On Skill Deconstruction: Climb

Climb is a skill reflecting your ability to climb. It uses the Strength stat as a modifier

Check out my Sexy Alternate Picture
What can you do with Climb?

Maybe it's the alcohol, but seriously have you seen this skill?

Why is it this damn complicated?!

It's about moving vertically, on surfaces greater than 60 degrees.

Which of these have ground for use? 

Even in a tactical game I have a hard time understanding how any of the uses of the climb skill are worth taking table time to use.

If there are no time constraints, then why bother with this at all? Just assume if the players have the gear then they can climb any surface.

This critique is certainly not limited to modern games. While reviewing the campaign notes of a (now deceased, Rest In Peace Jim Frost!) GM that used to run games for my father, he notes making 10 dexterity checks to climb a hill leading to where water is running out.

Do people not realize what is happening at the table when you are sitting around with friends?

Anyone, any of the greats, anyone involved with third edition rules, fourth edition rules - any paragons of modern design, can anyone tell me one single thing that is gained by requiring player characters to make a check to move? In what way does this improve the game? Oh, I move half my speed instead of one quarter!? Awesome. Oh, in order to do that I have to risk falling? Clearly this is worth opening up the book and trying to decipher which of the four uses of eight difficulties with three modifiers is worth using.

Current Analysis

What is it we gain by having this skill?

Some desperate sense of completeness and anal retentive design aesthetic.

What do we lose?

So, let's say you're running first edition and you've got a thief. Common refrain - "What do you mean I can't climb walls?!"

A common complaint. You can of course. Just like you can hide! Anyone can climb walls! Anyone can hide. What thieves can do is hide in the very shadows themselves. What climb allows them to do is scale unclimbable walls or climb walls anyone can climb quickly and without equipment. Notice the success rates? They start at 60% and have modifiers that drive climbing up reasonable surfaces upwards of 100% at first level.

Conclusions & Suggestions:

Here's an idea. If you have skill at climbing (rangers on mountains, thieves on walls) then you can move up walls at one half your speed - otherwise you're at one quarter your speed. While climbing you don't get your dexterity bonus to AC.

Climbing rules one thousand percent faster and they amount to the same thing without players playing the roll a die - lose your turn game.

What's more is that this only comes up in super-rare conditions, when climbing is necessary in combat or in time limited constraints. I literally cannot recall this being an occurrence in any game I've ever ran - even in a pathfinder game revolving around nothing but having epic session long combats in unique environements.

I'm looking forward to any defense of this skill. Also, check out my sexy alternate picture of thigh climbing.


  1. There is no defense of this skill. It, in combination with Swim and Appraise, are the worst skills in the game. It should be completely removed.

    I'd be fine with climbing being handled by class and profession. Rangers & Rogues, as you mentioned. And if you chose your profession as "construction worker" or "sherpa," then you can climb the way rogues/rangers do.

  2. One time my players were climbing Mt. Ngranek as the completion to a long and meaningful quest. It was a difficult climb, and essentially the mountain itself was the opponent in the situation. Rolling to climb became a very tense, very dramatic moment. If they messed up, it would mean a long fall and certain death.

    They planned it out and took various precautions to improve their chances as much as they could. What I had to do was make sure the mechanic of "do I fall or not?" wasn't so convoluted that it drained all the excitement out of the situation. It apparently worked, because the room was full of tense, excited, happy players :)

    Unfortunately, I don't remember how I did it.. :/ It was 2e, and I 'think' I used percents modified by climbing skill. They put the most skilled person (no thieves in the party, iirc) in the lead. I will think more on this and try to remember how I did it.

    I generally don't really care for skills anymore, so I will also figure out how I would do the same thing today.

  3. Yeah.

    @migellito, what you're describing doesn't need a run of the mill every day skill - it needs a special event in the adventure fun mini-game.

    @LS, I'm not finding a lot of ground for skills in general. The d20 variance combined with super-boring results is making it much worse then I first thought.

  4. I mostly agree with your conclusion, but allow me to play devil's advocate. Climb is one of those skills that is very applicable to dungeoneering, so I don't think it should be dismissed quite as quickly as some other skills.

    Re: "roll a die -- lose your turn": in my experience, using climb during combat is rare. I'm more likely to call for a dexterity check or saving throw to prevent falling. My players are more likely to use climb to solve a non-combat problem or get around an obstacle.

    Re: complicated Pathfinder DC chart: what if that chart is more there to communicate to players that certain activities have risk? I agree that this is not the most efficient way to communicate that, but Paizo is the one that did that work, not me, so it's not like it wasted my time. I actually don't want all players to be able to climb anything in a non-tactical situation. Do you really allow PCs to climb any surface risk-free if they have gear and time? I generally categorize climbs in the following ways:

    - Easy, no check required.
    - Difficult, it seems like you will have X chance, are you sure you want to try?
    - Looks really hard, you can't estimate chances of success, are you sure you want to try?
    - Looks impossible (vertical steel wall perhaps). I can almost guarantee that you will fail, but you can still try if you like with some creative description.

    Re: variance: this is easily handled by substituting 3d6 or 2d10 for the d20 roll.

  5. I think that you are overlooking one basic mechanic here: take 10.

    If you have a climber's kit (the gear you mentioned), the assistance of a partner, and a Strength bonus of +1, you can climb "any surface with adequate handholds and footholds" without making a check, even if you don't have any ranks in Climb. That sounds pretty much exactly like what you are describing.

    Climb checks are much more often going to be used to express that a certain obstacle is unusually difficult. No one has robbed the Tomb of the Emperor before because no one has been able to scale the sheer cliff it is cut into. Your intrepid heroes, having levels and therefore skill points, are able to scale the cliff. Ta da, you are now special!

    1. The take 10 mechanic is indicative of the problem with the skill system. It is the jerry-rigged patch for what is a broken system for a 'universal skill resolution system'.

    2. On the contrary, I consider it to be a brilliant solution to the most common problem plaguing skill systems. Namely, the "check for everything" problem. If I have a skill for driving a car, do I have to make a check every time I get behind a wheel? That's just stupid and time-wasting. Take 10 let's me say that I can reliably accomplish routine tasks without rolling, and without ignoring that the skill system exists.

      I will strongly agree with you that the skill system would be far better with 3d6 for resolution instead of d20. I mentioned that in my recent review of Dragon Age. But, even if I used 3d6, I'd still want a Take 10 rule. It is too useful.


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