Using the ‘wrong’ skill

I was writing an adventure the other night and one of the challenges requires some combination of navigation, survival, region law, tracking or at the very least general perception.

The characters have an option of paddling up a jungle river with its inherent risks of crocodiles, water snakes and possibly hippopotami.

The could of course use the well worn track that edges the jungle. Then they face the threats of solitary big cats, snakes and wild boar.

Additional threats are also impoverished humanoids who have been outcast from their communities.

The point is that there is a lot that the characters may want to avoid or at the very least be aware off and not stumble into. The adventure is expected to be a second adventure for relatively new characters so they will have an additional level under them or if not then this journey will be enough to level them up. Just reaching their destination will be a story point for experience purposes.

I had always assumed that Perception was about THE most basic of skills. I saw on a discord server recently a discussion about leveling up and the advice was not to bother with Perception unless you were a Rogue or such. In my games Perception is probably the most used skill.

Something else I have always done is shift the difficulty factor if the character doesn’t have the ‘right’ skill. So an Easy tracking roll would be a Light Perception. A Medium Navigation test would be Hard Region Lore. If you don’t have Navigation or Region Lore and you are just relying on Perception to keep sight of the track or spot the right tributaries then that would go from Medium Navigation to a Very Hard Perception test.

Using this graceful downgrading it both rewards characters that have build a broad skill base while not making tasks impossible to beginning characters who may not have all the skills they would want.

I know this breaks the RMu similar skills rules. That uses a 0/-25/-50/-75 progression and combines two penalties so that the penalties mount up really quickly. Look at this example from A&CL.

Example: Perception and tracking are in the same
category, but different skills, giving a -50. They share
virtually the same techniques, as well as a similar
subject (the environment). The total penalty to use
Tracking in place of Perception, or Perception in place of
Tracking, would be -50.

A&C Law page 47

My method is much kinder on low level characters and a two step penalty often means just a -20 penalty. For higher level characters the risks tend to be higher and the challenges harder so that -20 turns into a more likely -40 as your more likely to hit Sheer Folly and harder.

It is also easier to work out on the fly. The greater the degrees of separation between the skill the character has and the ideal skill for the challenge then the more steps in difficulty. This eliminates another table lookup to boot.

It also makes it easier to write adventures where to do not know the level or composition of the party.

6 Replies to “Using the ‘wrong’ skill”

  1. Now RM1 allowed you to use half your OB for similar weapon types. So I did, when playing RM, and still do in MERP, use a half skill rank and quarter skill rank depending on how closely related the skills are. The advantage of this is that you still maintain the boost at lower levels with a 50% drop in skill ranks only being a -10 or -20 penalty but also allows all bonuses from Stats and profession to be applied. At higher levels, the drop is still not massive but pegs the ranks back to that lower than 10 ranks which is much more of a general understanding but reflects the knowledge or skills that might be acquired by association eg spotting tracks of a generic animal but not a specific one.

    1. RoCo II expanded that to cover all skills and give categories of what was similar and what was not.

      RMu has the advantage that it allows graduations from very similar skills in the same category which would be -25 to a very completely different skill in a completely different category which would be -125 to the roll.

      I do like the ability to graduate the challenge but RMu does require two subjective decisions and a chart look up to get the modifier. What I am suggesting here retains the graduated results but loses the table look up and uses the existing difficulty modifiers.

      1. Peter, I do like your option of moving the difficulty category it is a simpler on the fly response to the problem and would save the rapid recalculations we sometimes have to do. I did use the RoCoII chart, but in the end just opted for agreeing with players how similar we would make skills. The end result was that players didn’t fall into skills bloat and didn’t quibble so much over what they could or couldn’t do with the skill.

  2. Perception is also the most used skill in all my campaigns.

    You make a good point about the RMU penalties being a bit harsh in some cases. Navigation and Region Lore are in different categories, so that would be a -75 penalty at least. So I think in such instances, I prefer your system.

    1. In the example of Navigation and Region Lore you can easily see players wanting to argue the case that they are not that dissimilar. If you know a region well then surely you can plot a basic route from landmark to landmark? For a low level character -75 is pretty much game over, roll and hope for an open ended.

      1. So for me, halving the ranks rather than blanket penalty regardless of level works just as well and scales for levels. If you had 5 ranks in region lore that would be 3 ranks in navigation for the locale (a -10). 10 ranks though would be 5 a -25 penalty which is on reflection a big hit. Then 15 ranks would be 8 ranks which is only a -20 penalty. However, the rank bonus to the skill is 15, 25, 40 reflecting an increasing success and a reason for piling development points into the skill. Easy (+50) would mean that most of the time you could walk from A to B using visible landmarks with a basic level of local knowledge. But having said that as above – I like Peter’s idea for a quick method where skills are not in constant use.

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