Skill Piling in Tabletop RPG’s

Skill piling in tabletop rpg’s,  the fail and subsequent “I check” from another player, and another, and another.

We list examples, determine if it’s a good idea, and whether it apply to all role-playing games.


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Random Encounter

Eric Avila writes in about Weapon Damage

What’s up BS’ers?!

As the old saw goes, “long-time listener, first time caller.”

I was listening to the Weapon Damage episode the other day, and you said something that really struck a chord with me. Many players in modern-period  RPGs (Top Secret, Twilight: 2000, etc.) want to get really, really crunchy about calibers, weapon types, rate of fire, and so forth. 

I’ve been a DEA firearms and tactics instructor for 11 years now, full-time shooting instructor for five of those years. I was also an Army airborne infantry officer for several years, and I’ve got combat deployments to Afghanistan. This is not to boast, but to establish my frame of reference. I’ve been shooting at a very high level, and teaching others to shoot, for a very long time; and not always at paper targets. The summation of my experience is that, within certain logical boundaries, “the bow and arrow matter a lot less than the Indian.”

The fact is, most guns are more accurate right out of the box, than the goon behind them. I’ve been told that this rifle or that pistol “will hold 2 MOA accuracy at 500 yards.” Great, but irrelevant, because the human using that gun is almost certainly not capable of that same accuracy. It’s like giving a teenager a Ferrari – they cannot drive that car to it’s maximum potential. The difference between one firearm in a particular class and another, has generally more to do with user preference and training than the machinery of production. A great gun won’t help a poorly trained shooter. 

I’ve been berated, lectured, and harangued by “shooting experts” with their assessments of comparative ballistics, stopping power, “this propellant” combined with “this bullet.” You know what? It’s mostly intellectual masturbation…entertaining, but ultimately pointless and something to hide from your mom. Those who treat ballistics as paramount are often unfamiliar with the practical realities of tactics. Guys who get into gunfights for a living are not buying their own ammo and hand-loading cartridges. They use what they’re issued and make it work. Issues of stopping power and long-range ballistic performance are far less important than shooter training, because the vast majority of small arms engagements take place at less than 200 meters. This is true even in the desert. Wearing glasses, I have better than 20/20 vision, and at 300 meters I can barely see a man unless he’s wearing a red shirt and doing jumping jacks. Most night-vision goggles and IR aiming lasers won’t allow you to distinguish a target even half that distance away, and aiming lasers have a bore-offset that limits their effectiveness at longer distances. 

I think that the original version of Twilight:2000 got it just about right. They divided small arms into broad classes: Pistol, Submachinegun, Assault Rifle, Light Machinegun, etc. Between two guns of the same class, there’s functionally very little difference. In terms of getting the hits, the skill and training of the shooter matter far more than the gun they are using. In terms of damage, where you get hit matters more than what you’re hit with. Getting shot with a .357 Magnum vs a .22 bullet, of course there’s a difference. But between a .357 and a .45, the difference isn’t so much that I’d waste time adjudicating it. In game terms, you got hit with Small Caliber Pistol or Large Caliber Pistol. Leave it at that. 

So in game terms, if a player insists he is using a Remington R-10 or an HK53, then I am fine with it. Whatever blows your hair back, troop…But as GM, I’m calling it a plain old Battle Rifle, and it will function and perform in game terms just like an FN-FAL or an SKS or whatever. 

BTW, your friend with the comment about clearing a structure with a sniper rifle was spot on. If a guy in my unit had ever gone to do that, I’d smack him a good one and tell him to climb a roof and pull overwatch. 

Sorry this went on so long, but it’s a matter I’m kind of passionate about, much to the dismay of my wife.



P.S.  Many firearms instructors subscribe to a school of thought called the Equipment Sufficiency Paradigm. Once a piece of gear is acceptable to the level of skill of the shooter, additional bells and whistles would be better invested in practice. For example, if you’ve got $1000, spend $500 on a scope and $500 on training ammo. A guy who does that will do far better and last longer, than a guy who buys a $1000 scope but no training ammo. OTOH, spending $100 on a scope and $900 on training ammo is just wasting $100 on a piece of crappy gear.

The Noble Mutant commented on our forums about Innovation in RPG’s

A quick thought after listening to Episode 284.

All the suggestions catered to players and GMs without physical challenges – what about the deaf, blind, etc participants? I recently purchased a Braille dice set. You would be astonished at the size of a Braille game book!

Audio, video, and technology requirements may actually set up walls to more and easier playing.

Still an important and interesting episode.

And Bruce C commented on Innovation in RPG’s as well.

This one is a really interesting subject.

Now, I’m not a developer of any kind and have only a layman’s understanding of most of this tech but I can see all kinds of challenges and only a relatively small audience for a new (online?) publishing format for RPGs. I’d love to see it happen though!

Let’s just imagine you can get that perfect solution together that allows publishers to combine text, images, video, hyperlinks, maps, layered maps compatible with a wide range of virtual tabletop systems, tokens for the same, sound effects and music. How would you market it? Do you keep it for your own RPG product? (assuming you’re a publisher) That would be narrow minded and likely to lead to a more fragmented market place. Would you license it out to other publishers for a fee? Maybe, but bear in mind that many RPG ‘publishers’ are tiny, DIY operators. Would you make it freely available in the hopes of this becoming the new format and effectively replacing PDF or other ebooks? Awesome! but you then have to swallow a pretty hefty development cost!

It’s a great idea, but I suspect the cost developing the perfect solution may mean we’re stuck with PDFs for a while yet!

Incidentally Purple Sorcerer’s DCC modules are really great in PDF.

Most come with an appendix that contains stuff intended for printing: paper minis, maps (often with and without battlegrids) and handouts but it’s also relatively easy to grab images and use them to make tokens and maps for online play.


Die Roll

  • Skill Dogpiling video by Matt Colville
  • The Warden, Todd ‘Broken Ruler Games’ Crapper mentions Jacob Woods’ site,  Accessible Games
  • D&D movie adds Marvel producer to the project. Source: gamerant
  • Get a chance to play D&D with Joe Mangeniello. It’s for charity! Help Make A Wish. Head to Omaze, video

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About the Author
The 'S' of Gaming and BS podcast. Besides producing and hosting the show, Sean enjoys long walks on the beach, running rpg's, and killing player...characters.