Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about skill ranks and whether or not there are enough of them.
First, the article’s title is not a slam on Paizo. It is a pun on Sleepless in Seattle. I love Paizo. They… complete me. #CreepyEP
So on that note, skill ranks!
What are Skill Ranks?
I’m hoping that most of my readers know what skill ranks are, but just in case they don’t here’s a very brief summary. Each time your character gains a level, you gain a number of skill ranks that represents your character’s overall training in a specific area of study. That study might be Acrobatics. It might be searching for stuff. It might even be a profession.
Your skill ranks per level are determined by your class. The low-skill classes give you 2 skill ranks per level while the high-skill class (rogues only, fools!) gives you 8 skill ranks per level. Classes always give you an even number of skill points, so you’ll see 2, 4, 6, and 8 as your variables. Likewise, you always add your Intelligence modifier to the number of skill ranks you earn at a given level and you can select a favored class bonus that adds an additional +1 skill rank per level when you earn a new level in your favored class.
Are Skill Ranks Hard to Get?
This is sort of the one million gp question, isn’t it? Are skill ranks hard to get? Well, let’s compare them to the different ways to earn hit points.
- Hit Die: Hit Dice scale differently from skill points. Each level you roll a die and gain hit points based on your result. The dice range in size from d6 to d12 (barbarians only, fools!). This means the low-hit point class can earn up to 6 hit points per level (for an average of 3.5) while the high-hit point class can earn up to 12 hit points per level (for an average of 6.5). Additionally, characters add their Constitution modifier to the number of hit points they receive at each level.
- Favored Class Bonus: As with skill points, you can select 1 extra hit point per level in your favored class as your favored class bonus.
- Toughness: Before 3rd level, Toughness amounts to 3 extra hit points. Beyond 3rd level, Toughness is worth 1 extra hit point per level, or a +2 to Constitution.
Now, looking at those three ways to earn hit points, the first thing that becomes clear when we compare them to the ways to earn skill points is that there is no feat that allows you to earn extra skill points. The Pathfinder Designers have said that this is due to the simple fact that such a feat would be an incredibly weak option. But would it, really? I’m not sure if I believe that myself, as Weapon Focus amounts to a situational +2 to Strength or Dexterity. That said, Weapon Specialization amounts to a situational +4 to Strength and Iron Will, Lightning Reflexes, and Great Fortitude amount to a situational +4 to Wisdom, Dexterity, and Great Fortitude, respectively. Improved Initiative amounts to a whooping +8 to Dexterity!
“Wha… wait?!” you ask. “How do those feats equate to such monstrous ability score increases?” Well, I’m glad you stopped me to ask. It is quite simple: a +2 to an ability score equals a +1 to an ability modifier. So, for example, if you wanted to earn 1 extra hit point per level, you would need to increase your Constitution score by +2 in order to improve your Constitution modifier by +1, granting you oodles of extra hit points. So as you can see, feats aren’t exactly consistent with their effective ability score bonuses, but one thing that is absolutely certain is that the more general the bonus, the smaller the bonus is. This makes it fairly difficult to perfect whether a feat that gave extra skill points would be too weak or not. But the fact of the matter is that even if it was a poor option, the feat should exist just so it is an option that players could take if they wanted to.
Hit Dice vs. Ranks per Level
So, if it is impossible to tell whether a “Skilled” feat would be a fair addition to the game or not and the favored class options effectively acting identically, that leaves one last place to compare: how skill points and hit points are granted per level. This one is interesting because while skill points are static, there are effectively three extremes that we can look at for hit points: All Min, All Max, and PFS.
- All Min: If you rolled all 1s for hit points at 2nd level and every level afterwards, I feel badly for you. A low-hp class would have 25 hit points while a high-hp class would have 31 hit points. Hardly a difference.
- All Max: Surprisingly, the rules can allow this to happen via retraining. You can pay a hefty some of gold to get more hit points, up to the maximum allowed by your hit dice. This emphasizes the difference between classes: the wizards will have 120 hit points (6 x 20) while the barbarians will have 240 (12 x 20). But this does illustrate that the highest- hp class has twice as many as the lowest-hp class at 20th level if everything is maximized.
- PFS: In Pathfinder society, you get your max hit points at 1st level and average hit points every level thereafter. So for low-hp classes, you start with 6 hit points and add 4 hit points every level thereafter (3.5 rounded up), for a total of 82 hit points (6 + [19 levels x 4 hp]). High-hp classes allow you to start with 12 hit points and add 7 hit points every level thereafter, for a total of 145 (12 + [7 x 19]). As you can see, the difference isn’t “double” under Pathfinder Society rules, but its only about 15 hit points from being so.
With this information in mind, let’s look at skill ranks. Luckily, skill ranks are static so I only have one line of text to look at.
- Low-skill classes get 2 points per level, over 20 levels. This grants them a total of 40 skill points. High-skill classes get 8 skill points per level, over 20 levels. This grants them 160 skill points.
WOW. Isn’t that a fairly large difference? With hit points, the largest gap we saw was 1:2 ratio. But the rogue (captain of skill points) a 1:3 ratio on skill ranks compared to other classes. And as I’ve mentioned in other articles, this is actually an IMPROVEMENT compared to 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons, where you had to pay double skill ranks in order to earn a rank in a cross-class skill.
Evening the Score
Well, what’s the best way to even the playing field between skill classes. Honestly, just make skill ranks scale like hit dice in the following manner:
- Poor: 6 ranks + Int (Fighter, Wizard, etc.)
- Medium: 8 ranks + Int (Barbarian, Druid, etc.)
- Good: 10 ranks + Int (Bard, Ranger, etc.)
- Great: 12 ranks + Int (Rogues.)
Essentially, you add 4 extra skill points to every class at each level. The rogue keeps her dominance (and even makes up a bit for the dominance she lost in the switch from 3.5 to Pathfinder) while the cleric, fighter, and the other skill-less haps get a LOT of love and support from this chance.
Why Increase Skill Ranks?
One of the common aspects of skill-based play (which I’ve got on my schedule to talk about on October 8th) is that unless you’re in one of those currently 6 + Int classes, you don’t really get to contribute much to skill-based play because most characters simply don’t have enough skill points to branch out and be effective in multiple areas. By increasing the number of skill points each character receives, you get the following benefits:
- When Pathfinder introduced the traits system, specifically traits’ ability to customize a character’s skill list, they did so in order to give characters a better ability to control what their character is good at. Increasing skill ranks goes along those same lines: you increase the number of areas that your PCs can be strong in.
- One of the common complaints of the skill system is that skill challenges is a “one man’s game” because most require once person to disarm the trap or cross the ledge, or scale the cliff or whatnot. Skill challenges need to be designed like this because the game is so heavily skewered on availability of skills. The above proposal drastically improves the ratio between the highest and lowest classes. When the fighter gets 2 skill points and the rogue gets 8, the ration is 1:4. When the fighter gets 6 skill points and the rogue gets 12, the ratio is 1:2. The rogue inequitably has more, but the rogue does not stomp the fighter into the dust.
- Skill challenges don’t really exist in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. If we look at combat as a model, the CR mechanic grants experience when you take risks in order to overcome a challenge. For combat, this means fighting enemies and expending limited-use abilities and loosing hit points in the process. Taking this model, you sometimes see environmental hazards (like slippery ledges or avalanches) that can be overcome by skill checks. Traps are the most common type of skill-based challenge, though. And yet, the game doesn’t do much with skill challenges because skills are so limited. Just like combat isn’t much fun if only one player can fight, skill challenges aren’t fun if only one player can contribute. Boosting the number of skill points that characters receive means that you can count on more characters being able to do more, meaning the game can start to do more with skill challenges because more people can contribute.
Woe is the Rogue
Now, it is worth noting that boosting skill points does require that the rogue gives up some of her stranglehold over the skill points department. But in some sense, hasn’t she already? Investigators and Alchemists are designed to heavily favor Intelligence, so even though they only get 6 skill ranks per level, their Intelligence bonus is often going to be much better than the rogue’s, so they will often have more skill ranks. The same can be said for the bard, who can double up on skill ranks using her versatile performance class feature. The truth is that the rogue doesn’t have a stranglehold over skills and if we open up skills to more characters, then we make more room to improve the rogue in other aspects of play. Specifically in Pathfinder unchained.
And that’s all I have to say about the benefits of adding more skill points to the game. Obviously I don’t think that classes receive enough skill points. What do you think? Do classes get enough skill points? Tell me about it in the comments! Leave your answers and anecdotes below and I’ll see you next week for another gibbering article! Toodles!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune hunter, and his favorite tactic is solo tactics. Lone wolf hunter. Rawr.
I think… that if Paizo wants the Rogue to be the kind of skills, he needs to be able to get more out of them than any other class. Maybe even something as simple as being able to select a number of skills equal to double his intelligence modifier, and the Rogue can add half-her level to those skills. So a Rogue with Int 14 can select 4 skills, like Acrobatics, Bluff, Diplomacy and Perception, and she adds half her level to those skills.
Either that or the Rogue needs to be able to make skill checks to do incredible things others can’t. Like make make an acrobatics check to be able to charge through allies and difficult terrain, or a climb/swim check to gain a climb/swim speed, or even something like a bluff check followed by a diplomacy check to implant something like a suggestion spell in an enemy (think sleeper agents).
Sense Motive to gain impressions of actions an enemy might make (Snake Style represents this fairly well), like gain a +1 bonus to AC, CMD, Attacks or Saves against the target and another +1 for every 5 by which they beat the DC of the enemy. Intimidate checks to release an actual Aura of Fear.
Places I would look for inspiration for what a Rogue should be able to do with skills is stage or street magic. A movie like Now You See Me has some great examples, like when the kid listens to an agent talk for a few seconds, and can then perfectly mimic his voice. Another great example of skilled people is the mini-series Deception with Keith Barry (watch the second episode here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm0yixBY1y0). This guy would be using a combination of something like bluff, diplomacy, perception and sense motive to do what he does.
Anyway, just my thoughts on the matter.
I agree with you to an extent. For example, it certainly feels like the bard gets more out of, say, the Perform skills. I would love to see the rogue get a sort of synergy mechanic like versatile performance.
And yes, for a skill-oriented class it is strange that rogue talents don’t interact with skills except in the safest of ways (small bonuses, bonus rerolls, etc.). I am hoping that the announcement that Unchained will be rewriting all of the existing rogue talents in the Core Rulebook line will give the designers the space they need to really iterate on what a rogue talent should be able to do.
You didn’t mention the Skill Focus feat. I’d argue that it’s similar to Toughness in that it gives a +3 bonus when first taken, although it doesn’t continue to benefit at higher levels, only giving an additional +3 after investing 10 ranks to the skill. It is, however, better than nothing.
For me, this skills inequality makes dipping a level (or two) of rogue a tempting option for many characters, because it gives a nice burst of skill ranks, plus the sneak attack damage, but won’t necessarily detract from the primary character concept (other than giving up a level of advancement.)
Skill Focus is most certainly not similar to Toughness. Skill Focus has a very different role from a Toughness-style skill rank feat. For one, Skill Focus doesn’t allow you to better diversify your range of skills the way that an extra skill rank per level would. Second, Skill Focus can actually bump your bonus higher than it would have otherwise been, which an extra skill rank per level also could not do. A skill rank version of Toughness would improve diversity in skill selection, not one’s ability to specialize in a given skill.
The problem with dipping levels for skill ranks is that the “boost” is a drop of water in a bucket. If a 20-level fighter would have 40 skill ranks + Int, then a fighter 18 / rogue 2 would have 52 skill ranks + Int. That’s hardly an improvement, and not enough to have a competitive bonus by end game (the conservative End Game DC is about DC 35). So even though I am a huge fan of multiclassing, I think that this is a problem that multiclassing doesn’t solve.
All the skills are nice but to be quite frank, as you keep leveling up, some skills become less relevant to some classes. Acrobatics for example is nice in low level but at mid level, when all the spellcasters can fly, it is fairly less interesting for them. Perception ends up always being the most useful skill, as knowledge skills vary a lot depending on the dm running a campaign. If it is a theme specific campaign usually one guy with the theme appropriate knowledge is more than enough.
Some skills do become less useful, you’re right. The skills that generally become less useful as you level up are Appraise, Climb, Swim, Fly, Ride, and Handle Animal while Use Magic Device usually caps out when you get a +19 or a +20 bonus to your skill check. The reason is that the skills I’ve mentioned don’t have scaling DCs attached to them, rather they have circumstantial penalties. For example, a high Fly bonus only ever matters if you’re flying in hurricane force winds (a –15 penalty) while swimming in a whirlpool has a static DC of 20.
Acrobatics is a poor example of an uninteresting skill because not all enemies can (or will) be able to fly, and Acrobatic’s DC increases when used to tumble because it is opposed by a creature’s ever-increasing CMD. As a general rule, the skills that remain useful are typically opposed by another skill check or a scaling statistic (such as Acrobatics or Stealth) or provide additional benefits for an increasingly successful result (such as Intimidate or Knowledge).
All that said, the fact that some skills become less relevant as you acquire more ranks doesn’t really help the characters who have next to no skill ranks to begin with.
I think that you should only be able to increase a stat when you have used it. For example if your able to climb but have never used it… You should not be able increase it. Some systems use this and I think it works