Monday, November 21, 2011

The Problem with Skill Checks

I don't like skill checks. In fact, I don't really like skills either. To me, skills are part of that glorious part of roleplying that is tertiary to actual play, but essential to character development. That is, it feels that, by having rules based access to skill checks, all you do is prevent characters who otherwise have good reason to have those skills from having those skills.

To me, skills feel like something that's not part of the challenge, but rather part of the narrative. To be part of the challenge, it really has to be something where players make active informed decisions. And when your skills boil down to "I have X% chance of doing this," that element doesn't really apply.

Skills, in my mind, should not be part of the challenge of the game. They are pass fail. That's not to say that your character may or may not play differently based on what skills they have. But rather, it's to say that if you distant skills from gameplay, then it doesn't matter what skills a character has, it's not going to be gamebreaking. It may break the *narrative,* but I think it's unwise to try and shoehorn protections against the destruction of narrative structure into the game-this is the same reason why I feel rituals, rather than being explicitly codified, should be vague and subject to the DM's whims. It's less about challenge and more about narrative.

That being said, I absolutely love skill powers. A DM can completely ignore skill checks altogether, yet skills can still be a useful part of a character's build. I feel like there's something to that. In the same way that you're technically permitted to select as many backgrounds as you want, but only get one background benefit, I feel that the same should apply to skills: you get as many as you want, but when it comes to gameplay, you gain one bonus skill power.

I'm not going into specifics here.

One other issue with skills is that there's an implication that because it's a d20 roll, a high enough roll should be able to pull off any task. So you get skill monkeys with +50 to diplomacy, expecting to talk the main villain out of their plot. It's a problem with narrative. Players feel entitled to their skills, because it's part of their build. The point is, that's where the problem lies: you shouldn't have to sacrifice your gameplay for the sake of your narrative. Your narrative should be able to flow without sacrifice.

But I'm rambling a bit more than usual.