Cross Class Skills
Why They Make Little Sense In Third Edition
(And What We Can Do About It)
It used to be the case, in previous editions of AD&D, that each class was assumed to have an aptitude toward a certain cross section of Skills. Also, people Skilled in this class, if they were mentors or trainers or teachers, would likely impart this knowledge more easily to their students. Thus, if your PC was a member of a particular class, they had a better aptitude for certain Skills AND easier access to those who knew and taught these Skills as well. This is not really the case anymore in third edition D&D - or 3e for short.
3e assumes a Skill is a class Skill only due to the fact a member of that class has easier access to it, yet this is unrealistic. For example, if you are part rogue - that is, already have some rogue levels - then you should have access to the sorts of teachers who may train you in those sorts of Skills, even if you are currently going up in another class.
NOTE: It may be easily missed, but standard 3e does assume a Skill is a cross class Skill if it does not belong to the class in which your PC is currently advancing, even if they have some levels in the Skill's natural class already. For example, if your PC is a wizard/rogue and currently going up a level as a wizard, then learning how to appraise would be a cross-class Skill and cost your PC two Skill points in standard 3e.
Furthermore, there is no reason to think only a class specific person may teach a simple Skill. A lot of them are hardly secret knowledge. Far more people than bards and rogues know the Skill of 'appraising,' for example, and can teach it. Far more people than bards and rogues will have access to such a Skill. While it's true bards and rogues may have greater need of such a Skill than others may, they have no special gift for it solely based on their class. At best, they may get better at it than most since they tend to need and use and practice the Skill a lot in comparison to most other classes (and thus probably 'buy' more Ranks in it due to this greater need). This would tend to improve such a class's reputation as those with great Skill in certain areas, but it would be wrong to think they had a greater innate talent for it.
But even assuming their access is greater - as they tend to associate with lots of people also highly Skilled in the art of appraising fine goods - there is no earthly reason I can fathom why someone who is already part bard or part rogue and already has access to these people would have to take 'appraise' as a cross class Skill just because they were currently training as a fighter, a wizard, a cleric, or any of the other 9 classes apart from rogue or bard.
And, obviously, no one even tried to explain why a PC with a particular Skill couldn't teach that Skill to another PC. If it's just a question of access, as 3e suggests, not only is such access not hard, it's assured if both PCs agree to spend their time thus.
It all might work like this if ALL Skills had to be taught by the one also teaching them their class level, and these lessons were hopelessly intertwined with one another and had to be learned from one class related source, but that is not the case here. 3e assumes multiple trainers, and it's more realistic to think your PC is learning from a variety of people - mostly experts in each of these Skills - particularly the Skills found on table 4-2 - and not only just from those higher in level in the particular class in which they are currently advancing.
Alas, it is better to assume, I think, that such Skill training is generally available, and these Skills are separate from the normal Skills you learn that are actually part of one's class and not really shown on table 4-2 (i.e. Skills not on table 4-2 are those actual Skills that make you one level higher in that class). But we may still find a way to make some Skills cost less than others for those with aptitude toward those Skills, or cost more for those who have poor aptitudes for them.
Each class, it may be said, has one attribute or statistic that most exemplifies their typical Skills. A wizard has intelligence, a cleric wisdom, a rogue dexterity, a fighter strength, etc. If we make the cost of a Skill dependent on each character class's aptitude, then classes will naturally pay less for Skills they are likely to have a high statistic in, and pay more for areas where they are likely to be weaker.
For example, rogues may pay 1 Skill point for all Skills with DEX as its key ability. The key abilities for each Skill is shown in table 4-2. They pay 2 Skill points/Rank for non-DEX based Skills. Wizards pay 1 point for INT based Skills, but 2 points for non-INT based Skills. Etc.
Yet, this is also a problem if a rogue has a high INT or a wizard has a high DEX. So we can't require they be of a specific class, but only place our requirements on their actual aptitude or statistic scores. Thus, rogues will likely do better with DEX based Skills since they will likely have better dexterity than most, and this should be sufficient. If your PC happens to have a good stat in another area, they're lucky, and so much the better for him or her.
Under this proposed house rule, all Skills on table 4-2 are more or less assumed to be available for teaching to the public at large, if they can afford the cost of learning it and have the time - and have the Skill points to 'spend'. I won't speak about training costs and times here, however. The DM can use what he wishes, or they may look in other articles for that information. Or you can follow the link below:
Training Times And Costs In 3e.
SKILLS IN 3e
(A Better Approach)
In this proposed system, three broad categories will be defined:
Gifted: (a key stat of 14 or higher),
Normal: (a key stat between 10 and 13 inclusive), and
Challenged: (a key stat of 9 or lower).
If your PC wishes to learn a Skill, they pay one Skill point/Rank if their key ability for that Skill is gifted, 2 Skill points/Rank if their key ability for that Skill is normal, and 3 Skill points/Rank if their key ability for that Skill is challenged.
EXCEPTION: Above and beyond your PC's class or classes, there are sometimes extra assumptions for aptitude or special access or requirements. For example, a cleric's domain may suggest certain Skills are to be treated AS 'class' Skills. This is not due to the class of cleric, but due to the special domain of that cleric. As such, any time, apart from simply being of a particular class, ANOTHER rule suggests you are to treat a Skill AS a 'class' Skill, the cost for each Rank in such a Skill should be taken as if your PC's key ability in that Skill was in the 'gifted' category - i.e. 1 point/Rank. In short, you should replace the phrase "Treat this Skill as a class Skill," with the sentence, "This Skill should only cost your PC one point per rank."
CLARIFICATION: The Skills listed under each class ARE class Skills, but in this system, cost 1, 2, or 3 points depending on your gifted, normal, or challenged status for your stat of that Skill's key ability. Any subsequent or additional rules that say to treat a Skill AS a class Skill does not mean it is just on that list, but means more here. It means the Skill is so important, or access so easy to one's character, that it is to be treated as a gifted category and cost you only 1 point per rank, no matter what your stat score for that Skill's key ability.
In this manner, without requiring artificial or unrealistic rules, or even unnatural boundaries between classes that almost no longer exist in 3e, if the stats are done properly (higher stats likely in your best class, lower stats likely in other areas), things will naturally occur such that members of specific classes will tend to buy Skills that cost only one Skill point each - for which they are gifted and have an aptitude - while others, if they still wish to do so, may buy more expensive Skills for which they have little aptitude or for which they show no appreciable gift or talent.
Looking at the Skill table (table 4-2 page 59 PHB) we see:
STR has 3 Skills,
DEX has 9 Skills,
CON has 1 Skill,
INT has 14 Skills,
WIS has 8 Skills, and
CHA has 9 Skills.
This may make it seem like wizards will have an unfair advantage since they tend to have high INT scores, but wizards get few Skill points due to the fact their actual wizard training is probably more demanding than another class's training and takes more time, thus leaving them little time to pick up other Skills from table 4-2, even if they do have a larger selection of one point Skills thanks to their innate intelligence.
Rogues may seem like they have an unfair advantage too since they get 8-Skill points/level. This might suggest rogues learn faster than others do, but this is not the case. Most of the Skills typical of that class just happen to be represented on table 4-2 as well. It might be the same if the DM had said:
"Your rogue gets one Rank in each Skill of Climb, Hide, Listen, and Move Silently every level as part of their standard rogue class Skills, AND 4 Skill points/level to spend where ever you wish, just like most other classes."
Instead, 3e just let the rogues buy the Skills they will need for their class in addition to buying Skills they may want outside their more traditional boundaries, so it looks funny, like they are learning quicker than most, but they aren't. Mages are learning mage Skills, clerics are learning cleric Skills, fighters are learning fighter Skills, etc. none of which are well represented on table 4-2 since they are the Skills associated with levels. Rogues just happen to have a lot of their class level Skills on table 4-2, so though they get more Skill points, easily half of them have to go toward learning basic class level Skills. Thus, rogues learn non-class specific Skills at about the same rate as other classes unless they forego taking many of the traditional rogue-like Skills. But then they'll be poor rogues indeed.
Exclusive Skills seems a bogus concept to me unless they are steeped in secret knowledge and only class members have access to such secrets. I don't think this is the case all too often, so I prefer another method.
Skills listed as 'exclusive' will now only mean you cannot acquire those Skills during character generation with your beginning points UNLESS you belong to the appropriate class. You may acquire them later, however, at 2nd level or higher, even if not a member of that particular class. The DM may even insist your PC at least has one level in that class, but I think that's too much. Though it is still reasonable to assume it cost you 1 extra point instead of the normal cost unless you have at least one level in that class.
And naturally, some Skills may not be readily available in some areas, so the DM may always prohibit your PC from learning them at that time and in that area. Or instead of impossible, it may just be rare and difficult, so they may make you pay an extra Skill point due to the limited access of the Skill since very few have that Skill in that area. Thus, if your PC still insists on learning it then and there despite this difficulty, it should cost more. It would be assumed one Skill point of 'time' was used up just hunting down a teacher and getting them to agree to teach your PC, so it all works out if you think about why these things work.
Though one normally has full access to trainers and teachers and the like, there may come a time when they do not. For example, suppose one is currently in the desert but wishes to learn how to SWIM. If the DM prohibits your PC from learning this Skill at that time, so be it. However, the DM should allow you to keep your Skill points in reserve and spend them later - but still before your next level, or they are lost. Yet, if you still wish to spend them now, he may easily charge you one extra Skill point above and beyond the normal cost for your PC to learn how to SWIM due to the less than optimal learning conditions. The extra point was used up in hunting for someone to teach you, and the extra effort it would take to grasp the rudiments of the Skill without a handy body of water in which to practice. But I digress.
Finally, the DM may insist that learning Rank N requires a teacher with Rank N or higher, and one simply may not be available. This would happen quite a bit, actually, particularly when one's Ranks begin to climb way past Rank 4.
However, even without an instructor of the appropriate Rank, the DM should allow your character to progress. They will probably require greater payment in points, however, since learning something on your own sans instruction takes more time and insight, all of which translates to more Skill points being spent. If your PC wishes to wait to find an instructor of higher Rank later - perhaps in a different town or city - they should be allowed to keep those Skill points in reserve until the next level. If those Skill points are not spent by then, they are assumed lost.
Thus, despite the usual assumption characters ALWAYS have access to the required instructors or appropriate settings to learn their Skills, clearly the DM may prohibit this on occasion. I'm only saying I think it wise, even under such prohibitions, that the DM allow the character to progress, but under the assumption the cost will be 1, 2, or 3 points higher than normal. If the player is fine with that, let them do it.
LIMITS ON SPENDING POINTS
The DM may limit the number of Skill points you can spend for any one Skill at any one time. I recommend the DM limit the number of points to those required for 2 Ranks. That is, you may not buy more than 2 Ranks in any particular Skill - after character generation - for any one level. You have to spend your points on other Skills, as well. Why? Learning is an iterative process, building today on what you learned yesterday. It takes time to build a foundation for this learning, and learning too many Ranks in one Skill all at once would be akin to building a brick wall, but starting at the top. This spending limit, therefore, imposes a realistic limitation.
SKILL LIMITS ON RANKS
(A New Rule)
No one may learn any Skill past Rank L, where L = 4 x the Key Ability Mod for that Skill. 'L' stands for Limit.
EXCEPTIONS: Anyone may learn a Skill up to Rank 4, however, despite their low key ability.
This is a minor rule change from standard 3e, and unless a character's ability scores begin to far exceed 18 or 19, most PCs will be limited to Rank 16 or lower in most Skills. Also, most characters with below average ability will be limited to Rank 4. This makes perfect sense since no amount of instruction will assure continuing progression in areas where one's aptitude is simply lacking.
For example, no one may learn the Healing Skill past quadruple his or her Wisdom Mod. If your character's Wisdom is 18, your character's Mod is +4, so your character may not learn the Healing Skill past Rank 16. If your character's Wisdom is 12, your character's Mod is +1, so your character may not learn the Healing Skill past Rank 4.
This new rule keeps Ranks from becoming too unrealistic or almost automatically successful - such as Rank 20 or more. Very few characters have the time or inclination to go beyond a Rank that is quadruple their key ability's Modifier anyway, so it won't affect too many people. This cap merely serves to impose yet another realistic limit. It also has a tendency to keep the game reasonable and encourages players to select Skills appropriate for their strengths, just as they would do in real life, and to gain greater diversity once a few key Skills are maxed out.
A Rank in a Skill costs one Skill point if your PC's key ability for that Skill is 14 or higher. They are gifted in that Skill.
EXCEPTION: If something other than one's class - or the normal list of Skills for that class - says to treat a Skill AS a class Skill, each Rank in that Skill will cost only one point, no matter what the character's ability score. Such Skills are very special and the emphasis and training for them is so important that the character may pick up such Skills for 1 point per rank regardless of their aptitude. If it takes them longer to learn it, then so be it - they will take the extra time.
A Rank in a Skill costs two Skill points if your PC's key ability for that Skill is 10, 11, 12, or 13. They have about normal abilities for that Skill.
A Rank in a Skill costs three Skill points if your PC's key ability for that Skill is 9 or lower. They are challenged in that Skill and it takes them longer (more time) and extra instruction to learn them.
Due to less than optimal conditions (availability of teachers, resource material, time, etc.) the DM may charge one extra Skill point beyond the normal cost, or still may prohibit acquiring certain Skills in certain areas or at certain times. If they do this, they should allow the player to keep their PC's Skill points in reserve and spend them later, but still will require they be fully spent before they acquire their next level, or else those Skill points are lost. Of course, the DM will probably allow one to learn from their fellow PCs if necessary.
OPTIONAL: During character generation, a DM may decide, due to a character's background, they had special access to a Skill, or some teacher, trainer, relative, or what not, took a special interest in teaching the PC a particular Skill. If this is so, then and only then - during character generation and not later in life - the DM may lessen the cost of 3 Skill points to a cost of 2 Skill points, or a cost of 2 Skill points to a cost of only 1 Skill point. If already gifted, it still will cost at least one Skill point. No matter what, each Skill should cost at least one Skill point.
OPTIONAL: The only exceptions would be if aptitude, access, and special training all came together where the DM might rule a Rank costs 1/2 point. This would still be only during character generation, when the PC is assumed to be a young prodigy of sorts. Later in life, they pick things up at a slower rate, as tends to happen to prodigies when they become young adults. A good example would be a bard in training - access - with exceptional aptitude - arbitrarily, high INT, WIS, and/or CHA - under a gifted trainer - master bard or some such - learning languages or different musical instruments. It might be argued such a bard could pick up languages or instruments for 1/2 point each. But such things are a true gift and the DM should only allow them in very rare cases. Normally, just assume at least 1 Skill point must be spent to acquire any Skill.
This optional rule makes it possible some hard to acquire Skills, due to one's less than gifted aptitude, might not have to break one's 'Skill point bank' if they and the DM both really feel their PC should have such a Skill and their back ground would have given them a leg up.
Example: Though your PC has a STR of 7 - challenged - living on the coast with their fisherman father, brothers and sisters - all avid swimmers - they could pick up the SWIM Skill for 2 Skill points instead of 3. If they didn't do this at character generation, it would later cost them 3 Skill points unless they had since augmented their STR to 10 or higher by then.
An advantage of this rule is players will more frequently wish to augment some weaker stats to push themselves out of challenged areas, or into the gifted range, rather than continuing to pile on to their primary statistic score - reaching high stat scores of 20, 21, 22, or more, which I find a bit unrealistic to begin with, and exceedingly hard to play realistically unless your own stat is that high. But I further digress.
Furthermore, this rule makes it easier to ignore the annoying maximum Ranks for class Skill or cross class Skills. Just assume no Rank can be greater than 4 at 1st level. Thereafter, each time a character gains Skill points to spend, they are only allowed to buy, at most, two Ranks in any one Skill. It takes time to learn these things, and you build on what you already know and have practiced. Learning most things is an inherently iterative process. Buying more than 2 Ranks at a time in the same Skill would be like building a brick wall but starting at the top (no foundation).
OPTIONAL: Any time after achieving 2nd level, one may buy the Skill Focus feat. In addition to what this standard feat already does, it will also lessen the cost of challenged or normal skills by 1. Thus, for the particular skill for which that feat was purchased, it will cost one skill point less, just as if one's challenged key ability were really normal, or one's normal key ability were really gifted. It will not lessen the cost of skills where one is already gifted or the skill is already treated as a class skill.
Example: A spell caster with a poor constitution of 9 is challenged for the Concentration skill. Each rank in that skill would cost him or her 3 skill points. If they buy the feat, Skill Focus (Concentration), not only will this add +3 to all concentration checks, subsequent ranks in the Concentration skill will only cost 2 points (one point less). If they improve their CON score from 9 (challenged) to 10 to 13 (normal) or higher, each rank would only cost 1 skill point for the Concentration skill.
Finally, one may totally ignore the seemingly endless lists of class Skills that clutter each class write up. Skills are no longer dependent on one's class, and more intuitively depend solely on one's aptitude. The Skill table 4-2 and all those Skill paragraphs thus become obsolete in this system, and that's rather nice. This system of Skill use is far more intuitive and realistic.
NOTE: This house rule has not be extensively play tested, so if anyone gives it a try and finds an obvious flaw, please let me know. Thank you. However, many have written telling me they find it a greatly appreciated revision to their games. Only one has written to say a character in his party had way too many Skills under this system, but further investigation demonstrated the problem was not this system, but the fact that particular character had god awfully high statistics across the board, and was a walking lesson in the astronomically improbable. In short, if one allows unrealistic statistics in every stat, naturally you can't expect realistic results.
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© January of 2002
James L.R. Beach
Waterville, MN 56096