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Variant Skills[edit]

I don't know about you, but I hate the way some skills work. This variant rule aims to fix that. As a quick note before we get started, I'm going to drop skills I don't think are useful, and merge skills I don't think should be separate. This will reduce the number of skills in the game, and thus the number of skills you need to train. So, without further ado, here are the new skills:

Table: Skill Changes
Old Skill New Skill
Appraise (Int) Appraise (Int)
Balance (Dex) Acrobatics (Dex)
Bluff (Cha) Convince (Cha)
Climb (Str) Athletics (Str)
Concentration (Con) Concentration (Special)
Craft (Int) (Special)
Decipher Script (Int) Knowledge (Int)
Diplomacy (Cha) Convince (Cha)
Disable Device (Int) Engineering (Int)
Disguise (Cha) Disguise (Cha)
Escape Artist (Dex) Escape Artist (Dex)
Forgery (Int) Forgery (Int)
Gather Information (Cha) Gather Information (Cha)
Handle Animal (Cha) Handle Animal (Special)
Heal (Wis) Heal (Wis)
Hide (Dex) Stealth (Dex)
Intimidate (Cha) Intimidate (Cha) or (Str)
Jump (Str) Athletics (Str)
Knowledge (Int) Knowledge (Int)
Listen (Wis) Perception (Wis)
Move Silently (Dex) Stealth (Dex)
Open Lock (Dex) Engineering (Int)
Perform (Cha) Perform (Special)
Profession (Wis) Profession (Special)
Ride (Dex) Ride (Dex)
Search (Int) Search (Int)
Sense Motive (Wis) Convince (Cha)
Sleight of Hand (Dex) Sleight of Hand (Dex)
Speak Language (none) Speak Language (Int)
Spellcraft (Int) Knowledge (Arcana) (Special)
Spot (Wis) Perception (Wis)
Survival (Wis) Knowledge (Nature) (Special)
Swim (Str) Athletics (Str)
Tumble (Dex) Acrobatics (Dex)
Use Magic Device (Cha) Use Magic Device (Special)
Use Rope (Dex) Use Rope (Dex)
Table: Skill Synergies
5 or more ranks in ... gives a +2 bonus on ...
Acrobatics Athletics checks involving jumping
Convince Disguise checks to act in character
Convince Intimidate checks
Convince Sleight of Hand checks
Decipher Script Use Magic Device checks involving scrolls
Escape Artist Use Rope checks involving bindings
Handle Animal Ride checks
Handle Animal wild empathy checks
Jump Acrobatics checks
Knowledge (architecture
and engineering)
Search checks involving secret doors
and similar compartments
Knowledge (dungeoneering) Survival checks when underground
Knowledge (geography) Survival checks to keep from getting
lost or for avoiding hazards
Knowledge (history) bardic knowledge checks
Knowledge (local) Gather Information checks
Knowledge (nobility
and royalty)
Convince checks
Knowledge (religion) checks to turn or rebuke undead
Knowledge (the planes) Survival checks when on other planes
Search Survival checks when following tracks
Knowledge (arcana) Use Magic Device involving scrolls
Survival Knowledge (nature) checks
Use Magic Device Knowledge (arcana) checks to decipher scrolls
Use Rope Athletics climbing checks involving ropes
Use Rope Escape Artist checks involving ropes


What is the same?[edit]

First and foremost, maximum skill ranks are the same (3 + level). Cross class skill ranks are also the same. Obviously, if you're looking to make a Disguise check, nothing seems different, right? You're right. Any check that doesn't have any changes listed has the same check as before. Some checks have "Special" listed. See the notes below on handling that. Some skills may have different associated ability scores, so check that to make sure you're doing it right (Speak language has been completely redone, so be sure to note those differences). The astute reader will notice that Intimidate has 2 associated ability scores. Choose whichever you want at the start of the game, it's totally your choice. You don't have to pick the high one if you don't want to, but you can't go changing your mind a few levels in. If you're ever asked to make a check using the old system, see what new skill governs that old skill, and make the check just as you would before.

Racial and other bonuses[edit]

Suppose you're an elf. You get a +2 racial bonus to spot and listen. You probably think you're set now, with a +4 in perception. Sorry, not how the new system works. All normal bonuses, be they racial or from equipment or any other source, are halved, but bonuses on merged skills stack. That means your +2 in Spot and +2 in Listen becomes +2 in Perception; however, the dwarves' +2 on Appraise is dropped to a +1 Appraise, and a healing kit only grants a +1 bonus. But all is not lost! Honestly, a -1 to your overall check isn't going to hurt your scores in the long run. And with new synergy bonuses, it's possible one of your trained skills will help you out anyway. For races with bonuses in Craft, see the special notes below.

Skill Point Allocation[edit]

There are now 23 skills in the game, as opposed to 36. Because of that, a skill point goes a lot further. If you're using this variant to make your skill points more powerful, then do not reduce the number of skill points given out per level. If, however, you are using this system because it makes more sense, and you don't want skill points to become too powerful, reduce them according to the following method:

  • Classes that normally get 2 skill points still get 2. (They don't rely on skill points and likely won't notice a change at all).
  • Classes that normally get 4 skill points get 2 on ever even level, and 3 on every odd. (3 at every level won't kill them if it helps with bookkeeping)
  • Classes that normally get 6 skill points now get 4.
  • Classes that normally get 8 skill points now get 6.
  • Humans still get their bonus skill point at every level, and everyone still gets to add their Intelligence modifier.

The New System[edit]

New Skill Descriptions[edit]

Athletics (Str): So you're some great big human, rippling with muscles. You have slain mighty beasts, and torn them in half with your bear hands. You've climbed sheer cliff faces, and run across deserts, but that castle moat is your hardest challenge yet. Sounds to me like you put ranks in Climb, but not Jump or Swim. If you're a big strong dude with strong arms and legs for climbing you'd also be pretty good at swimming, and maybe you could even jump with those robust leg muscles. Athletics is the new skill that covers Climb, Jump, and Swim. Max out your athletic ranks and you'll be winning triathlons as soon as those gnomes invent a bicycle.

Acrobatics (Dex): A combination of Tumble and Balance, this new skill is the go-to skill for feats of acrobatics. Whether you want to walk a tight-rope or tumble across a room full of baddies, you're making an acrobatics check.

Convince (Cha): Bluff and diplomacy, what's the difference? The truth. Convince combines these two, as well as sense motive, into a single skill to be used for lying (both telling and sensing), dealing with NPCs, and just about any other non-hostile social encounter.

Engineering (Int): Opening locks involves dexterity, but even the most dexterous halfling has no hope of opening a lock if they don't know what they're doing. The fact that disabling a lock and disabling another device were two different skills is upsetting, so they've been merged into engineering. Whether you need to repair a wagon wheel, sabotage a wagon wheel, or open a locked door, engineering is the new skill for you.

Perception (Wis): Know what doesn't make sense? DnD has no mechanic for smell or taste. Not for humanoids at least. This changes that. Perception is the new skill for all your senses. Are you on lookout while your buddy robs a bank? Perception covers listening for guards, looking for witnesses. At a dinner party with your nemesis? Perception covers smelling and taste, so you can know if your enemy is trying to kill you with this roast duck.

Speak Language (Int): Let's face it, not everyone speaks a half dozen languages. Moreover, most of us that try don't speak any of them fluently. If nothing else, we have to consciously try to speak any language that isn't our native tongue. This skill has been modified to incorporate this concept.

Stealth (Dex): Hiding and moving silently are checks almost always made together, right? when was the last time you were hiding and not being quiet, or sneaking up on someone and not trying to hide? Stealth is the all-encompassing super skill for the sneaky assassin and rogue.

New Skill Mechanics[edit]

Acrobatics (Dex):[edit]

Balance and Tumble are carried over to the new system as Acrobatics. The DCs of balance and tumble are preserved as the Acrobatics DCs, so consult the following tables when making an acrobatics check:

Narrow Surface Acrobatics DC1 Difficult Surface Acrobatics DC1
7–12 inches wide 10 Uneven flagstone 102
2–6 inches wide 15 Hewn stone floor 102
Less than 2 inches wide 20 Sloped or angled floor 102
  1. Only if running or charging. Failure by 4 or less means the character can’t run or charge, but may otherwise act normally.
Surface DC Modifier1
Lightly obstructed +2
Severely obstructed +5
Lightly slippery +2
Severely slippery +5
Sloped or angled +2
  1. Add the appropriate modifier to the Acrobatics DC of a narrow surface. These modifiers stack.
Acrobatics DC Task
15 Treat a fall as if it were 10 feet shorter.
15 Tumble at one-half speed as part of normal movement, provoking no attacks of opportunity while doing so.
25 Tumble at one-half speed through an area occupied by an enemy (over, under, or around the opponent) as part of normal movement, provoking no attacks of opportunity while doing so.
30 Treat a fall as if it were 20 feet shorter.
35 Free stand.
45 Treat a fall as if it were 30 feet shorter.
50 Climb vertical surface.
60 Treat a fall as if it were 40 feet shorter.
100 Ignore falling damage.

Athletics (Str):[edit]

Climb, Jump, and Swim are all carried over into the new system. None of the DCs have changes, but I will include tables here for easy reference. You'll note that the tables tell you what kind of athletics check you are doing, be it climbing, swimming, or jumping. That is purely so you know you're finding the DC for the right activity, all checks are done using the "athletics" skill, and all of them have an associated armor check penalty.

Climbing DC Example Surface or Activity
0 A slope too steep to walk up, or a knotted rope with a wall to brace against.
5 A rope with a wall to brace against, or a knotted rope, or a rope affected by the rope trick spell.
10 A surface with ledges to hold on to and stand on, such as a very rough wall or a ship’s rigging.
15 Any surface with adequate handholds and footholds (natural or artificial), such as a very rough natural rock surface or a tree, or an unknotted rope, or pulling yourself up when dangling by your hands.
20 An uneven surface with some narrow handholds and footholds, such as a typical wall in a dungeon or ruins.
25 A rough surface, such as a natural rock wall or a brick wall.
25 An overhang or ceiling with handholds but no footholds.
A perfectly smooth, flat, vertical surface cannot be climbed.
High Jump Distance1 Jumping DC2
1 foot 4
2 feet 8
3 feet 12
4 feet 16
5 feet 20
6 feet 24
7 feet 28
8 feet 32
  1. Not including vertical reach; see below.
  2. Requires a 20-foot running start. Without a running start, double the DC.
Climbing DC Modifier1 Example Surface or Activity
–10 Climbing a chimney (artificial or natural) or other location where you can brace against two opposite walls (reduces DC by 10).
–5 Climbing a corner where you can brace against perpendicular walls (reduces DC by 5).
+5 Surface is slippery (increases DC by 5).
  1. These modifiers are cumulative; use any that apply.
Water Swiming DC
Calm water 10
Rough water 15
Stormy water 201
  1. You can’t take 10 on a Swim check in stormy water, even if you aren’t otherwise being threatened or distracted.
Long Jump Distance Jumping DC1
5 feet 5
10 feet 10
15 feet 15
20 feet 20
25 feet 25
30 feet 30
  1. Requires a 20-foot running start. Without a running start, double the DC.

Convince (Cha):[edit]

Bluff, Diplomacy and Sense Motive are handled the same as before. Naturally, lying is done by your convince check opposed by theirs. If you win, they believe your lie. Diplomacy is handled the same way, your convince check opposed by theirs. If you win, they see it your way. Sense motive is the only slightly different one. You may make a Convince check against anyone else at any time. If your convince check beats theirs, you may find out if they have ulterior motives for helping you. For instance, a young man says he'll help you kill the sheriff. Your sense motive check tells you that he genuinely wants to help you kill the sheriff, but that the death of the sheriff may also bring him other benefits. Further questioning would reveal he wants to marry the sheriff's daughter, but the sheriff has said that will never happen. The conditional modifiers for bluff are carried over to Convince.

Example Circumstances Modifiers
The target wants to believe you. –5
The bluff is believable and doesn’t affect the target much. +0
The bluff is a little hard to believe or puts the target at some risk. +5
The bluff is hard to believe or puts the target at significant risk. +10
The bluff is way out there, almost too incredible to consider. +20
New Attitude (DC to achieve)
Hostile Unfriendly Indifferent Friendly Helpful Fanatic
Hostile < 20 20 25 35 50 150
Unfriendly < 5 5 15 25 40 120
Indifferent < 1 1 15 30 90
Friendly < 1 1 20 60
Helpful < 1 1 50

Engineering (Int):[edit]

Disable device and Open lock are governed by the new system, as well as the new skill repair. Both disable device and open lock use the same DCs as before, using an Engineering check in place of previous skill checks. Repairs can be made by succeeding a repair check with a DC equal to the damage done. Note, this is not a craft check, and is not intended for weapons. Repair checks are made to fix wagon wheels, or the steering system of an airship.

Device Time Engineering DC1 Example
Simple 1 round 10 Jam a lock
Tricky 1d4 rounds 15 Sabotage a wagon wheel
Difficult 2d4 rounds 20 Disarm a trap, reset a trap
Wicked 2d4 rounds 25 Disarm a complex trap, cleverly sabotage a clockwork device
  1. If you attempt to leave behind no trace of your tampering, add 5 to the DC.
Lock DC Lock DC
Very simple lock 20 Good lock 30
Average lock 25 Amazing lock 40
  1. Opening a lock is a full-round action.

Perception (Wis):[edit]

Spot and Listen are now governed by perception. Stealth checks are opposed by the watcher/listener's perception check. Modifiers from Spot and Listen still apply to this skill. Perception can also be used to taste and smell. A successful perception check (DC equal to the save of the poison) while eating allows you to notice the food you're eating is poison. This grants you a +2 bonus on your fortitude save if you stop eating the poison.

Listening DC Modifier Condition
+5 Through a door
+15 Through a stone wall
+1 Per 10 feet of distance
+5 Listener distracted
Vision Condition Penalty
Per 10 feet of distance –1
Spotter distracted –5

Speak Language (Int):[edit]

You start at 1st level knowing one or two languages (based on your race), plus an additional number of languages equal to half your starting Intelligence bonus (rounded down). When selecting bonus languages you may only select a language that has the same alphabet as one of the languages you already know (ie, if you know Gnome and Common you may not select Draconic as your bonus language). Furthermore, you may not select Elven as a Bonus language (this language must either be a racial language, or learned using the speak language skill). These are considered "Native languages", and require no checks to use. You are considered fluent, and literate in these languages (unless otherwise noted by a flaw, or some such).

Spending Ranks[edit]

There are two methods of acquire ranks in Speak Language

  • You can purchase Speak Language just like any other skill, but instead of buying a rank in it, you choose a new language that you can speak. This language is considered a "Non-Native" language, and requires checks to use.
  • It costs 2 ranks to learn a new language (whether Speak Language is a cross-class skill for you or not). The first point represents learning to speak a language, the second represents learning to write a language. The cost of learning a new language may be split among two sequential levels. Elven, because it is incredibly complex, requires 3 skill points to learn. In this instance, the first two points represent learning to speak Elven, and the third represents writing it. Elven may not be learned over more than two levels, despite its additional cost. If you only get a single skill point per level you cannot learn Elven.
  • Alternatively, you can place ranks in Speak language like any other skill. These ranks do not earn you new languages, but count as your accumulated wealth of knowledge for making Speak Language checks. Ranks spent here work just as any other skill point.

Using a "Non-Native" language requires a check against a set DC. Because some languages are harder, or easier, to learn than others, use the above chart to modify the DCs of certain checks. Speaking and listening are free actions, whether the language is native or not. Reading, writing, or translating is a standard action for a native language, and a full round action for non-native languages. Translating from a native language to a non-native language, or vice versa, is treated as translating a non-native language, and therefore a full round action. Reading aloud a non-native language, without attempting to comprehend what is being said, is a standard action.

Taking 10 or 20[edit]

You may take 10 or 20 on checks that involve reading, writing , and translating. Otherwise, you may not take 10 or 20 on Speak Language.

Try Again[edit]

If you fail a DC marked "Yes*", you may retry it. However, a penalty may be imposed if you are trying to negotiate with a hostile party. Similarly, if a communicating with a friendly party they may speak slower and clearer to make the check easier.


Like other skills, you are often not aware you've failed a check until it is too late to fix it. Imagine climbing up a wall when you realize your Use Rope check has failed, or wandering around in the woods for hours because you unknowingly failed your survival check. When you fail a check that involves speaking you will often find out right away that you've said the wrong thing (based on your audience's reaction), and when listening you might notice soon that it is unlikely that the canoe is supposed to ride you up the river. However, checks involving reading, writing, and translating are trickier. Often you won't realize you mistranslated the riddle until you press the wrong button and get turned to stone. Basically, you think you've made the correct translation, much like you think your knot will hold, until it comes up. Only after a third party points out your mistake can you retry the check. The DCs for actually speaking a language are not like many skills. When trying to pass as a native you don't have to declare it before you roll. You roll, and then find the best possible category you can fit into. Therefore, a 27 counts as speaking fluently, whether you are trying to pass as a native, or just talk. So, failing to "pass as a native speaker" results in you speaking fluently, but with a noticeable accent (Thus, alerting any native listener that you are not a native speaker. You still may fool non-native listeners, however). Failing to "Speak fluently" results in slight stammering, stumbling over words, pausing, or perhaps hesitating to recall vocabulary. You still are able convey your thought very clearly. Otherwise, failing by less than 2 means, with work, you get your message across, or understand the gist of the conversation, but might miss key elements (ie, the lake is two days away, not two miles). Failing by more than 2 on any given check results in complete misunderstanding, or complete failure in speaking that language (to follow the example before, you don't know there is a lake, let alone how far it is).

Language Typical Speakers Alphabet DC Mod
Abyssal Demons, chaotic evil outsiders Infernal +1
Aquan Water-based creatures Elven +0
Auran Air-based creatures Draconic +1
Celestial Good outsiders Celestial +1
Common Humans, halflings, half-elves, half-orcs Common +0
Draconic Kobolds, troglodytes, lizardfolk, dragons Draconic +0
Druidic Druids (only) Druidic --
Dwarven Dwarves Dwarven +0
Elven Elves Elven +2
Giant Ogres, giants Dwarven +0
Gnome Gnomes Dwarven +0
Goblin Goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears Dwarven +0
Gnoll Gnolls Common +0
Halfling Halflings Common +0
Ignan Fire-based creatures Draconic +1
Infernal Devils, lawful evil outsiders Infernal +1
Orc Orcs Dwarven -1
Sylvan Dryads, brownies, leprechauns Elven +1
Terran Xorns and other earth-based creatures Dwarven +1
Undercommon Drow Elven +1
DC Action Try Again
3 Convey/Understand basic idea (with gestures) Yes
5 Convey/Understand basic idea (without gestures) Yes
5 Understand (by reading) See Text
7 Understand (by hearing) Yes*
10 Write See Text
11 Translate See Text
12 Speak Yes*
17 Speak Fluently No
30 Pass as a native speaker No

Stealth (Dex):[edit]

Hide and Move Silently are governed by this ability. Both are opposed by Perception checks. The below modifiers apply when using stealth to move silently:

Surface Check Modifier
Noisy (scree, shallow or deep bog, undergrowth, dense rubble) –2
Very noisy (dense undergrowth, deep snow) –5

Nitty Gritty Details[edit]

Class Skills[edit]

If your class has a current skill as a class skill, the new skill governing that skill is considered a class skill. For instance, if your class has balance as a class skill, acrobatics is considered a class skill.

Trained only[edit]

Engineering is a Trained Only skill. If you don't have at least 1 point in that skill, you can't perform any actions associated with that skill.

Armor Check Penalty[edit]

Acrobatics, Athletics, and Stealth all have associated armor check penalties.

Taking 10/20[edit]

You may not normally take 10 or 20 on any of the 5 new class skills. Naturally, you can if you have special abilities that allow you to take 10 (like the rogue's special abilities).

Training new skills[edit]

Despite Perception now governing 4 skills, it still only costs a single skill point to train. The same is true for all new skills, assuming they are class-skills.

Synergy Bonuses[edit]

The idea behind this new skill system is to merge similar skills. Because of this you may notice fewer skill synergies. As before, 5 ranks in any one class can give you a +2 synergy bonus in another. The synergy bonuses are listed in the table labeled "Synergy Bonuses"

Special Notes on Certain Skills[edit]

As indicated in the above table, some skills are "special". That means there was something about that skill I didn't like, so I changed it. Here are the changes to those skills:

  • Decipher Script: A player attempting a decipher script check makes a knowledge check. If they have an appropriate knowledge area trained, they may use that in place of a simple Intelligence check. For instance, if Jozan is trying to decipher a script about Pelor written in an old language, he may use Knowledge (Religion) instead of an Intelligence check.
  • Concentration: For concentration you use the ability tied to your spellcasting. If you have multiple abilities attached to spellcasting, use the ability for the spell you are currently casting. If you're making a concentration check unrelated to spellcasting, use Constitution.
  • Craft: Craft is a stupid skill. Now it's a feat. You simply select a category, like Craft (bowmaking). You are treated as having maximum skill ranks for a class skill in this skill. All other rules for crafting exist (ie, material cost and time). Gnomes, and other races, that get a bonus to a Craft skill may add half their bonus to all "skill checks". A fighter may select Craft as a fighter bonus feat, as long as the category is weapon or armor related. For example, Tordek can take Craft (Bowmaking) as a feat, but not Craft (Trapmaking) or Craft (Alchemy), because traps and alchemical items are neither weapons nor armor.
  • Handle Animal: Anyone with a level in ranger or druid may use wisdom with Handle Animal. Everyone else must use Charisma.
  • Perform: At the DM's discretion, you may use the most appropriate ability for perform. For example, strength may be used to perform feats of strength, and constitution may be used for drinking contests.
  • Profession: At the DM's discretion, you may use the most appropriate ability for profession.
  • Spellcraft: Spellcraft has been folded into Knowledge (Arcana). It should be noted that despite the name, this still works with divine spells. None of the DCs change, and those with Spellcraft as a class skill now have Knowledge (Arcana) as a class skill, and vice versa. Feats and abilities that grant bonuses to Spellcraft now grant the usual half bonus to both Knowledge (Arcana) and Spellcraft checks, as with other combined skills.
  • Survival: Survival has been folded into Knowledge (Nature). None of the DCs change, and those with Survival as a class skill now have Knowledge (Nature) as a class skill, and vice versa. Feats and abilities that grant bonuses to survival now grant the usual half bonus to both Knowledge (Nature) and Survival checks, as with other combined skills.
  • Use Magic Device: For use magic device select either Intelligence or Charisma at the beginning of the game. Use that for the duration.

Closing notes[edit]


I hate psionics. Seriously, they're stupid. If you want to play psionics, use the same skills as outlined in their books. I don't know them well enough to include them in this rule variant.


Some feats provide bonuses on skills, that's right. If you're dumb enough to waste a feat on them, you'll want to know how to deal with them. Treat them like any other bonus. Halve them. Don't forget merged skills stack.

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