I do want skills, and I think I found an easy hack


The idea is, if you have a skill trained, you get to add you attribute bonus to the roll. If you are untrained, you have to roll the d20 Raw. Skills just determine when you can add your attribute bonus.


I system a friend of mine and myself started to put together had collections of skills. Let me explain.

  • Category (arm length):

    • Rapier (int)
    • Long Sword (dex)
  • Category (arm’s reach):

    • Knife (int)
    • Tomahawk (str)
    • Bowie (dex)
  1. Each category had 3 dots. The players would have to fill each dot for that category before they could specialize.
  2. Upon specialization, can add one skill from associated list
  3. Each weapon had a select number of specialization available
  4. Some specialization could be stacked up to a designated limit
  5. The purpose of each weapon was to allow each skill (str, dex, int, etc) to have a favorite weapon. The mages were biased towards rapier.
  6. Ranges were: contact, knife, long sword, pole arm, ballistic

Personally I’m becoming less enthralled with skills. Areas of interest is a little more interesting for me because skills end up being too finite.


I think I’ve seen that somewhere.

Another approach would be to let the player roll 2D10 for a skill his character is proficient in. It’s obviously not the same curve as a D20, but it helps sell that the PC is skilled in something.

I may post my homebrew skills here, I just need to write about them! Cheers!


I like using “wheelehouses” rather than lists of discreet skills. For example, a farmer knows a lot about weather, seasons, making tools, and negotiating prices.

That said, this is a nice simple mechanic, and fairly intuitive.


This is how I would do it as well. In fact I would ask characters to come up with three key words about their background at character creation. Three general things they know a lot about. Any time a check might call on something related to it they can argue for an advantage (But it’s not guaranteed). They could be highly specific, or generalized, but should not be super general like “History” or “Religion”.


I rule skills differently. There’s two levels of skill: good at and really good at.

Things a character are good at are never hard.

Things a character are really good at are always easy.

Keeps it clean on the math side.


I’ve moved away from skills and into something like Merl mentioned above. At creation a character has some traits and a background (yakked from Knave). They choose an ability for some of these traits, such as background. Anytime that trait would be beneficial when attempting something, they get to roll easy. Anytime that trait would be a disadvantage they roll hard. A Hunter background should be better at tracking and finding shelter in the wild than your typical adventurer. But that same Hunter may have troubles when dealing with normal city folk.


nice and simple
SKILLS as such, are generally removed from RPG’s for the same reason, and it’s not to save complexity… it’s to keep players’ minds open. Searching for the ‘skill of the moment’ is a newer development (90’s)


I think I feel it is more important in a sci-fi setting, mainly for niche protection. That said, I’m digging the classes in the Quick start. They offer the niche protection I was looking for and I like the mastery counter.


I don’t think you need a discreet skill list even in sci-fi or modern settings; all you need is a couple key words which describe a person’s training: pilot, navigator, engineer, soldier, ambassador, spy, scientist, etc. It condenses so much of the unnecessary crunch of skill lists, and leaves the door open for creative thinking.


I’d like to build on this and ask about “Flow”. (See 'Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) Amazon un-affiliated link.)

A quick test for such a system is how long it will take to decide if a value on a sheet is applicable to a story telling situation. With something like: computer systems, piloting, large weapons, personal weapons, vehicle driving, repair general, repair space ships. And so forth. A separate sheet that one can glance down and get a quick answer.

There is a trade off between quickness and absolute. A simulator vs video game. It seems counter-intuitive, but less is more. Quite a few years ago, they began tinkering with building robots being built with three or four transistors instead of microcontrollers. The complex interaction they got from these small circuits would take many lines of code and more than a few software bugs. In essence, it’s ‘fuzzy logic’.

Instead of a finite answer, which our school school system indoctrinates us to use, try a value range. A Grey Scale system and see how that design works out.


You can just rule that you add 1d6 or some other bonus to your normal rolls when you have a relevant skill.

I’ve also been experimenting with replacing effort types with a list of skills (you use skills as effort instead of the normal bonus to attribute rolls)


Isn’t that a bit like proficiency dice? It’s still pretty cool!

And yeah, those skills could work a bit like Savage World?


This question is taken up a tad in this video at the 16 minute mark.

Ultimately I gravitate towards skill based games, but the 5E take on it doesn’t do it the way I like. It seems like a committee meeting compromise.

It works, but not really giving the advantage of skill based games, and adding the disadvantage of sheet complexity/right skill for particular actions.

How a hulking troll in armor with charisma of 3 can’t intimidate its way out of a halfling farm, makes little sense to me.

But much of this is the fault of standardized play, I think.


Intimidate as a skill only makes sense if the threat being implied isn’t obvious. A troll doesn’t have to use their intimidation skill, because people are not suicidal. I think the example proves my point a little. Trolls are big and scary, and people run away from them, but the troll doesn’t apply that scariness to gain advantage in social interactions. On the other hand, the local brute is probably also savvy enough to pick up on who around him is really intimidated, who isn’t, and how to use that fear to their advantage, thus when a player playing that role asks if they can use their intimidation to maximum effect, you don’t need a space on the character sheet that says “get’s +X to intimidate”. You know he’s good at it, and you make a call as to whether rolling is even necessary.


I mostly agree with you…sorry if I didn’t make that clear.
Way too long to read, short version
(Simple system with backgrounds and specialty skills keeps the cognitive load down, but never limits the player characters)

In a game where main stats are primary, professions or broad skills should be enough.
Investigator, Sailor, Fence, Spy to garner what they should be good at, get an easy roll perhaps a bonus to effort. Perhaps no roll at all.

However, there are plenty of wonderful games that skills are primary. Some are tacked on to a stat, stat +5 In the case of D&D 5E, stat + 2 in dice pool games, stat+x% in percentile games.

But if I had my choice, backgrounds give default “assumed skills” so a Soldier would have ( kit maintenance, marching, navigation, basic weapons, small artillery, small group tactics, military history, heraldry recognition…)
Then a warrant officer would get (training, small group leadership, inspection…) but get to choose a specialty or two, Pilot Spacecraft and Electronic Counter Mesures or Surveillance and Counter Sniper. Both of these specialized skills are still broad. Ultimately a character would be a collection of their history.

The GM only has to reign in when the counter sniper character is wanting to sneak into the enemy base with a ghillie suit and expects bonuses…nope, but you are good at spotting them and creating counter measures for them and can match them for distance shooting…but different skill set.

So a character can have Tinker Tailor Soldier and be about 30. Or athlete, soldier, warrant officer. Or student, college, hacker. Athlete, college, scientist. And so on.

Each step is a bit more focused…

using ICRPG…basic stats are only used for saves. I’d go with very easy-6 to TN, easy-3 to TN, normal, hard+3 to TN and very hard +6 to TN.
An assumed skill lowers the TN by 3…drops very hard to hard, easy to very easy.
A declared skill “specialty” lowers TN by 6…very hard to normal, easy to doesn’t need to roll and gives + 3 effort.
A declared skill “expertise”, lowers TN by 6 but raises effort by +6 as well.

Ten skills max,
Characters start at 5 years old Backgrounds cost 7 years
Fast learner grants a free background and
2 specialty skills
Can take first background as 2nd, 3rd, 4th
First backgrounds
Tinker, student, street urchin, wilderness, Nobel, athlete, servant, farmer, shepherd, fast learner, laborer.

Second background can be First background and gains 1 specialty.

Soldier, Officer, college, artist, tracker, guide, scout, archanist, Thief, Taylor, builder, miner

Third background can be 1st or second and gets 2 specialty…
Captain (requires officer), warrant officer (requires soldier, scientist (requires college), investigator, warrior, mage, cleric(requires student), thug, spy, trapper, sapper (requires miner), spelunker.
Forth background (promotion) 1 expertise and so on…

So why not everyone go for Fast Learner? 10 skills max…
1fast learner costs between 4 and all 10 slots depending on route at the end. You’ll have 1 other background and 6 specialty skills of that one background. So it can lead to a less well rounded character…ranging from 12 to late 20s

And so on.

All this is not streamlined, but if you start out with a tier 4 background occupies 8 to 10 skill slots 4 to 6 being specialty slots 1 being an expertise. Is in the late 20s early 30s. And much more to draw on during play.

If spells equal specialty…few spells.

But with a list of 10 things your character can still try most anything…but a great many things are easier. Not a huge cognitive load.


Could you give us examples of good skill-based games, please?


Call of Cthulhu and Mothership come to mind off the top. Stormbringer was fun, Traveller is an oldie but goodie, ShadowRun 2nd edition (but keep to the main book) 5th edition is same, but combat takes too long in both. Savage Worlds.

If I had to say modern and minimalist look to Mothership just modern look to Savage Worlds.

If looking for a large game community look to Call of Cthulhu.

Savage Worlds character creation takes too long, and is very GM intensive because of number of settings. ShadowRun takes too long because of technicality…forgot Call of Cthulhu…guessing it does not cause I remember making and playing during a 4 hour period.

Mother ship takes about 20 minutes the first time.


Thinking on it, in the late 90s skill systems where where it was at. D&D 3rd edition and the D20 system changed that.

The Hero system/ Champions kind of has that…but character creation can take multiple sessions…play is simple though.

Old school D&D is stat+ power based, except thieves.
3rd edition added synergies with gear and feats.

2nd edition Skills and Powers was the addition of skills to all, but not part of the main game.


From all that I’ve seen, Traveler makes adventuring in space feel like applying for a mortgage - and the art seems to reinforce this, at least for me. I think Cyberpunk 2020 was a pretty good skill based system (given that every “class” was delineated , even if the material feels dated now.