Fewer Absolute Effects -- Part 2

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Absolutes That Could Change
What follows is a topic-by-topic breakdown of absolute effects I think we could replace with non-absolute effects. Following each effect is my proposal on how we could make the effect a non-absolute (it's not my final word on the subject, just an initial idea on how we might go to make the transition). In some cases I put explanations in brackets as to why I think this should be. In many cases I just turned an absolute immunity to a +10 modifier to the standard saving throw--enough to give you an almost certain chance to resist a CR-appropriate encounter, but won't let you run headlong without fear into a way-too-powerful encounter.
   One idea that came up in the message board discussion about this article is that the +10 modifiers replacing the previous absolutes for class abilities could be level-based; that would prevent "cherry-picking" or "level dipping" for those classes (for example, you'd be encouraged to take more than 3 levels of paladin because your bonus against fear would start low and increase with each paladin level rather than a flat unchanging bonus).

   Elf: Sleep Immunity: Elves have a +10 bonus to saving throws against magic sleep effects. {While elves may not sleep naturally, the god of sleep ought to be able to knock them out. After all, it's not "natural" for an elven paladin to start attacking his CG elven cleric ally, but he'll do that when magically compelled to by a confusion spell and nobody seems to have a problem with that. The +10 bonus here and the low sleep DC means elves are usually immune to sleep effects, but not always.}
   Half-Elf: Sleep Immunity: Half-elves have a +10 bonus to saving throws against magic sleep effects.

   Barbarian: Improved Uncanny Dodge: No changes. {I just wanted to point out that the improved uncanny dodge ability isn't an absolute effect, as it can be overcome by a rogue of the appropriate level.}
   Druid: Venom Immunity: At 9th level, a druid gains a +10 bonus to all saving throws against poison. {A 9th-level druid shouldn't automatically be immune to the natural poison of some weird outsider, but a resistance to the mechanism is reasonable.}
   Timeless Body: No changes {Timeless body doesn't need to be changed because it's such a minor part of the game and we don't gain anything by adding a saving throw against natural ageing effects specifically for druids.}
   Monk: Purity of Body: At 5th level, a monk gains a +10 bonus to saving throws against diseases except for supernatural and magical diseases.
   Diamond Body: At 11th level, a monk gains a +10 bonus to all saving throws against poison. {Same explanation as the druid's ability.}
   Timeless Body: No changes {Same explanation as the druid ability.}
   Paladin: Aura of Courage: Beginning at 3rd level, a paladin gains a +10 bonus to saving throws against fear effects (magical or otherwise). Each ally within 10 feet of her gains a +4 morale bonus on saving throws against fear effects. {It doesn't make sense that a Pal3 with perhaps a +4 Will save is immune to the DC 38 frightful presence of a great wyrm red dragon.}
   Divine Health: At 3rd level, a paladin gains a +10 bonus to saving throws against diseases, including for supernatural and magical diseases.
   Ranger: Evasion: No change, for now. {Multipliers for damage and other effects are the topic for a different rant; for now let's just leave evasion alone.}
   Hide in Plain Sight: While in any sort of natural terrain, a ranger of 17th level or higher can use the Hide skill even while being observed at a -10 penalty to his Hide check.
   Rogue: Evasion: {Same issue as ranger.}
   Improved Uncanny Dodge: {Same as barbarian.}
   Improved Evasion: {Same issue as evasion.}
   Wizard: Prohibited Schools: A wizard can learn spells from his or her prohibited school, but they are treated as 2 levels higher than normal for all purposes where it is disadvantageous for the wizard (for example, learning, preparing, or determining prices for item crafting use the higher effective spell level, but not spell DCs or penetrating a globe of invulnerability). She may even use her 2 bonus spells known at each wizard level for this purpose if she takes the penalty into account. If she learns a prohibited spell, that spell is on her spell list (allowing her to use that spell from spell trigger or spell completion items). {Thanks to rolflyn for suggesting this mechanic. Originally I had proposed allowing the wizard to learn the spell if they made a Spellcraft check at a penalty, but that means there's no way to know if a new player bringing a specialist wizard (with many prohibited spells) from another campaign was really lucky when he made those rolls ... or if he cheated. This way, there's no randomness, no way to hide cheating, and it's an established mechanic.}
   {For a class that is all about learning, it doesn't make sense that an entire spell type is absolutely forbidden to them. It should be difficult, representing a school of thought they don't agree with or avoided, but not impossible.}

A meta-comment on skills: There's no reason to have absolutes on skills, such as class restrictions or trained-only restrictions. The unlimited-scaling nature of skill DCs and the effective maximum skill bonuses for "normal" people means you can make certain skill checks "impossible" to normal people just by giving them very high DCs (above 25), and if certain exceptional characters can reach those DCs, whether by training or magic and even with penalties, that's okay--adventurers aren't "normal."
   The values I suggest here are somewhat arbitrary. Ideally if we were to drop absolutes from the skills system we'd re-evaluate all DCs for all skills because some of the trained-only skills use DCs that assume only trained characters can attempt them (when in an open system they'd be a little more difficult to reflect the average person's untrained skill level). Until that time, it might also be simpler to just give a flat penalty (say +5 or +10) to all of these newly-useable-untrained skills rather than having to refer to this document for what numbers I chose.

And if you're worried about epic characters making skill checks that only rogues should do, stop worrying--if a Ftr30 somehow manages a +15 Search check modifier, he's not stealing the thunder of the 5th-level rogue if you let him find DC 21+ traps ... because he's not adventuring with a 5th-level rogue.

   Decipher Script: This is not a trained-only skill. If you have no ranks in Decipher Script, increase the DC of all Decipher Script checks by +10. {I know enough Spanish to be able to puzzle out the general meaning of something written in any romance language. I may get it wrong, but I can find word similarities. I won't be able to figure out anything in Sanskrit or kanki or in English-text versions of words normally written in those scripts, but that just means the DCs are too high for me.}
   Disable Device: This is not a trained-only skill. If you have no ranks in Disable Device, increase the DC of all Disable Device checks by +10. {I may not have any ranks in Disable Device, but I know I could jam a lock (DC 10+10) if I had to; a toothpick or wires in the right place ought do it, it would just take me a few tries. I'd have a hard time sabotaging a wagon wheel (I'd need some tools to get that DC 15+10) and would have no chance disabling or resetting a mechanical trap (DC 20+10).}
   Any character (not just a rogue) who beats a trapšs DC by 10 or more can study the trap, figure out how it works, and bypass it (along with her companions) without disarming it. {The +10 for untrained covers the added difficulty, no need to make this feature class-exclusive.}
   Characters can disarm magic traps. A magic trap generally has a DC of 25 + the spell level of the magic used to create it. The spells fire trap, glyph of warding, symbol, and teleportation circle also create traps that a character can disarm with a successful Disable Device check. Spike growth and spike stones, however, create magic traps against which Disable Device checks do not succeed. See the individual spell descriptions for details. {The +10 for untrained covers the added difficulty, no need to make this feature class-exclusive.}
   Handle Animal: This is not a trained-only skill. If you have no ranks in Handle Animal, increase the DC of all Handle Animal checks to teach, rear, or train an animal by +10 (you can handle and push animals untrained without the penalty). {Just because you're untrained in handling animals doesn't mean think that punching an animal in the face is the best way to make it do what you want. The +10 modifier means the untrained character has no chance of training an animal, but can still get the animal to perform existing tricks.}
   Knowledge: This is not a trained-only skill. If you have no ranks in Knowledge, increase the DC of all Knowledge checks by +10. {Just because you're untrained in a certain area of knowledge doesn't mean you didn't pick up some random bit of knowledge on a particular topic. I'm not trained in linguistics but I know a lot of odd things about certain languages; I'm not trained in dance history or acting or photography but I have snippets of specialized knowledge in those fields. In a modern setting where standardized education is common, I'd consider reducing the +10 modifier to +5 to reflect a greater access to basic knowledge in many areas.}
   Open Lock: This is not a trained-only skill. If you have no ranks in Open Lock, increase the DC of all Open Lock checks by +5. {Just because you're untrained in picking locks doesn't mean you can't get lucky in certain circumstances. Remember that the easiest lock is your "giant keyhole" medieval lock ... given enough tries with some stiff wire I could probably move those cylinders and open the lock. For anything more difficult that I'm going to have to chance, but that's already built into the high DC and I don't need an extra trained-only barrier for that (one d20 adage is "don't model the same thing twice").}
   Profession: This is not a trained-only skill. If you have no ranks in Profession, modify the result of all Profession checks by -10. {Just because I don't have any ranks in Profession (inkeeper) doesn't mean I should have no ability to earn money if innkeeperdom is thrust upon me.
   This variant is presented as a penalty rather than a DC increase because most Profession rolls to make money don't have a DC, it's the result that matters.    It's interesting to note that in the d20 SRD, Profession is a trained-only skill while Craft is not. So according to the SRD, I can pick up a hammer and start earning money as a (bad) blacksmith, but if I'm not trained as a miner, herder, innkeeper, woodcutter, and so on I'm forced to accept pay as an untrained laborer.}

   Search: There is no class or race-based restriction on using this skill (no uses of the skill are limited to rogues or dwarves). {The DCs for tough traps, particularly magic traps, are high enough that only characters with Search as a class skill are going to have much of a chance of finding them at all.
   Basically in core d20 there are two barriers to finding traps: the high DCs (which require a large skill point investment and mean that only the ranger and rogue have any chance of reaching them because they're the only two core classes with Search as a class skill), and the rogue restriction. As rangers and rogues are the only classes that have a chance of hitting those high DCs, the rogue restriction is basically a "rangers can't do this" rule, and that's lame. Is Aragorn unable to spot traps? Is prince Gwydion of Prydain unable to spot traps? Simply because they're rangers rather than rogues? I think not.    And we don't need to boost the DCs for non-rogues because they're already high as it is, and boosting them would be just another artificial barrier for the Search-cross-class character classes.}

   Sleight Of Hand: This is not a trained-only skill. {I might be able to perform any of these feats untrained as a lucky break, so why put that barrier of entry there? Skills are supposed to be different than feats--skills are things that you can get better at, feats are things you either can or can't do if you have or don't have the feat. Putting the "trained only" tag on some uses of this skill is very un-skill-like. If it's difficult, it's difficult, and whether or not I spent 1 skill point (or 2, if cross-class) shouldn't be the difference between whether it's possible at all or completely impossible even with a +100 bonus to my Dexterity.}
   Speak Language: No change. {This is one of those times where the game makes an absolute assumption--you either know a language or you don't--to make gameplay easier. As written, we don't need to worry about characters learning "pidgin" amounts of a language, and in the current skill system (1 skill point for a new language, 2 if it's a cross-class skill) it's not easy to present a reasonable way to model partial-fluency, especially as the core system doesn't take into account any world-specific issues like language families that would complexify the numbers. Lacking a specific world-setting, it's better to leave the core skill simple.}
   Spellcraft: This is not a trained-only skill. If you have no ranks in Spellcraft, increase the DC of all Spellcraft checks by +5. {Spellcraft DCs are already pretty high, starting with a base of 15 rather than 10, so we only need a +5 modifier to push these out of the range of a "normal" person's ability, as you always add the spell level.}
   Survival: Characters without the Track feat can follow tracks with a DC of 11+, but they treat the DC as +10 higher than normal. {Thus, the Track feat is still very useful, but it's not absolutely necessary. This also means that adventures requiring some tracking skill are no longer useless if you don't have a ranger in the party. Note that the skill's original text that says "only a ranger or a character with the Track feat" is redundant, as all rangers have the Track feat, so you just need to say "only characters with the Track feat").}
   Tumble: This is not a trained-only skill. If you have no ranks in Tumble, increase the DC of all Tumble checks by +5. {Tumble DCs are already pretty high, starting with a base of 15 rather than 10, so we only need a +5 modifier to make these very difficult for a "normal" person--tumbling through a threatened area becomes DC 20, for example, which means even Miss Dexterity 20 has a very difficult time of it but still has a chance.}
   Use Magic Device: This is not a trained-only skill. If you have no ranks in Use Magic Device, increase the DC of all Use Magic Device checks by +5. {How often in fantasy books and movies do we see someone somehow manage to activate a magic item when they're not trained to do so? Often enough that we should open the skill up to everyone, not just trained users--the DCs are high enough to make it rare and special when it happens. I'd be tempted to actually drop the +5 modifier because the UMD DCs are already really high.}

More to come....