4th Power Project: Skills

investigationsI’ve got some core classes (which are pending some revisions), some at-will powers, and some other powers. Next step is relatively simple (but not without some thought): skills.

While skills are not trivial in 4e, they play a much greater role in modern games, and have a greater variety. This is not just because of the need for modern skills that wouldn’t exist in D&D settings. It’s also because there is more of an emphasis on using skills, and possessing those skills differentiates characters. Especially in a game where not everyone is adapt in similar areas (i.e. combat) the choice and variety of skills can make a big difference.

My first step was to look at the skills that 4e characters possess and see what should be brought forward. It turns out: almost all of them, since they are a really well put together list of skills. There’s only one that outright I can’t see in a modern game, and that’s Dungeoneering. So that gets tossed.

Three skills get a minor name/concept change to better fit modern. Arcana becomes Occult, Heal becomes Medicine, and Religion becomes Theology (to encompass a few other things like Mythology and Philosophy as well.)

Then we get to the new skills:

  • Business (Int)
  • Civics (Int)
  • Creative Arts (Cha)
  • Culture (Int)
  • Drive (Dex)
  • Investigations (Wis)
  • Linguistics (Int)
  • Mechanics (Int)
  • Science (Int)
  • Strategy (Int)
  • Technology (Int)

By my count, that gives 26 skills total. Brief explanation of the new skills follow:

Manage businesses, know facts about businesses, understand corporate workings, economic knowledge
Navigate through governments, understand political situations
Creative Arts
Create art, understand art, identify artists, recall art history
Social sciences such as anthropology and sociology, pop culture, current events, studies of how groups of people operate
Driving a car, piloting an airplane, operating a boat
Analyze crime scenes, conduct research
Understand and speak languages, decipher scripts and codes
Fix a car’s engine, design a building, blow stuff up
Biology, pharmaceuticals, treating illnesses and conditions, nutrition
Esoteric knowledge, is not explained by science
Physics, chemistry
Games, military situations
Computers, hacking, gadgets
Philosophy, theology, religious studies
Some of those are pretty broad, but work in the combined skill 4e paradigm. But what if you want your character to take on a little more differentiating in a particular skill? My physicist should not be as good at chemistry as physics, right? For that, I propose the following rule:


Pick three specializations in skills you are trained in. When using that specialization, you get a +2 bonus.
And that’s it. Next week try to do the feats, and then… playtest!
About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. I would propose that Mechanics be called Engineering, as Mechanics (as a term) is both only a small subset of that skill, and a susbset of Physics.

    Engineering defines what you’re aiming for with that skill far better.
    .-= Graham´s last blog ..CriticalAnkleBites and ChattyDM pretend to be journalists =-.

  2. Proposal #2:

    Rename “Science” to “Physical Sciences”. This allows it to include what you say, but leaves out things like biology.

    Then rename “Medicine” to “Bioscience” or “Life Sciences”, which includes medicine, but also includes biology and such.

    Same number of skills, but I feel that Medicine is too narrow, and Science is too broad.
    .-= Graham´s last blog ..CriticalAnkleBites and ChattyDM pretend to be journalists =-.

  3. The Culture skill set seems a bit schizophrenic. There’s the academic aspect vs. general pop culture savvy, the latter overlapping with Streetwise too much for me to consider it a separate skill. Going with the academic aspect alone, it would be best to call it Social Sciences, in keeping with Graham’s proposals.

    Oh, yeah: I agree with Graham’s proposals.

  4. Doubling the number of skills on a whim does not give me confidence that you know what you’re doing to the system.

  5. Graham and River: Life Science and Physical Sciences were how they were divided in d20 Modern and how I originally had them. I tried to cut down the names to be one word (with Creative Arts being the one that slipped through) to better fit with the other skills. Purely an aesthetic reason, and it seems like I’m losing meaning, so I’ll probably change it the way you guys are suggesting.

    Noumenon: This was not just at a whim, it was considered and explained, and I don’t see how you would do a modern game without adding some period-appropriate skills. Maybe you could offer some constructive criticism on how you’d do it instead.

  6. @Graham: All of those suggestions are actually what Dave had originally, I suggested some alternatives and he went with them, so I apologize if they ended up being off a bit. 🙂

  7. Heh, no worries.

    As far as the Sciences goes, I just think d20 Modern split it very nicely.

    And Engineering/Mechanics, well, I’m an engineer, and I studied mechanics as part of my courseload, so I have a personal interest in that one. 😛
    .-= Graham´s last blog ..CriticalAnkleBites and ChattyDM pretend to be journalists =-.

  8. An interesting undertaking you have brewing. Personally I was never a fan of d20 Modern, it always felt a bit clunky when I tried playing it. However, reading over your articles you do seem to have smoothed out the problems. I’m interested in seeing where you take this.

    And is strategy really necessary? I understand what your trying to encompass with it but seems a bit unnecessary.

    Just a thought, keep up the good work!
    .-= Tyson J. Hayes´s last blog ..Character Considerations: Naming Your Character =-.

  9. @Tyson –

    Good point. Knowledge (Tactics) was always the most useless skill in d20 Modern, and the military history aspect is overlapped by the more generally useful History skill.

    It’s an interesting question. Why is Strategy a more appropriate skill in modern times than in a fantasy world?
    .-= Graham´s last blog ..CriticalAnkleBites and ChattyDM pretend to be journalists =-.

  10. Just my 2 cents:

    As a fan of 4th edition (who had…issues with the sheer volume of skills in 3.5, etc), I’d suggest keeping things simple where they still could be in a modern setting. For example, in 4th Edition isn’t History used in very much the way you propose the new Civics skill? Or is Civics a Charisma-based skill and it’s literally how smooth you are at talking politics (Which screams Diplomacy somehow).

    Since things are specialized now, would the overlap between the skills be something that would just dictate a lower/higher difficulty rating? For example: Hanging on the Wall is a Painting of some importance, it’s a few hundred years old.
    Do I roll History or Creative Arts? Or hell, Culture since it’s a Period piece?
    I only pose the question because a LOT of History is represented by pieces of Creative Art (or defined by it) so it’s the first overlap that sprung to mind.

    Again, don’t mind me, just random coinage that popped into my head while reading.

  11. Graham: In fact, the skill was called Mechanics & Engineering first in my draft, I dropped the wrong piece 🙂

    Tyson: A good point for sure. I tried to combine Knowledge (Tactics) and Gamble into one skill. I like the idea of a gambling skill challenge that uses Strategy but it might not have enough uses overall. Definitely on the chopping block.

    Jared: That’s a good point too. I wonder what makes the most sense to combine History with… Civics seems like a natural fit if I can come up with a good name.

  12. @The Game –

    Man, forget the Gamble/Strategy skill. For a gambling skill challenge, you should use a variety of skills.

    History, Diplomacy, Bluff, Insight, Business (covers investing and stocks, so therefore risk management, I assume), Perception, even Linguistics and Life Sciences to notice tells in the other players.

    Including a Gamble/Strategy skill just limits you.
    .-= Graham´s last blog ..CriticalAnkleBites and ChattyDM pretend to be journalists =-.