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Some games include a clearly defined method for allowing players to opt not to roll in favor of accepting a certain minimum level of success. For example, Ubiquity has its "Take the Average" mechanic where players can opt to take a number of successes equal to half their die pool instead of rolling, and Storyteller 1st ed allowed players to "Take the Auto" (1 success) when their die pools met or exceeded the target number.

Storyteller also allowed a spent point of Willpower to add 1 success to a roll, but a roll still had to be made, so that mechanic or a similar one is not what I am after with this question. Other mechanics, which may or may not have contributed to the development of this one might be the concept of the GM waiving a roll for the player if their skill was high enough to merit it. BRP from 1981 expresses this concept, as does Storyteller a decade later, and other games in between and after. Likewise, this is not what I am after with this question.

I am inquiring about the first instance of a mechanic which enabled the player to opt not to roll under clearly defined circumstances, in return for a minimal level of success. (Of course, this mechanic may have first appeared as a GM tool rather than a player tool, for when an NPC or creature was in use. Such an answer would be good to know also)

In what game(s) did the option to gain a minimum level of success in exchange for not rolling first appear?

Note: This question has been edited to reflect the contributions of several solid answers, in hopes of narrowing an answer down.

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The similar option in D&D is "taking 10", which AFAIK predated Ubiquity. But if it was in the original (V:tM) Storyteller system, that would far predate the d20 mechanic. –  starwed Feb 13 '13 at 2:34
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I can't confirm, but I'd be willing to bet cold hard cash that it was GURPS, which invented the idea of a skill system in the first place with Bunnies and Burrows. –  Lord_Gareth Feb 13 '13 at 2:48
    
@starwed - Yes, the original Storyteller employed this mechanic, and yes D&D's Take 10 predates Ubiquity. –  Runeslinger Feb 13 '13 at 3:15
    
@Lord_Gareth Does the skill system in B&B include a mechanic for trading the option to roll for a moderate success within a defined set of parameters? Bunnies & Burrows is credited with being the first attempt at a skill system, but was released through Fantasy Games Unlimited decades prior to being re-released in a GURPS version, is there a link between them other than this? –  Runeslinger Feb 13 '13 at 3:24
    
@Runeslinger I am sad to say that I don't know for sure; betting on GURPS is just a hunch of mine based on what I've gleaned from GURPS fans. –  Lord_Gareth Feb 13 '13 at 15:28
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2 Answers

I can't pin it down definitively for you, but I can narrow down the field for you to 'no later than 1991'. Let's use the term 'Take 10' for what you're looking for, and have a closer look at some systems through the years, and see if we can find a time when it came into being.

I suspect that a dice pool mechanic was more likely to generate the idea of a 'trade-in roll for basic success' rule, and dice pool mechanics were not in common use until at least the late 80s. The d20 system is one notable exception to being a dice pool system with a Take 10 option, but in the case of d20, they fix the roll and not the result, unlike other examples. For this to work, there needs to be some meaning to 'you only just barely succeed', meaning you need opposed rolls of some sort, or degree of success.

The original Traveller system, which is the earliest skill-based system I have access to, written in 1977, features only a very rudimentary skill system. Certain rolls with high enough modifiers cannot fail, but there is no option to trade the roll for a minimal success. There are no degrees of success either.

Robotech RPG (1986, based on Palladium system) has no Take 10 - skills have to roll under a skill value, which can't go higher than 98%. Since the target number is always fixed, and there is only binary success, there is no meaningful way to add a 'Take 10' type of rule. I suspect the same would apply to any other 'roll-under-skill' system, such as Chaosium/Call of Cthulhu, 1e Twilight:2000 and Rolemaster.

Megatraveller, from 1987, also does not feature explicit, automatic success. Some tasks cannot fail, simply by virtue of the modifiers involved, but in theory, you still have to roll. MT has degrees of success, but still no 'Take 10' option (or would that be Take 7?)

The earliest version of Gurps I have access to (3rd ed, second printing, from 1989) mentions automatic success, but this is totally GM fiat. So long as the GM believes there is any chance of failure, a roll must be made, and a certain value on any roll is automatic failure. Again, I can find no mechanic for trading out a roll for a fixed result, and I see no reason why the rule would appear in earlier versions, but not later.

First ed Shadowrun, from 1989, has no concept of automatic successes, even though it does have degrees of success, and a dice pool mechanic.

Vampire the Masquerade 1st edition (1991) does feature automatic success, on p36.

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If I had access to early Ars Magica editions, I'd look at it. Many V:tM ideas were present in some form in Ars Magica. For me, it's someway a predecessor. –  Flamma Feb 14 '13 at 11:00
    
I only have 3rd ed Ars, which is dated 1996...too late. –  YogoZuno Feb 14 '13 at 11:19
    
If you're showing how different systems use the term to illuminate history, your answer could say that. It would improve its structure considerably to have a thesis statement. –  SevenSidedDie Feb 14 '13 at 16:00
    
@YogoZuno Now I'm on the same page, sorry - I've deleted my earlier comment. –  Jonathan Hobbs Feb 14 '13 at 18:53
    
@YogoZuno - Good revision! SR1e and Storyteller 1e mechanics were designed by the same person if I recall correctly, so an evolution from one to the next stands to reason. I am intrigued that this analysis seems to push the idea to having its genesis in Vampire. –  Runeslinger Feb 15 '13 at 0:14
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There seem to be two different types of "automatic success" rules. The type you mention takes into account the skill of the character when determining if an automatic success is possible. Of the systems I've looked over, only old World of Darkness, Shadowrun, and Ubiquity seem to employ this type of mechanic. Of these, World of Darkness (that is, Vampire the Masquerade) appears to be the first to employ it. I'll keep digging a bit more, though.

The other, and most common, type only considers the action itself, not the skill of the character. It could be argued that all systems use this mechanic, as I'm not aware of any system that requires a roll for any and all actions a player may take, but in order to make a point, let me give some examples:

Basic Roleplaying System, 1981, does not require rolls when for activity which "is always successful under normal circumstances", assuming it to be successful unless there are "extraordinary circumstances", or the player is trying to perform them under "close scrutiny". As will become a theme, which actions qualify for this is left to GM discretion.

Rolemaster (first published 1982, I'm reading the 1989 edition) and its derivatives make a distinction between maneuvers, which "entail an element of risk" under normal conditions, and "normal activities" which (according to the simplified Lord of the Rings rules) any person would be able to perform given the right circumstances and enough time, and thus don't require rolls to perform (unless under stress). Given how action resolution works in Rolemaster, it's not just a question of whether failure is possible, but also of whether degree of success and the speed with which the action is completed matter. Determining when an action is risky enough to require a roll is left to the GM.

The new World of Darkness rules have a similar "rule" (well, GM guideline) on page 121 of the Storytelling System Rulebook, and seem to have foregone the skill-based automatic success entirely, unless the rule is hidden in some back corner.

Now, the reason I bothered describing those three: D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder's Take 10/Take 20 mechanic is just a slightly more mechanics-grounded variant of the above. It does not depend on the character's skill, but only on the action being performed and the situation it is being performed in (especially the amount of time available to retry). It is a very different beast from the skill-dependent variant.

All of these mechanics, regardless of whether skill or difficulty based, depend on GM fiat in determining what actions require a roll and which can be performed without rolling.

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Nice answer. I have updated the question to reflect it and others. Your idea about BRP is good, but that mechanic is about the GM waiving the roll. My question is about the appearance of a mechanic which allowed the player to choose whether or not they would go for a greater degree of success or simply trade rolling for a guaranteed level of success which is likely just enough (Take the Auto, Take the Average as mentioned in the question). This pretty much seems dependent on a mechanic which includes the concept of levels or margins of success, not meeting/exceeding target numbers. –  Runeslinger Mar 21 at 9:35
    
Well, perhaps, but I think it has more to do with the dice pool and the use of a single generalized mechanic. Several of the early skill-based RPGs (e.g. Bunnies and Burrows, 1st ed. Runequest) lack a single resolution mechanic, instead giving separate rules for different skills or skill groups. Rolemaster certainly doesn't lack for levels of success, but then again it isn't called Rollmaster for nothing. –  Wlerin Mar 21 at 10:46
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