More on 4e Skills

Well, after a brief and incomplete consultation, I’m prepared to move on to the next stage regarding skills. The consensus is to keep the expanded skill list (with a few changes), and to assign skills using option two – a limited number of trained skils dependent upon your class, and then a set number of secondary skills. Secondary skills work like untrained skills in the published rules. Everything that isn’t a trained skill or a secondary skill, will be designated untrained.

A couple of things have changed to the skill list. Firstly, I have removed Watercraft and folded it back into Profession (Sailor) or Profession (boatman) or some such skill. I have removed Jump from the skill list and reintroduced Athletics. You make an Athletics check if you want to jump, but the skill has a  broader utility. For example, you will be able to make an Athletics check to resist a grab. This puts the house rules closer in line with the printed rules, which is probably a good thing. Climb, Swim and Ride remain separate skills.

Also you don’t use Bluff to forge documents; in hindsight that probably is a bit silly. I’ve not put a Forgery skill into the list, as it seems a little specialised. The option for Profession (forger) is there if a PC really wants to take it.

I have renamed Knowledge (divine) to Knowledge (transcendent). This is just me being a bit of a pedant, but I feel that if clerics and warlocks are going to get their power from the same magical tradition, then Divine Magic is an inappropriate term. There is nothing divine about what warlocks do. So the tradition is Transcendent Magic, and the sub branches are Pact Magic (for warlocks) and Divine Magic (for clerics and paladins). That make sense?

I have reintroduced Handle Animal to the list. I took it out initially, but I’m rather pressed to see what other skill would fulfill that function. Knowledge (nature) doesn’t really do the job, and while Ride might be a reasonable substitute for horses it isn’t really appropriate for your average squirrel wrangler. So, Handle Animal returns.

After some discussion, we have opted to give no special status to Craft or Profession skills. You can take them if you want them, or not depending on your character background. There should be enough skills sloshing around to make that possible. It should be noted that Craft and Profession aren’t tied to any particular attribute. The attribute will change depending on the skill. Craft (basketweaving) could well come off Dex, for example.

So, without further ado here is the new definitive list of skills for fourth edition:

New Skill Attribute Modifier
Acrobatics Dex
Athletics Str
Bluff Cha
Climb Str
Craft (choose) Varies
Diplomacy Cha
Disable Device Dex
Disguise Cha
Endurance Con
Escape Artist Dex
Handle Animal Cha
Heal Wis
Insight Wis
Intimidate Cha
Knowledge (Aberrant) Int
Knowledge (Ancients) Int
Knowledge (Arcane) Int
Knowledge (Architecture and Engineering) Int
Knowledge (Dragons) Int
Knowledge (Elemental) Int
Knowledge (Fey) Int
Knowledge (Geography) Int
Knowledge (History) Int
Knowledge (Incarnum) Int
Knowledge (Nature) Int
Knowledge (Nobility and Royalty) Int
Knowledge (Primal) Int
Knowledge (Psionics) Int
Knowledge (Religion) Int
Knowledge (Shadow) Int
Knowledge (Sonorism) Int
Knowledge (Transcendent) Int
Perception Wis
Perform Cha
Profession (choose) Varies
Read/Write Script No check
Ride Dex
Sleight of Hand Dex
Speak Language No check
Stealth Dex
Streetwise Cha
Survival Wis
Swim Str
Weavecraft Int

The skill list has therefore increased from 17 skills to 44 – and potentially many more than 44 if you consider that many variations of Profession and Craft are possible. Now, let’s revisit how we are going to handle that.

At this stage you have to forget the terminology used in the official fourth edition rules. Skills are either trained skills, secondary skills or untrained skills. The definitions of these are not necessarily the same as you would find inside the printed rulebooks.

Assigning Skills

Each character class has a list of Class Skills. These are the skills from the master list that are most closely associated with each class. During character generation you can choose a set number of skills from your list of Class Skills. You are trained in these skills. The exact number of trained skills differs by class, although it is usually about eight. Additionally, you may select a further ten secondary skills. A secondary skill can be any skill from the master list. You do not have to select solely from your class list. Any skill that is not a trained skill or a secondary skill is an untrained skill.

Skill checks work like this:

  • Trained skill: 1d20 + half your level + relevant attribute modifier + 5
  • Secondary skill: 1d20 + half your level + relevant attribute modifier
  • Untrained skill: 1d20 + relevant attribute modifier

Some skills cannot be used untrained. For example, you can’t even attempt a check on most knowledge skills if you are untrained in them.


Like skills, languages can be trained, secondary or untrained. If you are trained in a language then you speak it like a native. You can hold complex discussions and conversations, you can write complicated prose and poetry in that language. If you have a language as a secondary skill then you know enough to get by. You can buy dinner, ask the way to the beach and understand a simple written message. If you are untrained in a language then you do not know it at all. That’s my nod to your desire for different levels of language proficiency, Steve.

During character generation, you gain four languages or scripts (unless you are a half-elf in which case you gain six). These can be any languages as long as they are supported by your character background – you don’t have to be able to speak your racial tongue. You could learn how to speak many languages, but not know how to read and write them – it is entirely up to you. All of these languages are considered to be trained skills.

You can gain additional languages through the skills system. Each time you select the Speak Language skill you can speak one more language. Each time you select the Read/Write Language skill you can understand one more script. Depending on your class, you can either choose these skills as trained skills, or secondary skills. Whatever you choose, you never have to roll on checks to speak a language.

After character generation, you get new languages in the same way you get any new skills. You select the Skill Training feat. To gain understanding of a language you do not know, or to increase a secondary skill in a language to a trained skill, you have to select the this feat. However, the Linguist feat is also extremely useful to you. See the list of altered feats.


The changes to the skill list has necessitated changes to a few of the feats presented in Player’s Handbook 1. These are my proposed changes to these feats.

Agile Athlete [Paragon]
Benefit: You may roll twice and use the higher result whenever you make a skill check with the following skills: Acrobatics, Athletics, Climb, Escape Artist and Swim.

Arcane Initiate [Multiclass]
Benefit: Unchanged except that you get training in Knowledge (arcane).

Escape Artist [Heroic] (I’ll rename this feat Escapologist, to avoid confusion).
Prerequisite: Trained in Escape Artist skill.
Benefit: You can attempt to escape a grab as a minor action as opposed to a move action. You gain a +2 feat bonus to Escape Artist checks.

Jack of all Trades [Heroic]
Prerequisite: Int 13
Benefit: You gain a +2 feat bonus to all secondary skills.

Initiate of the Faith [Multiclass]
Benefit: Unchanged, except you can choose to gain Knowledge (transcendent) or Knowledge (religion) as a trained skill.

Light Step [Heroic, Elf]
Prerequisite: Elf
Benefit: Most benefits of this feat are unchanged. The +1 feat bonus to skills applies to Acrobatics, Escape Artist and Stealth.

Linguist [Heroic]
Prerequisite: Int 13
Benefit: Any language or script you select as a secondary skill is treated as if it was a trained skill. See the section on languages for more information.

Mounted Combat [Heroic]
Benefit: Largely unchanged. Your mount is able to use your base skill check when it uses any of the following skills: Atheltics, Acrobatics, Climb, Endurance, Escape Artist, Stealth or Swim.

Skill Training [Heroic]
Benefit: Choose one secondary skill or one untrained skill. You upgrade that skill to the next level of proficiency. A secondary skill becomes a trained skill; an untrained skill becomes a secondary skill.
Special: You can take this feat more than once. Each time you select this feat, choose another secondary or untrained skill.

Sneak of Shadows [Multiclass]
Benefit: Largely unchanged. You gain training in one skill from the rogue’s skill list – it doesn’t have to be Thievery or related to thievery.

Sure Climber [Heroic]
Benefit: Gain a +1 bonus to Climb not to Athletics. The other benefits of the feat are unchanged.

Character Classes and Class Skills

One final thing to do is to revisit the eight classes from PHB1 and make a definitive list of class skills for them, and set a number of trained skills that each one aquires at level one.


Choose Knowledge (religion), Knowledge (transcendent and any six skills from the following list:

Class Skills: Craft (varies), Diplomacy (Cha), Heal (Wis), Insight (Wis), Knowledge (history), Knowledge (religion), Knowledge (transcendent), Knowledge (any other two), Profession (varies), Read/Write Script, Speak Language, Weavecraft (Int)


Choose any eight skills from the following list:

Class Skills: Athletics (Str), Climb (Str), Craft (varies), Endurance (Con), Handle Animal (Cha), Heal (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (Nobility and Royalty), Knowledge (any other one), Profession (varies), Ride (Dex), Speak Language, Streetwise (Cha), Survival (Wis), Swim (Str)


Choose Knowledge (religion) and any seven skills from the following list:

Class Skills: Craft (varies), Diplomacy (Cha), Endurance (Con), Handle Animal (Cha), Heal (Wis), Insight (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (history), Knowledge (religion), Knowledge (transcendent) (Int), Knowledge (any other two), Profession (varies), Read/Write Script, Ride (Dex), Speak Language, Weavecraft (Int)


Choose any ten skills from the following list:

Class Skills: Acrobatics (Dex), Athletics (Str), Climb (Str), Craft (varies), Endurance (Con), Handle Animal (Cha), Heal (Wis), Knowledge (geography), Knowledge (nature), Knowledge (any other three), Perception (Wis), Profession (varies), Ride (Dex), Speak Language, Stealth (Dex), Survival (Wis), Swim (Str)


Choose Stealth and either Disable Device or Sleight of Hand. Then choose a further ten skills from the following list:

Class Skills: Acrobatics (Dex), Athletics (Str), Bluff (Cha), Climb (Str), Craft (varies), Disable Device (Dex), Disguise (Cha), Escape Artist (Dex), Insight (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (any three), Perception (Wis), Perform (Cha), Profession (varies), Sleight of Hand (Dex), Speak Language, Stealth (Dex), Streetwise (Cha), Swim (Str)


Choose a Knowledge skill related to your Pact, and another seven skills from the following list:
Class Skills: Bluff (Cha), Craft (varies), Disable Device (Dex), Disguise (Cha), Insight (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (history), Knowledge (transcendent) (Int), Knowledge (pact dependent: either aberrant, fey or ancients), Knowledge (any other two), Profession (varies), Sleight of Hand (Dex), Speak Language, Streetwise (Cha), Weavecraft (Int)


Choose eight skills from the following list:
Class Skills: Athletics (Str), Climb (Str), Craft (varies), Diplomacy (Cha), Endurance (Con), Handle Animal (Cha), Heal (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (architecture and engineering), Knowledge (history), Knowledge (nobility and royalty), Knowledge (any other two), Profession (varies), Read/Write Script, Ride (Dex), Speak Language, Survival (Wis), Swim (Str)


Choose Knowledge (arcane) and a further seven skills from the following list:
Class Skills: Craft (varies), Diplomacy (Cha), Insight (Wis), Knowldge (arcane) (Int), Knowledge (history), Knowledge (any other), Profession (varies), Read/Write Script, Speak Language, Weavecraft (Int)

Racial Skill Bonuses

I thought I would restate these, so that everything is in one post. I have changed the racial skill bonus for Dragonborn. This is an Iourn-related thing. Knowledge (history) might be more appropriate for other campaigns:

  • Dragonborn: +2 Knowledge (religion); +2 Intimidate
  • Dwarf: +2 Survival; +2 Endurance
  • Eldarin:+2 Knowledge (arcane); +2 Knowledge (history)
  • Elf: +2 Knowledge (nature); +2 Perception
  • Half-Elf: +2 Diplomacy; +2 Insight
  • Halfling: +2 Acrobatics; +2 Sleight of Hand
  • Tiefling: +2 Bluff; +2 Stealth
  • Warforged: +2 Endurance; +2 Intimidate

To Conclude

Right, I think that about covers everything in advance of next week’s character generation. Hopefully everything won’t be too confused on the night. Obviously, the skills system should be judged as a work in progress. We’ll play with this list, and then see if it feels right in the context of the game. If not, we can always change things. The retraining mechanic will help us in this regard.


It’s still character classes.


Revised Skills for 4e

One more unto the house rules. In this post I am going to examine the fourth edition skills system and propose changes to make it generally more believable and coherent. I’ve already explained at length why I think the current system is flawed, so I won’t dwell on that here. This post has the following goals:

  • To expand the skill list to a degree that the skills make sense, fit in with my campaign setting and don’t contradict anything that has come before.
  • Revise the number of skills that PCs have access to in order to provide a fair spread of class and non-class related abilities, but not to the extent where all characters know everything.

In creating the list, I have attempted to keep the number of skills down to a minimum. This list is a list of skills that I think are the most relevant and useful in the games that I run. It obviously differs from the official rules as I tend to run D&D against type. Many of the skills that that WotC think are core to the game I’ve barely used in the last eight years of third edition. Obviously, an individual player could expand this list with various knowledges, crafts, professions or specialisations to his heart’s content, but that is the choice of the player. Sub-optimal choices should be permitted under the rules, not made impossible.

The New Skill List

The following table compares the new skill list with the comparable skill from fourth edition. I haven’t just ported over skills from third edition, I have made the effort to completely rethink the system to make use the new 4e system. I haven’t recreated the Concentration skill. Where possible I have folded skills together, so Spot, Listen and Search are still Perception; Hide and Sneak are still Stealth. Beneath the table is a brief explanation of each new skill. 

New Skill 4e Equivalent
Acrobatics Acrobatics
Bluff Bluff
Climb Athletics
Craft (choose) No equivalent
Diplomacy Diplomacy
Disable Device Thievery
Disguise Bluff
Endurance Endurance
Escape Artist Acrobatics
Heal Heal
Insight Insight
Intimidate Intimidate
Jump Athletics
Knowledge (Aberrant) Dungeoneering
Knowledge (Ancients) Religion
Knowledge (Arcane) Arcana
Knowledge (Architecture and Engineering) History
Knowledge (Divine) Religion
Knowledge (Dragons) No equivalent
Knowledge (Elemental) Arcana
Knowledge (Fey) Arcana
Knowledge (Geography) History
Knowledge (History) History
Knowledge (Incarnum) No equivalent
Knowledge (Nature) Nature
Knowledge (Nobility and Royalty) History
Knowledge (Primal) Nature
Knowledge (Psionics) No equivalent
Knowledge (Religion) Religion
Knowledge (Shadow) Arcana, Religion
Knowledge (Sonorism) No equivalent
Perception Perception
Perform Bluff, Intimidate, Diplomacy
Profession (choose) No equivalent
Read/Write Script No equivalent
Ride Athletics
Sleight of Hand Thievery
Speak Language No equivalent
Stealth Stealth
Streetwise Streetwise
Survival Nature, Dungeoneering
Swim Athletics
Watercraft Athletics
Weavecraft Arcana

Acrobatics (Dex): This is largely unchanged from the 4e rules with the exception that the rules for escaping from a grab, or from restraints, has been spun off into the Escape Artist skill. You still use acrobatics to balance, reduce damage from falling and attempt an acrobatic stunt as stated on p180 of PHB1. An armour check penalty applies to acrobatics.

Bluff (Cha): The general intent of Bluff has not altered from the rules presented on p183 of PHB1. You can use bluff to lie convincingly, to gain combat advantage against a foe (the Feint manoeuvre in third edition) and to create a distraction so you can hide. Some other uses that seemed to default to bluff, such as Forgery and Disguise have been accounted for elsewhere.

Climb (Str): Athletics no longer exists as a skill. The climb element of Athletics (PHB1 p182) is now this separate skill. The mechanics are unchanged. An armour check penalty applies to Climb.

Craft (Int or Wis): This is very similar to the third edition skill of the same name. It represents any number of skills where the character makes something. If you have this skill you must specialise in a particular type of craft such as brewing, basketweaving, carpentry, stonemasonry, weaponsmithing, boat building or so on. There’s more on craft and profession below.

Diplomacy (Cha): The diplomacy skill is unchanged from p183 of PHB1. You use diplomacy to influence others with tact and subtlety.

Disable Device (Dex): This skill has been hived off from thievery. A character skilled in disable device can use the Disable Trap and Open Lock aspects of the Thievery skill as documented on pages 188 and 189 of PHB1 respectively.

Disguise (Cha): This skill allows a character to disguise themselves by use of make-up, clothes, posture, mannerisms and all manner of wigs. I will probably take the rules from the third edition Player’s Handbook but adjust the DCs slightly to reflect the new baseline of the fourth edition skills system. There is no disguise skill in fourth edition, any attempts would probably have defaulted to bluff.

Endurance (Con): This skill is unchanged from p184 of PHB1. It seems like an odd sort of a skill on first reading, but it does seem to be quite important to the new system, so we’d better keep it.

Escape Artist (Dex): This still encompasses the ‘Escape from a Grab’ and ‘Escape from Restraints’ uses of the Acrobatics skill, as documented on p181 of PHB1. A trained escape artist is the Harry Houdini of the group. Athletics can’t be used to escape from a grab or bindings any more. However, I would allow a normal ability check (half your level + Str (or Dex) modifier) to do so, for those untrained in this skill. An armour check penalty applies to Escape Artist attempts.

Heal (Wis): Again, a skill unchanged from the official source. You can still use Heal to apply first aid and to treat disease as described on p185 of PHB1.

Insight (Wis): This is the fourth edition version of Sense Motive, and I have to say that I like the name of the skill much more. Insight is described on PHB1 p185, and I haven’t changed it.

Intimidate (Cha): Diplomacy for the socially-challenged. No change to this skill either. See p186 of Player’s Handbook 1.

Jump (Str): Athletics no longer exists as a skill. The ‘jump’ element of Athletics (PHB1 p182) is now this separate skill. The mechanics are unchanged. An armour check penalty applies to Jump.

Knowledge (Int): Okay… there are lots and lots of knowledge skills listed here. You may think that there are too many. However, let me explain my thinking and I hope you’ll see it isn’t too top heavy. I tend to use knowledge skills more than anything else, so I wanted them to be well represented. Knowledge skills are similar to third edition, in that you must pick a field of knowledge. I have listed all the possible fields I think would be useful to adventures, but they won’t be universally useful to all adventurers. Let’s divide them up:

Knowledge Aberrant, Ancients, Dragons, Elemental, Fey, Nature and Shadow are the Monster Lore skills, and also incorporate everything you could find out from Knowledge (The Planes) in third edition. So you have Aberrant (aberrations, the Far Realm, the Void); Ancients (the ancient immortal races such as angels, devils, demons as well as Heaven, Hell and the Astral); Dragons (draconic races, Maw of Io and related draconic planes); Elemental (elemental creatures as well as the elemental planes/chaos); Fey (fey creatures, the feywild, the Greymere); Nature (natural creatures, animals, plants and environments in the natural world – this include underground environments as long as they are natural); Shadow (undead, shadow creatures, the shadowfell).

Knowledge Arcane, Divine, Incarnum, Primal, Psionics and Sonorism are knowledges about these magical traditions. If I wasn’t setting a game on Iourn, then I’d probably have a knowledge skill for each power source. These skills, give you an understanding of the esoteric mysteries of each tradition, how the tradition and the magic functions. These skills would be used to develop or learn new spells. You would also need to be trained in this skill in order to use any of the Rituals connected with each tradition. You don’t use these skills to detect magic, that’s a separate skill called Weavecraft (see below). I wouldn’t expect a magic using character to know anything other than the knowledge skill connected to his tradition and weavecraft. So a wizard would know Knowledge (arcane) and Weavecraft; a cleric would know Knowledge (Divine) and Weavecraft and so on.

This leaves four remaining knowledge skills. Religion, Architecture and Engineering, Geography, History and Nobility and Royalty. Religion would give you an understanding of the workings of individual churches and religions. Nobility and Royalty would be all about politics, laws, standards and so on. Architecture and Engineering is pretty self-explanatory, as is History. Geography would give you knowledge of the position of countries, but also who lives there, so it would encompass anthropology, social geography, demographics and so on. If you take these skills it is assumed that you know of the History, Geography, Religion, History, Nobility, Architecture of a specific area or time period. This can be as broad or as narrow as you like, but the GM can amend skill check DCs accordingly. See below for specialising in skills.

Perception (Wis): Unchanged from how it is written on p186 of PHB1. This is a combination of sight and vision. It makes sense to combine them from a gaming perspective because often you only make a Perception check to work out if you are surprised or not. I vacilated as to whether to keep Spot and Listen as two skill, but I’ve decided to go with Perception.

Perform (Cha):The relevance of this skill really depends on what happens with the bard class. As it stands, Perform could be largely irrelevent to many characters. I’ll keep it in for the time being. However, I think I’ll return to the version 3.0 definition of the skill, where you could use Perform to play any instrument or sing any song. Yes, entirely unbelievable, but not quite as absurd as having to play the trumpet with your diplomacy skill, which is what we have at the moment in 4e.

Profession (Int or Wis): This is very similar to the third edition skill of the same name. It represents any a job the character does, or a service the character provides that does not result in the character making a physical article. For example: herbalist, politician, prostitute. There’s more on profession and craft below.

Read/Write Script (no check):There are new rules for languages on the Iourn website, and I explain this in more depth below. Basically, you select a script. You can then read and write any language that uses that script, as long as you can speak the language. If you are trained in a script then you can use Bluff to forge documents in that language.

Ride (Dex):The ability to ride a horse, or camel, or elepant, or griffon or giant mouse. Before this would have been the Athletics skill, or perhaps the knowledge nature still. I think there needs to be a skill for Ride, but at the moment it is not supported in the system. I think that anyone would be able to ride a horse, but if you want that horse to do anything fancy, if you want to control it in an extreme situation then you will need to the Ride skill. It doesn’t lessen the need for the Mounted Combat feat. Just like Disguise, I’ll look at the rules in the third edition PHBand migrate the some slightly modified DCs across.

Sleight of Hand (Dex): This skill has been hived off from thievery. A character skilled in Sleight of Hand can use the ‘Sleight of Hand’ and ‘Pick Pocket’ aspects of the Thievery skill as documented on page 189 of PHB1.

Speak Language (no check): Enables you to speak a new language. See below for more about languages.

Stealth (Dex): Unchanged from how it is documented on p188 of PHB1. Stealth is a combination of hide and sneak. It seems to work quite well that way.

Streetwise (Cha): A combination of Gather Information and Knowledge (local) as they were in third edition. I see no reason to change streetwise. Please refer to p188 of PHB1.

Survival (Wis):A new skill to fourth edition, and imported from third edition. Survival allows you to forage for food and to build a shelter against the elements. The forage elements of the Dunegoneering (PHB1 p184) and Nature (PHB1 p186) can be found here. You can use Survival to survive and subsist off the land in any domain that you have a corresponding knowledge skill. The most common combination would be Knowledge (nature) and Survival to fulfill the role of the archetypal third edition ranger. But you could have Knowledge (ancients) and Survival, that would allow you to survive on the Astral Plane. Someone skilled in survival can set snares and catch food. They can also track. Tracking in fourth edition was a combination of Knowledge (nature) and Perception. I don’t think you should be able to track with Perception as it is too specialised. Survival is the skill if you want to be able to track.

Swim (Str): Athletics no longer exists as a skill. The swim element of Athletics (PHB1 p182) is now this separate skill. The mechanics are unchanged. An armour check penalty applies to Swim.

Watercraft (Str): This probably strikes you as a bizarre addition to the skills set, but the number of times I have wanted a skill such as this are legion. Watercraft is the skill for anything involving boats or ships. Anything rowing or sailing related – from a canoe to caravel – comes off this skill. Yes, it’s very broad, but at least it’s now in the rules and I don’t have to keep referring to Profession (Sailor).

Weavecraft (Int):This is an understanding of the magical weave. You know how it works, how it interacts with different magical traditions, and how certain effects (like anti-magic areas) can interact with it. This replaces the Spellcraft skill of third and earlier editions. Weavecraft allows you to tell if something is magical, using the ‘detect magic’ function of the Arcana skill as it is publisehed on p181 of PHB1. You can also use Weavecraft to identify magical effects such as conjurations, zones and the effects of rituals. You can tell what tradition they are from, and also the nature of the magic (the ‘school’ as it was in third edition). You use a mixture of weavecraft and the appropriate knowledge skill to identify magical items.

Substituting Skills

What I would also like to do is to allow the player to substitue one skill for another if he does not know the skill the GM requires. For example, the player wants to know how far away an island is, and the best route to take to get there. This would be a Knowledge (geography) check. However, the character doesn’t have Knowledge (geography), but he does have Knowledge (history). Maybe the character knows all about the campaigns of an ancient general, who invaded this island two generations ago. Maybe he remember the route that general took.

Obviously, this sort of thing cannot happen all the time, but the GM should encourage creativity on the part of the PCs when using their skills. If a player is trying to use a different skill, the GM is within his rigths to make the DC harder for that player. If the skills are very close then there might not be any change in DC, but for each step away from the original skill then the GM should increase the DC by +5. So using Knowledge (history) for the above example might be +5 to the DC, using Knowledge (nature) to remember the migration patterns of the puffins that rest on that island might be +10. The GM is free to decide what penalty he imposes.

Specialising in Skills

These rules are probably best suited for NPC sages. The skill list is still very broad, but characters can have far more specific skills. Rather than Knowledge (Nature) you might have Knowledge (Cows). You know all there is to know about cows. When you make a roll about cows, the GM would set an easier DC because it is in your specialised area. If you used Knowledge (Cows) to identify a wolf, the GM might not let you roll at all, or might set a much higher DC. Using these rules, highly specialise sages can know things that normally their level and skill check would not allow.


There are about forty different languages on the Iourn website and I’m not going to cut that number down at all. I’m going to use the same rules for languages already posted on the site. You can either select to speak a langauge, or to read and write a script. You can read and write any language you can speak, as long as you also know the script for it.

In order to make life easier for players, I propose increasing the number of languages of all starting characters by two. So every race starts knowing four languages except the half-elf, who knows five. Those language slots can be spent on either Speak Language, or Read/Write Language. So most characters can speak, read and write two languages. However, some players might choose to be illiterate but speak four languages.

If the player wants to know any more than his starting languages, he must either get more languages when he assigns his skills at character generation, or select the requisite feat at a later level. There’s more on feats below.

The Problem of Craft and Profession

To my mind, craft and profession skills have to be represented in the skill system. If they are not then the campaign world loses a degree of its integrity and verisimilitude. However, it has been pointed out to be that these skills are largely useless to PCs. They provide a degree of background colour, but you seldom have to roll on them. If you can’t have a high perception because you have chosen Profession (haberdasher), then you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.

So what do we do about this? Thinking caps on everyone! Do I offer free profession and craft skills based on your character backgrounds? Can everyone select one profession or craft skill for free at first level to represent what they were doing before they became adventurers? Or do we just keep them as perfectly valid skill choices for everyone at any time?

Characters and Skills

Okay, so we have a new skill list. The question now is how to we apply that list to each character class, and how do you assign skills in character generation. I have three options for how we do this, that I will chronicle below. What I will do first is go through the classes and assign new class skills based on the list above. For the purposes of this part of the post, imagine that the skills rules haven’t changed at all, except for the fact that we have an expanded skill list.

Before I get the classes, this is how the skill bonuses from each of the 4e races would be altered:

  • Dragonborn: +2 Knowledge (history) or Knowledge (nobility); +2 Intimidate
  • Dwarf: +2 Survival; +2 Endurance
  • Eldarin:+2 Knowledge (arcane); +2 Knowledge (history)
  • Elf: +2 Knowledge (nature); +2 Perception
  • Half-Elf: +2 Diplomacy; +2 Insight
  • Halfling: +2 Acrobatics; +2 Sleight of Hand
  • Tiefling: +2 Bluff; +2 Stealth
  • Warforged: +2 Endurance; +2 Intimidate

My rational for the new lists of class skills is relatively simple. Most classes in the new PHB have four trained skills except the fighter (3), the ranger (5) and the rogue (6). Now, everyone starts with eight trained skills except the ranger (9) and the rogue (10). The list includes everything that was in the 4e book, plus any skills I have recreated – so if a class had Athletics, it now has Climb, Jump and Swim. I have inserted any new skills in as I felt was necessary.

I am not sure I have the balance right, so please be sure to check this and take me to task on anything that doesn’t look right!


Choose Knowledge (religion) and any seven skills from the following list:

Craft (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Heal (Wis), Insight (Wis), Knowledge (any) (Int), Profession (Wis), Read/Write Language, Speak Language, Weavecraft (Int)


Choose any eight skills from the following list:

Climb (Str), Craft (Int), Endurance (Con), Heal (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Jump (Str), Knowledge (any one) (Int), Profession (Wis), Ride (Dex), Speak Language, Streetwise (Cha), Survival (Wis), Swim (Str)


Choose Knowledge (religion) and any seven skills from the following list:

Craft (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Endurance (Con), Insight (Wis), Heal (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (any two) (Int), Profession (Wis), Read/Write Language, Ride (Dex), Speak Language, Weavecraft (Int)


Choose knowledge (nature) and any eight skills from the following list:

Acrobatics (Dex), Climb (Str), Craft (Int), Endurance (Con), Heal (Wis), Jump (Str), Knowledge (any two) (Int), Perception (Wis), Profession (Wis), Ride (Dex), Speak Language, Stealth (Dex), Survival (Wis), Swim (Str), Watercraft (Str)


Choose Stealth and either Disable Device or Sleight of Hand. Then choose a further eight skills from the following list:

Acrobatics (Dex), Bluff (Cha), Climb (Str), Craft (Int), Disable Device (Dex), Disguise (Cha), Escape Artist (Dex), Insight (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Jump (Str), Knowledge (any one) (Int), Perception (Wis), Perform (Cha), Profession (Wis), Sleight of Hand (Dex), Speak Language, Streetwise (Cha), Swim (Str)


Choose Knowledge (divine) and seven skills from the following list:

Bluff (Cha), Craft (Int), Disable Device (Dex), Insight (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (any three) (Int), Profession (Wis), Sleight of Hand (Dex), Streetwise (Cha), Speak Language, Read/Write Language, Weavecraft (Int)


Choose eight skills from the following list:

Climb (Str), Craft (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Endurance (Con), Heal (Wis), Jump (Str), Knowledge (any two) (Int), Intimidate (Cha), Profession (Wis), Read/Write Language, Ride (Dex), Speak Language, Swim (Str)


Choose Knowledge (arcane) and seven skills from the following list:

Craft (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Insight (Wis), Knowledge (any) (Int), Profession (Wis), Read/Write Language, Speak Language, Weavecraft (Int)

Character Generation

So we have a new skill list, we have new lists of class skills for each of the eight PHB1 classes – how do we actually generate them? Assigning skills in 4e currently takes about four minutes. Can we capture that degree of ease in a new system that has more skills?

I’m in three minds about how to proceed. I understand the cinematic and heroic nature of fourth edition, so there is is something to be said for the simple elegance of the current trained/untrained system. The size of the skill list was certainly more of a sticking point for me than the mechanics of working out skills.

With that in mind, here are three options for the best way to move forward:

Option 1: Change Nothing

We have a bigger skill list, and longer lists of class skills. Beyond that everything stays the same. The player chooses his trained skills as indicated above. These skills are at half his level + attribute modifier + 5. All the other skills are untrained, and they run off half the character’s level + attribute modifier. Nice and simple. The only exception would be languages which you either know, or you don’t know. This is the easiest option.

Option 2: Introduce Secondary Skills

This is the same a option 1, except the player doesn’t get half his level as a bonus to all untrained skills. After selecting his trained skills, the player selects ten secondary skills. These can be any skills on the skill list. These skills are rolled on half the character’s level + his attribute modifier. All other skills are untrained, and you would only add your attribute modifier to any skill check you made with them. In this system there are two levels of languages. If you select it as a secondary skill you can get by in that language, and you are able to convey simple concepts and hold simple conversations. If you are trained in a language then you speak it like a native.

Option 3: Skill Ranks

There are no trained or untrained skills. There are no class skills. The list of class skills instead becomes list of “suggested skills” for each class. Every character starts with a number of skill points equal to:

[2 + No of trained skills indicated above] × 5

So, most classes would start with 50 skill points, a ranger with 55 and a rogue with 60. Players can apply these skill points to any skill they want to in character generation as long as no skill exceeds half their level (rounded down) + 5.

At every even numbered level, starting at level two, each class would get additional skill points equal to [2 + No of trained skills indicated above]. So most classes would have 10, rangers would have 11 and rogues would have 12. Again, these could be spent on anything the player chose as long as no skill was higher than half his level (rounded down) + 5.

Each additional language would cost five skill points. Once you could speak the language or read the script then you would never have to make any rolls on it.

All skills that the player did not put skill points into would just be rolled on a standard 1d20 + the related attribute modifier.

A Note on Feats

Several feats affect skills and languages. There is nothing above that changes how Skill Focus works. However, Skill Training and Linguist will work differently. How they work will depend on whether we adopt option 1, 2 or 3. I’m therefore not bothering to chronicle any changes just yet.

In Conclusion

Okay, over to you. Will the above work? Is it an improvement, or should we just keep the skill system as it is written (please don’t say that). There are four main areas of discussion here:

  1. The new skill list. Is it complete? Deficient? Too detailed?
  2. The list of ‘class skills’ for each of the eight character classes. Have I got this balance right? Are there any other skills from the skill list that you would expect to see on it.
  3. The mechanic for assigning skills. Do we use Option 1, Option 2 or Option 3? Or do we use none of those options? Do you have a better idea?
  4. Craft and Profession. Bonafide skills that eat up your resources, or just background fluff for PCs? Do you want them free or do you want to pay for them?

This is the biggest change I have suggested to fourth edition, and hopefully it is the biggest change I will ever suggest to fourth edition. Let me know what you think. At the very least can everyone vote for options 1, 2 or 3.


Character Classes. Honest.

Player’s Handbook 1 (Chapter Five)

I’m sorry that I keep bouncing all around PHB1 like this. I will get to chapter four and the character classes soon, I promise. However, it seems more pressing for me to talk about skills. Having played five sessions of fourth edition at this point, I’ve come to the conclusion that the skills system really doesn’t work – or at least it doesn’t work in the way that I want it to. They have neither the versatility or the verisimilitude that I require. I’m not alone in thinking this, or in thinking that something needs to be.

Which is a bit of a shame, really. I had hoped that I could begin a fourth edition campaign without tweaking the skills system. I knew that it would probably be something I looked at in due course, but I thought that maybe I could start an ongoing campaign with the skills as they were written and not meddle with things. I really can’t do that.

Character generation for the new campaign is still scheduled for 12 August (even though I don’t seem to be able to get the background written and posted to the PCs with any degree of speed). I don’t want to generate PCs with the skills system as it is written – I want to use my own. I want to use a system that is very much like the system used in third edition.

But, before I get into the domain of house rules let’s do the review thing, and look at chapter five in all its gruesome glory.

Skills Overview

In third edition there were thirty-six skills. That is not counting the Knowledge, Craft, Profession and Perform where you had to choose a specialism. In fourth edition, there are seventeen skills and no chance of specialisation. Each skill is intentionally broad and can be used for a variety of different tasks.

Unlike third edition, or other games such as Runequest or Call of Cthulhu, fourth edition doesn’t try to create a skill list that encompasses every possible skill that exists in real life. The fourth edition skill list is a tight list, and only contains those skills that PCs would find useful in their adventures. PCs don’t weave baskets for a living so there’s no basketweaving skill.

There seems to be a move among players of both editions toward a smaller skill list. Even the people behind the Pathfinder roleplaying game are into reducing the number of skill choices for players. Why are they doing this? It’s all a question of game balance. The designers want all skills to be equal. In third edition, you could spend your skill points on Craft (basketweaving), but in doing so you were unable to spend your points on Spot, or Spellcraft or Climb. The craft skills were not worth as much as skills that received continual use during the game.

Part of me can see why this decision was made. Part of me can see if you all you do is run dungeons or adventures like Keep on the Shadowfell, then you wouldn’t need or want ‘superfluous’ skills. Part of me can see that, but it’s not the part of me that runs roleplaying games. For goodness sake, step back a moment and look at the big picture.

The skills system is there to give the players options. You could say (and it has been said) that you don’t need rules to know how good a farrier the local blacksmith is, the GM just decides. Well, yes that is true – but what happens when the PC wants to be a blacksmith? Why limit what players? Table top roleplaying games have an unassailable advantage over the so-called roleplaying games you can buy for consoles and computers: you can do absolutely anything. If you want a paladin whose more skilled at being a florist than an athlete then you should be able to have one. The player deserves that choice.

Another problem with reducing the skills list is that many skills get combined together. Sometimes this makes some sense: Listen and Spot are combined into Perception, Hide and Sneak are combined into Stealth. I can still see an argument for them being different skills, but I can also see a strong case for Perception and Stealth in the game. If I’m being generous, I can get behind that change. However, there are far more examples of the reduced list creating absurd synergies.

An example: in fourth edition there is a new skill called Athletics. Climb, Jump and Swim don’t exist as individual skills – only athletics. So everyone who can swim is also a good climber? Nonsense. There’s no Ride skill either, and no explanation of which skill it would fall under. Athletics is as good a fit as any. So you make an Athletics check to ride a horse. Again, nonsense. How would this work in any sane games system? A character leaps on a horse and wants to gallop after the bad guy. He doesn’t have the Ride skill, but the GM says: “That’s okay. Make a Swim check instead.” What planet are these people living on?

The 4e Skill List

You can tell I’m against this change can’t you? Anyway, I’m not going to dwell on all the skills in any great depth. Those that have mechanics are functionally similar to how they were in third edition. There are some notable changes that I will get onto in a minute. In the meantime, the best way to present the changes are in table form. I’ve included a column for the current house rules so those players of the Iourn game can see how I diverged from the official third edition skill list.

The skill list is in order of the third edition skill, so look up that skill in the leftmost column. And I’m sorry, but I still can’t get WordPress to left-align each cell.

Third Edition 3e Houserule Fourth Edition
Appraise Appraise History
Autohypnosis Autohypnosis No equivalent
Balance Balance Acrobatics
Bluff Bluff Bluff
Climb Climb Athletics
Concentration Concentration No equivalent
Control Shape Control Shape No equivalent
Craft (choose) Craft (choose) No equivalent
Decipher Script Decipher Script No equivalent
Diplomacy Diplomacy Diplomacy
Disable Device Disable Device Thievery
Disguise Disguise Bluff
No equivalent No equivalent Endurance
Escape Artist Escape Artist Acrobatics or Athletics
Forgery Forgery Bluff
Gather Information Gather Information Streetwise
Handle Animal Handle Animal Nature
Heal Heal Heal
Hide Hide Stealth
Iaijutsu Focus Iaijutsu Focus No equivalent
Intimidate Intimidate Intimidate
Jump Jump Athletics
Knowledge (Arcana) Knowledge (Arcana) Arcana
Knowledge (Arcana) Knowledge (Dragons) Nature
Knowledge (Architecture and Engineering) Knowledge (Architecture and Engineering) History
Knowledge (Dungeoneering) Knowledge (Underdark) Dungeoneering
Knowledge (Geography) Knowledge (Geography) Nature, History
Knowledge (History) Knowledge (History) History
Knowledge (Local) Knowledge (Local) Streetwise
Knowledge (Nature) Knowledge (Nature) Nature
Knowledge (Nobility and Royalty) Knowledge (Nobility and Royalty) History
Knowledge (Psionics) Knowledge (Psionics) Arcana
Knowledge (Religion) Knowledge (Religion) Religion
Knowledge (Religion) Knowledge (Undead) Religion
Knowledge (The Planes) Knowledge (The Planes) Folded into other ‘knowledge’ skills
Knowledge (any other) Knowledge (any other) No equivalent
Listen Listen Perception
Lucid Dreaming Lucid Dreaming No equivalent
Move Silently Move Silently Stealth
Open Lock Open Lock Thievery
Perform (choose) Perform (choose) No equivalent
Profession (choose) Profession (choose) No equivalent
Psicraft Spellcraft Arcana
Ride Ride Nature or Athletics
Search Search Perception
Sense Motive Sense Motive Insight
Sleight of Hand Sleight of Hand Thievery
Speak Language Read/Write Script See feats
Speak Language Speak Language See feats
Spellcraft Spellcraft Arcana
Spot Spot Perception
Survival Survival Dungeoneering, Nature
Swim Swim Athletics
Tumble Tumble Acrobatics
Use Magic Device Use Magic Device No equivalent
Use Psionic Device Use Magic Device No equivalent
Use Rope Use Rope Athletics, Acrobatics

The Changes

There are a few skills that merit explanation regardless of whether the 4e skill system was adopted or not. These are the ones that I think you, as players, will need to make a note of.

Concentration (3e): I’ve spoken about this before, but Concentration is not a skill in fourth edition. Spellcasters don’t need to make concentration checks to get spells off in stressful conditions. In fact there aren’t really any ways that you can disrupt a spell caster or prevent them from casting a spell. I’m going to look at this again when I get onto talking about the powers themselves.

Endurance (4e): This is a new skill entirely. You use endurance if you want to hold your breath, go without food or water, or resist climatic effects. It’s actually more useful than you would credit. Particularly if you don’t want to drown.

Knowledge – The Planes (3e): This has been folded into the various ‘knowledge’ type skills. So Religion tells you about the Shadowfell, Arcana about the Astral Sea, Dungeoneering about the Far Realm, Nature about the Feywild and so on. These skills also absorb the monster lore aspects of knowledge skills in third edition.

Lucid Dreaming (3e): Not surprising that this wasn’t supported in PHB1. However, it is important to the ongoing League of Light campaign. I will look at Lucid Dreaming in more depth, but I suspect that fourth edition will demand that it is changed into a suite of powers, a paragon path or that Lucid Dreamer becomes a character class in its own right.

The Mechanics of Skills

The skills system has also changed in fourth edition. There are no longer any skill ranks, instead your skills are based on your class and your level. Every character has a base chance of using any of the seventeen skills at half his level (rounded down) + the relevant attribute modifier. So a 20th level wizard with a strength of 12 still has a Climb skill of +11 without putting any time or training into it.

At character generation you can select a limited number of skills for your character from a prescribed list. This list is dependent upon your class. The skills you choose become trained skills. You have a +5 bonus to all trained skills.

Obviously there are other things that further modify your skill check – like equipment, magic items, other characters or powers – but by and large this is as complicated as the system gets. There are no complicated synergy bonuses in fourth edition. There are too few skills to make it worthwhile.

Why have they done this? Well, partially it is to make the game quicker and easier. Ability checks are essentially the same as untrained skill checks, so its very easy for the GM to throw together the skills for an adversary. Character generation is also much quicker without the fiddlesome nature of skill ranks. There is also the matter of how the game actually works.

In third edition you could spend your many skill ranks as you chose – a few points here, a few points there. You could have a very broad range of skills. However, the game did not support this choice very well. If you spent your skill ranks on being competent at many skills, you quickly found (as your character rose in level) that you went from being competent to mediocre to generally crap at everything. Despite appearances, the third edition system demanded that you concentrate on a few skills and max them out (your level +3 in skill ranks) every level. If you didn’t, you would find the DCs associated with those skills would soon outstrip your ability to roll them.

Of course, that assumes that the player and the GM wanted to play the game that way. Fourth edition, doesn’t give you a choice. So, let’s be clear what the fourth edition mechanics do to the skills system:

  • You cannot dabble in a number of skills. You are equally good at all the skills you are not exceptional in.
  • You can’t actually be bad at anything. Having a character that simply can’t swim, or can’t bluff is just not an option in the game any more.
  • Because of the small base of skills, a normal party of six PC is likely to be skilled in everything.

In Conclusion

The fourth edition skills system is not fit for purpose. I don’t say this lightly, but it’s true. I understand why the changes have been made, and I appreciate that the official rules will be sufficient for some campaigns, but they’re not good enough for me. I want a much broader skills base, I want the PCs to be able to dabble in a number of skills (even if it isn’t an optimal choice) and I want them to be able to be bad at something. I want there to be things that they can’t do.

House rules on the way…

Magic, Power Sources and Iourn

Yes, it looks as thought I’m never going to get through the PHB doesn’t it?

Back in May, I uploaded a post to the website speculating how my understanding of magic and D&D could be made to fit into the new fourth edition game – or more accurately, how the new fourth edition game could be distorted to fit my understanding of magic. If you’re familiar with the world of Iourn, and you can remember the previous post then you have a better memory than I do. For the rest of us, here are a couple of memory-jogging links on the subject.

At the time, I was at a bit of quandary how I could possibly marry up the numerous power sources presented in fourth edition, with magic as I understood it. It seemed that a fantastic shake-up of the game and Weave was in order to force everything to make sense. A lengthy discussion ensued (thanks, Tim!) that came to no great conclusion, as the fourth edition rules hadn’t been published. Well now they have, and subsequently I have an informed opinion.

Power Sources

Player’s Handbook 1 presents us with three power sources, although reveals a further five sources that will be added to the game over the next couple of years. In the context of the game, the power source declares that certain classes have a degree of commonality. Wizards and warlocks both use the arcane power source, therefore their magic must be functionally similar. However, what PHB1 doesn’t do – and what I assumed it would do – was explain or describe what these powers sources actually are.

Rather than having a comprehensive origin and explanation of each power source, the game leaves the whole business rather vague. I suspect this is a deliberate decision, rather than one forced on the designers by lack of space, or lack of forethought.

However, the result is that we are left with eight power sources that don’t really mean anything – or more accurately, can mean anything that the GM wants them to mean. If I say that any one with the divine power source gains their magic by collecting the distilled sweat of the Obese Overpower of Step Aerobics in a sandwich tin, then that’s what divine magic means.

With this in mind I got to thinking whether I even need to bother using the 4e power sources in an Iourn campaign at all. I already have a perfectly good explanation of where all magic comes from and how it works, true it was born of a need to reconcile the third edition rules, but it’s served me perfectly well. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!” is a thought that has kept coming to me over the past week or so.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself. If I’m going to explain this properly then we should at least look at the eight official power sources. I’ll start with the three from PHB1 and then tell you what I know, or what I can guess of the others.

Martial Power: To my mind this isn’t as much a power source as it is the absence of one. Martial powers are extraordinary abilities. They may look impossible, but they are simply the product of a lifetime of training and skill. Bruce Lee’s iron fists, Jackie Chan’s acrobatics and Houdini’s ability to get punched in the gut without flinching (almost all the time) are all examples of such powers. Martial powers are called exploits, and these exploits are used by Fighters, Rangers, Rogues and Warlords. They are not magical; they may use the same mechanics as magical powers – which is a whole different can of worms I am keeping closed for the duration of this post – but there is nothing supernatural about them.

Arcane Power: Think arcane power and you think of wizards. Indeed, this is the power source tied to wizards and warlocks, and that will be tied to sorcerers, bards and swordmages when the rules for those classes are published. As in the game’s many previous incarnations, arcane magic is good at blowing things up, but not so hot on the healing. There are rumours that necromancy and illusion may be removed from the arcane power source and spun off under a source of their own, meaning that wizards are never necromancers – necromancer may well end up as a class in its own right.

Divine Power: This is an easy one. Divine power is a power that is drawn from a god. Divine powers are called prayers and prayers are cast by clerics, paladins and presumably a few other classes down the track. Divine prayers generally lean toward healing, smiting and incommoding the forces of evil. This tells me that after four editions they still haven’t got clerics right. The specialist priests of second edition were the closest things in my book. Oh well.

Primal Power: Now we’re getting beyond the PHB1. I can’t say much about primal power, except that it is a power rooted in nature. Druids, barbarians and (possibly) shaman will call upon the primal power source to cast spells, change shape, rage and so on and so forth. For the first time, the game clearly states that druids and clerics are entirely different entities – which is exactly what I’ve been doing with Iourn since it started. Handy, that.

Ki Power: This is the power of your soul. Some classes, notably the monk, can use that power to initiate any number of supernatural abilities. As the presence of the monk in next year’s PHB2 is in serious doubt, we have to wonder when we are going to be see the Ki power source in great depth. I suppose you could argue that the various classes and concepts from the third edition book, The Magic of Incarnum, could well use Ki if they were ever converted to 4e.

Psionic Power:It had to come didn’t it? Psionics, when it appears in the fourth edition game, will have a separate power source. It will be different to arcane and divine magic and everything else. There’s a whole laundry of psionic characters released in third edition. The most notable of these is the Psion, the psionic wizard – although he’ll always just be an electronic personal organiser to me. Psionics is the power of the mind. Many of the charm and enchantment spells that wizards used to have are going to find themselves in the hands of the psionic characters. Psionicists will specialist in these. I doubt we will see psions teleporting or throwing balls of elemental fire quite as much as they used to.

Shadow Power: In fourth edition shadow means the Shadowfell, which is strongly connected to the undead and necrotic energy. The shadow power source will undoubtedly be the domain of necromancers and like character classes. Because shadow can also be used for concealment, I am sure some rogue-type classes (perhaps even a ninja) may make use of this power source. There has been talk that an Illusionist class will be shadow-powered. Personally, I think illusionists are more likely to be arcane. We’ll see.

Elemental Power: The distinction between elemental and divine power seems to be based solely on the official Points of Light cosmology – with all the gods sitting in the astral sea, and all the primordials lurking in the elemental chaos. Elemental power (my guess) will be granted by the primordials, and we’ll have a second bunch of cleric-like classes as well as the predictable collection of fire/air/earth/cold wielding maniacs.

So, that’s the eight power sources. But, there’s no great incentive to use them. As I stated, there’s nothing in the game system that makes a (e.g.) warlock an arcane character. I could rule that all warlocks used the divine power source and it would not make an iota of difference to the game. With this in mind…

Magic on Iourn

As a note, the following ignores the Martial power source. The non-magical classes can bimble along quite happily without me reaffirming or re-interpreting anything. Clear? Good, let’s move on.

On Iourn, all magical power comes from the Weave. The Weave is basically a big bucket of power that magic-users of all types and colours can access. What makes these magic-users different is how they access the power. Each need a means to tap and form weave energy into a magic. This means creates all the various branches and sub-sets of magic-users, but all magic comes from the same source.

This was a handy way to explain why dispel magic could affect a psion, a wizard and a cleric equally. This is still the case in fourth edition. The utility of dispel magic has certainly been reduced in the new edition, but it is still there, and can still be used to bring down zones and conjurations regardless of what class (and what power source) cast them. All these various casters still need commonality to explain why that would be the case. The need for my interpretation of magic still exists.

On Iourn, there are no power sources per se. Instead, we have traditions – broad areas that access and utilise the weave in different manners. What follows is a reinterpretation of the magic section of the Iourn website with a fourth edition hat on. Nothing has really changed, but a few things have been tweaked. I think this makes sense.

Arcane Magic

Arcane magic is a birthright. All arcane magic-weavers have some unquantifiable running through their blood that allows them to tap into the weave directly, without the need to go through an intermediary force or power. Sometimes arcane practitioners display their magic powers from birth, in others it does not manifest until later in life – it may never manifest, or may need to be awakened by particular circumstances or rituals. Arcane Magic and the 4e arcane power source are a close fit.

Draconic Magic: The consumate arcane magic-weavers are dragons. In fourth edition, dragons are no longer spell-casters, in that they do not have the same powers one would associate with wizards and clerics. However, in 4e this is petty magic at best and dragons are far better served relying on their powerful physical prowess as well as their signature breath weapons. The magic power of dragons manifests in the rituals that they know and that they can call forth.

Sorcery: Sorcerers are the mortal descendents of power arcane magic-weavers. This does not necessarily need to be dragons (as it was in third edition), but the ancestor must have been an arcane pracitioner. Sorcerers instinctively know their spells with no need to study. Casting such magic greatly fatigues them, and they were never able to master anything but the most rudimentary healing. As sorcerers have yet to have the fourth edition make-over, I don’t know how well they continue to serve in this role. I suspect it will be easy to bend them into it.

Wizardry: Wizardry is not true arcane magic. The practitioners of wizardry were not born with the skill, they learned it. Wizardry is an attempt by the non-magical mortal races to copy sorcery. It is not an art, but a science. Wizards use spell-books, complicated formulae and years of study to attempt what a sorcerer could do without a second thought. Wizardry has the same limitations as sorcery (no healing) but few of the fringe benefits. However, because wizards never truly know the magic they are casting, they can chop and change their spells, and have access to a larger repetoire than a sorcerer.

Divine Magic

When a character uses the power on an outside agent or god to access to the Weave, then it is considered divine magic. These characters do not learn magic, and they are not born with inate magical knowledge. Intead they must supplicate themselves before a greater power who does have such understandings. These characters focus outside energies, take away their patron and they could no more access the weave than any common man.

Clerical Magic: This is the power wielded by priests and paladins. They pray to a god, the god grants the cleric the ability to tap into the power of the weave, and then channels that weave into his servant. The god only grants access to the pot of power, it is the cleric himself who interprets that power and determines how it should be used. Divine spells (prayers) tend to be the province of churches and organisations, not gods. The prayers are always in keeping with the deity’s ethos, but churches often copy one another.

Pact Magic: Some individuals make imprudent bargains with forces beyond their ken. These are not respected clerics, acting as part of a massive organisation for the betterment or detriment of mankind. These are solitary figures, occassionally gathering in covens; acting for their own ends while at the same time battling for control with an outside entities. Warlocks use pact magic, therefore on Iourn warlocks are divine rather than arcane casters. Not that it makes any practical difference.


Sonorism, or song magic, is a tradition of spell-casting as ancient as arcane. Sonorism is a learned skill, but it lacks the dry books of wizardry. Sonorists charm the weave into obeying their commands with nothing more than their voice. Sonorists sing to the weave and make it dance to their tune.

Sonorism: The greatest sonorists are the ancient elves (what would be called eladrin in fourth edition). I’m not yet sure how sonorism will mechanically work in fourth edition. But, as I can’t see any player character getting their hands on it any time soon, this is a small problem. Sonorism is largely unknown on Iourn as the elves took it away with them to the Greymere one thousand years ago. It should probably incorporate the advantages of sorcery and wizardry, but with none of the drawbacks.

Bardic Magic: On Iourn, bards are not arcane like wizards. The magic that they use is a bastardised version of ancient sonorism. Bards use the song magic of the elves in their spells and their inate abilities. As I haven’t seen a 4e bard, I don’t know how well this interpretation fits. I’ll do all I can to keep it though.

Primal Magic

Okay, I used to call this nature magic, but primal magic just sounds much cooler. Not much to add here. In third edition, this magic was used by druids, rangers and healers. Rangers aren’t spellcasters in fourth edition, so we are generally looking at the druid as the main practitioner of this type of magic.

My interpretation of primal magic has always been something akin to preservers and defilers in the Darksun campaign setting. However, I’ve never had a solid enough mechanic to make this more than just flavour-text. Assuming Darksun is released for fourth edition in 2010 (and it seems the most likely setting, in my mind) then I may have something then.

In the meantime we await the 4e druid in PHB2.


This is the ability to tap into the weave with the power of your mind. A wholly different tradition to anything else, psionics can be learned or it can be instinctive. Some wild talents have such powerful, or such idiosyncratic, minds that they cannot help but manifesting magical powers. There’s not much difference between this tradition and the psonics power source.


The ability to tap into the energy of your soul and use it for magical effects. Everything in Magic of Incarnum fell into this category. It is not a stretch to say that this is where the magic power for monks, kensai and everyone who relies on “Ki” also comes frm.

True Magic

In the Iourn setting, I mention a time before the Cataclysm when magic worked differently. Then true magic (third edition epic magic) was the norm and castable by anyone who could cast magic. That may require a little tweaking, but as this is simply information about the way things used to be, then it can stand more or less untouched. It’s not as though I ever have to worry about the mechanics of it.


Introduced in the third edition Unearthed Arcana, incantations were complicated rituals that let anyone (even the non-spellcasting classes) cast spells. It seems now that these rules were the prototype for the rules on Rituals that we find in fourth edition. I like the idea of non-spellcasters being about to find a complicated ritual and do their best to master its effects.

However, I think that such rituals should be few and far between, as well as extremely specific. The Rituals presented in PHB1 are not such entities. Frankly, I’m all for assigning a magical tradition to each ritual and only allowing spellcasters of each tradition to cast it. As it stands in 4e at the moment, the local herbalist might not be able to manifest one spell, but could still know how to raise the dead. I don’t like that – or at least, I don’t like the world a simple extrapolation of such rules suggests.

Fourth Edition vs. Iourn

So, some changes then. Warlocks are divine casters, and not arcane ones. Bards are sonorists, and not arcane. The Elemental and Shadow power sources are not mentioned at all. I believe that any character class assigned the Shadow or Elemental power source can be easily explained using the six traditions (or sub-traditions) above. A necromancer may wield oodles of necrotic enegy, but if he’s still learned his skill then he’s a wizard and therefore an arcane caster.

Supernatural Abilities?

In third edition, there was also a host of supernatural abilities, that were magical but not in the same way. I explained these powers by saying they tapped into a power outside the weave – a cleric’s supernatural abilities were a direct line to his god. In fourth edition there are no such abilities. Everything falls into one power source or another.

I think that I am happy to let supernatural abilities die with third edition. They always seemed something of an artificial distinction. The monk, whose abilities were always supernatural, is now of the incarnum tradition. He uses the weave like everyone else. His abilities cannot be surpressed or dispelled because the game just doesn’t work that way any more. Balance is not going to be an issue.

Yes, I know this will require a further explanation of Corrupt and Exalted magic, but I’m sure I can find one that fits and doesn’t contradict events in the established campaigns.

So what do we need to change?

Certainly, a vast over arcing apolocalypse that would change the face of magic forever is not really needed. However, there are a certain number of conceits and concepts in fourth edition that are radically different than third, and these might still require an in-game explanation. Here’s a list of what I can think of:

  • Spells cast by wizards, clerics et al. are not as powerful as they once were. The sort of magic these classes can use off the cuff no longer have the same massive effects. Why?
  • Spells are much harder to maintain than before.
  • The greatest spells can now only be cast as rituals. By and large these are the same spells, but they take anywhere from ten minutes to a day to cast. Why the change?
  • Raise dead and similar magic is harder than before. Why?
  • Long distance teleportation is gone and replaced with a Stargate system. Why?
  • The ethereal plane doesn’t exist. It seems to have been replaced in theme and content by the Shadowfell. But do I need to explain why?

However, all the above is extremely doable – much of it in the context of adventures I had already planned for the next year. After having read and digested the core rulebooks, I am confident that Iourn’s magic system can be converted, and that it can retain the same flavour and fundamentals that it had in third edition.