Thursday, April 22, 2010

Recycled from Greyhawk Grognard Skill Systems

This was in reply to excellent post on Classes as Skill Bundles

As I see it, the skill problem actually started with the 'thieves skill" class ability subsystem system being grafted onto what is essentially a "skill-less system" I've discussed my dislike for this class here so I won't repeat myself but thats my story and I am sticking to it.

I think the trick to resolving the skill issue is to see skills are two separate categories.

The 1st is adventuring tasks -- stuff like climbing, sneaking up on people, swimming. Some of these are covered by subsystems such as surprise others are just a judgment call and alas some are covered by thief "skills" aka class abilities

The second group are "things that the character knows" -- usually these end up as proficiencies or secondary skills or sometimes class abilities. Ugh.

What I do is basically guess what a character can do based either on an existing system (roll for surprise) or based on an attribute roll with a penalty for things outside the characters expertise. How I categorize is thus..

#1 Basic Tasks any Adventurer should know how to do. Everyone rolls full here

#2 Stuff from the background

#3 Stuff from the class and its lens, The lens here being "what kind of fighter/mage/whatever they character is.

For example, a sample party might consist of Sidrian Elf Crafter turned Wizard, Ankora Second Story Man (well woman in her case class fighter ) Bazi Pit Fighter (class fighter of course) and a Seymi Earth Witch (Cleric with custom spell list) and a Vor Bard (class fighter)

Any task that is an related to those keywords is rolled at full, other tasks at a penalty

Adventuring task are rolled against the subsystem in the book.

If some kind of thief class is needed, it ought to get bonus points applied to adventuring task rolls (instead of surprise on a 1 or 2 on a d6, they surprise on a 1,2, or 3 and so on)

This is maybe too coherent for D&D but its playable pretty easily and works well with race as class too.


  1. See, now, I think you're *way* over-thinking it, and, in retrospect, so was I.

    In the context of a class-based game, a skill system needs to accomplish two things:

    1) Give general guidelines on how to do stuff that everyone, reasonably, should have a shot at doing, and

    2) Allowing characters a means for doing those things that everyone can do, only better because they've got practice, training, etc.

    So, take swimming, that quintessential example always used when discussing skill systems, both pro and con.

    Anyone who has any life experience near water pretty much knows how to swim. You hold your head up, you move your arms and legs, you try not to breathe with your mouth under the water. Any schlub can do that, unless they grew up in a desert. And leave that distinction to common sense. You need to swim across a slow-moving river? Fine, you do it. It just rained so the river is swollen? Make a strength check.

    But if a character actually has taken swimming as a skill, the assumption is that they've put some time into it. Maybe they spent a lot of time swimming in rivers as a kid. Maybe they spent their summers diving for shells on the shallow reef. Whatever the rationalization, the fact remains that they are better at swimming by virtue of the fact that they have invested some of their finite character-building resources (whether that's by using skill points, or spending x.p. to buy the skill, or taking up a scarce non-weapon-proficiency slot), they are a better swimmer than someone who did not do so. So they can swim faster, or deeper, or under worse circumstances.

    Honestly, I don't think it needs to be any more complicated than that. I've come back down off the Hackmaster/Dangerous Journeys ledge...

  2. There is something to the point you are making here but I am coming to the conclusion that I flat out dislike skill systems in my D&D.

    I used the 2e proficiency system plenty back in the day but now I am seeing it as a Mama May I system rather than a means of focusing skills as you suggest.

    I think a narrative system like I am describing, even as new school as it is fits the free form ethos of D&D better.

    When I think about it more, I have to admit its not exactly my idea. ENWorlds OD&D Grognard Diaglo (who has been curiously absent for most of the OSR) used something like that in his games and some of the new games like Jaws of the Six Serpents and Barbarians of Lemuria have similar systems.

    As you say its not exactly needed but it kind of helps focus the game a bit.

    The only reason I wanted to keep the myriad of subsystems is simply, why reinvent the wheel. Sure I get tempted to heartbreak D&D keeping class/level/hp and Vancian magic and dump a lot of it but if I do that I can easily get to the point where its no longer D&D but some heart breaker.

    That was a refreshing place to be in 1981, now its folly.

    And yeah I do agree with you on the HM/DJ thing, if I want a complex skill system I have GURPS for that.