What can you do with Appraise?
Well, basically what it says on the tin. It's a DC 20 check for common items. Success means you know the value. Five over and you can sense magic. Five under and you get it within 80% (+/- 20% of value). Less than that and your result is random. Rare items may be more difficult to identify in increments of 5.
An interesting sub-ability of this skill is the 'which of these is most valuable' when given a selection of items in a room.
What ground is there for having this be a skill?
Is not knowing the value of treasure a worthwhile addition to the play of the game at the table?
There are no time constraints to this skill (except for some iterations of the sub-ability use) and that means that any character can do research and find out the actual value of the item. Assuming that this isn't the case for some reason there are a variety of situations where this skill can come into play:
1.) You can be out in the dungeon or on the adventure and be at the limit of your encumbrance and have to decide what to take.
2.) You can be back at town and need to know if the value of the goods is near to what the merchant is offering you.
3.) You can be in a room under time constraints and need to decide what the most valuable item is.
4.) One of the players may lie to another player about the value of a good.
What is it we gain by having this skill?
We have a way for characters to either know or not know the value of the treasure they recieve that doesn't come in gold pieces.
What do we lose?
Time. A whole lot of spending time.
Lets look at each of the options in turn:
1.) You can go down your inventory list and item by item while the DM makes your appraisal rolls and tells you the estimated value of each item.
2.) As above, except at the end, he gives the price the merchant will pay.
3.) The DM makes the roll and tells you or doesn't tell you what the most valuable item in the room is.
4.) The DM makes the check for the slighted party and informs them what their perceived value of the item is.
Let's address 1 & 3 first.
How is sitting there and reading the results of dice and then making a decisions based on strictly numerical information ("Well we don't know the value of these, so we keep them, and these are worthless") superior to actually describing what the characters possess and letting them investigate which items are valuable and then make their own decisions about what to keep and drop or what to filtch?
In number 2, how is the game improved once the player are back in town by a long tedious process of appraising every single item to insure the value is the correct one. Is there some enjoyment from this process? I can see this being interesting for the low level characters or the poor, but at that point in the game the appraise skill hasn't had a chance to be developed. Are they going to be shorted some gold - is this worth valuable table time? Do you really want to simulate this at downtime?
Regarding number 4, I am not interested in providing tools for the players to engage in competitive play with each other. Some may be - stealing and lying to party members may be a large part of many games, but Dungeons and Dragons is a game about parties of adventurers. There is a tacit understanding that the thief (who takes a lot of risks) may end up filching a little extra gold. Because of the massive experience point bonus that provides to the thief this makes the whole party stronger.
Lastly and most damning - this skill is one of the easiest to portray at the table. The players know the relative value of metals and gemstones and generally have very good tools for finding out about the world around them. This should allow them to estimate the value of goods with a fair degree of accuracy.
This is an example of a skill where the roll is much, much less interesting then the actual player skill and decision making involved.
Conclusions & Suggestions:
- Eliminate the skill completely.