Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pimp My Skill Monkey

An import from my old Livejournal, an old article on how to radically change the Palladium Skill system to accomodate some newer ideas and streamline some other issues.


I got some great help from Stattick on the RPG.net. He helped with some of the concepts, especially as it relates to the attribute checks.

Pimp My Skill-Monkey

Peering into the old lock, Stattick slipped the picks from their leather case. Not seeing anyone... and certainly no guards, he peered into the lock, looking for the signs of a needle trap or deadfall. There it was... a tumbler that didn't belong. Working quickly, his deft fingers manipulated the picks into rearranging all but that tumbler. A small snickt as the last one clicked into place elicited a silent sigh. No trap, no alarm. Swinging the door open, he recoiled from the sudden klaxon-sound coming from the ward on the floor.
"Maybe I was wrong about there not being an alarm" he thought as he dove for cover, trying to remember everything he knew about wards.

Skills form an integral part of a Palladium character; in some cases, they define a character's capabilities as much as O.C.C. does. Despite their importance, skills work much as they did in 1983, and characters of vastly different physical and mental capabilities have identical skill percentages. What follows are some optional rules for all Palladium games, to add some spice to playing a skill-based character, give some use to attributes below 16 and, hopefully, speed both play and character creation. These rules are designed to be used either separately or together; Game Masters can pick and choose what parts of this article to use, and those choices won't affect the playability of the rules.

It should be noted that several rules mention "the average person." An average person is assumed to have ability scores of 10, the approximate average on a roll of 3D6. Averages for some races in some attributes will be lower or higher than this, but the average person always assumes a 10.

Rule 1: No Skill Caps
Using this rule, skills no longer cap out at 98%, but success does. Skill percentages higher than 98% are useful for overcoming penalties, but a roll of 99 or 00 on the percentile dice still spells failure; everyone has a small chance to fail, no matter how talented or experienced. On the other hand, a roll of 1% is always successful, no matter how great the penalties; you always have a small chance of success, no matter how badly the odds are against you.
For example, if you have a 130% chance with Automotive Mechanics, and there are 40% in penalties (because it's raining and all you have is a screwdriver and bailing wire), you still have a 90% chance of success, as compared to the old system, where your percentage would have reached the 98% maximum, and the same penalties would have resulted in a 58% chance.

Rule 2: Success and Successes
 In many skill tests, it's enough to know success or failure. However, it is sometimes useful to know how well you did, or to compare two skill checks (like comparing the Computer Programming skill of a systems engineer v. the Computer Hacking skill of an intruder). To do this, the G.M.'s should compare the skill rolls.

In a skill test, the higher a successful roll, the better, and a character scores a number of successes equal to the "tens" die in the skill check. If your skill percentage is 60%, and you roll a 58%, you have 5 successes. If you rolled a 32%, you'd have 3 successes. If you manage to roll exactly the number needed, add one additional success to your total; on a skill in which you have 60%, a roll of 60%, exactly, gives you 7 successes. It is not always necessary to count successes.
If two characters are competing, then the higher successful roll wins the contest. This means that a person with a 60% is much more likely to defeat someone with a 30%; a roll a 31-60% will succeed, while the other character would fail at anything above 30%. G.M.'s must adjudicate ties, but they should generally go to the character with the higher relevant attribute, or to the character who has more favorable conditions. If one character hit their percentage precisely, then he should win (as they have scored more successes).

Complex tasks can also require an accumulation of successes, rather than a simple yes/no. Translating a document, fixing a giant robot, or cybernetic surgery can all be represented by requiring a given number of successes, with each check taking a certain amount of time. For example, the GM rules that you need 20 successes to finish fixing a giant robot, and that each check will take a day. If you have a 60% chance, that means you can be finished in as little as 3 days (if you roll 60% at least twice), or as long as 20 (assuming you make a success every day). Using this rule, some might like to make 01 a "mishap"; you succeeded, but something went wrong.
Some gamers prefer a system where lower rolls are better on skill checks. However, that takes longer to determine margins of success, especially late in a game session. Does a 25% out of 64% beat a 17% out of 58%? High numbers being better is a simpler, more intuitive, system.

Rule 3: Attribute Bonuses to Skills
Those who are dextrous are going to be better at picking locks; those who are intelligent will be better at remembering lores. To reflect this, every time you test a skill, you add an appropriate attribute to your base percentage. If you are attempting to pick a pocket, you add your P.P. of 15 to your base of 60%, meaning you succeed on a roll of 01-75%. If you were trying to figure out what someone has in his pocket, however, you would add your I.Q. of 10, meaning you could figure it out on a 01-70%. In this variant, an exceptional I.Q. does not add a bonus to all skills. The benefit of having a high I.Q. is the wide range of skill checks which it affects; most Lores, diagnosing problems, and most Perception checks.

This provides for concrete differences between attributes; a person with a P.P. of 15 is almost twice as graceful as someone with a P.P. of 8, but normally gains no benefit over him. Under this system, he has a +7% bonus over his clumsy compadre. It also provides for an easy method of defaulting for skills everyone should have; attempting to prowl when you don't have the prowl skill can default to P.P.; trying to swim when you don't have the skill would default to P.S.. These are low numbers, but it emphasizes the importance of training. Alternatively, defaulting can use rule 5, below. It is important to note that the attributes are not added permanently, and if you are using rule 7 (Skill Synergies), only the skill itself is considered, not the attribute again.

Rule 4: Perception
Perception checks have become an important part of modern gaming. Do I notice the prowler? Who caught sight of the ambushers? The current system, however, doesn't neatly mesh with Palladium's skill system. Rule 4 is about a new perception system, and how to convert old perception bonuses to this new system. Under Rule 4, Perception is computed as a percentile, like skills. This allows for faster comparison with skills like Prowl, Concealment, and Camouflage. The contest is directly between percentages, as in Rule 2, instead of converting a d20 roll into a percentage, or vice versa.

To use perception as a percentage, the Game Master should come up with a base difficulty for the situation, to which you add your entire I.Q. score, and any Perception bonuses you may have. Perception bonuses from the old system should be multiplied by 5 to get a percentage bonus; if your skills and O.C.C. previously gave you a +3 to Perception, you now have a +15%. A very difficult check may have only a 10% base chance, but smart or observant P.C.s will have a greater chance of succeeding. An easy check may have a 60% or 70% base chance. When Perception has a contest with a skill, assume a base difficulty of 40%, giving an average person a 50/50 chance of succeeding. Since this is a skill contest, the contested skill may still succeed by rolling a higher successful check.

Rule 5: Attribute checks
Rule 5 is a method for resolving attribute checks and skill defaults by using the established d% system used in skills. A common attribute check is to roll d% under the attribute times three. An especially hard attribute check might be under attribute times two, or even the attribute itself. Conversely, an easy attribute check (the sort of thing the average person would succeed at 50% of the time) might be under the attribute times five... 50% if you have a 10 in the relevant attribute. Those with very high attributes obviously find these checks easier, but that only makes sense; they're that much smarter, stronger, or more resilient than others.

This is also a useful method of skill defaulting; if a task is especially easy, or something anyone can attempt, using a relevant attribute as the basis of a skill check is fast and simple. In this case, the attribute should be multiplied by three (giving the average person a 30% chance), and then the relevant bonuses and penalties should be assessed, just as if it were a skill check. If you are using Rule 3, however, do not add the attribute again. For example, a character with a P.S. of 15 is attempting to swim across a river, but does not have the Swimming skill. The default for this check would be 45%; penalties for rough water or bonuses for water wings would apply normally.

Rule 6: Specializing in Skills and Weapon Proficiencies
Those who wish to sacrifice versatility for additional competence may do so by spending extra skill choices on a given skill. For every additional skill spent to improve a given skill, you gain a +10% bonus, as is already common with Domestic skills. This may be done as many times as you choose. It should be noted, however, that if your OCC requires you to spend two skill selections on a skill, then you gain only +5% per additional skill slot.

Weapon Proficiencies are completely altered. At every level, you gain a +1 to strike, parry, damage, entangle, disarm or throw, or you can choose to add 10% to the base effective range of ranged weapons; this is in place of the listed bonuses. You may choose any of those options (or others your G.M. approves), but it must be different than the one selected at the previous level, and can reach no higher than +5. Thus, if you wish to be accurate with your axe, you could take a +1 to strike at 1st level, then a +1 to damage at 2nd level, and another +1 to strike at 3rd level, but you cannot take a +1 to strike at 1st and 2nd level; you have to interject another bonus between those. Your skill with an Energy Rifle may start off at +10% to range, then get a +1 to strike, and then a +1 to damage at level 3 (note that, in the case of weapons that do 1D6*10 or similar damages, this is only a +1 to the total damage, not +1 to the die roll). If you add, over several levels, +30% to the range of a weapon with a base of 100 feet, the range will be 130 feet, not 133.1 feet.

Like other skills, you can improve Weapon Proficiencies beyond their base levels by spending additional skills; each additional skill spent on a W.P. raises its level by 1, allowing you to add another bonus. If your O.C.C. requires you to spend 2 skills on the weapon proficiency, you must spend 2 skills to gain the same bonus.

Rule 7: Skill Synergies
Some skills make you better at other skills; if you are a doctor, you will be far more effective at First Aid than someone with just First Aid merit badge. To that end, any time a skill would reasonably add to another skill, you add 10% of the relevant skill's percentage. Thus, if a Medical Doctor with a 50% skill is doing something covered by First Aid, he would add +5% to his First Aid skill of 75%, giving him a total of 80% to patch a wound, treat dehydration, or wrap a sprained ankle. If he started doing surgery, however, he would only use his Medical Doctor skill... knowing how to change a dressing doesn't help with a triple bypass. If he only has Medical Doctor, he can still do many of the things associated with First Aid, but he only uses the Medical Doctor percentage.

Some skills have a bonus to another skill in their description. In that case, use either the listed bonus, or the skill synergy bonus, whichever is better.

Rule 8: Skill Percentage Simplification
Aside from Rule 9, this rule is probably the most far-reaching; it will require significant modification of NPCs if you wish to keep them using the same rules as PCs. However, it's end result is to make characters easier to build and level, without sacrificing the flexibility of Palladium's comprehensive system.

All skills are classified into one of three categories: Easy, Medium, or Hard. This classification determines their base percentage - the percentage a person will have at 1st level, without bonuses or attribute considerations. Easy skills have a base of 60%, Medium skills have a base of 45%, and Hard skills have a base of 30%. Every level after 1st, all skills improve by 5%.

For a simple example, look at the medical skills of First Aid, Paramedic, and Medical Doctor. First Aid is an Easy skill, Paramedic is a Medium skill, and Medical Doctor is a Hard skill. An 11th level character with all three, and no bonuses from O.C.C., will have a 110%, 95%, and 80% with these three skills. At 12th level, those will improve to 115%, 100%, and 85%... but will still fail on a roll of 99-00.

Most skills will fall into the category of "Medium"... they're not especially hard if you have training, but they're not easy, either. At 1st level, someone who is competent (average attributes) and trained should have a bit better than a 50% chance to succeed in them. However, some skills will be considered "Hard", or "Easy". The Hard skills may be the end of the a chain, extremely complex, or simply something beyond the ken of the character. The Easy skills are things that most people can do fairly competently, once they get the knack of it.

Some skills that might be considered Hard are: (skills are listed in order they appear on the Rifts: Ultimate Edition skill list)
Breaking/Taming Wild Horses
Electrical Engineer
Robot Electronics
Undercover Ops
Bioware Mechanics
Mechanical Engineer
Robot Mechanics
Cybernetic Medicine
Field Surgery
Medical doctor
Veterinary Science
Computer Hacking
Chemistry: Analytical

Skills that might be considered Easy are:
Computer Operation
Radio: Basic
All Domestic Skills
Basic Electronics
Basic Mechanics
Automotive Mechanics
First Aid
Military Etiquette
Small Boat

Rule 9: Simplified Skill List
While some regard Palladium's large skill list as an advantage, it can be cumbersome to others, especially if you simply want to play quickly, without spending hours creating a character. Rule 9 completely revamps the skill list. Instead of having a large number of discreet skills, the character instead invests in skill categories. You would not have Mechanical Engineer, Weapons Engineer, and Locksmith, but a single "Mechanical" skill, with varying difficulties depending on whether the task was Easy (base 60%), Medium (base 45%), or Hard (base 30%). If you wanted to pick a lock, you might roll Espionage, Rogue, or Mechanical, depending on what your best skill was, and how you approach things. Only languages and combat skills (Hand to Hand Combat and Weapon Proficiencies) are handled as discrete skills.

To determine beginning skills, first total all the skills possessed by the OCC; OCC skills, Other Skills, and Secondary Skills, but do not include languages. Divide that total by 5; that is the number of skill selections you may make; you MUST have 1 skill in every category that your OCC skills (though skills in multiple categories only need to be represented once; Pick Locks could be either a Rogue skill or an Espionage skill, so it is accounted for if you have either Rogue or Espionage). If you don't have enough skills selections to do that, then you must fulfill as many as possible. Every level at which your OCC would gain any number of skills, you gain one more skill selection (or two if both Other and Secondary skills would give you a skill at this level).

Langauges and combat skills are a special case. Each language requires an individual skill selection. You begin with the same number of languages as allotted by your OCC; they otherwise follow the same rules as other skills. Easy conversations hold little difficulty, while deciphering an ancient version of a language might carry penalties beyond a Hard check. Literacy is frequently purchased separately from speaking a language, and requires its own skill selection for each alphabet. Combat skills are ajudicated normally.

A single skill selection makes you "Trained" in a skill; you may make checks against that skill without penalty. Every additional skill spent adds +10% to all checks with that skill; those increasing Physical skills may choose to instead increase one attribute (PS, PP, PE or Spd) by two points, or add 10 to their S.D.C.. There is no per-level increase.

(Edit Note, 2016-12-13: The previous version was REALLY ugly, with varying font sizes and such. This was just a clean up)