APTS Skill System

Overview

A recent wave of RPGs use player-defined skills to take the place of both traditional attributes and skills. The reasoning is that it is only the final value which matters in play, and other layers of mechanics slow down the game. Furthermore, a single layer gives players the flexibility to define their own skills, which allows for their creativity.

While these advantages are great, the traditional attribute/skill split allows for more flexibility in-game, because it allows the players the ability to handle problems either with a specific skill, if one is appropriate, or a general skill otherwise. Typical systems are riddled with “efficiency clusters” (eg cases of even numbered attributes are low in D&Dv3.5) or in economy cheating (eg getting more out than you put in, as some point systems accidentally allow).

I propose the APTS system as an alternative to both. It should provide the advantages of both systems, without having efficiency clusters nor allowing economy cheating. The expense of this is that unique skill-check situations will require three additions to come to a final value, instead of one as in many attribute skill systems.

Attributes

Attributes are the set of qualities that are common to all creatures of a type (or even, a given body type, such as Humanoid). That the list of attributes is the same for many is assumed, but special creatures may have their own or a modified list. EG maybe R2D2 Droids have no Agility scores, only Turn and Move rates, but have multiple Dexterity scores (for individual arm-like components). There may also be exceptions; a character who lost his arms in a grievous accident wouldn’t have a Dexterity score at all.

Professions

Despite the name, a player can choose almost anything they can think of as a profession, and their character need not be employed in such a field. Professions are fairly general, involving a narrower range of specific skills than an Attribute, but not so narrow that it can be defined as a Technique. For example, Olympic Long Jumper would be better as a technique, but you couldn’t call “Cat Burglar” a technique because it involves too wide a variety of skills (eg lock-picking, moving silently, hiding, climbing, jumping, etc.). Note that many professions might be thrown in a single niche in a standard campaign, but the player must choose their wording carefully. For example, Profession (Knight) would be very different from Profession (Foot-soldier) because, while they’re both excellent fighters, the former hints at the ability to ride a horse and the latter hints at the ability to use makeshift weapons as easily as their sword. Points put into a profession are worth double (x2).

Techniques

Unlike Professions, which encompass a wide variety of skills in a domain, Techniques are better defined as a set of related skills in a domain, and are therefore narrower in their application than Professions. Techniques in the combat domain might include bladed-weapons, shield-usage, jiu-jitsu, or karate. Techniques in the thiefly domain might include stealth, poison-use, or even salesmanship (for fences). Points put into a technique are worth five times that amount (x5).

Specializations

A specialization is a very well-defined, specific skill, and it provides the greatest mechanical benefit. However, the price of this benefit is the lack of generality itself. Possible specializations are: longsword, mace, heavy shield, tower shield, flying kick, roundhouse, open locks, move silently, etc. Specializations must be balanced with techniques and/or professions carefully; eg a fighter that can wield a longsword brilliantly, but nothing else, is screwed if that weapon is stolen or broken. Similarly, a sneaky thief that can only move silently, but has no talent in hiding or deception, will probably get hanged very quickly. Points put into a specialization are worth ten times the value (x10).

The APTS System in Play

Using the system is straightforward. For any given situation requiring a skill check, the player chooses an attribute and at most one skill from each of the PTS skill categories, and uses the formula:
AttackScore = (1 x Attribute) + (2 x Profession) + (5 x Technique) + (10 x Specialization)
The terms are calculated ahead of time, but the sum is performed on the fly, depending on the skill check. The GM can veto their choices if inappropriate: lock-picking shouldn’t depend on Strength, or on Shield-usage. The result is the Attack Score for that skill check, and so the check is resolved as normal.

Example Characters

Durkon Thundershield
Professions (x2)
Techniques (x5)

Strength
400
  • Cleric of Thor
40à80

  • Shield-use
40à200

Agility
100
  • Field Medic
60à120

  • Basic Weapons
40à200

Dexterity
50



  • Martial Weapons
60à300

Intuition
250
Specializations (x10)


  • Healing Spells
40à200

Intelligence
150
  • Heavy Shield
20à200






  • Dwarven Hammer
60à600








Mordak Killcaster

Professions (x2)
Specializations (x10)
Strength
50

  • Red Wizard
50à100

  • Longsword
50à500
Agility
300




  • Conjure
Elemental

Dexterity
150

Techniques (x5)


60à600
Intuition
50

  • Fire Domain
100à500



Intelligence
450

  • Conjuration
100à500
















The APTS System in Play

Character
Challenge
Possible Skill Checks

Durkon
Block the dragon’s claw attack
Strength + Shield Use + Heavy Shield
800
Durkon
Defend a partner with a metal shield, while using a shocking wand through the metal
Agility + Cleric of Thor + Shield-use
+ Heavy Shield
580
Durkon
Magically enhance a shield with a healing spell that depends on medicinal knowledge
Intelligence + Field Medic
+ Healing Spells
470
Mordak
Conjure a water elemental
Intelligence + Red Wizard
+ Conjuration + Conjure Elemental
1650
Mordak
Wield a magical longsword inhabited by a fire elemental
Agility + Fire Domain + Longsword
1300
Mordak
Determine what spell an enemy Red Wizard is casting
Intuition + Red Wizard
150
Mordak
Determine if an enemy Red Wizard is attempting to conjure a fire elemental
Intuition + Red Wizard
+ Fire Domain + Conjure Elemental
1250
Although both characters have 1000 points in Attributes and 360 points in skills, Durkon has a more generalized set of skills and can much more easily deal with a wide variety of situations. Mordak, on the other hand, has the benefit of having a lot of punch in his chosen area: conjuring fire elementals. In a competition, Mordak will kick ass only if the conditions are right (ie full health, longsword in hand, 100% resources, not taken by surprise). In anything less than perfect conditions, Durkon will have a significant advantage.