Gaming My Way

01 Mar

Using Everyday Skills In RPGs That Systematize Them

There are some games that include basic, everyday skills as things you have to purchase. In Pathfinder, these include skills like Perception, Climb, and Swim. In World of Darkness, these include skills like Drive and Computers.

For Pathfinder, these skills can be used untrained, which means you can make a roll, add your base ability, and use that result. This means anyone can do it, it’s just easier for people with training. In World of Darkness, any ability that falls under a knowledge (like computer) can’t be done unless you’ve actually learned it by purchasing at least one point in said ability. An ability like drive takes a penalty on top of being untrained.

Both of these systems overlook an important issue in this though. Sometimes, there are things that people can just do. In the modern world, just about anyone can drive. Perhaps not well, but they can do it. In normal circumstances, it would be silly to ask a player to make a roll to drive successfully, or worse, tell them they simply don’t know how. Now, if they had no points in drive, it would be fair to say they only know how to drive an automatic, and if they get into a chase they’ll likely have a hard time. Driving point a to point b is still quite doable though. It’s a basic skill people have in the modern world.

Even more pernicious than this is the idea of a perception skill though. Yes, this certainly serves a purpose. However, you shouldn’t have to make a roll to see the door is closed, or that you’re about to walk into a lamppost. This is normal stuff. Rolling to note the well disguised signs of an ambush, or to hear a burglar creeping through your home would be appropriate, as this isn’t something that is common to note. That giant dragon in the sky though? Yeah, we all saw it ten minutes ago, and no, rolling a one doesn’t negate that. It’s too big to miss unless there is a severely mitigating circumstance, such as being blind.

The point here is simple. It’s not always appropriate to stick to the system with these skills. If a player wants his character to do something that could be done by anyone in the room, and the character has no disability preventing him from doing so, just let him do it. Use common sense. Or adopt the rule proposed in World of Darkness: “only ask for rolls when the results of failure are interesting.” Not noticing an ambush is interesting because it changes the dynamics of the battle. Walking into a door you didn’t see even though a normal person would see it and getting a concussion is not interesting, it’s annoying and makes players think the GM just wants to make their characters his playthings.

While mechanics are important, also remember the story. These characters are supposed to come alive, so treat them like they’re people. If something is ridiculously easy for a highly trained person, and something most normal people could accomplish, just let the character do it. Save the rolls for the difficult things, where suspense is needed, or when you need tension. And make sure the result of a success or failure is interesting, instead of just annoying. Keep the story moving, instead of bogging it down with needless bookkeeping because you want the 15th level ranger to make a survival check to find food in a lush jungle setting. He can do it. Don’t waste everyone’s time.

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