Okay...now back to the matter at hand.
I was checking out Grognardia's latest greatest today (doesn't everyone do this?) and while three weeks ago I would have been completely on-board with his thoughts, since play-testing my B/X Shadowrun game, and completely junking skill rolls, I've got to say:
It's not enough.
That is to say, what Mr. Maliszewski concludes (that the answer to "climactic skill roll failure" is to not have a particular climax in mind...i.e. practice non-attachment to outcomes) doesn't resolve it for me. I don't want the CHALLENGE of my game to be "how well can you roll," AKA "how lucky are you."
Or rather, I WANT that to be a part of my game...but I want to minimize it. Combat? Sure....you're fighting someone who is resistant to being hurt (as are the player characters), and the tenseness and general "cluster-f**ked-ness" of a combat situation calls for the occasional Fortunes (or MISfortunes) of War. Likewise with damage and saving throws...damage should be tense and have random elements (a lucky "scratch" versus an unlucky "hole in the head"), and saving throws are, well, Saves...your CHANCE to "get out of jail free."
But skills...no, I'm totally over "random sucking." Forget that noise.
Fortunately, in B/X D&D there is only one class that has skills with random sucking chance...the much maligned thief. The stupid jackass class that started the whole philosophy of random skill percentages in RPGs. Just for THAT I'm tempted to NOT fix it.
But no...two wrongs don't make a right.
Why should the thief have a random chance to fail at their class abilities? Does a fighter fail to wear armor? Does a magic-user fail to cast spells? Yes, clerics have a failure chance at turning undead...at low levels only. They auto-turn everything by 9th level...a level at which thieves still have a 30% chance of blowing a remove traps roll and a 35% chance of missing their hide in shadows.
Nothing like a Name level character having a better than 1 in 3 chance of being discovered by a wandering orc patrol, right? Bullshit.
So here's the deal: thieves in my game will no longer have to roll skill use in my campaign. If they have the skill, they automatically succeed, regardless of level. There are a couple of caveats to this:
- Attempting to pick the pockets of a character/creature with more levels/hit dice than the thief automatically results in the thief getting caught. The DM is under NO compulsion to tell the thief beforehand what level the target is!
- Attempting to climb sheer surfaces under abnormally hideous conditions (blizzards and magical wind storms, etc.) may require a climb roll at the usual skill chance as per level.
- Attempting to open locks, hide in shadows, search for traps, or remove (small) traps requires TIME...one turn per effort (during which time wandering monsters may well be encountered). If a thief attempts to do so at a faster rate (like 1-2 rounds), THEN require the skill roll.
- No thief may move silently when encumbered by more than 600 coins weight (i.e. the equivalent of wearing metal armor, per the B/X encumbrance rules).
- I'm tempted to simply remove hear noise as a skill...I'm not sure why the thief's ability to hear should be any different than another character. Let demi-humans have their bone in this regard.
These new rules are going into play effective immediately.
Some may ask, doesn't this make thieves "too powerful?" To which I reply, "what the hell are you talking about?" They still only wear leather armor and (in B/X) roll only D4 for hit points. They still go down like tissue paper if they get embroiled in combat.
BUT NOW they actually have a role and purpose in the party! How many first level thieves to you see trying to disarm that poison needle trap, huh? How many times do they actually try to hide in shadows and sneak up on somebody (or attempting that how many times have they horribly failed and thus been caught and killed?)? I mean, sure...you can fudge dice rolls so that this doesn't happen...but if you're going to do that, then what the heck do you need a dice roll for? Just to hear the sound of the dice hitting the table?
Look, I want my players to think strategy and tactics...I want them to be able to count on the thief's skills the same way that they can count on the fighter to wear armor and take hits or the magic-user to use the spells in his spell book. Sure, a lucky hit can off the fighter or wizard before he gets to "do his thang"...and the same might happen to the thief. But assuming the thief gets through the gauntlet to the place where he can hide or backstab or open the lock or lift the important item off the bad guy, shouldn't you be able to rely on him in that moment?
I think so.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well my "B/X Shadowrun" game ran when I removed skill rolls completely. I can only imagine the same will hold true for real B/X. I'll let y'all know how it works after tonight's game.