I was originally hoping to do this in one article, but it seems that reality must beat me about the head and shoulders to get me to understand that I have explosive diarrhea of the word processor. So I have to take a page from the much-admired and much read C- and LS- of Hack & Slash and Papers & Pencils respectively, and break up the skills into articles addressing one or two skills each (likely two). The skills will be addressed in alphabetical order, and if a skill is missing, then it’ll be addressed in the clean up in the last two articles of the series. I like C’s format, so I stole it, because I’m a
thief rogue. Without further ado, we begin:
Acrobatics represents a combination of gymnastics training, smooth movement, jumping, and an inherent grace that can be refined through training and practice.
What can you do with this skill?
Balance: I have to register some disagreement with C about a skill for balancing. C says balance skills are bad game design; this is not an untrue statement. By itself, a Balance skill is worthless and too specific. Folding it into Acrobatics was a good idea. Both C and LS feel that repeatedly calling for rolls to balance is pointless and stupid (my words), and I agree. Generally speaking, you should only call for balance rolls when doing so is good for the dramatic tension; i.e. when there is a significant immediate penalty for failure, like falling a long way; or watching someone escape because you’re too damn slow on the balance beam/rope/whatever. Other than that, don’t waste time calling for these rolls. Just move the game along. In a non-time constrained situation, the PC’s will easily conquer an obstacle that requires balance. So let them.
Jump: The d20 roll is the problem here, not the skill itself or the modifiers. The numbers work out just fine for the game, ask the Alexandrian. That aside, I’ve never cared for using Acrobatics to make jumps; being a skilled jumper really is very dependent upon strength, and does not guarantee any skill at other acrobatics maneuvers. Ever seen an Olympic jumper? Built, right? How many of those guys are also competing in gymnastic events? Still, there is a certain amount of grace involved, it’s a decent compromise, and most gymnasts would likely do well in a straight up jump, since they jump around all the time. So okay, we can use Acrobatics for jumping, since we don’t want to waste time with a Jump skill. I would recommend allowing players to use Str or Dex to modify unskilled jumping: The Hulk jumps around like a Gummi Bear, and I doubt he spends a lot of time on the uneven bars. The real problem comes at middle levels and higher, where PCs with ranks in Acrobatics can casually shred the world record on average jumps. You could put some complicated fix on this, but for now I’m not that worried about it; by the time it’s possible that characters can fly around if they want to.
Reduce the impact of a fall: A minor bonus, not worth worrying about one way or the other, IMHO.
Tumbling: Either around your foes or just for fun, I don’t have much issue with this use right here. Could this use be mapped to CMB? Only the part where you evade your foes. It can also be justified with Acrobatics, and having my Ninja leap around the combat untouched by the mooks’ wild swings is totally cool.
Final Analysis: You can pretty much use this as is, with minor changes (IMHO). C is right, however, in that you could also do away with this skill without too much trouble. For right now, I’ll keep it. Use when necessary; don’t waste time on stuff that players should breeze through, or non time-constrained stuff that’s easy to conquer if given time unmolested.
Bluff represents the ability to tell falsehoods in such a manner that they will be believed. It’s is also used to feint (for some reason), and to send secret messages.
What can you do with this skill?
Telling Lies: Bluff isn’t bad as the skill for telling straight up lies, although telling people ridiculous lies is maybe a bit too easy at high levels. Then again, so is everything else at high levels. They put a Rule Zero warning in there, so might as well use it as is (except that I hate Sense Motive so use Perception instead). However…
If you need a quick lie resolution mechanic, Bluff does the job. It’s a quick pass/fail mechanic. The DM should really be able to call many of these cases, however. Social situations can be modeled with roleplaying. Sometimes, though, you don’t want to have to do more than roll a die and make the call. Do remember that this skill calls for DM discretion. Because it is a social skill, it’s always going to be kind of dodgy, and really should only be used in certain circumstances. Basically, if you know that there’s a good reason for the NPC to believe the lie (or not), don’t waste time with this. Only use it in those cases where it could fall either way, or if the players are so audacious that they try the amusingly improbable (those situations are always worth something). Don’t let your players become master Bluff artists just to game the system; hopefully if you cut them some slack they’ll prove worthy of it. Otherwise, bring the hammer down.
Feinting: Out of left field, there’s using Bluff to feint in combat. This is not a good idea. Combat is an abstraction, so why can’t we assume there’s a certain amount of feinting going on during a fight anyway? What taking an action to feint really represents is a long, elaborate deception to gain combat advantage. That’s fine, but shouldn’t combat skill be the determining factor in this case? The rules already account for this in the defense against feints, by allowing the target to use the higher of Sense Motive (a skill which needs to go, anyway) or BAB. Why, then, can a swordmaster not perform skillful, elaborate feints without also being a good liar? And why would being a good liar make you a better person at feinting in combat? Being a skilled liar does involve hiding tells, or faking them, but this does not translate directly to life-or-death combat. And a skilled combatant will learn the tricks to reading opponents, looking for in-combat reactions to determine enemy skill, but they’re probably not too concerned with which lies are being shouted at them over the clash of weapons. So no, Bluff should not be applicable in any way to feinting. There’s actually already a structure in place that is easily adaptable to feinting, the Combat Maneuver structure (LS agrees with me here). Notice that Improved Feint and Greater Feint require Combat Expertise? Thought you might have. This indicates that maybe feinting, is, y’know, a Combat Maneuver anyway. If you want to feint, use your actual combat skill (CMB, in other words) against your enemies’ CMD (+relevant modifiers, which does not include Charisma in any case). Putting aside questions of whether or not feint should be modified by the Strength bonus (like all the other combat maneuvers), I hate the idea of making Bluff a required skill to pull off this combat stunt. So let’s say maybe Improved Feint gives a +2 to feinting in combat, like most other Maneuver feats, and allows the Int bonus to be used instead of the Str (or Dex, for those cases) bonus (either or, in other words). Greater Feint grants another +2 in addition to what it already does. Yes, Rogues and Bards and Sorcerers, who could be way better at feinting than they were at actually stabbing a dude are now significantly less good at feinting, which actually makes sense. Feinting in combat has a direct relationship to how good you are at combat, not how good you are at lying. And I don’t need to hear any BS about “lying with your moves” or some garbage like that. That’s all part of being a skilled combatant anyway.
Secret Messages: Using Bluff to send secret messages also works as written for the most part. But maybe that sort of thing should be roleplayed. In most cases I don’t think Bluff should be required when two characters who know each other well are speaking in code to each other. Spotting secret messages, on the other hand, should be opposed by Bluff, but again, some subtle codes are too difficult to decipher in this manner. Secret messages should really be on a case-by-case basis, neh? It does work okay as written, though.
Final Analysis: Get rid of the ability to feint with Bluff. Use CMB vs. CMD. Change feinting, Improved Feint and Greater Feint as below. Use some discretion, CMB checks use Strength as the default; that’s not really appropriate to feint. Intelligence and Dexterity are more appropriate; a character can use Agile Maneuvers to use Dexterity instead of Strength. I’m not going to address the need to use a feat to do what should be done automatically; that’s for another article. So the feat rewrites below assume standard CMB calculations with standard available feats; only the skill relevant stuff is changed.
Feinting is a standard action. To feint, make a combat maneuver check. If successful, the next melee attack you make against the target does not allow him to use his Dexterity bonus to AC (if any). This attack must be made on or before your next turn.
When feinting against a nonhumanoid you take a –4 penalty. Against a creature of animal Intelligence (1 or 2), you take a –8 penalty. Against a creature lacking an Intelligence score, it’s impossible. Feinting in combat does not provoke attacks of opportunity.
Feinting as a Move Action: With the Improved Feint feat, you can attempt a feint as a move action.
Improved Feint (Combat) (Full Description on PFSRD)
You are skilled at fooling your opponents in combat.
Benefit: You can make a check to feint in combat as a move action. In addition, you receive a +2 bonus on checks made to feint. You also receive a +2 bonus to your Combat Maneuver Defense whenever an opponent tries to feint you.
Normal: Feinting in combat is a standard action.
Greater Feint (Combat) (Full Description on PFSRD)
You are skilled at making foes overreact to your attacks.
Benefit: Whenever you use feint to cause an opponent to lose his Dexterity bonus, he loses that bonus until the beginning of your next turn, in addition to losing his Dexterity bonus against your next attack.
Normal: A creature you feint loses its Dexterity bonus against your next attack.