The most detailed method for handling character skills is that of nonweapon proficiencies. These are much like weapon proficiencies. Each character starts with a specific number of nonweapon proficiency slots and then earns additional slots as he advances. Initial slots must be assigned immediately; they cannot be saved or held in reserve.
Nonweapon proficiencies are the most detailed way to handle the question of what the player character knows. They allow the player to choose from a broad selection and define the effects of each choice. Like the other methods, however, this system is not without drawbacks. First, nonweapon proficiencies are rigid. Being so defined, they limit the options of both the player and DM. At the same time, there will still be questions unanswered by these proficiencies. Whereas before such questions were broad, they will now tend to be more precise and detailed. Secondly, using this system increases the amount of time needed to create a character. While the end result is a more complete, well-rounded person, setup time can take up to two or three hours. Novice players especially may be overwhelmed by the number of choices and rules.
Unlike weapon proficiencies, in which some weapons are not available to certain character classes, all nonweapon proficiencies are available to all characters. Some nonweapon proficiencies are easier for certain character classes to learn, however.
Table 37 lists all nonweapon proficiencies. They are divided into categories that correspond to character groups. The proficiencies listed under each group can be learned easily by characters of that group. A fifth category--"General"--contains proficiencies that can be learned easily by any character.
Refer to Table 38. When a player selects a nonweapon proficiency from those categories listed under “Proficiency Groups” for his character's group, it requires the number of proficiency slots listed in Table 37. When a player selects a proficiency from any other category, it requires one additional proficiency slot beyond the number listed.
Using Nonweapon Proficiencies
When a character uses a proficiency, either the attempt is automatically successful, or the character must roll a proficiency check. If the task is simple or the proficiency has only limited game use (such as cobbling or carpentry), a proficiency check is generally not required. If the task the character is trying to perform is difficult or subject to failure, a proficiency check is required. Read the descriptions of the proficiencies for details about how and when each can be used.
If a proficiency check is required, Table 37 lists which ability is used with each proficiency. Add the modifier (either positive or negative) listed in Table 37 to the appropriate ability score. Then the player rolls 1d20. If the roll is equal to or less than the character's adjusted ability score, the character accomplished what he was trying to do. If the roll is greater than the character's ability score, the character fails at the task. (A roll of 20 always fails.) The DM determines what effects, if any, accompany failure.
Of course, to use a proficiency, the character must have any tools and materials needed to do the job. A carpenter can do very little without his tools, and a smith is virtually helpless without a good forge. The character must also have enough time to do the job. Certainly, carpentry proficiency enables your character to build a house, but not in a single day! Some proficiency descriptions state how much time is required for certain jobs. Most, however, are left to the DM's judgment.
The DM can raise or lower a character's chance of success if the situation calls for it. Factors that can affect a proficiency check include availability and quality of tools, quality of raw material used, time spent doing the job, difficulty of the job, and how familiar the character is with the task. A positive modifier is added to the ability score used for the check. A negative modifier is subtracted from the ability score.
Rath, skilled as a blacksmith, has been making horseshoes for years. Because he is so familiar with the task and has every tool he needs, the DM lets him make horseshoes automatically, without risk of failure. However, Delsenora has persuaded Rath to make an elaborate wrought-iron cage (she needs it to create a magical item). Rath has never done this before and the work is very intricate, so the DM imposes a penalty of -3 on Rath's ability check.
When two proficient characters work together on the same task, the highest ability score is used (the one with the greatest chance of success). Furthermore, a +1 bonus is added for the other character's assistance. The bonus can never be more than +1, as having too many assistants is sometimes worse than having none.
Nonweapon proficiencies can also be improved beyond the ability score the character starts with. For every additional proficiency slot a character spends on a nonweapon proficiency, he gains a +1 bonus to those proficiency checks. Thus, Rath (were he not an adventurer) might spend his additional proficiency slots on blacksmithing, to become a very good blacksmith, gaining a +1, +2, +3, or greater bonus to his ability checks.
Many nonplayer craftsmen are more accomplished in their fields than player characters, having devoted all their energies to improving a single proficiency. Likewise, old masters normally have more talent than young apprentices--unless the youth has an exceptional ability score! However, age is no assurance of talent. Remember that knowing a skill and being good at it are two different things. There are bad potters, mediocre potters, and true craftsmen. All this has much less to do with age than with dedication and talent.