Chgowiz, a rather old guy with an rpg blog asks the question: Why Skill Checks?
In doing so he points out that I'm kind enough to solve his insomina. So I figure that as he's kind enough to plug my blog, I should at least attempt to answer his question.
He's already received a number of good answers in his comments. So I'll deal with the history behind the question.
Chgowiz as I understand it is something of an Old School type of guy. And that explains to some degree where he is coming from. Original and early D&D didn't have skill rules as they are commonly thought of these days- they had classes with a list of abilities.
It just happens that the list of abilities given to a class is also a list of skills. Chgowiz even notes this, but presentation is often everything. By bundling them up in a set of class abilities, skills become transparent to player in a way. You don't speak of your OD&D Thief having Pick Lock skill at 6th level or 'Expert' level or stuff like that. You have a 6th level thief, nuff said.
Now back in the day, that was good enough for most people (and I assume it's good enough for most of the Old School crowd today).
But not for everyone. Some wondered why all 6th level thieves were basically identical in many of their abilities, and why they all had the same ones. They asked questions like, "can my Fighter create poems?" and they weren't happy with the DM saying "roll under your Intelligence" because it meant that everyone with a high Intelligence could now write excellent poems and they knew that wasn't the case.
Some just hated the idea of classes themselves as too limiting and 'unrealistic'.
In any case, a growing number of gamers were calling for more detail and more customization of their characters.
So the first skill systems in early rpgs (Rune Quest, Traveller, etc) did away with classes completely. In effect they took all the skills D&D rolled into their classes and made them into a buffet line. To this they added tons of other stuff, like writing poems. After all, adding stuff was easy you see because they didn't have to fit it within a larger Class structure.
People now built up their character abilities piece by piece to make exactly what they wanted. Too more effort, more time, and more rules (as you had to define each skill, its effect, and its 'build cost').
Things grew from there, and D&D grew with them. It looked at these newer games and saw that customization was good. First it add a simple tacked on skill system, then a full blown one in 3.X, finally expanding into Skill Challenges (sort of a mini-game in a way for skills) in 4E.
So common are Skill Systems now (either in pure form, or hybrid class/skill), that people like Chgowiz ask: "Is this just me not seeing something that I'm missing? "
So, is Chgowiz missing anything? I'd have to say that unless he or his players are interested in the things that skill systems bring (customization, detail, individualized characters)- the answer is no. One doesn't need what one wouldn't use.
For my part, I couldn't do without them. I don't want all Intelligence 17 characters to be equal in everything I'd lump into that stat. I might want one who's a great doctor, and another who's a great Engineer- but I don't want them to be able to switch roles at the drop of a hat.
That said, I do want simple skill systems, and that's reflected in the two games systems I use. Age of Heroes is a roll under your skill level after modifiers, and HERO System is the same thing (the difference is d100 vs. 3d6).
So while Chgowiz doesn't need skills at all, I need them- but I want to make a roll and get it over with and back to the game.
Others however consider skills to be the game (thus things like Skill Challenges and other highly complex skill resolution systems).
It would be interesting to hear from someone in the last camp, as I'm about as confused by them as Chgowiz seems to be by me.
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