Roll a Chess Check with a +2?


So let’s say that a PC is about to engage in a friendly or not-so-friendly chess match during a session of [insert old-school-style RPG here] and real play time is not a limiting factor. Neither is what the other players at the table are going to do. It’s hypothetical. The purpose of this discussion is to consider the method of chess resolution from a gameplay philosophy standpoint without real-world logistics interfering.

“Character skill” types would probably use some sort of system to resolve the game via dice rolls, probably modified by things like intelligence scores, chess skill levels, and the like. High roll wins. Match complete, the session moves on. This takes character ability scores and skills into account, adds a little randomness, and resolves it mechanically by what is essentially a “chess check.”

“Player skill” types might break out a real chess board and play the match out. This would be the way to do it for many reasons, particularly if it’s a “Chessmen of Mars”-type scenario or a puzzle test like the game of Wizard’s Chess in Harry Potter. Simply rolling a d20 and applying modifiers to get the result would be, to me at least, quite unsatisfying. Playing it out takes the player’s ability into account and makes a game of it.

The issue becomes, if you use the “player skill” method, how do you account for a PC with a high INT or WIS, particularly if the player isn’t a good chess player? What if a nine-year-old kid is playing a PC cleric with a 16 intelligence, a 15 wisdom, and a chess skill of +4? [UPDATE:] Or a player who is champion of his school’s chess club playing a half-orc with INT of 7? Is he obligated to ‘think dumb’ if the adventure is on the line? How does/should the DM enforce that?

I chose chess instead of something like poker because chess eliminates the element of chance; both sides are starting the match equal if you determine white randomly.

Obviously, the reasoning used for the chess example could be applicable to NPC encounters, searching for traps and secret doors, and many other things where thinking ability takes precedent over the physical element.


Note: While writing this up I changed an example but I changed it so it was a completely different point. So I changed it back.

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19 Responses to Roll a Chess Check with a +2?

  1. Allow the higher Intelligence player to re-do a bad move, equal to the number of bonuses they’d normally get.

  2. As the DM I’d play it stupid to match the orc’s INT. It’s not a game of DM skill. I’d also let the other players make suggestions.

    Thinking outside the parameters of the question, I’d choose a simpler game like checkers or reversi.

    • Kilgore says:

      Hmm. You’re exactly right.

      That wasn’t what I really meant, but I didn’t quite think my example through. (I have a INT of 9 but am playing a game blogger with an INT of 15…)

      I initially meant it as an example of “why would a player think ‘dumb’ and how would you as a DM enforce it?” and then changed it to the DM playing an orc.

      I’m going to change it back in the post. Thanks.

  3. @ Kilgore, yes, higher Intelligence ‘PC’ 🙂

  4. bighara says:

    Well, if you use an app (on an iPad or similar) like Chess# (which that screen cap looks like it’s from), you can set the computer’s AI (Elo rating) to harder or easier, depending on the PC’s ability. So a character with a much higher INT than his opponent might get an easy setting, while a dim-witted PC gets it set to more difficult. The player then hunches over the app and plays it out while other members of the group can keep playing, freeing up the GM.

    • Kilgore says:

      That’s a good idea given the parameters I set.

      How about a player vs. player chess match, though? Or something where the actual chess moves affect something in the larger game?

      I’m not trying to be obtuse…I’m trying to get a feel for what readers think about intelligence and wisdom and things like gaming skill when trying to stick with a “player skill, not character skill” approach.

  5. For a player who’s playing a dumb character, if they ignore their low intelligence I probably would too, it’s not much fun to always be dumb. I’d use my judgement as to when their intelligence really would come into play and gently remind them of their low score.

    As for the chess game itself, I’d let them play it out using player skill; perhaps the orc is an idiot-savant when it comes to chess.

  6. Talysman says:

    Scads of time or not, I wouldn’t play out the chess game… OR call for a chess roll. We’re playing D&D, not chess; I wouldn’t want to interrupt one game to play another. But on the other hand, the skill rolls don’t feel right, and penalize the players who didn’t think to put lots of points into the Chess skill.

    This is why I started focusing on “situation rolls”. Instead of rolling to see who wins, I roll to see if something happened. By default, the character with more experience playing chess (modified by Int/Wis and maybe mental fatigue) wins, no roll needed. Rolls are only made to see if the orc tries to cheat, or if giant spiders attack just as the match is getting good. Otherwise, just describe the smarter character kicking the opponent’s ass.

    • Kilgore says:

      Well, that’s just deciding by DM fiat, which is acceptable but not playing out the situation, either.

      What if it’s a chess-based puzzle, then? I doubt most DMs would simply decide if PCs are smart enough to figure it out and roll a wandering monster check.

      The issue I’m trying to get at is how to simulate dumb or highly-intelligent characters while using “player skill, not character skill.”

  7. FrDave says:

    There is always the option of removing or adding pieces from the board. For example, the half-orc could start the game handicapped (remove a bishop, rook or knight for example) or allow the GM to start with a pawn that has been promoted. Vice-versa for the 9 year old playing the high INT cleric.

  8. Guest says:

    Consider DEX. Imagine a PC that has 3 DEX standing at the top of a 20 foot pit and is looking down.

    He would never say “oh, I stumble into this hole because I’m a klutz with only 3 DEX.” It’s not his job to be intentionally clumsy. It’s up to the DM and the system to tell him when and if he stumbles in.

    So…smart players have no responsibility to intentionally dumb down to play dumb PCs. The DM can penalize the smart player in the chess game if he wants, but that’s his job, not the player’s. (Letting the player penalize himself wouldn’t work anyway…he could just win if he felt like!)

    I understand why people do it though. Playing dumb can be a lot of fun.

    • Kilgore says:

      The DEX comparison is not, IMHO, a good one. There is a big difference between physical and non-physical abilities.

      It’s easy to say “your PC is not strong enough to lift the rock” and it makes perfect sense.

      It’s not so easy to say “your PC is not smart enough to have thought of that” when the player thinks of something.

  9. Staples says:

    Arg… I typed this all out this morning and came to check out the conversation and discovered that I’d forgotten to submit my comment! What follows I wrote back when only four comments had been made, and I haven’t read the rest of the conversation yet, so if I repeat ideas others have brought up without referencing the authors, that’s why.

    I’m going to echo what Rob of the North said- the referee should, as much as possible, try to recreate the skill ratio as it is in the game. The chess champion referee should purposely make poor moves if he’s running a less skilled NPC. I also like giving the player of a more intelligent PC aids like re-doing moves and getting help from other players.

    Two other thoughts: how could a referee who is worse at chess than the player who’s playing recreate a skill ratio where his NPC is more skilled at chess than the PC, while still keeping the whole thing fun? Perhaps handicapping the player? If the player is skilled enough, I can see them enjoying a handicap, but it’s possible they wouldn’t.

    Finally, what about if you find out that your player doesn’t know how to play chess?!

  10. Finally, what about if you find out that your player doesn’t know how to play chess?!

    That’s why really the DM should be focused on challenging the players. If that’s the case, then he/she should know what game his player would know and is interested in.

    • Kilgore says:

      Personally, I do not really agree with that. I don’t think that the DM’s world has to be tailored to whatever players happen to be there at that time. If I’m a DM and I put a chess puzzle challenge into a dungeon, then there is a chess challenge puzzle in that dungeon whenever some PCs find it and whoever they happen to be played by.

      • Hmm. So I’m agreeing and disagreeing with you at the same time.

        1) I don’t think I should be a chess game in the dungeon if I think my players will find it boring. I’ll think of something interesting to put in the dungeon. But of course if the players change and they will find it boring, then its still there, but perhaps we’ll play past it mechanically so we don’t spend an hour playing boring chess.

        2) I don’t think PC Intelligence scores should matter, unless where playing it past mechanically because the players would find it boring. Otherwise, since the players find it fun to play chess, then we’ll play chess. If their PC happens to win even though they’re INT 6, then I’ll justify it with an in game reason.

        • Yikes. Forgive my typos above. I should make sure to proofread my posts. Let me try to clarify my position:

          1) Put interesting things in the dungeon. But once they are there don’t re-write just because players change, re-write only if you thought of something even better.
          2) If the players are interested in playing out a chess puzzle, then let them. Forget the INT score.
          3) If the players are not interested in playing out a chess puzzle, then use their INT score to see if they solve it and move on to things they find interesting.

          This is another aspect of the ruling vs. rules. You don’t need a rule for this, just make a ruling based on what seems reasonable and keep the game interesting.

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