Secondary: Proficiencies

This is the fourth in my series of articles detailing a completely modular skill system that is not too complicated for new players. In part one, I introduced the concept of the system, and also explained how the Background system currently in the Playtest Packet would fit in seamlessly with my expended module. In the second, I explained the two options that are easier to apply but allow for less customization than Backgrounds. In the third, I introduced my version of Skills, which allow you, essentially, to make your own Custom Background. The articles in this series are:

Secondary: Intro and Backgrounds
Secondary: Abilities and Subabilities
Secondary: Skills
Secondary: Proficiencies
Secondary: Skill Points

In this article, I present the option that allows you even more customization than Backgrounds and Skills: the Proficiency Option.

You may have noticed that the farther be get away from the Abilities Option, the more discretion the DM retains. With the Abilities Option, the DM has almost no discretion. If the DM calls for an Ability check, and you have a skill bonus in that Ability, the skill bonus applies. The Subability gives the DM a little discretion. A DM who calls for an Ability check must decide which Subability applies to the check. If the DM decides your Subability does not apply, the other Subability for that Ability must. With Backgrounds and Skills, the DM has even more discretion. The DM decides whether any Skill at all applies to a given Ability check – there may not be any appropriate Skill. The DM also decides which Ability a given skill bonus might modify.

The Proficiencies Option gives the player the greatest level of granularity when customizing a character, but also gives the DM the most discretion in deciding how and when a Proficiency's skill bonus might apply. On the one hand, if you use the Proficiencies Option, it may happen that you never use a given Proficiency. It may exist solely as flavor to help you distinguish your character. On the other hand, the DM may allow your Proficiency to gain benefits other than a simply Skill bonus. For instance, a player who chooses Endure (toxins) may find that the DM allows the person to use the Proficiency to modify saving throws against poison, or perhaps as damage resistance against an attack that inflicts poison damage. Such calls are entirely in the DM's discretion. For gaming groups who prefer to limit the DM's discretion in this manner, you should not pemit players to select the Proficiency Option.

Proficiencies are too numerous to list individually. In this way, the Proficiencies Option most closely resembles Second Edition's non-weapon proficiencies.
THE PROFICIENCY OPTION
The Proficiency Option offers your character the most customizability, but also offers your DM the most discretion in determining when and how your Proficiencies will apply in game. It should be noted that Proficiencies are less useful than Skills, and it may not be possible to replicate all the effects of a single Skill by taking multiple Proficiencies.

Using Proficiencies
If you choose the Proficiency Option, you gain a skill bonus to Ability checks related to that Proficiency. However, the DM may decide to supplement that skill bonus with peripheral effects unrelated to Ability checks. Examples of such peripheral effects are offered in the discussion of the Proficiency Categories.

Proficiency Advancement

If you choose the Proficiency Option, at first level you may select seven Proficiencies in which you are trained. You gain a +3 bonus in Ability checks related to that Proficiency, as well as any peripheral effects the DM allows. In addition, each time your character increases a character level, you may increase the skill bonus of one of your trained Proficiencies by +1.

Customizing Proficiencies

Players and DM should feel free to collaborate on their own unique Proficiencies for their campaign world. However, it is also important to make sure that a Proficiency is not as useful as a Skill. A Proficiency should be no more useful than a trait that one might find in a Background. When deciding whether a Proficiency is too weak, ask yourself if you would be happy to find this Proficiency as a trait in a published Background. If not, the Proficiency may be too weak, and should either be expanded, or supplemented with useful peripheral effects. When deciding whether a Proficiency is too powerful, ask yourself if you would be willing to trade training in a Skill for training in this Proficiency. If so, then the Proficiency is too powerful and should be toned down, or should have some peripheral effects removed.

Proficiency Categories

The number of possible Proficiencies may be infinite. Rather than list them all, it is more helpful to divide them into categories:

  • Athlete: The Athlete category allows the character to be trained in a very specific athletic competition. This shold usually be very specific and allow proficiency in only one useful action. For instance, you might choose Athlete (long jump) or Athlete (pole vault). Alternately, you may choose an actual sport. You may be trained in Athlete (jousting), Athlete (charioteering), Athlete (pelota), or Athlete (golf). The DM will have to decide to what extent training in the joust actually helps improve your ability to ride a horse in other contexts. DMs may also devise unique athletic competitions in which player characters may train. (Athlete (quidditch), anyone?) Pronounced skill in a popular sport my even help a person excel in social contexts. Most Athletic Proficiencies will modify Strength or Dexterity checks.
  • Craft: The Craft category represents the ability to create a manufactured good, if the character is in possession of the proper raw materials and equipment. Each Craft should represent a very specific product. Some sample crafts may include Craft (fletcher), Craft (cobbler), or Craft (silversmith). The Craft Proficiency almost never modifies an Ability check; rather, it allows you to make items within the Craft's bailiwick at half-price, or it allows you to appraise the value of items with the Craft's bailiwick. Craft cannot be used to make magical items.
  • Endure: The Endurance category represents the ability, learned or innate, to survive in a specific condition. Usually, the Endurance category will relate to a single terrain or plane, such as Endure (tundra), or Endure (Negative Material Plane). Sometimes, the Endure category can also represent the ability to resist other conditions, such as toxins, physical pain, or pop music. Peripheral effects related to these Proficiencies may include damage resistance, or an affinity for certain types of creatures.
  • Esoterica: The Esoterica category represents study in a single academic discipline. It is vitally important that the Knowledge be more limited than the "Know" Skills. Sample esoterica may include Knowledge (heraldry), Knowledge (ancient history), and Knowledge (aberrations). The Knowledge Proficiencies almost always modify an Intelligence check. Esoterica (languages) lets you be fluent in a number of additional languages equal to the bonus you possess in the proficiency.
  • Perform: The Perform category represents the ability to engage in a specific performing style Some Proficiencies in this category include Perform (sing), Perform (stringed instruments), Perform (Noh), and Perform (Ventriloquism). Perform might allow a character to perform a simple trick, like throwing one's voice, or mimicking the sounds of a creature or person. Perform may also allow the character to make some money by performing in pubs and taverns. The Perform Proficiencies almost always modify a Charisma check.
  • Profession: The Profession category represents any trade that does not result in a manufactured product or a performance. This can be a profession that requires a broad range of skills. However, those skills should only come into play in game when they relate closely to the profession itself. For instance, Profession (pig farmer) may allow a bonus to balance when crossing mud, but not when crossing ice. Make sure the profession is not too useful such that it overlaps with Skills. Profession (thief) is too broad. However, Profession (lockpicker) or Profession (pickpocket) is probably appropriate. The DM may also create Professions specific to a campaign setting. Professions do not generally modify a consistent Ability check.
  • Talent: The Talent category represents some sort of sixth sense that a character may possess. He may be able to intuit true north (Talent (direction sense)), anticipate changes in the weather (Talent (weather sense), or perhaps even be gifted with the power of prophecy Talent (prophecy). Talents are the Proficiencies least likely to modify an Ability check, but most likely to have peripheral effects. 
At 950 words, the Proficiency Option might occupy a single page in a rulebook. Overall, presenting all five options may occupy a chapter of 10 pages or so, not including artwork. To me, that seems like a completely reasonable allocation for a pretty important piece of the game. As it stands, Abilities, Subabilities, Backgrounds, Skills, and Proficiencies are roughly balanced, so a gaming group may decide to let individual players choose which Option they want to apply to their characters. Next week I plan to offer one more optional rule that throws all of this careful balance and control out the window: Skill Points, a method for allowing individual characters to take advantage of all five Options.

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