Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Never, Ever Do I Ever... Horses, Drownings and First Aid.

I never let my characters have a skill called "horsemanship", "swimming" or "first aid". Know why? Killing a player because they don't have these skills is painful. Boring. Nothing is worse than being in bored and in pain. I wrote a book just for that reason. 

If a player wants to role play that they can't ride a horse, the other players can cart him around like a bag of oats. No need for silly rolls. I'm not prepping a campaign for players where one of them wants to die of a horseshoe to the face.

How hard it is it to jump in the ocean in a full set of plate armor, shield and sword? Super easy. Why roll? It's obvious as to what happens next.

One time, I amused myself with this very scenario by having the player to roll a four to succeed. As an epic battle of life and death raged around him, he was the only person not in on the joke.

"No... you're still aliv- er, hanging in there... keep rolling..."

I have this rule that characters aren't dead until they hit -10 hp and once you hit zero or less, you lose one point per round. Anyone attending to that character stops to the hit point drop. It creates an interesting scenario where the wizard drops to -4 hp, and all the way down to -7 before the cleric hits him with a cure light wounds for 4 points leaving them at -3 until they heal naturally. It's a couple of days before the wizard wakes up.

No need to screw any of the characters by telling them the medic couldn't figure out the arrow was the problem due to a bad roll. This is realistic for some reasons and total BS for others. In the Middle Ages, if you didn't respond to treatment, they'd bleed you. Save vs. Barber? No thanks.

Why do this? Because I like to reuse bad guys. A dude with a club isn't assured of killing someone with it unless they beat that person downed and beyond. If THAT doesn't occur to the players, well, I can be lazy with their enemies and they can have endless rematches with opponents. My NPCs can have names.

Which is more legendary, beating someone to death in a dark, dank, dungeon or having a horde of people who refuse to fight you because they don't want to be whupped again, third time this month? 

In my last aborted campaign, the "heroes" hacked apart 4 raiders that wouldn't surrender and took two captive. The captives were obviously intimidated by the PC's bloodthirsty treatment of their friends. Although the campaign ended, one of the players put two and two together and realized that the prisoners were the ones responsible for most... actually all of the raiding parties kills in the village. The 4 guys killed were a patrol that didn't mix it up with anyone. They let the wrong people live.

Trust me, that would have come back to haunt the party.

The lesson is, don't give people stupid skills.


  1. Okay, I'm from a different background and GURPS has all those skills. GURPS explicitly says you only need to make a riding roll when you try and mount the animal or when something happens to frighten or challenge the mount. So you have someone to hold the horse and nothing untoward happens you can ride just fine without the skill. I use a similar kind of approach for most of the GURPS easy skills. If the skill is culturally appropriate you can usually do it but you might not be good at dealing with emergencies.

  2. An alternate view from someone who grew up with RuneQuest. Skills should only really be used in tough situations. Having things characters can't do forces them to make alternate plans.
    * Everyone can ride a horse, but not everyone can charge with a lance or get the horse to jump a ravine. Better off going the long way to the rickety bridge instead, hoping to keep ahead of the pursuers long enough to cross and cut the bridge.
    * Assume everyone can swim a little, but can everyone swim in armor in a rough current. Better create floaties out of the water-skin to get that one character across and rope them to others so they aren't swept away. They can rope the armor and drag it across separately. Not only does this create a semi-trap they have to think through, it creates drama if the plan will work, and leaves at least one character without armor for the duration of the plan.
    * And that healing skill might just save a life when magical healing isn't around. You might not need them to go to -10 if the fighter could bandage his own wounds once in awhile.

    Skills (or lack of them) used correctly are opportunties. Each can be thought of as a mini-trap the players need to figure out. They can be very useful tools in the DMs toolbox.

  3. You two have given me some good ideas for a game. Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon!