I use ability checks, more frequently (sometimes) than I think I should. The growing old-schooler in me wants to move towards abstraction; but the old World of Darkness and 3.5 player wants to hammer things out using dice aggregates. Right now, I’m using the tried-and-true system of d6-roll-under checks, but I’ve decided that I don’t like them for the following (mostly aesthetic) reasons:
1) they use too many dice at once, and
2) they involve too much addition.
Now, I hate it when players roll more than three or four dice at a time, and I prefer the larger numbers of dice to be rolled at the start rather than in the middle of gameplay. That's mostly a 'material simplicity' issue.
But there is another, more fundamental problem: we play on a very small table, and the little d6’s are always falling off and mixing with the other dice and causing a general ruckus due to their refusal to roll nice and polite. Also, my players take at least the better part of ten seconds to add up all the d6’s and compare to their scores, and while that isn’t an enormous problem in itself, I notice those little breaks in the action when people are just waiting for other people to finish counting so they can go ahead and do something. And all that time spent waiting adds up and puts a drain on the excitement. So I’m going to try something else.
There are about a dozen different styles of ability check out there, The one I originally used involved rolling under your ability score with a d20. Not bad, but it never quite jived with me. The 1-18 range is just a little awkward for percentile chances, and the success rate is just too high for people with, say, an 18 INT.
For a while I considered using a system where you subtract the d20 roll from the ability score: success would be measured by the size of the difference. A base difficulty would be something like 5. So you roll d20 and get 13, subtract from your relevant score (let’s say 18) and get 5… a success! Difficulties range from 5 to 15, so that a 15 difficulty on the same roll would require a roll of 3 or less. I liked the system because it went down instead of up (gives it a bit of old-school feel, to me) but I rejected it because of the same reason I don’t use Descending AC: subtraction always feels more complicated than addition. Even though my formula was simple, it was still a bit too much brainwork in the heat of the moment for me or my players.
So I’m going to try d10 ability checks. The system is simple—roll a d10 and add your relevant modifier. Difficulties are set from 1-10, or there is a roll off if a contest between two characters is involved. Contested rolls become the basis of combat maneuvers like wrestling, for instance. I kind of like that this system has such a wide range of possibilities with OD&D modifiers, since that makes it more abstract. What I don’t like is that now there is even less mechanical reliance on the scores themselves, which seems unfortunate for some reason. But we’ll give it a shot and see how it goes.
Since the post made a blah blah sound (all of my posts do), here’s a monster:
Use the stats for a Giant Rat (and look up the Disenchanter while you’re at it).
The Disenchanter Wombat is cultivated especially in areas that fear the power of spellcasters. It is a large rodent covered with fine, multicolored fur and possessing a long, elephantish snout. It can be skittish, but quite friendly to magic users in general. When its snout touches a spellcaster, the spellcaster must roll a saving throw or lose one of its highest level spells that it had prepared that day. This process continues until the spellcaster has no other spells left. The creature can also devour magic items in the manner of the (supposed) related creature, the Disenchanter proper. Disenchanter Wombats are quite adept at sniffing out magic items, and are occasionally domesticated for this purpose. Too often have magical items been devoured when left alone in an environment with these little pests.