Monday, March 6, 2017
The Essense of D&D and Skills
Lately, when I've been talking about the essence of D&D it's really about what is part of that D&D experience we all share when playing. Given that the game is essentially the granddaddy of tabletop role playing games, many things inherent with the system can be found in other systems and game that have come out over the years. If we consider core mechanics and game 'functions' from one flavor of D&D to the next, there are some common points found in ALL them. Again, these same things are even present in the newer retroclones and other games clearly derived or heavily inspired from it.
Armor Class, a 'Vancian' method of spellcasting, Hit Points, and class-based level advancement are core pillars to the game. Efforts have been made to 'fix' perceived problems and many different games try to do so and sometimes become their own thing. One thing D&D is not is a skills oriented game.
When the game first was making the round in the 70's, there was really no system of skills. However, as a precursor to second edition, both the Oriental Adventures book and the Dungeoneer Survival Guide introduced the concept of Non-Weapon Proficiencies. More was done with this in the Wilderness Survival Guide which helped to flesh the material out further. By the time it was decided move on to a second edition, a system of weapon and non-weapon proficiencies was finalized.
Here's the thing though... I don't really remember using or relying on this very much when I did play second edition and this was basically the system my friends and I used in conjunction with the older AD&D material and some Metzer era D&D sets. We also didn't use things like weapon speed factor either. Weapons proficiencies did matter though and was a lot more relevant to what we needed for the game. The only skills routinely used were the Thief skills which had it's own percentile sub-system.
Third Edition represented a shift. It took the class skills away and put them all into a list to be chosen from during character creation. Some classes had more points to spend on skills than others but the list was not exactly short, and there were different costs depending on your class and what you wanted to take. Then there was something called 'synergy' between skills which affected other things. It was more book keeping but it was generally liked and yet, by Fifth Edition, the skill list didn't only get smaller but the amount of skills one could select from got severely cut down.
If we consider some of the games derived from D&D like Swords & Wizardry or Castles & Crusades, we find that there is no 'itemized' skill system during character creation aside from maybe some class skills like one would expect to find with the Thief / Rogue. These two games have become favorites of mine, in part because of the streamlined simplicity and philosophy of these games. These systems are not burdened with an extra level of depth by shoehorning a skill system. Just like Original D&D, a skill system isn't really needed for this to play well.
Lately, I've been playing some Myth & Magic (a much maligned and failed Kickstater to bring out a retro-clone of second edition). It's fun but that's because it brought the right pieces together for someone who played second edition for years. It too has a skill system which feels like a good compromise between the second edition proficiency system and third edition. There are many skills to chose from to give plenty of variety and choice. However, the more I play, the more I wonder if such a system is all that necessary when compared to, say.. the mechanic used in C&C. Myth & Magic does fill the need of creating (on paper), a character which is more detailed in terms of character makeup. But again, is it strictly necessary?
So... on THAT note, apparently Troll Lord Games has sold out of their 6th print run of the Player's Handbook. It's a great game and apparently they will fund the 7th printing via Kickstater in just over a weeks time (March 15th). It is still my 'goto' FRPG that scratches that 'D&D itch'. I imagine pricing will be much like their last printing which means $29.95 USD (a full color hardback) but there are always a few perks by doing this via the TLG Kickstater and, given this is a flagship product, it will be quickly funded, developed, and shipped. I'll report more on that when it launches.
Finally, and speaking of Kickstarters, as I have mentioned before, our first published novel, Mother of Mortals, is currently being kickstarted! Feel free to check it out and spread the word! The first chapter of the novel is being offered for free via a link on the Kickstarter project page. You can find the Kickstarter HERE.