Condensed Skills (3.5e Variant Rule)

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Author: MisterSinister (talk)
Co-Authors: Ghostwheel
Contributors: Havvy
Date Created: 9th May, 2011
Status: Finished
Editing: Clarity edits only please
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The Problem[edit]

In general, the way skills have been assigned abilities in DnD is deeply unsatisfactory. Firstly, they are nothing like balanced with each other, with some skills being virtual must-haves, and others being relegated to the dumpster. Secondly, there are far too many of them, with some being strangely broad, while others are almost uselessly narrow (a fact which makes everyone very sad). Lastly, they don't scale well at all, being completely superseded by other abilities rapidly. As a result, the entire game suffers.

Skills in DnD have wildly divergent utility and specificity. You have skills which are usefully broad and helpful, you have skills which are too narrow and underpowered, and lastly, you have skills that are just completely, unusably broken. A good example of a skill in the first category is Spellcraft, in the second category is Heal, and the last category is Craft (no, seriously - have you actually tried making anything with that pile of fail?). As a result of this, skill point investments can become rather oddly distributed, often making one skill point spent on one skill give much more benefit than another skill point spent on a completely different skill. This is fairly unacceptable in and of itself.

Additionally, the number of skills relative how many skill points people get is ridiculously large. Classes which don't have Intelligence as a primary (or secondary, or tertiary) ability score that are seriously expected to get by on 2 + Int skill points per level totally exist, and even classes with piles of skill points to throw around often find that they run out very quickly just by buying essentials (anyone who's played a rogue can tell you that this is true). This means that people often neglect interesting, but not mechanically potent, skills, as well as those with a more narrow application. This is also highly undesirable, as it severely limits the kind of options that see play.

Lastly, skills become obviated far too rapidly. While some (like Tumble and Use Magic Device) remain useful for quite a while, skills like Heal are basically obviated by a wand, and others, like Decipher Script, probably never get used at all. Climb and Swim become largely useless once fly and water breathing hit the table, and with certain divinations, Knowledge skills might as well not exist after a while.

While all of these have been better addressed elsewhere, not everyone wants to learn a whole new set of subsystems. This rule is designed to patch these holes, but without adding new subsystems. While it certainly doesn't do things perfectly (especially the third problem, which it barely touches on at all), for those who want a 'quick and dirty' solution, this is a suitable option which requires far less to be learned.

The Solution[edit]

New Skill List[edit]

The following is the new total skill list, containing all the skills in the game. Some skills have been removed, others have been combined, and a few have been simplified:

  • Acrobatics
  • Athletics
  • Bluff
  • Concentration
  • Diplomacy
  • Disable Device
  • Disguise
  • Escape Artist
  • Intimidate
  • Jump
  • Knowledge (arcana)
  • Knowledge (architecture and engineering)
  • Knowledge (dungeoneering)
  • Knowledge (geography)
  • Knowledge (history)
  • Knowledge (local)
  • Knowledge (nature)
  • Knowledge (nobility and royalty)
  • Knowledge (religion)
  • Knowledge (the planes)
  • Perception
  • Search
  • Sleight of Hand
  • Sense Motive
  • Stealth
  • Truespeak

What Do These Skills Do?[edit]

What each of these skills now contains will be described here.

Acrobatics: This skill does everything Balance and Tumble did previously.

Athletics: This skill does everything Climb and Swim did previously.

Bluff: This skill does everything Bluff did previously. Additionally, any checks to make a magic device believe the user is of a different alignment, class, etc than their own (as per Use Magic Device) are made with this skill as well.

Concentration: This skill does everything Autohypnosis and Concentration did previously. Its key ability score is the highest of a character's Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma.

Diplomacy: This skill has not changed. The fact it still lets you rule the world will be addressed in another variant rule.

Disable Device: This skill does everything Disable Device and Open lock did previously. Its key ability score is the highest of a character's Dexterity or Intelligence.

Disguise: This skill has not changed.

Escape Artist: This skill has not changed.

Intimidate: This skill has not changed.

Jump: This skill has not changed.

Knowledge (arcana): This skill does everything Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (psionics), and Spellcraft did previously. In the case of Spellcraft, this applies to the parts of it that dealt with arcane spells and spell-like abilities only. Additionally, any checks to operate a magical device that casts an arcane spell, or has an arcane spell in its creation (as if by Use Magic Device before) uses this skill. Also see the Knowledge Skills section below. Its key ability score is Intelligence.

Knowledge (architecture and engineering): This skill does everything Craft, Forgery, and Knowledge (architecture and engineering) did previously. Also see the Knowledge Skills section below. Its key ability score is Intelligence.

Knowledge (dungeoneering): This skill does everything Knowledge (dungeoneering) and Use Rope did previously. Also see the Knowledge Skills section below. Its key ability score is Intelligence, but anything involving ropes, tying people up, or similar actions can use a character's Dexterity modifier if they want.

Knowledge (geography): This skill does everything Knowledge (geography) and Survival did previously. Also see the Knowledge Skills section below. Its key ability score is the highest of a character's Intelligence or Wisdom.

Knowledge (history):' This skill does everything Decipher Script, Knowledge (history), and Martial Lore did previously. Also see the Knowledge Skills section below. Its key ability score is the highest of a character's Intelligence or Wisdom.

Knowledge (local): This skill does everything Gather Information and Knowledge (local) did previously. Also see the Knowledge Skills section below. Its key ability score is the highest of a character's Intelligence or Charisma.

Knowledge (nature): This skill does everything Handle Animal and Knowledge (nature) did previously. Also see the Knowledge Skills section below. Its key ability score is the highest of a character's Intelligence or Wisdom.

Knowledge (nobility and royalty): This skill does everything Knowledge (nobility and royalty) and Ride did previously. If your game uses the Iajutsu Focus skill, it is also folded into this. Also see the Knowledge Skills section below. Its key ability score is Intelligence, but anything involving riding animals or other things can use a character's Dexterity modifier if they want.

Knowledge (religion): This skill does everything Knowledge (religion) and Spellcraft did previously. In the case of Spellcraft, this applies to the parts of it that dealt with divine spells and spell-like abilities only. Additionally, any checks to operate a magical device that casts a divine spell, or has an divine spell in its creation (as if by Use Magic Device before) uses this skill. Also see the Knowledge Skills section below. Its key ability score is the highest of a character's Intelligence or Wisdom.

Knowledge (the planes): Check the section below on Knowledge Skills for how this has changed.

Perception: This skill does everything Listen and Spot did previously.

Search: This skill is unchanged.

Sleight of Hand: This skill is unchanged.

Sense Motive: This skill is unchanged.

Stealth: This skill does everything Hide and Move Silently did previously.

Truespeak: This skill is unchanged.

What Skill Does What?[edit]

To make converting to this easier, the old skills have been listed here, and what skills they are represented by under the new system are written next to them.

  • Appraise - no change.
  • Autohypnosis - Concentration.
  • Balance - Acrobatics.
  • Bluff - no change.
  • Climb - Athletics.
  • Concentraton - no change.
  • Craft - Knowledge (architecture and engineering).
  • Decipher Script - Knowledge (history).
  • Diplomacy - no change.
  • Disable Device - no change.
  • Disguise - no change.
  • Escape Artist - no change.
  • Forgery - Knowledge (architecture and engineering).
  • Gather Information - Knowledge (local).
  • Handle Animal - Knowledge (nature).
  • Heal - see the section on Knowledge Skills below.
  • Hide - Stealth.
  • Iaijutsu Focus - Knowledge (nobility and royalty) (if used)
  • Intimidate - no change.
  • Jump - no change.
  • Knowledge - no change, except for Knowledge (psionics), which is now in Knowledge (arcana).
  • Listen - Perception.
  • Martial Lore - Knowledge (history)
  • Move Silently - Stealth.
  • Open Lock - Disable Device.
  • Perform - see Other Rules And Cases below.
  • Profession - see Other Rules And Cases below.
  • Ride - Knowledge (nobility and royalty).
  • Search - no change.
  • Sense Motive - no change.
  • Sleight of Hand - no change.
  • Speak Language - see Other Rules And Cases below.
  • Spellcraft - Knowledge (arcana) or Knowledge (religion).
  • Spot - Perception.
  • Survival - Knowledge (geography).
  • Swim - Athletics.
  • Truespeak - no change.
  • Tumble - Acrobatics.
  • Use Magic Device - Bluff, Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (religion)
  • Use Rope - Knowledge (dungeoneering)

Who Gets What Skills?[edit]

If a character has a skill that has been converted to another skill, they have that skill as a class skill. The only exceptions are skills which have been split into multiple skills and Knowledge skills. For the former, the character's player can choose one skill that they get instead of their old one. For the latter, see the section on Knowledge Skills below.

Knowledge Skills[edit]

These are a severe problem, as they are nowhere near properly distributed, and often can stall the game by someone failing to know something obvious. In order to make it easier, the following rules apply to them:

  • For anything that involves knowing stuff (except for monster identification), any character automatically gets a result as if they had rolled a 10 on their check. This way, people don't randomly brain fart about something obvious.
  • Monster identification DCs are set by CR, not HD. Why anyone ever thought this was a good idea is beyond me.
  • Anything a Knowledge skill can identify, the character having this skill can also heal, as if using the Heal skill. So if you can identify constructs, congratulations - you can also fix them.

Additionally, the things Knowledge skills let you know are ten kinds of unbalanced in terms of relevance to your average adventuring setup. To make this mildly less insane, the skills now let you know the following stuff. Note that some of this overlaps - this is not actually a problem, since it can give people different angles on things.

  • Knowledge (arcana): Ancient mysteries, arcane magical traditions, arcane spells, arcane symbols, psionic traditions, psionic mysteries, psionic powers, dragons, undead
  • Knowledge (architecture and engineering): Buildings, structures, anything manufactured or made, making stuff in general, constructs, minerals, hard materials, vermin
  • Knowledge (dungeoneering): Stuff with ropes, underground stuff, spelunking, caverns and their systems, knots and bonds, aberrations, oozes
  • Knowledge (geography): Lands, terrain, climates, extraplanar environments, elementals, weather, magical beasts
  • Knowledge (history): Wars, colonies, migrations, foundings of cities, ancient languages, ancient mysteries, monstrous humanoids, giants, legends
  • Knowledge (local): Humanoids, personalities, inhabitants, laws, customs, local gossip, 'local colour', information about cities
  • Knowledge (nature): Animals, fey, plants, seasons and cycles, natural poisons, natural materials, natural foods, mysteries of nature
  • Knowledge (nobility and royalty): Horsemanship, lineages, heraldry, family trees, gossip on high society, mottoes, personalities of high society, customs of high society, kings and emperors, chivalry, high society behaviour
  • Knowledge (religion): Gods and goddesses, mythic history, ecclesiastical tradition and practice, holy and unholy symbols, divine magic, divine rituals, divine mysteries
  • Knowledge (the planes): Outsiders, stuff related to planes other than the Material Plane

Other Rules and Cases[edit]

  • All skill checks that are based on Strength or Dexterity (except Disable Device and Ride) take an armour check penalty. For any attempt to use Athletics to swim, that penalty is doubled.
  • Profession and Perform aren't skills any more. If it's in your background, you can do it.
  • Speak Language is not a skill anymore. Instead, for each week of exposure to the language for at least two hours a day, a character can attempt a DC 14 Intelligence check. If they pass this check, they learn the language. If the GM rules that the language is very similar to one they already know, the DC is only 12; if instead, they claim it's very difficult or confusing, the DC is 16. They cannot take 10 on this check (although taking 20 is acceptable).


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Article BalanceUnquantifiable +
AuthorMisterSinister + and Ghostwheel +
Identifier3.5e Variant Rule +
RatingUnrated +
TitleCondensed Skills +