Creating a new task resolution mechanic

I’m always tinkering with roleplaying engines, trying to find that elusive balance between roleplay and dice-play. Here is my latest attempt.
In this roleplaying game it is intended that many situations should be handled without resort to die rolls. The DM will describe the situation and the perceived hazards from the players’ point of view. It is then the players’ responsibility to roleplay through it.

For example, a player wishes their character to reconnoitre an enemy encampment. The player describes how the character will do this, what precautions they will take and which of their skills or talents they will apply. The DM will then make his decisions on how well the player has roleplayed this. If things get tricky or hazardous then he may ask the player how their character will respond to this, or the DM may ask for a skill roll. The skill rating will be modified based upon the situation and what the character has done up to that point.

Another example, riding a horse at walking pace or trotting across open ground or following a trail would become very tedious if characters were forced to make lots of die rolls. The DM will assume that they can do this without die rolls until something happens to change the situation, such as the classic rattler on the trail, coming under enemy fire, having to negotiate tricky terrain or something spooking the horses into an unexpected gallop (i.e. bolting).

When a task roll is required we follow the method below:
◾The player rolls 1d20 and tries to score equal to or below their skill rating
◾Their base skill rating is the sum of the character’s Aptitude and Training in that skill
◾Aptitude is based on an attribute or a combination of attributes, and generally varies from 0 to 5
◾Training varies from 0 (untrained) to 5 (mastered)
◾Further modifiers may come from good roleplaying, the use of appropriate equipment, other preparations, talents, magic, their opponent(s) actions and the situation
◾In this system all modifiers are applied to the skill rating, not the die roll
◾A roll of 1 is always a success
◾A roll of 20 is always a failure
◾Scoring less than half of what is required is a critical success and may bring extra benefits

Taking the first example above Liriel the Elf has been sneaking through the woods towards an Orcish encampment. The Orcs are not expecting any company and haven’t posted sentries. The player describes how Liriel uses all available cover and takes her time. As she gets closer she crawls on her belly. Up to this point the DM has not asked for any die rolls being satisfied that the player is taking all reasonable precautions against discovery.

Then an Orc walks into the woods to relieve himself. The player says that Liriel freezes and holds her breath. The DM asks if she has a weapon readied and the player says no as drawing it might attract attention. She previously described that Liriel is wearing face paint and her elven cloak, both of which may modify her stealth check. The DM decides that the Orc walks up to within a yard of Liriel and begins to urinate in her direction.

The DM asks for a stealth skill task roll. The player declares her base skill rating as being 8. The DM gives her +2 for her camouflage clothing and face paint and another +2 for the careful and professional way she approached the target. He could have given her +1 for the fact it is twilight, but Orcs have excellent night vision. So her modified target number is 12. The player then rolls exactly 12. The DM decides that the Orc is oblivious to her presence and proceeds to shower her with foul smelling urine. Lucky she was holding her breath as she could have got a mouthful. Having relieved himself the Orc turns about and heads back to camp.

If she had rolled 14 or 15 the Orc could have become suspicious and then made a Perception skill check to determine what the ‘odd-shaped log’ was that he was urinating upon. Scoring higher than that would have negated the need for a Perception check and it would game-on.

If she had rolled less than six the critical success may have allowed Liriel to either make a surprise strike on the Orc or to rise and shadow him closer to the camp using him as cover.

So what do you think of this method?


About Craig

For those who need to know these things: - I'll never see 50 again. - I'm tall enough to see well in crowds and fat enough to leave a wake. - I'm well married to a woman with twice my smarts, three delightful and challenging children (er-hem), and one cat overlord. - I am Welsh. - I have to work for a living, but do nothing that makes me perspire.
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5 Responses to Creating a new task resolution mechanic

  1. Patrick says:

    I like the method and have actually come up with something similar that I am building into an RPG that I will kickstart next year. Basing critical success on half of either the character’s stat/skill value or the required number has proven tedious in our sessions, especially when it comes to combat, where you do not usually know the required target number. At the moment we are trying just having a difference of +5 to the target number make a critical success.

    • Craig says:

      You will have to let me know about your kickstarter as I am always happy to promote interesting projects on my blogs.

      • Patrick says:

        Sure, will do. The current setting “Nigh” explores something kind of new 😉 We call it a pre-apocalyptic RPG.

  2. Gary Pilkington says:

    Question… single difficulty modifiers for the task instead? i.e. ‘Riding a horse over unbroken, level ground – Easy -10’ ‘Riding a horse over broken terrain while being chased by the nine-eyed Slaatarn beast of Algol 4 – Difficult +5′ Modifiers are to the die roll.

    You would have a task scale of -10 for Easy, -5 for Routine, +0 for Challenging, +5 for Difficult, +10 for Extremely Difficult, +15 for Nigh Impossible! This would be one number instead all of the modifiers you listed in the Elf/Orc scenario above. In my reading of the above it would be a Challenging task so no modifier and given a roll of 12, the Orc notices the Elf. Fight On! Of course a different GM might rule the task Routine (given the camouflage paint, clothing and “role-playing’ stealth. Despite the Orc’s night vision, for this Elf in this situation it is routine. So a roll of 12 (-5 for the Routine task) would be a success. Different GM/different outcome. Not sure if that is better or worse, though I suppose one could quibble with the modifiers listed above and have a different outcome as well.

    Or am I needlessly complicating? I do that sometimes 🙂


  3. Craig says:

    Certainly something to ponder Gary – thanks 🙂

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