I understand the sentiment. I played in games where a players looked down a corridor and the exchange went something like this.
John Doe: I look down the corridor
GM: It 40 fee long and othewise empty except for a door at the end
John Doe: I check for traps.
GM: What your find trap skill
John Doe: 40%
John Doe: I walk and and disarm it.
GM: OK you roll this on.
John Doe: I have a 45% chance here.
GM: You wedged the pit trap so it doesn't open.
This exchange is not the style advocated by many Old School fans.
But it is a fallacy that skills are incompatible with the Old School Approach. Even with the Old School approach there come a moment of truth. The moment when you have done all you can and you just have to take a chance. Where a slip of a finger means you die in agony rather than sleep in the lap of luxury.
Most D&D games I been in a DEX roll or other suitable attribute would be called for. With my GURPS Group, we have to describe what we do in detail. Then only at the moment of truth do we get to make that roll. Instead of a saving throw or characteristic roll we roll vs a skill.
The main reason for skills among my group is that we want to fine tune our characters. That we trade off some things to be very good at other things. More than what the coarse numbers of our characteristics and/or level allow. Skills allows us to do that.
In the project I been working on I struggled with this issue. To create some of the classes I wanted to use a skill system. As much as I like GURPS the skill system does increase the time needed to make a character. This lesson was reinforcing during my playing around with Hackmaster Basic (a review will be coming) which has a Skill based system. If I went overboard then I lose the ability of D&D to quickly make a character.
I decided that like Traveller I would rate skill in levels. 0,1,2,3,4,5 and so on. This has the added advantage of being readily used in a idea I have for applying Traveller careers to D&D.
In order to succeed on a task you have to roll 3D6. You add your attribute, plus your skill level and any modifiers. If you roll equal to or higher than a 24 you succeed. If you wish to use critical successes and failures then use the following. If you roll a 34 or higher you critically succeed, if you roll a 14 or lower you critically fail.
This system is designed so that an attribute of 10 with a skill level of 4 will succeed 50% of the time on a difficult task.
In general the character describes what he wishes to do and the referee decides which tasks roll are needed if any. Task rolls are not meant to replace the player’s description but rather represent the random element. Given enough time a skilled character will succeed at a task. However the heat of combat or potential combat may cause the character to attempt the task as fast as possible. Under pressure attributes and skill have a directly bearing on whether a character succeeds or not.
This aids in performing tasks involving manual dexterity including manipulation of small mechanical objects.
A successful roll will allow a character to pickpocket a mark that is in the midst of a crowd.
A successful roll will allow a character to perform a sleight of hand trick or concealment when you are 5’ feet or more away from an audience
A successful roll at a -4 modifier will allow a character to pickpocket a mark that is alone.
A successful roll at a -4 modifier will allow a character to perform a sleight of hand trick or concealment when you are closer than 5’ feet to an audience.
A successful roll will allow a character to disable a known trap mechanism.
A successful roll will allow a character to pick a lock open with thieves picks.
A successful roll at a -4 modifier will allow a character to pick open a trapped lock or a trapped chest with a lock without triggering the trap mechanism.
A successful roll at a -2 modifier will allow a character to pick a lock open with inadequate tools.
Note: These rolls should only be made after the players adequately describe how he disabling a trap mechanism. The referee should add or subtract modifiers.
A successful roll at a -4 modifier will allow a character to rally a broken unit in mass combat
In the initial round of a combat a character may engage in a repartee with the enemy. The roll is successful will halt everybody in earshot for 1 round that understands the speaker’s language. The enemy may counter with a repartee of their own. It is stressed that character should role-play this before making the roll. A repartee may not be done in if the character is surprised.
In the initial round of combat, a character may attempt a Witticism on a single individual that understand his language. This has a -4 modifier and if successful the character will gain the initiative due the target laughing or being angered. It is stressed that character should role-play this before making the roll. A witticism may not be done in if the character is surprised.
A character may use his Locution skills to haggle a better deal for an individual item based on the Trade Deal Table under accounting.
A successful roll will allow a character to please a crowd with a performance. Use the selling price column of the Trade Deal table to see how much the character earned in tip. Multiply the resulting selling modifier by 1 silver piece time the number of people in his audience. In addition to performance this task can be used by barmaids to solicit tips and beggars.