Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Secondary Skills

I have never been happy with the “Secondary Skills” table in the DMG, nor with any system designed to let characters pick out useful skills from a given list. There were several problems inherent in the idea of a minor skills list: no rules were included as to how exactly the player was meant to implement these skills; the list of options were limited to say the least, and did not include the possibility of the character coming from a wealthy or titled background; and the selection process was too random (a mage had as much chance of getting “fisherman” as an answer as a fighter).

The problem I had with players choosing skills was that, really, who chooses what skills they learn as a child? That is really a matter of the father’s social status (patriarchal world, you see), and the father’s abilities. That it be a random selection was the point—it represented the life the character would have had, if the character had never become a thief, a fighter or what have you. In that sense, it has the potential to build a personality. A character who threw away the family practice of farming has to see it differently from the character who’s father was a banker.

Obviously, to create a random list, the last thing anyone wants is a high probability that the character will be nobility. The characters, of course, want it—so the possibility has to be there. But it has to be a low possibility. Preferably, very low.

I hit on the idea of using the player’s own six abilities as a reference guide and found it worked nicely. I built a random chance based on the following: take the individual ability scores and –10 from each. Sum the remainder and use it to determine the likelihood that the player’s father had an occupation which fell into that particular specialty.

Example: a fighter has a strength of 18, an intelligence of 9, wisdom 12, constitution 16, dexterity 14 and a charisma of 10. Subtracting 10 from each, and tossing out those abilities that are now zero, the total is (8+2+6+4) 20: 8 parts strength, 2 parts wisdom, 6 parts constitution, 4 parts dexterity. A roll has to be made to randomly determine from those four which ability table is consulted. (It won't always work out to be a 20-sided, obviously; you know how to roll a 26 sided dice, right?)

The fighter has no chance whatsoever that his father came from the intelligence or charisma fields.

All that remained was to divide up the various potential father-held professions into their various ability types:

Strength: farmer, fisherman, sailor, teamster, mercenary, master-at-arms, bounty hunter, gladiator

Intelligence: trapper, scribe, carpenter, mason, gameskeeper, boatman, alchemist, tomb robber, magician (while some of these might seem as though they belong under strength or dexterity, I’d argue they require “sense” to do well).

Wisdom: prospector, husbandman, physician, herbalist, curate, village witch, priest, tutor, witchhunter (occupations that require patience or spiritual sense; a “village witch” is anyone operating outside the local religion but still sought after for advice).

Constitution: rat catcher, gypsy, alchemist’s assistant, blacksmith, prostitution, armorer, weaponsmith, miner, explorer (resistance to disease is a central theme)

Dexterity: artisan of foodstuffs (baker, vintner, butcher); artisan of textiles (fuller, weaver, tailor); artisan of woodcraft (turner, wagonwright); artisan of mineralstuffs (stonecutter, potter, glassmaker); artisan of metalworks (puddler, forger, coppersmith); toll keeper; monk or nun (the last is arguable—but the monk character is based on dexterity)

Charisma: artist, singer, landlord, buccaneer, innkeeper, usurer, fence, killer, banker, squire, knight, guildmaster, dispossessed noble, crusader, marshal, lesser noble, middle noble, guildmaster thief, guildmaster assassin, greater noble, uncrowned royalty or crowned royalty.

Now the last takes a bit of explanation. I had to use a d1000 for the random likelihood, just so the chance that the player being crowned would be 1 in 1000. There are other limitations, as well; not every nation is vast…and obviously the player would not be crowned royalty in Russia. The only justification for the character starting at 1st level as the crowned king or queen of a country would be if a) the country was very small; and b) the individual was, at the moment, an escapee from would-be usurpers. Which is how I’d run it if I ever got that result. So far, I haven’t. I may not in my lifetime.

You may notice there are a number of references which may make no sense to you (“martial spirit” in reference to the singer, for example). These are references to additions and fixes I’ve made myself and play tested for years. I’ll explain any that anyone cares to ask about.

Regarding the "wealth" numbers; I typically judge this to be 1d6 x10 g.p. per wealth "point" as starting capital. A different system (or different numbers, for that matter) could be used.


  1. That appears to be a table requiring a random selection of one item. It would take me about an hour to put that online with PHP and MySQL - if you would like to see that happen let me know.

  2. That was me above.

  3. How do you tell which ability to roll under?


  4. Eli:

    If you look through the text, you will see the explanation to your question: where I explain how the character's abilities define which table is rolled under.

  5. Took me five hours of fighting with HTML to make that table and then make a jpg of it, and fucking blogger prints it tiny tiny tiny.

    I'll take suggestions, but I'm going to work on the jpeg tonight.

  6. You could copy/paste the HTML into your blog post. If you're having an issue with the HTML, email me the raw data and I'll convert it to HTML for you. Or email me any questions you might have about the HTML. Or, if you prefer, I can put it into a database with PHP and put it online in a more usable fashion. (ie. enter your stats and click 'Go' to automatically calculate your secondary skill).


  7. I think this looks okay, now. The individual pics are easy to read if they are clicked. Thank you for the offer, however.

  8. Yup, looks great on this end!

  9. This is a horrifically old post, I know; it's almost rude to comment on it, but this entire "Player's Handbook" series is something I am quite fond of.

    So said, the INT professions are missing whatever is in the 66-84 range.

    The nitpicking, of course, is just another method of inquiring if this table has received any updates or changes over the years it's been played.

  10. Long since updated ... but now it is immersed in the character background generation excel document, and isn't used as a straight-up table on my system anymore.

    Send your email address to alexiss1@telus.net and I'll see if I can dig up an old updated copy. Or pay for the excel document (and everything else).


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