I ran my first session of my OA campaign last Saturday. I had kinda intended it to be the ONLY session, but the players liked the characters well enough, and the world well enough, that it looks like we’ll be trying to do that once a month. Yay.
It’s really cool that it resonated, but as I was preparing for the game I ran into a game design snag: I don’t like background. Or skills. Or tool proficencies.
I mean, for a standard game of D&D, they’re fine. Mostly. They’re some skills that are must-haves. You are a fool if you don’t take Perception. And Athletics and Stealth and Investigation and Insight all come up a lot. The others, well, if you’re good at, you take it to be better, but how often does Medicine come up in your game? Or Animal Handling?
There is a problem in the design of D&D. What is supposed to be flavor and what is supposed to be mechanics? We’re slowly moving away from the flavor, but there’s still elements of it in the game. Like Druids and metal. Or each class having a list of skills they’re good at.
Now, I understand that they can’t divorce entirely from classes and skills, mainly because of the game’s history, but as an outsider, I might be up to the task. So I’m going to try and redesign Skills, Backgrounds, Feats, and Proficiencies, so that they feel right to me.
Note: I promised you my OA pdf. Well, it’s scope has now drastically changed, so I’m not ready to pass out a pdf quite yet. Give me a week and it will be a better product, I swear!
Throwing Everything Together
My process for this project involves opening a new google doc, throwing everything in a copy of everything I’m trying to mix together. A list of skills, a list of tool proficiencies, a list of feats and so on. As it stands (without formatting) it’s 15 pages of material I have to sort through. Yikes.
It shouldn’t be that bad though, as a lot of them are backgrounds. I think I want to separate backgrounds from being a mechanical thing. which means most of them will just go away.
I included feats because I don’t like them either. There are some feats that are amazing, and others that are worthless. That bothers me. I don’t want people to have to sacrifice mechanics for roleplay. I also want choices to be rather final. I’ve played a bit of 3ish D&D, where on leveling up you had to dump a bunch of skill points into your picks to stay relevant. That’s not my desire here.
There is a couple of things I need to think about. When do people make choices? What happens when a class grants an extra proficiency or an expertise? What choices will people make at level 1, level 5, and level 20? How much power will they have?
My next step is long, as I process my collected data and see what all makes sense to clump together. Please enjoy this hold music as I work on that.
Okay, This going to be piecemeal, but let’s take a look at some of my ideas.
The first big thought is I want to get rid of skills. Simple enough, we’re bringing in Proficiency Dice. It’s an optional rule in the DMG, but it’ll serve us well here. At level 5, the PD is a d6. So instead of adding +3 to your Stealth Roll, you’ll roll a d6. At its basic rule, the PD is added to the Ability Scores you have a save in. So for Rogues, they get to add it to Dexterity and Intelligence checks.
Did I just give Rogues training in like, 8 skills? Yeah, sorta. (I do have to say, that makes me feel better about not wanting to reward them for their 4 skills they normally start with.) But our revamp of Skills doesn’t stop there.
I’ve decided to name my new mechanic “Specialties” because I don’t think we use that in 5e yet.
Specialties are kind of like skills, kind of like feats. First, they give you more opportunities to use a PD. If your a Cleric with no Dexterity PD, and take a rank of the Stealth Specialty, you get to roll a PD when you sneak.
But that’s not all! You also get a bonus for being stealthy, an extra +1 per level of the Specialty. How do you get more ranks? That’s a good question. You get to pick a rank in a specialty when you level up, first of all, and you’ll get a slew of options at level one with a few selections.
But wait, there’s more! You get a number of Charges equal to your level plus your highest stat. These can be used for various things. For Stealth, you can spend a point to straight up avoid notice! Guard coming around the corner? Spend a charge! Large dog in the center of the room? Spend a charge to waltz silently past.
Seems powerful? it is. Very powerful. That’s why I’m putting it into my OA game first, because Ninja and Samurai and crap like that are expected to be Anime-strong. Also, playtest grounds. There are some limits. Charges are a daily thing, so you have to use them wisely. Also, there are some limits. The Stealth Success can’t be used to hide in combat. It’s designed for more role-play stealth situations, where the ninja is a shadow creeping through the building.
There’s a lot still to figure out about Specialties, but I think I like what I have. They’re making me jones for some 7th Sea, though, which sounds fun but I’m not sure I have space in my schedule for it. The next big thing is reviewing the Specialties and polishing them up so it’s player faceable and good for distribution. I guess I need to finish writing it first, though.
Anyway, what I have so far is available Here for perusal. I need feedback on things, if things are too strong, too week, or too confusing. If it helps, I recently created a forum where messages can be left on a variety of topics.
Plenty of work is afoot at Matt Labz. Hopefully something can come of it!
This was released early for Patreon supporters, who also had it linked directly in an email instead of having to go and look. Useful, no?