On Skill Deconstruction: Fly & Ride

Fly is a skill reflecting your ability to maneuver aerially. Ride is your ability to ride and control mounts. They use the Dexterity stat as a modifier

Fly is another one of those skills that's been around in the system since long ago, when it was known as maneuverability class. It is especially relevant for modern games like Pathfinder, because around level 10 the majority of a party gains access to flight. In the last Pathfinder campaign I played in very much resembled a team of supers all moving to their destination, where some had access to flight and others did not, leading to some carrying the others. Pathfinder is actually an improvement because it pushes back total party flight to level 10. Even this ceases to become an issue around level 14 when the various teleport spells become available.

Ride is a more recent addition to the game, the first rules I can recall coming from Unearthed Arcana. Rules were given for cavaliers to avoid certain dire fates if their horse die or rear up. This skill effectively allows you to ride a mount. I have used this in certain specific setups geared around players on mounts, but not only does this situation come up rarely, but the skill in play turns out to be not that enjoyable. It's another "Roll the Die to avoid the crappy outcome" skill which doesn't seem to be increasing anyone's fun, but is added under the auspices of realism.

What can you do with Flight?

This is a system for resolving flight maneuver. Normal flight is assumed and these maneuver are used and based on a pass/fail resolution. You may attempt to move half your speed, hover, perform a steep turn or even a 180° turn, or fly up at an angle more than 45°.

What can you do with Ride?

Well, use a horse. It's assumed that if you don't have the skill that you need at least 1 hand to guide the mount, that you have a 70%+ chance to stay in the saddle if you get hit, you take a move action to mount or dismount, and that if the mount attacks you will lose your attack. The rest of the selections are tricks like use your mount for cover, take no damage when falling off a mount, getting the sucker to jump or go faster than normal, use a non-combat trained animal as a mount in combat or get on or off the mount as a free action.

Which of these have ground for use?

Minimal uses. The entirety of this system was covered in first editions by giving you a flat maneuverability class that dictated which of these maneuvers you could perform. Is this skill improved by making it a random possibility of the advanced maneuvers?

The problem with the ride skill is that for anyone who does end up taking the ride skill you have to manage controlling the mount in addition to your normal combat actions, slowing down each turn as you roll dice to check and see if you accomplish your goals. Anyone who is a mount user better print out the Ride section because you'll be referring to it a lot.

Also: let's hope we get to have a fight somewhere that isn't a dungeon, mountain, swamp or castle. Uhhh, how often does that happen again?

Current Analysis

I am unconvinced that the method of rolling versus a DC adds enough to the game to be worth the time it takes to roll the extra die during movement. After all, player characters on the ground certainly do not have to roll to move their full movement, or do an about face or other maneuvers. This is clearly an example of a desire to have some realistic differentiation between differing types of fliers and the skills of riders - one that 1st edition addressed by simply having a category for each type of flyer or assuming everyone who is an adventurer could, you know, ride a horse. The flip side of this is the desire for improvement - can a human caster get better at flying? Is that really something we wish to model with character creation?

Who will be taking fly? Wizards. And monsters with natural flight, leaving us with the same categories we used to have based on their base fly skill + 10. Casters themselves get a bonus from the spell equal to 1/2 their level, meaning they need not put any points into it.

What is it we gain by having this skill?

A randomized method of resolving aerial and mounted combat maneuvers. Determining flight results in pathfinder is a much larger issue in pathfinder where after level 6-8 most casters are in combat while flying and invisible.

What do we lose?

Time. Is the added complexity of tracking aerial or mounted combat worth the benefit the skill provides?

Conclusions & Suggestions:
Flying is difficult enough without adding more complexity. Ditch the skill and go back to maneuverability classes - if running pathfinder, assume that every monster and character can accomplish whatever taking 10 allows them to do.

Why not simply allow people to either know how to ride or not? This is almost what the skill does already. Put 1 point in ride, +3 class ranks, +1 stat means that with a take 10 you can do all the mount skills without chance of failure except for using non-combat mounts and fast mounting and dismounting.

1 comment:

  1. I tend to agree with you completely on this one. While I can see the temptation to model trick riding and express concepts like Mongol horsemen, I think that those cases are rare enough that the skill is pointless.

    My personal solution for the d20 variant I'm working on is to roll several of these skills into an Athletics skill. Every adventurer is assumed to be able to ride a horse with minimal skill. A dedicated horseman can take the Trick Rider feat to use his Athletics and Acrobatics skills while mounted.

    My one weird issue with this comes in how to model characters who don't know how to ride. It is a frequent conceit in fantasy fiction, that one of the characters is either effete, common, or citified to the point that they don't their way around a horse. I'd like to be able to model that. I'm not sure how. (I have a similar issue with things like illiteracy.)

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