These pages hold the keys to humans who spot secret doors as easily as do elves, thieves who sense illusions, half-ogre sword masters, and a multitude of other unique characters.
PLAYER'S OPTION Rulebooks present an alternative approach to AD&D characters. Custom-craft your next PC, selecting the profession, skills, and abilities you want! Characters can even have additional ability scores such as Stamina, Muscle, Balance, and others. New proficiencies, talents and updated psionics round out the PLAYER'S OPTION character.
Be ready for anything with Skills & Powers!
Player's Option: Skills & Powers (1995), by Douglas Niles & Dale A. Donovan, is the second book in the "Player's Option" series of alternate rules for AD&D 2e. It was released in August 1995.
Continuing AD&D 2.5e. As is described more fully in the history of Player's Options: Combat & Tactics, TSR opted to release a minor revision of AD&D second edition in 1995. Most of the changes were cosmetic, including an updated trade dress, a looser layout, and the removal of the words "second edition" from the AD&D logo.
However, TSR also decided to supplement their updated AD&D rules with a series of "Player's Options" hardcover books, each of which included variant rules for the game. Player's Options: Combat & Tactics (1995) was the first, while Player's Option: Skills & Powers, released just a month later, was the second. Whereas Combat & Tactics offered many variants for AD&D's combat system, Skills & Powers largely focused on a single topic: character creation.
About Point-Based Characters. The idea of point-based RPG characters dates back to at least Melee (1977), the predecessor to The Fantasy Trip (1980). It was popularized by Champions (1981) and has since become a mainstay of the roleplaying industry.
However, even in 1995, the idea still hadn't been officially incorporated into AD&D, which instead focused on random rolls to generate characteristics, linked with rigid class and level structures that didn't give players any room for variance in their characters. The closest that AD&D came to point-based characters was in Unearthed Arcana (1985), which offered some alternative methods for rolling lots of characteristic dice to try and generate a specific character class that the player was seeking. AD&D second edition (1989) similarly provided some methods to let players add extra dice to certain characteristics during character generation.
Skills & Powers dramatically changed this by offering a point-buy system that let players not only purchase characteristic points and proficiencies, but also allowed them to choose which class abilities that they wanted to buy. It allowed considerable variation, and thus players could have characters with "out-of-class" weapons, or even a Conan-esque fighter who could both fight and move silently. Skills & Powers even included traits (advantages) and disadvantages - two notable elements of point-based character systems that help to add detail and depth to characters.
Revolutionary! Skills & Powers' point-based character creation system made it one the most revolutionary D&D books ever. It undercut ideas of class and level to such an extent that it was just a few steps away from becoming a fully skill-based RPG.
The book's revolutionary nature might actually have caused it some problems, for it was largely incompatible with most of the other books released for AD&D second edition: you couldn't use it with the "PHBR" character kits, with various geographic character kits, or with some of TSR's more far-flung settings. Even Player's Option: Spells & Magic (1996) - the next book in the Options series - wasn't compatible with Skills & Powers. It couldn't be, else it too would have been incompatible with much of the 2e line.
Despite this issue, Skills & Powers proved very popular among fans who wanted more control over their characters. It was thus supported by TSR through Dragon magazine, including several "Sage Advice" columns and a series of specific articles, including "Planar Heroes" in Dragon #235 (November 1996), which provided Planescape support; "Heroes of Faith" in Dragon #236 (December 1996), which gave rules for specialty priests; and "Heroes of Cerilia" in Dragon #247 (May 1998), which supported Birthright. "Designer Demesnes" in Dragon #259 (May 1999) pushed the envelope even further by using the system to create kingdoms.
Organizationally Challenged. Unfortunately, all of the revolutionary work in Skills & Powers wasn't necessarily intended to work as a coherent whole. TSR intended the Options books to give lots of choices to players, and they didn't assume they'd all be used together. Unsurprisingly, players wanted to use all the bits of the point-based character creation system.
The character creation rules in Skills & Powers can largely be used as a whole, but it's not entirely obvious how to do so. "Skills & Powers in Eight Easy Steps" in Dragon #225 (January 1996) offers an outline of the process.
Though players may find the slightly disconnected nature of Skills & Powers a bit of an annoyance, it's another credit to the revolutionary nature of the material: Frankly, TSR may not entirely have realized what they were creating, and they were then surprised at how it was used.
The End of Points. To become a truly integrated part of AD&D, Skills & Powers needed to be built into the foundation of a new edition of the game. Unfortunately, when Wizards of the Coast produced D&D 3e (2000), they opted not to use Skills & Powers' most revolutionary ideas - the ones undercutting class and level. Players can buy characteristic in 3e, but that's about it.
About Psionics. Oh, yes - Skills & Powers has a section on psionics, too. Psionics were first introduced in Eldritch Wizardry (1976) for OD&D. Though supported in AD&D first edition, they were initially absent in second edition - until the release of PHBR5: The Complete Psionics Handbook (1991).
Some found the original 2e psionics system too complex, however, so it was revised for use in Skills & Powers and Dark Sun Campaign Setting, Expanded and Revised (1995). The new system was considered faster, easier to use, and more coherent as a whole. The rules are further clarified in Dragon Annual #2 (1997).
Unfortunately, the new rules for psionics and the psionicist don't really fit with the rest of Skills & Powers. In particular, there are no rules for integrating them with the book's point-based characters; for that, Skip Williams offered some suggestions in the "Sage Advice" column in Dragon #231 (July 1996). The article is also available as an RTF at the Wizards of the Coast site.
About the Creators. Donovan primarily worked as an editor prior to the release of Skills & Powers; this was the first of several creative works he'd do for TSR and later Wizards.
Niles on the other hand was a very experienced designer who was increasingly focusing on novels around the time this book launched; Skills & Powers was thus his last major RPG product for a few years.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.