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Epic Baking: Profession and Other “Useless” Skills

Today’s guest article was written by Adam Meyers [1], president of Drop Dead Studios. DDS will shortly be coming out with a Pathfinder supplement called Rogue Glory. Adam’s previous guest article here was D&D, Social Skills, and the Zen of Roleplaying Games [2]. Thanks, Adam!

For the most part, players love options. As RPGs have advanced, there are some that do their best to give players every possible option for creating their characters. So many, in fact, that some options are hardly ever used. I’m a D&D and Pathfinder guy myself, so for me the examples that jump to mind first are skills like Handle Animal, Profession, and Craft.

4th Edition famously decided skills had gone too far and cut these options out. Pathfinder has continued the tradition of these skills, but I rarely find a player who takes them, except as a conscious decision to add “fluff” to their characters (the one exception being Profession: Sailor in aquatic games.)

Today, however, I’d like to stand up for these skills and character choices. If used correctly, these skills can go a long way towards making your character unique and helpful, and not in a “fluffy” kind of way. In fact, they can be complete game-changers if used right.

While I’ve used D&D skills as the baseline in this article, my advice isn’t limited to D&D. Just substitute your chosen game’s versions of these skills and you’ll be all set.

Like all aspect of the game, these skills will fly or fail depending on how the players, GM, and campaign implement them.

The Players

Many players refuse to take these “fluff” skills because they fear they’ll never be used. Why waste skill points on Profession: (Botany) when you could take Perception? But the problem with that sort of thinking is it places all the blame on the GM when you’re the one making the character. I know we all don’t want to become THAT guy: the bard who stops at every inn to get use out of his Perform skill while the rest of the party sits and watches. But there are other, less annoying ways to use these skills.

1. Pick a profession you can use on the road. For example, take Profession (Brewer), get a wagon and some brewing equipment, and suddenly you’re making your profession check every time you travel. Not only do you get a nice, steady source of income, but you’d be surprised how many situations can be solved by getting people drunk and starting alcohol fires.

2. Planning on using followers? Craft Weapon, Craft Armor, and a few silver coins a day to pay for assistants, and suddenly you’re equipping your 40+ men for half the cost. That’s quite a lot of money when you’re building an army.

3. Use Handle Animal in place of an animal companion. It has the benefit of not limiting you in type or number of animals and doesn’t penalize you for their death. Need to disarm some traps? Send a herd of sheep through the area. Need to distract a crowd? Trained mice will do the trick, and trained monkeys might even steal some jewelery for you. Yes you have to raise it from childhood, but who’s going to mess with you when you’ve got a pet T-Rex?

4. If you’re planning on outdoor combat, Profession (Driver) can be a lot of fun. If someone takes Craft (Seige Weapons) or Craft (Wagons) and builds you a nice armored vehicle, you can drive your party in circles and shoot arrows and spells at your enemies while always remaining out of melee range.

5. Take Craft (Siege Weapons) and Profession (Builder). Get them up high enough and whenever you have a day to prepare either to attack or defend, you can chop down a few trees and make yourself defences and a catapult to help yourself out.

Because these skills are so loosely defined, there are all sorts of creative ways you can change up the game just by taking them. Killing the enemy with a sword is memorable. Impersonating his servant with a Profession (Butler) check and poisoning his drink is priceless…

The GM

There’s a concept in storytelling that applies to RPGs as well called Chekov’s gun. It’s the idea that if you want to shoot someone in Act 3, you have to hang the gun on the mantlepiece in Act 1, and if you hang a gun on the mantlepiece in Act 1, then you should probably shoot someone in Act 3.

What this means for GMs is if your players take an obscure skill, you should build them encounters that use it.

I knew a guy who once gave a character Knowledge: (Famous Bigots). It was a joke on his part, a fluffy waste of skill he never thought he’d use. Imagine his surprise when the GM started introducing racist antagonists and began asking him to make famous bigot checks.

Many people won’t take a class with trapfinding unless they believe there will be traps, and if they take trapfinding it’s because they hope to use it sometime. Likewise, many players won’t bother with a wide variety of skills unless you give them a chance to use them.

Did someone take Profession (Cook)? Maybe the castle they’re infiltrating is in need of a chef. They could pay the bandits at the toll bridge, or if they have a PC with Craft (Boats), make a raft and avoid them altogether. Few things make a player feel special like getting to use that skill only he possesses. Heck, maybe the hook that gets them started on that inter-planar adventure you were working on was just someone was in need of a carpenter.

The Campaign

Since deciding to write this article, I’ve thought about how you could base a campaign around little-used skills. As long as the players understand the premise beforehand, I can see a lot of fun coming out of these concepts:

1. Instead of simply guarding a caravan, the PCs will RUN a caravan. They still travel around rescuing innocents, clearing dungeons, and the like, but a large part of their income will be made by trading and carrying goods. The PCs must hire experts or take the proper profession skills in order to care for the animals, repair the wagons, drive through rough terrain, or sell goods at a profit. All that travel time will likewise be great for crafting items to sell in town.

2. The PCs are all in the military, or will eventually gain control of their own private army. Profession (soldier) checks will be used frequently to train new recruits, keep order in camp, and to determine rank and promotion.

3. In a game featuring lots of caves and underground locations, Profession (Miner) checks can be used to dig through soft spots in rock walls, clear cave-ins, and extract rare metals from the stone.

4. In a game that features lots of infiltration and spying on nobles and merchants, players with skills such as Profession (Cook), Profession (Butler) and Profession (Tailor) will find themselves getting into places the average PC will not. Provided they can perform the office well enough to get hired, of course.

Based on all of the above, I hope you can see the potential in these often-overlooked skills. With players, GM, and campaign all on the same page, they can be a lot of fun for everyone involved.

9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Epic Baking: Profession and Other “Useless” Skills"

#1 Comment By Riklurt On May 8, 2012 @ 4:23 am

Great article! I’ve certainly seen obscure skills come in handy before, but it’s a good idea to try to actively work them into the story, as you say. This is easy with many skills (Climb, Swim, etc) and really, a lot of “fluff” skills wouldn’t be terribly hard to incorporate, now that you’ve pointed out some examples.

#2 Comment By Keianna On May 8, 2012 @ 6:00 am

I had a monk once who had a point of perform (flute), and even I forget why. But the guards on this bridge who were supposed to keep people like us from crossing forgot about that when they saw the pretty girl with a flute.

#3 Comment By A. Miles Davis On May 8, 2012 @ 7:24 am

I’m currently playing my favorite dwarf in a game. He has Profession(Chef), despite being a fighter/barbarian. Mostly because his life goal is to find the perfect food (by killing and eating one of everything).

#4 Comment By Rickard Elimää On May 8, 2012 @ 7:31 am

One thing many GM’s don’t notice is the difference between achievement skills and actor skills. The first brings you forward in the adventure and the second one shows your personality. Go through the character sheets and take notes on the ones that are typical to show the personality.

There are many kinds of rewards in roleplaying games, but the biggest one, shading all the rest, is »achievement rewards« like XP, gp, loot etc.. Things that make your character better and ease up your travel through the adventure.

Another reward are new relationships. It could be a love affair, a profession or just a group of people knowing the same stuff (like … a roleplaying community). You see where I’m going, right? These kinds of rewards are »acting rewards«. Don’t roll for Profession (cooking) to overcome a problem. No, instead you know a lot of people who can help you on your way. You always have a knack of tying connections to people where ever your go.

There is a third kind of reward, not really noticeable. The »appreciation reward«. Whenever the player do something, the GM should always try to reconnect to that so the player knows that what he does matter. It could be simple things like “Nice done”, “cool” or other comments. Or … it could be by showing what happens in the adventure. If a player picks a rare skill, show the occurrence of that skill over and over and over again in the world. If a player has Profession (Tailor), you can start to describe how perfect the stitches are on a nobel’s clothes, how they sell clothes on the market, how a tailor taking measurements on a rich merchant that they are meeting or people talking about a certain tailor known for it’s keen eye in fashion.

Let the (acting) skills that the players pick colour the world.

#5 Comment By Knight of Roses On May 8, 2012 @ 10:47 am

Sometime it is knowledge skills that perform the same role. I ran a religious scholar for whom I took the Endurance feat so that he could study through the night.

But Rickard Elimää has the right of it, the choices a player makes for a character can tell you a lot about where they want to see the game go.

#6 Comment By Necrognomicon On May 9, 2012 @ 1:14 am

I’ve had a number of GMs who have given free Profession skills at character generation, representing the characters’ previous livelihoods. From there it’s up to the player to continue to pursue or utilize their Profession, but it tends to result in more colorful characters from the more tactically-minded players who wouldn’t normally allocate points in those types of skills, and color-loving players aren’t penalized for it.

My current group loves us our Professions and Flaws, so much so that it influences our cohorts and followers (we employ more kitchen staff than we do sellswords).

My character in our CSIO rogue campaign is a Half-Giant enforcer for the Thieves’ Guild. Profession (Butcher) provides a great cover as it has established a precedent for her walking around the city covered in blood, and she definitely has the skills and means to dispose of a body…

#7 Comment By Loonook On May 9, 2012 @ 3:03 am

I do have to agree that skills are horribly fun to play with… And that Profession checks for the sake of checks really don’t make for good gaming in my personal opinion. Some of your ideas here were great; sadly, I was prevented from posting on this until I fixed up a few things on my PC. I may have missed the rush but I had two questions:

1.) What are your opinions on the Craft vs. Profession debate? Do you personally provide synergies between associated skills?

2.) How do you prevent Chekov’s Guns from becoming Chekov’s Armories?

a.) Do you allow for Profession (Butler) to help with subterfuge do you also make the character do additional checks such as Bluff, Disguise, etc?

b.) On Profession (Siege Engineer) allowing your characters to produce palisades… What time frame are you basing your limits on building siege equipment and structures on?

Just a few questions I had while making my tired way about.



#8 Comment By BryanB On May 9, 2012 @ 10:19 am

Better to have the skill and not need it than to need it and not have it.

This came to mind when I recall a second edition campaign involving a shipwreck in uncharted seas. I think people were happy that some non-weapon proficiencies like hunting, survival, and cooking had been selected amongst the PCs.

In fact, I can recall the GM allowing everyone to take one free NWP which was supposed to be spent on some type of “useless” skill.

These types of skills are great to have in post-apocalyptic games too. :)

#9 Comment By Svafa On May 10, 2012 @ 12:02 pm

[3] – Some good questions. My thoughts in response would be:

1. I try to provide synergies where I can, though I prefer giving circumstantial bonuses to specific situations rather than generic bonuses all the time.

2. I don’t see an issue with Chekov’s Armouries. I usually end up providing them for the players myself, so player contributions wouldn’t be a problem. That being said, it shouldn’t be a single character responsible.

a. Profession (Butler) would help with being a butler and nothing more. If they take the time to go through the process of being hired a butler, then it might not require any other skills. On the other hand, if they’re trying to infiltrate a party/faction/base at the last minute, it will definitely involve some disguise and bluff checks, but their butlering skill may help.

#10 Pingback By Ravenous Role Playing » Blog Archive » Friday Five: 2012-05-11 On May 11, 2012 @ 4:34 pm

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