I have always been disappointed in the way that thief skills work in a game.
- Player "I search for traps."
- DM "OK." Secretly rolls percentile dice. There is a trap but the roll fails.
- DM "You don't find any traps."
- Player "Is it locked?"
- DM "No."
- Player "I open the chest."
- DM "Make a saving throw..."
I know, I know, you can just roleplay it out. The player can "be" the thief and they can describe how they will search, but sometimes I have a clever idea for a trap and I don't fully know how it works in practice.
How do I know if they are looking in the right place? How many springs/gears/triggers are necessary for those crossbow bolts to fire? What tool is useful to jam up the works?
The character's skill is a shorthand for all the technical knowledge they have and I don't.
Currently in my CotMA game, I don't have thieves. EVERYONE can try to find/remove/unlock if they have the right skill. I use a d6-based skill system.
Even that doesn't solve the problem above. I just roll a d6 in secret, rather than d%.
So, I have *two* ideas that I'd like to throw out there and see if anyone has feedback to share.
IDEA 1: Traps are like monsters.
Traps have an AC and HPs and they can bite you back. If you hit them, they don't hit you, but if you miss, they have a chance to hit you back. If you fumble, they hit you automatically.
What it means "to hit back" might vary based upon the trap. A poison needle need only hit you once. Save or face the effects.
A poison gas cloud might need 2 hits. One to prime and another to release the gas.
A flamestrike might gout fire EVERY time you mess up.
Once all the HPs are gone, the trap is defeated.
IDEA 2: Trade speed for safety
This is a little bit of a twist on my d6 skill system and it takes inspiration from something I think I read over at 9and30 Kingdoms.
You have a certain number of d6 for your skills. Each trap needs a certain number of successes to defeat. Each round, you can roll 0 to N dice, where N is the total number of dice you have.
When you roll the dice, a 5 or 6 counts as a success. A 1 is a failure. 2-4 don't matter.
You must make a save for every failure you roll, with a cumulative -2 for each addition failure rolled beyond the first one.
So, you can go slow, rolling 1d6 each round, hoping for a success and to avoid failure, or if you are more proficient, you can roll more dice and get the job done faster, but you also might have a bigger failure.
It is possible that higher levels of skill might avoid certain failure levels, or perhaps you could reserve dice to "reroll". They wouldn't count toward successes, but they could be used to mitigate failures.
Anyway, those are my two initial ideas. Trying to put a little more suspense into the skill process and trying to give the player decisions to make.
I look forward to any suggestions you have or any ideas you'd like to share.