So we have had our look through the skills of a few different systems and I have whittled down what skills I think are integral to most table top RPGs with an emphasis on fantasy elements. Before getting to the list I realized I made an egregious error in the last segment. For some reason any notion of thievery was left out (accidentally deleted it from the list?). It has been accounted for in the final list. So without further ado I submit my personal recommendation as a skill list.
Avoid: The first of four combat skills. This skill is pretty much what you would imagine, something is trying to harm you and so you attempt to keep away from such things. While at first I wanted to dismiss Avoid as a basic Dexterity/Agility check I realized I was unable to do so. Assuming your character has combat training he probably knows a lot more about the correct ways to avoid getting hit. Avoiding is not only being nimble but also knowing how to forecast an opponent’s moves and preemptively move rather than waiting to react. Notice I used Avoid rather than Dodge. Each of the skills outlined in the above list have specializations within them, smaller facets. Dodge is one of such facets as is Parry. Now Parry is not the same as Block. Parry is not about stopping an attack outright but by diverting a strike from its intended destination to avoid it. Of course depending on the sort of game you are playing and a grain of common sense there will likely be attacks that cannot be dodged and others which cannot be parried. For example you may not be able to parry a fireball spell but you can attempt to dodge it.
Hand-to-Hand: The second of the combat skills. Hand-to-Hand covers all aspects of close fighting. It is used for weapons, martial arts, grappling and magic touch attacks. Specializations under Hand-to-Hand would consist of training a specific weapon, unarmed attacks/grappling, improvised weapons, and magic. An average fighter character would be good at all Hand-to-Hand arts by purview of his training in close combat but he likely has a favored weapon he is better with than most. Incidentally a wizard trained in Hand-to-Hand with a specialization in touch attacks would generally be able to land a blow on his opponent in a tavern brawl. But assuming the usual tropes that a wizard gives up physical might for a superior intellect he is unlikely to lay his opponent out cold and himself suffers from a glass jaw.
Heal: It’s the Heal skill, if you have played any sort of RPG you have a general understanding of what the skill covers. It’s basically a First Aid skill, the character is not a walking hospital unless your packing magical healing as well. In addition to mundane first aid skills specializations would also include foraging for useful herbs and preparing poultices/salves/tonics etc.
Intrude: The third of the combat skills. We referenced parry earlier in the Avoid skill. Intrude is all about blocking. Intrude is placing something between yourself and an incoming attack. It covers blocking and also countering attacks. A shield can be useful addition for most any character in someone with a good Intrude skill specializing in Block they will be able to intercept a hail of blows. Countering is a bit more free form it can either be clashing weapon against weapon in a contest of sheer strength or played as holding up an opponent’s elbow as he winds up for a downward chop with an ax. As with any good tabletop RPG is about the narration and the flavor you describe actions.
Navigate: This is the not getting lost skill. Navigation covers everything from remembering how to get back to a sprawling city’s inn to accurately mapping cave tunnels, and telling direction by the stars. A character well-versed in navigation should be able to keep a party from getting lost in the wilderness so long as some point of reference can be found. Specializations may include map making, astronomy, symbology, and recognizing landmarks.
Perception: This skill handles being able to pick something peculiar out and what the difference signifies. A person with a generally good perception is better at noticing false backs in wardrobes, a physical tell when someone is lying, and when treasure chests have eyes and knife-like teeth. Specializations in Perception would include knowing the likely location of hidden compartments/doors, detecting untruths, following tracks, and spotting traps. Remember Perception is not about being able to see something but recognizing what you see. It is the difference in telling a raised floor tile is a pressure plate and not just shoddy workmanship. When I run a game and a player wants to roll a perception check I always make sure to ask him what he is looking to find. Someone with their mind fixated on the floor looking for traps is not looking for the bandits with crossbows hidden in ambush on the opposing balcony.
Ranged: The fourth and final combat skill. Ranged is the obvious complement to Hand-to-Hand, it covers all forms of ranged weapons, spells, improvised thrown, and magic devices. For example a ranger is an expert marksman with a bow. While he does not know any magic he probably has the best hand eye coordination for aiming and is probably the best person to carry and use that wand of fireballs the party found. Specializations include specific weapons, magic devices, and ranged spells.
Survival: This is the not dying skill. It is easy to forget with traps, dragons, and giants lying in wait the most dangerous threats are often the simplest. Exposure is the number one enemy of any traveling band of merry adventurers. Being able to camp well in the wilderness does not only keep a party healthy it also keeps them happy. Morale is an often overlooked facet of role playing games. Illness, poor attitude, and being generally uncomfortable is probably something you have experienced while playing an RPG, such things are compounded by characters actually breathing and living the dangers. Survival is a catch-all for all camping and traveling basics. Specializations include foraging for food & water, cooking, packing gear efficiently. This skill can be as important or unimportant as you like. It can help PCs determine if food/water is bad or poisoned. Remember that most long rests require PCs to get uninterrupted rest, which is unlikely if they are cold and hungry or set their bedrolls out on a bed of broken rocks.
Tinker: This is the thievery skill. I chose tinker as the name for the skill as tinkering means to mettle with something unskillfully or experimentally. I think it fits well as a definition for a skill that encompasses lock picking, disabling/setting traps, and repair. This skill covers working with any sort of mechanical device. Specializations include lock picking, disarm traps, repair specific item type.
Persuade: Previously I went over why I do not think Persuade should be considered a skill. That being said there are just so many subjects under the umbrella of persuasion: persuade, bribe, intimidate, appraise, haggle, and more that makes it seem like a glaring omission. I suggest if you cannot live without it to add it to the skill list or otherwise add individual specialties to characters as need. A PC whose background includes being a merchant’s son makes sense to be trained in appraising and haggling.
Spellcraft: If you have a game with a magic system that makes use of elaborate, out of combat rituals I suggest adding this skill into the mix. You could also add it if you have dedicated magic user classes and use it to determine a character’s total ability to cast spells. If your system allows for anyone to play with magic or makes use of magic enchanted items rather than actively casting spells I say stick with using the Hand-to-Hand and Ranged skills above. Spellcraft could however be used for creating new enchanted items by way of the aforementioned elaborate rituals.
So that’s it. The finale of the four part series on tinkering (I see what I did there) with RPG skills. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Is there something missing that should definitely have been added? If you want to see me look at a topic drop a comment or drop in to my twitter @RedRaggedFiend.