The d6 skill system, and screw mapping

I adopted a variation of the “skill” system from LotFP:WFRP for my B/X game.  I really like the simplicity of using d6s for common tasks, and I liked having Thief skills work like the general listening and secret-door-finding abilities of all characters.  So as I mentioned in an earlier post, I went with nine “skills”:

  1. Read Languages
  2. Survival
  3. Tinker
  4. Traps
  5. Search
  6. Listen
  7. Climb
  8. Stealth
  9. Sleight of Hand

After eight sessions of play, I discussed what was working and what wasn’t with my brother, who is both a player in Telengard and rules junky.  After his inevitable attempt to get me to go with C&C style “primes” instead of skills, we came up with a few more ideas that I’m going to try out.

First, my rule in the past had been that all characters get one “free” point to spend at first level and then non-thieves get one more on every even level, so that non-thieves have a way to develop their skills.  I have decided to try limiting PCs to developing just one skill (i.e., all these skill points must always go on one skill).  This will help protect the Thief’s niche and anyway everyone has been focusing on one skill anyway.

Second,  we agreed that making the players tell me they are searching every door, floor space, etc. for traps and every wall and nook for secret doors slows things down too much and is a bore for the other players.  So, from now on the three skills in the middle of the list (maybe I’ll place them at the bottom of the list on the character sheet) will be “passive” skills that I will automatically roll for the PCs, when they are moving in exploration mode (i.e. 120′ or less per turn).  If they want to check something specifically, especially when not in “exploration mode,” they’ll need to describe things more. But my default will be to roll to find secret doors, traps, and to hear noises while exploring whenever there is something to find (this is why I made a DM screen anyway).

Third, it turns out that mapping is a drag, especially since I’ve been using rather complex maps I’ve found at the Cartographer’s Guild and similar online resources.  I don’t always sketch them accurately in play or describe them very well when someoneis trying to map and it slows everything down.  Screw that.  From now on I’ll sketch the map for the party as they explore on graph paper.  This will also allow me to delegate drawing the battle maps as needed to a player while I grab minis.  Win-win.  Tom also suggested marking turns along an edge of the graph paper to mark time and remind the players they’d better keep moving.  I like that idea a lot.

(On a side note, Tom & I realized that the skills sort of break up naturally into three sorts.  Knowledge skills (Read languages, Survival, and Tinkering) seem to depend on training and trial-and-error.  Perception skills (Search, Listen, Traps) all may work best as “passive” skills that the DM rolls.  I am even tempted to develop a quick and dirty “difficulty” level for some things so, for example, I can rate sounds as being automatically heard if your Listen is so high — say a 1 to hear a troll arguing, 2 to hear normal conversations on the other side of a door, 3 to hear whispering, etc., and dispense with some rolls.  Physical skills (Climb, Stealth, Sleight of Hand) are the weirdest in that anyone should have a fair chance to sneak or climb but the skills here really represent what I think of as quasi-supernatural (“ninja-like”) special abilities of the Thief class.   Climbing is not needed to climb ropes or even to scale a wall with hand-holds and the proper equipment.  I see Climb as the ability to almost spider-climb as mostly smooth wall like the exterior of a well-maintained castle or to climb out of a well.  Likewise Sleight of Hand allows you to pick the the pocket of someone right under their nose, and make a small object disappear while being observed, like a street magician, and it is NOT just concealing an object in your pocket or boot or picking pockets with a bump/excuse me sir!/pass along to a confederate the way urchin pick-pockets might.  And similarly  Stealth is not just sneaking around without armor in dark alleys but literally disappearing into a shadow.  Not quite magical/supernatural but beyond the ability of anyone not trained as a professional Thief.  This is partly why a Thieves Guild exists in my world — it not just about organized crime but also the school for the highly technical “ninja training” a Thief gets.)

Fourth, I’m a total tardine and forgot that most old school dungeon maps are 10′ per square, not 5′.  The party last session was completely overcrowded and the two new players had a hard time getting in on the skeleton bashing action because of traffic jams in the 5′ hallways.  I think a purposefully tight dungeon level has some potential, as it forces more one-on-one melee and makes the rearguard paranoid but it really messed up things and I was too stubborn to change, especially since I’d just shamed my players into mapping this session.

I may have just lost my OSR merit badge with the mapping and searching changes but I think this may improve the game.  We’ll see how it goes next time.

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Published in: on January 2, 2011 at 9:30 am  Comments (11)  
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  1. Mike, I’m currently doing the mapping too. It’s too much time and description to tell the players what to draw. I’m not happy if they get it wrong either, because half the time I think it was probably my fault. 🙂 With the d6 skills, do you roll them or do you let them roll? Sometimes I feel like I should roll, but that’s a lot of dice (10 chars) Your advice is welcomed.

    • It depends. I roll most of the time for traps and search because they don’t know if there was anything to find and I really want to mess with them (failed roll when there is no trap = you think it is trapped and spend a lot of time ‘disarming it’ etc.) I haven’t figured out what to do with the increasing number of PCs (5 players = 10 PCs!) Marching order may be the key.

  2. A compromise that might work for the mapping is what I used to do (Before deciding to make the players actually map). I would very quickly sketch out the current few rooms/hallway on a battlemap and then erase as they move on.

    Lets the players see exactly what’s there while forcing them to remember stuff. Seemed to work well. Slowed things down a tad (Which was why I decided to try something else).

    I’ve tried the passive skills for searching for secret doors . . . not enough to be sure if I’m satisfied. I do like your emphasis on “exploration mode”; that players will or won’t be in it. If they are, all the poking and prodding will be assumed if not, uh oh. I might try that. Although, lately my traps are all quite crappily hidden and the drama comes from trying to avoid them rather than deal with a tragic mess.

    • Actually, I was drawing the map on the battlemat and making them move their minis over every square and while I LOVE minis I don’t want it to be a glorified minis game. And the map is so big I’m doing a lot of erasing and redrawing and to hell with it. Battle mat only for combat or “extreme exploration” where the environment is really funky and what square you’re in matters.

  3. I’m thinking about using GIMP with a black layer that I erase as the party explores. I’ll use a second monitor or projector for their map…

    • Wow, that sounds pretty cool. But also a lot of work. I’ll try drawing the map for now but I’ve been wanting to learn GIMP, so if it works well for you maybe I’ll give it a whirl.

  4. I think I’ll try the passive searching in exploration mode idea for our next game session. It makes complete sense that the PCs would be anyways, especially moving at the snail’s pace of 120’/10 minutes.

    I also started drawing the map for the party a few sessions ago, less confusion all around. Also great idea to mark the passage of time directly on the map. Definitely borrowing that idea as well.

    • Cool. I’m currently thinking exploration mode will be 120′ no matter what your encumbrance level is. And also that the standard B/X loads are a little stingy. Soldiers carry like 70-90 lbs of gear these days.

      • Here is a thought for encumbrance revision
        0-200 40′
        200-800 30′
        800-1200 20′
        1200-1600 10′

      • acutally looking at BD&D the first group should be 0-400

  5. Passive searching in Exploration mode makes good sense. Funny, all those years of DM books and advice, and D&D never officially told us how to practically handle all these little complexities in an efficient manner.


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