Stars Without Number has a nice little skill system. A character gets skills based on background package (related to the PC’s background) and training background (related to the PC’s class). Additional skills, or higher levels with previous skills, are acquired during level advancement via skill points. The number of points required to purchase the next level in a skill increases with skill level, and the maximum skill level is capped by PC level.
Skill checks are made by rolling 2d6, adding the relevant skill’s level and appropriate attribute modifier. Skills aren’t explicitly tied to a specific attribute. An untrained skill check suffers a -1 penalty. The easiest skill checks are usually difficulty 6, and challenging skill checks face difficulties of 10 or higher.
Now, all of that said, there are two things about SWN’s skill system I don’t like:
1. The use of skill points to purchase skills.
2. PCs having a specific list of skills with associated ranks.
Explaining the first point is easy: It’s more bookkeeping, and I dislike bookkeeping. That’s pretty much it. I don’t think skill points are bad or wrong or inferior. I just don’t like there being yet another group of points that have to be accounted for.
The second point requires more explanation; so, here goes.
In my experience (emphasis: my experience), when a player sees a list of skills on a character sheet, two things pop up:
1. That list of skills are the only skills the character can use.
2. Therefore, the player limits his PC’s actions to the skill list on the character sheet.
When these two things pop up with too many players, a sort of critical mass is reached that can result in party paralysis. “Gosh! None of us have that skill. How are we supposed to succeed? This adventure sucks!” Not only does this break immersion in the game, it’s also just plain irritating. I like for the PCs in my games to be the heroes, and heroes don’t whine about how the adventure sucks. Heroes grit their teeth, suck it up, and drive on.
Here’s what I want to do with SWN instead of the core-rules way of doing things. First, I want to use the “You Lack Skills” rules presented in the Skill Checks section of the core rules. This means each PC has a skill check bonus equal to +1, +1 more for every three levels of experience, whenever attempting any activity that the player can reasonably explain as part of the PC’s background and training packages.
I’m thinking this approach gets rid of both of the things I dislike about SWN’s skill system.
I’ve also been struck by an idea Erik Tenkar mentioned in this blogpost. Erik wrote, “I’ve got some tweaking to work on with this, such as the first time a Natural 20 is rolled in a certain circumstance (picking a lock, finding tracks or swimming a turbulent river and the like) I’m going to give the PC a + 1 to that particular circumstance as a permanent bonus.” This idea has some sweetness. Modified for 2d6, the bonus could come up on an 11-12 (assuming success, for about an 8% chance of getting the bonus) or only on a 12 (for about a 3% chance of getting the bonus).
That make sense?