Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Hey, I was gone for awhile* but apparently I'm back**, so here's a random (experimental) house rule to screw with.


I always liked the skill systems in games like Ultima Online or old BBS MUDs, particularly the ability to learn a skill either by in-game practice or by training from an instructor. However, tying skill advancement to repeatedly performing a task over and over again is tricky.

First off, in online CRPGs game time generally equates to real time (albeit at a compressed rate), so advancement by practice is at least limited by the player's playing schedule and/or capacity for boredom. In a pen-and-paper RPG, where real time has an extremely nebulous relationship to game time, there's little to keep enterprising players from simply saying, for example, "I climb the inn wall a hundred times, let's start making skill rolls". How exciting for you and your players. Players should be rewarded for working on skills in-game without reducing play to a MMO-style grind session.

Second, some skills are way, way easier to learn than others. You can learn to build a fire effectively with only a few attempts (even quicker if you're camping out in the cold without a gore-tex mummy bag), while some hunters hunt for several seasons before ever making a kill (especially if they're doing it without a hunting buddy who knows what he's doing).

That in mind, consider assigning a die type to a skill based on how tough it is to learn (small dice for easy skills). Taking examples from the Wilderness Survival Guide, fire-building might have a d4, fishing perhaps a d6. Something like hunting maybe as much as a d8 or d10. On a skill practice attempt, the die type assigned is rolled - if a 1 is rolled, further attempts are made on the next lower die type. If the player gets a 1 on a d4, they have successfully learned the skill.
A player may make only 1 such practice attempt a day in this manner. (Not to say they can't keep trying, but only the first roll counts,). Basically, either you practiced (GM's call on how practice for any given skill takes), or you didn't.

To account for a trainer, a practice attempt could be considered successful on a 1 or a 2. This could be used for a peer trainer (i.e., PC training PC), where perhaps a master trainer could even allow success on a 1, 2, or 3.

Furthermore, in a game where skills are rated by competence (as opposed to binary "you have it or you don't" skills), this system can be reversed to track advancement beyond simple competence. Roll from d4 up to d6 and so on, and assign a skill level to the die type being rolled - maybe d4 = clueless, d6 = novice, d8 = apprentice, d10 = average, yadda yadda yadda. (Could also apply to NWPs that have multiple slots.) You could assign different ratings for different skills if you wanted that degree of granularity.

Keep in mind this is all system-neutral brainstorming, except that it obviously assumes some sort of skill system is in play. I use simple roll-under ability checks in Basic, but I'm considering working NWPs and/or secondary skills (as per the 1e DMG)into my new AD&D campaign - however I'm not a fan of the "proficiency slots per level" system in the Survival Guides. In any case, the above could be used in any game with a similar system. I may use it, or a variant thereof, for LBB Traveller at some point soon.


* Family illness + PC issues + unemployment + new band getting ready to play shows, all teamed up to make blogging (and gaming) the last thing on my mind for a few weeks, there.

** However, a) things calmed down a little bit, b) my bandmates started asking about D&D, and c) the guy running the fucking sweet BFRPG/Castle Zagyg campaign I had been playing in made a sudden departure from gaming, leaving me free to read mine. It was immediately necessary to start a new 1e / Castle Greyhawk campaign. ;) More on that in probably my next post.

*** Also I got a Blackberry so I can post random nonsense as it pops out of my head now, and then I sat down for a smoke, read about rules for catfish noodling being included in an old issue of White Dwarf, and the preceding rule nugget popped out. Yay for the illuminating properties of the halfling's weed.

**** wait, there wasn't even a "***" up there, why did you read that last bit? why are you even reading this?

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