Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More on Skills

In previous posts, I've discussed ideas for skills ( for example).

I think skills may be necessary for online play. On one hand, I dislike skills because they can be limiting. If you're not trained, you suck, and the action won't even be tried. They also often entail memorizing specific rules. However, that may be ok for certain game systems/situations like online play.

I want to play around with using my skill lists defined earlier, the Mechanical Arts, Liberal Arts, and Martial Arts. So, three lists of 7 skills each.


I see two routes here. One is to give an arbitrary number of "skill points" to spend. Another is to tie it to an attribute.

I think tying skill proficiencies to an attribute makes the most sense. It goes along with my idea that characters with high ability scores are more versatile, not strictly superior. Giving more skill picks nicely reflects that. So, I'd say: 4+/-ABILITY MOD skill picks.

You'd get picks for all of the "passive" attributes that determine class: CON, INT, and WIS.


The Martial Arts are easy: You are proficient in 4 +/- CON MOD Martial Arts.

The harder question is INT & WIS. Should magic-users be masters of the day-to-day mechanical arts (including engineering, architecture, alchemy, medicine, etc)? Or should they be trained in the liberal arts (logic, rhetoric, astronomy, music, etc)?

Medieval priests were often -- but not always -- classically trained in the liberal arts. They could read and write and needed to understand Latin. They were strong speakers and philosophers. But, many were also grounded with agriculture and other day to day tasks.

For now, I'm going to say that Magic Users are trained in the Mechanical Arts. This links up with the idea that Magic Users tend to be linked with the "Third Estate" of non-noble, non-clerical commoners. Clerics will be linked with the liberal arts. So:

4 +/- WIS MOD = # of Liberal Arts
4 +/- INT MOD = # of Mechanical Arts
4 +/- CON MOD = # of Martial Arts

This means that characters will have 5-6 proficiencies in their "main" area of expertise, ~4 in their secondary area, and perhaps 3 in their tertiary. Over time, the number of things they are good at will grow as their ability scores improve.

You should be able to invest multiple skill points into a single skill to create "specialization" as well.


The liberal arts are easy:
  • Logic
  • Grammar
  • Rhetoric
  • Arithmetic
  • Geometry
  • Music
  • Astronomy

The mechanical arts are harder. Here are some competing lists of seven:

Johannes Scotus Eriugena

Hugh of St Victor

Radulphus de Campo Longo

(tailoring, weaving)

(tailoring, weaving)

Fabric Making

ars lanificaria—
the art of dressing people



(architecture, masonry)


ars architectura—
the art of providing shelter

Militia and venatoria
(warfare and hunting)

Militia and venatoria


ars militaria—
the art of defence against an enemy

(trade, commerce)



ars negotiatoria—
the skill of trading goods


ars victuaria—
the art of feeding people

(blacksmithing, metallurgy)


Armament (includes architecture)

Theatrical Arts




ars medicinaria—
the art of healing

ars suffragatoria—
the art of means of transport

Also competing: Shoemaking, Alchemy

Even though there are variations, there are some definite trends. I'm not sure about the overlap with Hunting & Warfare, for example. It might step on the Martial Arts toes. However, it does leave room for a smart warlord type character, which is appealing. Navigation overlaps a lot with both Geometry and Astronomy.

Next, the Martial Arts. These are not well defined, but I found one list of skills that knights were supposed to have.

  • Riding
  • Tilting
  • Fencing
  • Wrestling
  • Running
  • Leaping
  • Spear-Throwing
This seems like a fairly adequate list, especially if we generalize some of the tasks ("Spear Throwing" could just become "Hurling"). Tilting could get folded into Riding which frees up a "slot" for a useful dungeon-specific martial skill. I am thinking about "Stealth," perhaps. That makes Swashbucklers the most likely to be sneaky.

There are also seven Magical (or Forbidden) Arts:
  • Nigromancy (demonology, necromancy, "high magic" as from a grimoire)
  • Geomancy (earth)
  • Hydromancy (water)
  • Aeromancy (air)
  • Pyromancy (fire)
  • Chiromancy (Divination from palms)
  • Scapulimancy (Divination from animal bones)
They'd be linked to the mastery of the various languages. All are self-evident except perhaps Chiromancy (perhaps linked with Rustica?) and Scapulimancy (perhaps linked with the High Tongue?).


Skills should use a limited variety of resolution engines to make their usage easier. Here's a few ideas:
  • Dice Pool = Success of Failure (check vs. TN)
  • Dice Pool # result = some result (number of squares jumped, for example)
  • Autosuccess = You succeed if trained, you fail if not (perhaps limited to a certain number of times per day)
  • D20 = Linear check, with bonus if proficient
In general, skills should be combined with an ability score to make a pool. I see two ways to do this.

  1. Defaul Pool = 2 + 1 for Ability Score Prime + 1 for Trained in Relevant Skill
  2. Default Pool = 1 + 1 for Ability Score Prime + 1 for Second Ability Score Prime + 1 for Relevant Skill
If you have sunk extra skill points into a skill, then you can get +1 DP as well. So, say someone is double-trained (specialized, if you will) in, say, Commerce. They'd get +2 DP instead of +1DP. The beauty of the DP mechanic is that it gives diminishing returns so there is not too much benefit in overspecializing in this manner.

I rather prefer the first method. It makes archetypes a little looser and allows the DM to slap penalties on more freely. Also, it allows some checks to not use a skill at all; just two prime ability scores (maybe best for saving throws and the like).


Some skills are more useful to the dungeoneer than others. For example, I see the Liberal Arts as being a particularly weak point. Thus, careful design needs to be given to make all skills roughly equally useful. In general, its better to make a skill UNDERPOWERED than to overpower one and make it a "must-take." Each list needs to have at least 4-5 decent picks though, with no more than 2 being lemons.

For the particularly weak ones, allowing some sort of useful effect on a limited basis might be good. For example, if trained in Logic, you could 1x/quest ask the DM a single Yes/No question that must be answered truthfully. Training in Grammar might give Pidgin Proficiency with two languages.

I'll have more on these later.

No comments: