Atlas   Rules   Resources   Adventures   Stories       FAQ   Search   Links

Revision Of The General Skills System OD&D

by Giampaolo Agosta

This revision aims at reducing the impact of ability scores and increasing that of training in skills, while at the same time preserving the basic mechanics of skill checks (d20, roll below the skill score) and avoiding the pitfalls of 3e and 4e skills (respectively, too few skill points and too detailed allocation of the same, and too few skills and confusion between skill and ability checks).
Some ideas come from the AD&D Player's Option skill system (though the system presented below is much simpler) and from the Unisystem RPG (specifically, the Simple and Difficult ability checks), as well as from earlier discussion on the Mystara board. Several additional OD&D general skill rules from various Gazetteers are taken into account (specifically, the guild ranking system and success level rules).

Ability Checks
Ability checks are typically used for tasks that require no special skill: e.g., perceiving details in a scene (Wis), lifting weights (Str), remembering details or texts (Int). There are two types of ability checks:

In some cases, a Difficult check can replace a skill check -- this is only true for skills that can be used untrained (e.g., the Loot skill can be replaced by a Difficult Wisdom check). In this case, the DM may allow PCs with the appropriate skill to make two rolls (skill check and ability check) and keep the better result, assuming there is no pressure or time constraints.

Skill Checks
Skill checks are used for tasks that require some skill or training in addition to natural ability.

Like Weapon Mastery, Skill Mastery is graded in six ranks (listed with the respective skill score):

Rationale: improving becomes more and more difficult as the character approximates his limits, so higher levels bring less improvement; basic training, on the other hand, represents the natural affinity to the skill.

At first level, each character starts with 4 skills at Skilled level (plus extra slots per Intelligence bonus). Characters that start below first level start with 4 skills at Basic level, and improve to 4 skills at Skilled level while reaching Normal Monster level (e.g., Lycanthropic characters get 4 skills at Basic level as Cubs, then improve by one slot at Whelp and Scamp level, and finally by two slots at Normal Monster level).
Rationale: this choice preserves 1st level character more or less as they are within the original system (Skilled rating for an ability score of 12 is 10, vs the score of 12 the same character would have under the original system), but doesn't make them experts in any skill, since they are supposed to be beginning characters.

At each new level, the character gains one 1 more slot, which can be used to improve an existing skill or obtain a new one. The same training rules as for Weapon Masteries are used.
Rationale: with this system, characters have some improvement at every level. This choice leverages the fact that each skill slot in the original system is worth two to three slots in the revised system. Characters are still going to be more skills than in the original system, by one or two skills. However, high Intelligence has a more limited effect.

Success Rates
An average talent (i.e., an ability score of 12, considering that characters will favour skills for which they have some natural talent) leads to a Basic skill of 6 (an Apprentice rate for a guild, according to GAZ6 rules), a Skilled mastery of 10 (Journeyman guild rank), Expert and Master mastery ratings of 13 and 15 (corresponding to a Master guild level), and finally a Grand Master skill level of 17, appropriate for the guild rank.

Extremely talented characters (ability score of 18) start at 9 (Journeyman), and can reach Master level in a guild with only Skilled mastery, while characters with almost no talent (score of 6) start at 3 (a very Basic level of proficiency), but can progress to Apprentice rank at Skilled mastery (7), and reach Master level (their limit at Grand Master skill would be 14). Thus, talent lead to early recognition, but hard work does pay as well (though the character will never be acknowledged as a genius practitioner of the skill).

Between very talented and talentless characters with the same training, there is a 30% difference in success probability. At most, a character can have a skill score of 20 (if he has 18 in the relevant ability score and Grand Master training).

Success levels

Effects of success levels

Difficulty levels
In general, an unmodified roll represents a Difficult task. Guild Masters and up don't even roll on lesser tasks, while others may get bonuses (see Gaz 6 for more details). Heroic tasks are difficult even for accomplished masters, getting a -5 penalty to the success score. Legendary tasks get double penalty (-10) -- thus even a genius grand master would have a hard time trying to create a legendary masterwork (an item suitable as a vessel for intelligent or very powerful magic items.

When assigning a bonus or penalty, the main consideration is whether the task would be challenging (i.e., something that would fail 50% of the times) for a typical practitioner of the skill (Difficult task), for a true master (Heroic task), or for a paragon of the skill (Legendary task).