New Rules: Rote Checks

One of the things that we’d like to do for our players is to address some of the issues that we think infringe upon game play in 5e. Our intent is to either make new mechanics either optional, or to make an optional rule not to use them.

When I asked the question “What don’t you like in 5e?” to our Rules Duwendetm , the first response was that some ability checks just shouldn’t be as “swingy” as a d20 roll makes it. I took to the web and found that this is a common complaint. After all, if your character is an expert in a skill that they have performed thousands of times, would they really fail when in a totally calm situation with all of the time in the world? We don’t think so. Sure, when in the heat of battle or when enemies are in hot pursuit, you can fudge up something you’ve done a million times. That’s the way it should be. But if you have performed a task countless times, you aren’t under duress, and time is not of the essence, then with that comes the ability to move cautiously and do what you do best.

So we’re introducing a mechanic called “rote.” Some Background traits and feats will allow a character to perform a certain ability check by rote. What this means is that instead of rolling a d20 then applying modifiers, you can roll 2d10, add the results together, then apply modifiers. If you have advantage on a rote check, you will roll 3d10 and drop the lowest value before adding up the dice. Of course, you can only do this if you have a trait that allows it and even then it has further stipulations. First of all, the check takes twice as long; you are being careful. Secondly, you cannot be under duress. That means no combat, no being chased, no threat of direct physical harm if you fail. The stakes simply are not imminently deadly. Lastly, the check cannot be contested. If someone (or some thing) is actively opposing you, then you cannot perform a check by rote. Very rarely, a trait can allow you to perform a rote check ignoring one of these conditions. These will be quite limited, though.

As an example, the Recluse background provides the Self-Sufficient trait. This allows you to take make Survival checks as rote so long as you aren’t under duress and take twice as long to do what you need to. That’s it. Your character is used to going out into the wilderness and foraging for what they need day in and day out. The adding of two dice changes the statistics of the roll, of course. Instead of a 5% chance of any given number being rolled, we now have a bell curve with the majority of results closing in on the 11 average. Again, since you are operating with plenty of time, you lose the risk of rolling a 1 all together and reduce the chance of rolling very low (2-5) quite significantly. However, because you’re not attempting anything innovative or ground-breaking and just doing that thing that you always do, you also reduce the chance of rolling very high too. Inspiration can still strike, but without the risk of trying new things, you’re less likely to crush the task at hand.

Next month, join us for the next New Rules and see what we’ve done with the rather uninspiring 5e inspiration mechanics. Spoiler: it’s cool.

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