During Sunday's (pathfinder/realworld/flailsnails) game there was a encounter where skills came into play. Skill rolls for knowledge:religion and perception were called for. I remember failing, and interpreting the look on the DM's face as chagrin. I e-mailed him about my experience with the Observation skill in Hackmaster and why I gave up on perception type skills. I said:
"Realizing that I either wanted them to know something (because they should) or didn't want them to know it unless they asked/looked, made me question why I was calling for the roll at all. And then trying to figure out if they did look, but then missed the roll even with a bonus, what to do about rewarding their involvement. . ."and got a very interesting and well thought out e-mail in reply. The reason I'm so fond of it, is that it makes very rational well thought out arguments for having skill systems in a game, and allows me to explain to people who have given this a lot of thought why I'm not a big fan of extensive skill systems.
He Said: "The information was there and I had no greater desire to give it or not give it."Indeed. When you talk about a skill-less game, you are abstracting out a layer of reality. You reduce the granularity from a variety of options (from a 1-6 roll, or a set of DC's) to just four.
- No one can observe it
- Only those who could logically observe or know it can observe it or know it
- Only those who state that they examine the item or object get the information
- Anyone can see this information
"With the skill system in place the way I use it, and the fact that I take into account players taking 10 even when they don't explicitly say it (mostly because EVERYONE I have played with thinks you have to roll for every skill every time), I feel that it enhances the concept of player agency because the choices you make have meaning."And in this, he is correct. But here is why being correct isn't so good.
Putting the 'tactical combat' options in opposition to 'character knowledge/skill/personality' options creates an unresolvable conflict resulting in the destruction of agency.
By giving me agency (making choices matter) for those choices made while building my character, I am having my agency removed _during play_.
It turns what I like to call 'the play of the game' which is highly dependent on player skill into a tactical mini-game itself, that my personal skill as a human being can only influence mildly (+2/-2) by RAW.
If you respond you'd give them a larger bonus, then what is the point of skills in the first place? Aren't you just deciding if they find it or not? And if they roll and fail, even with the bonus, haven't you removed some of their agency of their build choices and/or their personal skill?
Now, someone might say, if you don't enforce this division - isn't this having your cake and eating it too? Well, in a game like pathfinder, where character builds put combat options opposite skill options, then yes! It is an explicitly unfair situation designed to equalize players at the table. This way Bob can charm the guard with his diplomacy even if he isn't a very good speaker.
Only this makes no sense. We are playing a game, and some people are better at that game then others. They don't make faster players in the NFL wear weights to slow them down, and they don't make chess players play with a handicap when they play a lower ranked player. Why do we think this is fair in D&D?
The argument that it keeps the DM fair is also spurious. He sets all the DC's. The rules have just given him another way to be unfair if he was unfair to begin with.
The thing is, the sitting around and thinking of what to do is one of the fun parts of the game. There is no conflict that is necessary to resolve in the vast majority of skills.
Acrobatics: If you're not dealing with a superhuman range of abilities here, then you can just assume they can jump or run it. The real use of conflict here is using it to move past an opponent safely. There is ground here for a subsystem regarding that, but there is no real need for it to be a check. Taking a hit from a monster seems like 'bad trap' territory. Avoiding that hit could just be a simple comparison (level vs. hit die)
Appraise: What is gained by *not* knowing how much something is worth. Is this worth the time to roll at the table? What is the cost of this conflict?
Bluff (& Sense Motive): Combat/feat build uses aside, there is certainly some room for a 'social conflict' system in D&D, but a simple D20 comparison check is a really really boring way to handle it!
Climb: You can climb it. Unless it's unclimbable, then only the thief has a shot. What's the drama here, you roll a d20 and maybe fall to your death? Does anyone think making five or ten checks just to see if something bad happens is fun? Or maybe during a climbing combat you want to have to check to see if you lose your turn or move real slow?
Craft, Perform, and Profession: Secondary skills? Player says what they want to make and they can? What is the advantage here of having this conflict resolution system.
Diplomacy: There needs to be a reaction system in place
Disguise: Again, what part of play is improved by the constant chance of failure. Is it just one die roll for success? Why not let them succeed if they use magic or are assassins, and have them fail when they as players make mistakes.
Escape Artist: This is as useful as use rope? Only useful to the extent that combat/grappling, etc. may require this. "Can I escape from my bonds" needs no skill roll for adventurers. The answer is 'as soon as no one is looking'.
Fly: Again, 1e handles this with maneuverability class. You can do what's listed. What advantage is the skill?
Handle Animal: Only as far as there needs to be a reaction system in place. Why a separate one for non-sentient animals
Heal: What drama is there inherent in "I bandage their wounds"
Intimidate: Only as far as there needs to be a reaction system in place.
Knowledge skills: Either they know it because of their race or class, or they can find it out somewhere.
Linguistics: The game assumes that these adventurers are already grown people. i.e. They know the languages they know. Learning a new language should be handled by 'we spend a month among the lizard people and learn ophidian, their nefarious reptile tounge.
Perception: Ah the overused skill. There does need to be a system for surprise. I have eliminated searching for secret doors in my game, because each is opened by some object in the environment that they can manipulate or discover in some way through play. I still give them the chance as a back up if they aren't looking.
Ride: How much time do your characters spend mounted? How often does this come up, unless it's a specific factor in the tactical combat game of modern editions?
Sleight of Hand: I can see the conflict value here. There is a reward for success, and a penalty for failure.
Spellcraft: Why can you not do everything this does with caster level?
Stealth: Again, I can see the conflict value here.
Survival: Characters are adventurers, how often do you make them roll this to survive. Do you need a general skill for those characters that can track?
Swim: How are we advantaged over A) you can swim or B) you can't swim
Use Magic Device: I can see some ground for this skill having conflict value (like combat, success versus the status quo)
I guess my core point here with this list is, rolling a die and adding a number is not in and of itself a pleasurable activity. To do it only to prevent something bad happening is worse (unlike combat where if you fail the status quo is maintained and if you succeed, you get the fun of adding up your damage)
*It is also interesting to note that the vast majority of skills which have conflict built in are the old thief skills (read scrolls/use magic device, pick pocket/slight of hand, stealth/hide in shadows move silently)