First, we need to look at our genre conventions. Swashbuckling heroes tend to be capable at a very wide variety of tasks. Superheroes, too, are able to succeed at most anything they put their hand to. So, we need to be able to assume a pretty high level of competence in most general skills. However, simply dumping a bunch of extra points into the system doesn't really address that. I look at Star Wars Saga Edition and Gamma World, and I see the concept of skills getting a bonus based on level, rather than a lot of buying up. I think I like that.
Class needs to mean something. The concept of trained skills from Saga seems to apply, but it has some really rough edges. For right now, try this on for size: Each class gets three skills that are defined as Expert and six that are defined as Adept. Whenever you are using a skill that you are Expert in, you may add your class level to the roll. Adept skills get one-half class level. Obviously, if you are multi-classed, add that together for all your classes. So, a 6th-level Sage gets a +6 to all Knowledge checks (as they are Experts with Knowledge), +3 to all Appraise checks (as they are Adept at Appraise), and +0 to Athletics checks (as Sages generally fail P.E.).
Additionally, all skills have an associated attribute. Add the modifier from that attribute to all skill checks.
Now, that tends to make characters very cookie-cutter. We need a way to customize skill proficiency. Each level, characters should get skill points. I think I'm going to divorce the number of skill points from classes, since skills now drive combat. So, say every character gets 4 skill points per level, plus the Int modifier. Characters can choose to either put those into their Expert skills, becoming one-trick ponies, or spread them out, becoming jacks of all trades. I'll obviously need to tinker with that a bit to hit the right balance.
One of the things I definitely want to add to the skill system is the concept of focus. We saw it in D&D 3.0 where someone with Knowledge picked a specific area of knowledge to focus in. These areas then got restricted and defined in D&D 3.5, which I considered to be a real step back. I want to allow a large degree of customizability and imagination here, and leave the definition of each focus up to the player. Also, I want to radically expand the number of skills that have focus. Craft, Knowledge, Perform, and Profession are the ones that carry over from D&D. I definitely want to add Contacts and Languages, as they have some very obvious uses. But, I also want to add focuses to Appraise, Forgery, Spellcraft, and Survival. I might add focuses to Acrobatics, Athletics, Heal, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth. But, I'm not sure if I'm overloading the system at that point.
What is a focus? I guess I should address that. It is a specialization in the skill. Craft, as a skill, lets you make things. Craft (smith) lets you be specifically good at working metal. Craft (weaponsmith) lets you be specifically good at creating swords and similar items. Craft (MacEachern Technique) means that you have concentrated in learning how to craft swords out of cold iron. When you make a skill check, you can gain bonuses from some of your relevant focuses.
Now, where do focuses come from? I really don't like the D&D rule of dividing your skill points up between different focuses. That just feels wrong. I was running with the idea that you simply can declare one focus for each rank you have in a skill. But, with the move to having a low number of purchased ranks and a big chunk of the bonus be class level based, I'm not sure how well that works. One option is to simply say that classes grant automatic ranks instead of bonuses, and still have focuses be equal to ranks. Another option is to have the 4 skill points per level grant focuses rather than simple ranks or bonuses. I'm really not sure what I want to do there.
Another issue is that if some skills have focuses and some skills don't, then it would seem that the system is in danger of leaning off balance. A Perform check would pretty much always be higher than a Notice check, all else being equal. Is that actually a problem? I don't know.
As one other point, I am ditching the concept of trained vs. untrained skills. As I mentioned above, both of the genres I'm mashing up assume a certain degree of omni-competence. Any character can make any kind of check, they just might do so with a total lack of bonuses. If I decide to implement some kind of "flaw" mechanic, a possible flaw might be selecting a skill to be untrained in.
Well, I'm going to cut these thoughts off here, while this is still readable. As a summary:
- Skill bonuses come from class bonuses, stat bonuses, focus bonuses, and possibly additional ranks from skill points.
- Class bonuses are divided into two categories: Expert skills gain a bonus equal to class level, Adept skills gain a bonus equal to half class level.
- Each skill has an associated stat that grants the stat bonus.
- Several skills allow for focuses, or specializations within the skill. The precise way that a focus bonus is figured has not been determined yet. Exactly how many focuses a character can have has not been determined yet.
- Characters are considered "trained" in all skills.