Help me out here. Tell me what’s more interesting:
- The Orc tries to break down the door. It rolls a Strength check. You roll a Strength check back at it to hold the door (with advantage because you’re buddy is helping). You win the contest and hold the door closed.
- The Orc tries to break down the door. Two of you won’t be enough, because you’re a spindly Elf and a tiny Halfling. You brace the door with a piece of lumber, buying you just enough time.
Option B is the product of the Judge’s clever riffs, critical thinking from the players, and imagery that really comes together to paint a scene. Option A is like an off-brand vanilla protein shake.
I’m not a fan of ability checks. While some might find it nice to have an abstract system to adjudicate things that practical descriptions won’t, I think a subsystem like that is a crutch. Ability checks reduce challenging decisions and harrowing scenarios by reducing them to a series of unwieldy dice rolls. And there’s nothing stopping you from using them for everything. What started as Gygax’s valuable improvisational tool became the punchline to a bad joke (“roll for Perception,” anyone?), the joke being the big ‘ol shit it took on the meta.
Ability checks were a house rule for the longest time, because a subsystem that doesn’t accomplish a specific design goal doesn’t belong in a game. Instead of going “I dunno, I make a Strength check” to resolve a conflict that isn’t covered by the mechanics, don’t use mechanics to resolve it. Focus on what the game does, not what you wish it could do. If you find yourself constantly needing something else from a game, either play something else, or take the time to understand what the game is trying to accomplish.
(I realize this makes me sound like a hypocrite because I have sheafs of house rules. But if it counts for anything, I don’t use most of the house rules on Kinks & Crits anymore. If I do have house rules, they’re usually shortcuts for getting to what I feel to be the game’s “point.”)
Even though Dungeon Crawl Classics is my favorite homage to old-school D&D, it’s very much rooted in modern d20 design. Skill checks were brought in to make good on the occupations of zero-level characters, but I think that the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia did them one better by having proficiencies add something specific to the game, instead of DCC’s method of applying to whatever the players can justify (and they will justify it). I also dislike that Thief skills were rolled into skill checks; why include something non-Thieves can’t hope to attempt in a system that everyone can use? I have a hunch that this was all done for the sake of uniformity, and to iterate a crutch that many Judges and players are too atrophied to go without (me included).
Removing Skill Checks from DCC
When you roll a Thief skill, instead of adding the Thief skill bonus to a d20 roll, instead roll a d20 and attempt to get under the Thief skill bonus. If you do, you use the skill successfully. The die can be sized up or down to reflect difficulty.
Each occupation has an ability associated with it, determined by the Judge. You can make a living working your occupation, so long as you make successful rolls. You can also make expert commentary on topics in your field with a successful roll.
When you use an occupation, you roll a d20 and attempt to get under its associated ability score. If you do, you use the occupation successfully. The die can be sized up or down to reflect the general availability of your type of work, or the obscurity of a piece of knowledge.