Home > All, Game Theory > On skills in 0e and 4e

On skills in 0e and 4e

This is from a comment by me on dicemonkey.net:

“I actually agree, for the most part, with the quoted editorial. I think that the further we get from the ’skill lists’ of 3e, the closer we’ll get to role playing. Of course, as a word of caution, I mostly play Swords & Wizardry, which has a combined total of zero skills, so there you go ;-)

I like to handle skills like I handle everything else in 0e campaigns–with panache. Seriously. If a player can’t convince me that his character knows how to build a sword, he’s not getting one built without paying. Whether that means that his background includes a stint as a smithy’s apprentice (with all the negatives that come from spending years as a ‘dirty commoner’) or a member of a dwarvish clan of ironshapers doesn’t really matter.

Role playing, for me, is about consistency, fun, and spontaneity.

I think that 4e is a great step in the right direction for where DnD needs to go, in my opinion. I love the wargame feel of combat in it, and I love the MMO-like character advancement. At the same time, they have abandoned the tome that was the skill list, allowing people to more fully role play their characters while also creating uniform, entertaining combat scenes.”

I stand by what I said. I think that the role-playing combat of the retro clones is excellent, and find that my players and I often have more fun coming up with eccentric combat moves and imagining their effects in our heads while playing S&W, but the case for 4e is strong, and there are times when I definitely prefer playing the structured, balanced game. But in both I love that they’re shying away from the statgrind that was 3rd.

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  1. mikemonaco
    February 13, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Nice post! I am completely torn about 4e myself. I HATE the idea of “character building” and plotting out your character’s career for 20 levels, and keeping track of all the effects and whatnot was too much. I also dislike the new classes and races that seem to change the whole milieu. I don’t like the inflation of hit points — it makes combat take forever. But I really like the notion that each character has certain maneuvers/powers they can use per encounter or daily, I like the concept (if not the execution) of giving everyone something to do in combat, and even taking a lot of the spells out of combat (rituals). I like the Warlord class (it is what clerics probably should have been all along). I like the idea of minions that have 1 hp.

    And I absolutely loved the fact that 3e and 4e put miniatures front & center for combat. Unfortunately you can barely play either without a battle mat or counters with serious house-ruling, which changes the game a lot.

    In fact, 3e was still recognizably D&D-based but 4e is just a whole other game and I wish they had been called something else.

    Regarding skills, it recalls the old proverb about a man with a hammer (“To a man with a hammer, all problems look like nails.”)
    Because there are mechanics for spotting things, diplomacy, etc., rolling becomes pre-eminent. You can give bonus/penalties for good or poor Role-playing of the actions but the mechanics actually discourage role-playing it, in my opinion. No matter how well or badly to roleplay it, you are ultimately at the mercy of a die roll, and if you don’ min/max your skills and powers, you are just not going to succeed most of the time. There is no point in dabbling in a few skills, you really need to pour everything into the skills you choose because you’ll always be facing “level appropriate” challeneges… another two-edged sword.

  2. February 13, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Hmm. I always ask for a roll roleplaying or not. ‘Cause if you are charismatic silvertingue with trained Diplomacy you’ll easily pass the check. And if are negative Charisma with no Diplomacy and you (as a player) try to give Ciciero-like speech it could hardly be called good roleplaying.

    • February 13, 2010 at 2:45 pm

      Snarls,

      You are, of course, right that charisma should indicate whether a player succeeds at a diplomatic action or not, and I always take that into consideration. Making players roleplay is not a substitute for stats, and if a player chooses to use their CHA as their dumpstat for a low score then I am definitely not going to let them slide and pretend that they’re the heppest cat in Waterdeep.

      That said, the rolls I make my players make–and I often DO require them to make rolls–are STAT rolls, rather than skills. In my last foray into Stonehell, for instance, I made my wife, playing a dwarf cleric, make a charisma check to try and convince the barbarians to team up with the PCs against the oncoming orcs.

      I believe in stat rolls whenever there is any doubt about the outcome of an event, but I don’t like it when my 18 dexterity rogue trips up and dies trying to cross a rickety bridge just because his d20 comes up 3. I mean, I understand that it represents the unexpected, but a 1-in-20 of a critical fumble represents a 5% (!) chance of the greatest adventurer failing at any task. I don’t think that master gymnasts, which is what an 18 dex represents, would fail crossing a rope bridge a whole 5% of the time. Maybe on a 1 in 100.

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