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Troy’s Crock Pot: At the end of my Use Rope

What’s the Crock Pot? Just a simmering bowl of lentils and herbs, with a dash of DMing observations. Don’t be afraid to dip in your ladle and stir, or throw in something from your own spice rack.

Tinker, tinker, soldier Why?

As a DM, I don’t tinker with the rules much. 

Oh, as a writer, I’ve dabbled plenty — articles in Dragon magazine and in a couple of pdf supplements.

But for my home game, I’m actually fairly conservative in rules experimentation. Deciding whether the players should roll for their ability scores or use the 25-point buy is about as far as it gets. 

Beyond that, the game is played as written. Not because I’m a rules fiend — far from it. It’s a matter of simplicity, really. And caution: I’m not eager to have one of my goofy rules changes ruin the play experience for someone else.

View from the sidelines

Maybe I haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid, but I’ve often read message-board posts that bemoaned how such-and-such a rule or game mechanic was “unbalanced” or “obviously broken” and just shrugged in response. 

A rule is broken? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it just depends on how many other house rules have been implemented at your game table and the ripple effect they are having on other aspects of the game.

And maybe it’s just me, but not every play experience has to be a demonstration of the PC’s souped up attributes and their ability to overwhelm their monstrous foes. 

Where’d that go?

Over at Paizo, during the Alpha playtest for the Pathfinder RPG, I saw with a tad dismay that the skill Use Rope was being dropped in the pursuit of a consolidated skills list. 

I offered a protest, a protest that fell on deaf ears. “Nobody uses Use Rope,” I was told. “Everybody just hand waves it,” I was informed. 

Wait a sec! I used Use Rope all the time in my games. Who is this “everybody” they’re talking about? When had Use Rope been universally house ruled into oblivion? (1)

I’ve heard all the arguments and imagined uses for the Profession skill and I remain unconvinced these work-arounds separate the sailors, cowpoke wranglers and Boy Scouts from the rest of the gang. I will remain a voice in the wilderness on this one.


(1) Even the Rules Compendium, Wizards of the Coast’s last word on the 3.5 rules, had seemingly given up on the skill. A sidebar by editor Logan Bonner all but said there’s little use for the skill, and in many situations it can derail play. 

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "Troy’s Crock Pot: At the end of my Use Rope"

#1 Comment By noisms On September 18, 2008 @ 6:19 am

Use Rope was one of those skills that really turned me off 3e originally. What sort of adventurer doesn’t know how to use a bloomin’ rope?

#2 Comment By Bastian.Flinspach On September 18, 2008 @ 6:44 am

I always found use rope one of the most useless skills. Not, because it makes no sense for characters to have, I just never rolled for it.

But then agaiun, I think it does not really matter if it is trhere or not, because, if the rules are not fundamentaly flawed (hehe), you can add skills you miss to almost any system without risking game balance.
If it is needed with a group or playing style, I just add it.

I also use house rules very seldom. Mostly, I fear by using house rules I will unbalance the game system. And with most systems it is just not necessary. There are few out there that are really “broken”.

Ignoring rules I don’t like however, is an entirely differnt matter… 😉

#3 Comment By LesInk On September 18, 2008 @ 8:06 am

They got rid of rope use? I didn’t notice.

The problem with rope use was it was perceived to be used for only one thing — how well you tie up your prisoners to give them something to roll their Escape Artist against. ‘Course, I always thought it funny how much they varied if you rolled a 1 and later the escape rolls a 20. Let’s face it, nobody wanted to put THAT much points into it — unless you are slaver character.

Then again, if you still want it, you can have “Knowledge (Rope Use)” and let them specialize in it.

#4 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On September 18, 2008 @ 9:10 am

I was (and probably still am) an inveterate rules-tweaker, but I usually tweak the edges and corners of the system, instead of cutting huge chunks out of the system.

Examples (all from D&D v3.5):

Due to their high Int, Wizards get lots of Skill Points. Sorcerers get zilch, and can’t even capitalize on their high Cha. So I gave Sorcerers 4+ Skill Points per level.

Tumble checks are against (DC 10 + opponent’s BAB). Suddenly, Tumble scales as you level. It’s also less effective against better-trained opponents (as opposed to high-Str opponents). Concentration checks to cast a spell defensively are similar.

I also used some tweaks from Unearthed Arcana (Turn Undead does positive energy damage, etc).

Were I to do it all over again, I’d spend more time playing the rules as written before making tweaks, but I’m pretty happy with the tweaks I did make.

And I think I only saw one Use Rope check in six years of D&D 3.5.

#5 Comment By davethegame On September 18, 2008 @ 10:14 am

I think you just hit on one of the key things that kept coming up online about 4e: the designers were saying “we got rid of this because no one was using it/liked it” and people were responding with “_I_ used it.” But the fact of the matter is, good game design (and design in general) is about making choices. Some things just don’t have enough of a use among general usage to warrant sticking around in a revision.

To paraphrase a comic writer, “every rule is somebody’s favorite” but that doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile to spend the time developing them and having it take up page count. Plus, there’s an implicit burden then placed on people such as yourself (and myself, to get back to the start of your post to agree with you) that use the rules as written to then know and use the rules as provided.

#6 Comment By nblade On September 18, 2008 @ 10:18 am

The problem with any skill system is the same. How many skill are enough? Is each skill equally useful? Are there skills that everyone just knows? Does each culture have a set of common skills?

The common skill question is important. Every character is assumed to be able to do certain things. Could you image having to spend character points in a “Walk/Run” skill? I don’t think I’d want to do that.

If you want a good example of skill explosion, you have to look no further than the old Rolemaster RMSS system. It had an overly complex system to cover just about every skill you could think of having.

No skill system is perfect. Not the 3.5 ed, and not the Patherfinder Beta edition.

Now to your lament, Use Rope. While there may have been more uses, the only two I’ve come in contact with is knots and the use of grappling hook. While for realism, it fun to think that not everyone knows how to tie knots, most people seem to know at least one basic knot. That leaves use rope for the grappling hooks, which doesn’t seem to have as much value as something like craft(Cooking).

Is this to say that in your game use rope doesn’t have more uses? No, just that to everyone in my gaming groups (I have two using the Pathfinder Beta, a primary and a side), where everyone agrees with the removal of use rope.

I think the problem is that you expect the skill system to full describe what a person can do. No skill can do that, unless it becomes an unworkable beast. Take sewing, there are several professions that use a type of sewing, would you have a sewing skill? or would just assume it under a profession/craft skill? or would you just sort of hand wave it?
Personally, I’d just hand wave it or allow someone with craft or profession that uses sewing to actually sew.

#7 Comment By Scott Martin On September 18, 2008 @ 11:12 am

While I often house rule, for my current 3.5 campaign, I kept it light– mostly the [1] and giving out an auto success bead [similar to action points].

A big part of what I did, though, was point out all of those official options that accumulated over the years. That provided plenty to play with before house ruling began.

Of course, that’s really “official house ruling”. I’m sure that through neglect and emphasis, there are a lot of skills and abilities that play differently in our game than another group’s.

#8 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On September 18, 2008 @ 11:40 am

Use Rope? Useless? Walk/Run? Excessive?

O.K. How about, in recent history I have found two distinct and separate RPGs to contain a skill for BREATHING.

Breathing? Give me an F’ing break. Sure, you can see arguements for “Well, high ranks in the Breathing skill allows you to perform other strenuous or stealth-oriented tasks better” but it seems wholely ridiculous to compartmentalize things that far.

Hopefully at least one of the games, which was in testing at that time, decided to nix it from their list.

Oh noes! I rolled a critical fail at breathing! *Dies of asphixiation*

#9 Comment By Sarlax On September 18, 2008 @ 12:39 pm

The problem I see with Use Rope is that it doesn’t scale in a way that makes sense. That is, you could have 23 ranks in Use Rope. What the hell does that even mean?

It seems like the use of a rope doesn’t belong into its own skill which can produce a rope master. Can you make a career out of ropes if you’re anything other than a rope maker? Pretty much every practical use of a rope is covered by something else. Climb/athletics/etc. covers one kind of use, Profession another, and Intimidation is pretty good for tying people up.

#10 Comment By nblade On September 18, 2008 @ 1:50 pm

I think you made my point rather nicely and with less verbose text.

I think your scale point is a another point I was trying to make but failed in a major way (I guess I rolled a ‘1’). Your right about using rope seems to be a sub-skill of other skills.

#11 Comment By Scott On September 27, 2008 @ 1:02 am

@Matthew: I’ve seen that a couple of times, too. The only place it seemed to make any sense was in an Asia-themed game, where Breath Control had various semi-mystical implications along with the “you can sneak better” thing.