After establishing what type of character a player wants to be (race and character class) and rolling up their six essential characteristics (strength, dexterity, charisma, wisdom, intelligence, and constitution) they now need to settle on what skills they might possess. Game Masters will have different approaches of course, but there are some limitations that are built in to the structure of the game. Skills are divided into two categories: weapon proficiencies and non-weapon proficiencies. Weapon proficiencies are self-explanatory and will be discussed in depth at a later time. The main focus of this post is on non-weapon proficiencies.
In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition there are essentially two different ways to determine what non-weapon skills a player character might have. The first and least cumbersome is to let a player choose a secondary skill or roll for it randomly. Secondary skills are broadly descriptive groups that contain a myriad of lesser abilities one might know in order to carry out the overall skill. A hunter for instance would know tracking and trapping, and perhaps arguably related to this cooking and camping. Being that they are so broadly defined it opens the door to hassles later on as players might try and get more from the Game Master than the balance of the game can handle. It also doesn’t allow for further development in any meaningful way. They start out as a hunter, and stay a hunter.
The second method is the non-weapon proficiency point method is the second way to figure out what a character might know. This takes a lot more time to sort out initially, but it allows a player to add to their skillset as they advance in levels. Every few levels (depending on character class) the player will be awarded another point to spend on these non-weapon abilities. A player that spends a lot of time in a wilderness setting might have originally developed themselves to be more suited to an urban setting. But their time outside of cities and towns has given them an affinity for outdoor life, so they take up fishing as a skill. Every character can this way end up with a bewildering array of abilities that make them far more useful in a campaign that demands more and more from players as they make their way through and modify a complex storyline.
In the game I run we use both methods. A player selects a secondary skill to reflect the sort of thing they might have been trained to do as a profession before they opted to leap into adventuring. Non-weapon proficiencies are meant to expand these skills, not duplicate them (a person with a secondary skill of hunter wouldn’t want to take the non-weapon proficiencies of tracking and trapping because that is just redundant). In addition to this, I lump all proficiency points together and let the players draw from this when assigning weapon and non-weapon skills. This allows a player to create a truly interesting character based on what they want that character to be able to do. A warrior might decide to just keep their secondary skill as their sole source of non-combat related abilities, and use all of his proficiency points to master weapons and fighting styles. While the undisputed master of any fight, this player wouldn’t know diddly-squat about anything not related to fighting save for the bits of information they have tucked away about earlier training in that secondary skill. Alternatively, a wizard might opt to not take any weapon proficiencies because their combat skills suck so much anyway and instead learn everything they can about non-weapon proficiencies. They can’t figure out how a dagger works, but they are accomplished in engineering, languages, sewing, cartography, and even candle making. The possibilities are endless.
The short take on this is that Game Masters and players have to cooperate closely in setting up characters in order to insure that the player has a good time with the role they are taking on and that the storyline itself doesn’t fall out of whack. It is a careful balancing act and only through thoughtful give and take can everyone enjoy a hassle-free D&D experience.