reduce their roll to increase that of a party member, which is more likely until they reach rank 10 and can "Take X" with this ability.
  • Characters with at least 8 or 10 ranks can apply their stealth against blindsense, tremorsense, and even blindsight. Hiding from these senses works in the same ways as described above.

Note that actions a sneaking character takes on other objects are not hidden from notice in the same way. If a character pushes over a pile of boxes, for example, the boxes can be noticed at their normal DCs, even if the character wishes to remain hidden and has a higher notice DC.

Lastly, we would be remiss to not point out that once you have been spotted, it is difficult to escape notice. Characters who lack 12 ranks in the skill must escape or cause their noticer to "lose" them before they can attempt to avoid notice again (characters with 12 or more ranks can simply try to fade from sight). And once spotted, the pursuer gains substantial bonuses to notice the target again in the future. These bonuses can be reduced or eliminated, but it is better to simply avoid being caught in the first place. Keeping an eye on those who you wish to avoid detection by and slowing down or otherwise avoiding attention when they look your way is extremely helpful.

The Legerdemain Mini-Game[edit]

The legerdemain mini-game is how players take unnoticed actions on objects, without necessarily remaining unnoticed themselves. When a character wants to take an action that they don't want another character to see, they can make a legerdemain check. Unlike the other mini-games, the rank requirements for this ability are high enough that low-level characters will not be taking 10, instead risking a check each time they ply their trade.

It remains a very strong ability, however, especially in conjunction with stealth. Picking a pocket is easy enough to do with the skill, but picking one without being noticed by anyone in the crowd is a bit more impressive.

Other Infiltration Options[edit]

It is possible to take the stealth out of an infiltration game, and there are a number of good reasons why you might want to do this. Even the most heavily guarded and impenetrable fortress opens for someone, so if you look the part, you can try simply walking in to it. The transformation skill will help you look the part, and once you do, you are more likely to be playing the social game than the infiltration game. Which is great if you happen to be better at the social game; playing to your strengths as an adventurer is an important tactic, after all.

The social and infiltration games can even be run side by side. When someone walks up to the gate and demands to be let in (or asks for assistance with the bandits who robbed them, or "accidentally" knocks over a bunch of boxes, or whatever), it draws attention. These things tend to distract the guards, and allow a sneaky individual to slip past otherwise watchful guards more easily. In this way, it is possible to play different games to accomplish the same goal, or to accomplish several minor goals in the same area.

The Social Game[edit]

The last of the big 3 games is the social game. This game is most often simply roleplayed at the table, but the Tome of Prowess provides you with several options for influencing it.

Making People Like You[edit]

While the easiest way to make someone like you is to do things for them and spend time getting to know them, that often requires more time and effort than a character might have. Many characters have ways of skipping these drawn-out, but very effective, methods of friendship. As a result, they also tend to have a lot of friends.

Affable characters have a few options for making people like them. In small groups, they can quickly bring people from neutral to friendly or even helpful. They can work away at the dislike of unfriendly or hostile people as well, but are less likely to make as much progress. Glib characters don't have a direct method of making friends, but the ability to lie really well can let you tell people what they want to hear. As long as you're telling them the right things, and they believe it, you can make friends and admirers out of basically anyone. Until they catch you in the lie, anyway. Intimidating characters can shout at people to make them "compliant", but it's not really the same thing as "liking" you. These people may be nice and helpful when you're around, but they will hate and resent you when you're gone and go to pains to avoid you. It's an efficient short-term solution, but not a good one if you need a longer-term friend and ally.

Making People Do What You Want[edit]

There are several options for making people do what you want in the social game. The easiest is simply asking them to do it. Characters who play the social game often have a lot of helpful or friendly people around them, and those sorts of people will often just do it to help a friend out. When simply asking fails, though, your options depend on what type of social skill you bring to the table.

Affable characters can lean on people a bit, and possibly fast-talk them into the action. This is more likely to succeed if the action is not dangerous, but can be pushed even then often as not. Glib characters have to resort to trickery, and must lie to people so that they choose to do something. This backfires a fair portion of the time, either because people don't believe and resent the attempt or because they do something different, but a skilled liar can try to minimize these problems with well-crafted lies. Intimidating characters can often just shout people into doing things for them, and rather quickly, but it is hard to use repeatedly on a target and not good for long-term relations.

Combining Skills[edit]

There are several skills in this work that enhance one another, often enabling advanced or longer usage. These skill synergies can even stretch across various mini-games.

Endurance is the most obvious example of this synergy. In conjunction with acrobatics, it enables a user to spend more time walking on water, clouds, or air. When paired with athletics, it allows for faster climbing and swimming in addition to extending the time that can be spent doing these things. Since jump allows you to move faster than your base rate would allow, pairing it with endurance allows you to jump longer and increases your overland movement rate.

Combining acrobatics with jump allows you to land a jump on the water, clouds, or air. The latter looks a lot like flight, as you simply flit quickly from spot to spot in the sky. These two abilities can also be combined with endurance to grant a flight-like ability that functions over long distances, enabling overland flight.

Transformation will allow you to look like other people, but you can't convince others that you actually are them. Bluff, on the other hand, will allow you to imitate people but not look anything like them. The two skills are required together to effectively imitate an individual.

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