This is the second 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. The articles in this series are:
In this article, I present the option that allows you to make your own Backgrounds: the Skills Option. As always, only the text in blue should be printed in the rules. The rest of this text is merely my design notes to help explain my goals in designing this module.
The key to the Skills option is to make sure the Skills are not so broad that they are as useful as a Subability, but not so specific that they should be a Proficiency (to be detailed in the next article). A Skill should be something that is considered generally useful, but not a "must have". In addition, the Skills need not encompass all the ability checks available to the character. Some Ability checks may have no Skills that can modify it.
Unlike Subabilities and Abilities, Skills are not necessarily tied to any single Ability. While some Skills naturally relate to a specific Ability, it is not a necessary feature of the Skill. In this way, Skills tend to represent actual training in an area, while Abilities and Subabilities represent natural talent.
The Skills Option most closely resembles the 4e Skill system, although given bounded accuracy, the 4e Skill bonus of +5 is unneeded. +1 is plenty and using the progression found in the Playtest, easily keeps par with the standard Background-using PC.
SKILLS The Skills Option offers slightly more customizability than the default Background Option, because the Skills Option lets you make your very own Background. Most Backgrounds contain proficiency in three preselected Skills as well as a "trait" that offers a miscellaneous benefit. In the Skills Option, you get to choose any three Skills from a list of Skills, but you get one generic "trait".
The Skills Option Trait If you choose the Skills Option, you also get the following ability. Once a day, you may, before rolling a Skill check in which you are trained, decide that you have advantage for that check. If both rolls fail, you do not lose use of this power for the day.
Skill Usage Use the Skills delineated here, just as you use them when included as part of a Background. If an Ability check would seem to implicate a Skill in which you have trained,ask your DM if you may add the Skill bonus to the check.
Skills Advancement At first level, choose three Skills in which you are trained, which gives you a +3 bonus. At each even-numbered character level, you may increase the bonus you receive in one Skill in which you are trained by +1.
The Skills The following 23 Skills have been selected for you to choose three from. However, you should feel free to, with the consent of your DM, design your own Skills.
Acculturate: You are skilled in learning new cultures. The ability to blend in a new environment, to learn the customs, mores, and niceties or a new culture. In short, you are worldlier than must of your peers. Each time you take this Skill, you may also choose two languages in which you become proficient. This Skill is most frequently associated with Intelligence and Charisma.
Contort: You have trained yourself to control your body in tight spaces and precarious positions. You can stand on a ledge, or squeeze yourself into a box half your size. This Skill is most frequently associated with Constitution and Dexterity.
Deceive: You are skilled in the art of deception. You know how to apply disguises, to lie, to act, to improvise a story, and to create a blind to conceal another person or object. This Skill is most often associated with Charisma, but applying a disguise or blind may be considered Dexterity or Wisdom.
Deduce: You are able to marshal the facts at your disposal to answer questions. Deduction is useful when unraveling mysteries, playing games involving mental skill, and solving puzzles. You are also skilled at mathematics and whatever passes for science in your DM's campaign world. Some DMs may prefer to let the players, and not the characters solve such questions using their own brainpower. Check with your DM to determine whether it is worthwhile to take this Skill. This Skill is most often associated with Intelligence.
Examine: You are trained in noticing small details at a close distance, using all of your senses. You can find traps and secret panels, smell poison, and notice objects or other phenomena that are simply out of place. This Skill is most often associated with Wisdom.
Intimidate: You are able to change a person's attitude by appealing to their base nature. The reverse of Inveigle, this Skill allows you to appeal to someone's more negative emotions, such as greed, fear, and anger. This Skill is most often associated with Strength or Charisma.
Inveigle: You are able to change a person's attitude by appealing to their better nature. The reverse of Intimidate, this Skill allows you to appeal to someone's more positive emotions, such as happiness, pride, and adoration. This Skill is most often associates with Intelligence or Charisma.
Know Animals: You are knowledgeable in the habits and handling of mundane creatures, from falcons to horses to bears. This allows you to identify their droppings and tracks, to know their customary behavior and lairs. You can diagnose and treat them when they are sick or injured. This also allows you to train animals, and to perform extraordinary feats of equestrianism. This Skill is most often associated with Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.
Know Monsters: You are knowledgeable in the habits and handling of exotic creatures, from dragons to griffons, to owlbears. This allows you to identify their droppings and tracks, to know their customary behavior and lairs. You can diagnose and treat them when they are sick or injured. This also allows you to train monsters, and to ride exotic mounts. This Skill is most often associated with Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.
Know Occult: You are knowledgeable in the ways of magic and the supernatural. You can identify magical effects. With enough time, you can identify most common magic items. You can identify spells, spell components, and any rare items that may be used in the manufacture of potions, elixirs and rituals. This Skill is most often associated with Intelligence.
Know People: You are knowledgeable in the habits and handling of intelligent creatures, from elves, to gnolls, to humans. This allows you to identify them, and to tell when they are being deceitful. You can also diagnose and treat them when they are sick or injured. This Skill is most often associated with Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.
Know Places: You are knowledgeable about the natural world at large. You know how to survive in most wilderness environments, can identify poisonous and/or edible plant life, and construct shelters, build crude traps, and hunt game. You are rarely lost. This Skill is most often associated with Constitution, Intelligence, and Wisdom.
Know Planes: You are knowledgeable about the worlds beyond the world. You know how to survive in most extraplanar environments, can identify planes through which you travel, and know most of the gateways and passages back to the material world. This Skill is most often associated with Constitution, Intelligence, and Wisdom.
Labor: You are trained in using your body for extraordinary physical exertion. You can run marathons, lift enormous weights, bend bars, toil for hours, and even continue without sleep or rest for longer than others of your race. This Skill is most often associates with Strength or Constitution.
Maneuver: You are skilled in getting your body to move quickly. This generally includes activities such as running, jumping, swimming, and climbing. This Skill is most often associated with Strength or Dexterity.
Manipulate: You are trained in all aspects of fine motor skills, and in operating most of the typical machinery of your era. You can pick locks, disarm traps, or sabotage a catapult. This Skill is most often associated with Intelligence or Dexterity.
Reason: You are trained in appealing to a person's reason and logic. You know how to construct arguments, to perceive the weaknesses in other people's arguments, and to persuade people through the marshaling of facts and numbers. This Skill is most often associated with Intelligence or Charisma.
Sense: You have trained your non-visual senses to be keener than other people's. You can hear whispered conversations from long distances, you can sense danger, you can even hear the footsteps or feel the rush of wind caused by unseen creatures. This Skill is most often associated with Wisdom.
Sleight of Hand: You are trained to use your fingers and hands nimbly and faster than the eye can follow,or with a level of detail that others cannot master. You can pick pockets, forge documents, palm objects, juggle, and perform other feats of mundane legerdemain. This Skill is most often associated with Dexterity or Charisma.
Sneak: You are trained in keeping yourself unseen and unheard. You know how to keep to the shadows and to tread as lightly as a footpad. You know the herbs that can reduce your odor to avoid guard animals, the paints that best allow you blend in different environments, and how to avoid tripwires and other triggers. This Skill is most often associated with Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wisdom.
Spot: You have keen eyesight and have trained yourself to be ever-vigilant. You can spot movement at a distance, find a nest, pierce a disguise, or simply see the movement in the trees that signals an approaching creature before anybody else is prepared. This Skill is most often associated with Wisdom.
Streetwise: You know how to get around an urban environment. You can spot the power players, weave through the rough and tumble world of politics, discover information, and know the typical denizens, humanoid and otherwise that might be found in urban environments. Each time you train in this skill, choose a region of your campaign world. You can appear to be a native of that region, and if you speak the native tongue, you do so without any trace of accent. This Skill is most often associated with Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.
Track: You know how to spot tracks, follow tracks and can glean information from tracks, such as the condition of the creature you track, the time since the tracks were made. If you are also trained in the appropriate knowledge skill, you may be able to identify the creature -- and possibly even the individual -- who made those tracks. This Skill is most commonly associated with Intelligence and Wisdom.
At 1,500 words, this is the longest section in my Secondary Series. Of course, this pretty much replaces the Skills section in the current playtest packet, while giving a new option for acquiring Skills, so I actually think that word-wise, it's a wash. In my next article in this series, I will discuss the Proficiency Option!
This is the second 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. The articles in this series are:
In this article, I present the first two options: Abilities and Subabilities:
ABILITIES AND SUBABILITIES The Background system provides each character who chooses a background with thee Skills and some additional traits. Some groups may opt to keep things even simpler and not have people choose Backgrounds at all. But what if your group decides to use Backgrounds (or any of the other options), but you as a player want to keep things simple, and yet you don't want your character to fall behind mathwise with the other characters who are choosing these other options. For you, there are two choices: Abilities and Subabilities.
Abilities Option The simplest option (other than using no skill system at all) is to choose the Abilities Option. Instead of a Background, you choose one of the six Abilities. Your character receives a +3 skill bonus for any skill check modified by that Ability modifier. At every character level divisible by six (6th, 12th, 18th, etc.) you may increase one Ability's skill bonus by +1.
A character with the Abilities option does not have the customization of other classes. Usually, this is represented, storywise, as a character whose class is the character's entire background. Someone raised from birth to be a wizard may eschew a Background and simply choose Intelligence with the Abilities Option. A lad born to the gladitorial arena may simply choose Strength with the Abilities Option.
That's it. This method is simple to apply and will keep your character roughly on par, mathwise, with the characters who use Backgrounds.
Subabilities Option Someone who wants a little more customization, but still does not want the level of customization found in Backgrounds, may choose the Subabilities Option. In the Subabilities Option, each Ability has been divided into two roughly equal subabilities. If you choose this option for your character, at first level you may choose two Subabilities that will each gain a +3 skill bonus whenever you roll a skill check to which that Subability should apply. To determine if your Subability applies, whenever the DM calls for a skill check for an Ability that encompasses one of the Subabilities in which you have a bonus or penalty, ask the DM which Subability is implicated in this check. Apply the appropriate bonus or penalty for that Subability. If your character uses the Subabilities Option, you may increase the skill bonus of one Subability by +1 at every character level divisible by 3 (i.e., 3rd, 6th, 9th, 12th, 15th, 18th, etc.)
Narratively, the Subabilities Option is very similar to the Abilities Option. It does not necessarily represent specialized training, but rather natural or learned aptitude in using your character's natural abilities.
Optional Rule for Subabilities:Alternately, you may choose a third Subability to gain a +3 skill bonus, but in return, two Subabilities that share a Subability in which you have gained a bonus will receive instead a -3 penalty. You may never increase the skill bonus of a Subability that has a penalty associated with it.
The Subabilities. Following are the twelve Subabilities you may choose, if your character selects the Subabilities Option:
Muscle (Strength): This Subability represents the muscle force that you can bring to bear on an obstacle. It is commonly implicated by checks related to carrying, bending and breaking things.
Motion (Strength): This Subability represents the ability to use your strength to move yourself or others and is commonly implicated in checks related to jumping, swimming, and climbing.
Hardiness (Constitution): This Subability represents the ability to endure extreme environments, such as heat, starvation, cold, torture, and drowning.
Health (Constitution): This Subability represents the ability to withstand attacks against your person, such as poison and disease.
Adroitness (Dexterity): This Subability represents your Ability to perform fine motor skills, and it most often implicated in picking locks, picking pockets, performing sleight of hand, or forging documents.
Coordination (Dexterity): This Subability represents your ability to manipulate your body into specific positions. It is typically implicated by checks for tumbling and hiding.
Imagination (Intelligence): This Subability represents your ability to deduce solutions from clues and things you know or observe. It is commonly implicated by checks related to puzzles, strategies, gambling, riddles, mysteries, and anticipating the actions of other characters.
Memory (Intelligence): This Subability represents your ability to recall important information, whether details of a conversation from a week before, or lore that one learned in studies.
Acuity (Wisdom): This Subability represents your perceptive abilities. It allows you not only to see small details, to notice danger, to hear faint noises, to smell subtle odors, and to feel small changes in altitude, pressure, and temperature.
Resolve (Wisdom): This Subability represents your ability to withstand mental assaults and temptations, and to see through trickery, subterfuge, and deception.
Communication (Charisma): This Subability represents your ability to express yourself in a clear and understandable manner, whether through verbal communication, facial expressions, or gestures.
Presence (Charisma): This Subability represents your force of personality. Some times simple force of will allows people to accomplish remarkable things.
So that's the Abilities and Subabilities sections. Still pretty short and simple. Groups who want to stick to Backgrounds or no skills wouldn't even read this section. The trick to Subabilities is finding broad but roughly coequal divisions of each Ability that encompass together the entirety of that Ability.
I don't think I've ever used this blog to endorse someone else's project, but I think this project is important and needs the community's support. There is a kickstarter project entering its last week, and it needs a lot o support to be successful. It is a kickstarter for a documentary on the history of Dungeons & Dragons.
I'll let the backers explain the project: We love this game and the people that we've met while shooting it. They deserve our best efforts to create something really special. And you, our audience, also deserve something special, to know the story of D&D. A story that needs to be told so that people know how important Dungeons & Dragons has been in our culture. That's why we've set out to create a definitive look at Dungeons & Dragons. And we need a lot of help.
This seems like an important project and I think the history and legacy of D&D needs to be supported. I plan to support it and I hope everyone reading this will give what they can afford to the project. The minimum pledge is only $1, and there are all sorts of great rewards for anybody who is willing to pledge more. So please support this worthy cause.
In my recent article, What's Next for Skills, I proposed a modular system that could allow for a variety of optional mechanics for skills that fit off a single core (that is completely compatible with the way Backgrounds work currently). Some people, however, commented, that they thought all those options may be overwhelming. To me, that is a problem of presentation, not mechanics. So I have revised the Options System. Given this is a proposed alternate series of mechanics, I am calling this series, "Secondary", after the 1e mechanic, Secondary Skills. The articles in this series are:
I propose that the Skill Section be introduced as follows:
SKILLS When a player attempts something that has nothing to do with combat, such as climbing a wall, fast-talking the local constable, or identifying an unusual rock formation, they utilizing their "skills". If a character attempts something that anybody should be able to succeed at (like climbing over a white picket fence), they will succeed automatically. If a character attempts something that nobody should be able to succeed at (like jumping to the moon), they will fail automatically. But in between these extremes are a number of actions that the DM may have trouble adjudicating. In such cases, he should call for a check, which is a d20 roll, modified by any appropriate modifiers.
"Appropriate modifiers"?! What does that mean. Well, usually, a d20 is adjusted by the modifier that applies to one of the six Abilities -- Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. In addition, a DM may impose "circumstantial modifiers" depending on specific conditions (like a slippery rock, or a knotted rope, etc.) that might alter (for good or ill) the chances of success. Moreover, if you opt to include a "Skill System" in your game, there may be additional modifiers that are added to the check.
Difficulty Class Insert discussion of DCs from the playtest packet*
Backgrounds The game offers a default skill system known as Backgrounds. Backgrounds are chosen during character creation and establish the sorts of checks at which the player may excel. A Background is a pre-packaged suite of traits and skills. Each background offers three "skills" at which the character excels. If the character makes a check that implicates that skill, they get a +1 to the check. Every three levels, they may increase the bonus of one skill by +1. Backgrounds will also give other benefits described in the Background.
Skill Options The Background is just one of many options that the gaming group may decide to use. Each option allows a player to customize a character's noncombat abilities with increasing level of detail As DM, you can decide whether you want to allow one or more of these other options. You might also decide to disallow all of these options, including Backgrounds, if you so choose. However, doing this may affect your players' ability to overcome level-appropriate challenges under the math used to calculate DCs; we recommend at least using the Ability Option (see below), which is the least complicated of the options. Including Backgrounds, there are 6 optional skill systems presented. In increasing level of complexity these options are:
All of these options are designed to work together if the group decides to include them. A group may also decide to restrict the players to only a few, or one, or even none, of these options. If you are happy with Backgrounds, or you don't care to have any skill options at all, you need read no further. However, if you are interested in giving players more choices in creating their characters, please consider these options, which are described in more detail below.
* Some people have advocated that skill checks not be a simple binary pass/fail, but rather indicate degrees of success or failure. While I am sympathetic to this, I think that is beyond the scope of the Secondary Series. Maybe I'll tackle it in a future article.
And that's the introduction (and the description of Backgrounds). At about 500 words, it's barely a column of text. (With the DC discussion, maybe a column and a half.) In future articles, I will go through the Ability, Subability, Skill, and Proficiency Options. These options will resemble the Options I provided in my prior article, but I have edited them in response to comments I have received and my own evolution in thinking about the nature and utility of skills in the game. Stay tuned. Next week I will present the revised section on the Ability Option!
This is an ongoing series in which I highlight what I think were the best D&D-related blogs each month. This is the article for August 2012. The criteria for this honor is:
The blog must be on the WotC Blog site.
It cannot be made by a featured or staff blogger (the point is to highlight blogs that might otherwise go unnoticed).
It cannot be made in the blogs for a specific group.
It must pertain to D&D (of any edition).
It must be in English.
It must not be reposted from or pushing content on another site.
It must tickle my fancy.
Note, you really should check out the featured blogs. You can see the current Featured Blogs here and the Staff Blogs here.
While we remain in playtest phase, I'm segregating playtest reports into a separate list. I've also added a new category -- Chroniclers of Blogging -- for those who post entertaining synopses, pics, or video of their games in a blog. Please take a look at the great work of these Heroes and Chroniclers of Blogging and Heroes of Playtesting!