Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Moldvay - There's always a chance.

In this section, Moldvay says:

"The DM may want to base a character's chance of doing something on his or her ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, and so forth). To perform a difficult task (such as climbing a rope or thinking of a forgotten clue), the player should roll the ability score or less on 1d20. The DM may give a bonus or penalty to the roll, depending on the difficulty of the action (-4 for a simple task to +4 for a difficult one). A roll of 1 should always succeed, and a roll of 20 should always fail."

Not only is this an elegant way of handling all those little actions in the game that shouldn't be an "auto-success", its also a good way to put emphasis on those six ability scores, which otherwise really only come into play on a regular basis for combat resolution. It also is a handy tool to get players who have only had later edition gaming experience get over the mindset that a character has to have a particular "skill" rating to do something like decipher some old runes or catch a fish.

This is such a simple little resolution system, its easy to overlook how huge of an impact this can have on your game, again reinforcing creative play. When players have the mindset that "There's always a chance", they should actually start taking those chances more and more.

It might be a good idea to read the above quote aloud at the beginning of each session, just to remind everyone and keep the concept fresh in the players' minds as the night's adventure begins. When the players are actually looking for something to test their "skills" against, it leaves a whole lot less empty space for the DM to fill.


  1. I like this too. I use 3d6 instead of 1d20 but it's still a similar concept. Nice post.

  2. Amen to that. I too use 3d6 since the curve is better. I also do 4d6 drop the lowest and 5d6 drop the lowest 2 for increases in difficulty.

  3. I always do this. It's simple and elegant and it makes the 3D6 chargen meaningful and important.

  4. Yes, this is the way to go. I've even toyed around with dropping saving throws and just rolling against the appropriate ability score -5 or -8, depending on the severity of the poison, magic, etc.

    Anything to streamline the game . . .

  5. We were using this since the late 70s, early 80s, I think. But I was surprised to learn the idea firs appears in an OD&D supplement. Wish I could remember which one. Oh, and I'm a big fan of having ability scores play a role in the game.

  6. I like using ability checks, but I try not to do it too much, especially for really critical save or die (dexterity check or fall) kind of things. Maybe sometimes, but I really don't want players to obsess too much about their ability scores.

    More thoughts in detail here:

    That being said, I love the main point of the Moldvay advice, that you should be able to try anything, even it it's not written on your character sheet. You can always also just throw a d6 and assign situational odds (I noticed this was pretty common in T1 The Village of Hommlet).

  7. It's the first place I ever saw that idea. It's still good although it has one problem, in that it ignores Level, which is, IMO, always supposed to matter in D&D. I think Spellcraft & Swordplay does an excellent job is representing the idea in a way that makes both Class and Level matter. C&C does so as well.

  8. @Matthew - That is concern i share as well. I was thinking of adding to this rule something along the lines of -1 at 3rd lvl, -2 at 6th, -3 at 9th, etc to reflect characters getting "better" at the stuff they do.

  9. That's exactly how S&S does it. Addtionally, PC's get a slight bonus on class-apropriate stats, so, for example, Fighters get a bonus to STR and CON.



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