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What are skills and how are they used in GURPS?
Skills are special abilities that your character has learned and can improve on. Your character may try any action he can think of. Usually, there is some skill (or maneuver) corresponding to that action. If not, the GM will determine an appropriate modifier using a current attribute or skill.
A skill check is made by rolling at or under your skill level (after appropriate modifiers).
Example: If you have a broadsword skill of 12, you must roll 12 or less (before modifiers) to succeed.
HINT: Most skills are based on IQ or DX. These groups are called mental and physical skills, respectively. (There are some skills that are based on the other attributes or even other character abilities, but they are the exception to the rule.)
If your character does not have a proficiency in that skill, then each skill falls into one or more of the following categories:
(1) Defaults to an attribute minus a corresponding modifier
(2) Defaults to another skill minus a corresponding modifier
(3) Has no default and cannot be tried. (These are rare skills such as understanding languages, karate, nuclear physics, etc., where some training is necessary)
If there is more than one default, then the default is to the number that will give the character the greatest advantage.
Defaults do not carry any special benefits of skills (such as damage bonuses, dodge bonuses, etc.).
Example: Zee needs to ride a horse but has no "riding" skill. Riding defaults to Animal Handling -3 or DX -5. Let's say that Zee has Animal Handling Skill at 12 and a DX of 13. Zee's effective skill would be a 9 using Animal Handling, 8 using DX. Therefore, 9 becomes the effective skill level for "riding" without the skill. (Note in this case that animal handling is a mental skill, so it is based on IQ, whereas riding is a physical skill based on DX, so because Zee had animal handling, it left the option of using the best of either.)
If a skill defaults only to another skill, then you may not "double" the default.
Example: Explosive Ordnance Disposal defaults to Demolitions -4. Demolitions defaults to IQ-5 or Engineer -3. If you do not have the demolitions skill, you may not try to disable the explosive, even if you have the engineering skill and/or a high IQ.
Keeping this in mind, some skills form the basis of other skills you may want to learn. You can "learn" certain abilities indirectly by learning the default skill.
Example: Broadsword defaults to DX-5 or Shortsword -2. If you have studied shortsword, you already know something about broadsword use. If you have a 13 shortsword skill, then your default broadsword is 11. If you later choose to "learn" the broadsword skill, you begin learning that skill from your highest current default level! You don't have to go back and learn it from DX-5; you can start at 11.
HINT: By the same token, whenever you increase your shortsword skill, you automatically increase the default skill level for any other skill defaulting to shortsword.
(Maneuvers: maneuvers are special moves not broad enough to be considered skills, and they generally correspond directly to a skill, such as certain types of martial arts moves.)
But what if I don't have all the books showing all the skills?
Although the books give many skills to choose from, they are not all necessary. It is doubtful that anyone has all the books! Not having a book (or otherwise having stats) may hurt your ability to know the variety of skill selection choices, but your character may still try anything, and you will develop your character based on what skills you know and understand.
And you may ask if there is a skill out there that would cover something you would like to see your character learn.
If you visit the following websites, they give a listing of some of the most common skills from the various books, although unfortunately not a description: http://homepage.mac.com/bowman/gurps/ads/
The following site appears to give a fairly exhaustive listing: http://www.sjgames.com/gurps/krommlist.html#skill
How do I improve skills?
Character points are used to improve skills.
Skills each have a difficulty level attached. Example: physical/easy; mental/average; physical/hard, etc.).
Use the following chart to determine how many points it will cost to improve your skill level.
HINT: Notice that these increases are based on your related attribute. Increasing your attribute level will have a global effect on improving all related skills!