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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Skill Resolution in Swords & Wizardry (and other stray thoughts)

One of the benefits of sharing the Swords & Wizardry PDF via email last week was the number of connections I made with other gamers. God knows I've fumbled my roll to answer everyone back, as the initial response was, to say the least, overwhelming.

One interesting email asked me about "skill resolution" in Swords & Wizardry and what method one would use. Now, to be honest, I kinda "wing it".

I loosely base such things, like a chance to know some obscure knowledge, or find something like tracks, on a Saving Throw adjusted by relevant stat bonus. The number needed to be successful is adjusted up or down by up to 3 pts, depending on ease or difficulty. Additionally, bringing the right tool to the job (like an iron spike and a hammer to bust a padlock) will adjust the target number in the PCs favor, while the wrong tool (a random rock) my incur a penalty to the target roll.

All of the above is a long winded way to justify a Saving Throw target number that "feels right", which in my mind is much of what the OSR stands for. It's not just DM empowerment - "trusting the DM to improvise gameplay resolution on the fly" but it's also a manner of play that empowers players - "You mean I'm NOT limited to a selection of skills and feats on my character sheet?"

As an "old school" DM, you use a formula like I spell out above until you get a feel for doing it on the fly, because keeping momentum going in game is more important than being exact on the numbers - keep it flowing and keep it fair and your players will keep coming back.


  1. Just use the standard saving throw as the target, with the appropriate Ability Score mod. Done.

  2. For WB I was thinking of Target Number of 20+
    Roll d20,
    Add level if it's something the class should be good at (or the character has a background that fits the "skill"
    +1/0/-1 per attribute that should apply
    If it's a physical skill (pick pockets, climb, jump over pit) add the Descending AC (this encourages some fighting men to wear lighter armors to improve their skills instead of having a Thief class.

  3. Erik: I like Stu's solution as it takes into account the armor of the character. Thus a hobbit in leather may be good at picking a lock on a locked door while a fighter in plate mail would be better at running through it. See what I mean? Heh!

  4. That's one of the things I've used to describe the OSR aesthetic to people who come from a D20 background - a D20 character sheet gives you a "playbook", but an OSR-type character sheet lets you know what your "bounds" are (how good/bad you are at certain things).

    The few times I ran S&W, I used the save roll as a general task roll, giving players a bonus if they could convince me they were doing something to increase their odds of success. Of course if their idea is too stupid, it might cause them to auto-fail. :)

    Thieving skills (except Hear Sounds) are the exception, as those require some training, like using magic items and other class skills.

  5. This is why I really like Blood & Treasure. It uses skills as saving throws, but has the 3 saving throw model from 3.x, so it's always not the same number - some skills use the reflex save, some willpower (plus the ability bonus)

  6. Yup that's basically the way that Akrasia does it in his Swords & Sorcery variant rules, which I use in Crypts & Things


    Work like a dream and I would use any other 'non-weapon proficiency' system in its place :)

  7. I think d20 roll under stat is perfect for most uses; it defaults to a 50-60% chance of success which is pretty well ideal. Does not work for spot/perception, for that Surprise rolls, defaulting to 2 in 6, seem to work best.