Friday, June 24, 2011

Skill and Such

Doing my daily blog roll, or Google Reader feed I should say, I get exposed to a lot of DnD related opinions. One of the things I come across pretty regularly is that somehow, skill systems are the devil and are ruining the game. Or at the very least, they have the potential to ruin everything. Obviously, this is not an opinion held by everyone. However, I disagree with it and plan on blathering on about it, and skills in general.

I have recently considered gutting Pathfinder in an experiment that involves removing all skills except knowledge skills, as kind of a way to kick start player involvement in the game. If they can't make a good argument or properly conceal themselves or whatever, they don't get to do it. This coincides with the argument against skills, as it is believed that they make players lazy. They allow them to just roll dice instead of explaining what they're doing. Instead of coming up with an argument, you make a Diplomacy check. Instead of making a strong threat, you roll Intimidate. Instead of vividly describing your banister slide and your chandelier swing, you roll Acrobatics.

Who the fuck plays like that? Oh, I know, shitty players and GMs.

When we started playing again, I decided to run my games with the caveat that a vivid or well thought out description can compensate for a shitty die roll, and a shitty, thoughtless description can mangle a beautiful roll. Some of my players take this to heart, others ignore it.

To show an example of this set up, Fred once had Derf Bluff Kethranmeer, he got a good roll, however, he used information that Kethranmeer knew to be false. Kethranmeer played along, but for the rest of the campaign he didn't trust Derf and kept an eye on him. Unfortunately, this never came to a head though. Would have been fun to role-play it. Fred wasn't a lazy player in this instance, I only use it as an example of how I handle skill use.

I have seen some opinions about skill systems from old school blogs that let their players go on at length with a description about how they're going to grab their ten foot pole, shrug off their armor, dig a little hole, and basically pole vault a gate or wall. Awesome, you found a non-skill based solution in a system that doesn't have skills. However, the GM makes a Dexterity ability check to see if you perform the vault, just like he makes a Charisma check during a well thought out argument. My question is this, how is that not a skill system? Granted, it is a piss poor one that doesn't take into account experience or expertise or background, only innate ability, but nonetheless, it is a skill system. 

 I like skill systems, it is why I like GURPS so much. I only find skill systems to be a problem in two cases:

  1. When the players get lazy, in which case, you punish them for it. 
  2. When players don't enjoy using them. 

GURPS, being a skill based game, rather than classed based, chokes you to death with the massive feat of accounting that is managing your skills, advantages, and disadvantages, and I love it. Pathfinder is easy. Takes seconds to distribute skill points. Even if you have eighty skill points and ten feats to choose, it should only take fifteen minutes or so to take care of it. Of course, this relies on two things:

  1. You know what you're doing and how to play the game. 
  2. You knew what you wanted to play more than five seconds before sitting down to make the character.
Skills are a complicated issue, I guess. Some people, like me, love them. Others, like Jeremy and Lance, can't stand them beyond a certain level if complexity. This is part of why I am interested in Labyrinth Lord and trying it out, I want to see how games without skill systems, other than thief abilities, operate and how creative my players and I can get. We'll see. 


  1. I just think that some rulesets can get sometimes bogged down in the minutia of skills. I'd rather have a good condensed selection of skills, rather than micromanage dozens. For me it simplifies an aspect of the game and will allow me to move on with the story.

  2. I agree. I'd rather just be able to have,say, D'alton, fast talk his way out of a jam (this is figuring that I have my confidence switch set to ON that particular day), then stop, roll a die, add the bonuses or what have you, and then the decree is passed down, that yes, he did convince the guard that instead of D'alton stealing the royal chickens, the royal chickens were stolen by the pet wolves of the Arch-Duke.