Why do we have skills checks in RPGs?
This occurred to me as I was reading the new version of the Mechwarrior RPG, and as I perused a prototype AD&D skills system from the Knights & Knave board. In reading and considering an AD&D skill system, and how it would fit into my game, I had to ask "why"?
In game systems I've played since: microlite74, Swords & Wizardy and OSRIC/AD&D - there is no "skill system". That's left up to the Game Referee to houserule.
I can't think of a single time I thought "I wish I had a skill system". Rather, I've looked at situations and used a combination of attribute checks (roll under your attribute and I've assigned modifiers) or simple "x in 6 odds" checks - all of which I've considered including the proverbial +1 or +2/-1 or -2 if applicable. Most of the time, I've used simple logic - Aeli is from noble birth and would most likely know about XYZ legend, so I'll say "yes" and play on. When the situation is truly random, or failure is interesting, I use attribute checks with modifiers based on past play and character development.
Now, admittedly, I use the thief systems "by the book" for AD&D/OSRIC, and I do allow specific checks as called by the rules/mechanics. (e.g. listen, open doors, ranger track) Perhaps they're so ingrained into my game DNA that I don't really think of them as a "system" as much as exceptions to the general rules?
When I read RPG Theory sites like Whitehall Paraindustries, and they talk about skill systems, I tend to ... zzzzz... mainly because I have a mental block on the applicability. There's a lot of time and thought given to them - but there must be something that I missing, because my disinterest must be just me?
To be honest, the only skill system that felt simple and right enough to me was the microlite20 skill mechanic which worked as thus:
There are just 4 skills : Physical, Subterfuge, Knowledge and Communication. Roll higher than the given Difficulty Class to succeed.(It should be noted that m20 has 3 attributes: STR, DEX and MIND (think combo of INT and WIS)
- Skill rank = your level + any bonus due to your class or race.
- Skill roll = d20 + skill rank + whatever stat bonus is most applicable to the use + situation modifiers
For example, Climbing would use Physical + STR bonus. Dodging a falling rock is Physical + DEX bonus. Finding a trap is Subterfuge + MIND bonus. Disabling a trap is Subterfuge + DEX bonus.
I also found that I conceptually the Mechwarrior RPG mechanic of combining two relevant attributes for a check (so climbing would be STR+DEX, dodging a rock would be DEX+WIS, finding a trap would be INT+WIS and disabling it would be DEX+INT, for example.) I have no idea how I'd adjudicate this with the d20 or 3d6 roll system - I'm sure I could munge something up, but at the end of the day, the power/simplicity of the d6 (or d10) appeals to me.
Is this just me not seeing something that I'm missing?