A few weeks ago, Harbinger posted about skills in D&D and got me thinking about them again. As I’ve noted before, the skill system introduced in D&D 3e feels a bit tacked on. Attacks and Saves in D20 are typically a simple check against a target number (AC or Save DC), with success potentially allowing you to roll damage but margin of success never being important: checks are primarily binary pass/fail (with the exception of criticals). Meanwhile, skill checks very often imply that there is a margin of success component: even with a fixed DC, there is often a difference between failing by more or less than 5. Knowledge challenges are frequently broken directly into MoS, with each staggered success giving more information.

Additionally, the skill system doesn’t progress at all similarly to the attack and save systems (though 4e makes them more similar): it’s possible to completely neglect a skill or twink it to absurd levels in a way you can’t with attacks or saves. This makes it very hard at higher levels to set a reasonable skill DC. Even by 10th level, a silver-tongued Sorcerer or Bard could have a Bluff check well over +20 while a Cha-dumping Fighter or Wizard could still have it at a penalty. It’s next to impossible to plan a challenge where all members of the party will have to roll the same skill, and it’s even hard to accurately gauge a good DC for a skill only a single player needs to roll: the difference between a skill specialist and someone who’s merely good at it is also huge.

So this time through, my first step is to combine down all the skills into eight categories and alter their progressions to work like attack bonus and saves. (Hopefully) next week, I’ll look into ways to use this modified skill system to move even more in line with the other D20 systems to provide a more consistent out of combat experience.


Most non-combat actions are covered by five broad skill categories, each with approximately six skill specialties. A character may attempt any of the actions within the skill category, but a character might have a greater bonus in a particular skill specialty (e.g., A rogue might have +10 to Criminal in general, but +12 to Disable and Stealth). Skills are typically active: the character chooses to attempt them rather than being surprised by the GM. Further, in the full system, skills will often require a series of rolls to accomplish a task (much as it often takes a series of attack rolls to defeat a target).

Criminal (Dex; suffers from the Armor Check Penalty)

  • Disable: Break a device or open a lock (Disable Device and Open Lock)
  • Disguise: Change appearance of self, others, items, or text (Disguise and Forgery)
  • Escape: Get out of bonds or imprisonment (Escape Artist)
  • Improvise: Make use of unknown magic or devices (Use Magic Device)
  • Legerdemain: Hide or filch objects (Sleight of Hand)
  • Stealth: Prevent detection (Hide and Move Silently)

Wilderness (Con)

  • Dungeoneer: Prepare for threats underground (Knowledge: Dungeoneering)
  • Find Sustenance: Hunt or gather food in the wild (Survival)
  • Gather Components: Find useful items in the wild (Survival and Knowledge: Nature)
  • Handle Animal: Train or persuade an animal (Handle Animal)
  • Orienteer: Know directions, predict weather, and find shelter (Survival and Knowledge: Geography (Practical))
  • Track: Follow a trail of a specific target (Survival)

Knowledge (Int)

  • History: Reference historical facts and significant locations (Knowledge: History and Knowledge: Geography (Theoretical))
  • Linguistics: Decipher writing and languages (Decipher Script and Speak Language)
  • Magic: Identify and interpret magical information (Knowledge: Arcana and Spellcraft)
  • Religion: Explain religious and dimensional theory (Knowledge: Religion and Knowledge: The Planes)
  • Research: Find additional knowledge with access to a library or find clues in a room (Search and New)
  • Science: Understand architecture and mechanisms (Knowledge: Engineering)

Mundane (Wis)

  • Appraise: Ascertain the value of an item (Appraise)
  • Craft (Specific): Create a certain category of item (Craft)
  • Heal: Apply medical techniques to injury or disease (Heal)
  • Profession (Specific): Engage in a particular trade (Profession)

Social (Cha)

  • Bluff: Convince others of lies and partial truths (Bluff)
  • Perform: Engage in various kinds of artistic expression (Perform)
  • Persuade: Make others do what you want (Diplomacy and Intimidate)
  • Rumors: Keep abreast of the lower classes and their knowledge (Gather Information (Common) and Knowledge: Local)
  • Sense Motive: Understand the secret intentions of a person or group (Sense Motive (Active))
  • Society: Move among the upper classes and know their ways (Gather Information (Noble) and Knowledge: Nobility)


Some areas that were previously skills are now expressed as three additional saves. Unlike skills, saves will typically be reactive: the GM will request a roll when something unexpected happens. In particular, this changes how athletic challenges are framed: a character doesn’t explicitly need to make an Athletics check to climb a wall or jump a pit if it’s a reasonable size and there is no time pressure, but may need to make a save based on external difficulties (such as wind or unexpected slipperiness) or if there is an impending threat that may break concentration.

  • Athletics (Str): Physical activities that rely on strength and stamina rather than agility (Climb, Jump, Swim)
  • Perception (Int): Avoiding surprise, countering stealth, and other reactive awareness (Listen and Spot)
  • Grace (Cha): Resisting social attacks, making a good first impression, and impressing when dancing or otherwise acting poised (Sense Motive (Reactive) and Perform (Dance))
  • Normal Saves: Balance, Ride, and Tumble checks become Reflex saves; Concentration becomes a Will save

Figuring Saves and Skills


  • Good: Level/2 + 2 (as Rogue Reflex)
  • Bad: Level/3 (as Rogue Fortitude)
Class Athletics Perception Grace
Barbarian Good Good Bad
Bard Bad Bad Good
Cleric Bad Good Good
Druid Good Good Bad
Fighter Good Good Bad
Monk Good Good Good
Paladin Good Bad Good
Ranger Good Good Bad
Rogue Bad Good Bad
Sorcerer Bad Bad Good
Wizard Bad Good Bad


  • Fast: Level x 1.0 (as Fighter BaB)
  • Medium: Level x 0.75 (as Cleric BaB)
  • Slow: Level x 0.5 (as Wizard BaB)
Class Criminal Wilderness Knowledge Mundane Social
Barbarian Medium Fast Slow Medium Slow
Bard Medium Slow Medium Slow Fast
Cleric Slow Slow Medium Fast Medium
Druid Slow Fast Medium Medium Slow
Fighter Slow Medium Slow Fast Medium
Monk Medium Slow Medium Fast Slow
Paladin Slow Medium Slow Medium Fast
Ranger Medium Fast Slow Medium Slow
Rogue Fast Medium Slow Slow Medium
Sorcerer Medium Slow Medium Slow Fast
Wizard Slow Medium Fast Medium Slow

Skill Specialty

A Skill Specialty is a +2 Competence Bonus to a skill that increases to +4 at 10th level. It replaces the Skill Focus feat.