Thursday, November 12, 2009

Some ideas about stat checks, from Frank Menzter and me

I peeked in at Dragonsfoot today. Usually it's not of my hangouts, but I felt like seeing what was going on that end of the world. As some of you might now, some hobby Big Names have their own Q&A threads there. Not all of them are very lively, and some are just open house chatting and rambling. Anyway, I checked what Frank Mentzer had to say to the world, being a bit curios about that business plan of his. Nothing new seems to have happened on that, but he was answering questions and pontificating upon other matters. One thing he said was how they handles ability check in his game.

Since the games of yesteryear usually didn't have skill systems, you used some other mechanic when you wanted to do something not specifically covered by the rules. Rolling a d6 (grumbling grognard method), rolling a d20, rolling against a save of some kind or rolling against some stat. Those are the classics.

I grew up in BRP land, where there were skills aplenty. But, if for some reason no skill covered it, it was time to roll against a stat. There's a Resistance Table in the rules, used for e.g. arm wrestling (I promise, it's the first thing I've ever seen anyone use as an example, or used in actual play!) which can be used when pitting two basic stats against each other, so the idea to use roll against the stats are there. Frankly, the stats usually don't do that much in BRP (unless you count the Idea Roll and relatives, recently expanded in the big BRP tome), so sometimes you feel like using them.

There are some fairly interesting ways to roll a stat check. My favourite one is to roll a different amount of d6 depending on difficulty. Try to roll below 13 with 7d6!

Now, Frank didn't do stat checks. He had used "roll a d20, get above 12" as a standard, but also liked the idea of using saves. Personally I find the saves for AD&D to be so bizarre and non-intutive that I get a migraine just trying to remember what those crazy categories are! I think the unified saves in 3rd ed was a stroke of genius. Much have been written about saves and how they work or not. I think they are a mess in anything pre 3rd ed D&D. There, I said it. Anyway. Frank Mentzer didn't use stat checks.

Why did Mentzer think stat checks was a bad idea? Well, he actually had his reasons. However you twist and turn saves on their heads, they are a factor of a class based system. In D&D everyone have saves, and they are set before hand, equal for all. Rolling against a save is same for every 4th level Cleric, but the stats are individual and based on luck. Well, rolling dice is random, of course, but the way I understood Frank's reasoning, he felt the player should bring some skill to the table. Rolling against stats felt like to much randomness, since you would be better at saving if you was lucky when rolling your stats.

I'm not sure I buy that argument, but it's an interesting way of seeing it. Of course it's interesting to compare all of this to T&T, where everything you do will be a stat check. I do think Frank Mentzer have a point about randomness, but I still think it makes sense in T&T. Since there's nothing not based on stats, there will be a common base for everyone. Rolling enough dice will actually make the outcome drift toward the average. I find that kind of weird myself, but I know that the law of averages will make it even out. Also, I have seen by my own game table that smart players go further in T&T.

Choosing when to roll, and make it count when you're in a postion of strength is very important. That's one lesson I learnt from Advanced Squad Leader. If you take every opportunity to roll, bad things happen. Attack from strength, it's a proven maxim. How you roll them bones, that's another kettle of fish. Food for thought.


  1. Stats are only random in T&T for beginning characters. Since leveling up in T&T means increasing your stats and you have free choice which stats to increase, as you advance the stuff that you're good at is going to depend on what you want to be good at.

  2. Indeed. I think there are plenty of opportunities in must systems to inject some player skill, even if the initial parameters for the situation were based on luck.


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