Home > Mechanics > Mechanics: Skills and Power Sources

Mechanics: Skills and Power Sources

I really like the design of Fourth Edition – it’s elegant, and intuitive, despite its lack of flexibility in some areas, but every so often that lack of flexibility makes things a bit awkward.

Take skills for example – Unlike 3.5, the knowledge skills are straightforward and each one corresponds to one of the power sources:

  • History is Martial
  • Arcana is Arcane
  • Nature is Primal
  • Religion is Divine
  • Arcana is Psionics


The addition of Psionics in PHB3 broke the system, and so even though Psionics and Arcana aren’t the same thing, they share the same skill. So Wizards understand the theory behind psionics, but druids and clerics don’t. Conversely, psions understand the principles behind Arcane magic which makes little sense. And then they added Shadow magic and that’s something else entirely with no real skill analogue.

So what if we want to add a Psionics skill to Arcanauts?

We’ve got plenty of players, so there’s skill overlap, which means it’s in our interest to give people diverse roles to play. So to that end, it needs to have a distinct use, but have support in terms of feats. The most simple way is to reskin Arcana for psychic characters, but that would preclude arcane knowledge, so that doesn’t work.

We need a new skill.

When I designed Astronomy, I had similar concerns, opting to replace an existing (but less useful) skill. However, what we can do is parent it to another skill. Before I go any further I know characters have been created, so if we go ahead with these rules, I’ll allow a free switch to keep characters builds constant.

To start with the new skills need to be parented to similarly functioning skills. This means that feats applying to the parent skill can be applied to the child skill with minimal reskinning, and any class that gets the parent skill gets the child skill. Functionally, this means parenting Psionics to Arcana, because feats boosting Psionics are based on Arcana.

So mechanically you could train in Arcana or Psionics, or both, and anything that requires Arcana training could also be gained through psionic training. Feats that are specific to arcane magic won’t be taken by psionics, so that seems like a simple solution.

But should Psionics be INT? The classes in PHB3 use CHA, CON, DEX and INT for their attacks, which doesn’t tie it functionally down to any given skill. Psionics to me seem like they should be based on willpower, which keys off WIS or CHA, whichever is highest, so those are certainly possibilities if any INT requirements for psionic feats are adjusted to the new skill.

(This is something I love about 13th Age – backgrounds are extremely flexible, and can key off any ability. Why don’t I marry if if I love it so much you ask? MAYBE I ALREADY DID.)

Looking at the skill balance, there’s already a tonne of WIS skills, but only one Knowledge skill is CHA. The downside is that while our Psion’s CHA is pretty decent, so he’s losing one point to his check, and his abilities key off INT, so it loses that inherent synergy. But flavour wise it works best as a willpower skill, so I like the idea of using CHA from a flavour perspective.

What about Astronomy?

If we can add a child skill to an existing skill, we don’t have to get rid of Dungeoneering, and because each class that gets dungeoneering has the potential to get Astronomy, every class who has it now can retain it.

We can do the same thing with Astronomy, meaning we either get Astronomy (WIS) as a child skill, or we reassign it a new ability that’s more flavourful.

And that ability should be INT. Because from the perspective of a land-bound creature, nothing about astronomy is intuitive – it’s all hard science. You can learn about nature by spending time in it, but for much of Earth’s history, we had no clue about Astronomy.

What does it all mean?

  • Arcana (INT)
    • Psionics (CHA)
  • Dungeoneering (WIS)
    • Astronomy (INT)

What do you think? Is keying them off different abilities for flavour reasons too much? Or is the fact you have to pick between training in one or the other too limiting?

Let me know in the comments.

Categories: Mechanics
  1. Ranneko
    October 7, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    I don’t mind the idea, it barely affects Lachlan anyway. He ends up better at Astronomy. I thought the Dungeoneering/Astronomy swap was pretty neat just because Dungeoneering is not likely to be used in Arcanauts.

  2. aldowyn
    October 8, 2012 at 11:34 am

    One selfish question: Is psionics going to be roughly as common as arcane magic? Because if it isn’t then that’s essentially a downgrade in my utility. I can definitely understand the reason for the change, though, and it’ll prevent any weapons races for arcana skill between me and krellen (he’d win anyway) Also it makes no sense for my potential psionics to be lower than my potential arcana – the skill represents the study of the magic, so int still makes sense (to me)

    As far as the ability associated with psionics… I wish to note that telekinetic psions (which I nominally am) use wis as the secondary score, while telepathic psions use cha. I’m planning on using some of both, which is why my wis and cha are both pretty high.

    Lore-wise, telepathy is mind-manipulation, so charisma is obvious there, and telekinesis is matter-manipulation, which takes an inherent understanding of the world – wisdom (although int is the primary skill in both cases).

    So just take all that into account 😀

    • October 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm

      Yeah, Psionics are much more common in this setting than usual – the Faraday Corps are essentially a legion of mostly psionics, and much of the infrastructure of Wyrmweb is psionic in nature.
      I think it’s fair that if your Psionics skill represents study of psionics, then it would be INT.
      Because otherwise psionics use way too many goddamn abilities to key their powers off.

  3. October 8, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Cassie is intended to have grounding in both Arcane and Psionic engineering – given her upbringing on the Wyrmweb, understanding both made sense. It’s also the primary justification for why she understands Deep Speech.

    As far as character build goes, I can roll with the new system – trading training in History for Psionics – but it might be easier to resolve the “conflict” by simply having our knowledges reined in as makes sense by backgrounds. Cassie has no reason to understand how psionics actually work, while still being able to repair and modify psionically-driven power designs masterfully. Likewise, Aladraian shouldn’t really understand esoteric magical theory, at least not as well as he does psionic theory.

    • aldowyn
      October 8, 2012 at 12:46 pm

      So basically every time a reason to use arcana comes up, the one of us that it makes more sense to know it character-wise gets to make the check…I think that might be the better way to do it, because I would probably have arcana lore-wise anyway.

      Oh and Dan, you didn’t mention the criticals on knowledge rolls letting you write canon 😛 That makes this a much more important debate!

      • October 8, 2012 at 12:52 pm

        Mechanically that’s just me giving you say, a -5 to arcane knowledge and Krellen a -5 to Psionic knowledge . If we key Psionics off INT and make it a new skill, but all arcana bonuses (feats etc) also apply to psionics, its the same outcome, but more flavourful.

        With regards to high knowledge rolls I didn’t think that needed a full post.

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