Over at Grognardia, James discusses skills in RPGs. I thought I would discuss what I think about skill systems, and how skills are handled in the Rolemaster Standard System.
First of all, in most old school RPGs, skill use resolution seems fairly simple. In Traveller ( at least what I can remember ), success or failure is determined by one die roll. If you fail, I always ruled that you can try again, unless I determined it was beyond your skill level, i.e. if you only have one skill bonus in electronics, and you're trying to repair a major malfunction of the starships computer.
Of course the same idea could be used in rule sets without skills. If a character is trying to "bend bars or lift a gate" and they fail, shouldn't they be able to try again? Of course if you've determined that to bend the bars requires a certain strength then of course no amount of rolls will succeed. Then again I suppose you could say that the one roll could represent multiple attempts, but in some situations this wouldn't work, especially if there was a time constraint involved, for example fleeing a horde of zombies.
One thing I always enjoyed about GURPS is the fact that that when making a skill roll, you don't just have success or failure, but you can also have a critical success ( something good happens ), or a critical failure ( something bad happens ).
In the Rolemaster Standard System, skills are grouped in categories. For example there is the Subterfuge - Stealth Category, and covers hiding, picking pockets, stalking, and trickery. Every skill category comes with a static maneuver table which is specific to the skills in that category.
Let's say that you are a thief, and you're fairly sneaky. It's night, you've just robbed a shop, and couple of the city's watchmen are coming down the road. You decide to duck into the shadows. It's time to make a skill roll...
In the RMSS, skills are rolled on a d100, and are open ended, if you roll a 96 or higher you roll again, and add the result. You also add or subtract any modifiers that would apply to the skill in this situation. So the thief moves up against a building, it's night and very dark, but the watchmen have lanterns, but the thief is far enough away that these don't come into play. So lets see what the result of the roll might be!
So depending on the roll, a player can have a Spectacular Failure, Absolute Failure, Failure, Unusual Event, an Unusual Success, Near Success, Success, or Absolute Success. If you get a Near Success you can roll again, hopefully with a better result. All in all, I find the RMSS method of dealing with skills a lot more fun than just the succeed or fail mechanic, and really creates some interesting game play situations.
I know some people will say that Rolemaster requires way too much book keeping and chart flipping, but I find that if I stay organised this was never much of a problem.
Editorial Note: Either blogger or my computer is having fits, and I need to stop for now.