Sunday, March 28, 2010

Simple Exploration Skills

Ian of Swashbuckler's Hideout offers up some ideas on exploratory skills. First, I've blogged about my thoughts on skills in general before. I also did some thinking about skills in relation to the thief class here and some other posts that led to my Choose-Your-Own Rogue.

But, as you know, even original D&D had some skill resolution mechanics, for eample searching for secret doors.

Two great ideas I take away from Ian's post:

Characters have a chance of noticing secret doors without searching

Much the way we just roll when characters walk over a pit trap, we roll as they pass a secret door to see if they notice a breeze etc. Ian suggests this for just the front row of the marching order, and I suppose I understand the distinction (everyone behind is distracted etc.) but it seems too fiddly for little gain to me.

One cool effect of this method is that players may be more likely to stumble upon secret doors without having to search every section of wall (boring). And yet you can still have some mystery if, as Ian suggests, you make noticing a secret door not neccesarily mean you know how to open it.

Make simple skills a dice pool

So, if you are looking for traps/secret doors 6 means success (I roll high), normal characters roll 1d6, Elves roll 2d6, Dwarves roll 2d6 if it involves stonework.

Thieves start out with 2d6 and could get another d6 every three levels.

This could be applied to surprise as well with rangers, for instance, getting more dice as they climb in level.

Instead of increasing the numbers that indicate success you increase the number of dice that might yield success. So, I'm not a math guy but here is what the probabilities seem to work out to:
  • roll a 6 on d6= 16.67%
  • roll a 5 or 6 on d6= 33.33%
  • roll a 6 on 2d6=27.77%
  • roll a 6 on 3d6=34.72%
If I'm not mistaken, that looks comparable enough to take advantage of this simple and elegant mechanic.


  1. Does the entire party's dice become the pool?

  2. I was thinking treat everyone separate, but that could be possibility: roll party dice total to save time and see if any spots anything.

    The only thing you might lose is some narrative detail, like who finds the secret doors: "Joe-Bob the Elf you feel a breeze on your cheek from the apparently solid dungeon wall"

  3. Nice ideas. Inspired me to write yet another blog post in response. We're just going back and forth, aren't we.

  4. Telecanter: I can see that, but I wonder how much the game will bog at each PC and NPC rolling multiple dice to find something that you, as GM, placed there on the marginal opportunity to reveal it. Secret doors and other Interesting Architectural Features are not random events, after all, but carefully placed to further the complexity of the playing field and heighten the sense of excitement, danger, and further test the mettle of the party's resource-management (Player-) skills.

    I also understand that the general consensus regarding Old-school play as differentiated by New-school play is that of individual Player skill, and wonder if this entire bit, while mechanically cool, is perhaps drifting more toward the NS reliance on die-rolls.
    --Not that I have any personal stake in the OS v. NS orthodoxy, but I thought I would bring it up before you invest a lot of time in (cross-)development of this methodology.

    In any case, I am reading your and AA's posts with great interest from a game designer's standpoint.
    --My recent die-pool combat posts are partly the draw for my finding this mechanism you two are working on interesting.


  5. Timeshadows, I don't think the game would bog down necessarily. I would just roll as DM to see if players notice a secret feature. I'm guessing players won't know if you're rolling for traps, or wandering monsters, or what. But if it becomes a problem you could roll ahead of time so players don't know something's up just because you're rolling.

    I'm all for player skill, but secret doors only become that kind of strategic playing field feature if they can be discerned from a map. I.e. carefully mapping players notice a room-sized blank space on the map. Otherwise you're counting on them to search *every* 10ft section of wall in the dungeon, right? Too boring for me.

    I'm more worried about having a confusing array of dice mechanics for different game features: d20 to hit, d6 to notice a secret door, and how about attribute checks? But . . . there's something to be said for how well-suited a mechanic is for each subtask versus consistency.

    Hmm, I need to think about that last more, maybe converting all these trap/open door/etc. checks to d20 would simplify things.

  6. Whoops, I'm spamming my own blog comments, haha, but I forgot to say. I think player skill and narrative description of their actions can still really come into play with 1) trying to figure out how to open the door they just located, and 2) trying to locate a door they are sure is somewhere around but failed their roll to locate.

  7. I am most definitely not promoting a search of each ten-foot section of wall, etc.

    As regards uniformity of die-rolls, I certainly do favour it, although a bit of inter-operability that requires a Player to make strategic choices about how to favour a mechanical choice is increasingly more important to my design-work, hence my optional abstract die-pool combat system.

    I think that one must keep the goal in view when designing a new mechanism, and that the aesthetics of the design must feature in its decision. Whatever you choose, I hope it meets all of your criteria.


  8. Cool.

    I, too, am a big proponent of 'so you found this interesting architectural feature. So now what do you do?' Once found, secret doors ought to present yet another challenge (at least the first of their kind encountered) as to how to operate/gain egress, etc. :)