Skill are statistics or traits that represent areas of characters' learned knowledge and abilities (in contrast to attributes, which are in-born characteristics rather than learned ones). Skills are used to perform actions and challenges, and are commonly used in resolution mechanics. When two stats are used as part of a game's resolution mechanic, the two most common stats for a game to use are attributes and skills.
Skills can reflect a character's origins, natural ability, training, and experience. However, skills sometimes reflect genre emulation rather than a strict simulation of ability.
The set of skills that can appear in a given role-playing game is called the skill list. The skills on a skill list are a way of focusing play on a desired style, genre, or set of activities. Skill lists are generally long, and may be undefined (effectively infinite) if the game uses freeform skills.
In skill-based games, skills may be the primary statistic used in resolution. For example, in Fate Core, the core resolution mechanic is to roll 4dF + a modifier equal to the rating in a relevant skill.
However, in games that also use another statistic, such as attributes, skills are usually a subordinate stat that influence a character's chance to succeed by modifying the primary stat. In some games (such as GURPS), each skill is associated with a specific base attribute to which it is always added; in others (such as Ars Magica), a skill can be added to different attributes depending on how the skill is being used. Some games (such as Feng Shui) add the base attribute to the skill at character creation, but after that it is independent of the attribute and is used instead of the attribute rather than adding to it.
It is common for games to impose a penalty for attempting a task without a relevant skill. Older editions of Shadowrun, for example, had a complex network of penalties for using similar skills (such as attempting to pick an electronic lock by using the Computer skill instead of the Electronics skill).
Gaining and increasing skills
During character creation, a player will generally choose their character's skills from the game's skill list. A character may have a fixed number of starting skills, or they may be paid for using character points. In contrast to attributes, very few games fix a player's skills at the start of the game, instead allowing players to increase them by spending experience points or when gaining levels.
In many games, the rules assume that a skill only provides someone with the ability to perform a skill (meaning that the associated rating is sufficient to indicate how good a character is at performing that skill), although in practice a skill provides between one and three of the following:
- Capability (that is, the ability to do the thing and how good the character is at doing it)
- Differentiation (that is, a reason why this skill is different than some other skill)
- Permission (that is, an assertion that the character can do the thing or try to do it)
In addition, some games and groups use skills more broadly that simply capability at relevant actions. In the role-playing game Feng Shui, for example, skills cover doing, knowing, and contacting. Going further, the five corner model of skills says that they are not simply labels that describe "things characters can do", but can be considered as a character's ability to:
- Do the thing
- Know about the thing
- Contact people related to the thing
- Perceive things that relate to the thing
- Support other characters that do the thing
Depending on the game, skills may be known by various other names, including proficiencies, abilities, powers, talents and knacks.
- Rob Donoghue (2018-12-18). "What Skills Provide". The Walking Mind. Retrieved 2020-07-19.