With a sly flourish on Twitter, Michael E. Shea asked how Jonathan Tweet and I ask for skill checks: Attribute? “Choose an appropriate background?”
There are a couple of ways to call for checks in 13th Age. Jonathan’s is simplest, and he gave it on Twitter (at @JonathanMTweet if you’re not following him yet):
But what if the players aren’t entirely certain how they want to solve a problem? Sometimes I’ll say something like, “It sounds like you’ve decided you want to keep the refugees calm about the moon/water spirit in Halgrim’s Well. One of you should give me a skill check. Tell me who, and tell me a little about how you’re going to manage that.”
In that particular case, the player decided to calm the refugees with a Charisma check. With a natural 20, not only did the refugees feel comfortable about the spirit, they started propitiating it!
But in some cases, how the character has decided to accomplish a task doesn’t sound like the type of check they’ve announced at all. In that case I’ll say something like, “Okay, you’ve said you’re working behind the scenes to figure out what everyone needs, and get it done without them even knowing it. That’s a Wisdom check. What backgrounds do you have that might help you pull off this behind-the-scenes course correction?”
Partial Credit & Failing Sideways
Here’s one trick I enjoy: when it seems like a player is really stretching to apply a background to a particular skill check, I give them partial credit. I ask them to narrate what they think they’re doing, subtract 1 or 2 from their background, and let them roll. If they succeed, hey—turns out that they did know what they were doing, and how it works out may be funnier or a bit different than usual.
Same for failure! Situations like this are probably where my players get the idea that I sometimes turn their fail-forward moments on skill checks into fail-sideways. If the player stretched their background for a skill check, I say thank you, and load extra-fun (for me) complications when they fail forward-ish!