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Every Day Dungeon Master: Engaging Skills

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Welcome back Tabletop Titans! If you found your way here, you most likely already filled out a skills list and it is working just fine. The only problem is, you want to create some kind of mechanic for certain aspects of your game that engages the player a little bit more. Well, you’ve come to the right place.

I am going to start by saying that in a lot of circumstances, the narrative situation you put the player in will creative significant interest for your party. If it isn’t, then you can usually spice things up with opposing rolls instead of difficulty levels. Instead of rolling sneak and trying to beat a DL of 20, why not have the minotaur in the next room roll a listen? When a player knows they are competing directly with something, they lean into their rolls more. In essence, competition helps drive the players.

If you still want to do more with your skills, I would try creating a kind of arena for specific situations. A friend of mine was creating a game that he knew was going to be very heavy in the roleplaying portion of the game. Less kicking down doors and smashing things, and more court intrigue, back alley business deals, and witness tampering. With this in mind, we sat down and created a social skill mechanic that made the players have to think a little harder. Here is how it worked.

There were five skills we decided were social. Empathy was the players ability to understand what the other people in the conversation were thinking and feeling. Intimidate was the ability to use leverage in a threatening way, anything from your physical stature to information you might want to use to blackmail a character. Next was bluff which, in a nutshell, is a character’s ability to lie. Conversely, Diplomacy is a skill that plays more to honesty and logical persuasion. Finally, if you are trying to draw out a specific response from a character such as anger or desperation, you could use taunt.

Now when you engaged in a social encounter, the person with the highest Wit or Charisma, basically the person who can talk the fastest in game, got roll the first skill. Everyone involved could only roll each of these five skills once. The idea was to have one side overpower the other. The strategy involved came into play when each skill could only be combated by two other skills.

Say this liberal, bleeding heart elf started out this discussion with a statement of empathy, “imagine the children of that dragon, we must not kill it!” Whiny McPeterson rolls his empathy and gets an 18. Whoever decides to try and move the conversation in their side’s favor could only roll a Bluff or a taunt. If they rolled higher, it worked, if not the favor still remains with Whiny. That character can not roll that skill again for that encounter, but if he failed others can try to do what he could not.

I know, I know. It sounds complicated. As it turned out, the players loved it. It was like a game within a game. Some even said it was reminiscent of the conversation game in the fantastic video game Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Making mechanics like this can be a little hit and miss, and may take some time and experimentation to get the balance right, but if done properly and with the right group, it can be tremendously rewarding.

I would also like to mention that you can make skills matter more using props. I know that there is a card game called Three Dragon Ante that can be purchased from Wizard of the Coast that is a sort of fantasy poker. This game comes with rules for the use of skills from Dungeons and Dragons during gameplay. I did something similar for my Pilgrimage Campaign where I involved playing Rockband to gain experience or bonuses in upcoming encounters.

I hope my examples helped and you got creative with your skills mechanics. How successful were your mechanics? Share them in the comments!

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