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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Skills: How Much Is Too Much?

While I look over the project list and decide how best to tackle the backlog, I thought I’d comment on a topic I’ve brought on before: skills. This post is inspired by a post on the Ten Foot Polemic blog, although not a critique of that post. I agree with the principal “Adventurers are competent”, only in a more extreme way, and do not like to use skill rolls at all.

Instead, if something might go wrong, having an appropriate skill means it doesn’t… and if something definitely will go wrong, an appropriate skill means there’s a chance that it doesn’t. I’ve tried to express this a number of ways, the last one being a post on being alert vs. being unaware, which I’ll summarize here as as:
  • If Safe, there is no danger (no roll).
  • If Alert, avoid danger except on 5+ (1d6).
  • If Unaware, avoid danger only on 5+ (1d6).
  • If Doomed, danger is unavoidable (no roll).
“Alert” and “Unaware” are the two default states: either a PC is aware of the danger beforehand (spots a tripwire and is trying to avoid it,) or is unaware (stumbles into it.) High ability scores move up one line (Alert becomes Safe.) Low ability scores move down one line (Unaware becomes Doomed.) I’ve had different thoughts about what counts as High/Low, but I think I’ve settled on the best score as High (18 on 3d6) and the worst score as Low (3 on 3d6) for most, if not all, contexts.

So, I partially agree with James on attribute checks, in that I don’t roll vs. Strength, Int, or Dex directly, but instead use these scores to determine if there is a roll at all. I also mostly agree about difficulty levels: setting DCs is a needlessly complicated approach that adds nothing to an old school game, because it only makes sense if system mastery is important. The exception would be any situation where the so-called DC is an opponent’s level or ability score, for example picking someone’s pocket. I’ve talked about this before in my posts about thief skills as surprise (see links to this series on the miscellaneous thief skills post for reference,) but I think I should rework this to mesh better with the “Safe, Alert, Unaware, Doomed” framework above.

But even when level or ability score matters, the good news is that I allow substitutions. If a PC is using a class ability and their level is higher than their ability score, they can use their level in its place. Furthermore, if they are trained in a skill, they can substitute years of experience for their ability score. A woodsman with 18 years of experience can use that score instead of Int or Wisdom when trying tracking, which basically means automatic success.

Another exception to the “no DCs” rule is that I might effectively halve someone’s ability score in some situations. Mainly, I use this for things like injury or lack of tools. This would have more impact on quality of work: building a makeshift raft out of driftwood and vines may result in a raft that’s more likely to come apart.

I think I’ll have more to say on a couple of those points later.

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