Adventurer as a Meta-Class
So, I’m reading through the excellent analysis of skills in D&D over at Hack & Slash. It touches on what the functions of a resolution mechanic are at all, and especially digs into what 3.x/Pathfinder style skills bring to D&D (and don’t). Considering some of my recent forays away from a pure lack of skill systems at all (using the “Good at” and “Bad at” cues, considering the use of roll under stat checks more often, et cetera), this is striking me as very useful analysis.
The main approach I’ve been taking when skill type things come up is to ask myself if I figure the situation is the sort of thing a class would cover. Considering we’re still rocking the original 3 classes only (Fighting Man, Magic User, and Cleric), this gets broadly interpreted to “General Outdoorsy/Rugged stuff, smarty pants stuff, and healy/religious stuff” respectively. With some consideration for the Dwarf knowing dwarf stuff. In the Hack & Slash series, the author mentions in a couple of posts (those on ride and heal specifically that I can think of) that there’s some stuff that it’s just assumed adventurers can do, and I kind of like the idea of “Adventurer” as a meta-class for OD&D.
What I mean is a baseline assumption that all PCs know a thing or two about adventurery stuff in the same way that fighting men are assumed to know about combat and weapons and the like. Now, this gets dangerously close to the whole “adventurers are a special class of people, a cut above everyone else from the get go” mentality of later editions. I much prefer “your adventurer is just some schmuck until gameplay shows us otherwise.” Overall, though, I don’t think the idea that characters can be assumed to have a basic level of competence in things like riding horses, bandaging wounds, checking doors for traps and so forth clashes with the basic assumptions of a class & level game where fighting men start out tougher, magic users start out knowing a spell, and clerics start out, hmm, well, religious and able to swing a mace?
Clearly, there are play styles where you would not want to approach things this way – a Dungeon Crawl Classics style 0-level “funnel” approach, a Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay weird horror tale, a career or lifepath system like WFRP or a “our first adventure” story or whatever. But I think that acknowledging “adventurer” as a factor for the referee when determining if a character can know or do something comes pretty close to what ends up being the default assumption at many tables anyway, especially in a skill system light approach, where the players have plenty of “dungeoneering/adventurism” experience and use it, regardless of who their characters are.
So, the rules section is easy this time:
All characters are assumed to be basically competent at skills common to an adventuring life style – riding, camping, cooking, first aid, orienteering and so forth, unless stated otherwise by the player. No tests are necessary related to these skills except in unusual or extremely difficult circumstances (riding a giant lizard, say, or determining directions in a sorcerous fog, et cetera).