Feb 29, 2012

How to Represent Skills Without A Skill System?

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.


  1. DCCRPG allows a ransomly generated "previous occupation" -- what the character did before pursuing a life of adventure. It's easy to imagine if a character might be competent in a particular skill and at what level. For instance, a character wwant to start a fire and maintain it at a particular heat. A baker would be pretty good at it; an alchemist even better. A banker, on the other hand, wouln't really have a clue. I find that this system is totally comprehensive and couldn't be an easier mechanic.

    1. I'm using a similar mechanic in my Emern game right now, actually. Characters are randomly assigned professions that determine their areas of competency. It works pretty well, but I do find that it mainly shifts the issue back a step, so I'm left using the a roll-under-stat mechanic for situations where success or failure are both possible.

      I'd like to quantitatively represent the advantage a character's skill gives them in situations where failure or success are both possible, but success if more probable for a trained or skilled character than an untrained one despite any stat differences between them.

      For example, if the character needs to light a fire on a windy hilltop using rapidly gathered plant material to signal a passing ship, I'd like the probability of that succeeding to be based at least partly on whether the character has some training in creating and lighting fires, rather than relying solely on their stats (which is the situation I'm in now).

  2. You may want to check how LotFP addresses the problem. In our current campaign, we use the Focus-system found in Dragon Age RPG.

  3. Honor and Intrigue just gives each player four professions that they've worked at over their career, and gives three points to spend between them. Whenever you roll something that a Thief would logically be good at, you just roll Thief. Whenever you roll something a Scholar would be good at, you roll Scholar.