I’ve been a bit back-and-forth about ability checks in my game since it started; I want to let Skills shine as much as possible, and I also don’t want to tie up the action with too many rolls. There are, however, a number of situations where an Ability Check is not only reasonable, but feels appropriate.
The classic ability check is, of course, rolled with a D20; I’ve used the method myself for many years. I see nothing inherently wrong with it, but I’ve also always felt that it integrates poorly with the other mechanics of LotFP; the D20 is used in combat and for Saving Throws, the D6 is used for skill checks, and an ability check feels much more akin to a skill check than anything else. Also, I’ve noticed that it encourages taking chances for some reason, maybe because my players are poor statisticians… the solution is obvious (at least to me). Ability checks should be rolled with a D6.
All ability checks I use have a difficulty; a number to be rolled or less on a D6, just like a skill check. That number, however, is also modified by the stat modifier. A standard Dex check thus requires a character to roll 1-3 on a regular D6, and that target number is further modified by the Dex modifier. Statistically (at least with the bonus scale I use), this means you end up with roughly the same chance of success as with D20 against raw stat value.
The actual difficulty is decided by the GM, but I try to set these in advance as much as possible in modules. I also firmly believe that this difficulty should be openly communicated to the players before they attempt the roll, and I try to be clear about what the consequences of failure will be as well. Beyond this, a bonus to the check can be given out for having the right equipment or the right plan; player skill can still kick in here. There is usually between +1 and +3 to the chance of success available. As per normal LotFP checks, if you need a 6 or below to succeed you roll two dice, and a double six fails.
So what’s the point?
For me, apart from aligning with the system, there are several. I find that the D6 makes things very clear to my players; they are acutely aware of their chances of success. Also, modifiers beyond stats become critical, and vying for them becomes a part of the game that encourages creative thinking and ties player skill to the situation.
Our three intrepid adventurers reach a pitch-black chasm, over which a slippery stone bridge reaches. Crossing this bridge is an excellent example of a Dex check in my game; it is not reactive (Saving Throw) and is not a trained Skill, but there is a clear risk of failure (at least if you are in a rush, as we shall see). I tell the players right away that crossing requires a Dex check at a difficulty of 3 (roll 1-3 on a D6). In the party we have Mr Hobbit (Dex +2), Mr Fighter (Dex +0), Mr Cleric (Dex +0) and Mr Wizard (Dex -2). Clearly, Mr Wizard is a problem, but no player really wants to cross. What to do?
My players sorted this out the following way:
1. Break out the 50′ rope and tie it around Mr Halfling. Mr Fighter and Mr Cleric hold the rope and brace themselves.
2. Mr Halfling crosses with the rope, needs 1-5 on a D6 and rolls a 4. Success!
3. Mr Halfling ties the rope on the other side, the players argue this should make crossing trivial (+3) and I agree.
4. Since there is still a slim risk for failure, Mr Cleric crosses with the group’s second rope across his waist, He rolls 2D6, and since both don’t show up as 6’s he crosses safely.
5. The second rope is tossed over and tied around the waist of Mr Fighter, and he proceeds to cross safely.
6. Mr Wizard unties the first rope, ties it around his waist and wobbles over (needing a 1 to succeed, as he has no rope to hold on to). Unsurprisingly, he drops, but the other three characters can easily brace themselves and haul him onto the opposite ledge.
There is a case to be made for not requiring any rolls to cross the chasm, but I find that these kinds of situations engage my players and are interesting to them and I know others do as well. Also, if there had been time pressure, perhaps there would have been more risk-taking which also gets the adrenaline pumping.
This same situation could probably have been handled similarly with D20 ability checks, but for some reason I really appreciate the clarity of this method.