I have been playing tabletop RPGs for a while now. I have read through many different systems and have tried even more. Over the years, I have gotten many of my friends involved in this hobby, one which I personally feel is immensely valuable and enriching. Because of my experience, my friends who are joining or even building new campaigns will often ask me for advice on starting up. Of all the advice I can give, there is always one that I consistently make sure to give: Use skill checks whenever possible.
I have been involved with many groups that will just find themselves stuck at some point. An NPC is not providing them with any helpful information. An area seems empty and useless. The direction through a wilderness is unclear. What I’ve noticed in this moments is that the problem often can boil down to a skill check not being made where it should have. For example, I was running a Pathfinder Adventure Path called Jade Regent. In the early parts of this adventure, the players stumble upon a tiny halfling who considers himself the groundskeeper of sorts for a swampy area. They meet this man to get directions to a Goblin Camp and all the players noticed he was acting odd. He seemed nervous, less than friendly, and generally not wanting to deal with the players. This was counter to the description of this man they received in town, who painted him as an eccentric but friendly little man. This suspicion was so much that two of the players actually took the group BACK to his home after leaving him the first time just to check again. They were not able to discern what was wrong and thus left the man for good.
What they didn’t know is that this man was not actually who they thought. This was a shapeshifting creature merely posing as him. This creature and the resident of the house had come into conflict and injured one another. The shapeshifter was currently trying to find the man, who had since fled to a saferoom in his home to home. Some time after the players left the second time, the creature would find this man, and he would be killed. The players were left completely in the dark of this poor man and missed out on the reward for helping him. The two players who were most suspicious were left for the rest of the session with a bad taste in their mouth.
This creature was not some sort of masterful deceiver, far from it. The players just never actively decided to make any sort of action against his disguise. As a GM, I don’t personally require someone to say directly “I want to make a sense motive check” in order to trigger a roll. However, the players have to actually decide to take some sort of direct action. There’s a difference between just talking and asking simple, basic things like “are you alright?” versus actually actively trying to deduce the nature of the problem. Nobody in the room with this guy ever actively tried to call him out for being weird. They sat talking, being suspicious, some being impatient, and then just left once he shooed them out.
It’s important for players to know what skills they have, what actions they can take with those skills, and what scenarios are relevant to those actions. Though I am a firm proponent of roleplay over rollplay, the roll of the dice is still a necessary part to the game in many of these systems. It has to be utilized in order to progress, and if players refuse or simply forget to call on their skills, they’ll be left floundering. Can you overdo skill checks? Heck yeah, and it’s up to the GM to reign that in whenever a player wants to perform every single skill check in every situation or when someone wants to try a skill check over and over again. In the end, the skills a player has in these systems and their ability to alter and affect the world around them is what makes them exceptional and separates them from the lowly PCs flitting about the map. It’s important to use these skills in order to progress the adventure and continue having fun with the campaign.
So get out there and pay some bills.