15 Feb 2011

I Hate Skills

Blog 32 Comments

Skills. I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve gotten into about skills. Either my opponent is clamoring for the flexibility and robustness of 3rd edition’s skill system or s/he is demanding to substitute one skill for another—Acrobatics for Athletics is a popular one. In my perfect world, we’d excise the entire system for something else.

The 4e skill system may seem a big departure from the 3e skills. There are fewer skills. And you don’t have skill points to worry about. You’re either trained or not. The problems with 3e’s skill system, however, are still present in the current edition and the ways we’ve shorthanded the mechanics have only made its shortcomings more visible.

My issue with skills boils down to their function in the game. Rather than encouraging action, they restrict it. Think about the last time you ran through a skill challenge. Johnny says “Oh no, I can’t make an Athletics check. I’m not trained!” Or, for my 3rd edition readers, think about conversations you have around the table that invariably turn to “how many ranks do you have in Knowledge (arcane)?” Rather than contributing to game play, the player would rather sit back and do nothing in the hope of mitigating the risks of failure. Ridiculous.

Oh, some folks (and the books) say that skills create new opportunities to participate in the game. Why, players ought to look for ways to use Acrobatics in interesting ways. I can remember one player trying to use Acrobatics to hop over an enemy’s head without provoking an opportunity attack. My sarcastic answer was something like “Isn’t there a power for that?” If we’re going to let skills create exceptions in play, then why have powers at all?

The 3rd edition alternative was to cover all the ways a skill could be used in the game. OK. Who can tell me offhand how Innuendo worked (replaced by Bluff, yes, yes) without looking? Again, players wouldn’t try things unless they could minimize their risks of failure and the DM who just allowed skill use willy-nilly risked stepping into feat territory.

Finally, there are the DMs who demand skill checks for everything even when the success or failure has no affect on the story’s outcome. Or worse, prevent the narrative’s progress by making a successful skill check the obstacle the players have to overcome. Gosh, I’d love to run the adventure, but you schmucks can’t hit that DC 25 Thievery/Open Locks check, so I guess I’ll have to fudge or we’ll sit here on our thumbs. A good DM would, of course, provide other avenues to advance the story—break down the door, find the key, cast a spell, and so on. But in most cases, slavish reliance on skills either stops the story or forces the DM to abandon skills altogether by just letting the players succeed.

And don’t give me that crap about how skills add definition to your character. Please. Congratulations, you sank 23 ranks into Use Rope. You win D&D. Can we play the game now? You don’t need skills to define to your character. You want to play a blacksmith? Great, you’re a blacksmith. You want to make a sword. Fine. You’ve made a sword. Happy? This is a fantasy roleplaying game. You kill monsters and take their stuff. You stop terrible plots, thwart dastardly villains, and explore awesome and strange places. I remember back when I was working on WFRP someone who complained the game didn’t have robust rules for running a business or for making stuff. Where in “Grim & Perilous Adventure” is running an inn or making shoes? Maybe I’m being a bit harsh about this. Maybe some people do want to sit around the table for 4 hours every other week to roleplay making baskets for a profit. That, however, is not the game I want to play.

Enough ranting. There are three instances in my mind where skill checks should ever come into play.

1. There are consequences for failure

2. A success provides a mechanical advantage.

3. A success provides a narrative advantage.

These should be pretty self explanatory, but just in case they’re not, here we go.

#1: A player who wants his character to hop across a pit should make a skill check. Failure means falling into the pit, taking damage, and experiencing a “sad face” moment. A player asks the DM, “Hey what was the name of the Baron?” There’s no skill check needed since there are no real consequences for failure.

#2: A player wants to climb up to a ledge to have an unrestricted view of the battlefield. Success means the character no longer has to worry about cover. Here, call for a skill check. Now let’s say the door to the next part of the dungeon lies at the bottom of a 20-foot pit. The characters have all the time in the world, climbing kits, and so on. There’s no need for a skill check. They just get to the bottom and the game proceeds.

#3: The characters encounter a guardian in a dungeon. They’re going to have to kill the guardian or talk their way past it. However, the players could gain some useful information about what lies ahead or about some other clue. In this case, the players might make skill checks to coax the information from the creature.

One last thing before I go. Monsters don’t need skills. At all. For starts, skills exist to aid player character exploration. History helps PCs learn about the world, Streetwise helps them learn about their urban surroundings, Athletics helps them learn what’s on the ledge or across the pit, and so on. Monsters don’t explore.

But what about Perception and Stealth? Monsters shouldn’t have to rely on a skill check to hide. If you have a sneaky monster such as a lurker, then it should have a power that lets it gain concealment of some kind and include a DC appropriate to its level to negate that concealment. As for monster Perception, I think it should be a DC. You want to sneak up on the monster, make a Stealth check against an easy DC for a dim-witted foe, a moderate DC for most critters, or a hard DC for an exceptional monster. This shifts the burden from the DM to have to make useless checks and puts it all on the players.

All other skills only reinforce the monster’s flavor. Why, why, why would a monster ever have training in Streetwise? History? Heck, Arcana even? They simply add to the monster’s story. Rather than force skills onto monsters, wouldn’t it be better to advise the DM that the dragon is quite knowledgeable about magic, history, and the gods and help the DM convey this information in roleplaying advice? Wouldn’t doing so help the DM portray the monster more appropriately than by slapping Arcana +17 under skills? I think so.

Well, I’ve said enough I think. What about you? How do you feel about skills?

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32 Responses to “I Hate Skills”

  1. Nathan Hoobler says:

    Skills are a fudgey system to cover all the fudgey parts of role playing that don’t fit into turns, onto a battle mat, or within the well-defined mechanics of powers and hit points. I always viewed them as a structured system for ad-libbing — sometimes reactively on the DM’s part (Player: “Hey, I want to jump off this balcony and slide down that tapestry”, DM: “Uhh, ok — make an acrobatics check!”), sometimes on the Player’s part with guidance (such as solving a well-constructed skill challenge) and sometimes just to add another dimension of differentiation between different builds of the same class.

    Given that, I think you’re exactly right about monsters (although obviously NPCs the players have more lasting interactions with might benefit from a list of “these are things I’m good at”). I think doing away with (a) the variety of redundant/overlapping skills, and (b) the needlessly fiddly aspect of assigning skill points are both good moves. No longer do I have to worry about whether I put +1 in Jump, or Climb.

    I do, however, think that given the reduction in depth in 4e base skills, skill feats could benefit from more attention. I might even consider letting my characters take a skill feat every 4 levels or so for free, just to help them focus their talents a little more.

  2. Will says:

    This is a very D&D-centric post, even very 4e-centric. Surely you are not arguing against skills in role-playing in general?

    Fact: skills are very easy for players and DMs to understand. They simply provide an additional level of discrepancy between characters beyond what ability scores provide. Most of your arguments against skills (limiting action, unnecessary for monsters, pointless, vague) can be applied to ability scores as well. “I can’t break down the door, I have low Strength!” At what point is character differentiation too much?

    I find your example of using Acrobatics to avoid opportunity attacks, and the response “shouldn’t there be a power for that?” very ironic because powers are even more limiting than skills! To me, this is more a problem with the power system than the skill system. A power that “seems like a skill should do that already” is, to me, a weak-ass power. Such powers restrict people who don’t have those powers, yet don’t provide enough “oomph” to the character who takes them. It’s like bringing back Trained Only usages, except you need to train in individual uses. I mean, if I want to play an Acrobat, just how many character-build resources (powers, feats, paragon paths, etc.) should I have to devote to that concept before I can say, “Yup, I’m an Acrobat, that’s for sure.”

    I think the Skill Powers in PHB3 (which you may have heard of) are a good start towards bridging the gap between the simple-yet-vague Skill Training and the concrete-but-terribly-restrictive powers system. They help give skills further definition without making a single Skill Training feat overshadow multiple class powers. My only real issue is that these powers take up power slots like anything else, forcing an unfortunate trade-off between skills and class abilities.

    I guess in my ideal world, skill training would provide a smaller bonus (+2 or so), but over time characters would get a certain number of free Skill Powers. These would be listed with the skill — so each skill write-up would be a two-page spread, consisting of some basic usages plus the available powers. And there’d be a way to use Skill Powers even if you don’t have them (like, spending an action point or taking a -5 penalty on the skill check) to provide a little flexibility.

  3. Dave T. Game says:

    I’m with you. As my game hits Epic tier, they’re the biggest source of annoyance for me and some of my players. I’ve never been satisfied with a system for skills in D&D, from the “can I roll too?” rolls to the problems you discuss above.

    There are systems that handle skills well though- GUMSHOE is a classic, and the Cortex Plus systems both take a deeper look at what they’re supposed to accomplish, and I’m looking to take a cue for those in campaign play going forward.

  4. Trevor says:

    Well, if picking the lock is the only way to advance the adventure, I’d say the GM has failed at designing the adventure.

    Example rebuttles
    #1 Remembering the Baron’s name might be important if you are trying to impersonate him. If it’s purely an OOG question than just tell the player OOG.

    #2 If they fail a climb check they take falling damage. I would call for a check on this and I’m the most “yeah ok, you do it” GM I know.

    Totally agree 100% about monsters

    I do think skill are necessary, if I am a thief I want there to be 2 things, first a mechanical difference between me, the thief, and everyone who’s not a thief (which you are right could be represented totally with powers). But I also want to know where I stand next to all the other thieves.

    lastly, perhaps you problem isn’t with a skill system, but with D&D’s wonky way they do everything.

  5. C. Steven Ross says:

    “Fact: skills are very easy for players and DMs to understand.”

    That’s definitely an opinion.

  6. Nathan Hoobler says:

    I should also add that the “Can I roll too” problem attempts to be addressed by skill challenges (with varying degrees of success). I dislike the “X successes before Y failures” approach (although it is appropriate for certain contexts), but I find that a “round-based” system works really well.

    For example, players have one hour (six 10-minute rounds) to slip past a siege army into the city before sunrise. Each round, every player can make or aid in one check that might advance their cause. After each round, the party makes a group stealth check; 3 stealth failures (or 6 rounds before success) and they are discovered.

    I think skill challenges as a concept go a long way towards bringing skills into the same realm of definition as combat (while still maintaining their useful fuzziness). The complaint about skill challenges leaving some players with nothing to do I find often arises from imbalanced challenges — if you’ve got a bard and a bunch of barbarians your party and you’re trying to negotiate, sure the bard may be the only one who should be making diplomacy rolls, but as a GM your role is to help the players come up with interesting alternatives, as well. If anything, I think coming up with interesting challenge mechanics, ways that checks can aid one another, ways checks can be used in various circumstances, is the real way to solve this problem.

    Skills are less a mechanic and more a framework for GMs to connect narrative to the dice, and in that sense they’re always going to be more of an art than a science. If you try to mechanize them too much, then either you reduce their usefulness by having them be less flexible to cover situations the GM might want to use them for, or you end up with the “definition inflation” of 3e. Ultimately, skills are only as good as the GM who runs them (and the source material he uses to derive inspiration from).

  7. Josiah Bradbury says:

    When I started DMing, I asked for checks for everything, even though sometimes I really didnt even have a number for them to beat. For me at the time it seemed like the right thing to do, they have skills, they should use them.

    Though after playing for 2 years I have realized all the extra work I have put myself through without any kind of reward. I have taken to only requiring skill checks on two conditions:

    1. It’s in combat. (or any kind of encounter where a PC is pressured)
    2. The failure means something to the plot. (for example random climbing down cliffs sure it could result in a party wipe if they all fall but how would that benefit the plot? Now climbing down a cliff while being chased by an ogre or to rescue someone on a time sensitive mission is meaningful)

  8. Scott Neese says:

    Have skills in game?
    If use of said skills will advance and enrich the story/scene/moment, use it.
    If use of said skills just get in the way, don’t use it.

    I have some forks. Great for mashed potatoes, terrible for soup. But I’m not going to damn the forks because I’m having chicken noodle that night.

    Over-simplified? Probably. But the answer really is that simple. The skills are forks in your drawer. Pull them out when you need one, otherwise don’t worry about it.

  9. Ben. says:

    RE: Will’s Comment:

    +1.

    -Ben.

  10. Eric Sanuels says:

    As a long time 3rd ed. Famed that has recently switched to 4th, I’m in favor of using skills as more gameplay enhancing than action limiting. In 3.5 certain skills we’ree necessary but hard to get for all characters (why can’t my fighter be perceptive?). I like how 4e tries to integrate skills as a narrative and game play mechanic (skill challenges) but I think trying to cover the ability to do anything with mechanics is going to be difficult to implement when you use a mechanic to adjudicate what the characters can and can’t do. That’s a problem with any game system though. I think the solution starts with recognizing that the rules are not going to be a perfect simulation by themselves: the rules require additional interpretation and judgement provided by the DM.

    I may be misremembering but I recall some advice in an old White Wolf V:tM book: the rules are there to enhance and serve the story. when they get in the way change them or do without.

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  12. Bronn says:

    I agree that skills in 4E can be a pain, and worse, exclude some players from social or investigative situations. For my game, I made a point of trying to include the guys without as many appropriate skills, especially in social situations, by just having things role-played out and then adjusting DCs to accommodate the different levels of proficiency. No reason that the Rogue should be the only one that can investigate a mystery or talk to the princess.

  13. Adriano says:

    Thanks for the article! As a DM who is just starting, I’m trying to find the right amount and way to use skills in my adventure. The first time, I think I used them more or less according to your ideas here.

  14. pdunwin says:

    I agree that skills have problems, but not to the degree that I think it’s worth changing them. I do agree with changing the approach.
    A player doesn’t necessarily know when there are consequences, mechanical advantage, or narrative advantage, from a given skill check. Some will roll pre-emptively, sometimes to be helpful, sometimes in hopes of getting to use their best skill. I tend to wave off such rolls, if possible, because when a high roll comes out I feel obligated to provide some kind of advantage, but I usually sense a little disappointment. If I plan to give out information without checks, I do my best to give it out to the person who is best at the relevant skill, and that helps people feel like their character is important.

    I know a lot of people hate skill challenges, but I love them precisely for the way they both clarify and enhance skills. There are consequences. There are often mechanical advantages to be gained. There is most certainly a narrative advantage to be gained. You want to roll too? Go ahead, but there’s a risk to it. You /don’t/ want to roll? Well, this is why I combine skill challenges with combat or other skill challenges. The high-skill guy is a little busy at the moment, so no, you don’t /have/ to roll, but you don’t /have/ to succeed at the challenge either. (Or I have skill challenges go on the offensive. No you don’t /have/ to roll, but the duke just asked YOU a question so what /are/ you going to do?)

    And thank goodness someone brought up the point about monsters. I figured it was because there are people who want the dice to decide everything. (Do the PCs see the orc taskmaster being feared or mocked by his peons? Better roll his Intimidate!) I was just telling a newbie that monster perception can just be handled as a static DC based on how alert they are. What if instead of Perception modifiers, monsters had Stealth DCs of Easy, Moderate and Hard? I think it could work.

    Good article. Thanks.

  15. Ryven Cedrylle says:

    I don’t think I could possibly disagree more. I’m going to have to pick this post apart to get to my objections, though, so I apologize in advance for the length of response.

    First, several of your initial arguments are not game design issues, but gameplay issues. “DMs who demand skill checks for everything” and “(players who) want to sit around the table for 4 hours every other week to roleplay making baskets for a profit” are products of play expectations. Lacking a skill system, that DM is going to make you describe how you search every stinkin’ block of the wall to find the trapdoor because he’s interested in simulationist gaming. Nothing wrong with that inherently but as you said, it’s a significant hang-up if that’s not what the rest of the table is about. Players interested in running shops or crafting things tend to do so for two reasons. Such players either 1) are trying to circumvent level-based wealth guidelines or 2) are quietly asking to play a different game with a lighter combat focus. None of these situations actually require a skill system to exist; they just happen to manifest through it in D&D.

    As to the character definition remark, I refer you to the entire 18-part series “Serious Skills” on the At-Will Blog. Way too much to go into here.

    Now that is not to say your entire rant is without merit. “Rather than contributing to game play, the player would rather sit back and do nothing in the hope of mitigating the risks of failure” is partially a systemic issue, but only partially. D&D provides no mechanical benefits or follow-through for failing a skill test. Skills that increased only by testing (and failing a la Burning Wheel?) would go a long way towards improving the problem. However, the impetus to make a failing skill check interesting narratively lies with the DM and players. It is not uncommon in the groups I play with to intentionally check a “bad” skill just to see what happens. When players understand that a failed skill check is still fun and exciting, this problem tends to disappear. Again, the mechanics do not support that stance and it is only really taking any sort of hold in the D&D culture in the last year-ish, so your argument is reasonable. I do not feel it is justified blaming the skill system itself entirely for that lack, though.

    “If we’re going to let skills create exceptions in play, then why have powers at all?” is a really sketchy statement in exceptions-based rule design. Powers make exceptions to general rules, feats make exceptions to powers (and other general rules), skills make exceptions to everything. I see no problem here. Should there be a limiting factor for skill exceptions? You betcha. That leaping PC better be prepared to land on his face if he botches the Acrobatics check AND take the OA. Sure, there’s a power for that maneuver. The power means you’re bad@$$ enough to do it once per encounter (day?) automatically. Skills, on the other hand, are risky and thus should have a reward aspect as well.

    On one point, however, I will agree and that is the demanding of skill substitutions. The phenomena that many players seems to want to make Acrobatics and Athletics interchangeable tells me these skills probably should have been rolled together into something like “Prowess” or maybe just “Athletics.” I have similar issues with Stealth/Thievery to name another. (Again, see “Serious Skills” for longer discussions.) Naming skills by character archetype – “Scholar” “Hustler” “Tough Guy” – may have been a better idea and could have reduced skill overlap.

    Finally, as to monsters needing skills, I am of a split mind. Just recently, for example, a player of mine disrupted a ritual and caused it to go awry, spewing toxic gas everywhere. I needed to know how effectively the enemy arcanist could control its spread. It was handy to have the monster’s Arcana skill bonus handy. The deeper question here, though, is really “at what point do you let the dice decide?” which is in itself a whole different topic. Is it better for the DM to determine what happens to the ruined ritual on his/her own or should there be a random element? How much does emergent gameplay matter to this group? I believe given the general borderline of DM fiat vs. die rolling inherent to D&D that monsters should retain skills for this sort of situation.

  16. wolfie says:

    I think the takeaway here is not “skills are bad” but “use skills wisely.” The reason why skills, combat stats, etc. exist is because RPGs are games of imagination – but imagination is unlimited. Without numbers, the game becomes a series of players trying to one-up each other. With imagination alone, if I want my character to run 10 feet up a wall then kick off, do a flip, and stab the orc in the face, the argument becomes why I can or cannot perform that action. Skill checks clarify, quantifiably, what a player can and cannot do with their character.

    That being said, it’s definitely possible to overuse or over-focus on skills too much. DMs and players have to work together to encourage a form of skill use that works for the group.

    I also feel that forcing skill checks in situations that aren’t necessarily in those categories you mentioned CAN enhance the story. Say the party is climbing down a cliff. A failed climb check could mean dropping/breaking a piece of equipment, or a player getting injured in a way that affects their combat – say a broken wrist forcing a player to use their off-hand in combat, or a sprained ankle reducing movement speed. How does this not enhance the story?

    Failed skill checks don’t necessarily have to result in the players immediate doom, even in very life-threatening situations. A failed check could result in a player landing in a less-advantageous position, or wounded, or having people call the town guards after them.

    I also use skill checks a lot to reward bonuses in certain situations. For example, players had to pass through a narrow passage laden with net traps. A reflex save would allow them to avoid a trap, but those characters highly skilled in acrobatics could roll their acrobatics skill to gain a reflex-save-bonus (my standard is +1 for every 5 rolled.)

    Players shouldn’t be punished for trying to use the skills they’re trained in. That’s what real people do when they encounter any given situation – they try to use the skills that they know to accomplish the task.

  17. justin says:

    I’m right there with you, Rob. I’ve long seen skills as hurdles to story/ plot/ item interaction advancement. Weirdly, they both build a sense of entitlement in players while simultaneously presenting obstacles. Sure, you’re the guy who put points in Jump… but you don’t have enough Jump to clear the chasm, so cram it. Not fun.

    At best, they’re a way for a player to say, “Hey, GM< I'm putting points in a thing I want to do in-game," but their implementation is almost universally one of binary success or failure, with failure holding up the progress of the session.

    My two entries on the topic:
    http://justinachilli.com/2009/11/06/realism-stinks-or-what-its-all-about/

    and

    http://justinachilli.com/2009/11/11/the-inalienable-right-to-be-cool/

  18. Jerry (DreadGazebo) says:

    I agree with trevor about the barons name, anyone asking players to make skill checks referencing something that may stop the story from progressing is just plain stupid. Iin some circumstances (impersonating, lying about him, etc.) it may be viable – otherwise, no.

    I like the idea of Dumb/Average/Crafty villians having hard set DC’s to sneak up on them, if only for the purpose of expediating gameplay but I do disagree with monsters having skills. I like some baddies to have great acrobatics or even a bonus in arcana – quick reference to a stat block can help me make the creature more evocative that way without having to read through paragraphs of fluff before or during a game session. I try and remain as mechanically fair throughout as well, if a monster really gets a +17 to that acrobatics check to leap towards his prey, then at least I have a justified reason why.

    Good read!

  19. callin says:

    “Rather than encouraging action, they restrict it. Think about the last time you ran through a skill challenge. Johnny says “Oh no, I can’t make an Athletics check. I’m not trained!””

    This is less about a problem with skills and more about a problem with skill challenges. Its not the skill restricting choices, it is the skill challenge that is doing the restriction.

  20. pdunwin says:

    @callin

    That’s not a problem with skill challenges but with how some people write and run skill challenges.

  21. Claudio Pozas says:

    I like skills.

    :)

    Skills, as written in 4e, aren’t limiting. The vast majority of skill uses can be attempted untrained, so a player that uses the “untrained” excuse is really just saying “I don’t wanna try ’cause I have a chance of failing”. Two of the few trained-only uses are Reducing Falling Damage (Acrobatics) and Detecting Magic (Arcana).

    If a player wanted to vault over an orc without provoking an opportunity attack, I’d tell him “okay, roll really high; and this only works once per encounter because afterwards the enemy will be onto your tricks”.

    In fact, many of the powers and feats that allow PCs to do cool stuff are never used, and I think they could be turned into “skill-based maneuvers”, and be available for all characters.

  22. Backing Away From Mechanics says:

    [...] we circulated among ourselves a very well-written article by Robert Schwalb about the frustration surrounding skill systems, particularly in D&D. I [...]

  23. Nai Calus says:

    I’m gonna have to disagree with the first part, especially denying a player a creative moment because you felt there should be a power for that. I love, love, LOVE creative skill usages. Creative item usages. Creative spell usages. Give me creativity, give me something I didn’t expect. I love it. It’s the most wonderful part of DMing for me. That moment when the players surprise me and show that it’s our game, not mine or theirs, and I get to say ‘Yes, you can try that. Give me x and perhaps y, it will be x difficulty and if you fail you’ll x.’ and we all feel great in the end. Even if the player fails, he knows he had a chance to succeed and do something awesome that wasn’t on his character sheet. I don’t *care* if there’s a power for that. That power isn’t here right now. It’s irrelevant. Even more so if it isn’t a power the player can actually take. But I am very fast and loose when I DM and the rules are there to serve me, not the other way around.

    But I do hate part of skills in 4E. Basically, I hated skills in 3.5. There were too many, you couldn’t take most of them effectively on your class, and certain classes just plain didn’t have enough skill points to even take what was on their list. Taking cross-class skills was futile in many cases because you just couldn’t get good enough to keep up with the people who had it on their list.

    4E does nothing at all to fix this. Sure, there are fewer skills. But there’s still a class skill list. There’s still classes who get screwed on how many skills they get. Trained vs untrained is often incredibly binary because of just how big a gap it creates between the have and have nots. Me, I’d give everyone at least one more trained skill and an open skill list. Take what you want. ‘Twas actually my 3.5 houserule – Combined a ton of skills, killed class lists and cross-class and gave everyone more skill points. Worked beautifully. People took what they wanted that fit their backstory or what they hoped to do. It was glorious.

    But I’m a big fan of full point-buy character gen in the vein of games like Shadowrun. I like systems that let me make more or less whatever the hell I want.

  24. Alphastream says:

    It isn’t often I disagree with you. I’ve seen many 3E PCs differentiate themselves via skills. It can be a serious benefit to the player to be the best at something. And while players are generally not interested in the deep mechanics of crafting armor, they can experience as much fun from feeling they have _achieved_ the ability to craft magnificent armor as they can by saving the prince, ending the evil threat, etc. There is a huge 3E crowd that misses this part of the game. I do honestly still miss skill ranks. I liked that choice vs. just being trained.

    With execution, for me skills are a game lubricant. When a player wants to roll, more power to them. If they take the initiative on rolling for the Baron’s name and botch it, that is a cool way for me to spring an embarrassing social situation. Maybe it will provide the perfect moment to introduce that elf courtier, who know approaches and whispers the Baron’s name, saving the PC embarrassment. Perfect. PCs that may not excel often at combat can excel because of skills. Skills are a tool a DM can use in a home campaign. You hit them with Endurance because so few have it trained, and by the end of the trip through the swamp, now that next combat will have real teeth. Along the way, you can use all kinds of skills to highlight their builds, their knowledge, their differences.

    I am a big fan of skills across just about any RPG. I like Shadowrun and similar games where you can define your own skill. Yeah, I dumped blah build points on troll samurai DJs, why do you ask? The key is having the DM and players on the same page around using the skills as part of storytelling. Powers and feats seldom are up to the same task.

  25. Roel Kerkhofs says:

    We are currently debating to convert a 2nd edition game to 3rd edition because we (DM and players alike) miss skills.

    I agree with a lot of points the article is addressing, but I see them more as caveats when using skills than as backdraws when using skills per se. When I read the examples above, I think we avoid using rolls in these situations.

    I believe the article is missing out in one important point in particular: Players *love* to throw dice. At least in the majority of games I have played in, the rolling of dice to overcome DCs added to the fun of the already happening roleplaying, it did not replace the fun of roleplaying.

  26. From the Archives: Skills : Critical Hits says:

    [...] I’m looking at skills. Rob Schwalb’s article about his dissatisfaction with them mirrors many of my concerns that have existed ever since my very first game of 3rd edition up [...]

  27. The Chatty DM says:

    Hear hear.

    I share many, if not most of your misgivings and while some are gameplay related, they are encouraged by the systems themselves. Funnily enough, I just read that post AFTER writing my Skill Hack for D&D 4e borrowing from small press games. It will go up tomorrow morning… I’m shilling it only because I did it to address my pet peeves about the system and I’m quite happy with how simple and cool it turned out to be.

    Let us know if/when you crack that nut yourself.

  28. Hunterian7 says:

    Our group has pretty much thrown skills out the window. I prefer 4th editions skills over 3rd but we solely do delves. The skills Heal, Athletics, Arcobatics gets used from time to time but only for combat reasons. Plus, skill challenges seem like the reward or failure is minimal; And you win- great, story continues; You lose- uh, i guess you lose a healing surge. And if the DM, when I rarely deal with one, judge fudges it , I must ask- what’s the point? Why even bother with the skill challenge? For the adventure to continue we have to get past the obstacle (skill challenge). Why take up time with a needless skill challenge.

  29. Michael Pfaff says:

    I must totally agree with you.

    I’d like to refer you to “Moves” as used in Apocalypse World. Particularly the basic moves and how they can be modified with advanced or custom moves.

    http://apocalypse-world.com/

    These are what I wish skills did.

  30. From the Archives: Skills — Critical Hits says:

    [...] I’m looking at skills. Rob Schwalb’s article about his dissatisfaction with them mirrors many of my concerns that have existed ever since my very first game of 3rd edition up [...]

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