Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for Jobs

some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them
-Twelfth Night, II.v 

I put on my robe and wizard hat.

What do heroes do before they become heroes? Do they have day jobs after they start? In stories, heroes often come from low beginnings. Rand, from the Wheel of Time and Garion from the Belgariad are both farmers; Kvothe, from the Kingkiller Chronicles is part of a traveling minstrel troop; and Matthias, the mouse from Brian Jacques Redwall series is a sort of acolyte in a monastery. Heroes from the cape and tights set are even more tied to the mundane. While many fantasy adventurers shed their ordinary lives to slay dragons and eat unicorn meat, superheroes continue to operate an ordinary existence on the side.

But what about in D&D? The option of giving a character some job training is there, in the form of knowledge, craft or profession skills. However, many players and GMs balk at these. Nobody wants to roleplay as Billy, the cart boy! Skill points are a rare commodity, especially for certain adventuring classes like fighters and clerics who can only add a base of two skill points per level. It simply isn't practical to put those first skills into "profession (tailor)" when a skill like "spot" will benefit your character much more in their adventuring life.

People may disagree, but I honestly feel like something is lost under this system. Maybe I'm just not a min/maxer, but I find myself drawn to characters with a working history. I have always wanted to play a sailor turned roguish vagabond, a blacksmith turned warrior, or a scribe turned wizard. When I am in front of the screen, I try to give my characters elements of these backstories, but often forego the corresponding skills in favor of those more practical to the esoteric life of a professional adventurer.

Perhaps there is a way to foster and encourage players who like to flesh out backstories and dabble in the less traditionally adventurous side of roleplaying. One of my players, for instance loves to have his monk cook meals for the rest of the characters. Does it directly factor into their plot arc? Not yet, but that's just because I haven't been able to work in an iron chef competition yet. But, I digress... encouragement! Yes! I suggest offering one or two bonus skill points added to a couple of skills if a player gives their character an "employment history" upon character creation. A couple of points in profession (clockmaker) might add a tantalizing twist to a trapsmithing rogue, and the son of a shipwright might be a strong swimmer, or handy with checks involving woodworking (spiking shut dungeon doors?)

What do you think? Does playing up the humble beginnings of a character distract from the great deeds that are afoot? Or does it perhaps encourage a more creative approach to the adventure? "The nimble tailor deftly swipes the seam on the tapestry, dropping it down on the orcs below."


  1. I love this idea!!! I wonder if there is some way to provide "profession points" and "skill points" every level and have two somewhat separate skill lists...That would certainly encourage PCs to invest in growing their non-adventuring skill set without the penalty of making their Spot or Search checks crappy.

  2. I totally agree, and I've always taken issue with this.

    A house rule I think I will implement is that players can take, upon rolling their character, some extra amount of non-combat, non-adventuring skill points, like various Knowledge or Profession skills. I'd love to see someone use it for something like "Profession (Cooking)" or "Knowledge (Construction)"

  3. I think I lean more toward Dan's way of doing things. A one-time boost upon character creation. If players want to continue to expand their characters' non-adventuring skills after the fact, that's fine, but the way skills work while leveling is that it represents stuff learned while adventuring. I think adding a flat +3 or +4 to a couple "background skills" might be a good way to approach it. It's about equivalent to the skill points assigned to NPCs at each level, and the first level of an NPC class doesn't count towards their challenge rating.

  4. I am not a player but a writer but backstory fleshes out the contours of a character, helps define and refine the skill base and carve out the most likely action/reaction options. The real key, and this is fun to think about, is how those softer skills provide actual assets to the improvement of the harder skills. Can cooking strengthen the sense of smell so they can sense and distinguish people from other away, does it increase the ability manage hot things. The possibilities are there.


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