Think I figured out skill checks in 5e.

For what seems like endless ages I have fought with the 5e skill system. It has never been satisfactory for my tastes; too vague, too loose, too undefined. And so I have sought solutions, and none of them have been satisfactory for me.

Allow me to borrow from Burning Wheel and Mouseguard's parlance: Obs and Factors.

All tasks have an Obstacle associated with them; Factors increases the Obstacle accordingly. Factors include the base requirements for the task at hand, and they also function like Aspects. They're less formalized like that; consider it to be akin to the Burning Wheel process.

Example: You want to light a fire? Sure thing. You'll need kindling and a tinderbox (or some other way of generating fire). Ob 2 (kindling + fire generation). But if it's rained recently, the wood is sodden, which is a Factor, which increases it to Ob 3. On the other hand, if there's a drought, the kindling might be quick to catch, which will decrease it to Ob1. Nonsense cannot decrease the Obstacle further, so in this test, you'd still need kindling and fire, but you might be able to make things work properly with inappropriate kindling.

The goal for the players is to decrease the Obstacle to 0. Ways for them to decrease the Ob include things like taking extra time, having specialized training, getting help, exposing themselves to additional risk, and so forth. If something doesn't make any sense, then I ignore the system entirely.

Players can voluntarily increase the Obstacle, too, by proposing greater effects (bigger intent, generally).

At the end of everything, I calculate the remaining Obstacle.

Ob0 is success. No roll.
Ob1 is a roll with advantage.
Ob2 is a standard roll.
Ob3 is a roll with disadvantage.
Ob4+ is failure. No roll.

Typically, most checks are DC 15, depending on all the circumstances involved. Delving deeper into dungeons or into more dangerous wilderness increases DCs because risk/reward and no other reason.

Comments

  • I like the idea of formalizing this, or at least coming up with a rule of thumb for the GM to handle this.

    But why do you want to "convert" Ob ratings into advantage/disadvantage, instead of converting it directly to the DC? Is there an advantage to doing it that way?

    For instance (and this is just off the top of my head, for illustration; ignore the specific numbers):

    * Base DC is 10
    * For each Obstacle Factor, increase DC by 2 points.

    If a PC can take extra time, get specialized training, get help, or expose themselves to additional risk, they may roll at advantage.

    If a PC wants to propose a risky means to achieve greater effects, they roll at disadvantage.
  • edited August 6
    I considered that, but I find such methodology less satisfying than the (more obtuse) method proposed. I don't really like every factor contributing a smaller bonus or penalty; I should rather have them provide something weightier, and the contribution of advantage/disadvantage makes this feel more real, if that at all makes sense. (There's something about the tactile sensation of rolling two dice and then choosing the highest or lowest to make it seem more substantial.)
  • I see! Well, nothing wrong with being eccentric now and then. :)

    Seems like it would work, I suppose.

    How are you going to determine Obs numbers for the different skills?
  • We use the Ability Check Proficiency on page 263 on the DMG instead of the skill system. I kinda hate the whole BRP/GURPS "skill" model. I explain why over here.
  • I see! Well, nothing wrong with being eccentric now and then. :)

    Seems like it would work, I suppose.

    How are you going to determine Obs numbers for the different skills?
    That I have yet to formalize entirely, but it is mostly based on the fiction.

    Picking a lock, as an example, starts as Ob2. You need to have lockpicks and spend a turn (10 minutes) working. If you want to work faster, that's +1 Ob. If the lock is trapped (and you're working carefully enough not to trigger the trap), +1 Ob. If the lock itself is low quality or high quality, you might have -1 Ob or +1 Ob.

    Ways to decrease the Ob involve spend more time picking the lock, having thieves' tools proficiency, doing things in the fiction that might help (oiling a rusted lock), and the like.
  • This is why I'm curious about the options that you chose: it seems to me that, unlike BW (assuming I understand BW correctly), you're pretty much locked into Ob2 being the 'default' difficulty in this scenario. Is that where you'd always "start"?

    If you're not formalizing Ob numbers anyway, how does this tool help you at the table?

    Compared to the rules more or less as written:

    When you make a skill roll, you can roll normally. The default DC is 15.

    If a PC can take extra time, get specialized training, get help, or expose themselves to additional risk, they may roll at advantage.

    If more than one of those apply, it's an automatic success.

    If a PC wants to propose a risky means to achieve greater effects, or there are unfortunate circumstances, like lacking proper tools, they roll at disadvantage.

    If there are two or more unfortunate circumstances or other sources of disadvantage, they can't attempt the task.

    How does importing the "Obs" way of thinking help you when you're playing?
  • edited August 6
    As a logarithmic scale, by flattening the numbers to levels our brains have much more ability handling ?
    Plus 0-1-2+ has its own case in the verbal toolbox.
    Instead of always weighing factors mostly you just count them (some adjectives being factors): it's close to how it works in simple fictions (only with *major value* worth 3).
  • edited August 7
    This is why I'm curious about the options that you chose: it seems to me that, unlike BW (assuming I understand BW correctly), you're pretty much locked into Ob2 being the 'default' difficulty in this scenario. Is that where you'd always "start"?
    This is the framework from which I'm working. The Obs will be formalized based on the standard dungeoneering tasks (pick locks, find/remove traps, climbing walls, forcing doors, etc). Those are basic Obs. When desired, randomization will be used for individual scenarios.

    When randomization is desired, roll 2d6 for individual tasks:

    2-5: -1 Ob.
    6-8: +0 Ob.
    9-12: +1 Ob.

    Justify the fiction around it. Primarily, prep work handles this.

    GM: "The guards are drunkenly gambling; you can hear the raucous sounds from behind the door."

    Fighter: "Is the door unlocked?"

    GM: "Yes."

    Fighter: "Okay, I'm going to fling open the door and charge through to get the drop on them."

    GM: "You can fling open the door and because they're being drunk and noisy, they probably won't even notice you. You can burst in on them easily, and you'll have advantage on initiative." (Ob0 for this: there's a chance it could go wrong, which would be Ob1, but -1 Ob from circumstance.)

    Fighter: "I want to go for a full surprise round."

    GM: "Alright, you can make an Athletics vs. Perception check to rush them, and you'll have advantage on that." [It's going to be Ob1 because a surprise round is a big deal.]
    How does importing the "Obs" way of thinking help you when you're playing?
    It's a mental thing for me as GM.
  • Cool. Sounds like you’re familiar enough with BW that this mental conversion is easy for you.

    I’m trying to picture what this would look like, written for a non-BW-savvy D&D player. That could be a good tool!
  • edited August 9
    I’m trying to picture what this would look like, written for a non-BW-savvy D&D player. That could be a good tool!
    Workin' on it!

    Of course, now that I'm actually writing things out, I'm questioning the necessity of variable Obstacles. Does this make the game more engaging or interesting? But on the other hand, one cannot expect Gringotts Vault to be as easy to pick as the lock upon the neighbor's home...and yet this over-reliance on top-level design worsens, imo, the capacity for fiction-first gameplay.

    Moreover, there comes a moment concerning the information produced by a roll. I know that @2097 has her own system for ternary resolution using a d20 (great discussions, by the way!) but it feels unsatisfying for me. I suppose the best thing to do is write up those rules and see what happens with them.
  • There are many other factors than Obstacle to make picking Gringotts Vault significant : the condition for a roll, linked to that, the number of steps, and obviously, the risk and stakes.
  • In my opinion, the clever part of the BW system was making it easier to judge Obs numbers objectively/impartially. If you’re “eyeballing it” anyway, I wonder what advantage we get by using that scale.
  • In my opinion, the clever part of the BW system was making it easier to judge Obs numbers objectively/impartially.
    How do you mean?
  • I may be misremembering some details! I have very little experience actually playing BW.

    Here's what I remember:

    Each skill or ability had guidelines for what qualified as an "Obstacle" (like your Factors, perhaps), and you counted those up to determine the difficulty. So, instead of having to arbitrarily say, "Hmmm, perhaps the Gringotts vault should be DC 30 to pick", you'd just add up the numbers.

    Much easier than picking a number out of thin air, and much easier to be impartial.
  • I think that's Mouse Guard. BW has example tasks for each of several Obs per skill.
  • Ah! Yes, I was thinking of Mouse Guard.
  • Burning wheel does also have explicit "factors" in some skills, but not with that name.
  • D&D 3E
    Each skill or ability had guidelines for what qualified as an "Obstacle" (like your Factors, perhaps), and you counted those up to determine the difficulty. So, instead of having to arbitrarily say, "Hmmm, perhaps the Gringotts vault should be DC 30 to pick", you'd just add up the numbers.
    D&D 3E/Pathfinder skills are all about that, and in practice, it's quite a lot of work for very little gain.

    If you stick to the guidelines rigorously, it can help with impartiality, but it can just shift the question of impartiality one step to the right: instead of the DM just pulling DC 30 out of thin air, it's 30 because it's a good lock for 20 and it's dark for +5, and the guards are coming round so you need to work quickly for +5, but the DM is still largely pulling the good lock, the dark, and the guards out of thin air.

    If you don't stick to the guidelines rigorously, the feeling of a lack of impartiality can be even more pronounced, since there's an expectation that you will, and players will reasonably plan around the known factors for their skills.
  • All very true. I think the utility is going to vary a lot from person to person (depending on how you think and prep) and based on the context (a game that’s limited enough in scope to focus on specific types of tasks might help establish a baseline more easily than a game which has a huge variety of challenge arenas).
  • @Paul_T,

    I am definitely on your side with outlining a list of circumstances that would modify the check. While I generally prefer the Obs and adv/disad system, I'm afraid it's just going to be a bit too foreign for 5e players, plus a relatively fixed difficulty frustrates the math of the system.

    Instead, I think I'm going to list Factors as a matter of adjusting the DC of the skill check, so the overall mechanical design will be more consistent with the 5e system.
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