A player character is more than a collection of combat modifiers. Most people have a variety of skills learned over the years. Consider yourself as an example—how many skills do you possess? If you have gone through 12 years of school, were moderately active in after-school programs, and did fairly well on your grades, the following might be a partial list of your skills:
- English reading and writing
- Geometry, algebra, and trigonometry
- Basic chemistry
- Basic physics
- Music (playing an instrument, singing, or both)
- Spanish reading and writing (or French, German, etc.)
- Basic Shop or Home Economics
- Basic biology
In addition to the things learned in school, you have also learned things from your parents, friends, scouts, or other groups. You might be able to add any of the following to your list:
If you consider all your hobbies and all the things you have done, you probably know many more skills. In fact, if you make a list, you probably will be surprised by the large number of basic skills you have. And, at this point, you are (or were) still young!
Now, having graduated from school, you get a job. Are you just a carpenter, mechanic, electrician, salesman, or secretary? Of course not; you are a lot more than just your job. All those things you learned in school and elsewhere are part of what you are. Shouldn't it be the same for your player character?
For a really complete role-playing character, you should know what your character can do. There are three different ways to do this: using what you know, using secondary skills, and using nonweapon proficiencies. Each of these is optional, but each increases the amount of detail that rounds out your character.
Using What You Know
If your DM decides not to use secondary skills or nonweapon proficiencies, situations will arise in which you'll have to determine whether your character has certain skills. For example, Delsenora the wizard slips at the edge of a steep riverbank and tumbles into the water. The current sweeps her into the middle of the river. To escape, she must swim to safety. But does Delsenora know how to swim?
One way to answer this is to pretend that your character knows most of the things that you know. Do you know how to swim? If you do, then your character can swim. If you know a little about mountain climbing, horseback riding, carpentry, or sewing, your character knows these things, too. This also applies to things your character might want to build. Perhaps your character decides he wants to build a catapult. If you can show your DM how to make such a device, then the DM may allow your character the same knowledge. Indeed, you might visit the local library just to gain this information.
There are real advantages to this method. You can learn something at the library or school and bring it into your game. Also, there are fewer rules to get in the way of your fun. Since there are fewer rules, your DM has a lot of flexibility and can play out all the drama inherent in a scene.
There are also problems with this method. First, you probably know a lot of things your character should not—basic electronics, the components of gunpowder, or calculus, for instance. You have a lot of knowledge that is just not available to someone in a medieval world (even a fantasy medieval world). Likewise, there are things that a typical person in a medieval world would know that you, as a modern person, have never needed to learn. Do you know how to make armor? Skin a deer? Salt meat away for the winter? Turn flax into linen? Thatch a roof? Read heraldry? You might, but there is no way you can consider these common skills any more. But in a medieval world they would be common.
Also, knowing something about a skill or trade doesn't mean you know a lot, and there is a big difference between the two. When Delsenora fell into the raging river, she had to swim out. But was she a strong enough swimmer to pull free of the current? The DM must make up a rule on the spot to handle the situation. Perhaps you can swim, but can you swim well enough to escape a raging torrent?
The biggest drawback to this method is that there are no rules to resolve tricky situations. The DM must make it up during play. Some players and DMs enjoy doing this. They think up good answers quickly. Many consider this to be a large part of the fun. This method is perfect for them, and they should use it.
Other players and DMs like to have clear rules to prevent arguments. If this is the case in your group, it is better to use secondary skills or nonweapon proficiencies.
|01-02||Armorer (make, repair & evaluate armor and weapons)|
|03-04||Bowyer/Fletcher (make, repair, & evaluate bows and arrows)|
|05-10||Farmer (basic agriculture)|
|11-14||Fisher (swimming, nets, and small boat handling)|
|15-20||Forester (basic wood lore, lumbering)|
|21-23||Gambler (knowledge of gambling games)|
|24-27||Groom (animal handling)|
|28-32||Hunter (basic wood lore, butchering, basic tracking)|
|33-34||Jeweler (appraisal of gems and jewelry)|
|35-37||Leather worker (skinning, tanning)|
|38-39||Limner/Painter (map making, appraisal of art objects)|
|43-44||Miner (stone-cutting, assaying)|
|45-46||Navigator (astronomy, sailing, swimming, navigation)|
|47-49||Sailor (sailing, swimming)|
|50-51||Scribe (reading, writing, basic math)|
|52-53||Shipwright (sailing, carpentry)|
|54-56||Tailor/Weaver (weaving, sewing, embroidery)|
|57-59||Teamster/Freighter (animal handling, wagon-repair)|
|60-62||Trader/Barterer (appraisal of common goods)|
|63-66||Trapper/Furrier (basic wood lore, skinning)|
|67-68||Weaponsmith (make, repair, & evaluate weapons)|
|69-71||Woodworker/Carpenter (carpentry, carving)|
|72-85||No skill of measurable worth|
|86-00||Roll twice (reroll any result of 86-00)|
The second method for determining what your character knows is to assign secondary skills. Secondary skills are broad areas of expertise. Most correspond to occupations that your character may have been apprenticed in or otherwise picked up before beginning his adventuring life. Secondary skills are much more general than nonweapon proficiencies. They should not be used in combination with nonweapon proficiencies, which are explained later.
Every player character has a chance at a secondary skill. Either choose one from Table 36 or take a chance and roll randomly. A random roll may result in one, two, or no secondary skills.
Once a character has a secondary skill, it is up to the player and the DM to determine just what the character can do with it. The items in parentheses after each skill describe some of the things the character knows. Other knowledge may be added with the DM's approval. Thus, a hunter might know the basics of finding food in the wilderness, how to read animal signs to identify the types of creatures in the area, the habits of dangerous animals, and how to stalk wild animals.
Like the previous method ("Using What You Know"), this method has strengths and weaknesses. Secondary skills do not provide any rules for determining whether a character succeeds when he uses a skill to do something difficult. It is safe to assume that simple jobs succeed automatically. (A hunter could find food for himself without any difficulty.) For more complicated tasks, the DM must assign a chance for success. He can assign a percentage chance, have the character make a saving throw, or require an Ability check (see Glossary). The DM still has a lot of flexibility.
This flexibility means the DM must sometimes make up the rule to cover the situation, however. As mentioned earlier, some DMs enjoy this; others do not, their strengths being elsewhere. While secondary skills define and limit the player's options, they do not greatly simplify the DM's job.