Creative Skill Use In 4e

I’ve recently been running a game, as I have told. In this game I have tried very hard to encourage players to be creative with their skills and I think I am succeeding. But I think one obstacle I have found is setting knowledge. Of course, it is a homebrew setting (Eden) and so far players have found themselves doing well in it.

But there is a tendency that a DM’s suggestions are the word of God, even more so in a homebrew setting. I have a tumultuous relationship with this status. I like to be surprised and to see creativity, but running a homebrew sometimes requires me to make suggestions in order to ease play. These suggestions will be done. There is no question about it. If I suggest a skill, it will be used.

So with that thought in mind, I decided to go through every skill in D&D 4th Edition, and write about ways I can see them being improvised in skill challenges and the like. These skill uses of course have a very Eden slant and are very abstract. They will not fit all campaigns like a glove, but I feel they can fit many campaigns nonetheless and that given this blog’s general biases and themes, it fits extremely well with the Spirits of Eden.

Notes On Abstraction And Use

Some skills are sort of “lumped together” or mimic aspects of other skills in this list. To offset this, some skills would of course have higher Difficulty in their use than others. An example below is “hauling rocks.” Athletics, being a Strength-based skill, would more easily be used to haul rocks (a lower DC) than Acrobatics, a Dexterity-based skill (harder DC).

In various area, I also have certain skills as being able to “brew” or “create” things. This abstraction could be used to handle crafting without the ritual – you can make a magic item by getting the ritual components, and spending time to concoct the item. To balance this, have it take more time than the ritual would. For example, taking a day to craft a magic sword instead of the 30 minutes of the Enchant Magic Item ritual, if you have the Arcana and Athletics skills.

You would, whenever you have a short rest, work on your magic item this way – so as not to interrupt adventuring. But you get the product of your labor much later, though you saved yourself some money on learning the ritual. You could even have skill rolls affect the time it takes – good rolls would mean a faster creation, but never faster than the actual ritual.

You could also very possibly combine two skills, perhaps, to perform some kind of trick. Like Athletics and Arcana for a stunt during a skill challenge. This is up to individual GMs how to handle. I would have a higher DC, and allow players to pick a “primary skill” to roll, then add the +5 training bonus from the secondary skill, and roll the result for the stunt.

Improvised Skill Uses List


•Chasing after other creatures

•Climbing, swimming, jumping

•Maneuvering through rough terrain

•Performing physical stunts

•Contests of strength/evading physical contests

•Abstractions of hard physical labor or exertion (ex. hauling rocks)

•Performing a dance or other physical showmanship


•Ability to resist disease and harsh conditions

•Ability to physically overexert oneself (mimic Acrobatics/Athletics in a dangerous situation)

•Ability to focus and to withstand psychological trauma; mental grit


•Knowledge (as normal)

•Magic tricks that can give minor boosts to say, your physical abilities (ex. if you lack Athletics)

•Reading auras, magical tracking, identifying magic

•Priestly or Wizardly functions (singing a hymn, performing a baptism, concocting a magic brew)

•Solving magical puzzles


•Knowledge (as normal)

•Tracking in the wilderness or dungeon

•Gathering food and materials natural to the location

•”Parlaying” or taming unintelligent beasts

•Identifying natural processes or mechanical works (respectively) and perhaps reproducing them (ex. the ability to farm)


Knowledge (as normal)

•Limited ability to use the mental aspects of other skills (the history of agriculture in a location can help you to farm there)

•Ability to store information you learned and recall it later (eidetic memory) with greater ease, “storing history”


•Lying to someone

•Making a disguise, faking a voice or mannerisms

•Cheating in games or contests, causing a distraction

•Crafting a Forgery


Sleights of hand and fast hands

•Cheating in games or contests

•Mundane prestidigitation

•Pocketing or stealing objects

•Disabling traps, fiddling with mechanisms

•Fine manipulation (using small tools, or working with small objects, requiring attention to detail)


•Soothing someone

•Parlaying and negotiation

•Displaying proper etiquette and social knowledge

•Talent for melodic song


•Scaring, taunting, menacing a creature into submission

•Knowledge of torture and ability with inflicting torture

•Imposing your will/aura/chi upon an enemy in battle


•Focusing on small details

•Remembering faces and other physical details

•Tracking or spotting someone

•Determining if you are being lied to

•Keeping track of a fast moving object or predicting its trajectory

•Read moods, auras and tones of voice


First Aid (as normal)

•Using and creating medicines

•Diagnosing diseases, medical history, knowledge of preventive measures


•Hiding, sneaking around, moving silently (as normal)

•Ability to resist being frightened or surprised (ex. keeping still and quiet in spite of a horrible creature searching for you)

•Ability to camouflage or disguise yourself visually


•Knowledge of local events, people, etc

•Ability to navigate the streets (ex. find or lose people during a chase)

•Tracking in urban areas

Got any more possible uses? Let’s add them to the list!

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Categories: Campaigns, D&D 4e, Fluff/Inspiration, RPG | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Creative Skill Use In 4e

  1. Telicis

    Abstraction like this makes me happy and is exactly why I love 4e; it lends itself to this so very well. :)

  2. mikeloop86

    Very nice. I like the use of some skills to substitute others, like Arcana for Athletics. If it became a balance issue for some DMs that didn’t find the increase in DC a proper enough (though I doubt it would) a simple solution might be just the sacrifice of a healing surge.

    …Though that brings up even more balance issues when you think about it. <_<;;

  3. Actually, I’ve been thinking similar things and writing on my blog about them: I have a series going on about taking the Knowledge skills specifically and adding a lot more depth to them, and also utilizing them more in Skill Challenges. Lastly, lots of potential modifiers for knowledge skills, something I don’t think we see much at all in published adventures.

  4. I’m not a huge fan of modifier lists. They don’t add much to the game in my opinion, just more adding little bits up. I think the skill math is fine as it is. I read some of your stuff, and while I applaud the effort, it’s too much for my palate. As you can see, I’m all about quick abstractions.

  5. kaeosdad

    In an early game I ran with 4e first came out I did an improv skill challenge, “Impress the People”. Rather than go into detail the basic goal was to look heroic in front of a crowd. The players really impressed me when they immediately used skills to do their best to look heroic and succeeded. I asked what they were doing, and after they rolled I asked them to describe it.

    The wizard immediately used arcana to blast the goblet out of the toasters hand, succeeded masterfully (way beyond the DC set, which was high) and described it as flying straight into the air, barely a drop leaving it’s vessel, towards the party.

    Right away the ranger decided to cut the goblet in half. A successful athletics check later and he described himself as springing up to his feet sprinting towards the goblet and leaping daringly into the air while drawing his twin swords and slicing the goblet in two in one smooth action.

    Next up the fighter decided to put his background into use, he wanted to catch the goblet, this of course became a little more complicated with it being in multiple pieces, but after a successful Acrobatic check under against very high DC(he had a ridiculously high acrobatic) he pulled it off and described his character as having leaped out of his seat immediately after the ranger stylishly performing somersaults along the way. He then proclaimed that as the fighter sliced the goblet in two he would slide along the slick floor and easily catch both pieces, one on top the other.

    I then asked what about the liquid contained within? To which the dragonborn warlock quickly stepped up and decided to set it on fire as soon as the ranger sliced it in two. Skeptical I once again set the DC very high and called for an arcana check. Having just barely rolled a success and he explained how just as the ranger sliced the goblet in two, he sent forth infernal flames to ignite the air around the liquid on fire creating a spectacular display.

    The crowd was stunned, silent, then in an uproar applauded! It was pretty cool seeing skills used in a SC almost like individual cutscenes. There were soooo many things that could have gone wrong and so many ways this could’ve been made more complicated with additional rolls and modifiers, but overall I really like that the consolidated skills does lead to more improvisation on the players part.

  6. 25Hour

    I’ve always liked the idea of Thievery being used to hide the fact that you’re casting a spell. (I say thievery rather than stealth because you’re not trying to hide yourself, but rather things that you’re doing with your hands– in my mind, this makes it more similar to pickpocketing than to straight-up hiding.)

  7. That’s an excellent idea 25! We could probably also extrapolate that Bluff could similarly hide your usage of a spell that way too. Prayers as well probably (except for melee prayers of course).

  8. Pingback: Usos criativos de perícias na 4ª Edição

  9. Pingback: Hymn Collection: Spirits of Eden 2009 Edition « The Spirits of Eden

  10. Pingback: Usos criativos de perícias na 4ª Edição | Ordo Veritatis

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