Special Maneuvers - Can I? Rolls
"Can I run, jump and attempt to backstab the Giant"
"Can I swing across the room on the chandelier, dropping on top of the Evil Dude"
" Can I use the closest wall to spring up, over my opponent, do a back flip and land behind him"
" Can I seduce the princess"
Every DM in the history of Advanced Dungeon and Dragons has come across a player who wants to attempt sometime that the rules don't cover. Even if you wrote up a fourteen-page list of skills and Non-weapon Proficiencies, the player would still find something that you did not think off and the basic ability check just doesn't have the panache you want as a DM (you want to do what? With what? Using torch oil and a feather? Ummmm….. Roll your dexterity).
No self-respecting DM wants to tell his players "you can't do that". Mostly because it is immediately followed by "why not?" a whole bunch of whining and some dice throwing. Now many game systems have a system for dealing with this and I have played quite a few. But incorporating a skill system into your game can be a very daunting task. Thus I have a basic system that addresses this problem called the Special Maneuver roll. Any attempt to something can be categorized by the following degrees of difficulty.
The number following the degree is the number the player must roll on a d20 or higher to achieve the action.
Very Hard: 18
An easy action is something that can be done anytime but has a small degree of failure. This should be separated from common place things that involve no danger like crossing a street.
Examples of Easy Actions:
Walking across a wet log
Rapidly dismounting from your horse
Jumping out an open window
Seducing the Barmaid
Moderate actions are things that people don't do often but are very possible. These actions have a greater danger factor but do not challenge the laws of physics or gravity.
Examples of Moderate Actions:
Running across a greased log
Faking a dismount and then swinging back into a saddle
Jumping out of a closed window
Seducing the Bartender's Daughter
Hard Actions are those actions that are very rare and can make a man look extraordinary. Thses actions should come up in a game once or twice, but not all the time.
Examples of Hard Actions:
Running across a burning log
Standing on the saddle of your horse while riding
Jumping through a closed window while archers are shooting at you
Seducing the Mayor's Daughter
Very Hard actions are extremely rare and almost unbelievable to watch. They border on the insanely brave and the challenging of Newtonian Law.
Examples of Very Hard Actions:
Riding on a greased log while going downstream
Standing in the saddle of your horse and firing arrows at opponents
Jumping out of a closed window while being tied up to a chair and being shot at by archers
Seducing the Princess
The Absurd actions are those maneuvers that players come up with that make you wonder about their sanity. This is an action that comes out of "The Matrix" or any John Woo movie degree of difficulty.
Examples of Absurd Actions:
Dancing a jig while going over a waterfalls on a log
Jumping off the horse and on to the back of another horse going to opposite direction
Jumping through the wall instead of the window
Seducing the Princess after you just killed her father
The DM always determining the degree of difficulty for Special Maneuver rolls. If your first reaction to a player's Special Maneuver request is "That's Absurd!" you have pretty well made your choice. The determination of a degree of difficulty should be based on the character class, level, and the situation. What may be absurd for a 1st level mage, might be only hard for a 9th level fighter. A penalty of up to -2 can be put on any Special Maneuver roll that acts directly against a living, undead, or sentient creature that may react to the character's moves. Special Maneuver rolls should never replace a Non-weapon Proficiency check, but can be used in conjunction. For example, leaping from a horse to another horse may be a Very Hard action, but it also requires a land-based riding check as well.
To start a Special Maneuver roll, first pick the ability that will be used in the maneuver. Jumping through a window is dexterity, outwitting a mage in chess is intelligence and seducing the king's daughter is charisma. If the maneuver crosses a few abilities then use an average. If the young thief wants to seduce the princess while the king is in the same room, I'd average out charisma with wisdom. Using this ability, give the player a +1 for every point above 15 and a -1 for every point below 5 (You never know when the dwarf will want to seduce the princess). However, to perform an "absurd" action, the player must roll at least an 18 on the die, no matter how many bonuses he has to the roll. So a player with 18 dexterity, who wants to run up the 10' high wall and back flip over his opponent must roll 18 or higher even with his +3 due to dexterity.
Failure of a Special maneuver will have consequences to be determined by the DM. There is no chart I can supply for you to determine the effects of a failed Special Maneuver roll. As a general rule: The higher the degree of difficulty the greater the damage that failure will inflict. The Effects of failing the roll should always be determined before the player makes his roll. Any Special Maneuver a player comes up with may have a number of individual actions of various degrees of difficulty. Each single action should be rolled according to the degree of difficulty.
For example; " Can I run towards the giant, tumble acrobatically to gain momentum, then leap up and back-stab the Giant". This wonderful maneuver (provided to me by my wife in a recent gaming session) can be broken down into parts. 1) Running - no need to roll just check movement rates 2) Tumble acrobatically - a Hard action for the thief 3) Leap up - a Hard action considering the tumble 4) Back-stab (Giant) - A normal skill for a thief but this is a giant. Thus this becomes a Very Hard Action. Thus in this example the player must roll three Special Maneuver rolls successfully before they get to roll to hit (yes, my wife did succeed in back stabbing the Giant. Unfortunately he died and fell backwards, onto her character). Failure of any of the rolls will stop the Special Maneuver completely. This general rule will help you face those moments of player's brilliance that define a gaming session and will be remember and retold for life. It will also serve for those players who get a wild idea from a book or movie and will no stop until you let them try.
As I have said, I have created this out of many different game systems so I have credited all of them below as sources of inspiration. Sources of Inspiration Advanced Dungeon and Dragons 1st, 2nd, and 3rd edition Ars Magica Rolemaster by ICE Chivalry and Sorcery Paranoia Gamma World Shadowrun
Thanks to Roger (Alacrity) Briant for this contribution!