On Skill Deconstruction: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition

My father, who like all fathers in our later years are wise where once we found them foolish, had this to say about the release of second edition.

"Just because it's new doesn't mean it's better,"

Upon reflection I'd say that pretty much sums up my lifestyle.

Current Analysis

Second edition skills are simple and straightforward. There are three options, in true second edition style.

Using what you know. This option allows your character to know what you know. There is some grade school primer text on what using this option means. ("Some players and DMs enjoy doing this. They think up good answers quickly. This method is perfect for them, and they should use it.") This is all to common in the "Zeb" books.

Secondary skills is another option, providing a suite of abilities - a broad area of expertise. There is about a 15% chance to end up with two sets of secondary skills. After determining the secondary skills the player and the DM are left to work out what to do with this knowledge.

Non-weapon proficiencies are the third option provided. You get a number of slots dependent on class, and select from a list of very specific skill like proficiencies. The base success of the proficiency is dependent on the relevant statistic with a proficiency specific modifier.

I find these following comments particularly insightful given the last 20 years of play.

"Secondly, using this system increases the amount of time needed to create a character. . . Novice players may be overwhelmed by the number of new choices and rules."

Note that they are discussing the time it takes to pick 3 or 4 skills. Once.

What is it we gain by having this skill?

Speaking to the Non-weapon proficiency system, you gain a simply player directed way to give your character a few skills that he will be competent at. Having the target number being equal to the statistic makes your character good at the skill as soon as it is selected. In other respects, since the Dungeon Master can adjust the chance of success, it works similarly to the D20 system with all the positives and negatives that implies.

What do we lose?

Well, at the time, the system was thought almost too complicated for use. There's no way to raise a skill independently of level gain and the skills are somewhat specific and useless at the same time. Also, a critical point is that skill proficiency is tied to your statistics, which leads to slow growth of proficiency at the skill.

Conclusions & Suggestions:

There's a lot to like about this system, not much to track, simple rules, gives some depth to characters - but there are a lot of problems using the system as is. I imagine many Dungeon Masters made quite a few modifications and house rules to the use of these non-weapon proficiencies, not the least of which was a better method for improving proficiency at the skill.


  1. We definitely house-ruled ways to become better at NWPs. The system in the book (select another one to gain +1 to the TN) was just silly.

    I have many, many issues with the way NWPs were handled. But, going into the details probably isn't helpful. I will say, though, that they definitely fell into a "worse of both worlds" niche. Too much complexity and rigidity to be easily hand-waved, not enough to easily build conflicts and encounters around.

    If, heavens forfend, I ever played with 2e again, I would definitely chuck NWPs and go with secondary skills instead. All the benefits of character customization, but none of the fiddly bits.

  2. I found NWPs - which go back to 1e - clunky and fiddly at the same time. My strong perference was for secondary skills, a broad set of implied skills associated with a profession.

  3. We never used NWPs or Secondary Skills, although to be fair I never really played 2E. I skipped over that during my gaming dry-years and went from 1E right to 3E.

    Coincidentally, I just wrote a post about 2nd Edition on my blog as well here.

  4. Just hit this post while randomly lurking your site. My friend and I actually play 2ed. We never moved over from that edition, mainly because of the abundance of official material we had. However, we've always found the NWP system to be pretty good. We simply assume that there are two main branches in the proficiencies:
    - stuff that people without being proficient can do, even if not very well (cooking, swimming..)
    - stuff that people without being proficient can't do (blind fighting, tracking..)
    Starting from this consideration the former were seldom picked, but the latter were something the we really liked to have, since they were like special abilities.
    We also use the character point system presented in the "Skills & Powers", so improving one skill score by 1 only costs 1 CP, and you usually get 3 CP every time you level up, so you have some reasonable chances to improve over time.

  5. I actually wrote an entire post on just how much I dislike skills in my OSR style games. http://swordandscoundrel.blogspot.com/2014/10/i-hate-skills.html

    TL;DR: The best solution we found was basically to just let every character declare a "background." If "Can I do a thing" ever comes up, it was based on the listed background. If it was an easy thing, or a thing that you should know how to do, then you just ..did it. We're heroes, of course your blacksmith can make an axe.

    If it was significant enough to roll, it was the relevant ability score. If it was an exceptionally difficult task, you rolled half your ability score.


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