What is the ACKS version of the ability check?

Ok, so I’ve been going back over the rules again and trying to do some mental conversions of other gaming materials. I feel like I’m missing something. What is the ACKS way of doing ability checks? I mean, if a character tries something strange or creative with a risk of failure that doesn’t fall under a proficiency or class skill, how does one adjudicate success? Use the adventuring proficiency? What would be the default proficiency throw by level? Am I missing something? Thanks in advance!

This is an area intentionally left undefined because it's a lacuna in the rules of the first-ever RPG which allowed lots of different approaches to flourish; we wanted to honor that tradition and let players bring whichever method of adjucation they prefer. The one I often use (when I feel it's necessary to reach for the dice) is to ask for a roll under a relevant ability score. The standard roll is 3d6 for a challenging task, 2d6 if it's easy, 4d6 or more if it's very difficult. One nice thing about this approach is that you can quickly tell that anyone with an above-average ability score will always succeed on a related easy task; the 2d6 roll only has a risk of failure for those whose scores are 11 or less.

Thanks for the quick response. I’ve used the system you mention. I can see it fitting in well with ACKS. It just seemed odd that nothing was ever mentioned. Particularly in the case of the Adventuring Proficiency. It lists the types of skills that would be acquired but not the method of their adjudication. I was going to use the same system you mention (roll beneath the ability score) but with a d20 and easy/average/hard modifiers, much like what was codefied in the 1E Wilderness Survival Guide, but I think the xd6 is probably a better choice.

I personally don't use ability checks. I'll tend to use a throw mechanic of some sort. 

For team tasks, I'd use a profiency throw of 11+. That will ensure that in a party of 4, someone almost always succeeds.

For out-of-the-ordinary tasks, I'd use a proficiency throw of 14+, modified by the character's ability score adjustment. 

For risky challenges with grim consequences, I'd use a profiency throw of 4+, modified by the character's ability score adjustment. 

For tasks that are easy for someone with great ability but hard for someone with less ability, I'd use a proficiency throw of 18+, modified by 4x the ability score adjustment. 

Most of these mechanics are already implicit in the rules in various places. For example, Open Doors uses the 18+ throw with quadruple ability adjustments.




Hi Alex,
Thanks for chiming in. I noticed a lot of what you mention, various resolution mechanics that reside within certain proficiencies. I was just looking for a potential background/unifying concept that I could apply to those situations you mention that need SOMEthing, but is left, as Tavis said, a lacuna. I personally would love to see exactly the stuff you mention above, written out in the text of the rules, perhaps on a section in the Adventures chapter that covers improvised actions.

Thanks for the feedback. Should we ever do a second edition of ACKS, I'll keep it in mind.

In doing so, of course, we'd create an ACKS Edition War, as 1st ed ACKS players would proclaim they preferred the "rulings" version in which Judges could improvise task resolution as needed, whereas 2nd ed players....oh never mind.

Well, I get the joke, but seriously, you wouldn’t have to tie anyone’s hands. This is very much content that can be suggestions. Just as you wrote a small list of examples of resolution mechanics, you could offer each as a possible means of adjudicating certain things while leaving it ultimately up to the judge. Or, as another option, simply state that you’re intentionally leaving task resolution outside the proficiencies and skills to the judge to decide(if it currently states that somewhere, my apologies, I just missed it).

One of the joys(?) of old school games is that they lack a unified mechanic. This allows things to be judged on the fly without trying to find a universally consistent set of mods. Lacking a unified ‘sneak’ system for example allows an ACKS fighter in heavy armor to still occasionally get the drop on monsters…something a unified system like later editions prohibits. Of course the downside is you don’t have a fallback resolution method… As for the adventuring prof…I just usually assume success.

I’m not looking for a unifying mechanic so much as, what you call, “a fallback mechanic”. Just something to whip out for those things that don’t already have something. IMO, not having one actually makes it harder to judge things on the fly (things that have a fair chance to fail I mean, otherwise, I generally just grant success) with any consistency.

An example from a recent game session. Someone in the part had marbles and wanted to roll them across the floor to try to trip someone up. The problem was that he only had 4 marbles. What are the odds something like that will work? Should his ability scores help him achieve it? Does level help? Having a fallback mechanic (like the 2d6/3d6/4d6, roll under your ability score) makes on the fly adjudication like that much smoother and consistent. Otherwise, you’re left simply saying yes or no, or pulling a number out of thin air that might not jive with what you pulled out of thin air in the last play session.

Also, I’m not understanding your comment about heavy armored fighters gaining surprise. Could you clarify on how does not having a fallback mechanic allow things like that to happen more?

See to me that’s such an odd corner case that I would probably not use any underlying mechanic because as you say…what would affect a character’s chance? I wouldn’t use attributes or level but just give it a 10%-20% chance and go.

Re: surprise. Unified or underlying mechanics tend towards lots of modifies and specific cases. So stealth uses the same system as whatever and tends towards heavy penalties for anyone in heavy armor, for example. Meanwhile ACKS uses unlinked subsystems. Therefore surprise can be determined in a different manner that doesn’t have to be ‘consistent’ with other action resolutions or how hard or easy a set of actions might be under the unified system.

Sure, it’s odd, but having a creative group, I literally see stuff like this 3-5 times per session. I could absolutely go with the “10-20%” and just run with it, but I’d rather have a fallback system rather than the “numbers out of my rear” system. :slight_smile: It lends a bit of a more consistent feel to the experience and avoids the issues of each person having a different idea how likely something might be. Back in the day, I’d simply use a d6 where 1-2 was hard, 1-3 was average and 1-4 was easy. But I’ve since used systems that take into account things like ability modifier, level, or even class skills that can make it feel more connected to the players actual capabilities. Anyway, I appreciate the feedback, I’ll probably just work with the 2d6/3d6/4d6 and see how that feels within the broader ACKS framework.

I think it’s perfectly fine to have a fallback task resolution system to default to when adjudicating something that’s not covered in the rules and I think basing it off of ability scores is a natural mechanic to turn to for this.

Of the ones presented here, I quite like the 2d6/3d6/4d6 idea, especially since it creates a meaningful difference between having a score of 13, 14, or 15.

I would also suggest that in addition to having an ability score as a value to turn to, it would be nice if character level or HD could also be a value to use. Perhaps using level +4, to relate to the ability score range? So, for example, a 1st level character would roll xd6 against 5 (1st+4) and a 14th level character would roll xd6 against 18 (14th +4).

Despite what I was saying about ability score checks above, the most common unusual action resolution system I use is to discuss probabilities with the group. I tend to use d6, but the approach is similar to what Alex described above using a d20 and the proficiency check model. "OK, the hallway is 10' wide, there are four marbles, and it makes sense that you'd have to step on two of them to trip you, right? That sounds like a 1 in 6 chance to me, what do y'all think?" Actually this sounds like less than 1 in 6; I'd reach for the other sizes of dice as necessary to do 1 in 20 or whatever.

The advantages I see to this being the default resolution system are:

- It's flexible; each case is considered separately, although you can record rulings for later re-use when the same situation arises again

- It doesn't assume that ability is usually the important factor, which is especially important in a 3d6-in-order situation where many abilities will be below average. (For example, I think luck is more important to the marble situation; skill in placing them just where you want them is less important than that happening to be where the foe steps). Level, character background and proficiencies, acting it out at the table, etc. can all play a role as appopriate

- It admits modifiers very naturally, with everyone being encouraged to put in their two cents before the Judge's ruling. I like the d6 because I usually don't want a very fine-grained modifier, in part because I am bad with math; I think that for Alex it's trivial to convert a 1-in-6 change of odds to d20.

- It discourages reaching for the dice by refusing to provide an easy fallback; you only go for this when it's worth discussing the chances it will fail. Lots of experience with games in which universalized checks get over-used makes this attractive to me.

it’s definitely been an effort for me to avoid what I often do in 3e and 4e where we immediately look to the skills to do anything and cut off the possibility of doing anything you’re not trained in or don’t have the stat for. Letting people do anything reasonable without rolling or giving everyone an equally random chance of success lets people have characters bigger than their stats.

In an adaptation of ACKS that I created to run Cyberpunk-style games, the resolution method I'm using is a "skill throw" that can be "Trained" or "Untrained". Skill throws improve with level. Whether a skill is trained or untrained depends on your character class. You could probably adopt something similar for the standard version of ACKS.


Trained Skill Throw
















Untrained  Skill Throw
















Ok, yeah, this is very good. I would use these numbers as follows. I would say if you want to try something completely wacky (with a significant chance of failure), make a roll on the untrained table, with no skill bonus. If you can convince me that what you’re doing somehow relates to your race or background, roll on the trained table. Depending on the thing attempted, on a case by case basis, I would allow the attribute modifier to impact the outcome. Thanks!

It’s tempting to replace the proficiency subsystem as-a-whole with that :slight_smile:

Have each PC have a background (I’m Jack, Fighter 2, Sailor) - Sailor covers what’s proficient. Hank, Ranger 4, Hunter - that guy can ‘track’ on the trained table.

Hmm… There’s a bit of a negative impact on thieves using thief skills if you wee to use this across the board, I feel. A 1st level thief, who presumably is trained in all his relevant skills is less likely to succeed at them than a sailor or hunter in their own areas of training.

I think you’d have to adopt the trained progression for thief skills too. Unless someone can suggest a compelling reason why not.

Because thief skills are hard and incredible things to do. Scale sheer walls? Disarm magical contraptions? Disappear into the shadows, invisible?

No matter what your skill system, only the thief can do the thief skills, and only at the listed percentages.