Knowledge: Architecture

Part two in my series of looking at RPG skill lists and their problems, mostly to do with excessive numbers of skills.  Will help immensely to have read “Lore: Doors” from earlier this month to have the context.  I have no plans for a part three.  But, I did want to provide Conan d20’s list of skills as a compare and contrast to L5R’s.

Going to include my tier ratings.  One thing about Conan is that there are far more skills I roll often, so the average tier should be far better.  Another thing is that I can’t reasonably comment on what I’d expect “average” Conan play to be like, so I’m going to rate based on our play, which has some clear biases.  I’m also including the “named” skills for the macro skills as there are good reasons some are presented so prominently in the book, the book being 2e Conan d20.

Appraise  [3]
Balance  [1]
Bluff  [1]
Climb  [1]
Concentration  [4 scholar, 5 anyone else]
Craft (alchemy)  [2]
Craft (herbalism)  [2]
Craft (any mundane)  [5]
Craft (macro)  [5]
Decipher Script  [2-3]
Diplomacy  [1]
Disable Device  [4]
Disguise  [5]
Escape Artist  [5]
Forgery  [5]
Gather Information  [3]
Handle Animal  [3]
Heal  [1]
Hide  [4!]
Intimidate  [3, 1 for a certain build]
Jump  [3]
Knowledge (arcana)  [1]
Knowledge (geography)  [2]
Knowledge (history)  [5]
Knowledge (local)  [4]
Knowledge (nobility)  [4]
Knowledge (religion)  [1!]
Knowledge (rumours)  [4]
Knowledge (macro)  [2-5]
Listen  [1]
Move Silently  [4!]
Open Lock  [4]
Perform (macro)  [P: Ritual 2-3, other 5]
Profession (macro)  [5]
Ride  [4]
Search  [2]
Sense Motive  [1]
Sleight of Hand  [4]
Spot  [1]
Survival  [1]
Swim  [1]
Tumble  [3, but should be 1]
Use Rope  [1]

Going to break out some unofficial groupings of skills.  While maybe some of my tiers should be adjusted as I didn’t spend a whole lot of time assigning them, it’s fairly clear that Conan tends toward more like three tiers:  necessary; useless; in between.  The reason I say this is because L5R’s skills tend to be bottom heavy, with a lot of skills being flavor.  Conan’s skill list, on the other hand, is top heavy to where there’s little ability to invest in flavor.

Outdoorsy Skills
Balance  [1]
Climb  [1]
Jump  [3]
Survival  [1]
Swim  [1]

A clear bias in our play.  Jump is the only skill that’s even remotely uncommon.  Swim might vary depending upon where we are, but the three most likely things to kill a PC in our play, in order, are:  failed Climb; failed Swim; failed Balance.  The first PC to ever die died because of rolling three straight 1’s on Climb checks.  Obviously, having an outdoorsy GM and a world that is relatively realistic with being outside of civilization as a major theme creates this environment.

When I rant about how much the soldier sucks, I make an effort to temper my remarks with “as long as your campaign cares about skills”.  Not only does the soldier suck in our play because there’s no way it will be able to keep up with some of these skills, but heavy armor is suicidal in our campaigns, something that also kind of sucks for the noble.

Anyway, the point of this isn’t to generally comment on Conan skills but to look for ways to shorten the list.  I don’t think anyone would get to this number, but I put the list length at 42, retaining all of the broken out macro skills and slots for the macro skills themselves except for Craft (macro) which is not sufficiently distinct from Craft (any mundane).

One of the common suggestions for skill consolidation – yes, there are those who float the idea of skill consolidation or even do it – is to consolidate some of these and the likes of Tumble into an athletics skill.  For our play, this has massive impact, far more than what I’d expect with other groups.  I don’t like that a PC should need to be good at all of these and a bunch of other skills, but it’s hard to envision us consolidating Climb and Swim, for instance, together.  Jump should go away, with Tumble being a natural partner.  Balance, Jump, and Tumble together is fairly thematic and since we way underuse Tumble (the best D&D skill according to various sources), it wouldn’t have that much impact.  Still, seems a really tricky area as I both want to have an athletics skill but don’t want to lose the distinctions between Climb and Swim and other stuff.  Note that we lack the Emphasis mechanic of L5R, so there’s no specializing in a broader skill.

Social Skills
Bluff  [1]
Diplomacy  [1]
Gather Information  [3]
Intimidate  [3, 1 for a certain build]
Sense Motive  [1]

This is where it gets really funny in terms of biases.  One can see where outdoorsy skills are prominent given our GM and players.  One does not as much understand where the social theme comes from.  We usually have a highly social party.  Where other groups seem to be broke bandits barely tolerated in towns, we are or keep the company of nobles and diplomacize or “diplomacize” the hell out of NPCs to where we rarely fight people.

As for consolidation, Gather Information could maybe be merged into Diplomacy, even though Diplomacy is already awesome and it’s so easy to get synergy bonuses into it.  Intimidate and Bluff are virtually the same thing in some cases but incredibly different in others.  “Manipulation” might be a plausible thematic skill to cover both, though it’s not clear whether both should be covered.  It makes the Steely Gaze/Feint build that much more efficient.

Knowledge Skills
Knowledge (arcana)  [1]
Knowledge (geography)  [2]
Knowledge (history)  [5]
Knowledge (local)  [4]
Knowledge (nobility)  [4]
Knowledge (religion)  [1]
Knowledge (rumours)  [4]
Knowledge (macro)  [2-5]

The more I thought about it, the more I thought about how cool it is the diversity of skills we use in Conan on a regular basis.  You can’t say we are too far into man vs. nature or too far into the social realm (for Conan) or too much about esoteric knowledges.  At some point, having more strong skill themes means that it’s just skills in general that matter a lot.  Of course, to compensate, combat matters less for us than it seems for other groups.

One of the really terrible things 2e did was create K: Rumours, taking away a lot of what K: Local covered.  K: Local never made any sense.  Was it knowledge of your home area or knowledge you picked up about wherever you happened to be?  The former is largely useless to PCs while the latter seems to be something you would gain from Gather Information.  That K: Geography often ends up being important, that K: Nature which isn’t even listed but is a required skill for the Nature sorcery style and is also quite important, that random stuff like K: Architecture, K: The Planes, K: Warfare come up often enough gets kind of annoying.  Now, I do like that our PCs have different specialties in many cases.  Sure, a scholar may be better than my character at K: Religion, but I blow away the non-scholars which has proved extremely useful.  I have K: Warfare, which no one else has.  Another PC is kind of a jack of all trades but is one of our few K: The Planes knowers.  So, there is some benefit to the diversity.  There are also very few skill ranks to go around and being strong in K: Religion has come at a price.  My borderer is not really an outdoorsy borderer, being more of a social, infidel sort of borderer.  Having tons of hit points does help with the many falls from failed Climb checks.

I don’t know that there’s anything to do.  Knowledge: X is just the same as Lore: X or whatever games have for their knowledge skills where the things people know are distinct from each other.  I can see some house rule about rolling a similar skill at a penalty.  HoR mods frequently mention different die rolls to know something, often with different TNs.

Other

One thing that would help with Craft skills is having a clearer idea what sort of craft skills make sense and which might actually be useful to a PC.  My archer has Craft: Bowyer, but it’s so hard to get good enough at something like this to be reliable that I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t get a number of ranks/modifiers from fictions I wrote.

Concentration has no reason to exist.  It’s a screwjob on scholars since it’s intended only for them casting/maintaining spells.  Concentration is incredibly easy to replace with an attribute roll, which should probably be Wisdom, not Constitution.

Because of how useless so many of the relevant skills are, I can see there being a “thief” skill.  It would include Disguise, Disable Device, Escape Artist, Forgery, and Open Lock.  While I love the thief for its many skill ranks per level, those ranks need to go into physical skills, knowledge skills, and social skills.  Disguise and Escape Artist were both skills I thought would get used more often.  Escape Artist is awful, being frequently the worst way to get out of a grapple and a generally inferior way to escape things since a high Strength is so awesome in the game that so many characters have a high enough Strength to break out.  In actual play, it’s just pointless.  Disguise has the problem that we are either in situations where it’s impossible to feasibly disguise or it’s unnecessary because nobody will know who we are.  Forgery has problems in a world where many are illiterate.  Open Lock and Disable Device are often replaced by “Hulk smash” and “how many hit points of damage?”/”what’s the save?”.  They are great to have in the party, but it becomes a burden that only one PC is likely to carry.

More than anything else, Hide and Move Silently need to be consolidated into “stealth”.  Both skills are full of problems separately and become a ridiculous burden together as multiple purchases.  Virtually none of the many NPCs that I make or my PCs are good at these skills because it’s just too expensive to be reliably stealthy when there are so many essential things to take.

I haven’t come up with a lot of ideas for consolidation, but it’s just because I don’t happen to be in a ruthless enough mood.  I’m sure with enough remembering of how painful it is to assign skill ranks that I would cut at least 25% off of this list.  That still leaves 30+ skills, something that doesn’t sound great.

By the way, most irritating thing about Conan skills?  How awful Perform and Profession (and most Crafts) are.  Perform: Ritual might get some use, but, then, it’s not really a Perform skill so much as a “do nebulous, non-explained magic” skill.  It makes sense that adventurers aren’t great at professions since they are … adventurers, but it’s prohibitively expensive to Profession up a NPC unless you expect that the difficulty numbers for Profession checks will be generally low.  Why do I even care?  Couldn’t I just ignore them?  Goes back to flavor.  I like flavorful skills.  With this system, the flavor skills are too rarely used and there are so many necessary skills that it’s crazy to invest in them.

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2 Responses to Knowledge: Architecture

  1. Brad says:

    I like the concept. I agree, there are too many skill in Conan and that consolidating them, at least the useful ones, would leave some points available to throw into the flavor skills.

  2. […] Lore: Doors & Knowledge: Architecture […]

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