Sunday 21 November 2010

Fewer checks, more thinking

I recently wailed on 4th edition D&D for various reasons, one of those being the fact that part of the mechanics make players roll checks to glean information, rather than relying on roleplaying to solve problems. Now, I see the reason that games have these sort of checks - they show how proficient your character is at doing/ knowing stuff. But I think there's a danger that a roleplaying situations can become too reliant on chucking dice around to get a resolution, rather than talking or acting situations out.

Good players can use skill checks as frameworks for roleplaying, describing or acting out what the character says or does. However, it's possible for these situations to degenerate into: "I check for traps. I roll a 15, what happens?". It's perfectly fine if the group likes playing like this, but most of the fun of roleplaying games comes from the actual roleplaying aspect, in my opinion anyway.

Take a look at games such as Swords and Wizardry Core Rules and Tunnels and Trolls. The former has no rules for skills checks, and the latter is very fast and loose with check rules. If you want to check for traps, you probably want to take a 10ft pole and act out checking panels, walls and chests for traps. The player should specifically say what they're doing when they're checking for traps to determine whether it's triggered or not. For example, you, as a player, come upon a large chest that you suspect holds some kind of treasure, but it could be set to detonate on your face. First you would describe how you knock it a bit with your 10ft pole and see if anything happens (perhaps touch the ground near the chest too). If it seems safe to approach then you would probably explain that you look closely all around the chest and ask whether you can see anything peculiar. If not, then you may as well open the buggar and see what happens, providing it's unlocked. The DM might judge that you are better trained to recognise a trap, say if you're a thief or maybe your background has any implications on your knowledge.

In my mind, this method makes for a more involved game that just rolling to see if you find a trap. But this is just me. I'd love to know your thoughts about skills checks. Do you prefer rolling, description or a mixture of both?


  1. I have to agree that simply saying "I check for traps" is pretty lame. Players should focus on describing the actions that they want to perform. In the scenario you described above, I think that after the player said everything they wanted to do, then the DM might say, "Well, let's see if you found anything! Roll a search check."

    In my games, it usually plays out with the players describing their actions and the DM ruling that a check will be necessary to determine the outcome of the described action.

    Like with bluffing, first you say the lie and only if the DM sees through it do you have to make a check. ;)

  2. This is why I made those things into savings throws in my game, Errant.