Monday, March 23, 2009

The Skill-less Skill System

Warning! Copious content ahead!

I’ve had a chance now to look over the comments on my post about skill systems in D&D and I realize that I wasn’t quite a clear on some matters as I had hoped to be. I can only blame myself for not stating them better and perhaps losing something by way of the manner in which I had presented my argument. Rather than attempt eloquence, let me sum up my problem with skills in D&D in list form. Hopefully that might make things clearer.

1) Skills & proficiencies look out of place to me in D&D. I’m striving for as much of a bare bones approach as possible and I’m not looking to add anything to the character sheet, no matter how simple or small. I thank everyone who offered their own methods for adding skills to the game but that wasn’t what I was looking to do. Instead, I’m more interested in using the game mechanics already present in the rules (Labyrinth Lord in this case) rather than add something new to the game.

2) Concrete skill systems can lead to metagaming, which can consciously or unconsciously limit game play and thus rob the players of the opportunity of truly memorable gaming sessions. The time Rolf the dwarf snuck past through the temple of evil cultists is much more of a gaming highlight than Knuckles the Thief doing the same exact thing.

3) A concrete skill system can lead to the referee introducing contrived events to justify the addition of certain skills or proficiencies. When the ride skill is added, more characters start falling off horses because more ride checks become necessary in order to reward those who chose to spend points in riding. This can also lead to the mindset that cooking rolls are required for every meal, fire-building checks for every campfire, and other ridiculous circumstances. While I agree that this is more of a indication of poor refereeing than in implicit flaw in skill systems themselves, concrete skill systems open this door to that way of adjudication.

4) The ability of a character to perform an action well is already determined by his attributes and class and thus a concrete skill system is superfluous.

5) Having a skill system based on points or levels requires the need to artificially increase the difficulty of actions in order to keep pace with character advancement.

With that out of the way and my own personal (and I stress personal) qualms with skill systems in D&D defined, here’s my solution:

Use the mechanics already provided in the game.

I have to greatly acknowledge the Original D&D Discussion Forum for my decision on how to approach the resolution of actions normally covered by skills. Anyone looking for similar insights should take the time to peruse the threads on that forum. It will be well worth your time.

Some of what follows will be extremely familiar to some people. As I mentioned in the previous post on this subject, my method is not new or unique; just better outlined for my own personal use. All of these rolls are subject to modifiers of between +4 and -4 based on circumstances in the game. Whenever a page number is referenced, that page is from the Labyrinth Lord rulebook.

General Adventuring Activities

The following is a collection of actions that might conceivably be attempted by characters during their adventuring activities. It is not a comprehensive list but I feel it covers most of the common bases. Any ability score with a ½ before it means that the ability rolled against is half the normal score rounded up.

Acrobatics: Dexterity check for thieves, ½ Dexterity for all other classes.

Animal Handling: Wisdom check for domesticated animals, ½ Wisdom for wild animals.

Climbing: Under optimal conditions (proper tools; taking one’s time; rough surface), all characters can climb without incident. In less than optimal conditions (no tools; slippery surface; under attack), a Strength check is required. Only thieves can scale extremely high ascents or dangerous surfaces with a Climb Walls check.

Detect Secret Doors: 1 in 6 chance for non-elves to find secret doors, 2 in 6 chance for elves.

Detect Traps: 1 in 6 chance for most classes to detect large traps (pits, swinging pendulums, falling blocks, crushing ceilings, etc.) and 2 in 6 chance for dwarves to detect the same (p.45). Thieves may detect smaller, concealed traps with the Find Traps skill.

Haggling/Negotiations: Roll on the Reaction Table to determine NPC’s attitudes if necessary. Charisma modifiers apply as usual.

Healing: There is no healing “skill” per say. All characters heal 1d3 points of damage for each full day spent resting (p. 54).

Hiding/Sneaking: Any lone individual has a base 2 in 6 chance of avoiding detection in optimal conditions (low light and unwary opponents) as per the rules for Surprise (p. 50). This chance is reduced to 1 in 6 if they’re wearing metal armor, heavily encumbered, or they’re attempting to avoid the scrutiny of alert observers. Heavily armored individuals or those carrying light sources have no chance to avoid detection. Thieves get their normal chance to Hide in Shadows or Move Silently and, in the case of failure of either of these skills, get one “Hail Mary” check on a d6 to avoid detection. In less than optimal conditions (bright light and alert guards), they live or die on the success of their skill check alone. They are the only class that can achieve success in near-impossible conditions.

Jumping: Strength check modified by armor or encumbrance.

Listening: 1 in 6 chance for non-thief humans, 2 in 6 for demi-humans, Hear Noise check for thieves (as per Doors p. 45).

Outdoorsman skills: Characters may attempt to forage for food while traveling (1 in 6 chance) and they may hunt or fish (2 in 6 chance) if they spend a full day engaging in that activity (p. 46). Extrapolated from these chance, characters may attempt to track (2 in 6 chance) under optimal conditions (snow, mud, fresh tracks). This is reduced to a 1 in 6 chance under less optimal conditions and impossible under extreme conditions (over rocky terrain, over bare stone floors, etc.). Characters may also attempt to find water in dry conditions (1 in 6 chance), build fires without a tinderbox (2 in 6 chance) or start a fire with tinderbox and wet fuel (1 in 6 chance).

Performance: Roll on Reaction Table to determine the audience’s response to the performance. Check are modified by Charisma, but Dexterity, Wisdom or another applicable attribute may be used in place of Charisma depending on the type of performance. This attribute provides the same bonus or penalties to the Reaction Table as if it were Charisma (a Dexterity of 16 would provide a -1 bonus to the Reaction Table in the case of a dance performance for example).

Readings/Writing: A character’s literacy is base on his or her Intelligence as per the table on p. 7)

Riding: All characters can ride land animals without incident under normal conditions. In combat or unusual situations, a Dexterity or Wisdom check may be required. Characters can ride unusual mounts (flying or swimming) if the animal is willing to bear riders but a ½ Dexterity or Wisdom check is required if complications occur.

Swimming: All characters can swim. An unarmored and unencumbered character can swim without the need to make a roll under normal conditions. In extreme conditions (rapids, strong currents, etc.) they must make a Constitution check. Characters wearing leather armor or lightly encumbered must make a Constitution check each round spent swimming to avoid drowning. Characters in chainmail or moderately encumbered must make a ½ Constitution check each round to avoid drowning. Characters in plate mail or heavily encumbered cannot swim and begin to drown.

Trade Skills

I may be in the minority nowadays but I’ve always assumed that the character’s class is his profession. Adventurers are individuals who, by inclination or lack of ability, decided to eschew more traditional professions like farming, herding, or trade skills to pursue a life of adventuring. As such, they don’t have much in the way of training in such occupations.

Despite this assumption, I’m willing to admit that most adventurers have picked up a few minor talents in regards to their particular class and the support professions that accompany it. In most cases, with the proper time and tools, an adventurer can perform minor tasks relative to their professions without the need for an ability check; a fighter can perform minor repairs on his weapons and armor and a magic-user can mix his own ink and make his own quills, for instance.
If the character attempts to perform a trade skill related to his profession of a more complex nature, he must make a successful ability check against ½ his ability related to that trade. A fighter could attempt to forge a sword or make armor, but would have to succeed against a check at ½ his Strength. A magic-user could attempt glassblowing to make his own alembics with a successful check against ½ his Wisdom. Characters can also attempt to perform trade skills or professions that don’t require a lot of prolonged training or tools by making a ½ ability check. Almost anyone could try their hand at farming or herding by making a successful ½ Wisdom check for example.

A trade or profession that is not in any way associated with the character’s profession or requires a great deal of training cannot be performed. A magic-user couldn’t attempt to forge a sword or a cleric try his hand at alchemy.

In the event that I was to ever include Secondary Skills in a game, I’d allow a character to make an ability check at the associated score’s full value in order to determine the success of such an activity.

Character Knowledge

In theory, I’d like to remain true the old school tradition of allowing players to rely on their own individual knowledge in order to reason out intellectual challenges that are presented in game. I’m also aware though that their characters, from benefit of “living” in the game world, would possess information that their players wouldn’t. In these cases I allow for Intelligence or Wisdom check to determine if the character knows something about the situation.

If the information the character is looking to recall is general knowledge or specific to his class, I allow an ability check against the full value of the character’s Intelligence or Wisdom. Examples of situations where I’d allow checks are trying to remember who the current lord-mayor of a major city is, the major exports of a neighboring country, and the date of the Battle of Seven Rivers. Class-based examples would be a cleric attempting to identify the religious vestments of a band of pilgrims, thieves looking for a good fence in a nearby city, magic-users trying to decipher a rune, or a dwarf or elf attempting to recall facts about their race’s history. Characters may attempt to recall information pertinent to another class (a fighter trying to identify the religious vestments for example) but do so at ½ their normal Wisdom or Intelligence.

Lastly, if a character is trying to recall some information of an extremely obscure or esoteric nature, provided it is relevant to their class, they have a base 5% chance per level of experience of knowing that information. A 4th level cleric attempting to identify an altar dedicated to some distant god from the West would have a 20% chance of being able to determine the deity. Being the type of referee who always likes to give the characters a chance, I also allow a 1% chance per level for characters to identify or remember information not directly related to their class. This represents any campfire stories or taproom tales they might have heard over their lifetimes.

Improving One’s Chance

There is not set rule or method for allowing a character to improve his chances at any of the above attempts. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, however. For one, I’m running in the very old school mind set of starting the characters off as “potential heroes” meaning they roll 3d6 for abilities. Because of this, I’m more inclined to allow various special dungeon encounters or items that permanently modify the characters’ ability scores. Just a casual look at Stonehell reveals there are more than a few opportunities presented for the characters to gain (and lose) a few points in their attributes. This of course will indirectly modify their chances at certain “skill” attempts.

Secondly, if it’s important enough to a player to increase his chances at a certain talent, I’ll allow for them to undergo specialized training to modify their rolls to determine success. This training always requires a certain amount of both money and game time to be spent before the character learns enough to modify their rolls. Both the expense and time required depends both on the complexity of the training and the overall effect it will have on the character’s chances of success. A character looking to become a better horseman for example might only be required to spend one month in training (and thus, not going on any adventures) and pay a 500 gp tuition cost to his tutor. At the end of that month, a note is made on his character sheet that he receives a +1 or +2 bonus to all ability checks pertaining to riding. A character looking to improve his chances at noticing secret doors, however, might have to spend 6 months and several thousand gold to gain tutelage under an obscure elven sect (provided he can find them in the first place). In the end, he gains a +1 to his chance to find secret doors – a much greater increase in probability of success and overall impact upon the game. In cases where a character normally rolls against 1/2 an ability score to determine success, undergoing training will allow the character to roll against his full ability value instead of half.

The reason that improving one’s chances at “skill” attempts is both costly in time and money is that I’d like to keep the emphasis on adventuring in order to improve the character’s success rather than education. I believe that if an adventurer really wants to improve his chances at finding secret doors, learning esoteric knowledge, or gaining some bonus to ordinary activities, he should be tracking down leads to magic items, mystical locations, and long-forgotten tomes (and thus adventuring) rather than enrolling in training courses.

It’s quite obvious that this post has gone on for much too long. Congratulate yourself for reaching the end. Because of the length of this, I’m going to hold off until Wednesday to present how character background “flash” can affect these game mechanics in play. It’s not a long piece but there are tables involved so it’s best to leave it off for another day. You may now fire away with the comments, critiques, and other verbiage as you see fit.

38 comments:

Hamlet said...

3) A concrete skill system can lead to the referee introducing contrived events to justify the addition of certain skills or proficiencies. When the ride skill is added, more characters start falling off horses because more ride checks become necessary in order to reward those who chose to spend points in riding. This can also lead to the mindset that cooking rolls are required for every meal, fire-building checks for every campfire, and other ridiculous circumstances. While I agree that this is more of a indication of poor refereeing than in implicit flaw in skill systems themselves, concrete skill systems open this door to that way of adjudication.

4) The ability of a character to perform an action well is already determined by his attributes and class and thus a concrete skill system is superfluous.


My only comment is that these two items are only true if one has not really read the section on proficiencies in the PHB. Officially, those proficiencies symbolize not a generic skill in said field (any moron can light a campfire and fry up some corn bread for supper), but professional level skill in said field. There are only a very few cases where it's an all or nothing case (i.e., swimming, and even then . . .) while the rest indicate that a person could actually make a living performing that skill.

Yes, towards the latter half of AD&D 2e, things got stupid, but that's true for every edition.

Otherwise, I agree with you totally.

Chris said...

Hating you right now. This is simple, elegant and intuitive, and kicks my attempts to tinker with skills in D&D into a cocked hat.

Kudos. Also: *yoink*

Badmike said...

I agree with Hamlet; in 20 years of gaming I have yet to have a PC fall off a horse, fail to fry his bacon in the morning, or struggle to tie a knot. I think it's a straw man argument to use a very ignorant referee (basically, one who has not read the rules or does not comprehend them) as the basis of a rules diss. Point of fact I have never met anyone yet that plays that way (requiring a PRO roll for every single action taken), and I suspect a little license is taken by those who claim that is a legit reason to drop the concrete skill system.

Also, I see no problem with deliniating what a character "can't" do in a fantasy game. Sorry, some dudes in real life can't swim, can't mountain climb, and can't tame a wild boar. Why does a fantasy world have to become PC to the point "everyone has a chance to do anything"??? Are we going to start giving out participation badges to fighters who try like hell but can't seem to cast a Sleep spell? How about mages who want to pick up and swing a longsword in combat? If they can do "anything", then shouldn't they get a chance to use a sword in extremis? The entire D&D experience is built around the concept "no one can do EVERYTHING". I don't see a problem in telling a player "Unfortunately, you can't swim a lick, and you are rapidly sinking beneath the surface of the lake...." when he's had the chance like anyone else to take the Swimming Proficiency as one of his skills.

Ok, with that out of the way, I will say the system you thought up is very cool and would work well in a D&D campaign especially OD&D or Holmes, where keeping things simple is the purpose. I know personally I'd "hand wave" a lot of this if I was refereeing a Holmes game (i.e., if a character wanted to hide or jump across a chasm I'd probably just decide based on the circumstance or have them roll against DEX), but having a baseline system to go by that doesn't include a lot of extracuricular dice rolling or shuffling through pages of rules isn't a problem. As a matter of fact I think I'm going to borrow your system there the next time I run a pickup Holmes game just to see how it travels.

trollsmyth said...

Excellent list. You give longer odds than I do in most cases, but I don't think that's a bad thing. And actually, lately I've been using the d6 rather than the stat checks. It's quicker and easier and keeps the game flowing.

I gotta disagree with Hamlet and Badmike, but with caveats. If folks don't fall off their horses, then the player who spent their skill points on riding was ripped off. This isn't much of a big deal when using 2e's proficiencies; almost all of those are once-in-a-blue-moon modifiers. They come up maybe a very few times in a character's entire adventuring career, when you need to leap from the back of a galloping horse or impress the countess with your fancy dancing.

It's in 3e that things start to fall apart, with some skills clearly being more valuable than others. It's gotten to the point where almost no 3e character knows how to swim because swimming so rarely happens. Combat, however, happens all the time, so any skill that improves your chances in a fight is immediately useful. Spending your points on a skill like swimming makes perfect sense when talking about 2e's non-weapon proficiencies, because in most campaigns they're all once-in-a-blue-moon events. In 3e, being able to swim means your character is crippled in some other, more vital area.

(And things change dramatically in non-standard campaigns, such as one focused heavily on the sea or politics and diplomacy. But typically those just shift around which skills are vital and which are ripoffs.)

- Brian

Hamlet said...

Trollsmyth: I gotta disagree with Hamlet and Badmike, but with caveats. If folks don't fall off their horses, then the player who spent their skill points on riding was ripped off. This isn't much of a big deal when using 2e's proficiencies; almost all of those are once-in-a-blue-moon modifiers. They come up maybe a very few times in a character's entire adventuring career, when you need to leap from the back of a galloping horse or impress the countess with your fancy dancing.


That's just the thing. The Riding, Land Based proficiency does not mean "you can ride a horse." It's very explicit that any idiot can climb up on a horse and ride from point A to point B under average circumstances without falling off.

The proficiency grants very specific abilities, such as combat from horseback (believe me, a very useful skill), permitting not only you to attack from horseback but the mount as well, performing "tricks" or riding through tricky circumstances (such as urging a mount up a steep and treacherous mountain pass), and urging a mount to great bursts of speed.

And, all told, I do find that players who pick up that proficiency are rewarded very frequently for it. Plus, I honestly don't see the need to "reward" players at all just because they picked something out of a book. A standing joke at our table is that one player picked omen reading as a proficiency. He is mocked because it's said that he'll never get any benefit out of it, and he won't get any benefit, simply because he never freakin' uses it! You don't get rewarded for picking a proficiency, you get rewarded for using it to enhance your PC's survival and success.

That said, I will say this: I do not like concrete "skill systems." They are too modern for my taste. The proficiency system I can live with because, while it does have issues, it's a) not really a skill system as I've said, and b) a happy medium between no system at all and a full blown point system.

In my view, any skill system covering a standard fantasy game (in a standard fantasy setting) should take into account that, historically, most people from that sort of world literally were what they did (hence the popular surname "Smith"). Most people were known by their careers and adventurers (despite being a completely invalid career choice) would most likely have been raised by parents and been trained to do something in particular (such as smithery, carpentry, animal husbandry, dust collector, etc.).

Disagree with proficiencies all you like, but at least don't misrepresent them.

Banesfinger said...

How would you distinguish skills based on the PCs background?

For example, 3 players have differing visions of their 1st-level fighters:
a) a swashbuckling pirate
b) a native/pict/tribal warrior
c) a noble knight

A leap across ship's rigging, following tracks in the jungle, or courtly intrigue "should" allow each one of these fighters a moment to shine, correct?

Hamlet said...

Banesfinger: First, I don't see the need for any character to neccessarily have a background. A first level character is, quite literally, a nobody and any backstory they have should be limited to a sentence or two. One of my favorite characters had a background limited to "Cedric was a townguardsman until Zach the priest came through and converted him to the religion of Light: he now follows in the footsteps of his master bringing good to the world and wealth to re-establish the faith." That is the entirety of his "backstory" and it requires no skills or special features to make him unique. In fact, it's his lack of skills in certain areas that makes him unique, specifically his inability to even read the sacred writings of his own religion.

Second, a DM/GM is not in the business of crafting moments for characters to shine in. That's called story writing and is best left for creative writing class. A GM/DM is in the business of presenting a situation and a setting in which the PC's act and to which the players react.

Third, even without a proficiency or skill system, those characters you listed, with the aid of a decent enough DM, are fantastically easy to realize. You need only state "my character is a swashbuckling pirate" or "Bob is a knight of the realm" and everything will fall into place.

Justin Alexander said...

trollsmyth wrote: I gotta disagree with Hamlet and Badmike, but with caveats. If folks don't fall off their horses, then the player who spent their skill points on riding was ripped off.

This is based on the false premise that the only thing a Ride skill is useful for is "not falling off your horse". This is a favorite punching bag in old school circles, but it's a really weird one: No edition of D&D has ever had a Ride skill that said, "If you don't have it, you fall off your horse."

The Ride proficiency in 2nd Edition, for example, gave the character the ability to do all kinds of nifty stunts with their mount -- but never required (or even implied) that characters without the proficiency would be falling off their horses all the time.

Similarly, the Ride skill in 3rd Edition allowed the rider to attempt all kinds of nifty stunts -- but "falling off your horse" was never a consequence.

Amityville Mike said...

I realize that skills and NWP are going to forever remain a sticking point for people. Some people love them, some people hate the, and some people are indifferent.

I have read the NWP sections in both 1st and 2nd editions. I've read them quite clearly and, despite an initial acceptance of them, I've since come around to the thinking that I find they tend to complicate matters more than I'm willing to accept - especially when trying to stick to a bare bones, keep the game flowing, and let your imagination set your limitations type of game.

In every edition of AD&D, NWP were always an optional choice. I've chosen not to take that option this time around.

The system presented here in not intended to win converts from the NWP/Skill set crowd. It's an attempt to establish a baseline for my own use and to let players see how I'm going to make ruling on certain actions - just so they know I'm not pulling such ruling out of thin air. I think it's important to referee/player trust to establish these things early, so here it is.

Why does a fantasy world have to become PC to the point "everyone has a chance to do anything"???

It's not being PC in my case. It's because I like to put the emphasis on "Game" in my Role-Playing Game. I enjoy recreation, not simulation, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let a little thing like reality stop me from having a good time. So in my world, everybody gets to try whatever the hell they want, no matter how slim the odds. Whether or not they want to risk those odds, that's up to the player.

trollsmyth said...

Justin Alexander: This is based on the false premise that the only thing a Ride skill is useful for is "not falling off your horse".

Uh, no, it's not. Here's what I said:

This isn't much of a big deal when using 2e's proficiencies; almost all of those are once-in-a-blue-moon modifiers. They come up maybe a very few times in a character's entire adventuring career, when you need to leap from the back of a galloping horse or impress the countess with your fancy dancing.

Again, the problem rears its ugly head in 3e. A player who picks ride or swim instead of spot or search or gather information or tumble has crippled their character. 2e non-weapon proficiencies are once-in-a-blue-moon adornments to your character's background and style. In 3e, there are simply too many that are vital to being a decent dungeon-delver and monster-masher that you end up crippling your character if you indulge in such things as riding and swimming (unless the campaign is going to take place almost exclusively on the steppe or at sea).

The result is campaigns where PCs fall of their horses (because the DM either doesn't use the skill as it's described in the book or invokes all sorts of riding tricks that require dice rolls) or where nobody takes these skills.

Now, skills that no PC takes are just fine for 3e, because monsters are built with the same rules as PCs. Just because the PCs never take a skill doesn't mean it's useless; the skill might be used for NPCs or monsters to make them more distinctive.

- Brian

Amityville Mike said...

How would you distinguish skills based on the PCs background?

I'll cover background and how it can affect the baseline in the next post but as a spoiler, it's not by much and can be pretty random.

For the three examples you give, how good of a pirate/pict/knight will probably be determined by how well their player runs them, what their ability scores are, and how the game goes. I wouldn't make any direct changes to the system for a player wanting to run those three characters but I wouldn't be opposed to a good argument to make modifiers to certain attempts as they come up in game.

Hamlet said...

And trust me, I'm never going to try and convert you to my way of thinking. God knows there need to be less people in the world who think like I do, not more. This is just one of those sticking points that for me, one of those bones that I can't stop worrying at.

In my experience, in most games I've played in or GMed, NWP's have stopped more arguments than they have started and even when, or especially when, they are all but completely ignored except as just another line on the charcter sheet, they hurt nothing in the long run. The only problems I've had was either a) when somebody tries to use such a proficiency to do something patently absurd (like using the jumping proficiency to jump across a river that's 300 feet wide) or b) when somebody gets pissed when I tell them that their character will probably want to dismount before engaging the oncoming goblin squad unless he's ok with the serious penalties for fighting from horseback untrained.

Badmike said...

"In my experience, in most games I've played in or GMed, NWP's have stopped more arguments than they have started and even when, or especially when, they are all but completely ignored except as just another line on the charcter sheet, they hurt nothing in the long run."

Gotta totally agree. It always amuses me that those who never use NWP have the most trouble with them, while those of us that have had them a part of our games for nearly 20 years have absolutely no problems with them. Now, having said that, NWP aren't for everyone (just like weapons vs AC, detailed initiative, and psionics aren't for everyone); I don't have any problem with DMs having a more organic, "hands on" approach to the question "what can my character do?". However, I don't like straw man arguments based on what I think is the origin of the "falling off the horse" passage in the OSRIC rules:

"Certainly the authors could have included a skill system covering activities such as “horse riding” or “swimming”, but doing so is actively detrimental to heroic gaming. Had we included a “horse riding” skill, characters would start falling off their horses."

So we can all blame OSRIC? :)

I must admit not knowin a heckuva lot about 3/3.5 rules and especially how NWP work there; I think from what I've gathered the problem seems to revolve around some "combat" profiencies being far and away more valuable than others?

Breaking it down, a NWP system is basically a "ability check" system, although Mike's system does make it even a bit simpler. I actually have no problem with it since at it's heart it's very similar to what I use.

The Badger King said...

This is something I have thought about a lot, especially in planning my campaign. I've always thought every version of NWP and secondary skills has been broken. Although the Player's Option provided more breadth of skills, it was a bloody mess. I mostly used the skills as falvour for creating background in my PCs and NPCs.

However, after reading the thoughtful discussion here, I came up wth an idea that is very similar to what Mike came up with. I like the idea of using skill checks to accomplish most things, but (at the cost of some extra book-keeping), why not simply note every time the character has a success at a skill that could be improved through practice. Then, for every x number of successes, the character gets a bonus in that situation. For instance... a character is trying a particularly difficult mounted manouever. GM determines appropraite skill, check is made. If the character succeeds, they get a note somewhere: Horseback, and a check mark. When a character has made enough success ful skill checks determined to fall under the Horseback area, then it is assumed they are learning how new moves in the saddle, and get a bonus. Conversely, a character has to make a skill check to remember who the lord mayor is. Since this isn't really a skill that can be improved upon (you either remember or you don't), they don't get a checkmark in a new skill set. Thus, characters can develop skills in a more holistic manner. If you want, you could also have a character select one secondary skill when they start, as already having a bonus in that area when they begin adventuring.

Yeah, it's a bit more bookkeeping, but it seems to make a lit more sense, and develops a character in a more sensible manner.

At least, *I* think so. 8)

Timeshadows said...

May I ask Amiityville Mike whether he uses Thieving Skills?

Justin Alexander said...

trollsmyth wrote: The result is campaigns where PCs fall of their horses...

Dude. C'mon. Stop with the stupid strawmen. Allow me to repeat myself: No edition of D&D has ever had a Ride skill that said, "If you don't have it, you fall off your horse."

Not OD&D. Not 1st Edition. Not BECMI. Not 2nd Edition. Not 3rd Edition. Not 4th Edition.

The game you are bashing DOES NOT EXIST.

Again, the problem rears its ugly head in 3e. A player who picks ride or swim instead of spot or search or gather information or tumble has crippled their character.

Crippled their character? Man, you sure like the ridiculous hyperbole. Choosing to be exceptional at A instead of being exceptional at B (while still being competent with both A and B) does not constitute being "crippled" by any stretch of the imagination.

In 3e, there are simply too many that are vital to being a decent dungeon-delver and monster-masher...

I'll bite. What "essential skills" are you talking about?

Please note that you can't possibly be talking about Climb, Decipher Script, Disable Device, Hide, Listen, Move Silently, Open Lock, Search, Sleight of Hand, or Use Magic Device -- since these have all been Thief-only since roughly 1975. (And, therefore, unless you were playing in all-Thief groups, there were self-evidently characters who didn't have those abilities.)

Badmike wrote: Gotta totally agree. It always amuses me that those who never use NWP have the most trouble with them, while those of us that have had them a part of our games for nearly 20 years have absolutely no problems with them.

Is that really so surprising? I mean, if you had problems with them, you wouldn't be using them, right?

It's like saying it's amusing that people who are allergic to onions never eat them, while people who aren't allergic eat them all the time. :)


I must admit not knowin a heckuva lot about 3/3.5 rules and especially how NWP work there; I think from what I've gathered the problem seems to revolve around some "combat" profiencies being far and away more valuable than others?


Ride is actually a pretty good example: Take all the nifty stuff that the Riding NWPs give you in 2nd Edition, but instead of needing the NWP you make a skill check to see if you succeed (1d20 + ability score modifier + skill ranks vs. the Difficulty Class of the nifty trick you're trying to pull off).

That means that anybody -- even those who have invested no skill points in Ride whatsoever -- can attempt to pull off those nifty tricks. They'll just be less likely to pull them off successfully.

For some skills, some of the really nifty tricks have DCs high enough that you need to invest at least some skill points to attempt them. And there are a couple of Trained Only skills that require you to invest at least 1 skill point in order to attempt any of the nifty tricks (like Use Magic Device, which models the thief's ability to use magic items they wouldn't ordinarily be allowed to use.) But basic competency in almost all skills is the assumed default.

Which is what makes the contention that 3rd Edition suddenly had people "falling off horses" so ridiculous. Not only is that absurd strawman patently not true, but 3rd Edition, in point of fact, assumes the most broadly competent characters in D&D since Supplement 1: Greyhawk was published in 1975 (and the Thief suddenly bogarted a chunk of skills from everybody else).

Amityville Mike said...

May I ask Amiityville Mike whether he uses Thieving Skills?

Yes, I do. I'm actually very fond of thieves (in games, of course).

Amityville Mike said...

It always amuses me that those who never use NWP have the most trouble with them, while those of us that have had them a part of our games for nearly 20 years have absolutely no problems with them.

That's a blanket assumption, as I've used NWP for many years and I do have problems with them. But I understand the spirit of what you mean and accept that.

Amityville Mike said...

why not simply note every time the character has a success at a skill that could be improved through practice.

That's a very similiar mechanic to the one used in Call of Cthulhu and the rest of Chaosium's Basic Role-playing System.

I admit that that is one way to rule on skill improvement that has worked with those systems for many years (although it does have its detractors, but as you say, it involves more book-keeping than I'd like to keep track off. I'm trying to keep things as elegantly simple as possible.

Timeshadows said...

May I ask Amiityville Mike whether he uses Thieving Skills?

"Yes, I do. I'm actually very fond of thieves (in games, of course)."

May I then ask what you see as the difference between Thieving Skills, and 'General Skills', both thematically, as well as mechanically?

Also, which system are you using? LL? S&W? OD&D?

kelvingreen said...

I'm going to be trying a simple d6 roll, against a target number of 4, 5 or 6 depending on difficulty. If there's an appropriate statistic, then the player would add/subtract the modifier to the d6 roll. I'll be giving this a go in Labyrinth Lord.

Amityville Mike said...

May I then ask what you see as the difference between Thieving Skills, and 'General Skills', both thematically, as well as mechanically?

The answer to both is Simplicity. Thief abilities are already built into the game mechanics and dosen't require me to add anything new to a simple system of rule guidelines. A concrete system for General Skills would have required me to do that and that was beyond the scope of of what I was limiting myself to.

I'm using B/X/LL as a system's base, in answer to your question on rule set.

Vanadorn said...

I've read and re-read this many times and have, like mike, decades of experience behind me - both in front and behind the screen.

For myself, I find that skills help more than hurt and for a few lines on the paper, solves tons of problems.

Anyone can ride a horse, or listen to a door, or swim, or whatever. And there are some skills/crafts/secondary items that would appear to be more useful than others but that depends on the game you are playing and the people and who is around the table.

I use a modified system that I actually had in place back in 2E and expanded slightly when 3E came out, bringing it more in line with the (then) current canon. It's not perfect, but it works, and I'm familiar with it as well are those who get a chance to tinker in it (as players) for a bit.

But I am mostly interested in HOW the players use their skills to do things above and beyond what would be expected or that skill-set would normally suggest. I tell my players that if you can give me an excuse as to WHY your Drawing skill or Fishing skill or whatever they have chosen can be used in a situation and WHAT it is they are doing with it - then I let it go. The promotion of good roleplaying trumps pigeon holing.

Does Move and Hide help out? Yes. But only if you are in a dungeon or trying to sneak past something.

Anyone without riding can ride a horse - just not well. Anyone without swimming can swim, just not well. Its up to the DM to be fair and the players to be understanding.

And no matter what - a "1" always fails, regardless of how terrific you might be at something.

My 2 coppers

Amityville Mike said...

I'm going to be trying a simple d6 roll, against a target number of 4, 5 or 6 depending on difficulty.

I considered going that route and it still remains a second choice since a similiar system is already in place for listening, detecting traps, secret doors and such. In the end though I decided to go with something based on ability scores and class to reflect the vagueries of each character in a simple a way as I could.

Vanadorn said...

Oh yeah, one more thing

I obliterated every secondary skill that relies on ROLE PLAYING: ie: sense motive, intimidate, gather information, diplomacy, etc....

In my mind those are game killers and I could sit down to Everquest instead.

Role playing. Open your mouth. Interact. You have a Charisma score, the DM'll take that into account if you are playing a suave Autolicus style King of Thieves Bruce Campbell clone but you have all the personality of a damp rock.

My 3rd copper

kelvingreen said...

a similiar system is already in place for listening, detecting traps, secret doors and such
This is precisely the reason I'm trying it out. I really like the idea of all "skill" use being based on d6 rolls. I've even modified the thief skill chart to use a single d6 rather than a d100. None of it's been playtested yet, but it seems like it'll be intuitive and fun, and that's good enough for me.

trollsmyth said...

Alexander: The rulebooks before 2000 also said your character died when got to 0 hit points, and everyone played as if a roll of the d20 represented a single swing of the sword, even if the rules said otherwise. It's not a strawman if people actually play that way. And some do.

As for necessary skills, the first that leaps to mind is spot. Usually the first roll of every campaign is a spot check, and spot checks happen frequently in any adventure. Search isn't used quite as often, but far exceeds most other skills in frequency of use. A character without these two skills is going to have a much harder time pulling their weight in a party.

Innuendo is vital if you spend much time at all in social situations. It's probably the most basic social skill a PC needs. A character without diplomacy, bluff, or intimidate is going to be left twiddling their thumbs in any 3x social encounter, since a single botched roll is generally enough to dip-six the situation.

Appraise you might be able to get by without, though you're going to get cheated by NPCs. Still, if your group has one person they've designated as the reseller, you'll probably be ok.

After that, you'll probably need one or two class-specific skills you'll be expected to know to fulfill your role in the party.

And since it's almost always better to be really, really good at a few skills rather than have your points spread out all over the place, and since skill checks tend to be all-or-nothing, most characters just beef up these skills. It makes sense. These are the ones that get the most use. These are the ones most vital in day-to-day adventuring. And a character who does not have these skills forces the others to make up for them.

- Brian

Peter said...

I like this, I like it a lot. I've become accustomed to using formal skill systems in the various RPG systems I play in, and I don't dislike them, but I agree that they tend to mitigate against free-flow, heroic roleplaying. My concern with doing without a formalised system has been accommodating players who want to mould their characters beyond the simplicity of gaining levels and magic doo-dads, and this system does address that issue.

Timeshadows said...

"The answer to both is Simplicity. Thief abilities are already built into the game mechanics and dosen't require me to add anything new to a simple system of rule guidelines. A concrete system for General Skills would have required me to do that and that was beyond the scope of of what I was limiting myself to.

I'm using B/X/LL as a system's base, in answer to your question on rule set."

Okay, thanks. :D

Badmike said...

It always amuses me that those who never use NWP have the most trouble with them, while those of us that have had them a part of our games for nearly 20 years have absolutely no problems with them.

Amityville Mike said...
"That's a blanket assumption, as I've used NWP for many years and I do have problems with them. But I understand the spirit of what you mean and accept that."

I'm glad you can make sense of my ramblings, because that was badly stated. But thanks for understanding the spirit of my convoluted prose if not the intent...!

Are we going to have to refer to the OSRIC quote as the "...now infamous "falling off horses" OSRIC example"?

Mike B.

Hamlet said...

I think I regret sending these comments off kilter like that . . .

jdh417 said...

Excellent job on this. I had a question about characters performing various professional skills, like sailing, but then again that's what NPC's are for.

How are you rolling for ability checks? It's not in your post and I didn't offhand see it in Labyrinth Lord. (Hides face in embarrassment)

kelvingreen said...

The LL (optional) rule on ability checks is on p55. It's a d20 roll against the attribute in question, and if the result is higher than the ability, it's a failure.

Dwayanu said...

From what I've seen, the importance of the resources managed in a skill system can influence the tendency to make skill checks mandatory.

Choosing a class in D&D is very significant. Once the Thief was introduced, many people sought to "protect the investment" by invoking "non-Thieves can't climb" kinds of rules. I see Thief abilities rather as qualitatively different, and the chance (e.g.) to detect or disarm a trap as in addition to what player skill may accomplish.

In 3E and 4E, I've seen a marked tendency for DMs to call for rolls in cases in which I would not. That's taken to an extreme with 4E "skill challenge" encounters. The designers, IIRC, made it plain that they meant to emphasize skill ratings because of their importance in character "builds."

Chaosium's approach in my experience deemphasizes the "you get only so much" aspect of expertise. That strengths and weaknesses should vary among characters is key to an interesting game, but it need not impose a great rules burden.

I think it should be sufficient to indicate a handful of character-defining specialties, treating other competence as "typical" (perhaps in relation to class/background). Anyone can shoot or ride, but not everyone is a crack shot or an expert equestrienne. The rarity of such distinctions makes them distinctive.

Having a limited list of possible skills seems essential only when players are expected to "spend" limited resources on them in such a way that one could be "cheated" if the options were expanded for another.

jdh417 said...

Thanks, Kevin. I must have missed reading it, or forgotten that I had read it.

Justin Alexander said...

trollsmyth wrote: It's not a strawman if people actually play that way. And some do.

So your argument boils down to, "We shouldn't have rule X because somebody might change it completely so that it is instead rule Y."?

I hate to break it to you, but ANY set of rules can be completely altered in such a way that it no longer resembles the original. And is, in fact, completely antithetical to it.

But at least you admitted that the game you're slamming is not, in fact, 3rd Edition D&D. I'm not sure who the guy is who came up with the horrible house rules you're attacking, but it might be more productive to raise the issue directly with him instead of claiming you're critiquing a completely different set of rules.

Anonymous said...

The "common adventuring skills" chart you created is one of the most useful charts I've seen in a long time.

Having a chart like that would have put the kibosh on a lot of arguments back in the day.

Kudos for that.

As for the topic at hand, I am slowly coming around to not using NWP's. I have no issue with them in game at all (use em love em) but I think a simpler system might get to the fun faster

Omega said...

I know this is an old post, but it's new to me. :) I wanted to add that if you're not keen on spending a lot of time on character backgrounds for lowly 1st level bums that might be food or fodder, you can instead wait to determine if a character has a given skill or not when it first comes up in play. Then figure out a determiner and roll. If they succeed, they now have that skill as if they had picked it from the beginning. That way, you have no dead weight of skills that never come up, and the characters can sort of build their backstory as they survive long enough to bother with one. "Where'd you learn to ride a horse like that?!..." "Oh, didn't I tell you?" Then you know, scratch off a slot for the number of skills that character can have or whatever. Worked great when we played 2e back in the day. No one ever ended up stuck with sucky irrelevant skills, and we were actually encouraged to think of ways to use the skills in play vs. having some grand design in mind at the start.