D6 ability checks

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.

An example:

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.

11 thoughts on “D6 ability checks

  1. This is actually a really good idea, rolling under the score works and allows for more variation between characters, but it’s always felt weird.
    I’ll be using this in my next game.

    • After reading this I read something Monstrous Television had just posted about partial success on skill checks which I really love, but I still like the idea of d6 skill checks so instead of just using his rules I’m going to combine them with yours.
      So the target number on a d6 is for partial success, 1 above would be faster/better/normal success, 2 or more above is amazing success.
      1 below is failure, 2 or more below and things have gone terribly wrong.

  2. It’s an easy addition to the system, and it makes good sense unless the result is really binary. The only thing it might do is complicate the situation slightly, but that depends on your approach; I make a point of always stating beforehand what the consequences of success and failure will be, and in this case I’d want to state what the consequences of a “better” success would be as well.

    • It’d be dependent on the situation and wouldn’t always fit, but I like things to have shades of grey whenever possible.
      The example used over at Monstrous Television was breaking down a door, so for a partial success you get the door down but it takes a while and you make a lot of noise, the “faster/better” success is just what it would normally be without variations of success, so you knock it down but it’s as difficult/makes as much noise as you’d expect, and on an amazing success you kick the door down all “SURPRISE!”.

  3. Sounds good! Like I wrote above, the only thing that would matter to me was that the players knew this before deciding whether to roll. Otherwise, it’d feel like introducing more GM fiat into the game.

  4. I do this (more or less) in OD&D. Mine is: roll high instead of low, target number is always 5+, mods for an ability are never more than +/-1.

    One of the other benefits of rolling a target and modifying the roll with an ability is that you can use the best of/worst of two or three abilities. For example, you can modify the chance of escaping a trap with the best of Int, Wis, or Dex. Whichever ability you use explains how you avoided the trap: high Int means you recalled something you read about the area or its inhabitants, high Wis means you had a nagging feeling of danger, high Dex means you didn’t notice anything ahead of time, but reacted quickly.

    • Part of me wants to use roll high as well, just since the ability score modifiers seem more logical then. The real reason I use Roll Low is because LotFP skills are constructed that way (as is search in ODD), but I’m not sure its the best way…

      There’s nothing stopping you from letting several modifiers affect success though; a 1-3 chance on a D6 to succeed can be modified by as many attributes as you want, you just have to apply the modifier to the chance before rolling, instead of to the roll afterwards.

  5. This seems way more complicated than rolling 6’s to get at or below the relevant ability score. 3d6 for average tasks, 2d6 for simple ones, and 4d6 for really challenging maneuvers.


    • That might be so, but using a graded curve (which this does) generates a complicated set or probabilities that are hard to grasp at a glance – especially if you introduce modifiers to the roll.

      To me, using the 2D6-4D6 method is very similar to rolling with a D20 against an ability score.

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