I’m swapping Map Monday with my Thursday posts to bring you this semi-rant. Over at the B/X Blackrazor blog, JB has told everyone to stop using ability checks. The reason? Because it’s the player that decides what the character does, not the other way around.
It’s a sentiment I 90% agree with. I definitely don’t believe in ability scores as a limitation on role-playing. It’s ridiculous for a player decide what to do, then the GM rolls vs. the character INT or WIS and says “Nope, you did not actually decide to do that.” Because if you are going to do that as a GM, why have players? You could do it all yourself. Run a little simulation for your own amusement.
I also don’t believe in rolling for what a character knows. If there’s a chance that a character knows that an artifact they just found was made by elves, just tell them that. Or, at most, make a note that any character with INT 15+ knows this, as would any elven character. I’m not adverse to some influence of ability scores, but an actual ability check here feels wrong for two reasons:
- As GM, it is your job to describe everything the characters see, hear, or sense, so that the players can make decisions about what to do. Failing to do so unless someone makes a lucky roll is just shirking responsibility and goes against the spirit of the game.
- It’s just a waste of time. Why add an extra roll and slow everything down?
I only partially agree with JB’s opinion of secondary skills or attempts to craft things like boats. Heroes are supposed to do heroic things, and that should include Macgyver-like improvised solutions. It’s perfectly reasonable to say some characters know how to build boats. But the only roll involved should be the same rolls you’d make with a “store-bought” boat: does it capsize when hit by a ferocious wave? When hit by a flaming arrow, does the fire spread?
Again, if a character knows something, including “how to build a boat”, just do it. Don’t roll for it.
I may have a follow-up on this tomorrow.