On Skill Deconstruction: Escape Artist
Escape Artist is a skill reflecting your ability to free yourself from bindings. It uses the Dexterity stat as a modifier.
What can you do with Escape Artist?
This is a skill that is used to replace other mechanics - it allows your training to replace your combat maneuver defense for grapples and your ability escape from binds and chains.
Which of these have ground for use?
If you're doing this, it does what it says on the tin.
This is a classic example of both a skill that is not needed and one that is often valued under the auspices of character customization.
The argument was presented that an auto-escape is the only method of handling this skill without a skill roll. I should point out that this is the way the skill works currently in a non-time critical situation. Either you can take 20 and your results succeeds or you can't - and since the DM is setting the DC and knows the value of the Escape Artist skill of the players he just decides if they can escape or not. This is just as unfun as the DM just deciding you can or can't get free without the skill.
So what's the solution?
Assume that no matter the bonds they can free themselves in 2-4 turns, unless the bonds are the imprisonment spell or a force bubble in which case you should fast forward to the point when the characters can do something.
In a situation where the result is time limited, you again have the problem of skills bypassing play.
"Only if I fail this roll do I actually have to play the game," the player thinks.
Perhaps this is what you want, perhaps you want players playing rogues to be able to just escape quickly without having to detail how they do it. I don't think that there is anything wrong with this approach, but to me it's just another way to bypass an interesting situation.
How is it an interesting situation? From the post of Confanity himself, he says: "I treat it as an opportunity for problem-solving. Do they search for something sharp to rub the rope against? Dip it in their plate of prison slop and offer it to the rats? Simply wait for rescue? Ignore the bonds and mock the prison guard? Why would you want to steal this storytelling opportunity from them?"
Why would I want a roll to bypass all that?
What is it we gain by having this skill?
Well, it only applies in two situations: One, when you're replacing your normal defense to avoid grapples and pins; Two, when you have a limited amount of time to escape from bonds. Given enough time you'll be able to take 20 to attempt to escape from bonds.
What do we lose?
An opportunity to foster player creativity. When found in one of these situations "player characters are trapped", it seems more enjoyable to allow the players to attempt to think their way out of the situation. The other option: the player says "I take 20."
Conclusions & Suggestions:
Is the idea to allow certain classes (thief/rogue) to be better then it would otherwise seem at dealing with grapples and pins? Then simply allow them to do so. If they are captured, let them come up with a solution to get free.