Monthly Archives: January 2013

Dungeons and Dragons: Climbing, socially and otherwise

The subsystems.
At least three things spring out immediately to me as criminally under-served as skills.

The movement subsystem.
Tumble, athletics, climb, jump, swim, balance, maybe even escape artist or endurance. Going cross country, flitting across rooftops, squeezing through sewers.
Some of these are just reflex saves: a balance check to stay on a high and windy ledge and a reflex save against a pit-trap are not so different!
Some of these are clunky as a skill check, but fine as an ability, like tumbling around foes in melee.
And some are special modes of movement that a character should be able to specialize in, but skills aren’t imaginative enough: shouldn’t training in climbing make one more at home on the wall, faster, and more stable, in addition to merely surer?
These should be straight attribute checks with the equivalent of feats to grant improvement.
And a really obvious “feat” just removes the need to roll in some set of common cases, or ignores some category of difficulties (climbing without tools? That’s fine, you’re trained, common tools don’t help you anyway!)

The social subsystem.
Diplomacy, intimidate, deceit/bluff, sense motive.
Oddly, nothing to taunt, bribe or seduce; I find those pretty typical PC approaches to problems.
This one is just limiting. Your character with a massive diplomacy: once upon a time, that would have been a massive charisma bonus. It’s encouraging paying for something twice, once in stat and once in skill. Boo!
And then we get to Bluff/Deceit: I’m very convincing, but only when lying? Or maybe even then, but then whither diplomacy? Feh.
Trash the whole thing. Make each of these skills into maneuvers in some social skill-challengy thing. Heck, play a hand of poker, then modify results by charisma mods, it’s just as reasonable as the rules.

I think that the big problem here is that people are complicated but skill checks aren’t. Pass-the-duke-is-convinced, fail-he-isn’t. Not enough granularity in outcome.

Maybe something like having every character rated for the four humors, having characters able to influence which humor dominates, and every interaction modifying future layouts.
Something like Trust, Greed, Fear and Obligation.
I haven’t really thought about this 🙂

Dungeons and Dragons: Hiding and Seeking

Firstly: there have been 5 editions of D&D that I’ve played, and each has had a different take on Stealth.

The versions.

Simple BECMI, AD&D, and AD&D second edition used surprise checks, thief skills, and (for the last one) nonweapon proficiencies like Camouflage.
These each worked differently and had different assumptions and effects.
The surprise check was rolled at the start of combat and modified for perceptive elves, who also had a 90% chance to take a for unawares (ditto hobbits).
The thief skill Hide in Shadows ditto, some percent chance to vanish, and ditto Move Silently.
Nobody knows how Camouflage worked.

D&D 3e and 4e used a more regular skill system, with various levels of specificity; every point invested in Hide or Stealth or Spot or Perception was a point not spent on Lute Playing or Ancient History.

It’s an odd grab-bag of things we’ve taken to bundling under this skill-umbrella: stealth, but not speed, spellcraft but not the spells themselves, diplomacy but not swordplay.

Bah, says I. 3e got skills wrong, and 4e doubled down on the error.

There’s a lot of interesting little rules-widgets mired in these so-called skill systems. I’ll talk about some others later, today I’m mourning stealth.

Pre-3e got this right.

Or, to put it another way, this isn’t a skill so much as a rules widget, a subsystem, a minigame.

It happens before combat as characters evade patrols. It happens in combat as Rogues go for the sneak attack. It happens in social situations as spies eavesdrop, and exploration as hobbits dodge nazgul. Monsters like to hide, pit traps are hidden.

Rules of thumb:
Reuse components. The last-ditch passive roll you make to avoid getting ganked is a saving throw — a perception save, let’s call it.
And you obviously do get a save, since getting caught by surprise is no good. By waiting to roll until the strike, you maximize the drama: yay.

Like attack rolls, have the active participant roll. That’s the sneaker usually, in movies. Ignoring that last-ditch save-yourself thing, anyway, it is: so they make saving throws against revealing themselves (at dramatic “they might reveal themselves” moments). These are kind of all-or-nothing, which means you needn’t track complex webs of who is aware of whom: fail a save, you made a noise/scent/sight. Detectors detect this with some radius based on wisdom, etc, and know there’s something somewhere even if not sure what.
This can also be the party rogue, rolling to avoid alerting the monsters…

When the active participant is the seeker, they should be rewarded. The math should be such that spending a round looking is a good thing that gives you something to go on, not a waste of time.

Finally, failing a search roll should only allow reroll in vastly changed circu
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