Friday, January 10, 2020

Who Can Make A Skill Check?

A common thing I see around a lot of tables - even mine - is that when there is a task to be done, and not everyone is actively engaged with something else, everyone wants to get in on the skill check. If they want to jump in after someone failed a check, you can have skill dogpiling. But I see it happen even without the failure. Everyone is fine with the person with the best bonus leading the roll, but they all want their characters to help.



Now there is nothing inherently wrong with this, but sometimes it doesn't make sense for your world. As Matt Colville says in that above linked video, it doesn't make sense for the illiterate, magic fearing Barbarian to know a nuanced factoid about magical theory that the wizard, sorcerer, sage, and bard do not. And while fiction has made a huge deal about how someone clueless about a topic can be the inspiration for a breakthrough insight, that's not how RPG systems put in that participation a lot of times.

So who can participate in a skill check? Your system itself may have some rules for this regarding this. For example, Edge of the Empire only allows for one person to assist in any check. However, depending on the situation and other factors as the GM you are allowed to overrule this. Which also brings in a tiered system I use - though never really codified before seeing the above video - for who can jump in on a skill check.


  • Anyone Can Jump 
    • The task requires no specialized knowledge, and really anyone could help. This is common for things that require physical exertion like a tug of war, or helping boost someone over a wall.
  • You Need A Related Skill
    • The task requires some level of proficiency in the task and to participate characters either need the direct skill called for, or one close enough to be relevant and cover similar areas. For example, someone with Knowledge: Religion might be able to help with a check that called for Knowledge: Demons because the religious knowledge, while not as specific, does overlap.
  • You Need The Specific Skill
    • Only characters with the specific skill can participate. The task needs that specific knowledge. For example, someone who wasn't a proficient mechanic isn't going to be much help in repairing an engine during an emergency situation.
  • You Need Specialized Knowledge
    • This tier can have subtiers depending on the game, but basically beyond having the skill itself you need to have some sort of specialized knowledge. There are things that are going to be kept secret outside of certain circles. There are things that are only going to be known to certain groups. And unless you have that, you aren't going to be able to help. In L5R for example, there are secrets about being Scorpion you will only have a chance of knowing if you are in fact Scorpion, and other secrets you will only know if you are a member of a certain family, a certain school, or a certain family and a certain school. In other words, beyond just skill proficiency, you need some sort of In Character reason to participate.
Now these can all go in different ways. I said it was tiered, but there could be something where you need both specialized knowledge and a related skill. There could also be one where you need specialized knowledge or a related skill. They can mix and match.

The thing is, a lot of RPGs give broad areas to the skills in the game. One skill covers a huge amount of ground, and that is great, but that doesn't necessary grok with how specialized some things need to be for your world. SO play with it. And have fun.

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