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Swords & Wizardry Skills (optional rule)

Intelligence ScoreSkills per Level
3 or less0
4—51 per 3 levels
6—81 per 2 levels
18 or more4

Characters can choose skills in addition to his or her Class abilities.

Characters may begin with a number of skills at First Level, depending on their Intelligence.

For example, a character with an Intelligence score of 14 would start at 1st level with 2 skills, and can take an additional 2 skills (or skill levels) per level thereafter as long as his or her Intelligence doesn't fall below 14.

A character with an INT score of 7 however, would not gain a skill until Level 2, and then another one every even-numbered level thereafter. An even stupider character with an INT of 5 wouldn't gain a skill until Level 3, and then not again until levels 6, 9, 12 etc.

A character doesn't lose any skills they already posess if their Intelligence drops for any reason, but it would affect the future acquisition of additional skills. Extreme stupidity will also affect the GM's judgement as to whether or not a character's attempt at performing some task is likely to succeed.

Game Masters may require that characters seek out teachers and training to gain additional skills after Level One, and in fact this is a good way to remove some of that extra cash that burns a hole in the pockets of successful adventurers.

Why Add Extra Skills?

The addition of specific skills to the game allows players to customise and specialize their characters to a certain extent, and to mimic (to a degree) the mutitude of additional character classes added in successive versions of the game, without having to endure the restrictions of a completely class-based system. For example, a player who wanted a Conan-like character could take a Fighting Man along with a range of roguish skills such as Stealth, Lockpicking, Climbing, Acrobatics, Combat Movement and so forth.

Using Skills

Success with skills in Swords & Wizardry is not determined by a simple die-roll, as is often the case in other roleplaying games. Success or failure is adjudicated by the GM according to the circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

NOTE: If, for any reason, you do want a die-roll mechanism to determine success or failure with a skill, you can just add (or subtract) a characteristic modifier, and armour value for Dexterity-based tasks, to the character's saving throw. If a character has a specific relevant skill, they could also add ½ their level (rounded down) as well.

So for example, if Snorri the Sneak (leather (AC +2), L7 fighter, DEX 14, Saving Throw 13) wanted to take advantage of his Acrobatics skill to swashbucklingly swing on a rope from a balcony to get into a fight, the number he would be looking at would be 13 - 1 (Dex. adjustment) - 3 (½ level) +2 (armour) = 11 or more.

The GM can apply modifiers to the saving throw number depending on how easy or difficult the task is.

The consequences of failure would be circumstantial. If the character fails by, say, 4 or less, usually nothing too terrible will happen; worse failure would have consequences of some kind.

Skill List

Characters can select from the following skill list to indicate that their character has devoted time and study to achieving a higher than average degree of mastery. The execution of the skill must still be described and roleplayed by the player, but the GM will take the character's skill into account when determining the likelihood of success or failure.

  1. Acrobatics
  2. Acting
  3. Animal Handling [animal type]
  4. Appraise
  5. Bluff
  6. Breakfall
  7. Bribery
  8. Bureaucratics
  9. Climbing
  10. Combat Movement
  11. Concealment
  12. Concentration
  13. Contortionist
  14. Craft [type]
  15. Cryptography
  16. Deduction
  17. Decipher Script
  18. Demolitions
  19. Diplomacy
  20. Disable Device
  21. Disguise
  22. Escape Artist
  23. Forgery
  24. Gambling
  25. Gather Information
  26. Healing
  27. Intimidate
  28. High Society
  29. Interrogation
  30. Knowledge [type]
  31. Language
  32. Lipreading
  33. Listen
  34. Lockpicking
  35. Mechanics
  36. Mimicry
  37. Navigation
  38. Oratory
  39. Perform
  40. Persuasion
  41. Profession [type]
  42. Riding [animal type]
  43. Rope Use
  44. Search
  45. Seduction
  46. Sense Motive
  47. Shadowing
  48. Skill Levels
  49. Sleight of Hand
  50. Spot
  51. Stealth
  52. Streetwise
  53. Survival [environment]
  54. Swim
  55. Tracking
  56. Trading
  57. Transport Familiarity
  58. Two-Weapon Fighting
  59. Use Magic Device
  60. Ventriloquism
  61. Weapon Familiarity
  62. Weaponsmith

Common Skills

It can usually be assumed that, in any given society or milieu, there will be a set of skills that everyone can be reasonably assumed to have. Players should not have to use their discretionary skill slots to get such skills, though they may wish to add Skill Levels to them to gain greater than normal facility.

For example, in a campaign set in the seedy back-streets of a big city, it's reasonable that every character from there would have Streetwise and Trading skills, and probably Survival (Urban). They would be unlikely, however, to start out with High Society or Use Magic Device skills, though they could always buy these when the character is created.

A generic Common Skills list for a dungeoneering campaign might be as follows:

The GM should make up such a list for their own campaign, so that players know more or less where they're starting from.

Skill Descriptions

For the most part, the purpose of each of the skills should be clear from the skill name. However, just in case, a brief description of each follows.

This skill is used for swashbuckling actions like swinging on chandeliers, sliding down banisters, ducking and diving through a crowd of foes and so forth. It can also be used for feats of balance like tight-rope walking, or running along a tree branch.
Basically this is the skill of pretending to be someone you're not. Used in conjunction with Disguise and Mimicry, the use of the Acting skill can allow a character to pass themselves off as a specific person.
Animal Handling [animal]
This skill gives the user a working knowledge of the character and habits of a type of animal, and how to get the best from them. It would allow them to teach animals simple tricks and carry out basic tasks (limited, of course, by the capabilities of the animal in question). It should be bought for broad classes of animal — for example, taking Animal Handling – Horses would also give the character knowledge of how to deal with mules, donkeys, ponies... and possibly even horse-like monsters like Pegasi, if the GM is feeling generous.
This skill allows the user to make an informed judgement about the market value of an item.
This is the ability to tell lies convincingly. At the GM's discretion, it could also be used to represent a feint in combat, allowing the character to get an advantage on their next attack (probably not more than +1 to hit).
This skill can allow a character to roll to his or her feet after being knocked down, and to take less damage from short falls (10' or less).
Anybody can attempt bribery, but it takes experience and skill to be able to judge the likely consequences; trying to bribe the wrong person can be disastrous. This skill will also allow the character to judge just how much he or she should offer (or how little they can get away with), and how to make the offer discreetly.
This is the skill that can let a character cut through the red tape when dealing with court officials, local government, guild secretaries, or even the devilish administrators of the seven levels of Hell. It will let them know who to talk to, who to avoid, and how best to make progress without being held up by self-important functionaries.
Everyone learns to climb as a child, but not everyone is good enough at it to scale sheer cliffs or scramble up the walls of the tower of some snake-cult to get at the goodies within. This skill grants a knowledge of the tools and equipment used for climbing as well as the ability to judge a (hopefully) safe climbing path.
Combat Movement
This skill allows a player to replicate the common fantasy trope of the character who wears little or no armour, but somehow always manages to come out of a fight unscathed. Each level of Combat Movement benefits the character's AC by two places, as long as they are wearing no physical armour. For example. if rugged barbarian warrior Grodar Skullsplitter with a DEX of 15 takes two levels — Combat Movement +1 — his Armour Class in his rugged bararbarian fur jock-strap would be 9[10] + 1 for Dexterity +4 for Combat Movement = AC 4[15].
Combat Movement would normally stack with magical protections such as rings or bracers, but this is purely at the discretion of the GM.
For Combat Movement to be able to benefit the character, they must be able to move reasonably freely. If they are immobilized by, for example, being gripped in a giant's fist or stuck in a giant spider's web, then they get no benefit from it at all. At the GM's discretion, if they are only partially immobilized (i.e. they can still dodge somewhat) they may get half-value.
I would recommend that the value of Combat Movement be capped at three levels (C.M.+2), which is the effective equivalent of wearing plate armour.
This skill is used for hiding oneself as well as objects. It would be applicable to setting up an ambush, or for trying to smuggle contraband through the city gates. Naturally, circumstances are going to play a great role in the success or failure of this skill; trying to hide in a featureless cell, or to hide a knight's great lance on your person is going to be tricky to say the least.
This skill is primarily of use to magic-users, to help them maintain focus when attacked while spell-casting. A magic-user with this skill doesn't have their spell disrupted if they take less than 2 points of damage (i.e. 1 point). Concentration can be taken multiple times (see Skill Levels below) with each level adding one to the amount of damage a magic-user can ignore when spell-casting.
This skill can help a character to escape bonds or squeeze into spaces normally too small for their body size.
Craft [craft]
This skill grants the ability to competently engage in a craft of some kind, such as leatherworking or brewing, for example.
Cryptography is the skill that allows codes and ciphers to be broken. It can be helpful when trying to puzzle out an unknown written language, but it is no substitute for a proper knowledge of the tongue. Cryptography normally takes quite a bit of time; it isn't the sort of skill that can be used in a hurry.
This is the ability to take seemingly unrelated bits and pieces of information and detect a pattern. It would normally only come into play if the player is obviously stumped and missing some vital clue; if all else fails the GM might take pity and give a character with this skill a few hints about what they're missing.
Decipher Script
A character with this skill has a store of knowledge of all sorts of different writing methods, and can often puzzle out the general meaning of relatively short inscriptions. The translation will be imprecise, but might be enough to alert him or her to the presence of danger (or loot!).
This is the primary skill of the sapper. It is used to bring down fortifications, bridges, walls and other structures. It does normally require quite a lot of effort and equipment; this isn't the sort of skill that is normally useful in hand-to-hand combat.
The character with this skill knows how to flatter and sooth, and how to present unpalatable requests or information in a way that won't get their head chopped off. Hopefully.
Disable Device
Finding a cunningly-hidden trap is only one part of the problem — getting past it without being killed is another entirely. That's where this skill comes in very handy. It can also let the character know how to jam a portcullis or drawbridge, sabotage siege catapults, and so forth.
This is the skill of making yourself look... not like yourself. It can help the character greatly in pretending to be somebody specific, but to pass close inspection they would also need Acting, and possibly Mimicry.
Escape Artist
This skill aids the character in escaping from bonds — ropes, manacles, strait-jackets, stocks and so forth. It doesn't replace the Lockpicking skill.
This is the art of creating false documents or counterfeit money. Note: minting money has, throughout history, been a jealously-guarded privilege, and the authorities almost always take a very dim view of those who attempt to intrude on their perquisites. The penalties for counterfeiting money (or “coining”) have generally been very severe.
Anyone can gamble, but not everyone can gamble intelligently. This skill will allow the character to beat the odds maybe just a little, to recognize when the odds can't be beaten, and perhaps to... not to put too fine a point on it, to cheat. He or she can also possibly recognize a cheat in action.
Gather Information
This is the skill of unobtrusively getting the good info. A character with this skill can pump unsuspecting people for information without raising the alarm. Trying to use this skill on somebody who also has it is more dangerous; they may well recognize that beneath your inconsequential-seeming conversation you're trying to get information out of them.
This skill will allow a character to stabilize somebody who is dying (below zero HP), and perhaps with a little more time to work, even to return a hit-point. A wounded character under the care of a proper Healer recovers hit-points at twice the usual rate.
This is the skill of the mob enforcer. A character with this skill can barge into queues, extort money, take goods without paying, and — possibly more importantly — frighten information out of weaker creatures. This is the sort of behaviour that is likely to draw the attention of noble, lawful and upstanding types, and of course, there's always a bigger bully.
High Society
This skill grants the character a knowledge of appropriate ettiquette when moving in exalted circles, and also a general knowledge of who's who in society.
In most circumstances in a medievalish milieu this boils down to questioning with torture — an ignoble and barbaric practice eschewed by all civilized societies. However, for those characters with a little moral fibre, it can also allow them to extract information through less painful methods, similar to the police interviews we've all seen on a hundred popular cop shows.
Knowledge [field]
This skill grants the character a theoretical, academic knowledge of a subject. For example, a character with Knowledge: Metallurgy would have a great deal of knowledge about the properties and compositions of various metals and alloys, but would not necessarily ever have been present when a smith beat a bar of steel into a sword-blade, or a sculptor cast a bronze. For practical, hands-on knowledge, use the Profession skill.
This skill gives the character a working knowledge of a language.
Usually the speaker of a second language is identifiable to native speakers as a stranger, but they won't necessarily immediately identify them as “foreign” or “enemy” — through most of history, people living only a few miles apart have often had different (sometimes very different) patterns of speech.
If literacy is normal for the campaign, they will also be able to read and write in the language. If it is not, than players will have to spend one Language skill slot on Literacy to be able to read and write, but after that they can be assumed to be literate in any language they know (assuming it has a written form, of course).
Magic-users should probably get Literacy for free, if it is not already assumed as a campaign standard.
This skill allows the character to determine what somebody is saying without needing to hear their words, as long as their lips are visible. It's harder to lipread in a foreign tongue, and anything that disguises the mouth and lower face (such as a beard and/or moustache) can make it quite difficult to be accurate. Lipreading other species is likely to be near impossible.
The character with this skill has more acute hearing than usual.
A character with this skill can open locks without a key. Depending on the quality of the lock it might be achieved with improvised tools, but reliable results can only be achieved with properly made lockpicks. Really skilled lockpickers can open a lock almost as fast as with a proper key, but usually it will take a few moments.
This skill gives the character a working knowledge of levers, cogs, pulleys, springs and so forth, and how they might interact. They can build or mend mechanical devices.
This is the ability to imitate the vocal patterns of somebody or something else. It can also be used to imitate the patterns of speech and movement of a specific person, and when used with Acting and Disguise can allow the character to pass themselves off as that person.
This is the ability to use the sun, moon and stars to get from one place to another. A character with this skill can always tell which way is North as long as they are above ground. At the GM's discretion, it might also act as a sort of “bump of direction” when underground.
Oratory is the art of making entertaining, inspiring, or persuasive speeches to groups of people. Oratory could be used to bolster the morale of one's troops, to lower the morale of others, to whip a mob to a vengeful fury, and so forth.
This skill is used when playing an instrument, singing, dancing, declaiming poetry and so forth.
Persuasion is used one-on-one, or on small groups (not more than three or four — for larger groups, use Oratory). Essentially, it's the art of making people change their minds about something. It might be used to gain entrance to a fortress without the correct paperwork, to convince a lord to give you aid, to get a meal at an inn without having to pay, or any number of other situations.
Profession [field]
The Profession skill gives the character a working, hands-on knowledge of some field of endeavour. It doesn't necessarily grant anything much in the way of theoretical knowledge; for example, a character with Profession: Drainlayer would know little or nothing about fluid dynamics or hydrology, but would know through experience that digging a ditch uphill is unlikely to get water flowing up to the top of the hill.
In a medieval milieu, almost all artisans would have Profession skills; only scholars would bother with Knowledge skills.
Riding [animal]
Normally, if an animal has been trained for the purpose, anyone can ride it as long as they're not expected to do anything too fancy. This skill allows the character to ride the specified animal type in extreme circumstances, like combat, or when attempting to stay on an untrained animal.
It also automatically grants the character Animal Handling for the same animal type.
Rope Use
At its simplest, this skill simply allows the character to tie reliable knots and lashings that won't come undone at the most inconvenient time. However, it also enables a character to build rope bridges, throw lassos and so forth.
The character with this skill is the one you want around when you've lost your keys. They're also adept at searching out things like secret doors and the like, though the Search skill provides no advantage when it comes to opening them. Search differs from Spot in that it is a measured, deliberate action that usually takes a little time to perform.
At its simplest, this skill is pretty self-explanatory — it's the art of getting somebody else into bed. However, it's also useful in situations like turning a rival's minions over to your side, or drawing worshippers away from a rival cult to one's own religion. Unlike the Persuasion skill, seduction relies on emotional triggers rather than rational, logical argument. Just remember, there's a fine line between love and hate, and somebody subverted by seduction is likely to become a deadly enemy if they're turned back for any reason.
Sense Motive
This is the skill of reading between the lines, telling what somebody really means when they're saying something else. It allows the character to read body language, so they can see their target's underlying emotional state — fear, anger, confusion and so forth. It won't reveal concrete information; for example, one might be able to tell with Sense Motive that an informant is lying about working for Fat Miguel the Slaver, but one wouldn't be able to tell that he actually works for Dirty Sanchez the Pimp.
Shadowing is the art of following without being detected. It can be used to follow a suspect through the streets and alleys without alerting them, or to stalk game through the woods.
Skill Levels
Some skills, at the discretion of the GM, can be taken multiple times to indicate that the character is truly masterful. Each Skill Level adds a degree of mastery, and would be noted on the character sheet as, for example, Lockpicking +1 to indicate that the character is a master picklock.
Sleight of Hand
This is the art of the prestidigitator, the shoplifter, the cutpurse or the pickpocket. It allows the character to palm small items unseen, introduce weighted dice to a game of chance without being spotted, cut away a bulging purse from the belt of a fat merchant, and so forth. It could also allow the character to draw a weapon discreetly, though of course large weapons like swords would be very difficult to do so with.
The character with this skill is adept at picking up on the subtle visual cues that might alert them to the presence of an ambush, or to pick out a single face from a crowd, or to notice those little things that distinguish a treasure chest from a ravenous Mimic. It differs from Search in that it is normally an immediate, more or less involuntary action, whereas Search is more deliberate.
This skill is the art of moving unseen and unheard. (For hiding while remaining still, use Concealment).
This gives the character a knowledge of the ettiquette of the lowest levels of society. It might give them a general knowledge of who's who among the criminal underground, who's more or less trustworty and who to avoid. It can allow the character to avoid faux pas that would arouse the ire of a street gang, or identify a potential fence for stolen goods, or know where to go to buy forbidden Stygian Black Lotus.
Survival [environment]
This skill gives the character the skills and knowledge they need to be able to survive — to eat, to find shelter — in a particular environment. The environmental categories might be very broad (forest, desert, subterranean) or quite specific (the city of Mickelburg, the Forest of Donn) at the discretion of the GM. A character with an appropriate Survival skill can also support others, but the amount of time that would need to be devoted to gathering food and so forth each day would naturally increase with numbers.
A character with this skill can swim. If swimming is standard for the campaign, then the character can swim better, faster, and while carrying more weight than usual.
This skill allows the character to identify the signs and marks that indicate that some creature has passed by, and to follow those tracks. The difficulty of tracking depends largely on the environment; tracking across bare, clean rock is very difficult indeed, whereas a soft, muddy ground would make it easy. Good trackers can tell not only that something has been this way, but also what sort of creature, how long ago, and how large it might be. Really good trackers can pick out the tracks of an individual person from a crowd of others, and can deduce a considerable amount of information about their state of health and even state of mind.
To get the best price for one's loot, and to avoid being ripped off at every turn, it's useful to have somebody around with a Trading skill.
Transport Familiarity
This skill grants the character the ability to operate and maintain a mode of transportation such as bullock carts, longships, canoes, chariots, or caravan-howdahs on the backs of giant centipedes. It would also give a general knowledge of the care and feeding of the animals characteristically used for such transportation.
Two-Weapon Fighting
This skill will allow the user to fight with two one-handed swords (instead of just sword and dagger).
Use Magic Device
This skill will allow a character to attempt to use a magic item that would normally be forbidden to their class. This item use isn't reliable though; there is only a 5% chance per character level that it will be successful, and if the attempt fails there is a 20% chance that it will backfire.
Using this skill a character can speak without moving their lips, and if conditions are right, thay can even make it sound as though their voices are coming from somewhere other than their position.
Weapon Familiarity
The GM may wish to require characters to specify which weapon(s) they know how to use competently. The weapon categories may be broad (e.g. all one-handed swords, axes, bows) or specific (falchion, khopesh, arbalest, javelin) depending on the nature of the campaign. If the weapon categories are specific, I recommend giving Fighting Men a free Weapon Familiarity skill with each level or two levels, in addition to their INT-based level acquisition.
This skill allows the character to make weapons, or to mend damaged ones. It would normally require access to tools and other equipment such as a forge.