On Reader Mail, Skills a Road in the Middle


"My question concerns the skill system that you pointed out (Skills: The Middle Road).  Could you give me a little more background about how you use the system?  Is the system only used for opposed checks, or can the system be used for "static" checks (like using blacksmithing to make a horseshoe or to recognize a statue using a knowledge of ancient history)?  Do you use "static" checks like that in your game?  If not, how do you determine what the player knows?

Do you compile a list of defined skills that the character has when he is created or is it "free form" and it is determined if the character has the skill (and what to what level he has mastered it) when the player makes a decision that would require a check?"

Sure! I'd be glad to talk about Skills: The Middle Road. It's a great system, and I love it! It's a good system because it's simple, skills aren't tied to level, and it doesn't prevent any player from attempting skills.

Many of your questions are about how people use skills in general. I talk a lot about skills and how to use them while maintaining agency. Let's take a look at your questions.

Is the system only used for opposed checks, or can the system be used for "static" checks (like using blacksmithing to make a horseshoe or to recognize a statue using a knowledge of ancient history).   Do you use "static" checks like that in your game?  If not, how do you determine what the player knows?

I would say that I use the system almost universally just for static checks. But often they are static checks for character abilities, not player knowledge. This is because I am unconcerned about mechanically representing what the player knows - I talk about it at length here, but in the example you gave, what would be gained by preventing them from making a horseshoe or recognize a statue? Neither of them improves the game. 

Do you compile a list of defined skills that the character has when he is created or is it "free form" and it is determined if the character has the skill (and what to what level he has mastered it) when the player makes a decision that would require a check?"

That depends on the campaign. For a traditional D&D campaign or sandbox driven by player involvement, I usually keep a fairly free-form system, allowing players to pick whatever skills they feel they need to define their character. For Numenhalla, my megadungeon campaign, I have a very specific list of skills, each with a very specific mechanical function.

4 comments:

  1. Man, thanks for the heads up on 'The middle road' - that is a great little system right there. What happened to that guy? He had some great ideas in a short time.

    I've been struggling through a similar issue with regards to maritime adventures - how do adjudicate technical, non-adventuring professional skills like navigation or gunnery - and this gives a good jumping off point

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  2. I absolutely get how the contest of skills works with this system (the thief sneaking up on the priest). But how would you check to see if a character that is "skilled" in fire-building successfully start a fire in adverse conditions (using wet wood or maybe just a high wind situation)?

    The skill die is a d8, if you roll it and get a 5 (+1 bonus for high wisdom) and end up with a total of 6. What does that mean exactly and how is it interpreted?

    Or perhaps a character that is a swimming "expert" needs to swim across a river with a strong current. It feels wrong to just say "you swim across" (this might simply be a personal problem). It's going to be difficult and there is a good chance that it won't work.

    I am usually a 2nd Edition player, so I'm not sure if there is a particular rule in OD&D that this dovetails with. It just feels like I'm missing an important piece of the puzzle.

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    Replies
    1. No. It's very straightforward.

      In D&D, you need to roll a 1 to discover a secret door, unless you are a demi-human (when you need a 1 or a 2).

      So flip that around. Now you need a 6 to discover the door. Only anyone can try, and you represent increased ability with a larger die.

      So what you are doing is setting target numbers. For most 'challenging' tasks, I set a target number of 5 or 6.

      Does that clear it up?

      I would point out (and have in my many many posts on skills that it is crucial that skills provide meaningful choices. What do they add to the game? What's at stake?

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    2. Perfect, that's exactly what I was looking for!

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