The Ives Method of Stat Checks

I love attribute tests. Players are always trying to do weird stuff, and the DMG says that everything, no matter how ignorant or seemingly impossible, should have a percentage chance of success, however they really don’t give you any ideas about how to arrive at these magic numbers.

Now then, the very first issue of Dragon Magazine Wesley D. Ives had written a marvelous article about how to arrive at these percentages, a system that is more time consuming, but at the same time, a bit more interesting then my current way.

My current way of determining if a character can do something or not is to have them roll an ability check. Say, a Player’s INT is 14, and their WIS is 12, if I wanted to find out how perceptive a character is, I’d have them add up their INT and WIS, then divide by 2. (14+12=26, 26 ¸ 2 = 13) Then we check this number against a d20. The chances of seeing cool stuff is way to good.

Ives’ system is a bit more complicated, but, like I said, it makes things somewhat more unsure then just having to roll under a 13 on a d20, especially since there are too many players that think that all of their stats need to be 18’s straight across the board.


STRENGTH: Any extraordinary physical activity.
CONSTITUTION: All questions of stamina; swimming, running, staying awake, going hungry, etc.
DEXTERITY: Manual manipulation of devices, balance and climbing, tying/untying knots, etc.
INTELLIGENCE: Discovering proper method of operating all mechanical devices, including all magical devices; Discerning patterns, deducing cause and effect, recognizing types of lairs, learning new languages and skills, etc.
WISDOM: Divining “correct path“ of action, recognizing functions of devices, etc.
CHARISMA: Believability, persuasiveness, morale of followers, etc.


Whenever a character attempts to do an action that would tax his abilities, and isn’t covered by the NONE-WEAPON PROFICIENCY rules, we’ll have the character generate a number between 1 and 100, this number will be the Target Number, or what he needs to role below with a percentile dice.

The first thing that we need to do is: 1. Generate a number from 1-100, and consult the table below. We’ll roll the dice, and add the characters ability in question to the result.

01-20: d4
21-40: d6
41-60: d8
61-80: d10
81-00: d12

2. Using the type of die called for, generate a number, and multiply this number by the amount of the attribute being tested. This number is the percent chance of success.

Lets try it out. Lardbutt is a barbarian who wants to smooth talk a saucy tart. Lardbutt’s CHA is a very stout 4, thus we’ll roll a d100 and we get a 24, adding his awesome CHA score will give us a 28. Checking the number against our handy dandy little chart, which tells us to roll a d6. Lardbutt roles a 2, so we will multiply 2 and his CHA, which gives us a 8% chance of Lardbutt being able to smooth talk the lady without getting slapped for his trouble.

Lets try it again. Lardbutt finds this cool contraption parked against the side of the road. He looks at it and he ponders its purpose. Now, Lardbutt the Barbarian has a WIS of 6. He rolls up a 45 on a 1d100, giving him a score of 51. The chart says to roll a d8, which he does and gets a 7. We multiply 6 and 7, thus our Target Number is 42. Lardbutt has a 42% chance of figuring out that the contraption that he is looking at is a Catapult, and somehow, the thing will throw the large rock that is loaded into the basket.

It’s that simple! Of course it isn’t perfect, especially with feats of Strength, you’ll still probably want to use the Open Doors, and Bend Bars/Lift Gate method of solving those riddles, but for all of those questionable things that we aren’t sure what will happen, this is a workable system!


Anonymous said...

So exactly what does this system have over the usual "GM guesses"? Does it somehow feel more interesting because you follow an official method and it involves more dice rolls? I'm not sold on why this system is so damn good.

RipperX said...

I don't know about you, but sometimes I literally have no idea how to rule a situation fairly. For situations like that, this system is perfect! I also thought it to be historically interesting. This thing was developed before Proficiencies were, and quite possibly, are a direct link to their inclusion to later editions.

James Maliszewski said...

I'm not a big fan of codified systems for dealing with on-the-fly activities by the PCs. I'd rather just eyeball it on the spot and come up with some mutually agreeable way to resolve its success or failure. I'm also not a big fan of treating ability scores as being a major, let alone primary, determining factor in how successful such activities are. One of my biggest beefs with the transition from OD&D to AD&D is the greater emphasis placed on ability scores.

RipperX said...

I suppose that it depends on how you started playing the game. The first MOD I ran was Night of the Walking Dead, and it showed me how to incorporate ability scores into a game, I've done it ever since!

Abilities, to me, are more important then just getting a better to hit number, or telling a player the level of Wizard spell that he can cast, they also show us how well the character gets along in the world around him. The stat check is just my way of keeping a player on his toes, and in some cases, forcing players to roleplay when they choose to ignore their stats.

Anonymous said...

I've been going with the certain number of dice against an ability score method. Usually d6s (3,4 or 5) depending on the difficulty of task and if the characters background gives any examples. This method is fast and the players can argue about whether a task is made too difficult which keeps me honest.

James Maliszewski said...

Abilities, to me, are more important then just getting a better to hit number, or telling a player the level of Wizard spell that he can cast, they also show us how well the character gets along in the world around him.

It's a perfectly defensible approach; it's just a late approach in the history of D&D, being a late 1e innovation. For myself, class is more important than ability scores, which is why it's the important factor in helping me decide whether a given character is able to do something successfully or not.

It's a question of taste primarily, though there's the historical angle too. As I said, I think AD&D -- and Greyhawk before it -- made a mistake by over-emphasizing the mechanical importance of ability scores. It was the first tentative step on the road that led us to 4e and I'd just as soon go down a different path.

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