On Skill Deconstruction: Hackmaster Skills
Skills in Hackmaster are percentile based where you roll under. Your skill number is modified by situational circumstance. Gem cutting may be at 47% and in a gem cutting studio with exellent tools and good lighting you'll get a +40%. You'll need to roll under 87% to succeed.
Skills are purchased with building points. They increase at different rates based on die sizes. Their initial development is equal to the relevant statistic plus a die roll. You may purchase as many die rolls as you can afford.You can also use these during character creation to raise stats and purchase other abilities. After character creation something rather excellent happens.
You can raise your skills by going to school or by use.
Granted, you can raise them at level up also, as part of training for the next level. But the ability to raise skill independently of level is great.
The other things to note is that skills are very very fiddly. Some examples of skills:
Art Appraisal: Subset: Painting
Art Appreciation: Subset: Sculpture
Cartography: Hasty Mapping
Coin Pile Numerical Estimation
First Aid: Cauterize Wound
First Aid: Sew Wound
First Aid: Sew Own Wounds
Now at first glance, this may seem like a terrible thing, until you become aware of two facts.
Skills are much like magical powers.
A successful Military: Battle Sense roll will give you +2 to hit and damage in a set-piece battle, but not in single combat and brawls.
A successful Military: Operations roll will give everyone under his command +1 to hit and damage
A successful Dirty Fighting roll gives -2 to AC, but +2 to hit and damage with criticals on 19-20.
A successful Establish Ambush Zone roll gives double chances to surprise.
A successful First Aid: Cauterize wound can stop bleeding (by doing 1d4 damage)
A successful First Aid: Sew Wounds skill allows you to double the natural healing rate.
A successful Cartography: Overland skill roll allows the character ask the GM a question about where he is or where he needs to go.
A successful Cartography: Dungeon skill roll allows the character to ask the DM where he is or how to get out, or how far he is from the exit, or how far from a level he is.
The other wonderful thing is that with such a bizarre, descriptive, and situationally useful set of skills that can be raised independently of levels is that players become very vested in raising those skills to useful values. And it is very, very, expensive to raise skills resulting in extremely . . . motivated players.
What is it we gain by having this skill?
A great method of customizing characters. A great motivator for player adventuring. Skills that don't negatively impact play or attempt to subvert role-playing or the play of the game. Having a set value the character knows and being able to modify that target situationally is a good tool for both the player and the dungeon master because it allows the player through skillful play to seriously affect their chances. Allowing skills to develop independently of leveling is a great aid to constantly giving the players the feeling of progress and advancement without constant increases in level and absurd amounts of power.
What do we lose?
The character creation is a game in itself, done correctly sometimes taking a few hours per PC. The complexity in the skill choices requires a lot of work from players for reading and decision making. Tracking all the totals of the skills and schooling requires a fair bit of time (one session out of five was wrapped up in tracking all the ephemera of Hackmaster)
Conclusions & Suggestions:
Using this skill system was a lot of fun, but had some serious drawbacks in terms of time and paperwork required. It also requires a lot of the players and there was quite a bit of complaining when first playing Hackmaster over the many, many instances of exception based design and the general complexity of the skill system.