I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Minimalist D&D VII - Six skill sets

You asked for it, and you shall receive!

More minimalist D&D is coming... hopefully, until it becomes an entire game.

I talked about skills before (read that first!) and I am 90% convinced that they are not needed. However, five skills remained useful in my analysis: sleight of hand, arcana, history, nature and medicine.

You might call them "skill sets", instead. Something like this:

- Nature: animal handling, survival, nature, maybe perception when in nature.
- Lore: religion, history.
- Thievery: sleight of hand + thieves' tools.
- Arcana: well, arcana.
- Medicine: just medicine.

I kept these because you can build interesting archetypes around them. The experience ranger or hunter that is not particularly wise (average wisdom), the thief who is better with lock-picks than with a rapier. Or a doctor and a wizard who are both very intelligent, but not in the same way.

I cannot see that with other skills. Acrobatics, for example - can you think of a hero in fiction which would have low Dexterity and STILL great acrobatics? Makes no sense to me.

I considered some kind of "influence" skillset for charisma skills (deception, intimidation, persuasion , performance). But nope. A knight who is a leader has high Charisma. A suave thief has high Charisma. That's enough.

But I am really tempted to add a sixth skillset. Which is:

- Observation: perception, insight, investigation.

Now, I can see how this is somewhat redundant to Wisdom... And, as I've said "wouldn't it be cool if perception were context-specific? So, the ranger notices everything in the wild, but the aristocrat measures every look in the court, etc."


I can see the opposite too. A thief with low Wisdom, but a great eye for detail. Maybe a skill set to find hidden stuff; secret passages, quiet noises... This stuff is so improtant in D&D! Or maybe that should be folded into thievery. So, the thief sees small secret doors, the ranger doesn't - but he gets too see an ambush in the woods in advance. And the wizard perceives magic stuff.

Thinking of it this way, the sixth skill set could be War (or a better name - any suggestions?). It wouldn't influence combat at all... but would allow you to see an ambush before it comes, the value of a good sword, some interesting tactics against another group of combatants... Maybe the can MAKE some simple weapons in extreme circumstances.

War certainly creates lots of interesting combinations. Barbarians do War and Nature, Paladins do War and Arcana, etc.

I'm thorn on this one. I confess having six abilities and six skill sets is very tempting.

HOWEVER, I wouldn't want skill sets to be something every character has (like abilities).

By learning medicine or arcana, you know things no one else knows, even if they have high Intelligence. This is NOT just a bonus.

In short... skills are feats. Common ones, but still feats. So they can contain whatever you find interesting... and can be multiplied infinitely.

Anyway. that's probably the direction I'm going. Skills are feats, they do relevant things, and not everyone is forced to pick them.


  1. Interesting post!

    Two thoughts on the skills:

    1) Would we wsnt to broaden the thievery skill (in name and application) as Tinkering or some such? I'm thinking of a general "good with ones hands" that covers mechanisms, or messing with something you don't fully understand. A common thieves skill, but not limited tk them. Your wizard fresh from the lab may also have this skill in building apparatuses.

    Even if the skill stays with just Rogues (since you have some discussion kf Rogue being your expert class), the broadening kf scope may be useful

    2) What about calling the 6th stat the Knack, and have it background dependent? It replaces 5e background skill with instead some basic areas you have a 'knack' for.

    1. Expanding on this: Your background gives a general theme that you can use to see if you have a Knack for a certain skill set and thus one would need to incorporate their background when justifying what they are doing in order to use Knack.

      Also, are you still going to use set DCs +Roll over, or are you looking at a roll under strategy for skills? What I could see that being then is that skills become a margin of error effect in that case, but that would require some re-writing of the skill challenge design I would think.

    2. Thanks!

      1) Yeah, that is a good idea, and "tinkering" is a great name name. I want it to included small hand movements; maybe picking a pocket, a lock, and so on. But maybe also some legerdemain, and certainly disarming small traps.

      2) Sounds interesting, but might add a layer of complexity. I'm a bit thorn on backgrounds. I wrote a whole bit expanding them, but then I realized it sounded too complex. Now I'm not sure... still tinkering. ;)

      3) I'm using "roll over", with margins of success/failure as optional rules.

    3. To be clear on backgrounds, all I am thinking of is that it's a few keywords that gives the situations that one could apply knack to. I do not think it adds any more complexity than already looking at with the idea that archetype grants certain skills to the roll. I don't think it changes what you are already discussing in your post very much.

      Regarding Tinker: the way I see it, it's working with your hands and responding to unknown, unforeseen variables. So it can still work for pickpocket and hidden traps. It can invoke "tinkering with forces beyond your control" as well as just tinkering with physical contraptions. From this, one can still have the idea that Thieves can use any magic device (which is a skill I personally love) from 5e.

    4. Yeah, I like having few skill sets, but letting backgrounds be a bit more customizable is a good idea.
      And Tinker including magic devices is a great idea too. It makes more sense than "thievery" in this way. Nice!

    5. Thanks! I would use it for anything abnormal (think of elements that fell under the old dungeoneering skill).

      You may still want to keep something for thievery (If you want to have the old "hide in shadows" and "move silently", perhaps "skullduggery" is a better name.

      Knack then covers a sort of "wisdom" regarding a specific area based on personal experience. This means that your tradesmen and working folk may have average stats but high "knack" for a subject (plus potentially some basics in other skills).

  2. That is beginning to sound a lot like Approaches as seen in some FATE versions and games such as Sanddogs/King Machine.
    Observation skills can be a huge mess of fail in the hands of some GMs as any GURPS player knows.
    I do like the sound of ditching attributes and replacing them with skill sets ... possibly you can specialize one skill set to get expanded abilities. This works well with the fixed rolls which the player can assign to whichever skill set they desire.

  3. Which of course is what you said you don't want. Missed that on the first reading.

    1. Hahahah, well, it is not what I want for this project, but it is a good idea. I love how games like Fate uses approaches or skills over the traditional "stat+skill".

  4. This is similar to the approach to backgrounds in 13th Age where the player can give their PC up to 3 background sentences, and then, when making an ability check, can add a bonus if it's within the reasonable portfolio of one's experience.

    1. Yeah, good catch. I like 13th Age, and this idea, quite a lot. The conundrum is that custom backgrounds are very hard to pin down. Sometimes, it is easier for the GM to ask "is anyone trained in arcana" without conversing about a Pc if his time as a thief in Waterdeep would give him at least some familiarity with magic, etc.

      I am thinking of a mixed approach; free-form background + defined skill set. For example, "Raider from the Deadly Forest (Nature)", or "Former Cultist of Apophis (Arcane)".

  5. Also, this: "Acrobatics, for example - can you think of a hero in fiction which would have low Dexterity and STILL great acrobatics?"

    I think this is backwards -- it's not that someone with low Dex isn't going to take Acrobatics, it's that (for example) someone with high Dex and high Cha has to choose between Acrobatics or Persuasion -- he can't be good at everything. So in a game like D&D which has mechanics for exploration, combat, etc. you need skills that directly interface with those systems so that players can decide which methods of problem solving they want their characters to excel at.

    The main issue D&D has with skills is that they aren't balanced -- some are must-haves (Perception) because they affect ubiquitous circumstances while others are basically useless (Nature) and don't plug-into anything.

    So what you're describing above is maybe akin to "secondary skills" or "non-weapon proficiencies" that allowed characters to do "extra" things, unlike, say, acrobatics and thievery which were integral to classes. This gets back to the issue of "what happens when my fighter tries to hide?" in old-school games. The 5E method has a lot going for it, but it just need some serious tuning.

    1. You make some good points. And I get that. It is not an easy choice, TBH, because I do see the advantage of having "proficiencies".

      About your Dex/Cha example, maybe you could choose between having high Cha OR high Dex, instead of both - then you wouldn't need a skill on top of that.

      And for the fighter to hide well, he'd basically NEED high Dex under the system I'm proposing here... but why wouldn't he?

      I think both systems can work... the one I'm trying just feels somewhat easier, but still has some hurdles (such as Wisdom not being a good substitute for Nature).

      It is probably the most difficult issue to deal with, and the 5e "half prof/proficiency/expertise" system works reasonably well, I must admit.