Thursday, June 16, 2011

Skills in D&D

I was talking with one of my friends at work today who is hard core 1st ed AD&D.  The subject of skills came up.  That is whether or not *D&D even needs skills.

I found I was rather agnostic about it.  I like skills and think they add a nice element, but the focus of the game is and has been combat, exploring and getting loot.

Pathfinder works well with skills.  Basic D&D maybe not as much.

What do you all think?
Do you like skills, do you need them or use them in you old school games?


Dennis Laffey said...

I like skill systems in modern/sci-fi games, but I find for D&D I'm like you. I can use them if the game has them, but don't feel it needs them.

Billiam Babble said...

I'm having a nostalgic flashback to "non-weapon proficiencies" in AD&D OA and UA. :) That and having my mind blown by the Call of Cthulhu character sheet which looked so different to the D&D sheets, because it had lots of words on - the closest to which was the Thieves Abilities table!
This all goes back to the core of classes. Characters of specific class is supposed to be innately competent at specific tasks which another class would never even consider performing. The class is really a "skills package" (saving throws benefits included) But it all falls apart when it comes down to common tasks like riding horses, speechcraft, building rafts ... Isn't it also to do with general ability checks vs. a specialism? Everyone can jump (Strength or Dex), but only elves can actually dance with grace. ;)

Billiam Babble said...

(Apologies for hideous typos)

Stefan Poag said...

I hate most 'skills' mechanics, especially the 'social interaction' ones.
We used to do almost everything other than combat just by talking. "I look under the table" instead of "I got a 32 on my search roll." That is my preferred method.

Anonymous said...

Amusingly enough, I just started ramping up for a 1E game after 16 years away from it - after playing nothing but skill-based games in the interim so I've really had to grapple with this one.

I loved it when OA added Non-Weapon Proficiencies, but there is a part of me which finds them fiddly as compared with the rest of 1E. I think by the time that the DSG and WSG came by it had essentially become clear that we weren't really going to be using them (as near as I can resconstruct from the archeological excavations of my old NPC sheets and campaign materials).

But as people have started rolling up characters, as I've started creating NPC's, and as I've talked with my players, it's become clear that some sort of system for determining what other things a character knows how to do can be helpful.

But, as a GM, I'm also with @limpey when he says he doesn't like skills for social interactions. I think that is much more for a player to do, with some absracted hand-waving for Charisma (and/or Comliness) as a modifier.

It's some of that purely mechanical tasks where it would be nice to know if a player has more than some base level of assumed skill (such as cooking), or even can do something more complicated than would be reasonably assumed "anyone would know" (like forging a sword) - let alone things like Blind-Fighting which certainly seem reasonable for people to learn somehow.


Woodclaw said...

I'm used to love skill systems, but I must agree with the general sentiment, the old D&D/AD&D system of "non-weapon proficiencies" didn't work that well.
Three things that bother me a lot

1- the Search/Disable Traps combo, since it make the whole trap factor completly irrelevant after a while, which is both boring and completly unrelalistic
2- I half-agree with the interaction skills, depending on the GM they can be absolutly pivoltal or completly useless
3- Buying any NWP at a level beoynd basic is more or less pointless, they cost too much for a too small benefit

In my 1E D&D games we used the skills a lot, but even then the expense was rarely justified.

Anonymous said...

After dming D&D and AD&D for a long time, I got bored to "houserule" or "improvise" the same situations over and over again, so I wholeheartedly approved of the 3e skill system. Pathfinder does it better. BUT I came back to dm in the style of earlier editions. No CR or adventure paths for me anymore, thanx.

Anonymous said...

Actually in first edition D&D the Theif class was the only one with actually Skill %'s. Open Locks, Pick Pockets, Disable Traps, Move silently, etc... It was very basic and DM's could impose penalites as they saw fit. For years, after searchign for traps if we found a trap that was classified as difficlut it had a "Gold" part... Gold Needle, Gold locking wheel, etc... Which basically meant -30%. OH man, those were the days...

Rhonin84 said...

The older editions for DnD I am a huge fan of, but one of the issues I had with the game was that Thieves had skills and no one else did?!

Now I consider myself a roleplayer first and I don't worry as much about the figures or combat, though I do use them. ((My last session which had some combat used no mini's and we were playing Pathfinder.)) I am trying to get away from it.

When the NWP came out, I was thrilled and they filled the need I had then. I find looking back that I much prefer the Pathfinder skills to the DnD NWP, heck I even like CnC Prime v. Non-Prime idea.

Brent Wolke said...

I don't need skills per se in a game, but I do need some means to judge capabilities of characters outside of how well they can sling a spell, swing a sword, or shoot an arrow.

Marshall Smith said...

For those hating on skills, why is it "wrong" to make rolls to find things or talk to people, but perfectly acceptable to make rolls to kill them? Why should combat be the only interaction with rules?

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Personally, I like skills, but I've never needed them in AD&D. I wouldn't have any objections to doing so though, as an experiment.

In Shadowrun, for example, they're quite nice though. Then again, that's a point based character creation system, so it's fairly different.

amp108 said...

I looked at the Pathfinder skill list a little while back, and, while I GM the game, I realized that there were very few skills that (a) couldn't be role-played out (Diplomacy, Bluff), or (b) couldn't be done with an attribute-based role à la Castles and Crusades. Most of what was left was knowledge skills, which can be adjudicated by the GM as need be.

@Marshall Smith: I don't know about "hating" on skills. But the difference between, e.g., combat and bluffing is that the latter is not prohibitively expensive or dangerous. It only requires role-playing. I know some people talk about "if you role-play well, I'll give you a +2 on the die roll" when doing Bluff or Diplomacy or whatnot, but in some games, the role-playing is the die roll.

Stefan Poag said...

For those hating on skills, why is it "wrong" to make rolls to find things or talk to people, but perfectly acceptable to make rolls to kill them? Why should combat be the only interaction with rules?
I wouldn't describe myself as 'hating' on skills, I just don't like the way they have been designed and defined. When I started playing D&D, I didn't really know what a role playing game was and the first group I played with, the DM had to tell us what dice to roll, "ok, you got a seventeen... you hit the goblin and cut him in half!" etc. When we came upon a riddle we had to solve or we wanted to talk to someone rather than killing them, the DM asked, "What do you say?" And when we wanted to seach, we would use specific terms... the DM would say, "There is a bed in the center of the room and a chest against the south wall" and we would say, "I try to open the chest... is it locked?" or "I look under the bed... is there anything there?" We didn't need to roll dice because we could envision the scene and select an action --- and the possibilities were endless --- which was what made the game unique to me.
The first time I played 3e, I really found it distasteful. Maybe it was the group I played it with but I hadn't played in years and joined a group to learn the new rules. I was always trying to do things like 'search' by telling the DM where I looked or negotiate by saying, "Hello; I mean you no harm; I'll give you some wine if you let us pass!" and be told that my success didn't depend on where I looked and my negotiation didn't depend on what I said; it depended on how many points I had put in some skills... and since I was the 'noob' everyone else in the group wanted me to play a fighter type who didn't have many skill points and didn't do any of those things well.

I never concieved of 'roleplaying' as selecting some character traits like a Scottish accent or stubborness and then just speaking funny or refusing to cooperate with others. I prefer to think of 'roleplaying' as envisioning the scenario being presented and then, given what we know, making choices and seeing what happens. I.e.: if the players don't want to fight the bugbears, maybe we can bribe or bluff them by putting our heads together and coming up with a strategy.
I guess this makes my preferred version of D&D less elegant and logical and it relies upon the DM not to be an asshat and instead actually listen to what the players propose and make as unbiased a judgement as they can on chances of success... but THAT is the essence of what made D&D a unique and exciting game to me in 1978 and why I still like it now. It's the 'thinking on your feet and envisioning the scenario' that I like.
I understand that other people prefer some middle ground (skill rolls modified by player's suggestions) and still others, like that 3e group, just did the straight up roll, but I always thought that D&D was most exciting when we were personally engaged. However, I don't want to 'personally engage' in combat with my fellow players (exhausting and we would get hurt plus the DM would always be outnumbered), but all of the thinking and talking things? Those we can do while sitting around a table and drinking beer or soda. It's a very diverting way to spend an evening.

Marshall Smith said...

First, I want to apologize for using the inflammatory "hating." I had recently listened to a podcast on this same topic that was much more vitriolic, and there was some transference involved. Mea culpa.

@amp108 - IME, if your Bluff checks aren't as dangerous as your sword swings, you're not giving the skill checks their due. :) There should be lots of challenges in your game that can't be solved with hacking or slashing. And, IMHO, those challenges should have an equal amount of mechanical support, and an equal chance of catastrophic failure. (As a note, I don't believe that either NWP's or 3e skills quite get there, but some d20 variants do.)

@limpey - I think I understand your point. However, I think you just play a different game from me.