Sneaking, Class Skills

The Five Moons RPG playtest has been delayed because I’ve been fiddling with bits of the skills system.

Sneaking

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, Stealth in 3E/PF is a little wonky, and–because creatures are assumed to be looking in all directions at once–basically you can’t use Stealth if there isn’t cover or concealment.

In the Skills chapter of the playtest, the Sneak skill explains that to use it, you need at least one of the following: concealment, cover, or what I’m calling Inattention—taking advantage of your enemy looking in the wrong direction.

So unless there’s a really strange circumstance where an enemy absolutely cannot look away from where you are (like a motionless robot pointed at the door you need to go through), you probably have inattention against your opponent. If you pass the Sneak roll, you were able to move up while your enemy was looking the other way. If you fail the Sneak roll, your enemy happened to look in your direction and notice you.

Class Skills

I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that you get to pick which of your skills are class skills, and your class tells you how many class skills you can pick. So if you were a warrior who wanted Diplomacy and Spellcraft as class skills, you could, and if you were a wizard who wanted Climb and Perception as class skills, you could.

Then I got to thinking about why class skills are in the game.

In 3E, they were prebuilt into your class, based on the stereotypical example of what that class is supposed to do or be. So fighters were good at athletic things, wizards were good at magic and knowledge, rogues were good at lockpicking and sneaking, and so on. And the difference between class skills and crossclass skills was that crossclass skills cost more points to level up. But in 3E, you got x4 skill points at level 1, so had a lot of points to play with, and you could throw a few spare points into unusual/crossclass skills, even if you only got 1/2 value for it. And you could buy up to your level + 3 in a skill, so a 1st-level character could have a +2 (because your 4 points in that skill count for half, so 4÷2=2) (plus ability mod) in a skill.

In PF, they dropped the “crossclass skills cost double” setup, which meant investing in crossclass skills was a lot more effective. And they created the “if you have a least 1 rank in a class skill, you get a +3 on rolls with that skill” rule. So you could still be a 1st-level character with a +4 (plus ability mod) in a skill. But PF also reduced the number of skill ranks you got (only x1 at 1st level instead of x4), so you couldn’t build a character who had a little bit of training in a lot of skills.

[For example, a 3E fighter started with 2 x 4 = 8 skill points, and if that fighter wanted to put 1 in Diplomacy, Knowledge (arcana), Move Silently, and Open Lock (and put the rest in class skills), they could. But that same fighter in PF only has 2 skill ranks, which pretty much locks them into an essential skill like Perception and maybe another fighter-relevant one like Climb.]

And the PF fighter still has the same problem that the 3E fighter does: their class skills are whatever the designer decided the typical fighter should have. If you wanted your fighter (or wizard, or rogue, or whatever) to be like Indiana Jones, you’d have a hard time picking the necessary skills at level 1, and you’d have to spend some points on crossclass skills to get the proper training. (You could build an archeologist adventurer by using an archetype to change up your class skills, but there may not be an archetype that has the assortment for your character concept.)

[I mentioned the “running low on skill ranks” problem to Jason around the time the Core Rulebook was published, and he agreed it was a problem, and that we should think about putting a feat in the then-upcoming Advanced Player’s Guide that would give you more skill ranks (or at least let you choose 4 skills to get a +1 in), especially at level 1. But apparently we both forgot about it because I don’t think anything like it ever appeared in the core books.]

In Five Moons RPG, given that idea is to really broaden the flexibility of what characters are allowed to learn (in that any character can learn any cronk, spell, or stunt, regardless of class), and because I want a similar flexible setup for skills, I’m throwing out the concept of class skills and crossclass skills. So in the playtest you’ll see:

• Characters have a lot of skill points to spend, even at 1st level.

• There’s no concept of a pre-set “class skill” decided by your class. You put points into whatever skill you want, at a 1-for-1 cost.

The plan is that this will give characters the “small buy-ins to many skills” option of 3E with the “all buy-ins are +1 for 1 rank” option of PF. So if you want an athletic wizard, or scholarly rogue, or magic-dabbling warrior, you can create that, because you are deciding what skills are important for your character.

Ok, now back to work on this playtest document! It’s only 40 pages so far…

Rogue Stealth

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37 thoughts on “Sneaking, Class Skills

  1. THANK YOU, I’ve always been so strong minded about the fact as to Fighters getting so FEW skill points (Honestly people say oh but wizards ALSO have only 2 skill points…YEAH BUT THEY HAVE INT AS PRIMARY. Many people always ask me why I didn’t do the same to paladins or clerics whom also have 2 skill points…easy, they have spells that let them ring up their gods for answers.) and I’ve always given fighters base 4+ and access to many more non-fighter skills as long as players could ‘make it believable’ EG Fighters constantly battling the forces of the hells would of course have Knowledge (Planes ..or Hells) as a skill.
    So having more skill points to play around with will be an awesome thing for fighters.

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  2. For our current campaign (WotR), I gave my players an extra 4 skill points per level. It broadens everyone’s skill sets and makes everyone more useful in the exploration and role-playing phase of the game. As those are really my favorite parts of the game it lets me tinker with skill based encounters more without leaving certain classes doing nothing. I’ve still find even with the extra skills my group still has trouble with certain skills, lately Knowledge (local & nobility).

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  3. Very glad to hear this, was something I’ve been advocating for years and have occasionally been baffled by how much push back I’ll get from players.

    “What if my character is a talented spear fighter who learned their skills while traveling with his teacher, and they spent all of their time in remote wilderness areas, they would have Survival and Knowledge (Nature) as class skills right?”

    “Then they’d be a Ranger.”

    “No, they don’t know magic and don’t have a wolf companion or anything.”

    “Then they’re putting all of their points into cross-class skills, which seems silly.”

    “Exactly my point!”

    If players are continually provided the tools to make their characters uniquely their own, I foresee having no trouble sharing this game with others.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks for putting this together, Sean K. Reynolds. The Pathfinder part concerns me especially because I was working on an article that talked about how tight skills are for the 2 + Int characters. Even at higher levels its frustrating to have so few skill points because you’re very limited in what you can do skill-wise, and that leads to skills being relatively marginalized; the GM needs to have ways around bad skill rolls because they’re all essentially save-or-suck effects. Its why I assume that nothing like 4E’s skill challenges could have ever evolved in Pathfinder; you can’t challenge everyone with cool school scenarios if less than 1/3 in the classes in the game are even remotely proficient in handling said challenges. It also doesn’t help that the community has this idea that having skills should be something that’s delegated to a single character.

    I always find it funny when I sit down at the table with a Pathfinder Society Fighter, Paladin, or Cavalier. Its like, “You don’t have ANY of the Knowledge-based interests that the Society possses. Why on Golarion are you a member of their organization?”

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  5. I like that you are finally getting rid of the idea of class skills. As any number of people have noted, it gets in the way of a number of reasonable character concepts.

    On the sneaking, I would like to suggest you provide a way for a character to try and tell when someone is inattentive. I would suggest Sense Motive sine it would then also cover when the guard or others are trying to appear as if they were not paying attention.

    Sine there will be more skill points, do you plan to keep Perception the super-skill that it currently is in Pathfinder, or will you split It?

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    • Thanks for the “roll to see if they’re inattentive” idea, that makes sense.
      I’m keeping Perception (or Sense, as I call it) as one unified skill instead of Listen/Spot. I get that you can be good at one and not the other, but for *game* purposes separating them is (IMO) a needless complication. And I’m actually folding Appraise and Sense Motive into the Sense skill, because knowing how to spot a fake gem, a lurking assassin, or a feint or lie don’t need to be separate “I’m good at noticing things” skills.

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      • {Thanks for the “roll to see if they’re inattentive” idea, that makes sense.}

        It does make a certain logical sense, but it would mean you need to succeed two rolls every time you try to stealth, which drops the success rate dramatically. I think it would be better mechanically to just say that checking a target’s attentiveness is part of the stealth roll. That is an ongoing aspect of stealth anyway.

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      • I’m going with more of a “if you think they’re *faking* being inattentive, you can roll Sense vs. Bluff if you want to.” The sidebar I just wrote says you usually just need to observe the enemy for a little while to get a sense of how often they are inattentive, so you know when to time your sneak attempt. I agree that requiring a double roll would be annoying and reduce your effectiveness.

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      • That makes sense.

        Will there be potential for stealthing in combat? I ask because it seems possible to have “stealth” against a particular opponent, without regard to actually being in a “stealth mode,” and because your stealth against them isn’t automatically negated just because anyone else can see you. Does that make sense?

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      • 1) Yes, you can sneak in combat. You can even try to sneak it combat against someone who has noticed you (under the same circumstances as getting stealth in the first place: concealment, cover, or inattention), but there’s a penalty on the roll.
        2) The Sneak skill description says that it’s actually possible for you to have stealth against some observers and not others. So you could enter “stealth mode” (which means you’re moving more slowly) against one enemy even though other enemies can see you just fine.

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      • I wouldn’t put Appraise into Sense – the Perception is only a small fraction of that skill and is more about knowing about value of things… By merging those two you will end with druids, rangers, barbarians, and similar sort of guys being the best at appraising things instead of merchants. Appraising should be an application of Craft and Profession skills (if there will be such), or part of something like Trade/Economics/Business skill.

        Sense Motive as a part of Sense skill makes more sense but it still would work better to be part of some sort of social skill – or again the best at seeing past deception will be jungle boy that never seen a human being in his or her life.

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      • {I wouldn’t put Appraise into Sense – the Perception is only a small fraction of that skill and is more about knowing about value of things…}

        Appraise in 3E is half “this looks more valuable than the other” and half “historically, this item has value regardless of the materials it’s made of.” I’m fine with Sense/Perc covering the former and a Knowledge skill covering the latter (or, as you suggested, Craft or Profession).

        {By merging those two you will end with druids, rangers, barbarians, and similar sort of guys being the best at appraising things instead of merchants.}

        Nah, because class skills are no longer assigned to classes, so 3E classes with Perc as a class skill aren’t naturally better at Appraising… anyone can be good at the general concept of “I am good at noticing things.”

        {Sense Motive as a part of Sense skill makes more sense but it still would work better to be part of some sort of social skill – or again the best at seeing past deception will be jungle boy that never seen a human being in his or her life.}

        Recognizing visual cues is something that can be trained, even to jungle boy or someone who is autistic. 🙂

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      • {Nah, because class skills are no longer assigned to classes, so 3E classes with Perc as a class skill aren’t naturally better at Appraising… anyone can be good at the general concept of “I am good at noticing things.”}

        My bad – I didn’t mean in the strict class sense, but in the character-ideas-expected-to-be-good-at-noticing-things (but not necessarily good at knowing worth of things) sense.

        {Recognizing visual cues is something that can be trained, even to jungle boy or someone who is autistic.}

        Of course but that training isn’t exactly part of part of the core of Sense/Perception skill but additional training that shouldn’t probably be a core assumption. Otherwise we will end with people not being be able to create characters that are highly perceptive of the world and potential dangers, but at the same time socially oblivious.

        Maybe something along the line: skill/action section would describe a number of typical activities with a default skill associated with it and a number of feats/talents/traits/skill tricks available for various characters that allow performing that activity using an alternate skill… (note: after I wrote that it occurred to me that something like this already exist in Fate, where characters can select stunts that allow using one skill in place of other for certain purposes)

        Example: Appraising usually involves a Craft or Knowledge check but you can take “Eye For Valuables” that allows appraising with Sense check. If that would be a feat then it should probably also grant additional benefits related to evaluation, appraise, and such, to make it a worthwhile investment of a limited resource. If it would be something like a skill trick it might work just like that. Maybe a skill trick could be a way of spending skill ranks to improve effects of a skill?

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      • {Of course but that training isn’t exactly part of part of the core of Sense/Perception skill but additional training that shouldn’t probably be a core assumption. Otherwise we will end with people not being be able to create characters that are highly perceptive of the world and potential dangers, but at the same time socially oblivious.}

        There is a middle ground, otherwise we end up with separate skills for humanoid visual social cues, humanoid verbal social cues, humanoid posture social cues, canine physical cues, feline physical cues, sensing a creep is sneaking up on you, recognizing that this gem is paste instead of real, and so on.

        However, I do see your point, and there are avenues for feats allowing additional bonuses in certain areas. So you could have the “good at noticing lies” Perception bonus feat, the “good at noticing creepers” Perception bonus feat, the “good at noticing traps” Perception bonus feat, and so on. Which allows you to create a character who has some skill in general perception, but increased bonuses against a subset of perception.

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  6. So you simply get an amount of skill points each level based on your class and then can get feats that grant big bonuses?

    I must admit that when building characters using the prototype playtest packet, class skills felt a little odd. Since you can pick your class skills, they’re basically just a different type of skill point that gives you a +3 instead of increasing your rank.

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    • Yes to your question.
      And yes, the oddness you felt in the pre-alpha playtest is a symptom of the rules not fully embracing the flexibility that I’m using now. (The upcoming playtest won’t give you the +3 for it being a class skill… you’ll have enough ranks to buy up to the limit on your own without a free bonus.)

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      • Aye, I’d consider it good that the pre-alpha indicates what works and doesn’t work.

        *Shakes a fist at WordPress for changing what account he’s using. Bad enough I can’t decide how to manage and utilize my social media accounts!*

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      • Would it be too bold to suggest that all characters get the same number of skill points? It allows a sense of equity for character generation as everyone can be as fleshed out mechanically as everyone else. And as far as how to differentiate more skill-focused classes, perhaps they get something akin to skill focus for free, or gain access to particular uses of their Boosts that provide them an edge with their skills?

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      • {Would it be too bold to suggest that all characters get the same number of skill points?}

        They’ll be much closer to each other than they are in PF, but there is merit in having different values for each. Frex, the wizard is mainly INT-based, so the wizards don’t need as many skill points per level because their INT makes up for it. And you want the default rogue to have more skill points than the default wizard (regardless of INT differences). So you can set them to (frex) rogue 6, warrior 4, wizard 4, so everyone has a nice amount but the skill-based rogue is still ahead (because skills are their focus).

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  7. Excellent. We House Ruled both 3.x and PF to get rid of Cross-Class skills, as we put the emphasis on players creating and playing the character they wanted, not the one the system thought they play.

    I also love your Sneak rules, as they mirror what we used to do, and it gives stealth characters of the functionality that they should have—just look at how many times you sneak in video games like Batman Arkham Asylum/City for the Assassin’s Creed series. Most the time it’s because the enemy is not paying attention, and you have a stealth meter or detection range to determine if you’re within their sphere of inattention.

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  8. What I don’t understand is why, if you want completely customizable classes where anyone can take whichever spell, stunt, or ability they want, do you still have classes and levels at all?
    Just throw that ancient crap away and go to a point-based (or Shadowrun-style priority-based) build for true customization.

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    • I think I mentioned this in another blog post, but the main reasons are:
      * I’m more familiar and comfortable with a level-based system, so designing for it is easier and more comfortable for me.
      * I don’t like the ambiguity of “you start with 30 points to build your character” … “is that good?” People understand that if you’re a level 1 character, you’re just starting out.
      * It’s nice to have some params that come automatically with levels. Like “I know a level X character has at least Y skill ranks and Z health,” whereas a point system would allow someone to build a character that skews widely from that.
      I dunno… perhaps in 7 1/2 years, Five Moons Second Edition might go point-based. :p

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      • I think SKR nailed it, having a class system is advantageous to having a good idea of what characters need to look like through its gamespan. So you know at what various levels the challenges should look like, the abilities to overcome those challenges, and how numbers scale too. It’s also a power level thing, so you know what “tiers” or range of power PC’s should be capable of (given in SR, have idea of 100BP or 250Karma PC’s are “Prime Runners” that more or less reach SR’s equivalent of High Level play. So it can be replicated w/point systems as well, but yeah).

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    • I really like Shadowrun’s priority system. However, that game so strongly reinforces archetypes that I often feel like it *should* be class-based, even if loosely so. Each archetype has so many special rules and exceptions.

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      • I agree that the game almost has classes with its archetypes, independent of the “Priority system”. If you haven’t already, I’d suggest checking out 4th edition Shadowrun, it even brought in the Priority system in Runners Companion supplement as a houserule.

        However, given how clunky that system is, why is the Priority system something you favor? Even back then, what it was intended for, it didn’t do well, it’s not really a good system. Even barring that, it encourages boxing in characters in a point-based game, which are predicated on allowing you to play the character you want in the first place.

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      • I read the priority system in Shadowrun 5th Edition. I thought it was well done. I like it because it’s a user-friendly way of letting a player make trade-offs about their character options.

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  9. [For example, a 3E fighter started with 2 x 4 = 8 skill points, and if that fighter wanted to put 1 in Diplomacy, Knowledge (arcana), Move Silently, and Open Lock (and put the rest in class skills), they could. But that same fighter in PF only has 2 skill ranks, which pretty much locks them into an essential skill like Perception and maybe another fighter-relevant one like Climb.]

    It was actually worse than this in 3.0/3.5 as putting those ranks into cross class skills cost double, therefore you would have nothing left over for class skills at that point (4 cross class skills = 8 points). Why most characters I saw never bothered with cross class skills as you get hit double hard and it is just plain not worth the price to pay 2 to raise a skill 1 point.

    Like what I’m seeing here, though! Especially stealth which is rather messy in Pathfinder currently. Are you thinking of putting a cap on the number of skill points you can put into a given skill at 1st/other levels? If so how much?

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    • Yes, there’s a cap, because otherwise it’s really easy to dump a ton of points in a skill at 1st level and create an inflated bonus that other character’s can’t match unless they also dump a ton of points into the opposed skill.

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      • Do you have some general intent (obviously prone to change during the future development)? Personally I disliked 3.0/3.5 level +3, half for cross-class skills. Pathfinder simple cap of 1 rank per level is a more to my liking but it still has lots of issues…

        Have you considered making non-level based cap for skill ranks that would be the same for all the characters to avoid inflation of skills (say anyone can have up to ten skill ranks), at least until other resources like feats or class features/talents* are invested into skill to go above mundane limits?

        (by talents I mean selectable class features like rogue talents in Pathfinder)

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      • The level cap exists to a 1st-level high-skill-ranks-per-level class could have 12 or 16 ranks in Sneak at 1st level, which means it would be impossible for other level-appropriate creatures to detect that, which is lame.

        Feats and other class features will augment not only your skill bonus, but what you can do with the skill.

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      • {Have you considered making non-level based cap for skill ranks that would be the same for all the characters to avoid inflation of skills }

        Do you mean more like a modifier cap, such as like Fantasy/Spy Craft, where ye could only have up to +25? or something like that in a skill. So that it would discourage PC’s from wanting to invest too much into a given skill or such? Otherwise, I’m not sure why you want to encourage PC’s breaking the RNG day one, with independent max ranks, as all it does is encourage PC’s to hyperspecialize into a skill, becoming more narrow (or inviting them to waste their resources, also bad for a new game).

        Regardless, there’s already the implied issue of having greatly divergent bonuses in skills. A specialized character can easily have +12-13 bonus, vs. +1-6 or none. (+5 proficiency, +5 from a power, +2 stat, and +1 rank?).

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  10. {t. If you pass the Sneak roll, you were able to move up while your enemy was looking the other way. If you fail the Sneak roll, your enemy happened to look in your direction and notice you. }

    This “inattention” rule, really just sounds like the flavor coming from having rolled a high-enough Stealth Check. Though I suppose its interesting that you only need one of three criteria, could mean that Stealth users can almost always stealth? I know mentioned “at least” so could be other factors that I imagine the system may cover. A common stealth use, is being able to stealth down a hallway following a guard patrolling it, I imagine the lack of “inattention” in that situation would allow that to be simulated?

    {There’s no concept of a pre-set “class skill” decided by your class. You put points into whatever skill you want, at a 1-for-1 cost.}

    For Skills, I’m glad to see it go the way of the Do-Do there. For last few years, I’ve mostly not cared for what’s Class skill or not in my games, simply letting people take whatever (after all, PC’s will take skills relevant to what they built for their PC). If really needed, the class skills could serve as “suggestions”, which case, I imagine the same entries could suggest skills for the new players. Which, I think SKR mentioned that as an idea for when showing specialization-examples (such as, Swashbuckler takes X powers, Y Skills, this spec,etc.)

    Going farther than that, I also took to an idea of Shadowrun, where you had “Main Skills’ and free points to spend on “Knowledge” (“fun” skills basically) skills. Which in D&D, divorced Craft, Knowledge, Perform, and Profession into “knowledge” in this case, so even Fighters could be cobblers if they wanted, when not doing their adventuring.

    Isn’t there also skill specializations? so people will have general class of skills, then +5 to specific function within that skill? So might have “sense” with “sight +5”, or “Sense Motive equivalent having Appraise +5” ?

    Lastly, I’ve found that Pathfinder’s skills system didn’t go far enough, 10 knowledge skills were rather redundant, and could easily be combed down to 5.

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  11. I think the whole “can’t sneak past anybody” stuff started for us when we started to play with a grid. In a grid, characters move through squares, and people have 360º vision. Before we had grids (in AD&D and such), that wasn’t a problem, because sneaking (like many other stuff) happened in the Theater of Mind.
    As a rogue, in AD&D, I just asked the DM “is the sentry looking to this side”. If answer was “yes”, then I’d stay hidden. Once the DM tells me “It looks like he’s looking through the window now” or “it seems like he’s distracted eating something” or whatever, then I tried to move silently and backstab him (in the old days, when people had backs that you could stab, instead of being “Battlemech” with the ability to “pivot” the torso at will)

    I’ve been debating the merits and demerits of grid with my players. I want to get rid of it for most of the game (except maybe iconic fights vs the BBEG), but some of them are hesistant. I think grids remove DM control of the game, remove verosimilitude (you can’t position yourself in the middle of a 10′ corridor for example. You are either in the left square or the right square), slow the combat, cause weirdness (like the “torso-pivoting-sentry-of-360º-vision” and the “5′-step-that-create-time-bubble-where-I-can-shoot-for-6-whole-seconds-while-you-are-freezed”), remove things (like “backstab”, because people no longer has backs), and add very little to the roleplay experience. It adds tactical deep to the game, but I’m unconvinced that the pros balance out the cons

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    • Our home group has toyed with using hexes instead. One advantage is that you can define facing and “backside”, give perception penalties for looking over your shoulder, etc. GURPS had good hex-facing rules that adapt well to other games.

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    • {because sneaking (like many other stuff) happened in the Theater of Mind.}

      A problem with MInd Theater, was that it was an invisible grid at that point more or less. Seemingly lot of DM’s wouldnt drop the details of movement, reach, and the like with theater, leaving it to the whims of DM to know what’s going on or not. Unfortunately I know this well, as I’ve DM’d and used this technique, while I was decent in some instances, recently I do admit I unwittingly kept the details, making it harder to manage. The moment your combat system has something like Attacks of opportunity-reach, and like, such placement does truly matter.

      I would say since it predicates on thats in the DM’s end, it only emphasizes his input, and if unreliable, then the respect of such controle will wain. As for “backstabbing”, the like of delivering sneak attacks has evolved way past the need for facing of hitting a back-arc. Ninjas-types in our fiction deliver their “sneak-attacks’ in ever so many different ways, Conan-ambushes, Riddick tea-cup surprises, to even Dark-Knight Batman’s utilizing of concealment, and fear to maintain momentum and advantage for his deadly attacks.

      D&D already has rules for facing, in terms of houserules, and some legacy holdovers (continous cone effects like the Beholder, or Tower-Shield cover).

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