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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Odds for Danger, or Ability Check?

Fitz-Badger made a comment on my post yesterday about setting odds for danger:
I guess the 5+ on 1D6 is best for fairly arbitrary things or at least things where character's skills, attributes and abilities don't play a strong role (or if they do you bump the roll up or down to suit)
Not to single him out, but I think it's best for everything, which is kind of the point of the post.
We tend to emphasize ability scores too much, in this game where originally ability scores had little effect. If you change the roll to cross a bridge to a d20 roll less than/equal to Dex, instead of a 5+ on 1d6 roll, what have you accomplished? Average Dex characters will have an increased chance of falling, Low Dex characters may have double the normal chances of falling, or more. And Dex 17 characters wind up with almost a 1 in 6 chance, with Dex 18 only marginally better. We haven't really made things much better for most characters by using a Dex check.

We could allow a +/- 1 on the "5+ on 1d6" roll for significant ability scores, which I do in some cases. But more and more, I prefer using ability scores as a trigger for when to make a roll at all. Always include an option where the players can avoid rolls, only require a roll when operating beyond that scope, for characters with an ability below a certain threshold.

It's part of my view that rolls should not be skill rolls, but situation rolls: chances that something may go wrong, or go right.


  1. I no longer use ability checks in my game. A post by T. Foster on K&K convinced me that they're antithetical to the game. A thief with 12 DEX should still have a better chance of getting across the rope bridge than a cleric with 15 DEX. D&D is a class-based game; using ability checks turns it into a skills-based game.

    1. Yeah, I've pretty much always used ability checks as my go to means of adjudication, but that (and Taylsman's post) have really given me a lot to consider. So how does this work? Everyone has a 4 in 6 chance of, say, scaling a section of wall, modified by class and encumbrance? Like: thieve climb at 5 in 6 and everyone but fighters has a worse chance if encumbered?

    2. Pearce: For walls, specifically, a lot depends on which thief class you use, since there are so many variations. Greyhawk? The obscure pre-Greyhawk? S&W? Delving Deeper? One from a blog? However, I figure that any version of thieves should get a climb bonus of some kind *and* they can climb things that are normally unclimbable.

      My own approach to thieves is that they get a bonus to thiefly abilities equal to hit dice (or half level, since I use the old hit dice progressions.) All the 5+ on 1d6 rolls are to see if things change: Do you open the lock? Do you fall from the wall? So there's a 1/3rd chance of opening the lock and a 1/3rd chance of falling (or 2/3rds chance of climbing,) plus +1 or more for thieves.

    3. OK, I get that. Interestingly (or at least, it's interesting to me), I've more or less been handling hiding and climbing this way (base chance of success is a 3 in 6, but it's assumed that most players are good enough to get themselves a 4 in 6), but nothing else. Most other "skills" have started at 0 in 6 and needed training to improve chances.

      So when it's a greater than 5 in 6, how do you do that? Automotive success? Roll d6 twice?(I've been increasing the range by one die size up and the frequency to one less than the range: 5 in 6 becomes 7 in 8, then 9 in 10, 11 in 12, 19 in 20)

    4. If they have no chance of failure, I just drop the roll. They automatically succeed. I might give them a penalty on some situations, or extend their extraordinary abilities to new areas, so there would still be some rolls, just not for typical thief stuff.

  2. I've come to really like the idea behind the Delving Deeper thief skills, so they do all their "thiefy" stuff at 3+ (4 in 6). If you let others try those things (or at least climbing/hiding) at 5+ (only 2 in 6), that seems reasonable to me.

    You _could_ allow ability bonuses to help if you prefer.

    On top of that, I stole Talysman's thieves can improve their skills in die-size increments but still succeed on 3+, so 4 in 6 becomes 6 in 8 and so on. It allows improvement and avoids that 6 in 6 issue.