Skills or No Skills

Early in my gaming life I was a big fan of skills.  The more extensive and detailed the skill list, the better the game system, I thought.  But over the past few years I’ve found I like skill systems less and less.  I’ve written extensively about Pathfinder’s Beginner Box, which clocks in at 17 skills (down from Pathfinder core’s 30-ish skills).  But honestly, that’s still far more skills than I like.  Microlite20 has only 4 or 5 very broad-based skills, which is more to my taste.  But I’ve been thinking about the impact of doing away with skills altogether.

Why no skills?  In my experience they usually become crutches for players or barriers to creative play.  Players and GM come to rely on skill checks as an easy replacement for role-playing or clever solutions to problems.  Or they develop mental blocks:  I don’t have the skill, therefore I can’t attempt that action (or, I don’t enough points in the skill, and will probably fail, so I shouldn’t even attempt the action).  This is particularly acute, imo, with trap finding and diplomacy.

I do see where skills, or something like a skill checks, can be useful in certain circumstances.  For example, players probably don’t want to ‘pixel bitch’ every stone block in a dungeon.  A simple d6 roll to search for secret doors can save a lot of time at the table.  But you can do what OD&D does, make it an ability that every character has, rather than a narrow, specialized skill.

What are your thoughts on the matter?  Would be possible to, say, just remove the PFBB’s skill system?


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4 Responses to “Skills or No Skills”

  1. Jesse Rodriguez Says:

    I think if you’re going to play a game with no skills, you might as well play a game with no skills. Why bother with Pathfinder BB when there are several iterations of D&D, (actual and clones) that do not have a skill system. That being said, I can’t imagine nixing skills in Pathfinder would be that hard, but you can throw the notion that all classes are equal out the window. Well, maybe that’s a little hyperbolic; I’m thinking of the Rogue class. Part of their deal is that they get more skill ranks than other classes. If I were playing a rogue I’d feel a little cheated. Maybe an extra feat here or there will make up for the loss?

    • edowar Says:

      Thanks, you make two good points. Plenty of other clones out there to choose from that have no skill systems, or very light skill systems. I guess if it came right down to it, I could homebrew my own 3E/OGL/OD&D system that combines what I like best about the various editions.

      And you’re also right that a PF rogue would need some compensation for the loss of all those skill points. Maybe an extra feat or two, or possibly some extra rogue talents. Perhaps even new rogue talents that fill in some gaps from the lost skills, but are treated more like class abilities than skills. More food for thought.

  2. Jesse Rodriguez Says:

    Actually, that doesn’t make much sense. Without Skills the Rogue is pretty useless. Even in the early editions, Thieves had skills. Maybe turning some of the Rogue Skills (Disable Device, Stealth) into class abilities would be the way to go?

  3. Jesse Rodriguez Says:

    opps, typed that up before I saw you post. When I say “that doesn’t make much sense” I mean my post, not your comment.

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