Since I decided to start rebuilding Swords and Wizardry, one thing I've been debating is whether to introduce skills or not. Majestic Wilderlands has them, as does D&D 3.x, and most of the games I play are skill-based (WFRP, Runequest).
Skills are useful in that they provide a clear idea about where a character's competence lies, but the downside to them is that they define the tasks a character is most competent at, giving the impression that the character is incompetent at all other tasks. This is the "thief problem" in a nutshell, where the introduction of the thief class in OD&D with its skills for climbing walls, opening locks, etc. cause non-thief PCs to stop attempting to do these things and leave them for the thief. I want to avoid this kind of specialisation if possible, while still allowing certain classes, especially non-casters, to excel at certain kinds of skills or behaviours.
I'm considering a couple of options:
1) Representing core "skills" as class abilities.
It's easiest to illustrate the idea with the following example: The "Trader" class I mentioned in my last post has, as a result of some discussion last night, before a "Smuggler", which preserves the trade-and-treasure orientation while providing a clearer sense of what skills such a character brings to an adventuring group. Smugglers will be concealment experts, who help the party set up ambushes, hide themselves when being pursued, etc. One ability I'm thinking of giving the class is to force monsters / antagonists to reroll their surprise rolls and take the worse result of the two rolls. This represents the smuggler working to help the party move stealthily.
2) Something like the Castles & Crusades prime system
All character classes have two prime requisites. Tests are roll-under on a d20. For all tests except for your prime requisites, you have to roll under your stat. For your prime requisites, you have to roll under 18 or your stat, whichever is higher. This is the system I currently favour. One problems I can foresee is a situation where it seems like something should be part of your class, but it is obviously governed by a different stat than the prime requisite. I am debating whether each class should therefore have two predetermined prime requisites, or one prime requisite for the class, and one the PC picks.
Suggestions and advice are welcome. I may end up using a hybrid of these two.