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.
HOW MANY DO YOU GET?
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.
WHICH GROUPS OF SKILLS LINK TO WHICH ABILITY SCORE?
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.
NARROWING DOWN THE SKILL LISTS TO SEVEN
The liberal arts are easy:
The mechanical arts are harder. Here are some competing lists of seven:
Johannes Scotus Eriugena
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Hugh of St Victor
Radulphus de Campo Longo
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Militia and venatoria
Militia and venatoria
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Armament (includes architecture)
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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.
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)
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
- Defaul Pool = 2 + 1 for Ability Score Prime + 1 for Trained in Relevant Skill
- Default Pool = 1 + 1 for Ability Score Prime + 1 for Second Ability Score Prime + 1 for Relevant Skill
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).
MAKING SKILLS USEFUL
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.