Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Alternate Skill Checks

Skills for days
Is it variant rule month here on Medieval Melodies? Maybe. These articles aren't really confined to a single month. Anyway, here's another one. Next week I'll do something different.

In this rule, the traditional connection between ability scores and skills is broken. The PHB (on page 171) describes skills as an application of a particular ability. For example, Deception is an application of Charisma, and Athletics is an application of Strength.

Of course, that has always lead to some problems. Intimidation could be Charisma-based, but it could just as easily be Strength-based. Clerics with low Intelligence have trouble remembering facts about their own Religion. And a Ranger could easily fail Nature checks for the same reason.

So in this regard, we divorce the ability from the skill, and instead look at what each part of those represents.

Your ability scores represent your physical or mental capabilities. That's pretty straightforward.
  • Strength: your ability to exert force upon things
  • Dexterity: the precision with you can exert force on things (including the surface your are standing on)
  • Constitution: your capacity for health and endurance
  • Intelligence: your ability to collect and store information
  • Wisdom: your ability to analyze and understand information
  • Charisma: your ability to effectively convey information to others

Then, your skills represent your character having been, either formally or by life experiences, trained in a particular aspect of life. Thus, if you can justify using your Strength to aid your training in Perception (perhaps by gauging the weight of an object before interacting with it), you can apply your Strength modifier and your proficiency bonus to the roll.

There's a good chance I can translate this... better if I use my spellcasting ability
So, with that in mind, I put together a list of the potential applications of every ability/skill combination. Some of them are a bit silly, but hey, this is D&D. Anything could happen.

  • (Strength) Acrobatics: gymnastics, lifting your partner during a dance
  • (Strength) Animal Handling: wrestling with big animals, display of dominance through strength
  • (Strength) Arcana: applying the exact amount of pressure required to a spell component
  • (Strength) Athletics: running, jumping, or swimming
  • (Strength) Deception: convincing someone you can perform feats of strength that you can't actually do
  • (Strength) History: opening a sarcophagus without hurting the contents
  • (Strength) Insight: judging the strength of an opponent before you wrestle/fight them
  • (Strength) Intimidation: using muscles to cause fear
  • (Strength) Investigation: identifying materials based on how easily they bend/break
  • (Strength) Medicine: resetting a broken bone or dislocated joint
  • (Strength) Nature: punching a tree/animal without hurting it/yourself
  • (Strength) Perception: judging the weight of an object before you lift it
  • (Strength) Performance: weight lifting with panache
  • (Strength) Persuasion: convincing someone you can perform feats of strength without actually doing them
  • (Strength) Religion: Correctly performing a test of faith requiring a feat of strength
  • (Strength) Sleight of Hand: thumb wars
  • (Strength) Stealth: suspending yourself between two pillars above an enemy without making a sound
  • (Strength) Survival: chopping wood, digging a functional fire pit

  • (Dexterity) Acrobatics: balancing on narrow or shifting terrain
  • (Dexterity) Animal Handling: holding on to a slippery animal such as a toad, snake, or fish
  • (Dexterity) Arcana: performing complex somatic components
  • (Dexterity) Athletics: fencing, tennis, skiing
  • (Dexterity) Deception: convincing someone you can perform acrobatic feats that you can't actually do
  • (Dexterity) History: performing historically accurate combat or gymnastic maneuvers
  • (Dexterity) Insight: evaluating the dexterity of an opponent before you fight them
  • (Dexterity) Intimidation: threatening knife tricks
  • (Dexterity) Investigation: solving a puzzle that requires some finesse
  • (Dexterity) Medicine: performing surgery
  • (Dexterity) Nature: finding and utilizing an animal's pressure points
  • (Dexterity) Perception: gauging how much weight a platform could hold by gingerly stepping on it
  • (Dexterity) Performance: gymnastics with panache
  • (Dexterity) Persuasion: convincing someone you can perform acrobatic feats without actually doing them
  • (Dexterity) Religion: performing complex prayer gestures
  • (Dexterity) Sleight of Hand: card tricks, pickpocketing
  • (Dexterity) Stealth: moving silently
  • (Dexterity) Survival: creating a trap for game/food

  • (Constitution) Acrobatics: Remaining balanced while someone punches you in the gut
  • (Constitution) Animal Handling: not throwing up from the stench of animals
  • (Constitution) Arcana: identifying harmful enchantments on something you already ate
  • (Constitution) Athletics: rodeo, long-distance running or swimming
  • (Constitution) Deception: not flinching when someone hits you
  • (Constitution) History: Identifying how recently food that you've already eaten went bad
  • (Constitution) Insight: judging the drinking ability of an opponent before you challenge them to a contest
  • (Constitution) Intimidation: eating something gross while not breaking eye contact
  • (Constitution) Investigation: identifying gas by smell or poison by taste
  • (Constitution) Medicine: not fainting while performing self-amputation
  • (Constitution) Nature: identifying a poison you already ate
  • (Constitution) Perception: pinpointing the location of a parasite within your own body
  • (Constitution) Performance: winning a drinking contest with panache
  • (Constitution) Persuasion: convincing someone that food isn't poisoned by eating it and not getting sick
  • (Constitution) Religion: identifying what alignment a cleric is by how their healing magic works
  • (Constitution) Sleight of Hand: playing an instrument for several hours
  • (Constitution) Stealth: holding in a fart at a crucial moment
  • (Constitution) Survival: eating a poisonous berry without consequence

  • (Intelligence) Acrobatics: judging the technical proficiency of a gymnast
  • (Intelligence) Animal Handling: classifying species, recalling information about a specific monster
  • (Intelligence) Arcana: recalling information about magic
  • (Intelligence) Athletics: golf, billiards, curling (sweepers)
  • (Intelligence) Deception: fast talking around an issue
  • (Intelligence) History: recalling information about the past or a culture
  • (Intelligence) Insight: discovering the relative education level of a creature
  • (Intelligence) Intimidation: making a legal threat
  • (Intelligence) Investigation: making logical conclusions about an object
  • (Intelligence) Medicine: recalling information about medicine
  • (Intelligence) Nature: recalling information about nature
  • (Intelligence) Perception: following a crime procedure or scientific investigation
  • (Intelligence) Performance: reciting a long poem or song from memory
  • (Intelligence) Persuasion: making an argument by appealing to logic
  • (Intelligence) Religion: recalling information about religion
  • (Intelligence) Sleight of Hand: memorizing a card trick, card counting
  • (Intelligence) Stealth: recalling which floorboards and doors creak in a particular location
  • (Intelligence) Survival: recalling information about gathering resources or avoiding poisonous food

  • (Wisdom) Acrobatics: determining whether a gymnastic maneuver is possible before doing it
  • (Wisdom) Animal Handling: understanding an animal's instincts and emotions
  • (Wisdom) Arcana: determining the most effective spell for a situation
  • (Wisdom) Athletics: equine sports, shooting sports
  • (Wisdom) Deception: dismissing the truth by appealing to nihilism
  • (Wisdom) History: applying the lessons of history to your life
  • (Wisdom) Insight: discovering the true intentions of a creature
  • (Wisdom) Intimidation: making an existential threat
  • (Wisdom) Investigation: making intuitive conclusions about an object
  • (Wisdom) Medicine: performing medical procedures on another creature
  • (Wisdom) Nature: determining the best action to help a wilderness area
  • (Wisdom) Perception: awareness of surroundings
  • (Wisdom) Performance: telling jokes, making art that reflects an ideal or big idea
  • (Wisdom) Persuasion: making an argument by appealing to higher truths and ideals
  • (Wisdom) Religion: knowing what doctrine a religion would ascribe to a problem
  • (Wisdom) Sleight of Hand: seeing through a magician's trick
  • (Wisdom) Stealth: finding the safest route through hostile territory
  • (Wisdom) Survival: gathering resources and avoiding poisonous food in the wilderness

  • (Charisma) Acrobatics: seductive dancing
  • (Charisma) Animal Handling: staring down a threatening animal
  • (Charisma) Arcana: convincing someone you understand magic lore that you don't know
  • (Charisma) Athletics: Calvinball
  • (Charisma) Deception: not revealing you are lying
  • (Charisma) History: convincing someone you understand historical lore that you don't know
  • (Charisma) Insight: discovering the emotional state of a creature
  • (Charisma) Intimidation: making a verbal threat
  • (Charisma) Investigation: determining whether or not an object is sentient
  • (Charisma) Medicine: blushing, crying, or fainting on command
  • (Charisma) Nature: convincing someone you understand natural lore that you don't know
  • (Charisma) Perception: sensing the presence of spirits in an area
  • (Charisma) Performance: playing a crowd, making art that reflects your personality
  • (Charisma) Persuasion: making an argument by appealing to personal trust
  • (Charisma) Religion: converting another person to a religion
  • (Charisma) Sleight of Hand: presenting a rose, ring, or other keepsake in a flashy manner
  • (Charisma) Stealth: Remaining unnoticed in a crowd of people
  • (Charisma) Survival: convincing your allies that they should eat someone else first


Smells like lore
I also want to make a note about tool proficiencies. The way tools are used is actually fairly close to this variant already. Per the player's handbook, a DM could ask a player to use their woodcarver's tools with Dexterity (to carve a fine detail) or Strength (to work with particularly hard wood).

I think that's excellent. There are enough possibilities for crafting out there that I don't think providing examples would be too helpful, but I do think we can lay some groundwork for tools and make them more useful.

Each tool has a "default" ability score - that is, if you use it more or less as intended, with no difficulties, you'll roll on that ability score and add your tool proficiency. Generally, these fall under three ability scores: Strength (for tools that require great effort), Dexterity (for tools that require manual precision) and Wisdom (for tools that require understanding and analysis).
  • Alchemist's Supplies: Wisdom
  • Brewer's Supplies: Wisdom
  • Calligrapher's Supplies: Dexterity
  • Carpenter's Tools: Strength
  • Cartographer's Tools: Dexterity
  • Cobbler's Tools: Strength
  • Cook's Utensils: Wisdom
  • Glassblower's Tools: Dexterity
  • Jeweler's Tools: Dexterity
  • Leatherworker's Tools: Strength
  • Mason's Tools: Strength
  • Painter's Supplies: Dexterity
  • Potter's Tools: Dexterity
  • Smith's Tools: Strength
  • Tinker's Tools: Dexterity
  • Weaver's Tools: Dexterity
  • Woodcarver's Tools: Strength
  • Disguise Kit: Wisdom
  • Forgery Kit: Dexterity
  • Gaming Set (any): Wisdom
  • Herbalism Kit: Wisdom
  • Musical Instrument: Dexterity
  • Navigator's Tools: Wisdom
  • Poisoner's Kit: Wisdom
  • Thieves' Tools: Dexterity
  • Vehicles (animal-drawn): Strength
  • Vehicles (wind/water borne): Wisdom

For each type of tool, you can apply your skill in a few different ways.

Strength-based tools
  • Applying fine details to a work requires Dexterity
  • Creating a tricky item (such as a trap or puzzle) requires Wisdom
  • Using your tools to teach or entertain others requires Charisma
Dexterity-based tools
  • Working with difficult materials (such as Diamond or Platinum) requires Strength
  • Creating a tricky item (such as a trap or puzzle) requires Wisdom
  • Using your tools to teach or entertain others requires Charisma
Wisdom-based tools
  • Working with toxic materials requires Constitution
  • Recalling a particular pattern, recipe, or detail requires Intelligence
  • Using your tools to teach or entertain others requires Charisma
Poison: It's like an Intimidation check, but based on Constitution
And that's how I would do skill checks! I think it adds a lot of depth to the system, and some of my players can definitely find novel ways to apply their training in-game.

Thanks for reading!

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