On Skills in Games (A Surprising Insight!)

Can you guess what it is?

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.



Coda
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)

60 comments:

  1. Insightful. I agree with your conclusions altohugh I glaze over a little when people talk about "agency."

    I agree that skill systems seem to suck the life out of roleplaying and problem solving. I do have a little sympathy for one of our newer/younger players who says he's "no good" at the diplomacy/talking to NPCs part of the game, and would like to be able to roll instead of roleplay it, but just a little. Mainly I don't want to be the jerk that turns him off to RPGs.

    (His fumbling around with RPing is very entertaining though. I just worry that he gets overly embarassed and and will eventually feel like he is playing the fool.)

    Another player in my game always argued that without knowing his chances of success, he can't make tactical decisions about will he to do X, and likes a skill system for that reason. I always tried to simplify (e.g. using the system from LOTFP) but I think next time I'll just give a more explicit outline of what various classes can and can't do as you list above.

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  2. I like the breakdown, it gives me a lot to think about. You make a lot of compelling arguments for abandoning skills, and I certainly agree we should abandon a number of them.

    On many of these I agree--and have agreed for a long while. I've never really figured out how to use the appraise skill without it being boring, and a series of skill checks is not fun, for certain.

    The fact that your Pathfinder GM asks you to make perception checks is weird to me, though. If there's a secret door, I don't ask my players to make perception checks for it. I notate their perception bonuses, roll for them behind the screen. If any of them succeed I tell them something like "you notice the dust on the floor is disturbed over by the wall," or "you notice the rats scurrying out from behind the curtain seem to have come from nowhere."

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  3. there are plenty of situations that surely don't require a roll. A DM can simply decide anyone with X or more ranks rides for free instead of wasting times with a roll.

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  4. For a lot of the skills you listed there are situations when a die roll could add to the tension or drama. The key is that those situations are highly unusual and specific, and the vast majority of the time no die roll is necessary. Off the top of my head, I'd say that when it's a time sensitive task, with a tangible benefit in case of success and an immediate peril in case of failure, you might want a die roll.

    Take Acrobatics. Say you're hustling away from a monster with a sack full of lucre, and you try to lose your pursuer by leaping over a ravine. Now, obviously, plummeting to your death is no fun, so the DM could just decide that you make the jump automatically. But that destroys the decision you would otherwise have to make: 'Do I attempt this risky jump, or do I take the corridor and try to lose the monster some other way?', and: 'Do I drop this sack of treasure to better my chances?'. Then there's the matter of the monster behind you - does it attempt the jump, maybe falling to its death?

    I don't like formal skill systems for more or less the same reasons you don't, but I might call for a roll against an ability score for those sorts of cases. You don't need a skill system just to cover outliers like that, ability scores do fine.

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  5. I played Ashen Stars last night and it sucked for this very reason. I mean at least there was no "perception rolls" but the whole reading off your list of investigative skills at the GM to see what you discover sucked. Because there was no tension and half the time the answer was "nothing".

    I got so bored I deliberately failed a shuttle craft roll and all that became of it was we got a little banged around, I didn't even have to roll to regain control, even though I had to earlier when the starship decided to go off an do its own thing, I just did it. There was no tension, no drama and no excitement.

    The most 'fun' I had all evening was goofing off in character while the engineer tried to defuse a bomb through an ajar door. I mean I don't think there was any real danger of it hurting him.

    The only agency I felt was to ask questions of the GM until I found the right skill to provoke a release of information. Like a rat in a cage pressing a button to get water.

    Yawn.

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  6. I would like to make a brief but spirited defense of skill rolls, but first I must state the caveat that I am speaking in the context of the basic rule that skill rolls, like any other rolls, should only be made when success or failure would both be interesting.

    For me, roleplaying games are in part interesting because they are a be-another-person simulator. In my opinion, exploring imaginary places and fighting imaginary monsters is interesting, but so is being an imaginary person, different from me, with abilities and limitations distinct from my own. I enjoy thinking about what it would be like to be someone else, and I feel that skill and ability checks exist in part to help me understand what that would be like.

    That said, I don't often make skill or stat checks, or ask people to do so. Usually I just look at the scores, compare them to the task at hand, and make a judgment call as to whether the proposed course of action will work. What this boils down to, in many cases, is something congruent with your class-based allow/disallow thresholds for plans of action. You say "thieves can climb unclimbable walls", I say "people with climbing skills can climb more difficult walls than people without climbing skills." Potayto potahto.

    But also, and I'm sure this would drive you nuts, I feel comfortable with making a player roll Intelligence to implement a plan that seems too complex for his character to actually work out. Because, again, to me the value of roleplaying is inhabiting someone else's abilities and limitations, and sometimes that trumps agency. Sure, that's the plan you'd use. Now come up with a plan Thog would think of.

    Incidentally, "rolling a die to prevent something bad from happening" sounds a lot like a saving throw. I guess you could think of a skill check as a "save against screwup"...

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  7. I'd very much like to hear your thoughts about a good D&D reaction system, that's one of the bits of TSR-D&D that I never played by the book as a kid (I'm playing in a 1ed game rather than DMing so I haven't been able to try out that sub-system and I don't think my DM is using it).

    I agree with a lot of what you say about skills being misused and covering a lot of things that they shouldn't cover, but I think this is a case in which the dirty forge hippy maxim of "say yes or roll the dice" makes a lot of sense. All of the time in which you think what the players are doing makes sense and you have them succeed, just keep on doing that, it's in those situations in which the PCs are doing something that's an edge case or when the PCs are doing something that you don't think they are capable of that you bring out the skill system. If you break out the skill system rarely and keep it for the special/dramatic stuff it can be useful. This is especially the case as it allows the players to roll stuff randomly, which allows the dice to surprise you.

    That said, using the Pathfinder/3.5ed skill system by the book is insanity. There are 21 different rules to remember for adjudicating climbing in 3.5ed! That's madness.

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  8. @JD Jarvis, but does it require a skill at all then?

    @John, I prefer to couch those things in the situation. i.e. Here is an opportunity for the player to make an interesting _choice_, not roll for a skill.

    @Planet Niles, the best examples come from 'liveplay' of 3.x games. It's just call for roll, roll. And often, even if the roll fails, success is given.

    And let me be clear, I really like playing pathfinder and using the skills and the game in general. I hate running it, but have no problems playing in it and building characters. In fact, as my really talented DM points out, they are effectively different games, neither one being right or wrong objectively.

    @David, I'll think about it. I'm very fond of the classic 2d6 reaction, 1d20 morale system though.

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  9. @C: The roll provides a risk that makes the choice meaningful. In my hypothetical, I'd rule that the player could drop the treasure and make the jump for certain, or they could keep hold of the sack and roll for the jump. That gives them options - keep the treasure and risk the fall (high risk high reward), drop the treasure and make the jump (low risk low reward), or take another route (trading their present circumstances for unknown ones). Plus, of course, anything the DM hasn't thought of.

    Remove the risk and you reduce the player's options. If they can't make the jump with the treasure, that's one less option and the situation is noticeably less interesting. If they can make the jump, that's worse, because it becomes the obviously superior choice and there's no need to consider the other options or get creative.

    The presence uncertainty is important to the player's decision-making. Choosing between a risky but more profitable action and a safer but less profitable one is a meaningful choice. Choosing between a more and a less profitable action of equal (or zero) risk is not.

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  10. (The actual 'skill' is unimportant, it's the presence of risk that matters. That's why I use ability scores rather than a points-buy skill system.)

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  11. I can mostly get behind you on perception skills, but sometimes with knowledge skills you really need to roll the dice to figure out whether the guy would know that.

    Four level resolution for me is: Yes; Maybe (tell me more and I'll sort you into one of the three remaining categories); OK, maybe (let me roll on it); No.

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  12. Can you give an example? Knowledge is something you either have or you don't, I don't get why you'd need to roll for it.

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  13. @John - that's why there's no re-rolls on knowledge checks.

    Lets say you're a cleric, and you find some undead goblins bearing a strange crest. Unbeknownst to the player, this is the crest of the cult of Vecna. Since the cult has maintained a low profile in my game world, not every cleric is going to recognize their crest on sight.

    So I have you roll a knowledge check with a DC of 17. If you meet the check, then at some point in the past you read about / saw / otherwise learned that an eye being clasped by a hand is the symbol of Vecna. I may even offer success in gradations, allowing a roll of 20 or higher to know some details of the cult.

    If you fail the check, you never encountered vecna's holy symbol before. Thus, you don't know anything. Though (and this is a house rule of mine) if you only fail by 5 or less, you do know of the nearest sage who can help you learn more.

    Knowledge checks are unusual because unlike every other skill, you're not checking something which you're currently attempting to do. Rather, it's a check to see if you ever accomplished something in the past.

    The biggest problem with knowledge checks is making sure you don't repeat them. It's my job as GM to make sure I don't ever make you roll knowledge to recognize the cult of vecna's crest again, once you know what it is. That can be pretty had to keep track of.

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  14. Here's what I don't understand. If I was running the equivalent of a knowledge check, I would decide whether the crest was something the cleric could reasonably be expected to know (in which case they know it), or whether it was something obscure (in which case they don't). You would decide how well-known it is and then set an appropriate DC.

    My question is, what do you gain by making it a random chance? If the crest is something that some clerics would recognise, but not all, what is the advantage of having the player roll to determine which group they're in? I'm not saying there's not an advantage, necessarily, I'm just unclear what it is.

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  15. @John The benefit is the opportunity for the player to choose their own level of involvement. Setting aside the die roll for a moment, the system you outlined doesn't seem to allow for much flexibility beyond class. Don't misunderstand, the more fast-paced, GM arbitrated style of play sounds fun. And I'm sure you would take into account factors other than class in your arbitration. That being said, what if a player wants to play a particularly scholarly cleric? I'm sure you could work something out, but the Pathfinder (or 3.X) skills system has the solution built right in. If you want to be scholarly, put points into Knowledge checks rather than other skills. If you're particularly dedicated, take a skill bonus feat. A level 10 Pathfinder cleric could easily have a +16 or more to their Knowledge(Religion) roll, making recognition of Vecna's pendant (DC 17) automatic. Whereas a character less interested in scholarly pursuits would have put more points into skills like spellcraft or healing. Such a character is not particularly involved in the scholarly aspects of their class, but has probably learned a bit more.

    The Knowledge(Religion) skill is also handy if, for example, you're a rogue who often steals from churches. Or a fighter with a grudge against clerics. In a 3.5 game where I play a warlock, I've invested heavily in knowledge(Religion) because my character is attempting to destroy all the gods. Clerics aren't the only ones who might choose to learn about religion. (We've been using this example awhile, but it applies to most of the knowledge skills.)

    In honesty, though, I will admit that the randomization element isn't very useful for knowledge skills. It can easily be explained, but it's not particularly exciting and the roll doesn't really drive the game forward the way an acrobatics check to dodge a pendulum blade might. I tend to think that there's only a dice roll attached to it because otherwise there would need to be a secondary skills system which didn't require dice. Even I would admit that would be needlessly complicated.

    If my players wanted to simply always take 10 on their knowledge checks, I'd be fine with that.

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  16. @LS Yes, I can see the appeal of how a skill system lets a player tweak their character during creation. We're back to C's original post now - I don't use a skill system because I don't like how it affects play, but I recognise that by rejecting it I make character building less meaningful. I'm fine with that, but I recognise the tradeoff.

    I tend to think that there's only a dice roll attached to it because otherwise there would need to be a secondary skills system which didn't require dice. Even I would admit that would be needlessly complicated.

    The closest thing to a skill system in 1E is a "secondary skills table" buried in the DMG, with a list of one-word professions on it (hunter, sailor, carpenter, etc). A character is assumed to have the basic skills and knowledge associated with whatever profession they rolled. So when a problem came up, you could say, for example, "I used to be a sailor, I know how to splice a rope" - or anything else you could plausibly argue based on your background. No dice involved, just old-school negotation between player and DM.

    Instead of a random roll for profession, base it on the player's character background, or whatever background they retroactively come up with during play. Bam, you've got a diceless skill system that allows for character customisation, courtesy of EGG. Not for everyone, I know, but this is what I'd use.

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  17. I read this with the growing feeling that your logic doesn't quite connect. It could just be that I'm a skills partisan -- but I can't agree with your condemnation of skills.

    First, there's the fact that I, and my players, tend to use skills in part to define the character. For example, in my campaigns each available language is a skill, and the number of points invested determines fluency and literacy. Rolls determine how much information can be gleaned from archaic texts, or how eloquently a character speaks.

    I give my players extra skill points and encourage them to spend these on "frivolous" but flavorful skills like crafts and professions. And skill checks do have in-game repercussions: the party had to write a report, for example, and a high result inspired me to declare that their employers were impressed and pleased enough to ensure a higher commission and further employment. And thus casual plot hooks become lasting NPCs. Conversely, a natural 1 on a lute has resulted in a catstorm. In short, used correctly, skills are an endless font of fodder for your creativity and can have long-term effects in the campaign.

    You seem to make the argument that, for example, Diplomacy skills are stupid because only player skill should matter? But why? If weak players without coordination can still pretend to be powerful warriors, and atheist players can still pretend to be powerful clerics, why not include a rule allowing tongue-tied players to pretend to be suave? Or, why do you privilege skill with a sword over skill in oratory?

    You precede this argument with the idea that having a Diplomacy skill forces players to stop choosing their words carefully because it can only affect the roll so much. My response is -- if your player comes up with a plan that traps an enemy in a pit and then fills the pit with boiling acid, do you make them roll to hit? Why not?

    I know my NPCs' motivations and personalities, and in cases where I need one on the fly, I have tables. If a player gives a speech that would charm the guard, I tell them they've succeeded. This is the same as simply announcing the death of the enemy in the acid pit. If the player is low in rhetoric but has invested skill points in the character's rhetoric, then I let them roll. The automatic success of the former still rewards clever play, just as the auto-death of the poor sap in the acid pit rewards clever play, but such an auto-success in diplomacy no more obviates all rolls than a clever plan obviates all to-hit rolls ever.

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  18. I can understand your argument about “conflict” – how if a skill is only used to avoid hiccups in the flow of action, it can feel pointless. My first response, as above, is that skills have plenty of uses in both inspiring creativity and in allowing people to, you know, play roles even when they personally lack the skill to enact those roles in person.

    My second response is that if you're only using skill checks to create hiccups in the flow of action, you're not doing it right. Skill checks should be used in the same way as attack and damage rolls: to heighten tension, to create stakes, and to force on-one's-feet thinking when things don't go as planned.

    Appraise: One of the members in my current campaign has defined a role for himself as the party fence, in part by choosing this skill. Also, as with all information-related skills, this can create interesting party dynamics. Yes, my players are all adult enough to deal with their characters being lied to and cheated out of a little cash by other characters. Add to this the fact that a lot of my treasure is in objects whose value varies tremendously according to the buyer, and I kind of shudder at the idea of taking a fantastic treasure horde and instantly sucking all life and color out of it by declaring “oh you found a vase worth 50gp.” I really see a lot of value in keeping the worth of a treasure item secret.

    Bluff: You admit that this is a useful skill, but then you claim that the d20 mechanic is boring... in that case, why do you role-play in a dice-based system at all? What makes “d20 comparisons” boring in a fast-talk situation but fascinating in a sword-fight?

    Climb: Declaring all obstacles to be 1. auto-climbable, 2. never climbable or 3. climbable only by thieves seems to me like a blow against player agency. I prefer to announce the difficulty of a climb check and let the players decide what they want to do... and then face the possible consequences of failure, just as when they announce an action in combat.

    Just last session my players encountered a cave with knee-deep water full of lobster-eels. One of the characters climbed sideways along the wall and bypassed the monsters. The next failed a check and nearly got mauled to death. Another held back until the strong climber came back and pitoned a rope into the wall, making the DC 5 easier, after which the party carefully bypassed the room. Your three-point climb system would have either forced an encounter (removing player agency) or allowed them all to automatically bypass the encounter (making the whole thing pointless; ie a mere hiccup in the flow of action). So here we see skill checks being used in a meaningful way to encourage thoughtful play and add the excitement of uncertainty without forcing combat.

    Craft, Perform and Profession: Aside from their uses I mentioned before, these skills can have meaningful impacts on gameplay. Craft skill rules in 3.x determine how long an object takes to make and whether it is masterwork (and therefore enchantable), without depending on DM fiat. Desiring a bonus on Craft: Alchemy skills has driven my players to seek out a secure home base for an alchemy lab.

    Diplomacy: I use Rich Burlew's rules, and they work for me.

    Attack Rolls: What part of play is improved by the constant chance of failure? Is it just one die roll for success? Why not let an attack succeed if the character uses a magic sword or plays a “Fighter,” and have them fail when the player “makes mistakes” according to your perception of what their best tactical choice is? Whatever rule you apply to attack rolls, use the same for Disguise checks.

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  19. Escape Artist: for me, this covers contortion and the art of fitting one's body through small spaces or into strange shapes. The skill can be used by creative players to fit through, into, or out of, unexpected places, including manacles and prison bars. If a player is tied up and wants to escape but fails the roll, I certainly don't just give it to them; I treat it as an opportunity for problem-solving. Do they search for something sharp to rub the rope against? Dip it in their plate of prison slop and offer it to the rats? Simply wait for rescue? Ignore the bonds and mock the prison guard? Why would you want to steal this storytelling opportunity from them? When you play golf is every hole a “gimme” in the interest of finishing as quickly as possible, or are you there to play a game?

    Fly: Why throw in a whole different set of rules to remember when maneuverability can be subsumed under an overarching skill system?

    Handle Animal: Just in case you suspect that dog psychology is different from human psychology in some way, and think that the difference is at least as important in play as the difference between a buckler and a normal shield.

    Heal: Just in case you're capable of finding drama in the handful of rounds that determines who bleeds to death and who survives.

    Intimidate: Just in case you want social interactions to be more detailed than “I convince him.”

    Knowledge skills: I DM a sandbox world where the players' choice of what knowledge skills to invest in determines the fruits of their explorations, to a degree, and the knowledge they gain in turn influences the choices they make on several levels of play. Characters in my campaigns can seek knowledge and gain concrete rewards in the form of books that give bonuses to their checks. Characters that don't quite “get” something in one part of the sandbox can go away, learn more, and come back for another try – if and when they choose.

    Incidentally, I'm far happier as a player when my DM lets me choose what I know, by allowing me to control skill point allocation, rather than deciding for me arbitrarily. I like playing monks who know architecture, or clerics who know about the nation's history, or fighters who can use their knowledge of herbal lore to gain a bonus on Heal checks.

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  20. Sorry; seem to have dropped a post.

    Linguistics: I rather appreciate having a system that can tell me who's a beginner and who is fluent – and how silver the tongues of the fluent ones are. If you want to write an epic poem in Ophidian, you roll your Ophidian skill as if it were a craft check. If you create a “masterwork” poem, it gives bonuses to the Perform checks of those who recite it. And, naturally, if you want to be really good at a language, you spend time investing skill points in it. You role-play the learning. A language isn't a goddamn on/off switch.

    Perception: As DM I use the PCs' passive (take-10) values all the time; I only make them roll if they actively choose to use a skill. If they want to “search,” I don't make them play a guessing game about which bit of flavor text they should pay attention to. I've even divided this unfortunately hypercompacted skill into five; Sight, Hearing, Touch, Taste/Smell, and 6th Sense – so that characters can notice the presence of things unseen, get “tingly feelings” in magically intense areas, and other interesting situations.

    Ride: Do you not care about spending time mounted? Then spend your skill points elsewhere, and let that choice inform your play from that point on – just as your choices of race, class, and equipment inform your play. Think you might want to play a mounted cavalier? If so, I recommend the Fighter class and the Ride skill, with neither of these choices being more pointless than the other.

    Spellcraft: Imagine a world in which only spellcasters know about spells, and only in a way that exactly corresponds to their casting power. Now imagine a world in which anyone can spend some cross-class skill points in order to know a few things about the wizard is doing, or in which player choices rather than DM fiat determine their grasp of magical theory. Now tell me which is a richer world with more player agency.

    Survival: Just as some people desire stats that tell you the difference in fighting strength between a commoner and a 20th-level monk, so do some people desire stats that tell you the difference between a city mouse and a country mouse. I am one of those people. If a character wants to scavenge food from the land and save up the cash for a new longsword that much faster, they pay for that convenience with skill points.

    Swim: Despite the total impossibility of having a chase scene in the water, despite the total lack of drama in rolling to see whether a character crosses the river on their own or needs help or gets washed downstream, despite the utter uselessness of a mechanic that allows for that sort of distinction to be determined by a combination of skill (points invested) and fate (a die roll), some people might still somehow find a Swim skill useful.

    I guess my core point here is that – in the hands of a skilled and imaginative DM – skill point allocation can generate meaningful choices for players. The results of skill checks can be interpreted to give nuanced results including various severities of success or failure. Unexpected results can make a bland situation more interesting. And in the end, a skill roll is at least as meaningful as any other roll in the game. If a skill roll is nothing more than a meaningless check to avoid paying a failure tax in time or hit points, then you're doing it wrong.

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  21. @Confanity: All of your examples* I could handle dicelessly, and without relying on DM fiat, in the way I've already suggested.

    To answer your first question:

    If weak players without coordination can still pretend to be powerful warriors, and atheist players can still pretend to be powerful clerics, why not include a rule allowing tongue-tied players to pretend to be suave? Or, why do you privilege skill with a sword over skill in oratory?

    The popular idea (which I agree with) is that dice rolls are used only to adjudicate those situations which can't be resolved by either A) actual enactment at the gaming table (as with diplomacy and conversation), or B) negotiation between player and DM (as with problem-solving). Combat is unusual: it's a complex and chaotic situation, it can't be satisfactorily adjudicated by either of those two means, and by its very definition it meets the requirements to make those dice rolls interesting (immediate benefits and perils leading to further choices down the line). It also happens a lot, so it's worth having its own subsystem.

    The implication that goes along with that is that roleplaying and problem-solving are the game, or at least a very large part of it, and if you take that away and replace it with dice rolling, you'll have nothing left (or more realistically you'll be playing a different game). I react to a player who is bad at those things wanting rules to equalise them with the other players as unsympathetically as I react to a player who is bad at football wanting the same thing. With practice, they'll get better.


    *I think; I admit I skimmed a few of them so if you have a specific example you want me to cover then throw it at me.

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  22. Oh, by that first paragraph, I mean including my first couple of posts up above that allow for the possibility of dice rolls in special circumstances. But generally, it could be diceless.

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  23. 8^D

    @John: I hereby refute all your counterexamples* according to the logic implied above.

    First, I'm afraid I still don't see why you accord combat skills privileged status over other skills. Yes, D&D has its roots in tactical wargaming, but let's assume that we're talking about it as a role-playing game in which no combat is necessary to have an exciting game session, gain XP, etc.

    On the one hand, you're advocating for combat the use of:
    -a dice-dependent system that can yield nuanced results
    [because]
    -it is complex
    -it “cannot be adjudicated by other means” (despite the very real existence of RPGs with diceless combat!), and
    -it “happens a lot.”

    And then on the other hand, you advocate for all non-combat activities the use of:
    -a flat, DM-determined pass/fail system
    [despite the facts that]
    -non-combat problem solving can be far more complex than combat resolution,
    -non-combat situations are, logically, not inherently harder or easier than combat situations to resolve with any particular mechanic, on account of how it's all a group storytelling session anyway, and
    -non-combat roleplaying and problem-solving are, as you say, a large part or even the quintessence of the entire game

    I hope you can see why I feel you're contradicting yourself.

    You then claim that dice rolls somehow magically displace role-playing, despite our agreement that they should only be used when (A+B = player action) is insufficient for the task and something with a little more randomness/excitement is called for. I see no real, meaningful distinction between the complex, chaotic back-and-forth of combat and the complex, chaotic back-and-forth of negotiations or debate. What I do see in skill checks is a way to stop glossing over the non-combat portions of the game and make them as surprising and interesting and engaging as the combat. And in a way that begins with character creation and never stops, no less.

    Have you ever told a player “I'm sorry; you're too stupid to play a wizard with 14 Int”? Have you ever told a player “I'm sorry; you don't know enough about fencing to play a swashbuckler”? Would you ever? If not, why would you tell a player “I'm sorry; you're not charismatic enough in person to play a smooth-talking rogue”? If you demand that characters can only be given abilities that the players themselves possess, then why are you playing D&D, and not SCA? If you only make that demand for certain arbitrary abilities, aren't you just being hypocritical?

    *Well, probably. If you wish to challenge me again on specifics, please feel free. 8^)

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  24. Now let's look at a specific comparison in the utility of dice-rolling. First, comparing a Craft check to forge a sword with the attack roll to swing that sword.

    The possible results for the sword-swing are 1. hit, 2. miss, and (if you use them) 3. crit. The possible results for the craft check are 1. complete failure (materials wasted; start over), 2. marginal failure (some in-game time is lost but otherwise no penalty or reward), 3. marginal success (a normal sword gets forged in a normal time frame), 4. impressive success (the sword is forged more quickly than it would have been otherwise), and 5. masterwork. It seems obvious to me that the Craft skill, because of the greater range of results, benefits more from the nuanced levels of success and failure afforded by dice.

    Now let's look at a party trying to pass a wall. In the diceless resolution proposed above, the DM either says 1. Nope; go away, 2. Sure over you go, dunno why I bothered to put a wall here anyway, or 3. Only Bob can climb it, so either you guys split the party or you all go away.

    In a dice-based resolution... the DM need say nothing beyond describing the wall! The players, based on their available resources (including magic, equipment, and skill point investments) can choose whether and how they want to try to pass the obstacle. Better yet, the problem-solving choices made by the players, and unexpected rolls, can lead to interesting situations that are all the more rewarding because the DM didn't even anticipate them. Has the party left pitons and rope that the guards would notice? Did Bob roll a 1 and face-plant on the far side of the wall? Does each failed roll increase the tension as the pursuing wolves draw closer? Why would you gloss over all that possible gaming with a flat “Yup you climb the wall”?

    Finally, let's look at a moment in combat. Anne says “I swing my sword at the cultist.” In normal D&D, you have to roll a die, perhaps roll again for the crit, roll damage, and then either the cultist dies or you get to do it again next round. In a diceless system exactly equivalent to the proposed diceless Climb resolution, the DM can say “Well, you're a 7th-level Fighter and the Cultist is a civilian with 2 HD, so yeah, you cut him down and hurry on into the Indigo Temple.”

    Your antipathy to skills seems to assume that D&D is nothing more than combat and puzzles. But I just invented a campaign where the players are a team of artificers trying to create the most interesting magical items. They want to level up in order to gain more crafting skills, research skills, and magical enchantments. Quests are to gain information, ingredients, and trade contacts. Combat is just a momentary distraction in the quest to find secret formulae and rare ingredients. Suddenly skills are of paramount importance and combat is just something to be glossed over. And if everyone's having fun, where exactly has player agency been lost?

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  25. @Confanity

    Your strawmen are interesting. There are several factors that are ignored or misrepresented.

    I think this misunderstanding is a large part of why people have problems with skill light gaming, the process you are describing for what you do to determine the skill roll is the same process I use, however instead of a skill roll, I rely on what the player has choosen to say.

    e.g. "-a flat, DM-determined pass/fail system"

    Clearly, as noted above, this is something that is done as a dialogue between the players and the DM. At the table, this most often starts with me presenting the situation and a result based on player action and getting feedback.

    "Declaring all obstacles to be 1. auto-climbable, 2. never climbable or 3. climbable only by thieves seems to me like a blow against player agency."

    again, is conflating the 'problem solving' aspect of the game, with the 'combat' portion.

    When do you call for a climb check? Only those times when things are chaotic. If during combat, there is a surface, then it is either climbable by no one, everyone, or the thief part of the time.

    Outside of a time restricted enviornment, with the right equipment, no roll ever need be made.

    Your climb example is the example for why you don't need a skill check system

    How often does a surface needing to be climbed come up in the game in a non-combat situation? Five times a session? hardly. Even once a session? Probably not? What is gained by having a system to determine which degree people are successful at this (You climb it/You fall).

    Many of your examples explictly do not rely on dice rolls at all. The party leaving pitons is based on the players remembering to say if they did or not. What tension is there if you're up on a wall and wolves can't reach you?

    I'm not glossing over anything because in a skillless game, what the players choose to do determines their fate, not endless checks with dice.

    If you were to keep statistical track over the frequency of use of those skills versus combat, and were to ask players if realative paucity of skill rolls were more or less exciting then the combat skill rolls, I think we'd know what we'd find. Per player, the number of times appaise is used is less then the number of times a combat roll is made. And there is generally nothing at stake.

    Your final example is the best one at all! Well, if the characters are all a team of artificers, then their appropriate skills will be the same in a point buy system! So what advantage does the skill system provide then? This is like saying determining initiative is the most exciting roll. (i.e. they all roll with the same (or nearly the same bonus) and are just ranked by their random roll - due to the d20 scale, then no one has any input on their ranking. How super fun is it to be ranked completely randomly in comparison with other people.)

    Is your supposition here that someone would build their artificer to not be as good as the others?

    If skills don't add anything, and if problem solving and being careful about what you say is more suspenseful and fun, then why have them?

    If it's balance, frequency dictates, you're nearly always better building to the fight.

    If it's excitment, the experience is lacking.

    If it's 'role playing characterization', then you really don't need skills for that at all.

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  26. Confanity says:
    "Perception: As DM I use the PCs' passive (take-10) values all the time; I only make them roll if they actively choose to use a skill. If they want to “search,” I don't make them play a guessing game about which bit of flavor text they should pay attention to. I've even divided this unfortunately hypercompacted skill into five; Sight, Hearing, Touch, Taste/Smell, and 6th Sense – so that characters can notice the presence of things unseen, get “tingly feelings” in magically intense areas, and other interesting situations."

    Why use this:
    "We search the bedroom."
    "Roll a d20."
    "A 17."
    "You don't find anything."
    "We search the door"
    "Roll a d20."
    "A 23."
    "The door appears safe"
    "We open the door and look down the hallway."
    "Roll a d20"
    "A 21."
    "The hallway appears empty."
    "We walk down the hallway."
    "You fall in a trap. Take 4d6 damage."

    To replace this.
    "We search the bedroom."
    "You see a spartan room, containing a wooden bed frame, with a dirty matress atop. It appears to have filthy furs atop it, and hay sticks out from the mattress. There is a rotting wicker foot locker at the foot of the bed. The floor is dusty and dirty. It appears foot traffic has cleared a path to the door."
    "We check out the door"
    "It appears to be wooden, and the handle is shiny as if it has seen heavy use"
    "So it's probably not trapped?"
    "If you think so."
    "Hey, while he's looking at the door I'm going to toss the bed."
    "The mattress is large and bulky, it doesn't turn much, because it's stuffed with bundled straw."
    "I cut it open."
    "As is spills apart, inside you find two small rubies and a small moleskin sack tied with a black leather string. It appears to contain coins."
    "Awesome, we pocket the sack and open the door."
    "You see a dark hallway, the other end is cloaked in shadow."
    "We walk down the hall holding the torch out in front, looking for monsters."
    "The ground falls away and you fall into a pit! Take 4d6 damage."

    My question is, why does anyone anywhere think that the first is more fun?

    You can add descriptive details to the dice rolling in the first example but because they don't matter doing so is just useless rhodomentade.

    What you find when you search is determined either before the game (when you 'build' your character) or based on a random roll during the game, not on your choices.

    If you provide the extra description, and allow the player to bypass the skill system, (i.e. if the descriptive details do matter) then why have the skill system at all? To reinforce lazyness? To make sure your players don't miss anything?

    If you're just going to tell them where to look, or what to do - you don't need a skill roll to do that. Either tell them, or don't!

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  27. @Confanity: What logic implied above? If you're confused about what previous suggestion I meant, fair enough, I'll paraphrase it. But if you expect me to go through every one of your examples and provide a counterexample, you're outta luck, I'm afraid.

    To paraphrase my "skill system": a player is assumed to have the basic skills associated with any field of study or practice (e.g. appraisal, sailing, high society manners) implied by their character background, if they have one, or any background elements they retrospectively come up with during play as part of their character development. For tricker stuff, the player uses this assumption as a platform to launch a negotiaton with the DM, and what their character can do is anything the player can reasonably argue they could achieve with their implicit skills and the tools at hand. If there is an element of risk involved, and if this risk will add something to the game by presenting reward, peril, a certain amount of drama and the creation of player choices, a roll may be called for by the DM. This roll is adjudicated on a case-by-case basis.


    And then on the other hand, you advocate for all non-combat activities the use of:
    -a flat, DM-determined pass/fail system

    This is incorrect - I hope now that I've explained myself better you can see that it is neither flat, nor wholly DM-determined, nor necessarily pass/fail, nor even really a "system" - just more or less freeform player/DM negotiation.

    [combat] “cannot be adjudicated by other means” (despite the very real existence of RPGs with diceless combat!

    I said it can't satisfactorily be adjudicated by other means. You can have diceless combat, but the elements of risk, tension and resource management that characterise D&D benefit greatly from having a combat system based on random chance. Again, it's a matter of rewards, perils, drama and the creation of player choices.

    You definitely appear to misunderstand my position. I do not try to "gloss over" non-combat portions of the game. Quite the reverse. I feel that dice rolling tends to gloss over parts of the game that could otherwise be handled with pure roleplay or pure problem-solving, so I try to avoid it except when strictly necessary.

    Have you ever told a player “I'm sorry; you're too stupid to play a wizard with 14 Int”? Have you ever told a player “I'm sorry; you don't know enough about fencing to play a swashbuckler”? Would you ever? If not, why would you tell a player “I'm sorry; you're not charismatic enough in person to play a smooth-talking rogue”? If you demand that characters can only be given abilities that the players themselves possess, then why are you playing D&D, and not SCA? If you only make that demand for certain arbitrary abilities, aren't you just being hypocritical?

    I've already told you. D&D, the game, consists almost entirely of roleplaying and problem-solving, on one level or another. That's how you play the game. The more you adulterate that with dice rolling, the less you are actually playing the game you started with and the less enjoyable it becomes. That, and if you support players who are bad at the game with the crutch of dice rolling, they will never become better. Yes, I prioritise the player ability to roleplay - because it is a roleplaying game. If I was playing SCA, a game about hitting people with swords (sorry, SCAers), then I would prioritise that skill instead.

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  28. -C's addressed your examples and I agree with him on the whole. But I'd like to respond to this:

    Your antipathy to skills seems to assume that D&D is nothing more than combat and puzzles. But I just invented a campaign where the players are a team of artificers [...] Suddenly skills are of paramount importance and combat is just something to be glossed over.

    This is the root of your misunderstanding, I think. This is absolutely untrue. Rather, we do not assume that D&D is about rolling dice. When we're not rollling dice, we are not 'glossing over' that part of the game. We are avoiding the unnecessary and not particularly enjoyable interference of rolling dice to focus on the game itself. If there's no combat involved, then it would be possible to go an entire session without the players rolling a single die, and it would still be just as much D&D, and it would still be just as much fun.

    (I think -C agrees with me on this, but if not, sorry for putting words in your mouth.)

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  29. @John
    Roger Doger, we're peas in a pod on this I think.

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  30. @Confanity: One more thing, in case I still haven't properly explained our side of the argument. One of your own examples shows it best:

    If a player is tied up and wants to escape but fails the roll, I certainly don't just give it to them; I treat it as an opportunity for problem-solving. Do they search for something sharp to rub the rope against? Dip it in their plate of prison slop and offer it to the rats? Simply wait for rescue? Ignore the bonds and mock the prison guard? Why would you want to steal this storytelling opportunity from them?

    In your system, the player makes a roll, and only if that roll fails do they then move on to problem solving - figure a way out, but only if you don't roll high on the dice.

    In our system, there's no roll, we just move straight on to the problem solving - wait until the guard's not looking and hop to it.

    Your system has a built in, random chance of skipping that exercise of the players escaping their bonds entirely, and yet you're accusing us of robbing the players of that storytelling opportunity. Do you understand our point of view, now?

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  31. @My gracious host;

    Please don't praise my straw men; they pale in comparison to those of masters like yourself and John.

    You start with a decent point: all gaming is a dialog between GM and players. At your gaming table, that works without skills. Except when it didn't, but hey, right?

    But next comes... something about how skill systems allow non-thieves to choose the Climb skill, but you cut them off at character creation because... you think players hate customizing their characters? And then there's something about how having a character in the party with no or low Climb skill could lead to problem-solving, but cut that possibility out too because players hate problem-solving? I dunno, man.

    “What is gained by having a system to determine which degree people are successful at this (You climb it/You fall).” – This shows nothing more than that you don't even know how Climb checks work; odd for someone who claims to have played 3.x and Pathfinder. The gradiations are fall/stuck/climb/fast-climb. What's more, Pathfinder Climb rules also give a mechanic for falling characters to catch themselves. What do you use?

    Then, “The party leaving pitons is based on the players remembering to say if they did or not.” – Completely ignoring the fact that in your flat skill-less system, why would they use pitons? The only things that make a difference between whether a wall can be climbed or not, according to your own words, are class choice and GM whim. In a skill system, players will choose to rope-and-piton or not depending on their resources and needs.

    ”What tension is there if you're up on a wall and wolves can't reach you?” – Seriously? I really thought this was abundantly clear, but let me emphasize that the tension comes from not having successfully climbed yet. In other words, it's easy to think of a situation where a failed skill check is more than an annoying re-roll.

    “I'm not glossing over anything because in a skillless game, what the players choose to do determines their fate, not endless checks with dice.” – I'm pretty much amazed here. Your gameplay uses endless checks with dice to determine life and death each session. You have quite a few poison saves, right? If you hate dice, play a diceless game! The only difference between my dice and yours is that you give combat the same exalted position that 4E does, while to me, combat skill is just another skill.

    "Is your supposition here that someone would build their artificer to not be as good as the others?” – Sorry; I can see how this would be easy to misunderstand. My idea was more along the lines of a normal adventuring party that happens to have item-crafting as its primary activity and motivation, to show that a campaign can be centered on skills rather than combat. Perhaps the fighters are bodyguards; perhaps they're with the group because they want them some magic swords and armor; no matter the player motivation, the setup hardly demands that everyone play uniform characters.

    “Per player, the number of times appaise [sic] is used is less then the number of times a combat roll is made.” – First, if you hate dice, this is a great reason to stop rolling dice in combat! Second, who cares? Damage dice are also rolled less often that attack dice; why not get rid of damage rolls? Hit points are rolled even more rarely than Appraise is; shall we get rid of rolling hit dice? The rarity argument is completely meaningless.

    “if... being careful about what you say is more suspenseful and fun” – you have a point. I guess there are probably people who think it's more exciting to quibble, hair-split, and try to guess the GM's mind than it is to declare an action, roll for success, and move on. 8^P

    The best part is your recent post where your method nearly killed the party due to a misunderstanding. Oops.

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  32. “The party leaving pitons is based on the players remembering to say if they did or not.” – Completely ignoring the fact that in your flat skill-less system, why would they use pitons? The only things that make a difference between whether a wall can be climbed or not, according to your own words, are class choice and GM whim. In a skill system, players will choose to rope-and-piton or not depending on their resources and needs.

    This is wrong. The players' accomplishment of the task is based on negotiation between the player and the DM. The use of equipment, e.g. pitons, are of course going to be part of that negotiation. That you continue to characterise it as "GM whim" shows that you still don't understand our position. Do I need to explain what I mean by player-DM negotiation? I've been assuming you're familiar with the concept, but I realise that if you're not, then it might not be self-explanatory.


    Also, I detect some rising sarcasm, so I just want to reassure you that anything I say here I mean in an entirely friendly and straightforward way. The above paragraph, for instance, I mean at face value - I'm not trying to be sarcastic or hostile. I tend to write in a pretty direct way, so I don't want to accidentally cause offence.

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  33. (In fact, rereading it, it comes off as super hostile, so sorry about that)

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  34. Okay, let's get something straight. First you accuse me of using straw men. Then you ask why I use this kind of situation –

    "We search the bedroom."
    "Roll a d20."
    "A 17."
    "You don't find anything."

    – to replace this –

    "We search the bedroom."
    "You see a spartan room, containing a wooden bed frame, with a dirty matress [sic] atop. It appears to have filthy furs atop it, and hay sticks out from the mattress. There is a rotting wicker foot locker at the foot of the bed. The floor is dusty and dirty. It appears foot traffic has cleared a path to the door."

    I'm kind of disappointed in you, for two reasons. First, the hypocrisy. And second, because I use this –

    "You see a spartan room with a dirty, broken-down mattress on a wooden bed frame, draped with filthy furs. There is a rotting wicker foot locker at the foot of the bed. The floor is dirty, but it appears foot traffic has cleared a path between the bed and the door."
    “I search the foot locker.”
    “Roll a die.”
    “17.”
    [knowing that a 20 would find the secret compartment on the bottom] “You find a collection of orcish porn magazines with the centerfolds torn out.”

    – and you, apparently, replace it with this –

    “You see a room.”
    “What kind of room?”
    “You haven't said you actually looked at it yet; I can't describe it until you say you look.”

    Not to mention the part where unless your players magically guess the code word (e.g. “I search the bottom of the foot locker”) they have zero chance of finding the hidden compartment, while my players' characters have a chance. They have the capability of having good fortune in something other than an attack roll or saving throw, and they seem to enjoy it when it happens despite having laid hands on a plastic Platonic solid.

    And here's the clincher: as I've pointed before, my skill system does not replace player action. Instead, it is used to augment it. If they want to act out the diplomacy, I let them. If they want to painstakingly describe, in minute detail, their search of the room so that they can be sure they guessed my magic word, I let them (unless the other players start getting bored). But if they want to augment their personal abilities as players by rolling Diplomacy, or move the scene along by rolling Search, then I give them that option.

    There's another weird straw man you've raised a couple times now that I want to address. You imply that if skills are used, then all role-playing stops with character creation. Aside from the fact that it's patently false, aside from my repeated attempts to gently remind you that all the “choices” you offer your players are also available to mine, I'm kind of wondering how you can stand your own hypocrisy when you replace all skill attempts with class choice and nothing else. Can you climb this wall? Only if you're a thief. Can you tell what spell she's casting? Only if you're a magic-user. How is your system not worse than mine?

    And again, let me remind you: the way you adjudicate skills can be just as easily, and just as validly, used in combat! Just cross-reference unit type and HD, and voila! Pesky dice done away with.

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  35. And now we're simul-posting; that'll make it a bit difficult to catch up. 8^P Rest assured, John, that no offense is taken; my natural mode is sarcasm and I'm doing my best to be civil because it really is a thought-provoking discussion. It is frustrating, though, when my arguments are dismissed as "straw men," clearly without full consideration, when they are no less sincere than yours.

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  36. If you and -C and I all agree to stop strawmanning and counterstrawmanning each other, then can we move on to having a good-faith discussion about our respective play styles? Because I honestly feel that you're arguing against a position that is not my own (or -C's), but that you mistakenly believe to be, and as a result of which a lot of your points are not relevant, since they address a version of our argument that isn't actually real. No doubt that's why -C thought you were strawmanning. There's a genuine misunderstanding here that we can probably clear up if we can get our thoughts on the same page.

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  37. John, I can see where you're coming from on the Escape Artist bit... but it's an illusion based on the order of events; if you think about it, you'll see that my way still offers more choices to the players, and more opportunity for role-play.

    Consider that in either case, the player could start with the sharp object, or the rats, or the guard-mocking, or the wriggle. Having skills doesn't limit their options in any way. We saw how my version works; here's how the skill-less version works:

    "I try to wriggle free"
    A. "Okay, you do" (no roleplaying or puzzle-solving)
    B. "No, you can't because you're not a thief." (fiat failure)

    Fiat success on the first try is not RPing or puzzle-solving; fiat failure isn't either, and is frustrating to boot; it feels like the GM is arbitrarily making you play a guessing-game to find the proper solution. An auto-escape rope is a pointless rope; a rope that can never ever be wriggled free from is unfair. And if you decide to make it fair by "giving the player a chance"... well, you just invented a substitute skill check, didn't you?

    On the other hand, a character who has a skill and rolls well feels gratified ("Yes, my skill selection paid off!") while one who fails can accept it and move on ("Well, that's just bad luck. Now let's try something else.")

    Again let me reiterate and stress: if everything is up to what the GM decides "seems reasonable," then sooner or later the players -- as -C's group has already demonstrated will suffer due to a miscommunication or a difference in opinion over what would be reasonable. At that point, the entire campaign can start to look like the worst kind of computer games; the dream-logic-solution adventure games, or a pixel-hunting point-and-click game, perhaps. When -C talks about "player skill," it's not forcing the players to become eloquent speakers or rigorous puzzle-solvers; the only thing they're actually gaining skill in is reading the moods and quirks of one individual GM. "Oh, this guy is DMing tonight; if we want to find any treasure we'd better cut open every monster's stomach."

    Yes, skill-based systems can be used as a crutch. But any rule at all can be used as a crutch. Yes, bad rolls on skill checks can be frustrating and interrupt the flow... but bad rolls on a poison check can do the same. Bad combat rolls in a random encounter can cut off the day's planned expedition before it even begins, and that can be frustrating too. From where I stand, your objections to skills sound as if they boil down to "I don't want to give my players that option because it reduces their options," which doesn't make any sense.

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  38. Host, you reiterated that "if you support players who are bad at the game with the crutch of dice rolling, they will never become better." So, please answer my questions:

    1. Have you ever told a player “I'm sorry; you're too stupid to play a wizard with 14 Int”?

    2. Have you ever told a player “I'm sorry; you don't know enough about fencing to play a swashbuckler”?

    3. What makes you think it's your job, or even your right, to force your players to learn rhetoric in order to play a game with their friends?

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  39. John, alright. Here's my take on the argument:

    I get the impression that the entire anti-skill position revolves around the fact that the system can be misused; it can become a crutch or used in a boring way; it can be coupled with bad GMing to create bland experiences.

    My counter to this is that skills do not have to become a crutch. The same as any other mechanic. For example, if a travel scene is important to the group's enjoyment, you can play it out with descriptions and random encounters and so on. If it's not, you can gloss it over: "you get there." If a skill check can add something to the group's enjoyment, then use it; if not, don't.

    In short, skill checks are a tool, and it seems silly to me to exclude tools.

    If you think you might ever use a skill check (and -C's original post openly admits that Use Magic Device, Stealth, etc. can be useful), why throw out the whole system? If there are checks you know you will never ever call for, then present the players with a house-ruled skill list. Nothing wrong with that. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. And don't condemn a tool across-the-board without considering that other gamers in other campaigns might enjoy using it.

    That's pretty much what it boils down to. The rest was a mass of responses to specific points and attempts to demonstrate points by example, but if we're starting over layout out our premises and terms, that's my two cents. How's it sound? 8^)

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  40. It's late over here so I'll make a short response and then pick it up some other time.

    You say "what the DM decides seems reasonable"; I say "what the player can plausibly argue". The distinction is important in its emphasis. If the players must keep trying solutions, getting flat yes-or-no answers until they hit on one that the DM has decided is appropriate, then it does indeed become a game of "guess what the DM is thinking". Barring obvious absurdities, there are three appropriate responses to a player saying they try a course of action: "Yes", "Yes, but...", or ask them a question.

    Player: "I try to escape from my bonds!"
    DM: "In what way?"
    Player: "I'll work them back and forth until I've created enough space to slip out."
    DM: "Okay, you start to feel a little bit of give in your bonds - but it's going to take some time... What are the rest of you doing?"
    (meanwhile the guard could be back any round - wandering monster checks at this point would be an appropriate use of dice to create tension)

    This process of statements, leading questions and conditionals can continue for some time if necessary; it's a lot more enjoyable than rolling dice.

    What makes you think it's your job, or even your right, to force your players to learn rhetoric in order to play a game with their friends?

    This is obviously ludicrous. If my friend wants to play chess with me, I expect them to learn how to play chess. If they want to play tennis, I expect them to learn how to hit a ball. They don't have to be good at it; they're among friends, after all. If we keep playing they'll improve over time. If my friend wants to play D&D, I expect them to learn to roleplay and problem-solve. You can categorise that as rhetoric if you like, but it seems inconsistent, given that you've acknowledged it as the quintessential part of the game.

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  41. [sighs] By "rhetoric" I was referring specifically to the Diplomacy skill. A person who is terrible at public speaking can nonetheless (or, all the more!) desire to play a silver-tongued rogue, as I've said, and I don't see where -C gets off in telling that person "No."

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  42. "This process of statements, leading questions and conditionals can continue for some time if necessary; it's a lot more enjoyable than rolling dice."

    Enjoyable? As if everyone in the world had the same tastes? In other words, you admit that the anti-skill argument is completely subjective.

    And that's fine; that's cool. If you enjoy dice, you can play D&D. If you enjoy talking and hate rolling, I really strongly suggest that you take up a diceless system; that way you can get away from the rolling entirely instead of keeping it, like a vestigial tail or some other evolutionary remnant, in your combat scenes.

    Where I stop "agreeing to disagree" and start objecting on a theoretical basis, is -C's depiction of skills as being uniformly bad for everyone. I'm not forcing you to use them if they don't do anything for your group, but don't try to tell me that the existence of a tool forces me to use it badly.

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  43. @Confanity

    The things you are saying are not examples of the way this works in play. I have too much going on currently to do a point by point explanation about how many of the individual statements you are making are not accurate representations of my position.

    Your refutation of the search example is the clearest example of this.

    Yes. The players have to say they search the bottom of the foot locker for a secret compartment.

    That is an example of player skill.

    Your roll, as you say, 'gives them a chance' - to me, the chance it gives them is to get away with poor play.

    When I say strawman, I'm referring to text as “You haven't said you actually looked at it yet; I can't describe it until you say you look.” which is just plain argumentative and serves no purpose.

    Of course when they say what kind of room, I give them a detailed description.

    This 'misunderstanding' you are talking about, if you re-read the original post, was something known as a bad choice. The party was constantly attacking things without knowing the difficulty of the encounter they were facing, and their bad choices eventually caught up to them.

    I notice you're not answering my questions, so I'll answer yours.

    1. Have you ever told a player “I'm sorry; you're too stupid to play a wizard with 14 Int”?

    No, they choose wizard, so they will know things that the wizard class knows. No dice necessary.

    2. Have you ever told a player “I'm sorry; you don't know enough about fencing to play a swashbuckler”?

    No, because combat is handled with a complex sub-system to resolve this specific issue for the reasons already outlined.

    3. What makes you think it's your job, or even your right, to force your players to learn rhetoric in order to play a game with their friends?

    The fact that certain skills are necessary to play a game - to dunk or dribble in basketball requires coordination, to play chess involves knowledge and abstract reasoning, etc. to play a game about role-playing (puzzle/problem solving, risk analysis, and social interaction) requires skills in rhetoric, planning and abstract thought.

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  44. er, forgot this:
    This 'misunderstanding' you are talking about, if you re-read the original post, was something known as a bad choice. The party was constantly attacking things without knowing the difficulty of the encounter they were facing, and their bad choices eventually caught up to them.

    The party wanted a skill check to know if they could get additional information and I let them know they could just have that additional information without a skill check.

    They still would have had to think to ask - the only difference is, they could not fail to get an answer due to a bad roll or lack of skill points.

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  45. Now that I have a moment in my day, I'd like to further address the supposition of the searching the footlocker.

    The way the hidden compartment in the foot locker works in play is quite complex without skills. It is not simply playing a guessing game about what to say - it is a imaginary object with real physical properties.

    "I examine the footlocker"

    When the player tells me this, I go through a process in my mind, part of which is planning my dialog with my player.

    If they are a thief, or role-playing their character as a burglar, or if there is any reasonable reason they would be aware of false bottoms (locksmith, etc.) then I simply inform them.

    "The footlocker has a false bottom"

    If none of the above are true, then I describe the foot locker itself and its contents. They may manipulate this item or the contents in any way they can think of. If they tap the bottom, or measure, or even say that they look closely at the interior, then what they are looking for will be discovered.

    What happens is that there is a discussion and interplay where they are solving problems.

    This is the play of the game. The actual specific thing that is fun about role playing games.


    Now, you say the issue with skill systems is that they are an additional tool.

    What has happened to me in games that I have played in that have skill systems is that when there is a situation like the foot locker and I inform the DM I am searching the bottom of the foot locker for a secret compartment, only to be told - even though there is one and I'm looking in the right place I don't find it because I didn't roll high enough.

    I fail to see how that is increasing my enjoyment.

    Regarding diplomacy and player skill.

    In order to resolve a situation regarding diplomacy, the player does not in point of fact have to be good at interpersonal rhetoric for several reasons.

    First, because diplomacy isn't the obstacle, it's a tool used to overcome the obstacle. It is one option used by players to solve problems, so it can be avoided and other tactics can be used.

    Second, because I'm not taking the actual uncertainties and skill at speaking into account - I'm listening to what the player has come up with to say. I would never tell someone - "you're not convincing enough". I assume that they are convincing and just judge the response based off what the player is actually choosing to say (i.e. how they are choosing to problem solve)

    Third: Because I'm not using skills, the players can simply request information that they might need, and not ask for it and be told no simply because they failed a skill roll.


    Now this is not to say that rolling dice isn't fun. It can be, when there is something at stake. I have yet to play in a game in the last 20 years that used skills where this is the case most of the time. Perhaps my personal experiences differ from yours, but I have a lot of experience rolling search checks where there is nothing there, and rolling appraise checks for items that we got the value of moments later when we sold them, etc.

    I'd also like to point out the mechanisms for bypassing these types of interactions already exist in the very oldest versions of Dungeons and Dragons - but they come at the cost forcing an interesting choice.

    Do you want to bypass checking the room? You risk a wandering monster check and have a 1 (or 2 if an elf) in 6 chance of finding any secrets.

    This is an interesting choice, balancing risk. Something is clearly at stake.

    Do you want to attempt to influence the reactions of a humanoid opponent? Roll a reaction check. Again, a subsystem with risk (outright attack) to bypass the need for actual discussion and interaction.

    So I post to you - what is gained by adding in some unified system? I can find many, many downsides, but am having trouble understanding how it is improving the experience of playing at the table.

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  46. If a skill check can add something to the group's enjoyment, then use it; if not, don't.

    In short, skill checks are a tool, and it seems silly to me to exclude tools.


    Skill checks are not no-strings attached. In the last example we used, the player has a chance of bypassing the problem completely with a roll against Escape Bonds. It's unreasonable to rely on the player to always choose the most entertaining option. That's the DM's job. The player has to act at least to some extent in their character's best interests. If they're in a tight spot, they're unlikely to choose to automatically fail the check, even if that would make their escape more fun (and if your players are regularly choosing to fail, something's gone wrong). In the long run, they end up skipping a lot of the most fun parts of the game.

    A player who is unconfident at a particular aspect of the game, like roleplaying, who is given the option of relying on the dice will tend to do so. By giving them the option you're robbing them of the chance to improve.

    If, by the above quote, you mean that the DM and not the players should decide whether or not to make a skill check, I can't see how getting your players to sink points in skills and then flatly denying them their use could lead to anything but dissatisfaction.

    Not to mention that using a formal skill system precludes the use of other systems, like the one I elaborated on earlier in the discussion. Whether you use a skill check for any particular situation or not, it still affects your game.

    Enjoyable? As if everyone in the world had the same tastes? In other words, you admit that the anti-skill argument is completely subjective.

    Everything is subjective, obviously. Some people like being whipped with stinging nettles; I wouldn't recommend it but more power to them. If you're saying, unqualified, that you enjoy rolling dice more than solving problems, that's fine, it's your leisure time, but it means we have nothing more to discuss.

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  47. (Or whatever your preference may be. Point is, if you're acknowledging an unbridgeable rift between your tastes and mine, then we're left with nowhere for the argument to go. We would be arguing from different axioms about what constitutes 'fun'.)

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  48. @Host;

    “The things you are saying are not examples of the way this works in play.” – That may be the case in your game – but they are at least as valid, example-wise, as your examples of skill-based play. More on that below.

    “Yes. The players have to say they search the bottom of the foot locker for a secret compartment. That is an example of player skill.“ – I repeat, the only “skill” the players are actually gaining is reading the quirks of the GM. As in the worst kind of adventure game, you're forcing the players to guess your “correct solution” to have any chance of success.

    “Of course when they say what kind of room, I give them a detailed description.” – Alright, I should probably apologize for waxing “argumentative,” although my intent was more along the lines of emphasis. My point was, why the hell are you waiting until they ask, to describe the room? As I've said before, if there's something they would obviously be able to figure out, you shouldn't wait for prompting to tell them.

    “their bad choices eventually caught up to them.” – According to what your player said, they were trying to RP an interaction that would let them know whether the other party was hostile. You failed to understand their intent, and led them to believe that it was hostile. They attacked specifically because they believed it would attack them first otherwise. And then you interpreted their act of supposed self-defense as evil because, perhaps, you wanted to punish them for "incorrect play" and were looking for any opportunity to interpret their actions as “evil” to trigger the sword. This was not a bad choice on their part; it was bad DMing on yours!

    “No, they choose wizard, so they will know things that the wizard class knows.” – I was talking about the INT part. Seriously, was the parallel that difficult to understand?

    “The fact that certain skills are necessary to play a game” – Since when does one need to be an orator in order to play make-believe? You might want to watch your words more carefully, because the more this conversation goes on, the more you sound like a tyrannical DM. No offense, really, and I'm sure you try to be “reasonable” – but it's not a level of "reasonable" I'd entrust my PCs to.

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  49. “This is the play of the game. The actual specific thing that is fun about role playing games.” – And this is where we have to disagree. To me, I as the player don't know if the chest actually has a false bottom, or if it's just part of the furniture. I have no way of knowing whether tapping the bottom will yield any useful result – and if it doesn't, then specifying “I tap the bottom” is just a waste of my time! What's worse, it's not just the chest: there are the bed, and the floor, walls, ceiling, and other fixtures and furnishings – all to be searched at various levels of granularity! All without knowing whether there's anything in the room worth my time at all!

    You talk about your players learning to cut open monster guts for treasure as if you're proud of it. But this is a great example of what I'm talking about... is your idea of “good role-playing” really a party of butchers who, after encountering and slaying a fearsome beast, routinely go mucking about in its guts? Justin Alexander summed up the problem with this kind of play here.

    “There are quite a few older D&D modules that feature various creatures with gemstones or gold coins or magical items lodged in their gizzards. I was never a big fan of the idea: First, it seemed weird. Second, it seemed improbable that any of my players would actually hack open one of these creatures and find the treasure. Third, if they ever did find one of these treasures it would only prompt them to go around systematically gutting every corpse they created.
    Admittedly, the “kill ‘em and loot ‘em” mentality has never been particularly heroic. But advancing that into the territory of butchering your enemies in the hope that something valuable might be squeezed out of their intestines just seems to take things to a new level of tastelessness.”
    ...Not to mention, with a quibbling DM, I have to wonder – if I found no treasure in monster X, is it because there was none, or is it because I looked in the stomach rather than the ileum?

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  50. “What has happened to me in games [is I had a bad experience].” – So this is the straw man at the root of your argument. You had a bad experience with a tool being used badly, so you assumed that the tool could never be used well. By that logic, the first car crash proved that cars should be outlawed. The first burn, for that matter, proved that humans should never try to master fire. The first time I slip in the shower, it means that soap is bad. And the first time I meet a DM like you, who thinks it's fun to make me waste my time detailing my search of a room you know to be empty, it proves that skill-less playing should be avoided by all people ever. No?

    “First, because diplomacy isn't the obstacle, it's a tool used to overcome the obstacle.” – Again, you've completely ignored my point that a person with poor speech skills may want to play a character with good speech skills as part of the general escapism that informs the genre.

    “I'm listening to what the player has come up with to say.” – You really don't get it, do you? Rhetoric is the art of thinking of convincing things to say, not the presentation. You're demanding that your players learn the psychological quirks of characters in a fantasy world without any allowance that to the players' characters, this information would be easily accessible! Once again, you've shown your skill-less system to be a guessing game with the DM.

    “Because I'm not using skills, the players can simply request information that they might need, and not ask for it and be told no simply because they failed a skill roll.” – Once again, let me repeat: my players have 100% of the options that yours do. I am a guy who knows how to use the “skills” tool so I don't just tell them “No.” If they speak well, or otherwise interact with my fantasy setting in a way that seems reasonable to me, then they cannot fail; I don't demand a roll. But they have the chance to succeed, if they wish, without depending on my whim. How many times do I have to repeat this point before it sinks in?

    “I have a lot of experience rolling search checks where there is nothing there” – So you decided that it would be more fun to force your players to play through every pointless detail of every fruitless search?

    “and rolling appraise checks for items that we got the value of moments later when we sold them” – A problem easily bypassed by having the sale price depend on what the players ask for. 8^D My players know who in town would be interested in what kind of treasure, and returns are determined by haggling – which they can play in person if they're interested, or roll for if they're not – because I know how to make my skill checks have stakes that the players care about.

    “Do you want to bypass checking the room? You risk a wandering monster check and have a 1 (or 2 if an elf) in 6 chance of finding any secrets.” – Oh, that's just too precious. “I hate search checks,” you say, “so I give the players the ability to roll a search check. But it's better because I use a d6 instead of a d20, and I allow less customization than a point-based system.” By the way, what makes you think I don't have wandering-monster tables, with checks triggered by noise made or time passing?

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  51. @John

    “Skill checks are not no-strings attached. In the last example we used, the player has a chance of bypassing the problem completely with a roll against Escape Bonds.”

    –As I said before, auto-success is no more exciting than “bypassing” the problem with a roll, and auto-failure is far more frustrating than simply failing a roll. “Bypassing” the problem with a roll is far more rewarding than simply being told “Sure you escape” on the first try, because the roll rewards a choice the player made while the auto-success is just the GM wasting your time with “Oh you're tied up, okay now you're not.” And, the player investing skill points in Escape Artist is in part a message to the GM that “I want to have a reliable chance of wriggling out of bonds without depending on your whim.”

    “In the long run, they end up skipping a lot of the most fun parts of the game.”

    –Unless... it's a player who enjoys the hack-and-slash, or the tactical combat, or the exploration, or the social interactions, or the mapping, or the feeling of improvement that comes from gaining XP and treasure, etc. etc. – in which case, you forcing them to play through the escape scene in fine detail is just a waste of their time, a boring imposition on your tastes on to their play.

    “If, by the above quote, you mean that the DM and not the players should decide...”

    -Actually I mean pretty much the opposite: the DM should allow skill use so that they players can decide when they want to roll; the DM shouldn't deny them the option if that's how they want to play that element of the game.

    “Not to mention that using a formal skill system precludes the use of other systems, like the one I elaborated on earlier...”

    -If you're referring to a give-and-take conversation between player and DM, let me reiterate, yet again, the point that neither of you seems to have grasped yet: HAVING SKILL CHECKS DOES NOT PRECLUDE OTHER AVENUES OF PLAY; IT SIMPLY PROVIDES AN ALTERNATIVE FOR PLAYERS. Dice are rolled when there's a chance of failure; if the players come up with an action that should succeed, then it succeeds and they'll likely get an XP reward for clever play. If they can't, or don't enjoy acting out that part of play, then I allow them to roll a die instead of punishing them with auto-failure.

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughts, John.

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  52. Let's put the problem a different way. Say I'm in -C's skill-less campaign, playing a magic-user, but I want my backstory to include some precocious pranks and, long story short, I want to be able to climb walls like a Thief. Since there are no skill points for me, I pretty much have to ask him to include my wall-climbing into his “reasonable things” file despite being a different class. Does he allow that? If not, then he's being a tyrannical DM, and an unrealistic one at that: everyone's got time for hobbies, if the determination is there.

    If he does allow it, then where exactly do we draw the line? Does my backstory allow me to also pick locks like a thief? Pick pockets? Fight with a knife like a pro? Shoot a bow? This can't go on forever, or all characters will be able to do all things. Does the limit depend on the elaborateness of my backstory for “reasonable” justification? – In that case you're encouraging elaborate backstories, which makes character death all the more a pain in the ass and a drag on the action. Or is there a numerical limit? Great, you've invented AD&D-style non-weapon proficiencies, aka skills.

    But wait, maybe you'll give me Climb, but to avoid my butting in on the thief's territory, you make me do it less skillfully. Where the thief auto-climbs wall X, perhaps I can succeed on a 1 in 6. But do you then deny me the opportunity to climb more skillfully with practice? What if I role-play my magic-user as an avid climber, regularly shinnying up trees, attempting to scale every wall I meet (assuming there's time), spending some of my down-time between adventures strengthening my grip and asking mountaineers for advice. Then you'll let me become more skillful, right? Slowly improving over time?

    Whups, it looks like if you want to avoid being tyrannical or unreasonably unrealistic in your DMing, you have to invent a skill system. Maybe you use a d6 instead of a d20; maybe you have a cap instead of the indefinitely-extensible 3.x system, that doesn't change the truth of the matter.

    So I repeat. -C with his d6 rolls has explicitly admitted to using skills, in a way similar to what I've been recommending all along. So why not just stop the hypocrisy, be honest about the fact that you're using them, house-rule a list of the skills that you think will be useful or interesting or fun in play (with some input from your players, ideally!), and then start polishing the way skills are used?

    Instead of a flat edict that all skills are always bad, based on personal anecdotal evidence rather than logic, how about you post a thoughtful essay on how skills can be effectively used to enhance play?

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  53. –As I said before, auto-success is no more exciting than “bypassing” the problem with a roll, and auto-failure is far more frustrating than simply failing a roll. “Bypassing” the problem with a roll is far more rewarding than simply being told “Sure you escape” on the first try, because the roll rewards a choice the player made while the auto-success is just the GM wasting your time with “Oh you're tied up, okay now you're not.” And, the player investing skill points in Escape Artist is in part a message to the GM that “I want to have a reliable chance of wriggling out of bonds without depending on your whim.”

    I've repeatedly explained the system I use and why it is not a matter of auto-success or auto-failure, or of GM whim. If you disagree, then address the explanations I've given and tell me why you think that, don't just ignore them and continue to refer to them as if I hadn't said anything.

    Unless... it's a player who enjoys the hack-and-slash, or the tactical combat, or the exploration, or the social interactions, or the mapping, or the feeling of improvement that comes from gaining XP and treasure, etc. etc. – in which case, you forcing them to play through the escape scene in fine detail is just a waste of their time, a boring imposition on your tastes on to their play.

    Hack-and-slash, tactical combat, and XP/treasure gain are adversely affected not at all by a lack of a skill system, and exploration and social interaction comprise part of the very aspect of the game I'm describing. I enjoy all of those things. If what you mean to say is that you don't like the problem-solving part of the game, that you find it a waste of time and a boring imposition, then just say so and we can put the argument to rest. Otherwise, if this is some hypothetical player who feels that way, there's no point in having brought them up. That some person, somewhere, unconnected to this argument, might have different tastes to me is irrelevant.

    (Zak S made a post concerning this recently that's pretty apropos.)

    If you're referring to a give-and-take conversation between player and DM, let me reiterate, yet again, the point that neither of you seems to have grasped yet: HAVING SKILL CHECKS DOES NOT PRECLUDE OTHER AVENUES OF PLAY; IT SIMPLY PROVIDES AN ALTERNATIVE FOR PLAYERS.

    In the system I described earlier, a character's skills are based on their character background. If a PC was in the navy, then they know how to tie knots (and they can use that as a platform of argument to do more complex stuff). That system is mutually exclusive with, say, a Use Rope skill. If I use my system, the way I would normally use it, I marginalise the skill system into oblivion (and if a player has made sacrifices to put points into Use Rope, they will no doubt be annoyed when someone else achieves the same thing just by writing "navy" on their sheet).
    Whether either of those specific approaches is better than the other doesn't really matter. The point is, claiming that a skill system doesn't affect what else you can do with the game is clearly wrong. Any rule limits your options in one way or another.

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  54. @Confanity

    This is a conversation in good faith.

    Your statement that your hostile unrealistic examples are 'valid' indicates to me you are not interested in explaining your position, but are instead trolling.

    At this point, you have made it clear that you are unable to distinguish between a negotiation between two parties versus a dictation from one party to another. Also, your understanding of the situation in the game is incorrect.

    Your posts are also filled with personal attacks that are disproved by the very fact that I continue to allow you to post them. (i.e. tyranny)

    Your reading comprehension has failed, because of course I resolve conflict in games. Nowhere do I say that all skills (or ways to resolve conflict) are bad.

    However, not once have you addressed my actual point of the post which is:

    "Putting skills in conflict with combat abilities creates a situation that limits my skill as a player."

    and

    "Having a skill system in a game comes with heavy costs, and those costs outweigh the advantages"

    Your two main points about the benefit of skills seem to be 'character customization' and 'allowing skills to bypass play'

    You also see skills as a tool allowing players to 'avoid DM Tyranny' (i.e. I rolled it, you have to let me!), whereas in my experience (and this posts example!) they have been used to enforce DM Tyranny. Obviously there is ground for them to be used poorly.

    I prefer not to tell my players no. The answer is yes, or requires negotiation.

    A player failing a skill roll would require me to say no.

    I do not understand how limiting my ability to customize my character to a list is an advantage- something I infer from your comment about additional skill points you give out for crafting/knowledge skills you have encountered before also. How it is resolved mechanically is of minimal importance.

    It is possible to have the same or greater degree of customization without a 'universal skill mechanic' or even "skills" at all.

    I also do not feel that allowing players to bypass play is an advantage. You are right, the game has tactical infinity, every box, basket, shelf etc. can be searched or possibly contain stuff. They cannot just 'roll' to find things.

    This may seem terrible to you because of concern that they might 'miss' something, or perhaps because it might take too much time to search everything and it would be boring - but this shows a clear ignorance of what actually occurs at the table.

    Many of the points I have made in the comments are just reiterations of the statements I made above. You clearly are arguing against something someone else said, once long ago, and not against any statements made in this article or any position I actually hold.

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  55. Indeed. I've been generous enough to assume up until now that we were having a good faith discussion and that any difficulties have been because of genuine misunderstandings and mistaken assumptions. In your latest comment you accuse me of being a hypocrite, tell me to stop acting and get on board with your opinions (which are obviously what I secretly really believe anyway), and jovially exhort me to start writing thoughtful essays on my new and enlightened beliefs. That suggests to me that maybe I was naive. I've enjoyed it so far, but I'm starting to get bored. I'm out.

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  56. @John:

    First, perhaps you shouldn't be so quick to criticize given that the vast majority of my comments here have been ignored completely.

    Next, okay, let's look at an example of prompting-style play

    “You awaken to find yourself tied up.”
    “I escape from my bonds.”
    [At this point, according to -C, all characters auto-escape as long as no guards are looking, which just proves my point that -C's system has no more problem-solving than a skill-based one. But you continue:]
    “How?”
    “Well, I wriggle free.”
    “How?”
    “By twisting my hands back and forth to loosen the rope?”


    And the process continues until the players guess the magic word. Congratulations; your system doesn't invite the search for sharp objects, or slop-and-rats, or other problem-solving any more than skills would. I do hope that you simply didn't think about the issue; I'd hate to think that your idea of “problem-solving” is playing a guessing-game with the DM, because IMHO being forced to describe my character's actions in increasingly painstaking detail is not an exercise in problem-solving, nor is it fun. It wasn't fun when -C forced me to describe every last twitch of my search of the chest, and it isn't fun now with the ropes. It's just busywork.

    What's worse, you seem to be forgetting that there will always be an information gap between player and DM. -C has already demonstrated how DMs can withhold information by simply assuming it's obvious, but never checking to see what their players are thinking. Maybe there's something about the dungeon I'm bound in that is obvious to the DM, but that was not communicated to me for whatever reason – this is going to make my attempts to escape the bonds all the more frustrating.

    And finally, what happens the next time I'm bound in ropes? Do I get to say “I escape the ropes like last time”? Because, again, that's an auto-success with less opportunity for problem-solving, and less excitement, and less point, than a skill check. On the other hand, if I don't, then it's clearly an example of unfair DMing.

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  57. “Hack-and-slash, tactical combat, and XP/treasure gain are adversely affected not at all by a lack of a skill system”

    Actually, they are, because playing -C's guessing-games when wastes time that I could be spending on something that I find more enjoyable!

    “If what you mean to say is that you don't like the problem-solving part of the game,”

    Let me reiterate; I don't consider playing guess-the-DM's-mind to be “problem-solving.” I don't want to spend my gaming time investing my real-life skill points in “know what trigger words make this particular DM happy in situation X.”

    “(Zak S made a post”

    Indeed. If only -C had originally posted his thoughts on skills in a subjective manner, rather than dressing his personal opinion in theoretical terms and calling the whole damn mass of his personal taste an “insight,” as if anybody would have anything to learn from him rambling about his tastes. But along came I, saw his opinion masquerading as theory, and thought that a deconstruction of said theory might provoke a more thoughtful response than it has.

    “That system is mutually exclusive with, say, a Use Rope skill.”

    Um. No. It's not. You can declare “Navy” on your character sheet, and if we're using skill points, then you can invest your skill points to reflect that background.

    I appreciate your open invitation to abuse by players, though. If just writing a word on your character sheet gives you an indefinite supply of skills, maybe all my character sheets will just have “raised as a jack-of-all-trades by gypsies, spent ten years in special forces” written on them. Is there a skill in the game that I can't justify having under that system? How are you going to curb your players in a consistent, fair way without inventing skill points?

    “The point is, claiming that a skill system doesn't affect what else you can do with the game is clearly wrong.”

    Good thing for me that what I claimed was a skill system doesn't take away any of the play options open to players in a skill-less campaign.

    “Any rule limits your options in one way or another.“

    And as I've been trying to demonstrate, a properly-used skill system only limits the ability of the DM to make the game a pixel-hunting detail-obsessed guessing-game, and the ability of the players to jack their backgrounds for infinite skill points.

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  58. @Host:

    “This is a conversation in good faith.”

    -I'm sincerely doubting that. I thought it was a post about theory, but now John tells me that you were just talking to yourself in public about your tastes. I was misled.

    You continue to claim that combat skills are somehow magically different from all other skills, without ever justifying the distinction. You willfully misunderstand my examples, while hypocritically pointing to your own bad experiences as if that were the only way skills could be played. You ignore all of my points that you can't willfully misinterpret, after I spent my weekend making a careful point-by-point deconstruction of all your faulty reasoning. And then the first time I skim over something, John there jumps on it with accusations that I'm avoiding the issue. That's your idea of “good faith”?

    You imagine that your own tastes are the only way to play, and then you take umbrage at my suggestion that not all players may appreciate being forced to play that way.

    You say things like “A player failing a skill roll would require me to say no.” without considering that in combat, players fail rolls all the time, and you tell them “no, you didn't hit,” and that doesn't bother you at all. I get the impression that you justify this hypocrisy on your part by imagining that only combat skills benefit from the tension of failure, but any DM worth their salt can demonstrate that that's blatantly false.

    So, yeah, I'm sorry that I mistook this for a blog where people were actually interested in discussing theory, and for a while I even thought we might get a thought-provoking discussion out of it. I'll not make that mistake again. Thank you for your time.

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  59. @Confanity

    Your example of play is again, not accurate. I can not speak to whether this is intentional or from ignorance.

    Your hostility is unbecoming. Your statement that you wish to have a dissuasion about theory has no credibility once you began using ad hominem attacks.

    I am most surprised by your comment that allowing the players to customize their characters freely would leave you without a way to 'curb' them.

    You have completely failed to read and comprehend the actual post which posits:
    1. I play in a pathfinder game.
    2. That game has skills.
    3. And it is a completely valid method of play.

    At no point have I indicated that a skill light game is the only way to play, or even the only way I enjoy playing.

    This post was about two points of contention - both of which remain unaddressed. They are in bold in the post and in the comments.

    Combat is based on partial accumulating successes. A no is a temporary setback that adds heavy drama. When they miss they are not being told no - they are being told not yet, as the consequences accumulate. This is a situation ripe with drama.

    Here is a piece of information: There is no guessing game with the DM. Because there is tactical infinity, no predetermined course in the adventure, and no one-way communication.

    There is a discussion and a negotiation.

    You made many interesting points, but have failed to address the core issue. In spite of the overwhelming close-mindedness, hostility, and negativity in your comments, and general inability to discuss theory online without becoming emotionally involved you did say some interesting things.

    I did not ignore the points you made, some of them were insightful and show skillful ways to use skills, but you do not spend any time talking about character building skills vs. combat and its effects on agency, or the costs of putting skills in a game.

    I regret that attempting to glean some insight into your point of view is too difficult because of your behavior. It is difficult to try an parse your meaning through your emotional lashing out.

    Perhaps we can try again in the future.

    Comments on this post are closed.

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