A Skilled Conversion of Proficiencies

Last Updated: 210914..230107

I have a love/hate relationship with Proficiencies. Proficiencies can be a great way to add flavor to a PC. Yet when comparing proficiencies to Class abilities, proficiencies are disproportionately effective (initial thief functions are only 25%). The very word—”proficient”—implies a high level of success.

The proficiency system in 1e biases heavily towards high stats. 1e uses a class-based system, but should all classes be equal for the same proficiencies? There’s no explicit adjustment for tasks of varying difficulty. Proficiencies don’t advance with experience. To exemplify the issue that proficiencies aren’t quite right, each edition uses a different system. Even 1e uses more than one system (Oriental Adventures *cough*).

Here’s an alternate skill system derived primarily on the Dragon Magazine #225 system, and vaguely similar to OA with different checks. Skills are weaker to start, but improve as a PC levels.

A character starts with a certain number of skills, which can be improved or expanded upon as the character levels. When performing a skill check, the player rolls a d20, and is successful if they roll equal to or less than the target number. Skill checks are modified for the difficulty of the task, but difficulty of the task is determined based on the PC’s skill level.

  • Standard proficiency slots per class + Intelligence bonus determine Skill Slots available to acquire or improve new skills.
  • A specific skill provides a base 10 target number +/- a skill modifier, representing the intrinsic difficulty or simplicity of that particular skill (e.g., Alchemy, based on Intelligence, has a -3 target number penalty, i.e., a base target number of 7).
  • The ability score associated with the particular skill modifies the target number:
Ability score modifier
12 +1
13 +1
14 +1
15 +2
16 +2
17 +3
18 +3
  • Non-Fighters have a -1 penalty on STRENGTH proficiencies, and a +2 max bonus on CONSTITUTION skills (aligning Strength checks more closely to the ability tables).
  • Learning a skill that mimics a class skill from another class incurs an additional -6 target number penalty.
  • Multi-class characters start with a number of skills equal to the total proficiency slots from both classes, and earn new skill slots at the proficiency rate of the fastest class.
    • Specializing in a skill (using an additional slot) improves the base target number by 3 (journeyman).
    • Double specializing (spending two additional slots) will improve the skill target number by an additional 2 (master). Further specialization will improve the skill target by 1 for each additional point spent.
  • Each level the PC gains 1 additional point to improve/increase one previously-selected skill’s target number of their choice by 1 point (multi-class characters get 1 each time they reach a new highest level).
    • The player must choose which skill will be modified upon gaining the new level.
    • Unlike gaining new slots, the experience modifier may not be saved from level to level. If they are not assigned, they are lost.
    • The player may select any of the character’s previously-selected skills to improve. The only restriction on this choice is that a newly-acquired skill cannot be chosen.
    • The skill target number is then modified further by the associated ability score.
  • Attempts can be made against an unlearned skill, with base target number of 0.
  • When two characters with the same skill work together on the same task, use the score of the player with the best skill (the one with the greatest chance of success). Furthermore, a minimum of +1 bonus is added for the other character’s assistance (+1 for each additional point they have added to the skill). The bonus can never be from more than 1 PC; too many assistants are sometimes worse than having none.
  • To determine success, Roll d20 <= the modified target number based on the difficulty of the particular task for someone who knows the skill:
Modifier to Target number
Easy +5
Average 0
Hard -5
Very hard -10
Nearly impossible -15
  • Always fail on a 20. Success on a 1 is not guaranteed.
  • When there are opposed skill checks, use the delta of success to determine success.
  • Where applicable, acquiring a skill conveys the initial expectation of apprentice-level ability, not mastery. In other words, determine the difficulty as if the PC was an apprentice, not a master. If the PC has spent 2 proficiency slots, then determine difficulty as if the PC were a journeyman, and 3 (or more) slots as if they were a master.


Buying a non-class skill costs 1 more slot. Class skills are a combination of DRMG 225 and 2e, leaning towards permissive.

F Fighter Paladins are also Clerics, Rangers are also Magic Users, Barbarians are also Thieves
M Magic User  
C Cleric Druids are also Fighters
T Thief  
B Bard  
K Monk Monks are also Thieves

*I apply this only to skills that replicate class-like abilities.


TSR 2018, Oriental Adventures [1e], 1985.
TSR 2019, Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide [1e], 1986.
TSR 2020, Wilderness Survival Guide [1e], 1986.
Dragon Magazine, Issue 224, “Back in the Saddle (Again) January 1996.