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Composer99
2019-08-16, 05:46 PM
Here are a couple of variant rules for using ability scores.

Design Goals
I really like how 5e cuts down on both the fiddling with numbers and on the magnitude of numbers themselves with respect to ability check DCs. However, one thing that it doesn't capture that well is the gap between amateurs and experts. At low levels, that gap might be as low as a 10% difference in ability check success probability (the +2 proficiency bonus). In addition, for PCs, the closest the game has to modeling expertise as such is largely gatekept behind having levels of bard or rogue.

The first two variants are intended to model expertise in a way that doesn't break 5e math, doesn't require fiddling with DCs, and more or less adheres to the game's design aesthetics, especially simplicity and rulings over rules. It also makes it possible to have PCs or NPCs be experts in some field or another without requiring that they either be high-level/CR or have a nearly otherworldly ability score.

The final variant expands the proficiency system into three tiers of proficiency: proficiency, expert proficiency (or expertise), and master proficiency (or mastery). That's about as granular as I think a proficiency system should get in 5e.

Edit to Add: I have some additional variant rules for using ability scores, but I need to polish them some before posting them here.


Automatic Success via Proficiency/Background
I'm not the only DM who uses a variant like this - I've already seen someone else mention they did something like this in their own games.

When using this variant, characters possessing certain proficiencies or backgrounds automatically succeed at certain tasks, or are automatically privilege to certain information, on account of having the proficiency or background. For instance, characters with the noble background might just know heraldry in regions where they lived and traveled. Characters not possessing the relevant proficiency or background would make a check normally. In the example given, a character without the noble background can still recognise the heraldry - they just have to succeed on a check.

I think it's good to have an explicit rule/mechanic saying, "hey, your background and training means you just know or can do something", or, "hey, GM, your PCs' backgrounds ...", even if the GM still has a fair bit of latitude in implementing that rule.


Complexity
Some tasks can only be completed by experts. They may not be exceptionally difficult for the sufficiently trained, but they are mostly beyond the capabilities of the amateur. To represent tasks of this nature, we introduce the concept of complexity.

There are two variants of complexity: "soft" complexity, and "hard" complexity. A GM who wishes to incorporate this variant into their games should decide which version they will use at the outset.

Soft Complexity. If the GM indicates a task has complexity, characters or monsters attempting that task who do not have a relevant proficiency have disadvantage on the ability check. In addition, this disadvantage cannot be cancelled out by any amount of advantage. Characters or monsters with a relevant proficiency make the check normally.

Hard Complexity. If the GM indicates a task has complexity, characters or monsters attempting that task cannot do so at all that is, they automatically fail the ability check unless they are proficient with a skill, tool, or other proficiency relevant to the task. Characters or monsters with a relevant proficiency make the check normally.

One good example would be the trap that Haley starts working on starting in OOTS #867 (http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0867.html). Other examples might be Nature or Survival checks on the Outer Planes, or using tools to craft very elaborate plate armour or delicate clockworks. Examples from modern-day or sci-fi settings might include various forms of surgery, complex programming projects, starship engineering, and the like.

Let's take a DC 10 Intelligence (History) check, and two characters, both with a 14 Intelligence, one of whom is proficient with History. The proficient character succeeds on the check on a roll of 6 or better, or 75% of the time, while the nonproficient character does so 65% of the time. Not really much difference, except over many rolls.

Let's say the characters are trying to recall lore that the GM decides most well-read and learned sages would know, but that would not have been as accessible to the less-lettered, and so assigns (soft) complexity to the task. The character with proficiency still has a 75% chance of success, while the nonproficient character now has a 42.25% chance of success. It's still relatively easy for the expert, but now the amateur is struggling - but at a DC 10, not so much that success is completely out of their reach.

A DC 15 check with the same ability modifiers and proficiency bonus goes from 50% and 40% chance of success for the proficient and nonproficient characters, respectively, to 50% and 16%. A DC 20 check goes from 25% and 15% chances to 25% and 2.25%.



Grades of Proficiency
In this variant, there are three grades of proficiency. Characters begin with their normal proficiencies from backgrounds, classes, and races.

Proficiency
Works as normal: when you have a proficiency, you add your proficiency bonus to any relevant ability check, attack roll, or saving throw.

Expert Proficiency (Expertise)
You can only obtain expert proficiency in a skill or tool proficiency. Any class feature that grants expertise, such as those possessed by rogues and bards, instead grant expert proficiency.

When you have an expert proficiency, you add double your proficiency bonus to any ability check using that proficiency.

Obtaining Expert Proficiency. Whenever you gain an ability score improvement class feature, you can instead increase one ability score by 1 and gain expertise in a skill or tool proficiency with which you are already proficient, or increase none of your ability scores and gain expertise in two such proficiencies. Alternately, whenever you take the Skilled feat, you can forego one or more of the proficiencies you would gain with that feat, gaining expertise in one of your skill or tool proficiencies for each foregone proficiency. You can also obtain an expert proficiency with a tool you are already proficient with by spending downtime, at double the cost and time of obtaining normal proficiency.

Master Proficiency (Mastery)
You can only obtain master proficiency in a skill or tool proficiency with which you have expertise.

When you have mastery with a proficiency, whenever your roll on the d20 is less than your proficiency bonus, you can reroll the die. You must use the new roll, even if it is also less than your proficiency bonus.

Obtaining Master Proficiency. Whenever you gain an ability score improvement class feature, you can instead increase one ability score by 1 and gain mastery in a skill or tool proficiency with which you already have expertise, or increase none of your ability scores and gain mastery in two such proficiencies. Alternately, whenever you take the Skilled feat, you can forego one or more of the proficiencies you would gain with that feat, gaining mastery in one of your skill or tool proficiencies with which you have expertise for each foregone proficiency. You can also obtain a master proficiency with a tool that you are already expert with by spending downtime, at triple the cost and time of obtaining normal proficiency.


For GMs who want their player characters to more easily access expert and master proficiencies, each character receives one bonus proficiency at each level in which their proficiency bonus increases (at 5th level, 9th level, and so on). This bonus proficiency can be used to:
- gain proficiency with unarmed strikes or with one weapon
- gain proficiency with one skill or tool
- learn one language
- gain expert proficiency with one skill or tool with which the character already has proficiency
- gain master proficiency with one skill or tool with which the character already has expert proficiency

This does cut a bit into the rogue and bard niche as skillmonkeys. However, they get expert proficiencies for free, where almost everyone else has to spend build resources, and because of the low levels at which they get expertise, they can pick up mastery far earlier. And if the GM is handing out the bonus proficiencies, they will still end up with more than anyone else. Rogues don't really care for master proficiencies, though, since Reliable Talent is better. (The fact of Reliable Talent's superiority is another way the rogue niche stays protected.)

Bjarkmundur
2019-08-18, 02:54 PM
Starting off by explaining your design goals and then going off to be both articulate AND have good presentation.

You get five gold stars from me!

I'll edit this comment with some actualy thoughts and opinions, as soon as I'm done admiring the aesthetics of your post and actually get around to reading it.

How do you make those horizontal lines? I'm dying to know. Well, imagine there's one here.

Design Goals:
This prologue to a homebrew thread should become standard practice on this forum. People should not be expected to be able to evaluate and critique honestly (tm) without knowing what percieved problem you are attempting to fix, or what the ultimate goal is. Please people, start doing this more.

Automatic Success:
I challenge my PCs in my game in order to bring their characters to life. I give them challenges in order to feel good when they overcome them. I LIKE IT when a player uses his superior knowledge of his character, rather than his superior knowledge of the mechanics, to address a problem or obstacle.
Whenever I can, I use this mechanic. If you're not rewarding your players for getting into character, what are you even doing?

Complexity
See, i love it when people manage to articulate something I didn't even know needed to be clarified. I use this also, but usually the impossible variant. I might want to introduce soft complexity into my games, since it gives players a much better feeling of being trained in something means. Doing something that you've never done before is ALWAYS going to be much more challenging, even if you have some talents that might help you out.

Grades of Proficiency
I've gone back and forth on how easy I want it to be to specialize in 5e. In 4e, you'd either specialize in whatever you want to be good at, or be useless. I find the generalist attitude of 5e to be a nice breeze of fresh air, but I can see how some DMs might want to reward players for going all-in on a character concept. I also think forgoing a +1 ASI is a reasonable way to do it.

Sir Valdon
2019-08-18, 04:37 PM
Automatic Success via Proficiency/Background
One thing I've seen elsewhere is the use of Passive skills as a minimum level whenever you're attempting a skill check. For example, you cannot roll below your Passive Perception score when doing a Perception skill check (all other things being equal, of course - it's easy to imagine reasons why you *would* do worse at times). See the sage advice below for similar reasoning.

www . sageadvice . eu/2017/05/29/should-i-let-passive-perception-notice-everything-if-high-enough


I think it's good to have an explicit rule/mechanic saying, "hey, your background and training means you just know or can do something", or, "hey, GM, your PCs' backgrounds ...", even if the GM still has a fair bit of latitude in implementing that rule.
Definitely. It'd be very strange if a noble adventurer didn't know the local heraldry, or if a sailor didn't know how to tie various knots in rope. Maybe not if he was a galley oarsman or something, but you get the idea.


Soft Complexity. If the GM indicates a task has complexity, characters or monsters attempting that task who do not have a relevant proficiency have disadvantage on the ability check. In addition, this disadvantage cannot be cancelled out by any amount of advantage. Characters or monsters with a relevant proficiency make the check normally.
I'm not sure if the inability to remove the disadvantage is the right move. For example, if Regular Joe is trying to pick a lock, disadvantage makes sense... but what if Bob the L20 Rogue (Thief) is using the Help action (ie, he's teaching Regular Joe)? Or if the Mystic or Wizard is providing information via some kind of x-ray vision ("a little to the left... more... got it" etc). Perhaps the disadvantage can only be removed if help is provided by someone who's proficient in the skill check, or can provide extraordinary assistance (as in x-ray vision when opening a lock, etc)? That makes it hard in most cases, but rewards clever puzzle solving by the PCs.


Hard Complexity. If the GM indicates a task has complexity, characters or monsters attempting that task cannot do so at all that is, they automatically fail the ability check unless they are proficient with a skill, tool, or other proficiency relevant to the task. Characters or monsters with a relevant proficiency make the check normally.
Despite what I said above, this seems fair. It's all very well if the wizard is telling you where to move the lockpick or w/e, but sometimes the gap between theory and practice is just too big.


Grades of Proficiency
These seem like good ideas - although see the note above re passive skills and your Mastery idea. If passive skills are used a lot, then either ditch Mastery or re-work it, because it'll pretty much always be worse than just using your passive skill.

Composer99
2019-08-18, 10:15 PM
Thanks for your feedback! It's much appreciated. I'll need a bit of time to think on it, but I'm sure I'll be revising the original post to account for it.


Starting off by explaining your design goals and then going off to be both articulate AND have good presentation.

You get five gold stars from me!

I'll edit this comment with some actualy thoughts and opinions, as soon as I'm done admiring the aesthetics of your post and actually get around to reading it.

How do you make those horizontal lines? I'm dying to know. Well, imagine there's one here.

Design Goals:
This prologue to a homebrew thread should become standard practice on this forum. People should not be expected to be able to evaluate and critique honestly (tm) without knowing what percieved problem you are attempting to fix, or what the ultimate goal is. Please people, start doing this more.

Automatic Success:
I challenge my PCs in my game in order to bring their characters to life. I give them challenges in order to feel good when they overcome them. I LIKE IT when a player uses his superior knowledge of his character, rather than his superior knowledge of the mechanics, to address a problem or obstacle.
Whenever I can, I use this mechanic. If you're not rewarding your players for getting into character, what are you even doing?

Complexity
See, i love it when people manage to articulate something I didn't even know needed to be clarified. I use this also, but usually the impossible variant. I might want to introduce soft complexity into my games, since it gives players a much better feeling of being trained in something means. Doing something that you've never done before is ALWAYS going to be much more challenging, even if you have some talents that might help you out.

Grades of Proficiency
I've gone back and forth on how easy I want it to be to specialize in 5e. In 4e, you'd either specialize in whatever you want to be good at, or be useless. I find the generalist attitude of 5e to be a nice breeze of fresh air, but I can see how some DMs might want to reward players for going all-in on a character concept. I also think forgoing a +1 ASI is a reasonable way to do it.

On horizontal rules: If you're using the browser editor, there's a button you can push, to the right of the superscript/subscript buttons and left of the strikethrough and spoiler buttons, that inserts a horizontal line. Alternatively, you can use the html horizontal rule HR tag, only with square brackets like other formatting tags used by this forum.

On grades of proficiency: Yes, it's not for everyone. It's nice, though, to have an option to add in some granularity to the proficiency system, without sacrificing too much of the ease of play and simplicity of 5e. You could extend the system and use the grades of proficiency to either "negatively" or "positively" gate some activities, depending on your DMing style, behind them. ("Negatively" meaning some activities that in the regular system might reasonably be achievable by anyone now require some grade of proficiency, such as, say, crafting weapons or armour made of specialised materials such as mithril, and "positively" meaning some special abilities, sort of "skill tricks" if you will, that you couldn't normally accomplish - for instance, a DM who wants a very epic feel of play for those who are willing to make the effort might gate some of the old epic uses of skills (http://www.d20srd.org/indexes/epicSkills.htm) in 3.5 behind master proficiencies.)


One thing I've seen elsewhere is the use of Passive skills as a minimum level whenever you're attempting a skill check. For example, you cannot roll below your Passive Perception score when doing a Perception skill check (all other things being equal, of course - it's easy to imagine reasons why you *would* do worse at times). See the sage advice below for similar reasoning.

www . sageadvice . eu/2017/05/29/should-i-let-passive-perception-notice-everything-if-high-enough


Definitely. It'd be very strange if a noble adventurer didn't know the local heraldry, or if a sailor didn't know how to tie various knots in rope. Maybe not if he was a galley oarsman or something, but you get the idea.


I'm not sure if the inability to remove the disadvantage is the right move. For example, if Regular Joe is trying to pick a lock, disadvantage makes sense... but what if Bob the L20 Rogue (Thief) is using the Help action (ie, he's teaching Regular Joe)? Or if the Mystic or Wizard is providing information via some kind of x-ray vision ("a little to the left... more... got it" etc). Perhaps the disadvantage can only be removed if help is provided by someone who's proficient in the skill check, or can provide extraordinary assistance (as in x-ray vision when opening a lock, etc)? That makes it hard in most cases, but rewards clever puzzle solving by the PCs.


Despite what I said above, this seems fair. It's all very well if the wizard is telling you where to move the lockpick or w/e, but sometimes the gap between theory and practice is just too big.


These seem like good ideas - although see the note above re passive skills and your Mastery idea. If passive skills are used a lot, then either ditch Mastery or re-work it, because it'll pretty much always be worse than just using your passive skill.

On passive checks as a default: That's reasonable as a guideline for when a player says "I do [X]" and you can't think of why doing [X] might be so uncertain as to require the use of an icosahedron to establish the probability space of possible outcomes.

On soft complexity: That's a fair point about the disadvantage imposed by soft complexity. I mostly included the "can't be offset" line in order to make having a proficiency feel special above and beyond a 10-30% change in the numerical distribution of results, especially at low levels when you're at the lower end of that scale.

DM's and players who really want to get crunchy with complexity could use both the soft and hard versions, or even both of those plus a "super soft" version, where you get normal disadvantage that could be offset by advantage. But that's probably going overboard, and it's best to use a single version of the variant, depending on how unforgiving you want the game world to be.

On passive skill totals vs. mastery check results: That's a fair point. If you're defaulting to passive checks and only picking up the die when it really counts, the mastery benefit falls flat because you're not benefiting from it enough. Having blanket advantage on the check is probably too good for some skill proficiencies while uncontroversial for most tool proficiencies (save for thieves' tools I daresay).

Maybe keep the current benefit and add a benefit for passive checks? Or just give reliable talent for that one proficiency? (You're still behind rogues who get it for all the proficient rolls.) It would be nice to have a benefit that makes it worthwhile for rogues to invest in master proficiency, at any rate.