While your character’s ability scores represent their raw talent and potential, skills represent their training and experience at performing certain tasks. Each skill is keyed to one of your character’s ability scores and used for an array of related actions. Your character’s expertise in a skill comes from several sources, including their background and class. In this chapter, you’ll learn about skills, their scope, and the actions they can be used for.
A character’s acumen in skills can come from all sorts of training, from practicing acrobatic tricks to studying academic topics to rehearsing a performing art. When you create your character and as they advance in level, you have flexibility as to which skills they become better at and when. Some classes depend heavily on certain skills—such as the alchemist’s reliance on Crafting—but for most classes, you can choose whichever skills make the most sense for your character’s theme and backstory at 1st level, then use their adventure and downtime experiences to inform how their skills should improve as your character levels up.
A character gains training in certain skills at 1st level: typically two skills from their background, a small number of predetermined skills from their class, and several skills of your choice granted by your class. This training increases your proficiency ranks for those skills to trained instead of untrained and lets you use more of the skills’ actions. Sometimes you might gain training in a specific skill from multiple sources, such as if your background granted training in Crafting and you took the alchemist class, which also grants training in Crafting. Each time after the first that you would gain the trained proficiency rank in a given skill, you instead allocate the trained proficiency to any other skill of your choice.
Each skill is tied to a key ability. You add your modifier for this ability to checks and DCs when using that skill. For example, skulking about the shadows of a city at night with Stealth uses your Dexterity modifier, navigating the myriad personalities and power plays of court politics with Society uses your Intelligence modifier, and so on. The key ability for each skill is listed on Table 4–1: Skills, Key Abilities, and Actions on page 235 and also appears in parentheses following the skill’s name in the descriptions on the following pages. If the GM deems it appropriate for a certain situation, however, they might have you use a different ability modifier for a skill check or when determining your skill DC.
The actions you can perform with a given skill are sorted into those you can use untrained and those that require you to be trained in the skill, as shown on Table 4–1: Skills, Key Abilities, and Actions (page 235). The untrained and trained actions of each skill appear in separate sections within the skill’s description.
Anyone can use a skill’s untrained actions, but you can use trained actions only if you have a proficiency rank of trained or better in that skill. A circumstance, condition, or effect might bar you from a skill action regardless of your proficiency rank, and sometimes using a skill in a specific situation might require you to have a higher proficiency rank than what is listed on the table. For instance, even though a barbarian untrained in Arcana could identify a construct with a lucky roll using Arcana to Recall Knowledge, the GM might decide that Recalling Knowledge to determine the spells used to create such a construct is beyond the scope of the barbarian’s anecdotal knowledge. The GM decides whether a task requires a particular proficiency rank.
Skill Checks and Skill DCs
When you’re actively using a skill, often by performing one of its actions, you might attempt a skill check: rolling a d20 and adding your skill modifier. To determine this modifier, add your ability modifier for the skill’s key ability, your proficiency bonus for the skill, and any other bonuses and penalties.
Skill modifier = modifier of the skill’s key ability score + proficiency bonus + other bonuses + penalties
When writing down the modifier on your character sheet, you should write down only the numbers that always apply—typically just your ability modifier and proficiency bonus at 1st level. At higher levels, you may wear or use items to improve your skills with item bonuses pretty much all the time; you should write those down, too.
The GM sets the DC of a skill check, using the guidelines in Chapter 10: Game Mastering. The most important DCs to remember are the five simple skill DCs below.
When someone or something tests your skill, they attempt a check against your skill DC, which is equal to 10 plus your skill modifier. A skill DC works like any other DC to determine the effect of an opposing creature’s skill action.
See page 444 in Chapter 9: Playing the Game for more information about modifiers, bonuses, and penalties.
Armor and Skills
Some armor imposes a penalty on specific skill checks and DCs. If a creature is wearing armor that imparts a skill penalty, that penalty is applied to the creature’s Strength- and Dexterity-based skill checks and skill DCs, unless the action has the attack trait. Check penalties from armor are detailed on page 274 in Chapter 6: Equipment.
Sometimes you won’t know whether you succeed at a skill check. If an action has the secret trait, the GM rolls the check for you and informs you of the effect without revealing the result of the roll or the degree of success. The GM rolls secret checks when your knowledge about the outcome is imperfect, like when you’re searching for a hidden creature or object, attempting to deceive someone, translating a tricky bit of ancient text, or remembering some piece of lore. This way, you as the player don’t know things that your character wouldn’t. This rule is the default for actions with the secret trait, but the GM can choose not to use secret checks if they would rather some or all rolls be public.
Exploration and Downtime Activities
Some skill activities have the exploration or downtime trait. Exploration activities usually take a minute or more, while downtime activities may take a day or more. They usually can’t be used during an encounter, though the GM might bend this restriction. If you’re not sure whether you have the time to use one of these activities, ask your GM.
General Skill Actions
General skill actions are skill actions that can be used with multiple different skills. When you use a general skill action, you might use your modifier from any skill that lists it as one of the skill’s actions, depending on the situation.
Decipher Writing (Trained)
When you encounter particularly archaic or esoteric texts, the GM might require you to Decipher the Writing before you can understand it. You must be trained in the relevant skill to Decipher Writing. Arcana is typically used for writing about magic or science, Occultism for esoteric texts about mysteries and philosophy, Religion for scripture, and Society for coded messages or archaic documents.
Sample Decipher Writing Tasks
- Trained entry-level philosophy treatise
- Expert complex code, such as a cipher
- Master spymaster’s code or advanced research notes
- Legendary esoteric planar text written in metaphor by an ancient celestial.
When Earning Income, you might be able to spend days of downtime to prepare for your task, which adjusts the DC of the skill check. This might involve rehearsing a play, studying a topic, and so on. The GM determines how long preparation takes and how much the DC changes. This is most useful when you’re trying a task that’s higher level than you; otherwise such tasks have an increased DC!
Ending or Interrupting Tasks
When a task you’re doing is complete, or if you stop in the middle of one, you normally have to find a new task if you want to keep Earning Income. For instance, if you quit your job working at the docks, you’ll need to find another place of employment instead of picking up where you left off. This usually takes 1 day or more of downtime looking for leads on new jobs.
However, you might pause a task due to an adventure or event that wouldn’t prevent you from returning to the old job later. The GM might decide that you can pick up where you left off, assuming the task hasn’t been completed by others in your absence. Whether you roll a new skill check when you resume is also up to the GM. Generally speaking, if you had a good initial roll and want to keep it, you can, but if you had a bad initial roll, you can’t try for a better one by pausing to do something else. If your statistics changed during the break—usually because you leveled up while adventuring—you can attempt a new check.
Earn Income (Trained)
You can use a skill—typically Crafting, Lore, or Performance—to earn money during downtime. You must be trained in the skill to do so. This takes time to set up, and your income depends on your proficiency rank and how lucrative a task you can find. Because this process requires a significant amount of time and involves tracking things outside the progress of adventures, it won’t come up in every campaign.
In some cases, the GM might let you use a different skill to Earn Income through specialized work. Usually, this is scholarly work, such as using Religion in a monastery to study old texts—but giving sermons at a church would still fall under Performance instead of Religion. You also might be able to use physical skills to make money, such as using Acrobatics to perform feats in a circus or Thievery to pick pockets. If you’re using a skill other than Crafting, Lore, or Performance, the DC tends to be significantly higher.
Sample Earn Income Tasks
These examples use Alcohol Lore to work in a bar or Legal Lore to perform legal work.
- Trained bartend, do legal research
- Expert curate drink selection, present minor court cases
- Master run a large brewery, present important court cases
- Legendary run an international brewing franchise, present a case in Hell’s courts
Crafting Goods for the Market (Crafting)
Using Crafting, you can work at producing common items for the market. It’s usually easy to find work making basic items whose level is 1 or 2 below your settlement’s level (see Earn Income). Higher-level tasks represent special commissions, which might require you to Craft a specific item using the Craft downtime activity and sell it to a buyer at full price. These opportunities don’t occur as often and might have special requirements—or serious consequences if you disappoint a prominent client.
Practicing a Trade (Lore)
You apply the practical benefits of one of your Lore specialties during downtime by practicing your trade. This is most effective for Lore specialties such as business, law, or sailing, where there’s high demand for workers. The GM might increase the DC or determine only low-level tasks are available if you’re attempting to use an obscure Lore skill to Earn Income. You might also need specialized tools to accept a job, like mining tools to work in a mine or a merchant’s scale to buy and sell valuables in a market.
Staging a Performance (Performance)
You perform for an audience to make money. The available audiences determine the level of your task, since more discerning audiences are harder to impress but provide a bigger payout. The GM determines the task level based on the audiences available. Performing for a typical audience of commoners on the street is a level 0 task, but a performance for a group of artisans with more refined tastes might be a 2nd- or 3rd-level task, and ones for merchants, nobility, and royalty are increasingly higher level. Your degree of success determines whether you moved your audience and whether you were rewarded with applause or rotten fruit.
The following examples show the kinds of tasks your character might take on to Earn Income during low-level and high-level play.
A 3rd-level ranger and an expert at harvesting and brewing tea has a Tea Lore modifier of +7. He has 30 days of downtime at his disposal and decides to work at a prestigious local tea house. The GM decides this is a 5th-level task if he wants to assist the tea master, or a 2nd-level task if he wants to serve tea.
He chooses the tougher task, and the GM secretly sets the DC at 20.
He rolls a 4 on his Tea Lore check for a result of 11.
He has failed! He earns only 2 sp for his efforts and continues working for 3 more days, for a total of 8 sp.
At that point, the GM offers him a choice: either he can finish out the week with the tea master and look for a new job, or he can lower his ambitions and serve in the tea house. Now, more aware of his own capabilities, he accepts the less prestigious job for now.
He moves to his new job and attempts a new Tea Lore check against DC 16. Rolling a 19, he gets a result of 26—a critical success! He earns 5 sp per day (like a success at a 3rd-level task). The GM rules that demand will be high enough that he can work there for the remainder of his downtime if he so chooses, a total of 26 days. He accepts and earns a total of 138 sp (13 gp, 8 sp) that month.
A 16th-level bard is legendary with his flute. He has a Performance modifier of +31 with his enchanted flute. With 30 days of downtime ahead of him, Lem wonders if he can find something that might excite him more than performing in front of a bunch of stuffy nobles.
He finds a momentous offer indeed—a performance in a celestial realm, and he learns his goddess might even be in attendance! This is a 20th-level task, and the GM secretly sets the DC at 40.
He rolls an 11 on his Performance check for a result of 42. Success! The engagement lasts for a week, and at the end, the grateful celestials present him with a beautiful living diamond rose in constant bloom worth 1,400 gold pieces (200 gp per day for 7 days).
With 23 days of downtime left, he accepts a 14th-level task performing at a prestigious bardic college for members of a royal court. The GM secretly sets the DC at 32, and he critically succeeds, earning 28 gp per day for a total of 644 gp. Between the two performances, he has earned just over 2,000 gold pieces during his downtime—though he’s not sure he’ll ever sell that rose.
Identify Magic (Trained)
Using the skill related to the appropriate tradition, as explained in Magical Traditions and Skills, you can attempt to identify a magical item, location, or ongoing effect. In many cases, you can use a skill to attempt to Identify Magic of a tradition other than your own at a higher DC. The GM determines whether you can do this and what the DC is.
Magical Traditions and Skills
Each magical tradition has a corresponding skill, as shown on the table below. You must have the trained proficiency rank in a skill to use it to Identify Magic or Learn a Spell.
Something without a specific tradition, such as an item with the magical trait, can be identified using any of these skills.
Learn a Spell (Trained)
If you’re a spellcaster, you can use the skill corresponding to your magical tradition to learn a new spell of that tradition. Table 4–3: Learning a Spell lists the Price of the materials needed to Learn a Spell of each level.
Recall Knowledge (Untrained)
To remember useful information on a topic, you can attempt to Recall Knowledge. You might know basic information about something without needing to attempt a check, but Recall Knowledge requires you to stop and think for a moment so you can recollect more specific facts and apply them. You might even need to spend time investigating first. For instance, to use Medicine to learn the cause of death, you might need to conduct a forensic examination before attempting to Recall Knowledge.
Recall Knowledge Tasks
These examples use Society or Religion.
- Untrained name of a ruler, key noble, or major deity
- Trained line of succession for a major noble family, core doctrines of a major deity
- Expert genealogy of a minor noble, teachings of an ancient priest
- Master hierarchy of a genie noble court, major extraplanar temples of a deity
- Legendary existence of a long-lost noble heir, secret doctrines of a religion
If you need to provide food and shelter, you can use the Subsist downtime activity. This typically uses Society if you’re in a settlement or Survival if you’re in the wild.
The following entries describe the skills in the game. The heading for each entry provides the skill’s name, with that skill’s key ability in parentheses. A brief description of the skill is followed by a list of actions you can use if you’re untrained in that skill, and then the actions you can perform if you are trained in that skill. Some actions list sample tasks for each rank to give you a better sense of what you can accomplish as your proficiency increases. As the actions of a skill aren’t comprehensive, there may be times when the GM asks you to attempt a skill check without using any of the listed actions, or times when the GM asks you to roll using a different key ability modifier.
Most skills include entries for success and failure, as well as descriptions of what occurs on a critical success or a critical failure. If either of the critical entries is absent, treat those results as a success or failure, as normal.