Thursday, March 14, 2019

Skills (part one)

Well, I guess this post should start with a quote of the first line of the first post I'm linking below:
Skills. Mention them in relation to Old School games, and some grognards start to cringe. 

Skills are indeed a controversial topic in OSR but I believe they deserve some attention.
First of all, if you think that your game should NOT have Skills, EVER, then it's easy. Just skip this article.
But if you are interested in adding a skill system or in some inspiration for house-rules, this post is for you.
(And honestly, I believe that even those who say no-skills-ever, have anyway used at least the roll-under-your-ability-score ruling... which is indeed one of the proposed solutions)

So, the first post contains a nice overview of some basic ideas for Skills:
- a d6 system with a 1 in 6 default chance (LotFP style), perhaps with bonus by class and race
- a d20 system with a roll-under the related ability score
- a system derived by Saving Throws (a similar matrix, or perhaps even the same matrix - adapted with a grain of salt - if you want to save time)
- a list of skills, a list of Difficulty Classes (DC), factoring in the ability modifiers... which steers away from the traditional OSR but it's something already done and proved to be working fine... Except for the part where skills are used as a substitute of role-playing

Skills in Old School Games
by AHL
Mention them in relation to Old School games, and some grognards start to cringe. However, this is not one of those blog posts discussing skills or no skills. This post is about how to handle in game situations in old school games.
Also, I mention just a few systems here. There are many more, using 2d6, 3d6 and so on (just google “OSR skill system”), and they’re more or less complicated. Here, I will talk about the ones that I have used at some point in time and some ideas I’ve been thinking of.
I’m not sure that Old School games is in need of a skill system per se. However, I’m positive that Old School games is in need  of a solid task resolution system. These days, “Bend Bars”, “Open Doors” and “Find Secret Doors” just feels wonky. [...]

Old School Galore I – the d6 system
This is the bona fide old school way. When something is to be resolved, you have a x in 6 chance to succeed. Most of the time, it’s just a 1 in 6 chance, but some classes and races get bonuses to specific tasks. [...]

Old School Galore II – the Ability Check system
When a situation isn’t covered by the rules, old school systems often suggest an ability check. Basically, you try to beat (i.e. roll under) an appropriate ability on a d20. [...]

Akrasia’s Save system 
For S&W players, there’s a fan made simple system out there (Akrasia’s house rules), which is also used in Crypts & Things. The idea is to use the Saving throw number also as a target number for various tasks. The list of tasks is deliberately kept vague, to empower flexibility, but all PCs can do anything. [...]

5e’s skill system
I think that the new D&D really have nailed the task resolution system. Everyone can do anything, but some are better than their peers at doing said things. Also, as a GM, I appreciate to have a defined task (or skill) list to choose from when deciding what the player should roll in a given situation. [...]
5e has a list of 18 tasks, usable by anyone. Sweet. The GM decides a Difficulty Class (DC) for the roll, which is the target number to beat. The player rolls a d20, adding his ability bonus for the specific task (for example Stealth uses Dex). [...]

Bolting a task resolution system to your OSR game

Another problem if the system you like haven’t got a built in task resolution system is how to define what skills/tasks your characters are extra good at. Of course you could write down a list of “fighters are good at this” and “dwarves are good at that” and pre-define such things. Another way is to grant the players a couple of things (maybe 2) they are good at. For example, your fighter might be good at “Sneaking” and “Obtaining information”. [...]

Dawnrazor’s Old School Universal Task Resolution System mk I
Here’s what I’ve decided to use for my adventures (unless they’re for a system like B&T or FH&W).
1. Task format (in adventure text): Task at hand (DIFFICULTY: ABILITY). Example: Spot the hobgoblin (HARD: WIS) 
This format excludes the actual skill, but since I suspect that not everyone will use skills, or if they use systems with different skill sets and names, it will get confusing. [...]

This second post notes a couple of potential issues with the lack of a skills system in an OSR game. What if instead of skills you have classes (like the thief, or the ranger)? It's easy for GMs to rule that other characters cannot do anything covered by the thief or the ranger skills.
What if you stick with the original cleric-fighter-magic-user but no skills system? Everyone can try everything, but it's hard to adjudicate based only on common sense and GM's rulings.
It introduces a heavy GM-fiat component, and even those GMs with the best intentions would find it hard to be consistent across sessions. And it would always be hard for players to judge what chances do they have to accomplish anything, before actually trying.

So, yes, a skills-system is a good thing to introduce, probably, but it must be easy enough, scalable by level and/or training, and possibly with no DC (no impact on existing old-school adventures which have no DC or ability tests or stuff like that).
The system provided in the link is a bit too complex for my taste, but its guidelines are good and they provide both a system for character vs. character tests, and for which kind of bonus to apply to various kind of other tests.

Skills: The Middle Road
by Benjamin David
Rules for non-combat skills in D&D have spanned a rather broad course over the years. In OD&D, there were no rules for non-combat related skills other than magic until the introduction of the thief--a point that most grognards put in its favor, since it encouraged everyone to try their hand at everything. However, this lack does present problems when trying to determine exactly what a character can do that's better than other characters, and as more classes were created to cover these non-combat niches (first thieves, then rangers) the implication set in that unless your class abilities said you could do a thing, you couldn't except by DM fiat. [...]
The extensive rules for dealing with non-combat skills in other systems, both classic and modern, speaks of the desire of players to be able to know in some quantitative sense what their characters are good at. However, if we are to come up with any such system as a house rule for OD&D, it has to meet several basic parameters:
"Having" a given skill, NWP, or whathaveyou should not, as a rule, be a requirement for attempting any adventure-related action or for having a reasonable chance of success.
The system must be scalable, allowing for characters to improve existing skills by the expenditure of time and wealth or as a reward for a successfully-completed adventure (as described in my previous post),
And yet it must be simple enough that no OD&D product must be significantly altered to employ it (i.e., the referee should not have to go through every adventure and install DCs for every challenge or create a complete set of skills for every goblin) and that any referee can easily ad-hoc it during play. [...]

There are four levels of competancy for any given skill: unskilled, skilled, expert, and master. All characters are assumed to be unskilled at any given task unless it falls under their class (especially in the case of thieves) and/or background. Having a background that encompasses a particular action means that one is skilled only [...]
Of all character classes, only thieves automatically advance in skill levels as they increase in character level, and then only in those areas directly related to thievery [...] In all other cases, advancement or gaining new skills must come as a result of gameplay [...]

Before explaining further, a particular mechanic must be described. The skill die denotes the type of die rolled for a given skill level, to which is added the appropriate ability modifier (using the Moldavy scale) when a skill contest arises between two individuals. For example, a 1st level thief with a 16 dexterity is trying to sneak up on a 1st level cleric with a 15 wisdom. Since the thief is considered skilled at moving silently, he would roll a 1d8+2 (modified for dex) against the cleric's 1d6 (unskilled) +1 (wis) to determine if he succeeds. [...]
In cases where there is no contest between two statted characters--for example, a thief sneaking up on a goblin whose wisdom score is unknown, a character climbing a cliff, or a character with a jeweler background trying to make a gift to impress a noblewoman--the referee should assign an ad-hoc possibility for success. [...]
Skill Die: d6
No bonuses to die rolls
Training: 1 month and 100o gp
Skill Die: d8
+1 bonus when making skill-related rolls with a 1d4, 1d6, or 1d8
+2 bonus when making skill-related rolls with a 1d10 or 1d12
+3 bonus when making skill-related rolls with a 1d20
+15% on making skill-related rolls with percentage dice [...]

The third link proposes an elegant system with a skill die, which increases as you become more trained at a given skill. To succeed you need to roll 5 or more (Paolo Greco has a similar system in his own OSR system... more on this at the link).
The good things about this system is that it's easy to roll and evaluate, that it has a verbal connotation of your skill level (i.e. rookie or novice, etc.), that it slows down in the improvements as you go ahead in the game, so no character becomes easily overpowered.
What it lacks, is a list of skills.

Skill Systems: Tweaking "The Middle Road"
by ktrey parker
[...] The “Ratings” are expanded a little bit, success is still on a 5 or more (making UNABLE impossible for the player without circumstantial modifiers...which are generally kept low/stingy). The bell-curve comes into play with MASTER which really increases the chance of success, but with a cost.
Skill Rating Skill Die/Dice
I don't tie skill improvement to level in any meaningful way most of the time. This is mostly to mitigate the “20 HD MASTER Blacksmith NPC” and “I gained a level and am suddenly an EXPERT at Tracking” issues, although Thief classes and formal training-as-cash/time-siphon can open up some additional improvement avenues during downtime with some good fictional explanations. Instead I like to tie Skill Rating improvement to actual play.
Any successful Skill Roll (5+) prompts for another skill roll immediately, and on a maximum die/dice result, the first letter of the next Rating is written down. Once you spell it out, you've achieved the next Rating (this is why all Ratings have 6 letters).
This has diminishing returns: It becomes more difficult to improve/master a skill as you get better as the chances of success increase, the chances of rolling the maximum also decrease. I also like that improvement is actually tied to “Doing the thing,” so players are encouraged to attempt it, even if the odds may not be great (Practice makes perfect!). [...]

I have to admit my preferences for the d6 skills system provided by LotFP, as you've seen already when I proposed to change even Saving Throws to d6-skills, here: d6 Saving Throws for LotFP.
But while I like the default skill system of LotFP, I am less in love with dice pools, and therefore this link is less interesting for me. Still, it is definitely worth mentioning also because James Raggi is doing something similar (but for Saving Throws, not Skills) in the beta document of the next version of the rules (which who knows when and if it will ever be published).

Game Mechanics: Dice, Doors, and Decimal Points
by Dan Domme
So I have a skill system hack I am working on and I want to share it with you.
Start with Lamentations of the Flame Princess [...] One of the nice things about it is that skills are based on d6 rolls. Virtually everything is a 1-in-6 chance, and specialists (read: thieves, but a less pigeonholed concept) get to invest points into expanding these skills. E.g., put two points in Sleight of Hand and your chance to execute such a task goes from 1-in-6 to 3-in-6. [...]
I am hacking that d6 system a bit. Mostly because I love dice pools, but there is also a logic behind it. 
First off, rather than expanding the range of success, I expand the number of dice you roll, while keeping 6 the target number. Note that statistically this is more difficult. [...]
A solution to the increased difficulty is that the GM should be more generous with the bonus dice. We already add dice based on invested Specialist skill points, but let's also add Ability Score bonuses. A +1 to Strength is easily added to your pool if you want to Open Doors, for example. Have a crowbar? Add another die. And so on. [...]
The problem that we have already come across thus far in my Megadungon game is that opening doors is still fairly likely to result in failure. Even with crowbars, people helping, and strength bonuses, you are pretty likely to not open the door.
This is where I got the idea to go straight into story game territory and offer the players a narrative choice. In the first option, the players could choose to let the door be. The door is swollen shut, just like St. Gary said it probably would be. The other option is to note your margin of failure. (E.g., was your highest result a 4? Then your margin of failure is 6-4 = 2.)  I'll let your character(s) persist at opening the door until they succeed, but I get to roll the margin of failure in Wandering Monster checks. (A dice pool of 2 in this example.) Again, each of these is a simple 1-in-6 chance.  The logical basis is that the worse your initial check result, the more noisy your success is going to be and the more likely you are to attract attention to yourself. [...]

Design notes
- Without skills but with classes (i.e. the thief, but also the ranger), it's too easy to rule that other characters cannot attempt actions as the thief
- Without skills but with just the original three classes (cleric, fighter, magic-user) it's all related to the GM's fiat
- It's hard to have consistency and to judge your chances, as a player
- Skill systems in the OSR must be simple, scalable by level/training, with no or very simple rules for difficulties (to remain compabile with old modules)
- a d6 system with a 1 in 6 default chance (LotFP style), perhaps with bonus by class and race
- if using a d6 system, consider also to use d6 dice pools and 6 as target number
- a d20 system with a roll-under the related ability score
- a system derived by Saving Throws (a similar matrix, or perhaps even the same matrix - adapted with a grain of salt - if you want to save time)
- a list of skills, a list of Difficulty Classes (DC), factoring in the ability modifiers... which steers away from the traditional OSR but it's something already done and proved to be working fine... Except for the part where skills are used as a substitute of role-playing

Will continue here.

1 comment:

  1. These two posts on skills are so well put together. I love how you often provide links to other blogs within your posts; there is a ton of information. I mention your blog frequently on my podcast and blog. Keep up the good work.