Alright, I want to talk to you about skills. Skills have their origins in nonweapon proficiencies from 1E/2E and the percentile-based skills from the thief class. In 3E, a skills system based on spending points and increasing ranks gave universal access to skills to all classes, and 4E took the concept and made some changes, with a binary trained/untrained choice and a streamlined skills list.
Here’s the challenge with skills: in 3E and 4E, skills are serving two masters. First, they serve as a customization point for players. Players want to say, “I’m good at this thing,” and write that thing down on their character sheets. They want their choice of skills to say something about their characters: who they are and what kinds of things they do. They also want their choice of customization to be reflected in their overall competence. Skills are great because they allow for differentiation between two characters of the same class, and they help define a character in the mind of the player.
Skills also serve a second master: resolution. In 3E and 4E especially, a skill is how you do something; the skill is the primary way you interface with the game world, and all the rules for doing the task related to the skill live inside that skill.
For the next iteration of the game, however, we are looking at returning to the ability check as the primary means of interacting with the game world, which serves to achieve three primary goals. First, it makes improvisation easier (and encourages players to participate in improvisation) by putting tasks into broader buckets as opposed to narrow skills. Second, it increases the players’ ability to participate in a variety of activities when not restricted by their skill choices. Third, it allows us to speak in a language that all D&D players across all editions inherently understand (that is, the language of ability scores, whose meaning translates into any edition). Since ability checks will handle the resolution system that has been handled by skills in the last two editions, skills still need to be relevant in the game both as the means by which you customize your character and as a mechanic that reflects your increased competence as a result of that customization.
Then, of course, we have the issue of granularity. How many skills should there be in the game? And how finely do players need to tweak a character’s competence level with skills? (In other words, will the trained/untrained dichotomy do, or are skill points preferred?) These are open questions, which I now pose to you.
How many skills would you prefer to see on a skill list? (Choose one.)
What’s the best way to reflect your control over how competent your character is with a skill? (Choose one.)