On Skill Deconstruction: Survival & Swim

Survival is a skill reflecting your ability to survive in the wilderness. It uses the Wisdom stat as a modifier. Swim is your ability to uh, man, seriously?

Ok, Swim is useless, for the same reason Climb is. I should have put this with that. Go back and read climb for my thoughts on swim. 

Survival is a bit more interesting, because it has actual function uses, but it is totally pointless to put any points into the skill relatively quickly, making it more like a class feature.

What can you do with Survival and which of these are useful?
You can use to to both move and not starve to death at the same time. Pointless as hell!

You can improve your ability to resist severe weather like Heavy winds and Blizzards and Thunderstorms. Useless!

You can avoid getting lost and navigate around natural hazards. Of some utility for hexcrawls!

You can predict the weather! How is this useful enough in a role playing context to be a skill?

You can track! Totally functional!

Let's call the Survival skill the Tracking skill!

Current Analysis

A lot of these skills have been around a long time - tracking since 1e. So obviously there is some ground here for use. The problem is, excepting tracking, all of these "Skill functions" are really "abilities". You are either able to intuit direction or you cannot. Also, player skill can be used for this instead of a character skill. Weather prediction is so rarely useful that being able to predict the weather with any certainty is pointless.

Fortunately due to the ways skills work, these functions basically become automatic at the expenditure of 1 skill point.

Tracking though, works, i think, just like it should. However it has the same problem tracking always did - the ease in the campaign that someone can overcome or supersede it with magic.

Conclusions & Suggestions:

I remember all these skills from second edition there, and they were for flavor. Simply letting someone do these things is such a non-issue that it seems strange anyone willing to spend 1 point on a class skill can do them trivially.

I'm fairly certain tracking works as it always has. Although, you might be able to come up with a fairly simple mini-game to replace the skill that might be cool.


  1. RAW, I agree Survival is lacking. However, I use it in the following ways:

    1. During overland travel the PC leading the party can make Survival checks to detect potentially hostile creatures without the party being detected. This gives them the ability to avoid the creatures or set up an ambush.

    2. I have the PC leading the party make a Survival check to "secure the campsite" when resting. This allows the members of the party on watch to get a bonus or penalty to Perception checks during their watch based on the success/failure of the Survival check.

    1. Rule zero doesn't mean that the skill isn't broken.

  2. The big advantage that Survival provides in our games is that it allows us to hand-wave rations. "Oh, you have five ranks in Survival? Okay, you never have to buy (or carry) rations again. One more bookkeeping nightmare off the books."

    Survival is also one of those skills that is very useful for certain campaigns, or for specific adventures in many campaigns. I find that, typically, it is pointless. But, when you need to know if you can live off the land and withstand the harsh climate, you need to know.

    If I ever went to a two-tiered skill system (essential skills and flavor skills), survival would definitely be in lesser category. It is nice for defining the character, and useful in rare circumstances, but shouldn't cost as much as Spot or Bluff.

    1. You don't need the skill to hand wave rations.

    2. No, but it gives you a nice rationalization to do so.

    3. Since I'm playing a fantasy game, needing to rationalize something means that it isn't very wonderous.

  3. "Tracking though, works, i think, just like it should." When I tried it once using D&D 3.5, it was a dismal failure. The reason is that the rules say "To find tracks or to follow them for 1 mile requires a successful Survival check." Moving at half speed into uncharted forest required a ridiculous amount of rolls. I never used the rules as written for Tracking again.

  4. You can predict the weather

    I've never really played a 3E or Pathfinder game, so reading these skill posts is more of an academic exercise for me. But this bit gave me an idea. Say you're engaged in a hex crawl. You are in hex 1, and you find a high hill and survey the hexes around you (hexes 2 through 7). You have a choice to make regarding which direction to go. (To oversimplify somewhat, this is a dungeon room with six exits.)

    Now, a player has some information at hand to inform their decision. Based on the horizon, they can see the basic terrain type of the 6 adjacent hexes (maybe two are hilly, one is mountainous, one is swampy, and two are lowlands). Predict weather would allow the players one more dimension of information: what is the weather likely to be in the various options in their decision tree? Maybe they are looking for the quickest route to the evil lord's hideout so they can liberate whatever before the bad event. Or maybe they are looking for a kind of rare monster that only comes out in rainstorms. Seems like lots of opportunity for variation in a sandbox campaign.

    We don't need to make this a skill (it would work just as well as a class feature or spell) but we could. Ranger power, skill, druid power, halfling power, magic-user spell, whatever.


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