Skill/Abillity Checks

(Experimental rules from muriwo - currently being playtested on a PBP)

An area in which DW has occasionally come in for heavy criticism is its lack of a skill system.

The Revised Edition slightly changes this with a limited reworking of many existing special abilities for the different professions as "skills" but it is not really a coherent system - there is no core mechanic or standard mechanism for acquiring skills.

Therefore at first glance there appears to be a big hole in DW! In fact I suggest that there is not - a very powerful and flexible mechanism is set out (Revised Edition, pp. 64-65) but it is unfortunately such a small section that you might miss it. This mechanism is really quite decent, as long as you have a GM and Players who are comfortable with each - and no power gamers!

The one area in which I feel this mechanism is "not quite right" is that it does not allow for enough differentiation between two characters who have the same basic attribute scores but different professions, backgrounds and ranks. The rest of this page presents an alternative and slightly expanded mechanism for incorporating these aspects.


The mechanism I propose has been especially influenced by the following sources:
Chaosium BRP/Runequest - skills are initially based on primary attributes but the vast majority of their level comes from a point buy + experience system - therefore over time a character who chooses to specialize in something will see significant improvements in his ability relative to others
GURPS - skills are initially based on primary attributes and can be improved above this but rather painstakingly - so a character with a higher intelligence will always find it easier to have a decent level in intelligence-based skills
WFRP - rather like GURPS in that skills mainly come from attributes, but extra level can be slowly earned. Unlike GURPS, improvement is tied to WFRP's famous career system.
Barbarians of Lemuria (BoL) - takes a completely different tack, very appropriate for RP/Storytelling-heavy games, whereby each character starts with a number of previous careers at different levels of experience. Whenever he needs to make a skill roll, he works the most appropriate career into his narrative and uses its level as a bonus to an attribute-based roll. The bonus is relatively large given the way this system's core mechanic works.
"Revised 2d6 mechanic" ( - an post from 2002, on which the last comment (by Lunamancer) I found a great help at summarizing the relevance of different dice-rolling combinations. As it happens I don't agree with his conclusions but he sets the issues out very clearly.

To sum up, I wanted something less crunchy than RQ, GURPS or even WFRP, and somewhat heftier than BoL - which also does not stray far from the existing DW system.

Extended Skill/Ability tests

So, here are the rules. They might seem long but actually they are very simple and you should be able to apply them without recourse to pen and paper pretty much straight off.

1) If the player RPs convincingly - don't roll

If the action would be straightforward for the character given their background, profession etc, then let them do it. Only in adverse circumstances might you need a roll.

2) If the player tries to something totally stupid - don't let 'em

For instance "Thorgrim punches a hole through the castle wall". Leave it out mate! Luckily DW does not seem to attract many of this kind of player.

3) If there is a special rule or skill in the rulebook, use it

In fact the DW Canon has reasonable rules for perhaps 70% of non-combat situations so get used to them. In the Revised Edition they are a bit easier to find as well.

4) For all other situations, read on...

a. Choose the relevant attribute to roll against.
This may be one primary attribute (ex. Strength) or the average of several, as explained in the rulebook.
You may also wish to use secondary attributes as the target if the situation demands. For instance PERCEPTION is supposed to be used in opposition to another character's STEALTH - however it is equally good for when a character is searching a room or studying a strange situation. In this case we will use PERCEPTION as the basic target score - since there is no other character's STEALTH score involved.

b. Choose a modifier between 0-2 based on the character's back story.
By "Back Story" I mean how their character grew up and got to 1st rank in their chosen profession. Medieval history and you favourite fantasy novels are decent guides to this. For instance if you need to quieten a herd of animals so you can sneak through the stockade, a character with a farming background would surely have an advantage.
I recommend you use the formal background (as determined by the Revised Edition, Chap. 6 or Original Edition, Bk. 6) to give zero or one point of modifier. Then give a second point if the player can work a really specific example of relevance into their narrative.

c. Choose a modifier between 0-3 based on the character's profession and rank.
The rules and examples in the rulebook give plenty of flavour to each profession which should help you to determine what they are good at even if there are no specific rules. For instance Sorcerers would be good at abstract reasoning, Barbarians at jumping around in the wild etc. Based on this give a modifier as follows:
  • 0 - if the character's profession is really not relevant to the task at hand
  • 1 - if their profession is relevant and they have 1st-3rd rank
  • 2 - " " 4th-7th rank
  • 3 - " " 8th rank and above

d. Choose a difficulty modifier representing any adverse conditions
There is huge flexibility here but I would recommend asking the following basic questions (all mentioned in the rulebook under other circumstances) and choose -1 if the answer is "yes", and -2 to if the answer is "definitely!".
  • Poor visibility (darkness, fog etc)?
  • Character is moving faster than one should to do this action?
  • Something else is going on at the same time (fighting, fright etc)
  • Heavily encumbered or inappropriately equipped (armour, backpack, hands full etc)

e. Total the modifiers, add them to the target attribute, and roll (or have the character roll) 2d10...
  • 2 - always a success (a critical success if you want to use it - unless 2 was the only possible success score)
  • Equal to or under the target number - success
  • Above the target number - failure
  • 20 - always a failure (a critical failure if you want to use it - unless 20 or above was the only possible failure score)
Note that 2d10 give a very different set of probabilities than 1d20. They are much more loaded towards the middle range of numbers which means that modifiers both positive and negative tend to have a bigger impact if they take you outside the middle-zone. This makes the roll much riskier and positive modifiers much more worth having.

An Example

Jurgil the Barbarian* (4th rank) is escorting his colleague Crydth the Sorcerer* (3rd rank). After a night ambush by brigands they were separated from the rest of the party and decide to make their way back to the nearby village the next morning in the hopes of finding their fellows once more. This part of Albion* is decidedly marshy and the village is built on stilts in the middle of a bog for defensive purposes. Crydth /thinks/ he can recognize the safe path they took through the bog two days before.

Unfortunately, just as they get within sight of the village, the group of brigands, hunting on horseback appears on the horizon and spots them. Jurgil and Crydth are on foot and race for the safety of the village through the treacherous path.

Let's try and apply the mechanism step-by-step:

a. Target attribute: The GM rules that since Crydth's knowledge of the path is shaky each should make a test against REFLEXES in order not to mistep and fall into the bog.

b. Backstory:
Jurgil: "As a boy in the Mercanian* fjords I often raced barefoot through the shallows, I am sure on my feet". GM gives him +1
Crydth: "My father was a Freeman farmer in Cornumbria*. Every spring the snow melted on the mountains around and our fields became mud for several weeks. I am no stranger to boggy ground". GM gives him +2

c. Profession:
Jurgil: as a 4th rank Barbarian* he is a fairly active athletic chap so +2
Crydth: as a 3rd rank Sorcerer* he has spent far too long with his nose in a grimoire: +0

d. Adverse Conditions:
  • The pair are running: -1
  • They have armed horsemen whooping and hollering close behind them: -1
e. The rolls:
Jurgil: has REFLEXES of 13 (a) + 1 (b) +2 (c) -2 (d) = 14. He rolls 12 and keeps his feet as he runs.
Crydth: has REFLEXES of 11 (a) + 2 (b) +0 (c) -2 (d) = 11. He rolls 13 and plunges up to his middle when the ground gives way treacherously beneath him. Will Jurgil be able to save him in time?

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