On Skill Deconstruction: An Assessment

During these many discussion over skills one misunderstanding occurs more frequently than the rest. I'd like to take a moment to clear it up.

I do not hate skills.

In fact, I am quite fond of mechanical systems to resolve conflict.

I am very interested in what makes for fun resolution mechanics. My complaints are about specific issues with specific systems - not the idea of conflict resolution mechanic systems in general.

So let me start off by saying, I have never to date and would never run a game that lacked skills. I think they are crucial not only to the play of the game, but also enjoyable for the players to feel a sense of accomplishment outside of just leveling up.

However, by RAW in d20 their skill system has serious problems.

What are the solutions?

Well the first solution has been pointed out by several people, notably DomDem and Confanity who's comments started this in-depth examination of skills.

Be a good DM.

The way a DM handles skills is the single largest factor as to how they are received by the people playing the game and a huge influence on the amount of fun they are having.

Pick a non-broken resolution mechanic or subsystem based on what you intend the skill to do.

There are many different types of resolution mechanics, and we will examine some when we take a closer look at specific skills and their uses in upcoming posts. At the end the different techniques we've come up with will be collected into a single post for a review. (hints: simple, low granularity, increase in accuracy as skill increases)

Characters must be able to improve applicable skills (like real people) separately from advancement in level.

I have a fairly large OSR readership (and I appreciate you, natch!) and most of us run older games where there is little mechanical advancement past a certain point. Sometimes it can be a long long time between levels once name level is reached. So some ability must exist for players to increase their skills separate from level giving them non-level oriented goals, as well as potential rewards. Not all skills are learnable or improvable though.

It must work within the confines of the games we are already playing.

Basically if it requires major redesign of the nature of any version of D&D, we need to take a step back and reconsider. We're all playing the game we want to play - suggestions should fit within that and not destroy it. The special case is of course 3.5/pathfinder. Since the preexisting system is so large, you would need to address that in a fairly major way (i.e. truncated and replaced, or house ruled seriously)

These systems should not - as a general rule - prevent those without training or those possessing the skill from attempting the said task.

After all - we want to focus on player skill. These skills are not meant to replace player skill but supplement it in order to resolve conflicts that meet our criteria here.

Also: apparently this series has been so terrible? Inflammatory? that I've had three people stop following my blog.

I really think I must be on to something.

If you'd like to show your support for this post, and my blog in general, feel free to click the follow button over there on the right!

We'll be looking at individual skills next!

On Skill Deconstruction: Why Roll for Resolution?

So when should we roll for conflict resolution?

I posit this as the theory. We are playing a game where the play is discussion, problem solving and negotiation. (I'll get to the picture in just a second).

Player skill is not something to be avoided. It is not something I am personally interested in bypassing. My thesis is this.

If something can be handled at the table with player skill, then it should be.

A certain talented someone once said something buried in some comments. I dub it the Zak Sabbath Method of Determining When You Should Roll Dice For Something at The Table! (ZSMoDWYSRDfSaTT!, Pronounced smode-wised-sat!)

In his own words:
"Combat is an especially privileged situation in RPGs largely because it _always_ involves: (1) trying to do something quickly, (2) in competition with someone else, (3) with death (or "failing-to get to play with the PC you patiently levelled up") as the consequence, and (4) successful performance isn't remotely model-able at the table (unlike, say, talking, which can totally be modelled right there at the table via acting).'

These are the 4 conditions which suggest that an action (combat or otherwise) could not be performed easily by an imagined character--that is, conditions that suggest that -elements (people, monsters, forces) within the fiction- would want to contest the character's success.

They also suggest that the thing occurring has a great deal of narrative tension--character death means you stop playing the game you enjoy playing and have to start again playing a different way.

I mean, the narrative tension in the game may or may not necessarily "care" whether your character climbs a wall on a sunday morning or not, but if you're in combat, someone inside the story being told wants you to fail--always. Otherwise the fighting part of the fiction wouldn't have happened. (yes, marginal examples exist--test fights, whatever)

Nearly every other skill sometimes is and sometimes isn't performed under these 4 conditions.

When they do they're diced.

The more of these 4 qualities -any- action usually has (fast, competitive, life at stake, not modellable at the table), the earlier in the history of RPG evolution you see subsystems describing them being developed.
P.S. Thank you for writing my post for me Zak.
So, let's just take a second and look at why we are rolling dice.

The first thing we notice is this has less to do with the method of skill resolution or the type of skill system in place and much much more to do with the quality and skill of the players in play. I believe we are universally agreed that the terrible example of hours of a back and forth with the party thief interacting with the dungeon by doing nothing but making endless search checks. You can hear an actual live play example mp3 live play podcast. This is an audio proof example of actual players acting out my white room example of search for hours and endless hours. (Player: I search, DM: Roll, Player:(number), DM: You don't find anything, ad infinitum)

We are rolling dice for the 4 reasons outlined above.
1) Does the event need to be accomplished under time constraints? 

For all resolutions that are opposed this will be the case naturally. For ones that are not opposed it will have to be handled on a case by case basis.

2) Are you in conflict with another entity in the game?

The basic stance I have in running a game is that the players can accomplish the tasks they set out to do. I say "yes" or "yes, but" to practically everything they suggest. As soon as someone is in competition with them my ability to do this is suddenly in conflict, since I can't say yes to both players or to the player and NPC (hence there is a conflict that needs to be resolved which is the whole point of conflict resolution systems, i.e. skills.)

3) Is there a serious consequence for failure?

Trying to open a lock with an hour to spare. Trying to tumble past the coffee table. Trying to recall information resting on the open page in the book in front of you. Using diplomacy on your mother to get her to do your laundry. Using search/perception on an empty corridor.

This is a common problem in play, and there are even rules in the game to allow you to bypass these types of pointless checks (take 20).

If there are no stakes, there is no reason to resolve the conflict.

4) Can I model this at the table?

If the answer is yes, then why eliminate game play by rolling dice? Isn't that infinitely less interesting than actually exerting your creative problem solving ability? Are some people bad at thinking on their feet? Are some people not good at coming up with creative solutions outside of the box? Then those people are bad at Dungeons and Dragons. That is fine! There's nothing wrong with playing a game badly, as long as you are enjoying yourself.

[edit: added this after comments]
5) Does the success model a partial result?

This is one of the key things that make a success exciting. You've either partially achieved the result creating interesting situations and choices, or you've chipped away towards your eventual victory. A partial result is more exciting.

What does this all mean?

Diced resolution of actions is only necessary to resolve dramatic conflict with significant consequence for failure that cannot be reasonably (not realistically) resolved by the play of the game (discussion, problem solving, and negotiation).

Dramatic conflict is defined as exterior resistance to the players accomplishing their goals. Significant is defined as consequences that matter to the players at the table. Modelling realism is not a priority, it is more important that the result of the conflict resolution be reasonable and fun  (i.e. not destroy our suspension of disbelief and be an enjoyable game mechanic) then to statistically model any specific naturalistic probabilities. The more uncertainty, time constraints and chaotic factors involved, the more likely the event cannot be resolved by the play of the game.

We'll be delving into individual skills as this series continues.

On Skill Confusion: The Accuracy of the Roll

Smarter people than I have written on the failure of growth in conflict resolution ability in games such as Dungeons and Dragons. Here is another article, talking about the linear nature of the d20 check. Here is an article with lots of interesting statistics!

This post covers two topics:
There are a large number of issues with the d20 as a resolution mechanic for conflict resolution.

Topic one, the d20 as a resolution mechanic. Pathfinder example:
"I'm going to arm wrestle the ogre!"
"What's your strength modifier?"
"I have a strength of 8, which is a -1 modifier!"
"Ok, roll a d20, while I roll for the ogre who has a strength of 21 for a modifier of +5."
"I rolled an eight!"
The DM looks down at his 1 and wonders how the world went wrong.

Ok, so here's the simple math - the noodle armed wizard will beat the ogre in a strength contest of arm wrestling 22.8% of the time and tie 3.5% of the time.
[Edit: Someone pointed out these numbers are wrong - I apparently forgot to calculate the 0 value for the difference between the skills. The actual percentages are 19.5% the person seven ranks lower then his contested opponent will still lose. Apparently ties (even though they are mathematical ties) always go towards the person with the higher total in 3.5/pathfinder? Either way, in any contested roll, If I have 7 ranks more than you, I still lose a full 1/5th of the time. Pick whatever contested roll you wish. Notice the underlined point below.]

One quarter of the time the ogre will not win in an arm-wrestling contest. [Edit: one-fifth of the time]

The d20 has no mode value. Given enough rolls the average result (mean) will be 10.5, but on any given roll the chance of receiving any result will be equal to the chance of receiving any other result.

This is such a large and known problem, that the game explicitly acknowledges it and includes a rule for bypassing the roll completely (take 10).

This can be an advantage for something like combat, where highly variable results can be extremely exciting and entertaining. It is chaotic, and huge swings in luck are expected. The high degree of randomness in combat is a large benefit for creating a very real threat and fear of engaging an enemy, leading to interesting role-play to avoid combat and exciting comebacks against overwhelming odds. But for resolution of activities where increased accuracy is expected with increased ability it fails totally.

There are a large number of issues with characters having the ability to increase their skills used for conflict resolution.

Topic two, the scaling mechanic.
Here's another example with level 15 players.
"The bridge is liquid, shifting before you. Heavy winds buffet the path. It's a dc35 skill check to cross!"
"Sweet! I've got a (+9 stat, +15 ranks, +3 class, +10 magic item) 37 in my athletics!"
"Damn! I've got a (+3 stat, +0 ranks) 3 ranks - I can't make it even with a 20!"

Again, simple math. Escalating DC's and increased specialization create situations where characters can be whole statistical probabilities ranges away from the next tier of a successful roll, while other characters can have auto successes. The degree of specialization afforded high level characters easily breaks the game. (and the above 37 rank PC is not one that is even particularly specialized in athletics, just what you would expect a reasonably designed 15th level rogue to have)

This is an artifact of the range of results on the d20 being low compared with the range of possible skill modifiers. This issue intersects with an issue with 'skill tax' skills such as concentration (eliminated in pathfinder) and perception. Someone always keeps these skills maxed, questioning the advantage of 'increases at level'.

These are known problems, and there are a large number of suggestions and house rules created to address them.

So, what advantage is gained by having skills that increase with level increase, given the problems they cause above?

and what advantage is gained by having a mechanic for something as chaotic and random as combat be used for something that expects a more consistent result?
[edit: removed the word 'universal' in front of mechanic, since if the mechanic were universal it would be used for skills, natch.]

On A Sad Sad Day for the Meleagridinae Bird

The sad sad day of the sad sad bird.

Happy Turkey Day! Enjoy that you weren't raised in a tiny cage and slaughtered without warning at the whim of giant pink worm people!

If you are the giant fleshy worms, enjoy the flesh of all the various inferior species that aren't smart enough not to be raised in a cage!

Also: Enjoy American decadence! It's all ending soon anyway, so, so long I hope that 58" 69" 72" 96" 112" plasma TV was worth it!

Hope you can figure out that you're giving away the power because you think you don't have it before it's too late!

And be sure to stop by your local overlords store tonight (!) and tomorrow to give money to foreigners that are forcing our countrymen to work on this holiday celebrating our country!

(More on skills next week starting on Sunday night! Have a happy and safe holiday everyone! Love your family and take the time to oppress a couple of orcs or commit genocide against an endangered species like a dragon!)

Any similarities to political views in the above post are due to eye jelly gremlins that are secretly making you insane. Do not pay any attention to the wizard behind the internet. War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength!

On Skill Confusion: The Character Customization Conundrum

Often people comment that skills allow you to 'customize' your character.

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? 

On Skill Deconstruction: Why Skill Light is Not Pixel Bitching, Nor DM Fiat

I figured I'd start with a big one.

I have seen multiple complaints that a skill light or skill free system somehow devolves down to DM Fiat or Pixel bitching.

Let us define terms before we begin.

DM Fiat: In the pejorative, when the Dungeon Master arbitrarily disallows logical character actions from either occurring or having effects. clearly some examples below are literally fiat, but we are concerned with the pejorative use.

Pixel Bitching: In old Sierra games, the prevention of progress in the game because you have not located the specific pixel you must select to progress. In role-playing, playing a game of mind reading or 'guess what the DM is thinking' in order accomplish your goals, that is 'saying the magic phrase'.

My position is that these two items are not related to the presence or absence of skills.

Both of the above effects occur for the same reason on different sides of the screen. That reason is an investment in a predetermined outcome.

The DM would institute fiat when the DM feels their actions would 'destroy his plan'. He can't handle the actions of the players so he outright forbids them.

Complaints of pixel bitching occur in two places.
First, when DM's have only one path forward to the 'completion of their adventure' and all progress both forward and backward is halted until the solution is guessed.
Second, when the players feel as if their must be a specific outcome, and they feel as if they have to guess the magic words to force that outcome to occur.

It is not DM Fiat to say that a specific plan won't work. There could be a number of reasons why a plan won't work.
It is DM Fiat to prevent a reasonable plan* from working.
It is DM Fiat to only allow one specific plan to work.

It is not DM Fiat to decide how a monster or NPC reacts without a reaction roll.
It is DM Fiat to decide that 'this monster/NPC is unconvince-able/unbluffable'.
It is not DM Fiat to decide the result of an action (like crafting etc.)
It is DM Fiat to not let the player influence the result of an action (like crafting etc.)
It is not DM Fiat to use class as a base for player skills and knowledge.
It is DM Fiat to prevent the player from characterizing their PC outside of the class parameters.
It is not DM Fiat to adjudicate the consequences of a player action.
It is DM Fiat to attempt to dictate what actions the player attempt (by either saying no to everything or not engaging the players in a dialog about what they are attempting to accomplish).

It is not Pixel Bitching to have a gem in the stomach of a creature, or a door that is only opened with the key in ogre lair near by.
It is Pixel Bitching to trap the players in a room and make them find the one specific thing to progress. (Or in the above example, if the door is necessary for the progress of the game).
It is not Pixel Bitching to suffer miscommunication at the table. Miscommunication happens and is resolved universally by discussion and dialog.
It is not the result of Pixel Bitching when a poor choice is made, when treasure is missed, or when a plan fails.
It is not Pixel Bitching to be lacking information about the game world.

As DM Fiat relates to skill light play, it is very important to realize that results of actions are decided primarily by discussion and agreement! *The root of the reasonable decision is one agreed upon by the participants. The DM can make decisions about the results of actions, but when those results are arbitrary (i.e. without meaning or purpose) then the ability of the DM to make decisions becomes a problem. Results being arbitrary is not the default state of skill light systems.

As Pixel Bitching relates to skill light play it is exclusively dependent on predetermined outcomes. It is not subjecting the players to Pixel Bitching to hide treasure in the stomach of a monster or in the false bottom of a foot locker because missing treasure is a completely reasonable occurrence. The supposition (or compulsive desire) that players should find every secret is the predetermined outcome that is self-evidently unreasonable.

Not knowing the results ahead of time, not knowing what a monster/NPC is thinking, not knowing how to solve a problem 'correctly' are also not Pixel Bitching. That is the great thing about tactical infinity! There are no correct solutions, just many many things you can try that can be impartially adjudicated. There is no 'secret phrase' to guess, no 'mind reading' to be done, because there is no predetermined outcome. The players have to gather information from the DM, decide on a course of action and deal with the consequences. It is impossible to need to Pixel Bitch because the DM has no investment in the outcome.

Of course, this assumes a good faith gaming environment. If you don't have that, the presence or absence of skills will change nothing. One is playing a game, and I know as a DM I construct those games to always provide some information to plot hooks, hidden treasure, the motivations of NPC's, etc.

It is equally as easy for DM's to create the above negative situations in skill heavy games as it is in skill light games. The reasons for these things occurring have nothing to do with the presence or absence of skills.  Because any of these can occur in either a skill-heavy system or a skill-light system, skill heavy systems provide no protection against DM Fiat (arbitrary decision making) or pixel bitching (making the players guess the next action they can take).

Therefore whether a system is skill light or not is irrelevant to the degree to which Pixel Bitching and DM Fiat occur.

DM Fiat and Pixel Bitching are not the natural results of skill light systems. They are the natural results of investments in the outcome of play.

Just a reminder for the comments. If you disagree with something written above, state what you disagree with and why. Avoid 'white room examples', personal attacks, and most importantly only respond to what is written in the post above - not things not said.

On A Primer: Skill Deconstrution

The series will alternate between posts that are an explanation of  the skill light position, and questions about the skill heavy one. Every commenter must understanding the following:

I have played pathfinder and other skill heavy systems, and they are valid fun methods of play.
I prefer AD&D and other skill-light systems for a variety of reasons.

All role-playing games use conflict resolution methods.
Some of these conflict resolution methods could be considered skills.
There is nothing inherently right or wrong about skills. 

And finally, this:
Skills can be used as a tool to avoid DM Tyranny (i.e. I rolled it, you have to let me!), just as easily as skills can be used as a tool to enforce DM Tyranny (i.e. you didn't roll high enough, you aren't allowed!)

Rules will not prevent people from being jerks. A skill system is zero protection for players - A GM can set skill DC's arbitrarily high to ensure failure. The rules system is no defense.

On Civility and Consensus

I've been involved in several long running discussions lately with different people in a variety of spheres - professionally and personally.

I've noticed in these situations completely different people are having the exact same problems holding a conversation.

The first is they are in a literal scientific sense, unable to think clearly.

1. They are trying to win an argument, not discuss objective facts and subjective opinions.
2. They have trouble with basic probability and interpreting data.
3. They instinctively have trouble trusting other people.
4. Their thought processes are subjected to a double standard.
5. And being presented with factual evidence causes them to dig into their position even more because they are emotionally vested in being correct.

(As a direct example, some of my blog readers might interpret the above facts and analysis of how human beings communicate as a personal attack against them (3, 4) and think that I might be saying that to discredit them (logical fallacies below) in order to make them lose an argument (1) because I have disagreed with them before in the past. THIS IS NOT THE CASE. The list of examples are scientific facts (i.e. subject to change as new research arrives) and apply to me as well as to my wonderful readers. It is partly my awareness of these that allow me to have actual constructive debates and conversations.)

There are also an astounding number of people who are unable to have a discussion without using logical fallacies.

Zak S wrote a simple explanation and series of instructions on how to have an appropriate conversation online. It is about how to have conversations that end, and possibly allow you to learn something you didn't know before.

Announce your belief in a fact to start a conversation.
Announce your personal taste to end it.

Why am I posting this? Because this week, we're going to deconstruct skills.

Each post will be short, succinct, and on one specific topic. Discussion not related to the specific area covered in the forum post will be warned and guided to the appropriate post. Continued off topic discussion will be deleted. 

I may not be able to do anything about politicians, my fellow countrymen, or even the people I work with that don't believe in science. But I've had the same conversation two times with two different people who had difficulty understanding my position on skills, and I've had similar trouble dissecting theirs. Why bother revisiting this old saw? Because my perception is that they interpreted my position incorrectly in exactly the same way, which is an indicator that my position isn't represented clearly.

Tune in tomorrow!

On My Khajiit Brothers

I am certainly not the only of my Blogosphere brothers to become lost in its depths!

Khajiit Solidarity!

Feel free to post your race and focus in the comments.

On The End Of All Things

Tonight at Midnight, Dragonborn will step into the 4th age; where the prophecy of the return of Alduin the World Eater has been fulfilled!

The World Will End!


On Skills in Games (A Surprising Insight!)

Can you guess what it is?

During Sunday's (pathfinder/realworld/flailsnails) game there was a encounter where skills came into play. Skill rolls for knowledge:religion and perception were called for. I remember failing, and interpreting the look on the DM's face as chagrin. I e-mailed him about my experience with the Observation skill in Hackmaster and why I gave up on perception type skills. I said:
"Realizing that I either wanted them to know something (because they should) or didn't want them to know it unless they asked/looked, made me question why I was calling for the roll at all. And then trying to figure out if they did look, but then missed the roll even with a bonus, what to do about rewarding their involvement. . ."
and got a very interesting and well thought out e-mail in reply. The reason I'm so fond of it, is that it makes very rational well thought out arguments for having skill systems in a game, and allows me to explain to people who have given this a lot of thought why I'm not a big fan of extensive skill systems.
He Said: "The information was there and I had no greater desire to give it or not give it."
Indeed. When you talk about a skill-less game, you are abstracting out a layer of reality. You reduce the granularity from a variety of options (from a 1-6 roll, or a set of DC's) to just four.
  • No one can observe it
  • Only those who could logically observe or know it can observe it or know it
  • Only those who state that they examine the item or object get the information
  • Anyone can see this information
"With the skill system in place the way I use it, and the fact that I take into account players taking 10 even when they don't explicitly say it (mostly because EVERYONE I have played with thinks you have to roll for every skill every time), I feel that it enhances the concept of player agency because the choices you make have meaning."
And in this, he is correct. But here is why being correct isn't so good.

Putting the 'tactical combat' options in opposition to 'character knowledge/skill/personality' options creates an unresolvable conflict resulting in the destruction of agency.

By giving me agency (making choices matter) for those choices made while building my character, I am having my agency removed _during play_.

It turns what I like to call 'the play of the game' which is highly dependent on player skill into a tactical mini-game itself, that my personal skill as a human being can only influence mildly (+2/-2) by RAW.

If you respond you'd give them a larger bonus, then what is the point of skills in the first place? Aren't you just deciding if they find it or not? And if they roll and fail, even with the bonus, haven't you removed some of their agency of their build choices and/or their personal skill?

Now, someone might say, if you don't enforce this division - isn't this having your cake and eating it too? Well, in a game like pathfinder, where character builds put combat options opposite skill options, then yes! It is an explicitly unfair situation designed to equalize players at the table. This way Bob can charm the guard with his diplomacy even if he isn't a very good speaker.

Only this makes no sense. We are playing a game, and some people are better at that game then others. They don't make faster players in the NFL wear weights to slow them down, and they don't make chess players play with a handicap when they play a lower ranked player. Why do we think this is fair in D&D?

The argument that it keeps the DM fair is also spurious. He sets all the DC's. The rules have just given him another way to be unfair if he was unfair to begin with.

The thing is, the sitting around and thinking of what to do is one of the fun parts of the game. There is no conflict that is necessary to resolve in the vast majority of skills.

Acrobatics: If you're not dealing with a superhuman range of abilities here, then you can just assume they can jump or run it. The real use of conflict here is using it to move past an opponent safely. There is ground here for a subsystem regarding that, but there is no real need for it to be a check. Taking a hit from a monster seems like 'bad trap' territory. Avoiding that hit could just be a simple comparison (level vs. hit die)

Appraise: What is gained by *not* knowing how much something is worth. Is this worth the time to roll at the table? What is the cost of this conflict?

Bluff (& Sense Motive): Combat/feat build uses aside, there is certainly some room for a 'social conflict' system in D&D, but a simple D20 comparison check is a really really boring way to handle it!

Climb: You can climb it. Unless it's unclimbable, then only the thief has a shot. What's the drama here, you roll a d20 and maybe fall to your death? Does anyone think making five or ten checks just to see if something bad happens is fun? Or maybe during a climbing combat you want to have to check to see if you lose your turn or move real slow?

Craft, Perform, and Profession: Secondary skills? Player says what they want to make and they can? What is the advantage here of having this conflict resolution system.

Diplomacy: There needs to be a reaction system in place

Disguise: Again, what part of play is improved by the constant chance of failure. Is it just one die roll for success? Why not let them succeed if they use magic or are assassins, and have them fail when they as players make mistakes.

Escape Artist: This is as useful as use rope? Only useful to the extent that combat/grappling, etc. may require this. "Can I escape from my bonds" needs no skill roll for adventurers. The answer is 'as soon as no one is looking'.

Fly: Again, 1e handles this with maneuverability class. You can do what's listed. What advantage is the skill?

Handle Animal: Only as far as there needs to be a reaction system in place. Why a separate one for non-sentient animals

Heal: What drama is there inherent in "I bandage their wounds"

Intimidate: Only as far as there needs to be a reaction system in place.

Knowledge skills: Either they know it because of their race or class, or they can find it out somewhere.

Linguistics: The game assumes that these adventurers are already grown people. i.e. They know the languages they know. Learning a new language should be handled by 'we spend a month among the lizard people and learn ophidian, their nefarious reptile tounge.

Perception: Ah the overused skill. There does need to be a system for surprise. I have eliminated searching for secret doors in my game, because each is opened by some object in the environment that they can manipulate or discover in some way through play. I still give them the chance as a back up if they aren't looking.

Ride: How much time do your characters spend mounted? How often does this come up, unless it's a specific factor in the tactical combat game of modern editions?

Sleight of Hand: I can see the conflict value here. There is a reward for success, and a penalty for failure.

Spellcraft: Why can you not do everything this does with caster level?

Stealth: Again, I can see the conflict value here.

Survival: Characters are adventurers, how often do you make them roll this to survive. Do you need a general skill for those characters that can track?

Swim: How are we advantaged over A) you can swim or B) you can't swim

Use Magic Device: I can see some ground for this skill having conflict value (like combat, success versus the status quo)

I guess my core point here with this list is, rolling a die and adding a number is not in and of itself a pleasurable activity. To do it only to prevent something bad happening is worse (unlike combat where if you fail the status quo is maintained and if you succeed, you get the fun of adding up your damage)

*It is also interesting to note that the vast majority of skills which have conflict built in are the old thief skills (read scrolls/use magic device, pick pocket/slight of hand, stealth/hide in shadows move silently)

On the Blogos, Something You Might Know? (A Mystery)

Have you heard of the valley? The Valley of Blogos?

It is a small valley filled with modest unassuming people who have a secret. 

What is this secret?

At various times thoughout the day, these people enter their homes, or rest at work, and their spirits leave their bodies and inhabit the strange realms within the valley.

The Forest

A great many of them enter the forest, (the Rologo Plagos Gados forest) and animate one of the many great spider husks that rest within it's depth. The crawl among the net like webs seeking to trap passerbys.

The forest is one of the larger of the realms.

If you were to explore it, you would be accosted by the voice of those inside. They would cluster and loudly say that you were a failure. They would gladly converse with you, their mandibles trembling with joy, responding in a vague manner about why you have become such a failure, but you would find it impossible to discover the reason why.

They would gladly tell you what is wrong with you, and a hundred other dwellers in the Valley of Blogos, and will gladly tempt you with more of your failings the longer you seek to engage them.

The Highlands

Among the Highlands, near the Forge Mountain, dwell the independent RoEddwarian birds. With long spindly legs that barely seem to support their weight they caw to each other every day.

They are quite welcoming to many a happy man if you were to walk among them, but there is a danger. They will tell you of the Wubjubwuckle, the Marzineer, and the Flipperwhat. They speak of the Undlemorka, and it's chained factors, Dundle and 4 Sauiteb.

If you ask about the Wubjubwuckle, they will tell you it's like the yupple equinox factor, but maybe influenced by Rewrew theory. Asking about the yupple equinox, refers you to the illju event, which covers the formation of Marzineer and the Flipperwhat.

They will then explain, that truly, until now you have been unhappy, but that they can tell you how to be happy. Only if you understand the whole model of the Wubjubwuckle, the Marzineer, and the Flipperwhat, then you can know how to be happy, and why you weren't before.

The more you ask about these things, the less they seem to tell you, and yet the more comfortable you become, until you look down at your long spindly legs and your beautiful feathers and decide to never do the things that once brought you such joy. You shake you head at all the people who have never had the joy of the yupple equinox, for just like you, they were not happy before.

The Southern End

Long ago, a dragon lived near the southern end, and his magic seeped into the land. The very stones themselves came to life, at the foot of where the dragon lived.

The stones converse with themsleves in blissful ignorance. If you were to approach, you would encounter them engagine in surprising activities with great vigor and joy. If you were to leave and come back at any point in the future, a day, a year, or a decade, you would be astonished to find these same stones engaged in these same activities.

They will gladly ask you to join, for as they play, the rocks crack and fall apart. Each season fewer and fewer rocks appear. But when you join them, beware, for things were best when the great dragon Gyryagarologax once lived, and to suggest otherwise is one of the few things that can cause every stony stare in the Southern End to turn in your direction. It is often said that anyone who does not return from the southern end did not return because they did something so foolish.


Perhaps it is best to stay in the valley of Blogos, perhaps there are mighty reasons why one would not want to leave. There are those who say the valley of blogos is pompus and vain, but they remain free in ways many others do not.

On Stark Madness

I talked with a man today, who scoffed at the fact that science adapts its theories to fit new facts.

You see, once they said a certain thing about evolution, and they were wrong then, ergo evolution must be wrong.

I pointed out that he was correct, that science changes and updates the theory as new facts come to light, and he said "Sure, change the story, that makes a lot of sense!" Then he waved his hand at me and ran away.

Everything you know is an anomaly. The people who live in the affluent countries of the west (i.e. if you are typing on a computer, you are one of that minority) live in a style so statistically marginal that it is buried under the biomass of history.

Have you ever lived in a place where you had a room to yourself? How rare is that in the history of man.

The truth is, our modern mindset is so foreign to the whole of human history, that we cannot even pretend to think like the proto-men of the past, because our knowledge of rational thought changes the very fundamental way our brain functions.

Even those like the man I describe above are so trapped in being a result of their cultural miasma that they cannot be representative of what man must have once thought.

So maybe you agree other races aren't just humans in funny hats, and that human society has to be somewhat different. Is there a way to play that at the table? Or are we all doomed to play in session after session expecting everyone to be ridiculous modern morally relative humanist rational humans?

On Blogging, A Selfish Message

There's some people closing blogs. There's some other people discussing the utility or lack thereof of certain kind of blogs. There are other people (and bloggers - irony!) that claim that blogging is pointless and vain.

I wonder what is wrong with those people.

Primary Statement: If one person one time gains any benefit from any one thing that I've collected in my personal internet resource I call a blog -

It is an unqualified total success.

Secondary Statements;
Having a blog does not preclude using forums, however using private space instead of public space insures the freedom to discuss what topics you wish, allows inclusiveness to the data stream to be completely voluntary, and leaves you in control of backing up, organizing, and tagging your information.

Is it your right to do what you wish with your blog? Well, if you buy and own rare copies of books and then set them on fire, it may be legal, but it's still a dick move.

The proof is in the pudding
Do some bloggers blog because they are self centered, and narcissistic? of course! In fact if you look at the whole of the blogging, you find that the most popular blogs are almost exclusively of this type! (unless you think that Perez Hilton is a model of modesty).

Your time and your life is your own. Choose to follow the blogs you find useful. I find those that nae-say the activity of blogging do so out of jealously of one kind or another.

I would say the vast majority of blogs are terrible, but the fact is that the person who's blogging is creating things. And even if many very popular blog authors in our particular community think some blog output is worthless because it doesn't fit a certain creative threshold, isn't popular enough, or as I was told once "not worth even reading because it wasn't in a printed book form and was .pdf only"* they are still doing something worthwhile with the time they have in their life, instead of tearing someone else down.

Be realistic
Many RPG online communities (forums) are filled with the worst kinds of people. I am a rational minimalist, and am constantly examining my thoughts for beliefs ('things one thinks without proof') and attachment out of a desire to eliminate them. Also, I am a total failure at eliminating them, discovering new attachments and beliefs daily, if not hourly. This is anti-ethical to the modern way of life. I am blessed because the value of the work is in the attempt. The Forge is an example of an insular hostile community that got one thing critically correct. Nothing lasts forever. Blogs have a purpose, and a place in life, and even the most successful will end with their owners death.

So while it is in season, enjoy.

*My psionics document is awesome, and has been used in every campaign since I wrote it. It's awesome regardless if it jumps through all the hoops you demand that hobbyists jump through for you. Don't own a printer? Can't access one of the numerous print on demand websites? Can't use a tablet at the table? You are failing at the DIY aesthetic.

On Mechanical Misery

An example on how a modern mindset led to party disaster.

The party was almost completely murdered on Sunday. Their dwarf henchmen had picked up a magic blade, which overpowered his personality, causing him to fulfill the sword's special purpose, slay evil. The party's alignment tends towards neutral evil.

(Also, I know you see the picture, we're getting to that in a second)

On the way to the dungeon a random encounter was rolled. An adventuring party. I randomly determined the adventurers from my preset list. They were heading towards town away from the Dwarven ruins, carrying sacks filled with their haul. There were 8 of them, I made 3 of them men-at-arms, and the rest were mostly 1st level, with one dwarf F/T 5/6, and one elven F/M/C 3/2/3.

I'm sure you can see where this is going.

When the party shot a fireball at the adventurer's from the back, the dominated dwarven sword wielder activated the weapons detect evil ability and cut down the party mage and assassin.

After some discussion about a party disaster I discovered several enlightening things. The first was the player perception of the encounter was that 'it was a good idea to kill them because if we passed them, they could set up an ambush for us later.' This struck me as a by-product of the player/plot centric adventure design. My response was, how many people do you see walking down the street that you worry will set an ambush for you later? Few encounters with opponents have anything to do with a low level party or its players.

This led to the player responding, "See, this is why I like Pathfinder skills, like sense motive because then I could have made a check and just known what was going on with the other adventuring party." Enlightenment dawning, I responded, "Ah, well if you were curious about the motives of the encounter, i.e. the same information a successful sense motive check would have given, you could have just asked and I would have told you - no check is necessary."

The creation of subsystems (feats, skills) that encompass activities anyone should be able to accomplish (e.g. "They are an adventuring party returning from the Dwarven ruins, looking to get back to town as quickly and safely as possible. They wish you no harm, appearing to want to avoid this random encounter") is one of the biggest problems with modern rule systems. This design by limitation can lead to silliness (<- the picture reference), and restrict tactical infinity. An excellent assessment over the issue is addressed over at Comma, Blank_

Now this isn't to say that there's not some ground for design of a 'social combat system' or that well designed feats aren't possible. ACKS does an excellent job with its 'proficiencies' keeping them balanced and powerful - having them help define your character. Also, it is important to point out, this isn't the first player to note that I play many (but most certainly not all) human NPC's as terse and unwilling to engage armed strangers. (One former player said, "If this world is filled with assholes, it doesn't matter what I do!"). Also, I myself am more then guilty of player blindness (An encounter! Time to kill things I guess!).

How to navigate the waters of a game like Pathfinder, to allow agency an creativity without being restricted by design? This is my question. If you have any advice, comment below.
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