Key Ability Scores Can Suck It

September 27, 2011

A Simple House Rule for Skills

Okay, let’s do this one quickly. Listen up.

I got drawn into a discussion on Twitter this morning about Monte Cook’s first Legends and Lore column and about skills in 4E. A few folks brought up The Religion Problem and, honestly, this one was new to me. “Where have you been, Angry?” I know, I know. Here it is, in a nutshell: because Religion is an intelligence skill, and because intelligence is not an important attribute for clerics, it turns out that a wizard untrained in Religion is just as good at it as a cleric who is trained.

I never noticed the problem. And I’m not sure it really is a problem. You can disagree if you want, but frankly, you won’t make me care. Thing is, I’m okay with it. See, I still think of Religion as a knowledge skill. Its based on memorizing facts like the names of gods, their symbols, their commandments, the scriptures, histories, and so on. That’s intelligence, man. And it stands to reason someone more intelligent is going to be better at it because they have a memory like a gelatinous cube.

But, this is 4E. And Religion isn’t just a knowledge skill anymore. We’re supposed to improvise now and we don’t have nearly as many skills to play with. So now, Religion does anything religiousy. Need the name of the High Holy Pugilist of Kord? Religion! Is that divine magical energy I smell? Religion! Oh, I need to consecrate this wax fruit scultpure for a holy ritual. RELIGION! Its just too damned broad!

And a lot of skills are like that. I can come up with similar goofy uses for Arcana. Or Thievery. Or we could talk about the many, many, many uses for Diplomacy (anything that involves talking to people without lies or threats). And what the f$*%^ is Dungeoneering supposed to do? Anything! As long as its underground! And let’s talk about about swimming. Its great for swimming out of the grasp of a kraken that has watched one too many of those tentacle porn videos, but what if you’re in some medieval iron man competition and have to swim the fantasy equivalent of the English Channel? Is strength the issue, or is it just about constitution? Sure. Just make it an endurance check. But is that fair? What’s the more applicable skill set? Eight hours of forced marching or actually knowing how to f$*%ing swim?

Way back when 3rd edition didn’t even have a point in it, let alone a five, I started using a trick that I swear came out of the Player’s Handbook, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. I may have made it up. I call it: The Rule of Key Abilities Can Suck It. Whenever I, as the DM, determined that a player’s action was appropriate to a certain skill, but not the key ability score, I made them substitute the modifier for the more apporpriate score. And I’ve been doing it ever since. It doesn’t come up often, true. But I’ve done it often enough that I had forgotten that I would need a doctor with rubber gloves and a flashlight to show where the rule had come from. So, when I mentioned it today on Twitter, I was kind of surprised that it wasn’t something everyone was doing. Who knew?

4E makes it really easy to do this. There is so little to a skill now. Its the equivalent of just making an ability check with a +5 bonus for certain types of training. So, yeah, when a cleric in my world has to recall specific passages of scripture, he’s drawing on intelligence. But when he’s sensing the divine energies of some deity, if its important enough to worry about, I tell him “make a Religion check, but use your wisdom modifier.” When a wizard is trying to win another wizard’s help by impressing him with magical knowledge, its a Diplomacy check using intelligence. It just makes sense.

I base the mixing and matching on a simple rule of thumb: the goal or end result determines the useful skill, but the method determines the ability score. Whenever you’re trying to win a friend or convince someone to help, its Diplomacy because interpersonal skills, reading people, and knowing how to win people over are things you learn and get better at. Those are the relevant skills. But if you’re trying to impress someone who is more interested in knowledge than your glowing personality, its your intelligence that is going to help you out. A rogue trying to get a puzzle box unlocked and open will still use Thievery because the goal is to manipulate a device, but, depending on the nature of the puzzle box, he might find intelligence to be more help than dexterity since the thing is designed to be solved rather than forced or finagled.

The thing is, though, that the DM is the one who makes the call. Why? Because players will cheat. They will abuse it. “Yeah, I’m totally diplomacying with my strength!” No! You tell me what you’re doing, I’ll tell you how to resolve the action. But if the players know you are doing it this way, it forces them to solve problems (even in skill challenges) by thinking like their characters instead of like they have list of skill modifiers. The strong fighter is always going to look for ways to use his strength to solve problems, regardless of the skills involved. That’s natural. Most people try to throw their known strengths and best assets at problems. So, the fighter is generally trying to shove Athletics and Endurance into every situation like a stupid-shaped peg in a round hole. But the fighter who is trying to intimidate the local blacksmith and use his strength might pick up a metal tool and bend it menacingly. Intimidate is still the key skill because its still about carrying yourself the right way and scaring someone by pressing the right buttons, but the feat of strength is more important than the force of personality behind it. Instead of picking off a list, the player said “how can I use my physical strength to help solve this problem?” That’s a very natural, very human thought process.

Is it balanced? Who the hell knows. Probably not. That’s why the DM makes the call and the players just declare the actions. I honestly don’t care. I can’t imagine its any worse than a skill system that hamstrings people at iconic skills. I’m okay with the cleric who can’t rattle off the scripture of every god in the world without the intelligence to back it up, but the intuitive, wise cleric can fiddle with divine forces, conduct rituals and prayers, and do the real stuff of clerics. I’m just throwing it out there because its a simple thing to do and maybe it will work for you.

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38 Responses to Key Ability Scores Can Suck It

  1. Asmor on September 27, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    Player: “Yeah, I’m totally diplomacying with my strength!”
    Me: “Ok, fine. Make a roll.”
    Player: “Uh… 17.”
    Me: “You hit. Roll damage. Then everyone roll initiative.”

  2. The Angry DM on September 27, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    You, Asmor, win the internet for today.

  3. Alphastream on September 27, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    As I was mentioning to Angry on Twitter, Legend of the Five Rings RPG has a fun system. You have rings that are elemental in nature (Earth, Water, Air, Fire) and each one has some core “sub-abilities”. Fire has Intelligence and Agility, Air has Reflexes and Awareness, Water has Strength and Perception, and Earth has Stamina and Willpower. This is cool on several levels, amongst them that as you buy up these abilities (done by gaining XP and also during character creation) you have to raise both the sub-abilities before you can raise the actual Ring. The Ring is used a lot for bonuses (add your Earth to your wound level), but the underlying abilities are used often for skills (and all attacks use skills).

    Furthermore, your skills are purchased in ranks but are not always tied to a single ability. In fact, the DM can pretty much assign whatever combination fits the scene. Restoring a monastery might call for athletics (the skill) + stamina (the ability) in predictable fashion. But, restoring the painting high up on the monastery wall might require painting + Agility. L5R adventures can have some pretty surprising combinations, such as when you are trying to write a poem about warriors (poetry + strength?), spotting spirits (theology + perception), cooking for a certain guest (cooking + awareness), etc. The game also tends to have way more skills than you could master, which makes it far easier to be challenged and far more important to vary the abilities you have. Sure, you could go for max Fire to be really able to hit with a katana, but you hurt all those other skill uses if you do so (not to mention your movement, wound tolerance, and initiative).

    The system isn’t flawless (there is much cheese to be had), but it is worth considering for some possible changes to the 4E method.

  4. Scott on September 27, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    I think “The Rule of Key Abilities Can Suck It” did show up as a common house rule, but it was usually known as “Let the half-orc intimidate with strength.”

    It sounds like something useful and easily inserted. Like when the ranger is complaining that she’s useless because the skill challenge doesn’t call for nature, athletics, or perception, maybe she’ll roll the die if you let her key off of wisdom.

    As for the intelligence and religion thing, it hasn’t come up but I’d let a divine character roll at +2 dealing with his or own god. Cleric of Pelor, sure, you know Peloran rites. But, sorry, you were too busy looking into the sun to learn about Vecna.

  5. mathfes on September 28, 2011 at 2:14 am

    In’t Religion kinda like Arcana when it comes to divine spells and such? I mean that you gotta have training to do some things beyond knowledge.

    Anywho, this seems nice, but! there are groups out there to rip a DM to shreds if they do it but once. So I say “go ahead, use Wisdom with your Religion” and then I get beaten to death with requests to use Dexterity for Athletics (true story). Should I refuse those, I’m a killer DM (wait, what?) and nobody wants to play with me, ’cause I play favorites.

    So I use the skill-challenge approach: I let the fighter intimidate with strength: does he bend the iron bar? If so, he gets a +X bonus to his next intimidate check. Using Charisma. No favorites played there. Or so I hope.

  6. Alexander on September 28, 2011 at 5:49 am

    I concur, sir! the DM of the campaign I am currently playing lets my character use STR on his intimidate check, because he has 6 CHA, and so he’s obviously not trying to intimidate him with his silver tongue, as much as with his 20 STR muscle.

  7. GMSarli on September 28, 2011 at 6:11 am

    It’s funny you bring this up; I started doing the same thing in my own d20 games a long time ago, and I codified the rule in my upcoming e20 System Universal Rulebook (late November). We took it a step farther and divorced skills entirely from ability scores: They’re separate modifiers, and you add whichever two are most applicable (as determined by the GM).

    In your example, when you say you’re going to intimidate someone using your Strength by picking up a tool and bending it, you’d roll a d20 and add your Influence skill modifier (this covers things like diplomacy, intimidation, and bureaucracy) and Strength ability modifier. Or, if you’re a gunslinger who wants to impress with your speed, you might say you quick draw, spin your gun with the trigger guard, and reholster it in the blink of an eye; in that case, it would be d20 + Influence + Dexterity. Or, if you’re a forensic scientist, you might describe in loving detail exactly how to dispose of a body in a way that can’t be traced (d20 + Influence + Intelligence).

    In fact, depending how how the GM decides to interpret the action, the skills and abilities might change. In this case, the above examples might instead be interpreted as Athletics + Charisma, Firearms + Charisma, and Science + Charisma, respectively.

    This kind of flexibility is really intuitive, and players get it *immediately* — they start thinking creatively about their skills and abilities and try to come up with actions that will let them tap into something they excel at. Sure, someone with an ideal combination (high Influence + high Charisma) will always shine, but it makes it where the rest of the party always has something meaningful to contribute.

  8. Eldrich Gaiman on September 28, 2011 at 7:37 am

    I think the PHB you remember seeing it in was “Anything by White Wolf”.

  9. TheAngryDM on September 28, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Mathefas: There are DMs who will rip a player to shreds if he starts asking for rules exceptions rather than letting the DM run the game. True story.

    At the point where the players are dictating rules to the DM, whining, complaining, or threatening to leave the game; they can run their own f$%&*ing game because I’m done with them. Also true story. I’ve walked out on groups. Guess what? It turns out its a lot easier for a DM to find a new group than it is for players to find a new DM. Nice to be in demand.

    Either way, I don’t put much stock in the argument that this approach is flawed because some players don’t like it or abuse the game. The approach is here for those who want it. I will continue to use it myself. And screw whiny players.

  10. TheAngryDM on September 28, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Eldritch: No. I know I didn’t see it there because I don’t do the White Wolf thing. Let me politely say it isn’t my cup of tea for reasons that would involve a long string of profanities. But I will keep my opinion to myself. :-)

  11. Pseckler on September 28, 2011 at 10:37 am

    This is a great rule! And I totally agree. I have another one which I use, which is just a bit simpler (and lazier): I ask (either mentally or out loud if I haven’t been gaming with this PC for long)

    “How good do I (and hopefully the player agrees with me) asses the character in question/about to attempt an act might be able at doing the thing in question?”

    If it’s total competence, you don’t have to roll.

    If I think it’s more than 50%, roll over a 7 or something.

    If it’s 50% it’s a 10.

    If it’s probably not great or unlikely.. a 15 or an 18.

    Impossible doesn’t get a roll.

    That’s the entire range. The skill checks just give me an indicator of “how good is this guy”. The roll doesn’t incorporate anything skillwise. I don’t use it every time, I just do this when I can’t figure out which skill to use or the skill seems to get in the way of what we all agree the character to be able to do.

  12. Red_Mage on September 28, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Why do you hate people being able to do shit with skills? religion honestly isn’t that broad. Like all the stuff you mentioned comes down to a sane combo of knowing your holy rites and faith. D&D has always handled divine magic as a ritualistic thing, where anyone who believes in the god (or who the god believes in) can call down his power in very specific ways.

  13. Ricardo Signes on September 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    This has the side benefit of making a lot of feats obsolete. Fewer feats means fewer options, which means more freedom. Rock on.

  14. GMSarli on September 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    FWIW, I could swear this idea was mentioned at least in passing, probably in some fighter-oriented supplement in either 2e (Complete Fighter’s Handbook) or 3e (Sword & Fist or Complete Warrior). Specifically, there was a suggestion about using Strength for Intimidation instead of Charisma, like as an optional rule.

    I honestly don’t know if I’m imagining it because I don’t have my older books handy, but I’m pretty sure that this concept has been in print in D&D at some point — and White Wolf needn’t be involved. ;)

  15. The Angry DM on September 28, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    Red_mage: I don’t hate people being able to do things. Far from it. I think I’ve demonstrated very much that I want people to be able to do things, unfettered by the worry over whether or not a key stat is high enough to try it.

    But yeah, I’m making fun of skills. I’m making fun because the very idea of key abilities is a little flawed when you try to make your skills so broad. You’re going to run into problems with uses that don’t fit the ability scores. Nature lets you recognize, identify, and remember plants and animals (intelligence), construct hunting snares and traps (dexterity), survive the wilderness for extended periods (constitution), and recognize tracks and hazards (wisdom). It strikes me as a little silly to say “okay, this is a wisdom skill.” Why?

    If I can pontificate a bit: everything is an ability check in D&D 4E. Every action is resolved by starting with an ability score modifier. What changes are the things we add, whether it is weapon proficiency, bonuses from magic implements, or skill bonuses. That’s the very basic thing that touched off this whole d20 system folderol, right? But we think of them as skill checks. Like skills are these seperately calculated magical entities. Call a spade a spade. When you do something in D&D, roll an ability check. If you have relevant training, you get +5. Over and done with.

  16. The Angry DM on September 28, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Ricardo: I can’t tell if you are being sarcastic or not…

  17. Ricardo Signes on September 28, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    I’m totally serious. I think 4E suffers from too many options. I think it gets in the way of just playing the game. (Alternately, I think it changes the game into a game I like less.) “Well, I can use Tire of Iron or Cleave or Pinning Smash or…”

    I think it also leads to focusing on the character sheet and stats instead of on playing the game. I’d love to see the number of feats *drastically* reduced. I bet there are whole categories that could be reengineered into general rule changes that would give more freedom all over the place instead of forcing one-time choices and a great emphasis on optimization.

  18. Red_Mage on September 29, 2011 at 12:48 am

    @The Angry DM

    Well ability scores were originally a kludgy hack for skills anyway, I don’t know why, in a game with a class for being the sneaky guy, with a skill for being the sneaky guy, you also need a score for being the sneaky guy. Like you can (and people have) modify 4e really easily to remove ability scores entirely, and the game is better and more flexible for it.

    What I was specifically addressing is that skill sets should be broad like Nature is. With the Way D&D treats religion, religion is actually one of the narrowest skills, it pretty much covers knowing stuff about gods and what things they like. Regardless, the thing about your proposed fix is it isnt bad. Its just the problem it is addressing has a better solution.

  19. Skilled with Skills « Daily Encounter on September 29, 2011 at 6:27 am

    […] Skilled with Skills By ObsidianCrane, on September 29th, 2011 There has been a lot of talk about skills lately on Twitter and the WotC site which has led to a few blog posts by members of the community as well. The first starting point is of course the Legends and Lore column with 2 articles by Mike Mearls and this week’s one by Monte Cook all pushing a new idea for skills proposed by Mr. Cook. You can read other community blogs at Initiative or What?, Sarah Dark Magic (3 articles), and the Angry DM. […]

  20. The Angry DM on September 29, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Red_mage: Okay, why? Why -should- skills be broad? Why can’t there be lots of skills with narrower definitions? Its not a thing that -should- be one way or another. It was a choice the designers made. They decided to go with a short list of very broad skills. And that, combined with the basic system they are using (i.e.: ability scores), leads to wonkiness. So, here, I’m offering a quick alternative that people can do in their head without having to modify how the game works.

    Sure, if you want to start uprooting the system and tearing big chunks out, you’ll probably find better solutions. But there’s more work involved. And, personally, I’ve never felt ability scores were an inherent problem that needed to be removed. But if you have, more power to you.

  21. Skill the Messenger | Castles & Cooks on September 29, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    […] AngryDM raises some of these same issues. He points out how vague and inelegant skill usage can be. In his article, he proposes a houserule: the Rule Of Key Ability Scores Can Suck It. Basically, if you don’t like the ability score that modifies a particular skill, you can change it on a situational basis. Swimming the English Channel uses Athletics (Constitution). Menacing some no-goodnik by upending tables calls for Intimidate (Strength). Giving someone camouflage lessons means Stealth (Intelligence). Try telling him his half-orc racial stat bonuses don't help his Intimidate skill. […]

  22. Kato Katonian on September 29, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    This may not be completely germane, but…

    I tend to use either the skill synergies concept from 3e, or the general “+2 if the situation is favorable” trick.

    With respect to skill synergies, if you’re attempting something, and you’re trained in another skill that is somewhat relevant to the check, you get a bonus (usually +2) to the skill check. A contrived example: The PC tries to beat an NPC in a footrace. The player rolls an athletics check to resolve the race, and since they are trained in Endurance they can add a +2 to their athletics check to represent being able to run at full speed for a longer distance.

    And these bonuses can come from anything, not just other skills. I had a tactical warlord in my group whose character concept involved him being a keen strategist. A few times when he needed to make checks that somehow related to things his character would be particular good at (such as determining who the leader of a band of goblins was, or tactics being used by enemies in combat) I allowed him to make the relevant skill/ability check with a +2 for being a tactical warlord.

    With your example of bending an iron bar to intimidate someone, I usually rule this in one of two ways. If what they are doing to intimidate the person (i.e. bending a bar) seems like something they would just be able to do (the character has a high strength, for instance), I just tell them to make their intimidate check with a +2 (for a favorable circumstance). If what they are doing is something a bit more extraordinary (“I win the crowd over by doing 20 straight backflips!”) I might have them make two skill checks–in this case, if they succeed the acrobatics check for doing so many flips, they get a bonus to a diplomacy check roll. (Alternately, I might just have them make the first check–acrobatics–and use success/failure on that determine the results of the diplomatic attempt)

    Of course, this is nothing new to experienced DMs, but I felt I’d share nonetheless.

  23. Red_Mage on September 29, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    @The Angry DM

    See the problem with what you want though, is it makes everyone less competent. Like lets talk about being the guy who sneaks around. You say, hey this rogue thing sounds sneaky, I’ll be one of those. So you now need to also take a high dexterity (the stat for sneaking), because otherwise you will be less good at being a rogue (the guy who sneaks). That means you probably can’t also have a high Intelligence, Charisma, and Strength, you’re gonna have to choose, thats OK though, because the book says that this is the way to be the guy who sneaks around. Finally you train the stealth skill (the skill for sneaking), to better the the guy who sneaks around. Now with what you are calling for, you are going to find that all the effort you have put into being the guy who sneaks may or may not matter. If your DM decides stealth is too broad of a skill and decides it needs to be int sometimes, str others, and occasionally cha (all of which have conceivable application to “stealth”), suddenly all the effort you put into being the guy who sneaks around is worthless. After a few levels, the people who weren’t trying to be the sneaky guy will be objectively better than you are at being the sneaky guy in some situations.

  24. The Angry DM on September 29, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    Red_mage: Okay, so don’t use the house rule if you don’t like it. Personally, I don’t see the problem with a PC sometimes not being the best at some actions. You’re kind of overstating how often it comes up. Particularly with something like Stealth, which is a pretty narrowly defined skill and most often end up being governed by Dexterity. Its not a matter of deciding a skill is “too broad.” Its a matter of somtimes deciding that a specific application doesn’t fit the definition of the ability score it is tied to by default.

    In 4E, the default assumption is that a moderate DC on a skill check provides a good chance of success to someone who is EITHER trained OR has a good ability score. The skill system also emphasizes using moderate DCs most of the time. Players, however, have a tendancy to feel as if they have to throw optimized skills at problems to succeed. It is only against hard DCs that the combination of training + good ability score is neccessary to succeed.

    So, however you look at it, there really isn’t a game breaking problem here apart from the attitude that a PC needs to be able to MAXIMIZE some skill or another and be the absolute best at every application of it. The 4E system does not require that. Its a perception problem. Its about seeing big numbers on the character sheet and no more than that.

  25. Red_Mage on September 29, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    @The Angry DM

    See but here’s the problem with your whole line of thinking. When a player is starting out, they don’t think in terms of reducing everything to a number, they tend to think in terms of what they want their character to be, what they want to do while in character. I am not saying I want you to change your houserule, I am saying your houserule is a rule that makes the game less accessible to new players. There are plenty of games that use (Ability Score) + (Skill) to resolve comflict, where the ability score and skill being used can be mixed an matched, however those games don’t tend to have classes for a reason. Your solution is a bad one, because you need certain ability scores for your class in D&D, you will try and maximize those not to “see bigger numbers” but because the game’s math ASSUMES you will be good at doing what your class does. If you are in a situation where your class’s scores don’t align with things that your dm thinks your class skills should work on, your character is now being unfairly punished for the sake of what? a faux realism in a game where your character has a mechanical power level and is locked into a certain job because of his past jobs? The thing is were D&D classless your system would not be bad, it is what NWoD uses (in a similar fashion). Were the game ability scoreless, your system would be unecessarily because skills could represent being good at lots of things. And of course were the game skill-less you could just use scores as is and call it good.

    The problem your proposal has is it is trying to create a realism from highly abstracted sacred cows of mechanics, and it is sacrificing player agency, consistency, and simplicity to do so.

  26. The Angry DM on September 29, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Red_mage: You’ve made your point, but I don’t agree with it. I’m sorry.

    First, check your math. 4E’s math assumes that on average, a character with ONLY training in a skill has a 70% chance to succeed on a skill check. That is assuming an ability modifier of +0. That’s the normal level of difficulty for most challenges. And that is actually a better success rate than the average chance of hitting on an attack, which hovers at about 65%, though it varies by class and role. A character with no ability score to help succeeds at most challenges more than two-thirds of the time. D&D does not differentiate between levels of success. It is completely binary. So, how much you succeed by is generally not a factor.

    Second, all of those words about highly abstracted sacred cows and agency, simplicity, and consistency? To put it politely, those are meaningless, vapid buzzwords. If I cared, I’d point out how freeing players from the need to only use optimized skills and worry about high numbers increases agency and how my house rule increases consistency by ensuring that ability scores are only used for things that fit their definitions (like always using Intelligence to recall factual information even if the skill says its a Wisdom skill). But again: buzzwords used to mean “my interpretation is better than yours for unspecified reasons.” I’m not retaining ability scores because they are a sacred cow. I’m retaining them because I don’t feel like ripping apart the whole system and I LIKE what they do besides. After all, its simpler not to rip apart the system.

  27. Old Gumphrey on October 17, 2011 at 3:24 am

    I loved that rule, and yes, it was from 3e, but I also cannot find it! I’ve also been using it ever since; I think 4e even mentions it in passing *somewhere*, but I can’t find that, either. Oh, well! ^_^

  28. vasilidor on October 24, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    in response to long distance swimming the answer to whether it is a swim check or an endurance check is yes. one you need two actually be able to swim, and two you need to be able to do it for long periods of time. ie: three characters character A has the endurance of a titan… but swims like a rock, character b is a very good swimmer, but cant cope with the distance, but character c can not only swim well, but he can go the distance.

  29. gaiusbaltar on November 23, 2011 at 12:47 am

    I think you can accomplish this without swapping key abilities. Remember, the key role of the DM when asking a PC to make a skill check is assigning a the DC. Now, there are clear options here. You have easy, medium and hard DCs, at levels n, n+2, n-1, etc. If my Cleric with a low INT needs to make a Religion check, well then I’d first ask them to make an Insight check and use the result of that check to determine the DC of the following religion check. If they score high, maybe easy at level n+1, depending on how difficult I actually want the check to be. I do this a lot with social skills. Rogues with high CHA’s think they have free reign with Bluff and Intimidate, so I temper them by asking for an Insight check or Perception to determined whether or not they actually have something they can work with, whether it’s leverage or a chance to find common ground. Then I use that check result as a reference for how I set the DC for the primary skill being attempted. I think this adds a layer of realism, and the players appreciate it because they get to role more dice. I think it would work the other way as well, giving players a chance to bypass a poor ability score by drawing on a related skill that they are good at.

  30. W. Ian Blanton on November 25, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Hate to perform comment Netcromancy, but I just wanted to chime in that A) I think your solution makes sense and B) that’s exactly how GURPS works for skills. Standard skill rolls are on the primary attribute for the skill, but you roll against different traits depending on what you’re doing. For example: You would roll your Traps skill based off perception to spot a trap, against IQ to figure out how to disarm it, and against DX to actually disarm it (or I suppose ST, but that’d probably be a weird kind of trap :))

    I have to say from my foray into D&D4e, the breadth of the skill bothers me a lot, so I’m fully with you, there, too.

  31. Christopher Klein on December 10, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Pages 91 & 92 of the 3.0 DMG “Variant: Skills with Different Abilities”

  32. Davenport on January 4, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    I’m a noob DM (starting my first campaign this week). I’ve been reading the 3.5 DMG and just saw this variant rule listed in the Running the Game chapter.

    Like your site,

  33. PrincessAudrii on June 24, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    3.5 gave the option of cross-training levels, so many players were at least a level one rogue which gave the largest amount of skill points to choose from, before making their character a wizard or cleric or fighter. 3.5 also had Jack of Trades feat, and if you trained in certain skills you got bonuses to other skills.

    4E by comparison is less about training all your skills, and more about focusing on certain skills. Its about everyone cooperatively being good at certain skills, but the party as a whole covering all the skills, and aiding each other. The backgrounds and themes and some feats also allow for players to add skills they don’t have as class skills.

    That’s just one way to see it of course, but as a player that’s how I felt about it playing. In 3.5 I could be skilled in a lot of things and very rarely felt like I failed a challenge, while in 4E I could only be skilled in a few things, it felt like it limited my options of things I could try to do, including aid others… and it led to a lot more group failures for challenges as you need to get something like 8 or 10 successes or more, but 3 failures and you’re group has failed the challenge. Also the idea of aiding seemed to change too by DM. Some DMs allow that if four people aid you (all rolling a ten or more), you get a +8 to your roll, others are its always +2. And that of course is DM’s prerogative…

    And that’s what it comes down to, but players look at a game with rules and some are very rules oriented and when the DM changes the rules, the players want to know how that’s going to affect them, they want it written out and examples so that they can use the ‘new rules’ to their best advantage. Because that’s what its all about, playing the game and having fun. So I guess it depends on your idea of fun and how skill checks can make it feel like you’re either doing something worthwhile or being a failure.

  34. Level 1 DM on October 16, 2012 at 10:20 am

    D&D Next seems to be picking up on this concept –

  35. Eric Phillips on January 2, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    Your skill system is the way I like it. In fact many other games do this exact thing. Mongoose Traveller is exactly this, and they fact that they split intelleigence into to stats (basically raw intelligence and book learned education)you have a lot of choices. I use it for World of Darkness. I have never had a complaint about it, or players trying to abuse it.

  36. Markita Casselman on September 8, 2013 at 5:28 am

    Thanks , I have recently been looking for information approximately this topic for ages and yours is the best I’ve found out so far. But, what concerning the bottom line? Are you certain in regards to the supply?

  37. Jean Paul on April 22, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    I’m way f$%^#ing late, but I came across this rule in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Unfortunately, the one WITH a point in it. Page 33 in a side bar named: VARIANT: Skills with Different Abilities.

  38. Michael L on October 21, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    This is in the 5th edition PHB on page 175 if that’s of interest to anyone.

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