Author Topic: The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.  (Read 1887 times)

StevenO

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The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.
« on: August 02, 2013, 06:39:23 pm »
If you play SAGA for any length of time you may quickly realize how powerful skill checks are when rolled against a target's Defense scores.  This is because while defense scores start at 10 they often go up slowing and in small steps.  On the other hand just getting trained in a skill give you a +5 modifier with that skill and then skill focus gives you another +5 modifier and these can be taken at first level.  When a human Jedi 1 is rolling his UtF check with MOVE Object at a +12 bonus (assumes CHA 12) hitting a Defense score of 13 or lower is AUTOMATIC which is what causes problems.  Now defense scores increase +1 per heroic level while skills only go up half that fast so at the highest levels these things are somewhat balanced but while getting there these skill checks vs defense scores can DOMINATE the game.

A common house rule to help fix the "skill check vs. defense score" problem is to introduce the Skill Attack Modifier (SAM) to the game.

The SAM for a trained skill = level + skill's ability modifier + other modifiers to the skill with some exceptions.  The primary exception is Skill Focus where its +5 modifier to the skill check is reduced to a +2 modifier to the SAM; other fixed +5 skill bonuses may get the same treatment.

Example:  Human Jedi 6;  CHA 14; Trained in UtF; Has Skill Focus (UtF).  Skills:  UtF +15; SAM:  UtF +10
Example:  Human Jedi 1;  CHA 14; Trained in UtF; Has Skill Focus (UtF).  Skills:  UtF +12; SAM:  UtF +5
Example:  Human Jedi 16;  CHA 16; Trained in UtF; Has Skill Focus (UtF).  Skills:  UtF +21; SAM:  UtF +21

When using a skill you will still roll a single d20 just like you normally would.  If the result will be checked against a target's Defense Score you add the SAM to the roll to make the comparison; if the result will be checked against anything else (usually the tables to determine effect) you use the normal skill modifier.  If you would normally check the roll against both a fixed DC and a target Defense score, such as using Move Object, you will use BOTH the SAM to check against the Defense and the normal skill modifier to check against the fixed DC.

SAM and Untrained skills:  There are two trains of thought here and I will present both so a GM can choose which to use.
1.  Use the SAM as calculated for a trained skill but apply a -5 penalty for have an untrained (non-proficient) skill.
2.  Just use the skill modifier as you normally would.

Option 1 punishes an character for trying to use a skill untrained when it targets a DEFENSE score.  This make skill training a lot more important for anything which may target a defense score.

Option 2 avoids the massive problems normally cause by stacking +5 from skill focus with the +5 bonus for having a skill trained.  Here you are using the skill like the RAW describes and some skills are still useful untrained against some DEF scores.  Using this means that a trained skill doesn't have much of an advantage over an untrained skill at the lower levels but it will grow as the levels start adding up.

Now I may be missing some things so if anyone has something to add just go for it.

Here's another writeup I found in WotC community pages.  http://community.wizards.com/pukunui/blog/2011/03/23/skill_attack_modifier
« Last Edit: August 02, 2013, 06:53:49 pm by StevenO »
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richterbelmont10

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Re: The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.
« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2013, 11:06:00 am »
Is Persuasion, Deception, and Use the Force the only skills that regularly target defenses and that would require an SAM?

There are a few rarely used exceptions:

"Improve Access" application of Use Computer targets a computerís Will. (Should the SAM apply here? Or are the "computer attitude" penalties enough?)

"Anticipate Enemy Strategy" application of Knowledge (Tactics) targets Will defense. Very rarely used.

"Shut Down an unwilling droid" application of Mechanics targets a droidís Will. Very rarely used.

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StevenO

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Re: The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.
« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2013, 12:20:21 pm »
I believe Persuasion, Deception, and UtF are easily the most common "skill vs. defense" rolls out there.  I'll admit most of the problems come with UtF because many of the other applications normally have some kind of "floating target" that can make the attempt less certain in hostile situations.  Some adjustments may need to be made for the common skills.

Deception:  An interesting skill as the are a lot of times you'd be rolling this skill and comparing it against both an opposed Perception Check (for Appearance) and WILL Defense (for Information.)  This is interesting because RAW against a low level non-heroic who is trained in Perception you could easily pass off information with a total roll of 12 while he easily sees through the appearance by using "take 10."  Under the RAW an outrageous appearance is very likely be seen through but for someone highly skilled in deception passing off outrageous information may not be that challenging when even a -20 penalty to a skill still leaves a weak mind easily overcome.

Trying to Improve Access with Use Computer is a LOT like trying to Change Attitude with Persuasion and the two really should mimic each other.  A thing to consider here is that living things can easily have a better WILL save than most computers IF you follow that a computer's WILL save is just 10 + INT modifier.  I know you see higher WILL Defenses listed but you may find yourself asking how.

When it comes to shutting down an unwilling droid using Mechanics I believe the SAM will be highly appropriate.  Granted most battle droids should have locked-access to prevent that you are essentially looking at a "one hit kill" which I don't believe should be too easy to pull off.
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Zilfallion

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Re: The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.
« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2013, 01:00:39 pm »
to Improve Access with Use Computer is a LOT like trying to Change Attitude with Persuasion and the two really should mimic each other.  A thing to consider here is that living things can easily have a better WILL save than most computers IF you follow that a computer's WILL save is just 10 + INT modifier.  I know you see higher WILL Defenses listed but you may find yourself asking how.
http://www.gmsarligames.com/2009/04/21/lost-saga-edition-computer-rules/
Something I found a while ago which explains why the Will Defenses are higher than just the 10+Int.  Take the find as you will.

richterbelmont10

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Re: The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.
« Reply #4 on: August 17, 2013, 01:37:24 pm »
So if I wanted to include the SAM in a new characeter sheet, what would it look like?

How about double entries for Deception, Persuasion, and UtF. It would look something like this:

Deception modifier      = 1/2 level  + CHA mod + Trained (+5) + Focus (+5) + Misc
Deception SAM modifier  = full level + CHA mod + Trained (+5) + Focus (+2) + Misc (-5 untrained)

Persuasion modifier     = 1/2 level  + CHA mod + Trained (+5) + Focus (+5) + Misc
Persuasion SAM modifier = full level + CHA mod + Trained (+5) + Focus (+2) + Misc (-5 untrained)

UtF modifier            = 1/2 level  + CHA mod + Trained (+5) + Focus (+5) + Misc
UtF SAM modifier        = full level + CHA mod + Trained (+5) + Focus (+2) + Misc (-5 untrained)

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StevenO

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Re: The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.
« Reply #5 on: August 17, 2013, 01:53:35 pm »
I can't say for certain how it should show up on a character sheet.  I guess I never write them out in full usually just writing down the total modifier.

Most of the time I note the following:  "Base skill:  +1/2 character level."  After than I'd probably note "Base SAM:  + character level."  I may also not base trained and focused and then after that list the specific modifiers for each skill.

I'll also note that I only deal bring in the SAM for trained skills or "virtually trained" skills that are getting a fixed +5 bonus (ability bonuses aren't "fixed" for this definition) from some other source.  For the untrained skill I often follow the RAW although that does mean there is little benefit for being trained at the lowest levels.
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Re: The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.
« Reply #6 on: November 14, 2013, 08:43:33 am »
The SAM sounds interesting. Like StevenO mentioned in the "simple question"-thread, I think it could be used if the RAW-version is (ab)used too often.

Jorundr Hrafnsson

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Re: The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.
« Reply #7 on: November 14, 2013, 09:47:29 pm »
We usually play at high levels, so Skill vs. Defense really isn't a problem at all in our games.

However, when we do play low level, I have no problem at all with letting players who have invested development into (for instance) Use the Force be awesome when they use those powers.  As GM, you have the right to award less experience for encounters that are walkovers, and as GM you also have the right to crank up the difficulty and put such players against more or tougher opponents to achieve the desired difficulty level.

I see this SAM as a good solution, but a solution to a problem that isn't really a problem unless you feel constrained to building encounters exactly as recommended in the books.  A little bit of old-school gamer mentality can achieve pretty much the same thing, and doesn't require modifying the rules.

Don't get me wrong.  It's a good idea.  Just not one I would use personally.  Treat this post as my two cents only.
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sienn_sconn

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Re: The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.
« Reply #8 on: November 14, 2013, 10:19:41 pm »
I've had this idea bouncing around for a bit, but mostly kept it to myself.

Rather than the SAM, what if we took a page from Pathfinder for trained skills and Skill Focus?  Still keep the half level bonus, but change the trained bonus to +3 and the Skill Focus bonus to +3 (increase to +6 if you are at least level 10 and are trained in said skill).  Skills are less likely to overcome defenses at lower levels (which is what part of the SAM aims at), and we retain the high end bonus so that skills are still useful at higher levels.

Thoughts?

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StevenO

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Re: The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.
« Reply #9 on: November 14, 2013, 11:01:02 pm »
I'll remind you that this is a highly recommended house rule to solve a relatively common problem with a minimum of fuss.

@jorundr:  I'm not sure how you are defining "high levels" because to me anything over 10th is reaching that.  At that point the defense scores of heroes are becoming high enough that the "problem" is far less noticeable.  A 20th-level hero can easily have defense scores of 30+ with no additional investments which would be running up against +20 skill modifiers when training and focus are considered giving a slight edge to Defense.

As for what I'd call "heavy handed" techniques to punish this at low levels you are just pointing out how a GM can do things to mitigate just about any imbalance.  Some people think they need what I call "god stats" to play (say ePB 40+) and point out how "it works fine for our group" although it either requires throwing much harder challenges at such characters or making other rewrites to what a "normal" game would be.

@sienn:  Lowering the base modifier provided by training and focus certainly reduces the "brokenness" of skill check vs. defense but it is still there AND it also asks for a rewrite of all other skill DCs.  In all honesty, I like the idea that a low level character who is trained and has focus in a skill can potentially "take 10" and hit a DC 20 target with certainty.  Cutting two points off each of those bonuses and now you either need to lower the fixed DCs or you've made a character much worse.  I know when I go looking at all the various "fixed" DCs I see a DC 15 and I think "something a trained individual can do with ease" while DC 20 is something "which takes a dedicated/focused character to be able to do with ease" and every time you move up five places you make a skill that much harder.
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Jorundr Hrafnsson

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Re: The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.
« Reply #10 on: November 14, 2013, 11:58:49 pm »
Steve, why would this need to be "punished" at all, at low levels?  Skill Focus represents a significant focus in one area.  It makes sense that the character would be very good at what they do.  But there are many ways that you can challenge such a character without resorting to meatwalls and never ending reinforcement waves.  When characters, especially low level characters focus, it leaves them open somewhere else.  I find it's better to let the characters shine in the area they chose to focus in, but also throw challenges at them that can't be solved by using their usual hammer.

It is true that I used the example of tougher or more opponents, but that is not the only method available to a GM, and like the player who focused on one thing, shouldn't be the solution to the problem every time.  Having a player that is great in one area is a fantastic opportunity to explore alternate goals and alternative objectives in combat.  I think there is even a thread about it somewhere.  Whatever the case, I don't like the idea that a player should be "punished" for using the options available to them, and I don't think new rules should be introduced just so your player characters can't be awesome.  It's Star Wars, they are supposed to be awesome at what they do.  Of course, I've never been one to care about balance.  I've seen it come up as a problem before, as most GM's have, but it's really much easier to adjust on the fly, than to hope for a game system and rule set that gives perfect balance to everyone.  I saw it with 4e D/D, and our group thought it was rubbish.  That isn't to say that a lot of people don't like 4e, and that is absolutely fine.  We just like different things.

Some people see the UtF+Skill Focus as a problem that needs to be solved.  Sometimes it feels like these people see it as players are not allowed to have nice things.
« Last Edit: November 15, 2013, 12:01:44 am by Jorundr Hrafnsson »
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StevenO

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Re: The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.
« Reply #11 on: November 15, 2013, 01:11:27 am »
What I see as "punishment" is saying that PCs get less XP for an encounter because it is a "walkover" for a character who has a certain skill set which will not fail.  I'll agree that players can be good at things but there is a difference between being good and being unstoppable; when you look at UtF at low levels you are often looking at unstoppable as some things don't even need to roll as even a 1 will still "win."

SAGA may not have a perfect "balance" but it is pretty good in most cases and provided you avoid certain outliers.  I don't see skill focus as a problem in SAGA when it is used to boost a skill check made against a task with a fixed DC.  The problem that SAM addresses is when skill checks are being made against a DC that is set by completely different criteria and meant to measured against other rolls.  The typical attack roll vs. REF Defense of a similar level hero is successful about half the time and both scale at nearly the same rate.  When looking at typical damage rolls vs FORT Defense (really DT) these number usually start close (3d8 averages 13.5 which is a little better than DT 11 but not much) although FORT increases faster than damage.  Where checks against DEF break down is when you look at skills vs. defense; that early (and easy) +10 completely overwhelms typical defense scores and while defenses increase faster than skill mods they just start way too far behind.

The purpose of the SAM is not to keep a character from "shining" but rather to keep them from "blinding" other possible options by removing the auto-win function.
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richterbelmont10

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Re: The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.
« Reply #12 on: November 15, 2013, 11:49:12 am »
Steve, why would this need to be "punished" at all, at low levels?  Skill Focus represents a significant focus in one area.  It makes sense that the character would be very good at what they do.  But there are many ways that you can challenge such a character without resorting to meatwalls and never ending reinforcement waves.  When characters, especially low level characters focus, it leaves them open somewhere else.  I find it's better to let the characters shine in the area they chose to focus in, but also throw challenges at them that can't be solved by using their usual hammer.

It is true that I used the example of tougher or more opponents, but that is not the only method available to a GM, and like the player who focused on one thing, shouldn't be the solution to the problem every time.  Having a player that is great in one area is a fantastic opportunity to explore alternate goals and alternative objectives in combat.  I think there is even a thread about it somewhere.  Whatever the case, I don't like the idea that a player should be "punished" for using the options available to them, and I don't think new rules should be introduced just so your player characters can't be awesome.  It's Star Wars, they are supposed to be awesome at what they do.  Of course, I've never been one to care about balance.  I've seen it come up as a problem before, as most GM's have, but it's really much easier to adjust on the fly, than to hope for a game system and rule set that gives perfect balance to everyone.  I saw it with 4e D/D, and our group thought it was rubbish.  That isn't to say that a lot of people don't like 4e, and that is absolutely fine.  We just like different things.

Some people see the UtF+Skill Focus as a problem that needs to be solved.  Sometimes it feels like these people see it as players are not allowed to have nice things.

UtF + Skill Focus is a SERIOUS problem. When a level 2 jedi can easily have a UtF of +13 (training + focus + CHA 14) with Mind Trick, Force Slam, Force Grip, and Move Object, then this character is nearly unstoppable. Trust me, I GMíed a party of only 2 jedi, and one jedi kept using Mind Trick on every single Sith Trooper, who has a Will defense of 10. Thatís an automatic success to get any trooper to do whatever she wanted. The Fort of troopers is not much better. That means that one Force Slam will automatically kill a 6-sq cone worth of Stormtroopers. A Move Object will automatically succeed without rolling, so she can hurl troopers left and right. And Force Grip will also succeed without rolling. How is any of this fair? With a UtF of +13, the jedi doesnít even need to roll! On the other hand, a well-trained level 2 soldier will have a much harder time trying to hit one Stormtrooper since he has to hit his Reflex which is 16. That means that even with an attack bonus of +6, he will still miss half the time.

Skill Focus (UtF) is completely broken at low levels. A level 2 jedi will outshine any other PC by miles and miles.

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Jorundr Hrafnsson

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Re: The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.
« Reply #13 on: November 15, 2013, 05:18:00 pm »
As I said, we usually play higher levels, but we never had such a huge issue as you seem to have, even when we have played at lower levels.  There is only so much that a rank and file Sith trooper is authorized to do for you, even if he is compliant with Mind Trick.  As for getting womped in combat, he is fodder.  Fodder call for reinforcements when they're getting womped.  What an excellent opportunity for a getaway sequence, or for a "boss" to show up.  Maybe those reinforcements or bosses focus-fire the Jedi (being the biggest threat, because you know, the fodder gave them a heads up), and the attention focused elsewhere allows the other characters to accomplish alternative goals or slip away and save the day some other way.

Another option is to just talk to your player and ask that they do not abuse any rules to overshadow their comrades.  This will solve almost every issue under the sun, without requiring new rules.  If you're feeling nasty, you can explain to them that if they do, opponents will use the same tactics when they would reasonably be available, and let them decide.  Some players like that stuff.  To be clear, I will reiterate, I agree that SF+UtF CAN be a problem.  But I disagree that a rule is needed (even a decent one like this one) to "fix" it. 

As a whole though, I find Saga to be generally well-balanced overall, without every class feeling samey.
« Last Edit: November 15, 2013, 05:34:27 pm by Jorundr Hrafnsson »
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richterbelmont10

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Re: The Skill Attack Modifier or SAM for short.
« Reply #14 on: November 15, 2013, 10:52:52 pm »
As I said, we usually play higher levels, but we never had such a huge issue as you seem to have, even when we have played at lower levels.  There is only so much that a rank and file Sith trooper is authorized to do for you, even if he is compliant with Mind Trick. 

Well, they were imprisoned and she Mind Tricked the Sith trooper to let them out. Later, Sith troopers were guarding an area I didnít want the players to go to yet, but she Mind Tricked them whenever she wanted to get wherever she wanted to go. I finally I decided that one of them got suspicious and would call a dark jedi. She Mind Tricked him into not calling the dark jedi.

All this she did and would succeed even if she rolled a ď1Ē. Thatís not right. Nothing should ever be an automatic success in this manner.

As for getting womped in combat, he is fodder.  Fodder call for reinforcements when they're getting womped.  What an excellent opportunity for a getaway sequence, or for a "boss" to show up. Maybe those reinforcements or bosses focus-fire the Jedi (being the biggest threat, because you know, the fodder gave them a heads up), and the attention focused elsewhere allows the other characters to accomplish alternative goals or slip away and save the day some other way.

This is a valid tactic. And I agree that all troopers are just fodder, but I donít think that the jedi should be able to mow down a 6-sq cone of them without even rolling, yet the trained soldier has much more of a challenge to hit one. Jedi rolls a natural 1? No problem! A 6-sq cone of Sith troopers are mowed down! But if the soldier rolls a 1, he gets an automatic miss. Thatís not balanced.

Another option is to just talk to your player and ask that they do not abuse any rules to overshadow their comrades.  This will solve almost every issue under the sun, without requiring new rules. 

I didnít get around to talking to the player since it was a KOTOR one-shot. We only played the one time. Even after ďthe talk,Ē what one considers ďabuseĒ might be open for interpretation.

As a whole though, I find Saga to be generally well-balanced overall, without every class feeling samey.

I love Saga. But this is by far the biggest issue I have with it.

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