Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Tongue-Tied Bard

The introduction of skills into D&D and its offshoots solved some important problems in the game, but those solutions came with costs of their own.

The earliest editions had rules for fighting and not much else. That’s not surprising, considering they were written by wargamers, for wargamers. No one yet understood what a roleplaying game really needed or how varied play could become. The first skill-based class, the thief, didn’t appear until the first expansion. Try playing the game for a while without a character who can pick locks or disarm traps and you’ll see why thieves were needed. (In some recent, nostalgic OD&D sessions, a common joke was when a character would muse dreamily about a far-off, mythical land called “Greyhawk” where there existed people known as “thieves” who could somehow open a lock without hacking it into ruin with an ax. It was even said that if they pressed an ear to a door, they could sometimes actually hear sounds on the other side!)

(Read the rest at Kobold Quarterly ...)


  1. Reason and logic are my guiding lights when it comes to skills.

    If there's a tree and everyone wants to climb it, they can. Depending on the character's dexterity scores, I'd let the players know that they skip up the tree or laboriously haul themselves up and then cling to a branch, constantly on the edge of losing their balance.

    The same situation with some kind of distraction, such as a cadre of archers firing arrows, would require a check.

    Specific skills, such as armoring, always require a check, unless the armorer has been making chainmail for the past month, then making chainmail no longer requires a check.

    In general, if the thing the player wants to do is a thing that your average able-bodied person could do with little difficulty, no check.

    If the same action is performed under duress, check against relevant ability score.

    If the thing is something that you have to be trained to do, skill check always, unless the action has become routine.

    Final ultimate mega-guideline: Do what makes sense, rules be damned.

  2. I prefer to leave explicit skills out of D&D, though I am happy enough with class abilities. Perhaps serendipitously, this thread has recently appeared at Dragonsfoot: Classes versus Skills.