Variant Skills (3.5e Variant Rule)

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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) Climb (Str)
Concentration (Con) Concentration (Special)
Craft (Int) (Special)
Decipher Script (Int) Decipher Script (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) Jump (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) Spellcraft (Special)
Spot (Wis) Perception (Wis)
Survival (Wis) Survival (Wis)
Swim (Str) Swim (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 Jump checks
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 (arcana) Spellcraft 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 (nature) Survival checks in above-ground
natural environments
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
Spellcraft Use Magic Device involving scrolls
Survival Knowledge (nature) checks
Use Magic Device Spellcraft checks to decipher scrolls
Use Rope Climb 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 swim 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. Speak Language, and other skills may have different associated ability scores, so check that to make sure you're doing it right (Speak language actually will be redone completely when I get around to it, for not treat it as the same). 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. Halve all normal bonuses, but bonuses on merged skills stack. That means your +2 in Spot and +2 in Listen becomes +2 in Perception. The dwarves' +2 on Appraise is dropped to a +1 Appraise, however. 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 28 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 3 on ever even level, and 4 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 5.
  • Classes that normally get 8 skill points now get 7.
  • 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]

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.

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.

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

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 and Stealth both 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:

  • 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 (bow making). 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".
  • 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: For spellcraft 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.
  • 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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