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D&D 5E Simplifying Stealth (and all ability checks, really)

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Background: Back in the TSR era days, we often handled ability/skill checks as a simple ability score check. Roll a d20, and if it's under your relevant ability score, you succeed. it was simple, and fast, and more importantly, made every point in ability score important. None of this where if you went from a 13 to a 14 in an ability, it didn't help at all. that's the driving force behind replacing skill system: to make every point in an ability matter.

So let's assume this is how all skill checks are to be made. Now....on to stealth. Probably the most challenging skill for how to adjudicate it. There are two ways to go about, assuming the above:

1. Keep it a simple as possible. DM applies a bonus or penalty based on scenario that they feel is most appropriate. I.e, "It's dim light, but you're trying sneak past a dog and are wearing chain mail, so I think that would be a hard check. And hard checks impart a -10 penalty." Player: "Ok, since my dex is 16 and I normally have a +4 bonus, that means I need to roll a 10 or lower. Got it."

2. Have a table that lists common factors and individual modifiers, and you tally them all up to get a final modifier. The pro for this is that it takes away DM ruling, and puts it in an objective format. The con is that this could really slow this check resolution up.
 

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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
In that original description of simply rolling user, somebody with 20 Strength always succeeds at Strength-based feats? Or is there a difficultly modifier of some kind?
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Roll under only works if the player characters cannot increase their scores and only a few monsters and heroes can get scores of 20.

Thisis why many "roll under" systems have static characters or under precentile dice (1d100) to increase the range.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
In that original description of simply rolling user, somebody with 20 Strength always succeeds at Strength-based feats? Or is there a difficultly modifier of some kind?
There are modifiers. Originally I had an actual chart of all modifiers (in true TSR era fashion). Then I quickly said that's too bulky and just did some basic modifiers, based on how the GM views the overall difficulty in general, rather than at a micro level.

Easy: +5 to effective ability score value (so a STR of 13 would need an 18 or less on the d20 roll)
Moderate: -
Difficult: -5
Hard: -10
Very Hard: -15
Near Impossible: -20* (a nat 1 is always a success, and a nat 20 is always a failure)
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Roll under only works if the player characters cannot increase their scores and only a few monsters and heroes can get scores of 20.

Thisis why many "roll under" systems have static characters or under precentile dice (1d100) to increase the range.

Well, this is for an OSR clone (mix match of TSR era versions), so the only way a PC can increase an ability is via magic. so it's more rare to see ability score increases.

Also, for contested checks (like grappling), both roll, and whoever succeeds by the most wins, so even with creatures with 20 or higher, there is an opportunity to fail
 


I'd add in the concept of a skill being trained or untrained. Not everyone with a high Intelligence is equally knowledgeable in Arcana, for instance. So, untrained rolls in a skill always have a penalty of -5 (or rolled at Disadvantage, if you borrow that from the current edition.)
 

IIRC PC's couldn't get 20 in a score. Only something called 18/00?
That was a fighter "feature" where their Strength could have a percentile modifier to it in AD&D 1E. And I use the term "feature" loosely because it depended on a the character having a rolled 18 Str in the first place, and then it was a random d100 roll to get the percentage bonus. So it was just another bit of randomness that not all fighters could actually get.

Didn't apply to other attributes or non-fighters, though there were variants published in Dragon magazine about having this weird space between scores of 18 and 19 for other attributes as well. Often showed up in articles about gods or legendary literary figures, so Robin Hood might have an 18/75 Dex, for example.

Also, players could get Str scores of 19+ through magic items, such as the various Girdles of Giant Strength.
 

IMO the problem with all skill systems for D&D (that I've seen) is that nobody considers anything but a SINGULAR resolution mechanic, regardless of the actual kind of skill or sort of actions being performed with it. The assumption is that if it's a skill at all then it's EXACTLY like every other skill in your chances of success/failure based on a single governing attribute, and regardless of what kind of action that USING the skill actually involves. Some really need lots of modifiers, others none at all, and some actions permitted by skills should need no check whatsoever - simply having the skill AT ALL permits doing whatever the skill is.

But actual skills just don't work so simplistically and that's why skill systems tend to suck. Since 1E AD&D skill systems have wanted to insert themselves into D&D gameplay and make USE OF SKILLS the driving focus of the game. In the 1E DMG they were actually just a list of about 20 which were labeled as "Secondary Skills", and it was left up to the DM to actually decide what HAVING a particular skill would allow a character to do. They were a means of developing some depth, especially background, for a PC and not something generally perceived as being able to leverage into common gameplay advantages.

Furthermore it places all skills on a value par with each other. That is, a character gets skill points to spend, but all skills improve in the same way, at the same rate and at the cost of improvement of another skill. Put skill points into... sneaking and you can't improve your basketweaving, or diplomacy, or anything else. And all those skills are treated as being of EQUAL value and equivalent time and opportunity for improvement. You only get limited choices for improvement of skills regardless of what a given skill would really require in time, effort, practice and study in order to get better at it. That's all fine and well for making skills an important element of gameplay that can then be kept regulated and controlled, but it's not how things really work - which makes the skill system feel unrealistic, artificial, and clumsy (because it is). Some skills are important and critically useful on a routine basis, others are NOT important and seldom, if ever, really come into play. That makes those varying skills UN-equal and thus less useful as a game mechanic for ongoing character development.

Tell me you're going to develop a skill system that kicks them back to their place of decidedly SECONDARY importance and I'll pay much closer attention. Otherwise it strikes me as just rearranging deck chairs. :) Tell me each INDIVIDUAL skill will be treated individually in all respects - what makes a PC good at it, how they can get better at it, what you can/can't do with it, what your chances of success are of doing this or that with it, whether its results are binary - success/fail - or that you actually have degrees of success/failure in utilizing a given skill, and I'll be far more interested than if you're trying yet another way to make skills homogenous both mechanically and descriptively, especially just for the sake of making ability scores more equivalent to each other.

But that's just me and I'm old and cranky.
 


cmad1977

Hero
I think the easiest way to simplify skill checks is to only call for one the moment something might happen.
You want to stealth up to the window and listen to the secret conversation? Cool. It happens. During the conversation one of the participants gets up from the table and heads towards the window....
Make a stealth check.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
So let's assume this is how all skill checks are to be made. Now....on to stealth. Probably the most challenging skill for how to adjudicate it. There are two ways to go about, assuming the above:

1. Keep it a simple as possible. DM applies a bonus or penalty based on scenario that they feel is most appropriate. I.e, "It's dim light, but you're trying sneak past a dog and are wearing chain mail, so I think that would be a hard check. And hard checks impart a -10 penalty." Player: "Ok, since my dex is 16 and I normally have a +4 bonus, that means I need to roll a 10 or lower. Got it."

2. Have a table that lists common factors and individual modifiers, and you tally them all up to get a final modifier. The pro for this is that it takes away DM ruling, and puts it in an objective format. The con is that this could really slow this check resolution up.

Easy: +5 to effective ability score value (so a STR of 13 would need an 18 or less on the d20 roll)
Moderate: -
Difficult: -5
Hard: -10
Very Hard: -15
Near Impossible: -20* (a nat 1 is always a success, and a nat 20 is always a failure)
Difficulty points that modify the ability score is fine. The part about "I normally have a +4 bonus" doesn't quite work - I assume some part of that bonus is already included in the 16 dex. Considering that ability scores will typically be 10 to 18, let's look at some cases...

Tiptoe behind the armed guard in broad daylight without being noticed, Very Hard:
10 dex less 15 difficulty = -5. 0% chance of success.
18 dex less 15 difficulty = 3. 15% chance of success.

Sneak across the empty courtyard at night, okay if the owls notice you, Easy:
10 dex add 5 difficulty = 15. 25% chance to fail. (DM shouldn't call for roll.)
18 dex add 5 difficulty = 23. 100% chance of success.

Should there be 100% and 0% odds? How do magic items affect these? Is the difference between a 10 and 18 dex character always 40% odds?
 



GreyLord

Hero
This is an extremely delayed reply...

Ironically, stealth used to be handled in this fashion in D&D. Then they came up with the Thief class with Thief skills...

How to Handle that???

Everyone can still make Stealth Checks like they always did...but now Thieves can try to move absolutely silently and hide in a Shadow (as opposed to just hiding behind things and such), OR...if they fail their stealth checks...they can also make a check to move silently or hide in shadows!!!

Somehow this was lost over the years during AD&D and by 3e they neutered move silently and hide for Rogues. In many ways, forgetting how the old ways handled it before Thieves were an actual class and that other characters could do similar things with a simple ability check made Thieves/Rogues FAR LESS effective than they originally were or intended

(and to make matters show how less effective...in the original creation from what I understand, though it did not make it to the supplement, Thief skills were used more like magic abilities, in that a thief would gain them and could accomplish them automatically. Want to pick a lock? Have the Skill...done. You've picked the Lock. Want to find a trap..done. You've found the traps simply by checking.

Imagine if Rogues had those abilities these days...

Of course, you MIGHT want to balance that out with something (like make them a little less effective in combat like they were originally, where they may get extra damage on a first strike stealth attack, but other than that were far less effective than they tend to be now, and had less HP and AC than other classes who were not wizards).
 

Starfox

Adventurer
Not in favor. This is why.

How much variation you allow from the ability scores influences how much you would add from training/levels. So if you allow the 3-18 range of ability scores to influence a roll directly, you also need to increase the training/levels modifiers. And suddenly you run out of space on the d20.

What yopu could do is reduce the spread in ability scores, and then use the ability scores directly. Basically, the new value would be the current value (3-18 range) halved, +5. Then you use this modified score to calculate all rolls. But the 3-18 range seems to be a holy cow. [Yes, I know its more 8-16 these days.]
 

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