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View Full Version : Roleplaying I like the odd skill checks.



CNdruid
2017-07-20, 07:46 AM
I often read about how 'Medicine' is inferior to magic healing spells meanwhile knowledge skills, specifically 'Nature' checks are almost completely looked down upon. I however can't help myself but feel as though these checks are kind of owed the opportunity to be vital in certain situations.

I've dabble with a few ideas like:

Inside the tavern the party notices strange carvings into the woodwork.

Successful Religion check reveals that the carvings are in the design of symbols of worship to Shevarash the elvish god of retribution and vengeance. Upon questioning the innkeeper she reveals her tavern almost fell prey to a band of vicious drow slavers and she thanks Shevarash for sparing her tavern by warding of the drow threat.

Meanwhile practical and realistic examples seem to be so elusive in gameplay.

Successful Medicine check reveals that the villagers all seem to be getting sick from the drinking water which is polluted by sewage... These people do not seem to understand drinking urine is bad for one's health.

A cleric could heal the sick individually in this situation but a cleric is also much wiser than most and can probably rely on sheer wisdom to solve more problems.

JeenLeen
2017-07-20, 12:56 PM
I agree that those skills can come up as useful. I think the biggest criticism stems from them coming up
1) rarely
and either
2a) have no great benefit/importance to the party; or
2b) are solved by magic or other means.

Both of your examples seem to be 2a, in that knowing that fluff about the innkeeper is nice but not terribly important and the, although the check helps the party save the village more efficiently, it probably matters little in the long run.

I think it comes to game design. If it takes the same amount of resources (such as skill points in D&D 3.5, experience points in World of Darkness, or chosen proficiencies in D&D 5e) to get good in Medicine as it does in Athletics, then both should be about equally useful.

Xuc Xac
2017-07-20, 02:03 PM
I think it comes to game design. If it takes the same amount of resources (such as skill points in D&D 3.5, experience points in World of Darkness, or chosen proficiencies in D&D 5e) to get good in Medicine as it does in Athletics, then both should be about equally useful.

This is a frequent problem with a lot of games. The designers make the skills equally broad ("melee combat" and "science") or narrow ("two-handed swords" and "biology") in scope and then charge the same character building resources for them. Or they charge based on the in-character investment to learn the skill: you can be an Olympic level gymnast before finishing high school but it takes a long time to get a PhD in physics so Athletics is much cheaper than Science (and you can use Athletics untrained if you don't put points in it but you can't use Science untrained). Then when it comes to actual play, some skills are just a lot more useful (or they are equally useful but require more frequent rolls, so they get more use).

In a combat heavy fantasy game where weapons all have different stats and special abilities, it makes sense to have separate skills like "two-handed sword" and "one-handed mace". If 90% of the game is spent in combat, it doesn't make sense to divide up all the non-combat skills into equally narrow categories like individual languages or Knowledge: Arcana ,Knowledge: Nature, and Knowledge: Religion. If the warrior characters are going to make multiple melee rolls per round but the nerd characters are going to use each of their many nerd skills once every few sessions, they shouldn't be paying the same resources for them. If it's a combat heavy fantasy game, the skill list should look like "one-handed mace, two-handed mace, one-handed sword, two-handed sword, javelin, one-handed spear, two-handed spear, pike, and knowledge (just "knowledge": one skill for all the nerd stuff like languages both ancient and modern, wizardry, theology, politics, natural philosophy, etc.)". If you're playing a game about tweed-covered college professors investigating occult mysteries and then running away from monsters, you can have skills like "Language: Ancient Latin, Language: Ancient Greek, Language: Medieval Arabic, History: Eastern Europe from 1000-1500AD, and Violence (all that bloody and ultimately futile combat business such as punching, shooting bows, or firing rocket launchers at eldritch monstrosities who only pause a moment before regenerating)".

Anonymouswizard
2017-07-20, 02:24 PM
There are some things to consider, the main being the exact system, which will change the weighting of skills, and the campaign, which will also affect it.

Let's say I'm playing a science fiction game. No Cure Wounds spell here, to heal wounds I have to have a medkit and succeed at a Medicine check. The same if I want to diagnose a disease to tell the nanomedibots what to target. Suddenly the skill is a lot more important than in D&D, but not vital (you can always stabilise downed allies and visit the hospital, although that costs time compared to doing it yourself).

In my friend's game taking ranks in physics, engineering, and mathematics is vital to successfully building any device, or analyse one. In Jeff's campaign they're a waste of skill points.

Knowledge skills tend to have an additional problem, they're reactive instead of proactive. I can decide I'm going to leap heroically across the chasm to catch up with the bad guy, but I'll generally only roll religion if I encounter something that the GM has decided gives information on a successful roll.

JeenLeen
2017-07-20, 02:46 PM
I also don't like how some skill choices make it hard to have a character that is competent, fleshed out, and not a weakling in combat. (Assuming here that being in combat matters, since it does in most games.)

Take old World of Darkness. I have a character with some bonus xp, but it's still hard to have at least a rank or two in the skills that make sense for the background I want and the personality I'd like to play. At the same time, I want to at least be decent in combat so that I can have fun in the combat scenes and not be a drain on the rest of the party. (Some play styles may differ.) But it's tremendously hard to put points into what makes sense and what makes me competent (both in a combative and 'my guy should be good at this mundane thing' sense).

As I think about it, the 'good in combat' probably matters less than the skill choices giving you chances to do awesome things. If the mechanics (or DMing style) doesn't reward you with fun for putting your points there, then there's something bad about it requiring your points to go there.

I think the Aspect system used in games like FATE/FATE Accelerated is really good for letting you effectively state you are good at several skills, without really naming the skills directly as separate categories. (At least, seems that way to me. I've only tried a couple games, and they both floundered not long into the game.)

RazorChain
2017-07-21, 04:28 AM
As has been stated, different skills are good in different games.

But sometimes you just take skills for the fluff of it. I put points in Profession: Manservant because that's what my character was, a manservant to one of the other players. Not that I ever rolled a skill roll but I didn't need too because I was competent enough to do my duties.

In some systems magic and magic items make skills obsolete. Who needs naturalist or medicine when the Cleric can cure you, cure your poison and make food, you could use naturalist it to pick some herbs or whatnot, maybe use it to find poisonous ones to put in somebodies soup? Why hide when you have invisibility? Why lockpick when you have the knock spell? Why have lore skills when you can ask your God?


When playing in settings without magic or low magic then skills become more important. Also a good GM sometimes designs a scenario where one PC can shine because he has the right skills.

Aotrs Commander
2017-07-21, 05:45 AM
There are a couple of parties (in D&D and Rolemaster) that are not tradtional - one is an exploration group and one an undercover black ops unit. I make a point of the use of skills in thsoe adventures (they actually are pretty light on actual combat) and the playes tend to find that skills in most other groups which are irrelevant are utterly necessary.

The exploration group, for example (in sci-fi Rolemaster), will likely start picking up skills like Metal Evaluation, that in no other party would have been considered. But when their actual job is to Find Out Stuff, those sorts of skills are best suited.



What I tend to do is adding one or more skills to a check, but make the most suited skill a significantly lower (the assumption being that within the skills, there will always be a bit of overlap).



The problem, such as it is, then, is less to do with mechanics and more to do with adventure design.

In D&D, in some areas, yes, some skills can be replaced by magic... But - on the other hand, for example, [I]Heal /I] won't tell you what killed that person (and Spoeak With Dead only will under some circumstances) - but a Heal skill check might. (That is, actually, the most common usage of Heal and has been since AD&D in our groups.)

Anonymouswizard
2017-07-21, 06:22 AM
As has been stated, different skills are good in different games.

But sometimes you just take skills for the fluff of it. I put points in Profession: Manservant because that's what my character was, a manservant to one of the other players. Not that I ever rolled a skill roll but I didn't need too because I was competent enough to do my duties.

True, I haven't quite don't that yet but my characters often have a knowledge skill or two even if that'll be completely useless. I've had history, physics, plan to have geology in a science fiction game at some point, have picked up craft skills even if I never plan to use them, and so on.

I've also done the opposite, I'll hopefully be playing a 5e game fairly soon where my character is meant to be a bit oblivious, so I've stuck my lowest score in Wisdom and haven't picked up either Insight or Perception (knowing that most of the players will likely have one or the other). That character also has various Knowledge skills despite being a Paladin, because I wanted a warrior scholar.


In some systems magic and magic items make skills obsolete. Who needs naturalist or medicine when the Cleric can cure you, cure your poison and make food, you could use naturalist it to pick some herbs or whatnot, maybe use it to find poisonous ones to put in somebodies soup? Why hide when you have invisibility? Why lockpick when you have the knock spell? Why have lore skills when you can ask your God?

Yep, grumble grumble. This is why I dislike systems with strong magic, it tends to make being skilled in something obsolete. This is why I tend to only run low magic fantasy these days, you might have a couple of spellcasters in the party but they only know a few basic spells, and finding more is hard.

(The system I'll be using for my next fantasy game is Keltia/Yggdrassil, where characters start with four levels of spells or combat techniques. So your magician will begin with four spells at most, and they cost a lot to learn. It's actually cheaper to build around mundane skills than magic.)


When playing in settings without magic or low magic then skills become more important. Also a good GM sometimes designs a scenario where one PC can shine because he has the right skills.

Definitely, this is my main problem with D&D5e, instead of making skills more important it increased the level of magic and reduced the number of skills. Now the number of skills isn't problematic, Rocket Age does fine with only twelve, but in 5e it's even easier to bypass some with magic due to Rituals.

(Now I'm also not terribly fond of 5e sticking to classes, but I except that it's a given for D&D)

Now, it's easy to make a random knowledge skill or three important, just have cases where a successful roll will save hours or days of research. Some are harder than others of course, and it shouldn't be done all the time, but I find that if the skill you put at your peak is eternally useless the GM is not taking your character into account. Of course, if that skill is Profession (Underwater Basket Weaver) then you were probably asking for too much with that character and not expecting it to be useful, but I've seen that happen with a character specced to the maximum for science skills.

Guizonde
2017-07-21, 08:16 AM
it may be i rarely play in a group with more than 2 casters, but i prefer skill checks over the magic. let's save the spell slots for something that doesn't have a mundane solution. sure, you can open a door with magic, but isn't it better if the beatstick opens the door with a crowbar and a strength check while the caster is readying an augmented orb of intestinal unpleasantness in case there's a problem?

reading these forums, you'd think nobody plays rogues because casters can do all that. but a caster can't do all a rogue does since level one until much later and without sacrificing spell slots. now, i've got my own gripes with the rogue class, because i've usually seen them played as homicidal magpies, but that's less to do with the class than with the players.

religion checks are mandatory for any divine caster, nature and survival are vital for druids, rangers, and even bards. it's less to do with "how often it comes up" and more to do with "what questions are you asking the dm"?

i'm currently playing in a full caster party (half are half-casters, the others are full-casters). with the exception of the bard, all are divine casters. we use skill checks more often than magic, firstly because we're halfway to level 3, and second because what few spells we have don't cover our skills, and vice versa. i'm actually going to multi-class into urban ranger just to rogue up my playstyle and become an equal skill monkey to the bard (it's got its own inconvenients, but hey, i'm aiming to be batman with this character). when the dm asks "do you have [insert skill]?" there's probably a reason, so might as well have a +12 bonus to roll to even a weak skill. it may be situational, you're glad you can do it without having prepared a spell slot for it.

JeenLeen
2017-07-21, 08:37 AM
But sometimes you just take skills for the fluff of it. I put points in Profession: Manservant because that's what my character was, a manservant to one of the other players. Not that I ever rolled a skill roll but I didn't need too because I was competent enough to do my duties.

Awesome for you! I like to do the same.
But I think this exemplifies that annoys me about some games. To have my character be competent at what he should be, and moreso for something that probably won't come up and has little or no mechanical benefit, I have to use up resources and thus have a mechanically-worse character. I don't like that I can't both be the best fighter I can be as well as being decent at my day/pre-adventuring-life job.

I realize the above sounds like an over-stress on optimizing or min-maxing -- and to a degree it is, I admit -- but part of it is that I want to make a character that can do awesome things and be of benefit to the party's overall strength. I don't like that the mechanics essentially punish cool fluff by saying you are incompetent at it unless you spend resources. (I'd rather, for this example, each character to have a 'day job' thing for free, and assume they have some amount of skill points in it if a check ever comes up or you want to gauge basic competence.)

goto124
2017-07-22, 12:29 AM
Does 5e use Backgrounds as the 'day jobs' thing?

Anonymouswizard
2017-07-22, 05:11 AM
Does 5e use Backgrounds as the 'day jobs' thing?

Kind of, you get 2 skills and a feature. In some ways it's the same problem as other games, if I want my warrior to be knowledgeable about history I have to dedicate building resources to Intelligence rather than one of my primary stats. The same if I want them to be charming (or perceptive). Because on the starting stat cap it's not as bad, but sometime you have to make the choice between power and flavour for that +2.

So it represents your 'day job', but not much more than the 3.5 Profession skill. The actual rule for backgrounds is 'pick two skills and agree with your GM on an appropriate feature', which would be awesome if I had some decent guidelines on balancing features (of course the PhB background features vary from 'never pay for upkeep' to 'you know something, talk to your GM about it' to 'you know how to find out information', so I wouldn't call them balanced).

Slipperychicken
2017-07-24, 04:45 PM
I think that many skills and powers are wasteful to take unless your GM specifically caters to them. If it serves no purpose than to help the plot move forward, then you can skip it because the GM will likely move the plot forward whether you pick it or not.

Also, if you're playing a rules system where players regularly have superpowers that obviate other character options, then you should either expect the obsolete options to be ignored or have an honest discussion with your group about what sort of game you're trying to play and what powers are permissible.

Jay R
2017-07-24, 07:32 PM
One of the biggest problems is that if you don't have the skill, the DM will probably find some other way for you to get where the skill would have taken you. So why bother taking it?

I once had a 2e game in which I told people, "I urge the party as a whole to have sewing, leatherwork, and blacksmithing, just to repair clothes and armor. Otherwise, Iíll have to track any damage done. Similarly, if you donít have a fletcher, I will count arrows."

They never had to make a roll, but having the skill mattered.

goto124
2017-07-24, 09:44 PM
One of the biggest problems is that if you don't have the skill, the DM will probably find some other way for you to get where the skill would have taken you. So why bother taking it?

Even if the DM gave a way, the party may have to burn other resources (time to go out of the way to find info, money if I have to pay someone off or just to travel to wherever has the info, spells if someone needs to be charmed to let us into the library or just to knock off some monsters along the way, etc) to get at the same information.

Also, it's not a railroad, right? The players can actually decide the direction they're going, pick the problems they'll deal with, choose the method at which they tackle those problems.

RazorChain
2017-07-24, 10:13 PM
One of the biggest problems is that if you don't have the skill, the DM will probably find some other way for you to get where the skill would have taken you. So why bother taking it?

If you don't have pick locks then you have to open that door with a different method. Breaking down doors isn't always viable but you can always find someone who has the keys. There is always a different approach to a problem. Most obstacles in games can be solved in 4 different ways. Force, Diplomacy, Subterfuge or Magic (Technology). If the party lacks one way then they might resort to the next one.

This is also relevant in the real world. If you don't have a skill then you can pay somebody else to do it. So if you have mountains of gold from raiding monsters lairs then that is the only skillset you need and you can pay other people for the skills you need when you are not killing monster for gold.


But if you think the GM is just going to find some way for you to continue the adventure when your character skills don't take you further, then you are playing with a GM what has predetermined where that adventure is going. Usually the players must compensate for a lack of skills by themselves.

Slipperychicken
2017-07-24, 11:27 PM
But if you think the GM is just going to find some way for you to continue the adventure when your character skills don't take you further, then you are playing with a GM what has predetermined where that adventure is going. Usually the players must compensate for a lack of skills by themselves.

I've found this to be the case more often than not. Not all GMs can be perfect masters of improvising the very structure of their campaigns on the fly. Sometimes you want to do something specific with your game, instead of having a random series of missions where your players won't ever touch the most interesting plots because you gated it off with a skill they never got.

John Campbell
2017-07-27, 12:11 AM
Shadowrun has, in character generation, two different pools of skill points, one of which you pay priority or build points for directly, the other of which you get for free from your Intelligence. They're called "Active Skills" and "Knowledge Skills", respectively, but they'd be more accurately called "Useful Skills" and "Not-So-Useful Skills".

Active Skills encompass (almost) all of the stuff you use in actual game mechanics, from Pistols to Computers to Etiquette, while the Knowledge Skills are free-form mostly flavor stuff. I compiled a big list of all the Knowledge Skills mentioned in SR3 sources I had (http://www.ci-n.com/~jcampbel/rpgs/shadowrun/skills.html) at one point, and it encompasses stuff that's technically active, but not particularly mechanically useful, like Cooking and Woodworking, stuff that covers actual knowledges useful in typical play, like Gang Identification and Paranormal Animals, and pure-fluff stuff like Bushido Philosophy, Cheap Synthahol Guzzling, and Roleplaying Games of the Late 20th Century.

Having that separate pool of skill points for fleshing out the character without feeling that you're crippling it mechanically is really nice.

Knowledge Skills are cheaper to buy up after character generation, too.

My new Pathfinder character is a foundling raised by shoemakers, and I dropped a single skill point into Craft (leatherworking) to reflect her background (which, as it's a class skill and I have arcane-caster Int, gives me a pretty respectable total skill modifier... I'm probably better at it than my parents), and I'm really annoyed by having to spend sharply limited character resources on something that's probably going to be of little to no actual use in-game in order to be able to go, "Yes, actually, being raised by shoemakers did teach me to make shoes."

Slipperychicken
2017-07-28, 09:31 PM
They're called "Active Skills" and "Knowledge Skills", respectively, but they'd be more accurately called "Useful Skills" and "Not-So-Useful Skills".

Police Procedures, Shadow Community, Security, and Tactics are practically survival skills.

It's a lot easier to foil the good guys when you know how they think, how they operate, and what kind of bribes they like best.