The skill check is a simple part of the entire d20 family of gaming systems, and it’s about as simple as it gets. Need to find a letter in a box? Roll a d20 and add the appropriate skill modifier. Need to forge a weapon? Roll a d20. Need to convince a visiting noble to back you at the gala? Roll a d20. Need to disarm a complex trap in the middle of combat or navigate through a forest? roll a d20.
It gets dull when everything other than combat is just resolved by rolling a d20. There’s a single moment of tension and then no matter how complex the task it’s over instantly.
Which is why I like to play around and do something different once in a while.
Lowest Skill Check
At most tables, if the GM tells a party “you don’t find anything”, the result plays out something like this.
Player 2: “I also roll… 22”
Player 3: “I got a 28”
Player 4: “I only got a 4, I see my feet”
And the implication is that somehow, each character takes turns searching the entire room, because the first person didn’t see anything when they searched.
And while there’s a certain degree of handwavery involved in playing a game, sometimes you want it to be a little more realistic, because the players don’t actually need to find every treasure, or sometimes it’s more interesting for the party to miss a key or a clue. Such as when they’re working on a time limit, or searching for something they they don’t know is present – because there’s obviously nothing in those drawers I looked there twice– or trying to impress someone looking for a reason to dislike them.
The mechanics of this are fairly simple: if the whole group rolls for something that they can’t actually cooperate on, use the lowest roll instead of the highest. It’s a staggering, new direction for gaming, really.