Skills and Powers – Condensing the d20 Skill List

Condensing the 3.5 skills listing is a pretty common request. Unfortunately, it tends to create must-have uber-skills like “perception” – and often leaves rarely-taken skills like “Forgery” even further out in the cold or lumped in with something entirely inappropriate.

Still, it is really is popular, skills have been seriously devalued over the years and need some pepping up to make them worthwhile again, and it’s not like there aren’t a hundred other versions of condensed skill lists out there already. Secondarily, the base skills are pretty bland. In a world full of magic, why don’t they cover a bit of it?

Ergo, here’s a quick attempt to make sure that all the skills are actually worth taking. They aren’t all perfectly balanced of course – nothing ever is – but they should all be both useful and fun to have.

Acrobatics (Dex, Armor Check Penalty): Includes Balance, Escape Artist, Ride, and Tumble. At rank 8 you may take 3d4 damage to pull off an nigh-impossible stunt – dislocating your bones to escape chains, jumping down a series of falling rocks to break a fall, or some such. At Rank 16 the damage from such a stunt is reduced to 2d4, and at rank 24 to 1d4.

Appraise (Int): May be used to identify magical items, evaluate animals, and bargain. Characters with at least (Level/2) ranks of Appraise effectively get 10% extra when treasure or rewards are split up. Those with at least (Level) ranks of Appraise get 20% extra. This doesn’t actually reduce anyone’s allotment of treasure; those who are skilled in getting the best prices can simply make their cash go further.

Why are these shifting minimums? Because you’re presumed to be buying level-appropriate stuff for the most part – and thus will be negotiating with higher-level sellers with better skills of their own.

Athletics (Str, Armor Check Penalty): Includes Climb, Jump and Swim. Also covers things like power-lifting, kicking open doors, running marathons, outrunning monsters, and similar activities. The user may make an Athletics check instead of a straight attribute check for such attempts. At rank 8 you may take 3d4 damage to pull off an nigh-impossible stunt – briefly supporting an impossible weight, dashing across water for a few seconds, sinking your fingers into the stone of a wall while falling past it to try to climb it again, diving off a cliff with a rope to catch up to a falling individual and catch them, and so on. At Rank 16 the damage from such a stunt is reduced to 2d4, and at rank 24 to 1d4.

Arcana (Int): Includes Knowledge/Arcana, Knowledge/Psionics, Psicraft, and Spellcraft, as well as performing magical rituals. Every three full ranks of Arcana allows the user to employ one minor ritual, even without any special ritual feats or abilities.

Concentration (Con): Covers Autohypnosis, Concentration, and Control Shape. May also be used to briefly withstand dangerous forces given a few moments to prepare – for example, performing classical firewalking (DC 14), reaching into a furnace to pull out that magical blade without hurting yourself (DC 18), pulling free a high-voltage line without injury (DC 24).

Craft (Int): Craft ranks apply to (3 + Int Mod) areas. For example a Wizard with Int 16 could be skilled in Alchemy, Engraving, Glassblowing, Goldsmithing, Gemcutting, and Bladesmithing – everything he needs to make most magical devices. Anyone with at least (Level/2) ranks in Craft can live a reasonable lifestyle for their level by spending a few hours a day using their skills. Anyone with at least (Level) ranks in Craft can live an excellent lifestyle for their level in the same way.

Deception (Cha): Includes Bluff and Disguise as well as setting up diversions, con artistry, phony accounting, and coming up with believable false rationales. At rank 10+ you may use up to (Cha Mod) levels worth of appropriate Enchantment/Charm spells of up to level three daily through your words alone (Save DC is Charisma-Based, Caster Level = User Level). At rank 20+ the limit increases to spell level five and (2x Cha Mod) spell levels. At rank 30+ the limit increases to spell level seven and (3x Cha Mod) spell levels – the maximum.

Appropriate spells include things like Hideous Laughter, Taunt, Glibness, Mindless Rage, Rebuke, Suggestion, Daze and Daze Monster (briefly dazing people with outrageous insults), Crushing Despair, Shock and Awe, and so on.

Engineering (Int): Includes Knowledge/Architecture and Engineering, building and operating siege engines, machinery, mills, clockwork, hydraulics, pneumatics, deducing things about structures (such as locating secret rooms, passages, and doors), finding weak points to attack (can effectively double damage against inanimate objects with a GMO check), building gadgets, and working with pretty much anything else mechanical. Engineers may specify one quasi-magical gadget they they routinely carry for every three full ranks in engineering that they carry, and may trade these out given a week or two. If you want a pocket full of smoke pellets, a clockwork mechanism that fast-reloads your heavy crossbow five times before it needs ten minutes rewinding, a spring-loaded sleeve-grapnel, a sword that can fire it’s blade at an opponent, sneezing powder, and other gizmos, then this is the skill for you.

Heal (Wis): Includes surgery, psychotherapy, acupuncture, herbalism, minor magical rituals of healing, and advanced medicine. Users with at least four ranks may attempt a DC 15/25/35 check to reproduce the effects of a L1/L2/L3 curative spell up to (Wis Mod) times per day – although they may not “take 20″ on this check. Each +5 ranks adds one use per day.

Linguistics (Int): Includes Forgery, Decipher Script, and Speak Language (bestowing one extra language – speaking, reading, and writing – per rank). It also covers using and understanding dialects, knowing the meanings of names, getting messages across language barriers, and similar tasks. Being based on Int, this covers the free extra languages you get for a high intelligence.

Local Knowledge (Int) is a downright supernatural knack; it covers knowing about trails, bars, customs, stories, major individuals, businesses, traditions, creatures in the area, and so on EVERYWHERE YOU GO. If you only want to know about a PARTICULAR area, spend 1 SP to get a +15 on that specific location. It’s a LOT easier to know all about Allentown PA than it is to know that much about every location on Earth.

Perception (Wis): Includes Search, Spot, Listen, and (for that matter) smell checks. Optionally, characters with at least (Level) ranks in Perception may receive a +1 Synergy Bonus on Reflex Saves. Perception is so useful that it doesn’t really need sweetening, but that seems reasonable.

Perform (Cha): Perform ranks apply to (3 + Int Mod) areas, as with Craft. Anyone with at least (Level/2) ranks in Perform can live a reasonable lifestyle for their level by spending a few hours a day using their skills. Anyone with at least (Level) ranks in Perform can live an excellent lifestyle for their level in the same way. A skilled performer can achieve basic bardic effects such as fascinating an audience up to (Cha Mod) times per day, but the minimum skill requirements are doubled.

Persuasion (Cha): Includes Diplomacy and Intimidation, as well as propaganda, writing to persuade, writing treaties, acting as a judge, and salesmanship. At rank 10+ you may use up to (Cha Mod) levels worth of appropriate Enchantment/Charm spells of up to level three daily through your words alone (Save DC is Charisma-Based, Caster Level = User Level). At rank 20+ the limit increases to spell level five and (2x Cha Mod) spell levels. At rank 30+ the limit increases to spell level seven and (3x Cha Mod) spell levels – the maximum.

Appropriate effects include Charm effects, Hypnotism, Heroism, Good Hope, Fascination, and Suggestion. This replaces the (troublesome) Diplomacy ability to simply change long-term attitudes.

Religion (Int): Includes Knowledge/Religion, Knowledge/The Planes, and religious ceremonies. At 6+ ranks this includes the ability to cast three 0-level clerical spells per day. At 12+ ranks it provides +1 bonus level of religious spellcasting (cleric, druid, or similar). At 18+ ranks it provides access to a Domain, and at 24+ ranks it provides an additional bonus level of religious spellcasting.

Profession (Wis, Trained Only): Profession skills are broad-based. For example, Profession / Sailor may be used to tie knots and use rope, predict the weather at sea, navigate, climb and balance in the rigging, patch sails, do basic carpentry on hulls, and load and fire cannons. Profession/Dungeoneering covers Knowledge/Dungeoneering, organizing an expedition, major monsters and their characteristics, lost treasures, locations of dungeons and caverns, not getting lost in them, and so on.

Scholar (Int): Covers Knowledge/Geography, Knowledge/History, and Knowledge/Nobility and Royalty – as well as creatures, customs, etiquette, and law. Every five full ranks of Scholar provides a one-level step in one of the Favored Enemy or Favored Foe variants from Eclipse.

Socialize (Wis): Includes Gather Information, Handle Animal, and Sense Motive – as well as serious partying. Each two full ranks in Socialize provides the user with a valuable contact – someone with special skills, unusual abilities, political influence, or similar – which he or she is willing to use to help the character out, at least within reason.

Stealth (Dex): Includes Hide and Move Silently as well as setting up camouflage, smuggling things past searches, hiding things. At rank 8+ you can hide things about your person so well that even the universe loses track of them, giving the user the equivalent of a built-in, nondispellable, Handy Haversack. At rank 16+ you may become invisible (as per Improved Invisibility) for a total of (Dex Mod) minutes (in total, counting per round, activation is a free action) per day. At rank 24+ you may become incorporeal for a total of (Dex Mod) rounds per day, as per Improved Invisibility, above.

Survival (Int): Includes Knowledge/Nature, Survival, and Use Rope. Used for tracking, finding food, basic navigation/avoiding becoming lost, building shelters, and prospecting. At rank 6+ the user is protected as if by Endure Elements and may learn animal languages, such as “equine” or “feline”. At rank 12+ the user leaves no trail if he or she does not desire it. At rank 18+ the user’s movement is no longer hindered by overgrowth or terrain. At rank 24+ the user becomes immune to natural poisons and those of Vermin

Thievery (Dex, Trained Only): Includes Disable Device, Open Locks, and Pick Pocket / Sleight of Hand. At rank 6+ the user may attempt to use such a skill as a free action up to (Dex Mod) times per day. At rank 12+ the user may similarly use such as skill at a range of up to 30 feet (Dex Mod) times per day. At rank 18+ the user will attract 3d6 young rogues, stolen from their normal lives. At rank 24+ the user may, once per day, attempt to steal magical properties or abilities – although the user may only have one such property or ability in his or her possession at a time. Thus, one day, he might steal a mages Disintegrate spell, using it a day later. Next up, the magic of a sword, transferring it to a sword of his or her own. The day after? A use of a dragon’s breath weapon, leaving it having to wait another 1d4 rounds to use it.

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7 Responses

  1. This condensing of skills is actually just what I was needing, thanks! Though i’d probably modify it further based on what member of the party was using the skill. Not based on the player, mind you, just the character. For example, modifying acrobatics checks based on what sort of activities within the skill the character is familiar/proficient in. The group warrior having a bonus to riding, but slight increase to DC for other acrobatics related things. On the other hand, the party rogue having it easier with balance and tumble, but a DC increase to riding. This is just an off the top of my head example, though.

    • Well, I’m glad you found it useful!

      And Charles will continue; things just got drastically behind while I was in the hospital and in the aftermath. I fear that I wasn’t really up to writing for several weeks there. Pesky ruptured appendix…

  2. One clarification, when looking at “at rank 8…” does that count just the skill points invested in it (presumably as a relavent/in class skill so it would be a 1:1 ratio) or would it count skill points and ability mod, or would it count skill points, ability mod and misc other boni?

    • In general, that would be basic rank plus any relevant skill-boosting feats; being highly dexterous will certainly help with basic thievery, but it won’t really help with channeling a bit of magic through your skill to use it at range.

  3. […] Condensed d20 Skills List: with magical skill applications. […]

  4. I just noticed that Use Magic Device isn’t referenced on this list at all. Is it meant to still be its own skill under this list, or is it folded into Arcana?

    • It was intended to be more-or-less gone unless taken as an occult skill for Eclipse games (which is what the list was mostly meant for). While Use Magic Device is so multifunctional that it could remain as-is with little difficulty in a standard game, Religion will allow the use of clerical-magic devices, Deception, Persuasion, and Heal cover several other groups of devices, and one can easily pick up Device Use or just take a bit of arcane magic to cover arcane devices.

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