Skills and Sensibility

I’m still poking and prodding at the OSR, trying to “get” a few things. I’m currently toying with the following idea for a skill resolution mechanic.

TL;DR Version: Roll 2d6, +1 for a high relevant ability score or -1 for a low relevant ability score. On a 7+ you do it, on a 6 or less, you might do it with a consequence, or you fail altogether.

The Longer Read
In the majority of cases, dice need not be used; the DM (with input from the players) simply ought to decide things on the basis of sensibility. Something that seems sensible–taking into consideration the character, the setting, and genre expectations–simply ought to be resolved without rolling any dice.

An example:

DM: “Traveling the path dead-ends into a sheer cliff wall. You’ll need to find a path around it.”
Player: “I have a grappling hook, rope, and piton. Can I climb it?”
DM: “That seems sensible. After a few hours, you finish your ascent.”

Another example:

DM: “Searching the dresser reveals a dusty jewelry box. It’s locked.”
Player: “I have a pair of lockpicks. Can I jimmy it open?”
DM: “That seems sensible. It’s pretty old, so that won’t be a problem. Are you trained in picking locks?”
Player: “I am not.”
DM: “Okay, you’ll need to spend a few minutes working at it, but you spring the lock without much of a problem.”

A third example:

DM: “As you make camp by the River Rill, you realize you’re quite hungry. Mark off a ration for lunch.”
Player: “I’m out! How far away from town are we?”
DM: “About three days’ still.”
Player: “Is the River Rill known for its good fishing?”
DM: “It is. As you’re looking out over it (with a grumbling stomach), a trout occasionally leaps out of the water.”
Player: “I have a fishing pole in my inventory, so I’m going to fish. Can I catch enough to cook for tomorrow’s meal?”
DM: “Possibly. Do you have any bait?”
Player: “I grew up in the port town of Andridge, so you know I’m good at digging up worms.”
DM: “That seems sensible. You can catch enough fish for today and tomorrow, but it’s going to take the rest of the day to do so as you’re digging up worms and looking for a good fishing spot. Any more will have to wait until the morning.”

As you can see, the mechanics here are not reliant on dice rolls but a conversation between player and DM. As the back-and-forth between the two progresses, the fictional world is established, and the existence of the character within it is solidified. In general, the default attitude of the DM should not be “no,” it ought to be “yes” with caveats.

Note: DMs, please refrain from saying “that seems sensible” after every player statement.

However, there are still times when the dice come into play because we’re gamers and we like rolling dice.

Of Risk and Task Difficulty
Rather than dividing tasks into d20 rolls based on DCs (as in the modern editions of D&D), the DM should decide on the difficulty of a task based on complexity and risk involved. As the DM, ask yourself:

1. Is the task dangerous, or does it involve considerable risk?
2. Is the task complex, or would it require special training or equipment to accomplish?

If the answer to both questions is “no,” then it’s an EASY task. EASY tasks do not require dice rolls to accomplish. The DM should simply say “yes” and move on, or he should give an automatic success but introduce a consequence (see below).

If the answer to one of the two questions is “yes,” then it’s a MODERATE task. For a MODERATE task, roll 2d6, adding +1 for a high relevant ability scores and -1 for low relevant ability scores. On a roll of 7+, the task is accomplished. On a roll of 6 or less, the task is accomplished, but there’s a consequence.

If the answer to both of the questions is “yes,” then it’s a HARD task. For a HARD task, roll 2d6, adding +1 for a high relevant ability scores and -1 for low relevant ability scores. On a roll of 7+, the task is accomplished, but there’s a consequence. On a roll of 6 or less, the task is not accomplished, and there’s probably a consequence.

Bonus mechanics: If you roll two sixes (BOXCARS), you automatically score a critical success. If you roll two ones (SNAKE EYES), you automatically score a critical failure.

Of Consequences and Complications
Consequences should be used liberally and scattered throughout the game because they make the game more interesting. It’s also fun to make life harder for the players. But consequences are called such because they are the natural consequence of a character’s actions.

Consequences are things that give a task weight. They require thought and consideration on behalf of players and the DM alike. Consequences should make engage the players and their characters from an in-character and out-of-character perspective. Broadly speaking, DMs should be encouraged to draw from the Dungeon World list of GM moves.

More concretely, characters can perform a task with five Ss: swiftly, secretly, skillfully, safely, and spontaneously. A consequence removes one or more of those options.

    If you can’t perform a task swiftly, you’ll need to spend several minutes / hours / days / weeks.
    If you can’t perform a task secretly, you’ll draw attention to yourself.
    If you can’t perform a task skillfully, you’ll have to make do with a lesser result.
    If you can’t perform a task spontaneously, you’ll have to recruit someone to help you.
    If you can’t perform a task safely, you’ll expose yourself to danger in the process.

Some tasks automatically impose consequences by their nature. Bashing down a door? No, you can’t do that secretly. Spreading rumors about the duke? Probably not going to happen secretly.

Skill Training
If a character has training in a skill, possesses a background that implies familiarity with a requisite skill, or otherwise has some sort of mitigating factor, the task you automatically be one step easier. That means that the thief in the group generally doesn’t have to roll no stinkin’ dice to pick locks, and it means the farmer doesn’t have to roll the dice to know when the corn is going to be in season.

As an important sidenote, clever plans ought to remove consequences or make tasks easier (moving them from HARD to MODERATE, or MODERATE to EASY).