Chapter 5: Ability Checks & Skills

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Blacky the Blackball
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Chapter 5: Ability Checks & Skills

Post by Blacky the Blackball » Thu Sep 10, 2009 11:41 am

No, I haven't written another chapter already!

But I'm about to...

I'm looking at the next chapter of Dark Dungeons, and it's the skills chapter.

I'm going to use the skill mechanics straight out of the Cyclopedia, obviously - for those of you who don't know them they're very simple:

To perform a particular action, you need to make an ability check (roll 1d20 and get equal to or less than a relevant ability score). For each point you spend in the skill relevant to that action, you get a bonus to your difficulty. All characters regardless of class start with (4 + Int Bonus) skill points at 1st level and then get an extra point every four levels.

So if, for example, the GM requires an Int check to "remember" in character some useful information about dragons, and you have an Int of 14, you have to roll 14 or less to be given that information. If you've spent two points in "Knowledge: Dragons", however, you'd only need to roll a 16 or less.

That's fairly straightforward, so most of the chapter will be taken up by descriptions of individual skills and which ability scores they use.

In order not to overlap too much with the descriptive text of the Cyclopedia (and also because the Cyclopedia has some conflict between skills and thief abilities which I need to resolve), I'm intending to come up with my own skill list.

So here's some questions and thoughts about that...

Knowledge Skills - I'm a fan of these. They not only allow the GM to give the players hints under the guise of their characters "remembering" something they should know (but the players don't know), they also allow the players to have their characters possibly "remember" something they know and therefore be able to justify the use of player knowledge.

Social Skills - By this I mean "diplomacy" and "intimidation" and the like. I'm not so sure about these. On the one hand I don't like the idea that player bypass a role played conversation (or even bypass what would otherwise be a fight breaking out) by simply rolling a couple of dice. I've seen the sort of "diplomacy abuse" that some later editions of D&D can get. On the other hand, it can be a useful tool to let a low-charisma player realistically play a high-charisma character.

Physical Skills - These are fairly straightforward (swim, ride, balance, etc.) but have to be done very carefully so that it doesn't overlap with Thief/Mystic abilities such as Move Silently and Climb Walls.

Perception Skills - Again, these have to be careful not to overlap with Thief abilities such as Hear Noise and Find Traps, or Elf and Dwarf racial abilities to hind secret doors and moving walls. It may be an idea to limit them to social-perception skills like a "sense motive" or "insight" type of skill

Craft/Profession Skills - Again I'm not sure. On the one hand some people like to spend points on this type of skill purely for role playing purposes. Others find them a waste of skill points. Bear in mind that there's very little mechanical benefit to having these skills, particularly since although there are rules for magic item creation they don't involve crafting skills.

Thoughts anyone? Any particular skills that should (or shouldn't) be in the list?
Last edited by Blacky the Blackball on Fri Apr 23, 2010 11:14 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: [Dark Dungeons] - Skills

Post by rabindranath72 » Thu Sep 10, 2009 12:31 pm

I am not against skills, but IMO they should integrate with the existing game mechanics, not be an add of further rules over the existing ones (like General Skills do currently).
My idea of skills is of something which may be used to augment and extend the existing character abilities, and that is built on existing rules. For example, the Expert set provides rules for foraging and hunting, given as fixed percentages. A Survival skill would simply extend those percentages. Same goes for demihuman abilities, or some other aspects of the game. For example, in my games I have a Stealth skill which increases the probability to surprise an opponent from 1-2 on d6 to 1-3 on d6. So it does not overlap with the thief skills, and it can also be taken by thieves.
I am not sure I would want skills to improve indefinitely; I would prefer a "feat-like" system, which gives a one-time improvement (like the Stealth skill above).

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Re: [Dark Dungeons] - Skills

Post by rabindranath72 » Thu Sep 10, 2009 12:32 pm

I would also advocate the use of d6+ability modifier for ability checks, much like it's done for Strength checks to open doors. It makes bonuses relevant, and it closely matches what's already in the game.
In my games I also have a sort of "primes" system, in which an action has a basic 1 in d6 chance to succeed (plus attribute modifier), whereas the chance is 1-2 in d6 if the ability score is a Primary attribute.

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Re: [Dark Dungeons] - Skills

Post by Big Mac » Sun Sep 13, 2009 4:13 pm

Blacky the Blackball wrote:I'm going to use the skill mechanics straight out of the Cyclopedia, obviously - for those of you who don't know them they're very simple:

To perform a particular action, you need to make an ability check (roll 1d20 and get equal to or less than a relevant ability score). For each point you spend in the skill relevant to that action, you get a bonus to your difficulty. All characters regardless of class start with (4 + Int Bonus) skill points at 1st level and then get an extra point every four levels.

So if, for example, the GM requires an Int check to "remember" in character some useful information about dragons, and you have an Int of 14, you have to roll 14 or less to be given that information. If you've spent two points in "Knowledge: Dragons", however, you'd only need to roll a 16 or less.
As long as you are not using any of the actual text from the Cyclopedia.
Blacky the Blackball wrote:That's fairly straightforward, so most of the chapter will be taken up by descriptions of individual skills and which ability scores they use.

In order not to overlap too much with the descriptive text of the Cyclopedia (and also because the Cyclopedia has some conflict between skills and thief abilities which I need to resolve), I'm intending to come up with my own skill list.
Making everyting totally new (although compatible) would be a good move.
Blacky the Blackball wrote:So here's some questions and thoughts about that...

Knowledge Skills - I'm a fan of these. They not only allow the GM to give the players hints under the guise of their characters "remembering" something they should know (but the players don't know), they also allow the players to have their characters possibly "remember" something they know and therefore be able to justify the use of player knowledge.
I'm no BECMI expert, but IMO skills like this change characters from being combat machines into three dimentional characters.
Blacky the Blackball wrote:Social Skills - By this I mean "diplomacy" and "intimidation" and the like. I'm not so sure about these. On the one hand I don't like the idea that player bypass a role played conversation (or even bypass what would otherwise be a fight breaking out) by simply rolling a couple of dice. I've seen the sort of "diplomacy abuse" that some later editions of D&D can get. On the other hand, it can be a useful tool to let a low-charisma player realistically play a high-charisma character.
Make sure it doesn't say that in your PHB. It might sound a bit patronising. :lol:

I think that if you are going to have social skills, the answer is to give the NPCs social skills too. There should be some NPCs who can be talked into doing something, but others who can spot an attempt at social engineering a mile off. If you use diplomacy on a single person guarding a door it should be a lot easier than using diplomacy on a group of 30 people. Even if the 30 people are no better than the single guard, their combined group should give them some sort of advantage. Only someone with an epic diplomacy score should be able to influnce large crowds.

As for intimidation, there is the feeling of "safety in numbers" and I would argue that in a large group NPCs could grant an aid bonus to each other. If you face 1 million kobolds they should feel pretty unshakable, but if you face 5 then maybe you can scare one or two off in the first round and then try to scare off the rest a round later.
Blacky the Blackball wrote:Physical Skills - These are fairly straightforward (swim, ride, balance, etc.) but have to be done very carefully so that it doesn't overlap with Thief/Mystic abilities such as Move Silently and Climb Walls.
You could avoid the overlap. Or you could allow it, but give Theives and Mystics a big advantage. I don't know what mechanics you are going for, but for argument's sake, lets say it was similar to the class level + 3 points limit of 3e. If you were to do something like add a Thiefs level on top of their normal skill level they would quickly be able to have a stupidly high level in a physical skill.

Another way to control this sort of thing would be to require in-character teachers to learn skills. This would mean that anyone living in the mountains could learn to climb cliffs and anyone living in the woods could learn to climb trees. But Thieves could learn to climb anything.
Blacky the Blackball wrote:Perception Skills - Again, these have to be careful not to overlap with Thief abilities such as Hear Noise and Find Traps, or Elf and Dwarf racial abilities to hind secret doors and moving walls. It may be an idea to limit them to social-perception skills like a "sense motive" or "insight" type of skill
You could always use 3e's "prerequisit" concept to create skills that are not universal skills. 3e has some monster only skills and feats and they would seem to be a good model to use.
Blacky the Blackball wrote:Craft/Profession Skills - Again I'm not sure. On the one hand some people like to spend points on this type of skill purely for role playing purposes. Others find them a waste of skill points. Bear in mind that there's very little mechanical benefit to having these skills, particularly since although there are rules for magic item creation they don't involve crafting skills.

Thoughts anyone? Any particular skills that should (or shouldn't) be in the list?
I like craft and profession skills (althought I've always thought it was a bit daft that 3e tried to split them in this way).

I'm in the camp of trying to give my PCs some of these skills (and have very occasionally been lambasted by other players who want me to min-max my PC*). I would say that an expert in a certain field should be able to assess the work of other craftsmen (in that same field). If a group of PCs kill 6 orcs, the weaponsmith should be able to spot that one sword is a lot better than the others. Just swinging a sword should give a swordsmith a chance to spot that it has perfect balance.

* = I personally find this sort of PC design a bit pointless as the GMs job is to build the world around your PC and if you put a seemingly "weak" element into a PC a good GM will make that something that can save the day further down the line.

I don't know if you are intending to have rules for disarming an opponent, but a swordsmith should be able to hear (from the ding it makes) that a sword is weak and try to break it instead of knocking it out of their opponent's grasp.

The same even goes for other crafts. If you build doors, you should be better at working out where to kick them to break them. If you know how to build a castle wall, you should have a good idea where there might be small handholds that can help you to clmb the wall. If you can build boats, you should be able to block up a hole that is causing a ship to take on water.

People without craft skills should still be able to attempt to do the same things, but craftsmen and professional people should get a head-start.
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Re: [Dark Dungeons] - Skills

Post by Blacky the Blackball » Sun Sep 13, 2009 5:37 pm

Big Mac wrote:
Blacky the Blackball wrote:So if, for example, the GM requires an Int check to "remember" in character some useful information about dragons, and you have an Int of 14, you have to roll 14 or less to be given that information. If you've spent two points in "Knowledge: Dragons", however, you'd only need to roll a 16 or less.
As long as you are not using any of the actual text from the Cyclopedia.
Nope. It's all my own words (and typing skill description after skill description is fairly tedious...)
Blacky the Blackball wrote:In order not to overlap too much with the descriptive text of the Cyclopedia (and also because the Cyclopedia has some conflict between skills and thief abilities which I need to resolve), I'm intending to come up with my own skill list.
Making everyting totally new (although compatible) would be a good move.
It's about 95% new. The mechanics are unchanged but pretty much my entire skill list is new (although to be honest there's lots of overlap since, for example, there are only so many different ways you can have a "Riding" or "Swimming" skill).
Blacky the Blackball wrote:Knowledge Skills - I'm a fan of these.
I'm no BECMI expert, but IMO skills like this change characters from being combat machines into three dimentional characters.
Yep. The fact that there are no combat skills helps too. Since players can't spend skill points on anything combat related, they don't feel as if they have to choose between more skills and more combat effectiveness.
Blacky the Blackball wrote:I've seen the sort of "diplomacy abuse" that some later editions of D&D can get. On the other hand, it can be a useful tool to let a low-charisma player realistically play a high-charisma character.
Make sure it doesn't say that in your PHB. It might sound a bit patronising. :lol:
Well, here's my wording:

Social Skills

Special care needs to be used when using skills designed for social situations (Bluff, Diplomacy and Intimidation).

Players and Game Masters should discuss the use of these skills before the game starts, since they have the potential to unbalance games.

Firstly, it is recommended that these skills are not used against players. If a player wishes to influence another player then this should be role played rather than rolled for using skills. Many players don’t like the loss of “free will” and the loss of control that they feel when their character is forced into particular behaviour by dice rolls rather than because they wanted their character to behave in that way, especially if the forced behaviour is the result of another player’s use of social skills against them. This can be very disruptive to your gaming group.

Secondly, the players and Game Master should agree what proportion of social interaction with NPCs should be governed by skill usage and what proportion should be governed by role play. Some people prefer more skill usage since it means that people can play silver-tongued characters even if they are not good talkers themselves. Others feel that simply rolling a Diplomacy Check in order to find out whether the character can talk the king into pardoning their wrongly-imprisoned associates is something of a dramatic let-down and prefer to role play the issue to its conclusion. There is no single “correct” way to play using these skills, only the way that your group enjoys.

I think that if you are going to have social skills, the answer is to give the NPCs social skills too. There should be some NPCs who can be talked into doing something, but others who can spot an attempt at social engineering a mile off. If you use diplomacy on a single person guarding a door it should be a lot easier than using diplomacy on a group of 30 people. Even if the 30 people are no better than the single guard, their combined group should give them some sort of advantage. Only someone with an epic diplomacy score should be able to influnce large crowds.

As for intimidation, there is the feeling of "safety in numbers" and I would argue that in a large group NPCs could grant an aid bonus to each other. If you face 1 million kobolds they should feel pretty unshakable, but if you face 5 then maybe you can scare one or two off in the first round and then try to scare off the rest a round later.
I haven't given concrete numbers as modifiers to these skills (in fact I've done that to very few skills, preferring to leave the exact bonuses or penalties to GM discretion), but every skill description has a list of things that might give bonuses or penalties to the skill and these two are no exception. For Intimidate, the GM is advised to give modifiers for:

1) How realistic is the thing being threatened with?
2) How serious are the consequences of caving in and complying with the threat?

So in the case of the million kobolds, any threats a party make are going to be seriously unrealistic...
Blacky the Blackball wrote:Physical Skills - These are fairly straightforward (swim, ride, balance, etc.) but have to be done very carefully so that it doesn't overlap with Thief/Mystic abilities such as Move Silently and Climb Walls.
You could avoid the overlap. Or you could allow it, but give Thieves and Mystics a big advantage.
The physical skills I've put in are: Balance, Jump, Escape Artist, Ride. None of them overlap with thief abilities.
I don't know what mechanics you are going for, but for argument's sake, lets say it was similar to the class level + 3 points limit of 3e. If you were to do something like add a Thief level on top of their normal skill level they would quickly be able to have a stupidly high level in a physical skill.
The basic mechanic is that of a "standard" ability check. So, for example, any character can stay on a bolting horse by making a dex check - i.e. 1d20, roll less than equal to dex (value, not bonus) - but if you have spent two points on the Ride skill then you can effectively add two to your dex making the roll easier.

In terms of how many points people get, all characters start with 4+int, at 1st level, and gain another point every four levels until they reach a maximum of 12+int at 33rd level.

Thief abilities, of course, are measured as percentages just like 1e and 2e.
Another way to control this sort of thing would be to require in-character teachers to learn skills. This would mean that anyone living in the mountains could learn to climb cliffs and anyone living in the woods could learn to climb trees. But Thieves could learn to climb anything.
The general principle is that all skills are things that any character can do. Spending points just makes your character better at them.
Blacky the Blackball wrote:Perception Skills - Again, these have to be careful not to overlap with Thief abilities such as Hear Noise and Find Traps, or Elf and Dwarf racial abilities to hind secret doors and moving walls. It may be an idea to limit them to social-perception skills like a "sense motive" or "insight" type of skill
You could always use 3e's "prerequisit" concept to create skills that are not universal skills. 3e has some monster only skills and feats and they would seem to be a good model to use.
At the moment, I've only got "Sense Motive" as a perception skill; so there's no overlap to worry about.
Blacky the Blackball wrote:Craft/Profession Skills - Again I'm not sure. On the one hand some people like to spend points on this type of skill purely for role playing purposes. Others find them a waste of skill points. Bear in mind that there's very little mechanical benefit to having these skills, particularly since although there are rules for magic item creation they don't involve crafting skills.

Thoughts anyone? Any particular skills that should (or shouldn't) be in the list?
I like craft and profession skills (althought I've always thought it was a bit daft that 3e tried to split them in this way).

I'm in the camp of trying to give my PCs some of these skills (and have very occasionally been lambasted by other players who want me to min-max my PC*).
No worries about that with this system. The idea is that players are free to spend points on whatever skills they like because they are independent of any combat abilities.
I would say that an expert in a certain field should be able to assess the work of other craftsmen (in that same field). If a group of PCs kill 6 orcs, the weaponsmith should be able to spot that one sword is a lot better than the others. Just swinging a sword should give a swordsmith a chance to spot that it has perfect balance.
I don't know if you are intending to have rules for disarming an opponent, but a swordsmith should be able to hear (from the ding it makes) that a sword is weak and try to break it instead of knocking it out of their opponent's grasp.

The same even goes for other crafts. If you build doors, you should be better at working out where to kick them to break them. If you know how to build a castle wall, you should have a good idea where there might be small handholds that can help you to clmb the wall. If you can build boats, you should be able to block up a hole that is causing a ship to take on water.[/quote]

That's a great idea. I've added a paragraph about craft skills being useful for assessing the quality (and possible weak points) of an item made by that craft.
People without craft skills should still be able to attempt to do the same things, but craftsmen and professional people should get a head-start.
The way the skill mechanics work, all skills can be attempted by people without training. They're just a subset of the generic use of ability checks that you can spend points to get bonuses on.
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Re: [Dark Dungeons] - Skills

Post by Blacky the Blackball » Sun Sep 13, 2009 5:43 pm

By the way, I've finished the rules text and started on the individual skill descriptions. My skill list is as follows:

Arcane Lore
Balance
Bluff
Cooking
Craft (Choose Medium)
Diplomacy
Disguise
Engineering
Escape Artist
Etiquette (Choose Culture)
First Aid
Gambling
Geography
History
Intimidation
Jumping
Language (Choose)
Laws (Choose Culture)
Lip Reading
Magical Engineering
Nature Lore
Navigating
Performance (Choose Medium)
Religious Lore
Riding (Choose Animal)
Sense Motive
Swimming
Tracking

In terms of writing the skill descriptions (and examples of use), I've got as far as "Laws (Choose Culture)"
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Re: [Dark Dungeons] - Skills

Post by Blacky the Blackball » Sun Sep 13, 2009 10:03 pm

I've finished a first draft of the chapter (as usual, don't worry too much about the formatting - I'm going to have to redo all the page flows once art is added).

It's here - click on the "downloads" link: it's chapter 5.

Any feedback will be gratefully accepted...
Last edited by Blacky the Blackball on Mon Sep 14, 2009 7:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: [Dark Dungeons] - Skills

Post by Blacky the Blackball » Mon Sep 14, 2009 12:01 pm

The files have moved.

They can now be accessed from here.
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