On Skill Confusion: The Character Customization Conundrum
My question is, how is selecting a limited number of options from a list a superior method of customizing your character compared to using a limitless number of verbal options (words) to describe what your character is like?
There are in my opinion several serious costs to the first, with little apparent benefit over the second. I will list my concerns below, and I am hoping someone from the pro-skill heavy camp can explain the specific benefit that the rigid customization provides.
1. Picking specific mechanical skills from a list takes time for new players and is a huge obstacle to actually starting to play for a new player.
I can take someone that has never role played before, immediately put dice in their hand, and they only have to make 2 easily explained decisions (race/class) before they can begin play. With a skill/feat system at a minimum I have to explain what each skill option their class has available does in at least a cursory manner, or 'customize' their character for them. This is different then just describing your character with words, because their are specific mechanical effects for each skill and feat.
Cost: Huge obstacle for new gamers.
2. Because skills and combat abilities are put into specific mechanical conflict, during play my actions cannot influence the result of skills outside of +2/-2 or the decision you made to sacrifice combat ability for skill ability is devalued.
i.e. If I pick the correct place to search and fail the roll, I don't find whatever even though I specifically described looking in the correct place. If I can bypass the search skill by choosing to look in the right place then my choice to put points into search/perception was useless, and why bother handicapping my combat ability to put those points into search?
This one is particularly frustrating for me in play, because in order to give weight to my choices during the 'build', my participation at the table is restricted.
Cost: Choices at table and player skill are discounted to maintain mechanical equity of choices.
3. In order to provide the full benefit of customization with these skills it is important to use them in a mechanically correct way.
However, the skills are each mechanically complex with a large variety of modifiers and edge case situations and rules. In my personal experience this has meant a much longer time referencing the rulebook at the table and less time actually playing the game.
Two examples to attempt without using the rulebook. What's the DC of the Diplomacy Check for attempting to alter the mood of an Unfriendly Orc? What's the DC to receive simple directions and convince the Indifferent Orc to reveal an unimportant secret?
What's the DC to climb a brick building?
If you are just making up DC's without referencing the books for a touchstone, doesn't that devalue my customization?
The answers are, in order
(Unfriendly DC 20 + (-2 Cha), Total DC 18)
(Indifferent DC 15 + (-5 simple directions) (+5 unimportant secret)(+5 additional requests), Total DC 20)
(A rough surface such as a brick wall DC 25, -5 for climbing a corner (unless your buildings lack corners), total DC 20)
Cost: Mechanical systems are complex and take up a lot of time to resolve.
Discussions of generalized benefits of the rigid system 'skill point' system are welcome (compared to a individual subsystem conflict resolution method), as well as discussion on how the above costs are addressed without devaluing their presence. (i.e. I could pick the skills for a new player, but since that eliminates the lauded customization, why have the rigid skill point system at all?)
Again, the question I am looking to have answered in the comments is how is selecting a limited number of options from a list a superior method of customizing your character compared to using a limitless number of verbal options?