Believe me, I know that skill-based systems are gamea non grata in oldschool D&D circles. And I know that one of the main reasons so many oldschoolers love to hate thief is because it’s a skill-based character class. And that many like to ask if their character just falls off a horse because he doesn’t have the Horsemanship non-weapon proficiency.

We all get it. So can we get over it, now? Please? (And I won’t even mention the Ranger’s tracking ability that looks suspiciously like a skill and yet never left anyone asking “why can’t my magic-user try to follow these tracks?“)

So, in that vein, I’ve decided to avoid working on Forbidden Jungle some more by trying out an idea that has been buzzing in the back of my mind for, oh, close to 30 years. It’s not an original idea, by any means, and I even think that someone put something together not too long ago along these lines. I’ve not looked at it yet, in part because I want to pursue my own take for the time being.

So, without getting into details or admitting how woefully incomplete the system is, take a look at these characters that I rolled up tonight.

BRUTAR — Red Warrior — Lvl 2 — Age 17
STR 10, WIS 5, DEX 6, CON 11, CHA 4 — 29 Hit Points
Armor-3, Sword-2, Shield-1, Brawling-1
60 Gold Pieces

VERGALYN — White Warrior — Lvl 4 — Age 24
STR 10, WIS 8, DEX 7, CON 10, CHA 10 — 33 Hit Points
Mace-3, Hated Foe (Zombies)-2, Armor-1, Shield-1, Toughness-1, Bow-1, Leader-1
Heal Others-1
70 Gold Pieces
+1 Save vs Disease

DENTRAMANTIUS — Blue Wizard — Lv 2 — Age 18
STR 5, WIS 10, DEX 9, CON 3, CHA 5 — 14 Hit Points
Find Traps-1
Magic Blast-1, Read/Write Magic-1, Detect Magic-1, Light-1, Message-1, Mirror Image-1, Shocking Grasp-1
+1 Save vs Blue Magic
20 Gold Pieces

NAZRAT — Green Warrior — Lv 3 — Age 19
STR 7, WIS 4, DEX 8, CON 11, CHA 11 — 29 Hit Points
Bow-2, Short Sword-2, Armor-2, Shield-1
50 Gold Pieces

AGGER ‘The Dagger’ — Black Warrior — Lv 5 — Age 23
STR 5, WIS 2, DEX 12, CON 9, CHA 8 — 31 Hit Points
Dagger-2, Open Locks-2, Climb-2, Armor-2, Short Sword-1, Surprise-1, Pick Pockets-1, Sling-1, Appraisal-1, Hide-1, Disguise-1
40 Gold Pieces

DRALAVIN — Black Wizard — Lv 8 — Age 36
STR 1, WIS 8, DEX 11, CON 8, CHA 6 — 27 Hit Points
Surprise-3, Sneak-1, Pick Locks-1
Blindness-2, Scare-2, Speak with Dead-2, Ventriloquism-2, Detect Magic-1, Read/Write Magic-1, Light-1, Darkness-1, Shadow Cloak-1, Deafness-1, Amnesia-1, Suggestion-1, Wall of Shadow-1, Unseen Servant-1
40 Gold Pieces

The ability scores are on a scale slightly lower than the D&D-standard 3d6. The italicized items are magical spells or powers.

All of the powers, spells, and special abilities a character has are stated as [ability]-[rating]. Higher ratings are better. There are only a few skills that an unskilled character may not attempt.

If you’re wondering just exactly what the skill/power ratings mean and exactly how they improve the chances of success, or exactly how those spell-looking powers are going to work…I don’t quite know yet. That’s still being worked out.

Part of me wonders if this is similar to the WoTC versions of D&D. I’ve seen the massive stat blocks for everything, but I haven’t really done more than look through the 3e books a few times in passing and barel more than that for 4e.

You’ll note that none of them are first level. And also that, despite an apparent previous career, none of them can apparently ride a horse. (Well, there is no horsemanship skill…)

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14 Responses to Skills

  1. I love Traveller. And I love it’s skill system. I’d have no problem with playing a fantasy game using Traveller-esque character creation.

    I seem to recall there were some skills that were zero-rated, so you could have riding-0 for example.

    • Kilgore says:

      Yes, we’re trying to work out how to use the Skill-0 system. I’m leaning toward allowing characters who have only a few skills or spells to have a few 0-rating ones to keep them from being too far behind the other characters who spent ten years building up before starting adventuring.

      Spells with a 0 rating could be cantrip-like apprentice versions.

  2. Ah, yes. Nicely handled, amigo. I’ve always wanted a Traveller-based fantasy (or generic) system. Well, at least since I saw (a) the Barbarian career in Supplement 4 and (b) saw the Traveller entries for the old Thieves’ World boxed set, that is.

    I can’t wait to see more of this, if you’re willing to share when the time is right.

    Oh, and as you well know, there’s more to Old School than D&D. I personally cut my teeth on Traveller and TFT far more than I did D&D and that makes me an unrepentant pro skill system guy. I just like to see skills universally available rather than pigeon-holed to a specific class. Or, in the case of Traveller, at least the skills are broadly available and their presence doesn’t preclude attempts of most actions.

    In any case – gimme more, daddio! 🙂

    • Kilgore says:

      I just like to see skills universally available rather than pigeon-holed to a specific class. Or, in the case of Traveller, at least the skills are broadly available and their presence doesn’t preclude attempts of most actions.

      This is what we’re going for. With only a few exceptions, anyone can try anything with or without a skill. The skill merely gives a bonus.

      For instance, Climbing is a skill but anyone can try to climb something. Someone with Climbing-1 will simply be better at it.

      As I noted above, we’re not quite sure how to handle Skill-0, and that includes how to handle unskilled attempts. Some skills (like Pick Lock) will probably have a large negative modifier if attempted by the unskilled, and magic powers will be just plain impossible without the skill.

      But just because someone doesn’t have Hide-1 or better doesn’t mean that he cant try to hide behind a rock.

    • Kilgore says:

      Oh, and I will certainly share when the time is right. The time will be right when it’s not a godawful mess like it is right now. Besides, we’ve got little more than character creation tables and a few notes about how we want things to work.

      For instance, I know that characters with a STR of 9+ get a +1 bonus to hit with a sword, I know that characters with Sword-1 get another +1 bonus to hit with a sword, and I know that characters with Armor-2 can wear up to chainmail. But I have no idea what the to-hit number of a guy with a sword against someone in chainmail will be.

      Well, “no idea” isn’t quite right. But I don’t have a system to determine it, yet.

  3. Ryan says:

    I never understood the hard feelings about skills that often echoes in this corner of the internet. I think a class-based system can work with skills, though I certainly think it’s possible to go overboard. (Looking at Palladium and “Basic Math” vs. “Advanced Math”, etc.)

    I stole bits and pieces from the original Hackmaster’s skill system for my AD&D game, and it worked reasonably well.

    I’m intrigued by what you’ve got going on here. I look forward to seeing how it unfolds.

    • Kilgore says:

      I think a class-based system can work with skills, though I certainly think it’s possible to go overboard.

      Yes, my first reaction to the NWPs in Oriental Adventures was “this is SO COOL” and then the Survival Guides added them for non-Oriental D&D and it was a lot of fun. Adding in fighting maneuvers from a Dragon article and whatnot from other sources just kept piling up and pretty soon it was “this is a pain in the nether regions.”

      So I’ve pretty much steered clear of non-class skills since, though I did give them another try in 2e. My guess is that many oldschoolers had similar experiences.

  4. Timeshadows says:

    I echo the above sentiments.

    I am curious about how one gets these skills, and if there is an automatic/direct correspondence between Age, Level, and the total number of Skill Ranks, or if it is indeed like a Traveller character’s random skill generation routine?


    • Kilgore says:

      TS: The generation system is very much like Traveller, right down to the layout of the tables and the concepts of enlistment, survival, commissioning, promotion (leveling), and re-enlistment.

      As a character increases in rank (level) more tables become available to choose from. But the actual results are based on a d6 roll.

      There are also a few specific skills gained for becoming a certain color, class (wizard or warrior), and level, similar to how Marines all get Cutlass-1.

      • Timeshadows says:

        In concert with your colour mechanism, I think this will be one of those games I WILL pick up should you find the confidence and opportunity to finish it and present it as a .pdf or even print offering.

        I have been a big fan of your work here since I found your blog, and I still think your Heart of Darkness is brilliant.

        All the best & eagerly looking forward to more,

  5. Michael says:

    If you would like to see a blending of old school and traveler skill system, then look no further than “Stars Without Number” a great old school based sci-fi game that also has room for fantasy (the armor and weapon lists include old school fantasy trope weapons for example). It’s powers are psionic, but it’d be nothing to just tack on clerical and magic-user spells. It was written with the intention of being able to be used with Labyrinth Lord, et. al.

    it’s quite bad ass – and free!

    • Kilgore says:

      Michael: That might be what I read about. Not sure. I started looking for whatever I’d seen a week ago and then stopped myself. I want to progress a ways on this without “tainting” my mind with someone else’s (probably very good) ideas. At some point when this has gelled a bit I will definitely be looking at other takes on the idea.

      In fact, right now I’m damn tempted to click that link. But I just made my saving throw and am resisting. For now.

      Thanks for point it out.

  6. Sunsword says:

    As far as figuring out how to have Skills & Defense interact, if you don’t want to simply roll D20+Skill vs 10+AC or D20+AC, you could steal a page from Champions/HERO.
    Figure out the difference between Skill Level & AC (Or DC) & apply it to 10, then have the character roll that number or less to succeed.

  7. Sunsword says:

    Another option is inspired by Pendragon. Have both attacker & defender try to roll under their Skill/AC. If both succeed, the highest successful roll wins.

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