“Variant: Skills with Different Abilities”

"An owlbear carrying a large treasure chest on her back through a burning forest." (NightCafe)

I’m writing an adventure at the moment, which features an organisation called the Reclamations Agency, the state sanctioned thieve’s guild. Most people know a bit about them, but do your characters know a little more? What’s the skill check for this? D&D lacks any kind of Culture (Starfinder) or Street Skills (Shadowrun).

A dry Int check might be the easiest thing to reach for but the problem is that they’re pretty boring. We can do better.

Both the PHB (page 175ish) and DMG (page 239ish) talk about using different ability scores skills, which potentially allows using proficiencies in surprising ways.

To intuit why the Agency works a certain way, I might suggest Insight (Charisma); understanding the social protocols you’ve spotted and trying to understand why they might work like that. Or even Insight (Intelligence) to piece together the clues you’ve collected so far. Deception (Intelligence) to make use of your knowledge of the underhand methods you’d use to sneak something out the city.

The problem is that all these require a bit more maths from the player. They don’t have these numbers written on their sheet already. If you find you’re using them often (or want to persaude your DM to start usign them), you could always note them down though. After all, the DMG says:

If a player can provide a good justification for why a character’s training and aptitude in a skill should apply to the check, go ahead and allow it, rewarding the player’s creative thinking.

Here are some more ideas:

Acrobatics (Int)* How difficult does that climb look?
Animal Handling (Int)* Should the animal be behaving like that?
* How much weight can this owlbear carry?
* Can a druid turn into something like that?
* Is that a beast or a monstrosity?
Arcana (Cha)* Is that person charmed?
Athletics (Int)* How long would it take to run that far?
Athletics (Wis)* How strong is that guy?
Deception (Con)* Can I hide how gross this food is?
History (Wis)* Does that sound like something the Queen would have done?
Insight (Cha)* How does this social structure work?
Intimidation (Str)* Can I punch the wall to scare the guy?
Investigation (Wis)* Does anything feel off here? (More active version of Perception (Wis).
Medicine (Con)* Will I get poisoned if I drink this much ale?
Nature (Cha)* Can I say the right things to persaude this Dryad?
Perception (Str)* Is that guy pulling his blows?
Performance (Int)* Can I remember the correct thing to say here?
Persausion (Con)* Can I out drink this Dwarf to win her respect?
Religion (Cha)* Can I fool this bumkin into thinking I speak the words of a god?
Sleight of Hand (Wis)* What are my odds of pick pocketing that person?
Stealth (Wis)* I do think I’ve been spotted?
Survival (Str)* Can I pull this bear trap off my leg?
This table wasn’t even what I had planned today. I timeboxed it to 15 minutes – but look how many cool things already!

Other than just filling in gaps where the D&D skills are lacking, this also lets the PCs have more utility. The paladin might not be intimidating in most situations, but when the time comes for a religious intimidation, their Religion (Str) check might be pretty imposing.

The divestment of a departed drow

Valna was first encouraged to become a priestess of Lolth because of her innovative use of magics. It was clear early on that her understanding of magic – especially in dank of the Underdark – was beyond anything that had been studied so far. Maybe she could bring more glory to the Lady of Shadows with her gifts.

Unfortunately, Valna’s scholarly enthusiasm always took priority to her worship, and it was only a matter of time until the inevitable happened. Decades into the relatively luscious life of a Priestess, Lolth called on her for her faith to be tested. Valna never returned.

A necromancer, reading a spell book. Image generated with magic.

Valna was no fool though. She knew that day would come. She left behind two things for her closest followers to continue her work with: her own severed finger (for unknown purposes) and her research.

Within those research notes, written carefully in ink rarely found in the Underdark, were two spells never before seen.

Valna’s Final Embrace.
Level 1 Necromancy spell. Ritual. Casting time: 1 action. Duration: 1 day.
Touch a willing target to grasp a few strands of their soul. For the duration, the target ignores their first Death Saving Throw failure. After this has been triggered, the spell ends and their maximum hit points are permanently reduced by 1d4.

Necromancers are always looking for a way to stay alive just a little bit longer, and there’s almost always a trade off for it. Certain Wizards who want to put the dice slightly more in their favour will want to pop this on along with their Mage Armor.

I also quite like that the Wizard can use this on other people. A good friend is bleeding out on the floor. Now the necromancer has to make a decision for them: give them a better chance of stabilising, at the cost of permanent damage.

A necromancer’s plaything attempts to read the spells that created it. For some reason, the ritual requires… a car? Image generated with magic.

Valna’s Enchained Totem.
Cantrip. Necromancy spell. Casting time: 1 action. Duration: 1 minute. Range: 30 feet.
Your quarterstaff becomes enchanted with souls of trapped foes and becomes rooted to the ground for the duration of the spell. On this turn, and following turns, you may use the Attack action to berate the quarterstaff. To appease you, it will make a Melee Spell Attack on a hostile creature within range. Using your spell casting modifier, bones launch out of the ground and pummel the closest target (chosen by the DM) causing 1d10 bludgeoning damage.
Damage scales with your spell casting level, like similar cantrips.

One of the coolest things about necromancy in every other game in the universe is that it lets you summon undead and fight with them. It’s odd that D&D takes so long to let you do that. This isn’t quite that, but finally you have the ability to be mean to some dead guys, like a real necromancer.

A servant of Lolth, hunting. Image generated with magic.

The quarterstaff stays rooted, but can still break. However, you’ll have to wait for the minute to end if you want to remove the quarterstaff without breaking it. Wizards never use their quarterstaff. What’s the deal with that?

After the first turn, you use an Attack action on the quarterstaff, which allows you to use an off-hand bonus attack! Wizards never do this. (Because their main attack is already strong enough, I suppose.) I think it’d look cool! I feel they’ll need this as the rooted staff will make them stay in place a little more.

Berating might be throwing a stone at it, slapping it, or giving it a good kick. There’s no to hit on this. It’s more of a percussive, psychological abuse of the poor, tormented souls trapped within the magic.