Guidance – Gibbering Mouth: Skillful Disruptions

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 skills.

Remember way back when in 2014 when I did my Master Spy build? That build that was so incredibly awesome at Bluff, Disguise, and Stealth that it was virtually impossible to detect her?

One comment that I got frequently in response to that build was, “Oh, this is EXACTLY the type of build that I wouldn’t allow at my table. Its too disruptive.” Really, so me blowing up your encounters with all the force of a wizard-sized atomic bomb or me warping reality across your campaign setting to play god with your intellectual property is to be expected, but me maximizing my chances to succeed at a few skill checks is disruptive? Really?

A chat about skills has been on my lineup for a while, but I needed to see the investigator class before I actually commented on it. But before I delve into that topic, let’s talk about what players find disruptive about skills. Or rather, certain skills.

Anecdote: The Library of the Lion

How many of you PFS players have heard of a scenario called Library of the Lion? This scenario perfectly captures the biggest problem with skills in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. To summarize the premise, the nation of Taldor has been altering its own history for generations in order to serve one political agenda or another, but rumors abound of a number of hidden facilities within Taldor that possess the nation’s undistorted past. The libraries are secret and only available to members of the notorious Lion Blades, Taldor’s special ops unit. After learning of the presence of such a library in Oppara, the Pathfinder Society sends players to the city in order to infiltrate the library and discover antimagic maneuvers and tactics that the Mendevian crusaders might be able to employ against the ever-expanding taint of the Worldwound.

Before I go any further, I want to mention something important about Library of the Lion: this is a story that players either love or hate, especially when you read the 42 reviews that the scenario has on Paizo’s web page. The reason for this is very simple: players who love Library of Lion probably played skill-focused characters or had such a character at their table while players who dislike the scenario either had no such characters at their table, or were forced to count the ceiling tiles in the local game store despite having such a character at their table because that player effectively got to have all the “fun” in the scenario.

Without spoiling too much, Library of the Lion focuses almost exclusively on skills. Specifically, Knowledge and Perception skills. Most characters have Perception, but few have Knowledge (history) or Knowledge (local), and those three are real big players in this scenario. The problem is that there are few scenarios that are built like Library of the Lion, so most PFS players come to the table expecting to get to bash some skulls in, but the Adventure is set up in a way that not only condones violence, but is also specifically set up so that your mission is jeopardized if you get into too many engagements and none of those special rules are required to be explained to you. As far as I know, no other scenario was ever build quite like Library of the Lion because of one simple fact: the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is not built to truly allow all players to be proficient in skills.

Skills: The Final Frontier in Class Imbalance

I don’t have much to say here that I haven’t already said in my Skill-Less in Seattle article, but if my Master Spy build (or any other skill focused build) is truly disruptive, it isn’t because trying to make a Perception check to spot a high-Stealth character is impossible or because it isn’t fun to have a super spy in the party. Both of those aren’t true. Rather, skills are often seen as disruptive because the imbalance between skill classes and non-skill classes is jarring at best.

Take, for example, a fighter. Your everyday average fighter is very good at martial tricks. He has more feats than anyone, which allows him to use his actions in combat in cool and exciting ways. Now, as I’ve shown in a previous article, the fighter deals less damage than the paladin in certain situations, but the fighter is able to hold his own in a party with the paladin because the fighter has different areas he shines in. The paladin out damages the fighter by a lot, but he can only do it several times per day, typically against the boss encounter. The fighter has more special tricks and martial abilities than the paladin, and he’s able to grab combinations of feats that the paladin won’t see until 10th or 12th level relatively quickly. For the paladins, feats aren’t a particularly limited resource. Even characters that aren’t good at martial combat are still effective in combat. For instance, you won’t see wizards duking it out hand to hand, but their ability to magically dominate the battlefield is combat proficiency at its best. (As I learned all-too-well in a different Pathfinder Society that I played in a few weeks ago.) Being effective in combat can mean many different things, but being effective outside of combat usually boils down to one thing: skills.

Oh, sure, some non-skill out of combat abilities exist, such as the gunslinger’s utility shot deed or the skald’s song of marching and countless pages of spells provide out of combat support. But really, when we’re talking about out of combat challenges, what are we usually talking about: marching to and fro, or some type of skill challenge? Usually its skills, and skills have the most heavily restricted access of any system in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. This happens at both ends of the totem pole: for the low skill rank classes, they often feel as though they can’t contribute in any meaningful way to the skill-based encounters because they have so few skills at their disposal. In order to feel more meaningful, these characters seek to maximize their bang for their rank, so to speak, so they often place their skill ranks in skills that will yield the highest bonus. This often translates into classes only placing skill ranks into their class skills. For example, why would a fighter want to invest in Diplomacy when its not a class skill for him? Wouldn’t he rather grab Intimidate and get that extra +3 bonus from Intimidate being a class skill?

Now, this isn’t something that’s required by the system by any means. There’s nothing forcing the fighter to place that rank into Intimidate. Its 100% consumerism psychology, effectively creating the illusion of choice. This is the same thing that happens with people looking to eat on a tight budget. In the long run, eating healthy is more beneficial to your health just as a fighter grabbing Disable Device might be more helpful to his party dynamic, but despite what you KNOW is helpful, you do what is unhelpful anyway, whether that’s buying cheap junk food or placing your skill ranks into Intimidate, because you know that you need to be conservative. You’re not Moneybags McRogue who can afford to spend a skill rank every level in something esoteric like Profession (Money Launderer); you only have a few of those ranks a level to invest into stuff. And the ultimate outcome of this very logical mindset is that Joe McAverage is forced to watch with relative impatience as Moneybags gets to run around and have entire stealthy side adventures by himself because he can afford to invest the necessary ranks in Stealth (and maybe in Bluff too, since creating a diversion to hide is a Bluff check).

Library of the Lion, Part 2

Without giving away any spoilers from the scenario, I want to go back to Library of the Lion to further emphasize my point. Our party consisted of my buddy, Justin, who is optimized for Knowledge skills, a rogue, my swashbuckler, and a paladin. When we infiltrated the Library of the Lion, my friend, myself, and the rogue had a blast. My swashbuckler is Sovereign Court, so he has a lot of those stealthy, infiltration-style skills despite only having 5 ranks per level. The rogue was our go-to locksmith and helped a lot in finding the books. And the bard? My buddy optimized him to be a Knowledge skill master, making him an elf with Breadth of Experience and everything. Together, the three of us had a blast going through the library as covert operatives would. It was sort of funny, because when one veteran GM came and asked our GM how “poorly” we were doing, our GM replied with a mix of exasperation and relief that our party had “a librarian who was decimating the place.” (This is true; Justin has the librarian trait and belongs to the Dark Achieve as a result.) Because of Justin, we sort of cruise controlled throughout the scenario, finding books and getting info. The rogue and I helped out quite a bit in finding stuff with Perception or learning more with Knowledge (local). But the paladin? The paladin sat there and did nothing but DC 10 aid another checks when he could. The player was incredibly bored as a result of this, and when we ran into a woman with whom we could talk, the paladin player’s first reaction was to roleplay as hostilely as possible with her because he (the player) was ITCHING for a fight. Itching for it like you couldn’t believe. It’s a miracle that we convinced the player to do nothing for a little bit longer, but we did. And honestly, I felt bad about every second of it. It would be like designing a scenario entirely within a massive antimagic field; he literally had nothing to do because all he had were three skill points per level. (Two from being a paladin, one from being a human.)

Why Are Skill Scarce?

I don’t have an answer for this one, folks. I’m honestly posing this as a question here: why are skill ranks so scarce in Pathfinder? They weren’t improved to more player-friendly levels like Hit Dice were in the 3.5 to Pathfinder transition and there’s no feat to give you more of them like you can obtain with hit points. Literally the only way to get more skill ranks is to pick them up as your favored class bonus or have a really high Intelligence score. I’ve heard that as the reason why skill ranks are so difficult to obtain, that it makes Intelligence a more important stat. My counterargument would be that the same thing could be accomplished by making skills more important to the game itself; if skill challenges were a thing and every player were forced to pull his or her own weight with skills,

I’ve heard plenty of theories as to why skill points are so scarce in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. They are as follows:

  • Makes Players Value Intelligence. I would argue that a restricted skill point system does the opposite of this, however. Because characters with a lot of skill ranks often have a lot of class skills, too, for the average fighter is easier to keep Intelligence at a 10 (possibly an 8 if said fighter is human) and just let the skill-heavy character do his thing. This is compounded by the fact that the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game doesn’t really have a cooperative “skill challenge” system; all skills are resolved in a single check (success or failure) for the most part, and are just as often a one-and-done deal. You succeed and you pass, or you fail and something bad happens, but you often don’t have to (or don’t have the opportunity to) try again. So why budget your ability scores on Intelligence when there’s not much incentive for most characters to do so.
  • Empowers Humans: I could actually see this one, since character races are stacked to make human an exceptionally good bang for its buck. While I don’t think that this is necessarily to make roleplaying games humanocentric, it certainly helps. Rather, I think the original designers of the human character race figured that everyone playing their game could identify with humans, and therefore humans were sure to be a popular race. Making humans a strong choice, therefore, was a priority. With that said, would humans become any weaker a race if everyone got more skill points? Personally, I don’t think so. Skilled is already one of the most commonly traded racial traits for the human’s alternate racial traits (not that human has many to choose from anyway), and the bonus feat is the big reason that most players go human. The skill ranks are usually just an afterthought.
  • Gives the Rogue a Niche: I’ve talked extensively about the rogue and its love-hate relationship with skill ranks in Pathfinder, so I won’t rehash myself. As early as the Core Rulebook, one could make a very effective argument that versatile performance made the bard better at skills than the rogue, and as the game as evolved the alchemist, inquisitor, and investigator all took the idea of a skill focused character class and essentially did it better than the rogue. The problem isn’t that these new classes are too powerful, is that rogue talents do an awfully poor job of making the rogue better at her skills in ways that matter. With Pathfinder Unchained set to give the rogue a few much needed buffs, including a reworking of rogue talents as well as new combat abilities, the rogue may very well end up shaping up to the point that it can hold its own against the likes of the bard, skald, slayer, inquisitor, and investigator. Which would also totally debunk the idea that having lots of skill ranks is the rogue’s niche.

I think what I’d like to do is play around with a house rule that states that all character classes get four additional skill points and see how that disrupts the current game (or not). I wonder if I’d see different types of skill builds for fighters or cavaliers if they had a bit more leeway in what skills that chose to select. I also wonder if giving the rogue 12 skill ranks per level + Int is really the end-all that people claim that it might be. Again, I’m skeptical, and I might not have a good group to test this with for a while, but its something that I would like to do. Eventually.

A Word from Pathfinder’s Sponsor

Since I didn’t have the answer to “Why are Skill Ranks scarce,” I posed the question to someone with a LOT of experience who might know the answer better than I. That person is none other than Sean K. Reynolds, one of Pathfinder’s designers up until April of last year, and veteran of both TSR (Dungeons and Dragon’s original owner) and Wizards of the Coast. Apparently my question prompted an entire blog on how skills are going to work in his upcoming product, the Five Moons RPG. I’m only going to quote the relevant parts to my own topic, but you can read Sean’s entire blog post here.

Then I got to thinking about why class skills are in the game.

In 3E, they were prebuilt into your class, based on the stereotypical example of what that class is supposed to do or be. So fighters were good at athletic things, wizards were good at magic and knowledge, rogues were good at lockpicking and sneaking, and so on. And the difference between class skills and crossclass skills was that crossclass skills cost more points to level up. But in 3E, you got x4 skill points at level 1, so had a lot of points to play with, and you could throw a few spare points into unusual/crossclass skills, even if you only got 1/2 value for it. And you could buy up to your level + 3 in a skill, so a 1st-level character could have a +4 (plus ability mod) in a skill.

In PF, they dropped the “crossclass skills cost double” setup, which meant investing in crossclass skills was a lot more effective. And they created the “if you have a least 1 rank in a class skill, you get a +3 on rolls with that skill” rule. So you could still be a 1st-level character with a +4 (plus ability mod) in a skill. But PF also reduced the number of skill ranks you got (only x1 at 1st level instead of x4), so you couldn’t build a character who had a little bit of training in a lot of skills.

[For example, a 3E fighter started with 2 x 4 = 8 skill points, and if that fighter wanted to put 1 in Diplomacy, Knowledge (arcana), Move Silently, and Open Lock (and put the rest in class skills), they could. But that same fighter in PF only has 2 skill ranks, which pretty much locks them into an essential skill like Perception and maybe another fighter-relevant one like Climb.]

And the PF fighter still has the same problem that the 3E fighter does: their class skills are whatever the designer decided the typical fighter should have. If you wanted your fighter (or wizard, or rogue, or whatever) to be like Indiana Jones, you’d have a hard time picking the necessary skills at level 1, and you’d have to spend some points on crossclass skills to get the proper training. (You could build an archeologist adventurer by using an archetype to change up your class skills, but there may not be an archetype that has the assortment for your character concept.)

[I mentioned the “running low on skill ranks” problem to Jason around the time the Core Rulebook was published, and he agreed it was a problem, and that we should think about putting a feat in the then-upcoming Advanced Player’s Guide that would give you more skill ranks (or at least let you choose 4 skills to get a +1 in), especially at level 1. But apparently we both forgot about it because I don’t think anything like it ever appeared in the core books.]

What do you think? Why do you find skill-heavy builds disruptive at your table? (You could probably infer that I don’t find skill heavy builds to be disruptive at all from my tone in this article.) Do you think players have enough skill ranks? Why or why not? Leave your answers and comments below, and I’ll see you back on Friday for another new Iconic Design.

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, and his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class probably needs more skill ranks than it has.

PS. PFS — You should totally push for more skill ranks per level in your campaign so you can do more awesome encounters like Library of the Lion. For a character that was able to participate, it was a fun encounter that was also a breath of fresh air compared to the “enter room, kill everything, enter next room” format that PFS often falls in.

Alex Augunas

Alexander "Alex" Augunas is an author and behavioral health worker living outside of Philadelphia in the United States. He has contributed to gaming products published by Paizo, Inc, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Raging Swan Press, Rogue Genius Games, and Steve Jackson Games, as well as the owner and publisher of Everybody Games (formerly Everyman Gaming). At the Know Direction Network, he is the author of Guidance and a co-host on Know Direction: Beyond. You can see Alex's exploits at, or support him personally on Patreon at


  1. After many years of RPGing, I’ve eventually come to the conclusion that non-combat skills are just something D&D (and PF, by extension) doesn’t do very well. If the goal of the game is to model a fantasy world, then they’re a necessary part of the game, and they fulfill their job well, enough, but they’ve got some fundamental problems.

    1) Success is binary; there are no degrees of success.

    If a guard rolls a 20 on his Sense Motive Check, that means a 20 convinces him of your story and a 19 means he knows you’re a liar. The king of liars could get a 40 and he’d still be believed exactly the same amount, or the village idiot could show up and roll a 2 and he’d be just as much a liar. A lot of GMs will roleplay out scenes to make it seem like high or low results were more or less effective, but there’s certainly no mechanical benefit build into the game.

    2) Failure isn’t interesting.

    If the Perception DC to notice the secret door to the enemy’s lair is a 20, rolling a 19 means you didn’t see it. Sorry, you’ll never know where the bad guys are hiding. Your options are to either go home in failure or hope the GM throws you a bone and tells you to roll again. It’d be much more interesting for “failure” to mean that you still notice the secret door, but only because you stepped on it and alerted the bad guys to your presence, or because several of them jumped out of it and got the surprise on you.

    3) Some characters just aren’t good at skills.

    You touched on this a bit. I’m sure that long ago, somebody thought this was a valid balancing mechanic. It’s not. All it means is that some characters are arbitrarily useless outside of combat. Why doesn’t anybody ever play an intelligent, forward-thinking fighter who has great tactical skills? Because there’s no mechanic to back it up; fighters have terrible class skills and a poor amount of skill points to back it up.

    I don’t really have solutions for all of these problems, I’m just complaining. And I got burned out on PFS a couple years ago (playing The Night March of Kalkamedes with a group of chucklehead murder hobos is one of the worst roleplaying experiences I’ve had — a close second was The Blakros Marriage with a murder hobo GM — but it at least makes for a good story). Giving characters more skill points, more class skills, and allowing them to choose some (or all) of their class skills is a start, but then you have to deal with the fact that some skills are simply much better than others; who would ever willingly not have Perception as a class skill?

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      I agree that D&D and Pathfinder don’t do non-combat related stuff well. I don’t think that this means that they CAN’T do combat well, however.

      While having degrees of success could be interesting, its not necesscarily a requirement for a successful out-of-combat system. For instance, if a target’s AC is 20 and you roll a 19, you do just as much damage to that target as if you had rolled a 2. If its not a problem for combat, it shouldn’t be a problem for non-combat. I would also argue that failing an attack roll typically isn’t very interesting either.

      Leading into another point where we agree, however, there isn’t a class in the game that is truly bad at combat, but there are plenty of classes in the game who aren’t particularly effective at skills. Of all the classes in the game, only inquisitors, rogues, and investigators really have any abilities that augment their out of combat abilities, and the disparity between number of skill ranks per level between classes is enormous.

  2. “For example, a 3E fighter started with 2 x 4 = 8 skill points, and if that fighter wanted to put 1 in Diplomacy, Knowledge (arcana), Move Silently, and Open Lock (and put the rest in class skills), they could.”
    Actually, they couldnt. Each of those would cost him 2 skill points, since they are cross class and you couldnt have 1/2 rank in a skill (they could, but they wouldnt get the +1 for doing that), that means they would have used up all their 8 points buying those 4 cross-class skills.
    In pathfinder they can easily buy 3/4 of those skills investing his favourite class bonus on skills (which didnt exist back in 3.5, thus, is a bonus ability).

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      I’m sure that Sean is operating under the assumption that if you were even remotely interested in skills in 3.5, you probably had an Intelligence of 13 or higher or were a human. It is also worth noting that at 1st level, bonus ranks from being human or having a high Intelligence were also multiplied, so you could have all of those cross-class skills AND still grab a few ranks in some class skills.

  3. Pathfinder also makes characters better at “being good” with skills with the trait system, allowing you to be good with certain skills that would never be a class skill without multiclassing.

    Would you prefer to have 8 skills at +1 (plus 5% success), or a 4 skills at +4 (plus 20% success)?
    The low bonus could be meaningless on a given situation, specially if those are dex-based skills on a heavy armor character, while the high bonus could make a difference.

    • The other issue with skills is that many of the most important skills are also trained only. The Library of the Lion example? You can’t roll those knowledge checks unless you’ve at least had a small investment in it. That can be really boring, since you can’t even aid another in those situations. I’ve got a number of characters who have one rank in disable device just so they can try (since the old plan sent them straight into the mouth of the trap). It’s not a great bonus, but heck, we all roll 20 sometimes.

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      I don’t understand why it has to be either / or. The first two Pathfinder APs were written for 3.5, and traits existed for those APs. This means that early Pathfinder characters not only had traits to modify their list of class skills, but they also had the x4 skill ranks at 1st level.

      The two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive, and gaining more class skills isn’t particularly helpful when you are playing a class that has virtually no class skills to begin with anyway.

  4. Regarding your statement towards the end about the APG never providing the feat to improve skill flexibility, I’d argue that it gave something better. The entire trait system seems built entirely on providing bonuses to the ‘non-standard skills’ for a class. So, instead of a feat “that would give you more skill ranks (or at least let you choose 4 skills to get a +1 in), especially at level 1,” we got 2 traits, that each could easily provide +1 to one skill, and +4 to another. (The typical trait offering +1 to two different skills, and making one of them a class skill). That’s 10 extra effective skill points for free over what the core rulebook provided. It also provided the Additional Traits feat, which added 2 more traits, providing up to 10 MORE effective skill points for the price of a single feat. I’d say you got well more than you had expected.

    • The trait system as implemented is pretty flawed, too, though. They very frequently mix flavor and mechanics together, and the arbitrary division of traits into different categories and being unable to pick traits from the same category makes things more complex than they need to be.

      Let’s say I want to make Knowledge (Geography) a class skill. Hey, the Mountain Guide trait does that! Maybe I didn’t really want “mountains” or “being a guide” as part of my character concept… but we’ll just ignore that. Let’s say I also want to make Swim a class skill… well, the Pirate trait does that. Well, one of the Pirate traits, because they made two of them. Except I /definitely/ am not a pirate, and oh, it turns out they’re both regional traits, so I can’t take both of them anyway. Sigh. Traits that require you be from a specific country in Golarion are even worse.

      But don’t forget that there are a lot of traits that provide non-skill bonuses, too. Really, your average meathead fighter is already low on skill points; why would he waste a trait on making some Knowledge a class skill when he could get a +2 to his initiative instead?

      • The flexibility of the system (being able to do things beyond skills) are a boon of the system, not a negative – if your meathead fighter can’t find a use for knowledge skills that are better than an initiative bonus, than he’s not going to get a use out of knowledge skills that are simply granted via Alex’s described starting out skill bonuses.
        In reference to the ‘flavor’ problems, that it mostly mitigated by the fact that there are almost 1200 traits already written – and likely more to come with every publication. Using your example, with a very cursory glance, there are at least 10 different traits that can make Knowledge (geography) a class skill, and at least 6 that will do so for swim. Beyond that, you are always welcome to re-flavor anything as you so choose – that’s why flavor is rarely, if ever, considered a rule.

        • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

          The problem isn’t the presence of flexibility, its the fact that the system really isn’t as flexible as it would appear.

          For many players, adding class skills to the fighter feels wrong because they don’t have many skill ranks to begin with. The best example that I can give is World of Warcraft’s pre-Mists of Pandria talent system, which had millions of ways to spend your talent points, but only one (maybe two) to spend them “correctly.” Yes, this is largely a player psychology issue, but if fighters had more skill points baseline, you can bet that the idea of “fighters should be stupid and bad at skills” would be challenged.

          As a freelancer, I will say that not every skill is treated equally. There’s only one, maybe two traits that add Acrobatics as a class skill for example. There are fewer that add Disguise as a class skill. Because of this, I can see how the relatively repetitive nature of traits might annoy some, but much of that comes from parallel design and a lack of freelancer foresight to check and see if a particular skill has been done before.

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      I disagree with your opinion for one very important reason: Paizo originally created the trait system for Rise of the Runelords and Second Darkness, both of which were written under the assumption that you were playing 3.5.

      This means that players playing in Golarion during 3.5 not only had the x4 skill ranks at 1st level, but they also had character traits that added to their list of class skills.

  5. My point is that in-combat usefulness vs. out-of-combat usefulness should not be a balancing point. It’s not an interesting decision for a fighter to decide whether he wants to be faster in combat or be able to contribute to a roleplaying scene. If you show up at a game and, as soon as the first fight breaks out, say, “Sorry, I’m useless in a fight, I’ll just go hide in a corner,” that’s not going to fly, so why is it ok that the fighter has to go sit in a corner as soon as you walk into a library?

    And you can’t tell me that 1200 traits isn’t an absurd amount of bloat. The /only/ reason to have 10 different traits that give Knowledge (Geography) as a class skill is because of flavor distinguishing between them, and to look at that and say, “Oh, you can just ignore the flavor” is bad design at its purest. There is zero reason to not have a single trait that says, “Choose a skill. That skill becomes a class skill for you; if it is already a class skill, you gain a +1 trait bonus on it.” Then let the player assign whatever flavor they want to it.

    But no, somehow it’s reasonable for a new supplement to come out that adds a trait called, “Grindylow Training,” that says, “You were raised by grindylows who trained you in their secret arts. Craft (Underwater Basket Weaving) becomes a class skill for you.”

    • Min, you are not describing a fault with the trait system, but the exact fault that prompted Alex’s article – the cultural bias toward combat over skills. With a statement that ‘you show up at a game’, I’m guessing you play a lot of PFS, which is fine, but that does narrow your field of view quite a bit, as Alex even mentioned in the article the extreme bias towards combat in PFS scenarios as a whole. however, in other gaming arenas, where characters and campaigns can last years and years, in one contiguous story, skills like knowledge and diplomacy become on par with, and in many instances, more important that actual combat prowess.

      Regarding the ‘number’ of traits, obviously, yes, that’s a crazy amount – and that’s mostly as a content source for publishing works for income – I’m okay with that. But to make a blanket trait that could be customized to whatever skills you choose would actually detract from that ability of the trait system, and at the same time, reduce some of the balance that is there. The core basis behind the trait system is to represent tendencies that are NOT in line with the ‘base’ class of a character, but are sourced from his earlier life. They are designed to broaden a character, not enhance what he already is, which is why the best bang for the buck is in adding ‘cross-class’ skills. The limits of one trait per category group was set when there were far fewer traits, and it was to enforce that broadening aspect, and prevent optimization.

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      The point of the trait system is to reward your character’s background flavor. They’re one of the few options in the game that ARE directly tied to flavor, as a matter of fact. To remove that flavor and make them generic is going against the entire point of making traits in the first place.

      That said, there’s a lot of flexibility in a trait theme. For instance, my kitsune hibachi chef has the River Rat trait, which gives him a +1 trait bonus on damage rolls with his daggers. He’s also Lawful Good, so that sounds like it might not fit with his background. But I knew I wanted that trait, so I decided to add in the bit about my character having been “floated down a river” as an infant and ultimately scooped up by a band of brigadiers, where he spent the first five or six years of his life.

      The ability to incorporate a bit of extra flavor into your character should be seen as a positive, not as a negative. The fact that you can’t pick multiple traits from the same category, however, is a strange ruling that I don’t think holds much water anymore in a world with 1,200 + traits.

  6. I have never really felt that the skill point balance is an issue. Classes have different factors that allow them to contribute in different ways. In a general sense a Fighter will outshine a Rogue in combat, so there’s no harm in letting the Rogue get a moment to shine in an already combat-driven game. It’s a balance, but I think it works fine.

    In addition, I look at the fact that certain classes are limited in skills as a welcome challenge. One that, with all the material we have, is fairly easy to rise to. For example: I wanted to make a warrior-type that was a kind, well-spoken man. He also had a trusty dog ally that followed him everywhere. So I made him a Barbarian with the Urban and Mad Dog archetypes. That, combined with some trait choices that still fit my concept, and I was all set to be the face of a party… One that could easily take a hit if things went south. The point I make here is that so much is possible, particularly with skills.

    And it’s also nice to have a niche, so that players get an opportunity to shine. If you flattened out the skill spread too much, a degree of class sameness could set in. At which point, the diffentiating factor between classes would be more a reflection of combat. And for a game that is acknowledged as combat-heavy, that would be a shame.

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      Here’s my counterpoint to the rogue / fighter thing. First, rogues can be extremely effective in combat given the right set-up. They have a combat niche (burst damage) and given a bit of luck, they can hope to deliver a string of successful sneak attacks.

      The fighter can’t hope to do this out-of-combat. He simply doesn’t have the skill points to be relevant. What’s worse, the rogue ALWAYS has a chance of success with an attack roll (a natural 20); skill checks aren’t an automatic success on a 20, so even making untrained checks isn’t always useful to the fighter. It’s not balance when both classes can shine in combat (abet one brighter than the other) and one can’t shine at all outside of combat.

      Being limited at skills isn’t the same as being crippled at them. In your example, the barbarian actually has a respectable, somewhat decent number of skill points (4 + Int). So does the cavalier, and the cavalier gains skill bonuses based upon his order. The slayer and ranger (both full base attack bonus classes) have a whopping SIX skill points per level AND abilities that boost their skills, like favored terrain, favored enemy/studied target, track, and trapfinding (slayers). The fighter has NOTHING to cover this disparity, yet all four classes are supposed to be “martials.”

      If you sat down and you knew that your GM / PFS group favored scenarios that had many skill checks, would you honestly consider the fighter over one of these other classes? Even if it was better at being a martial class? (Its not.) Niches are good, but right now classes with even the smallest focus on skills don’t have a ‘niche.’ They have a monopoly.

      • I think you may be giving more combat weight to a Rogue, who lacks in both consistency and survivability. And even then, that burst damage will rarely exceed a Fighter, and is easily negated at higher levels.

        It’s a a tangential topic, but one I bring up only because it reflects a balance between the classes. Factoring in the games combat vs skill challenge ratio and the relative combat effectiveness ratios of the classes, I’d say it’s actually pretty balanced.

        And that balance is a player choice. If I bring a combat centric character to the table, and we’re going into a library for information, I can only acknowledge that I’m a fish out of water (unless I game myself knowledges, which I could do… Lore Warden archetype is great for this). For one scenario, I can live with a relegated role. I know that the next 5 scenarios will have me bashing things with abandon.

        • Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

          That’s not the point though. A Rogue *can* fight well, given some luck and some skill and be on par with a Fighter.

          A Fighter can almost *never* skill as well as a Rogue, even with luck and skill. I say almost, because it’s conceivable that, somewhere, there is a Lore Warden Human Fighter with a high Intelligence playing in Legacy of Fire with the Finding Haleen trait and a Rogue with an abysmal intelligence. In such a case, the Fighter could maybe, just maybe, equal or exceed the Rogue at skills.

          Still, that’s a highly specific scenario and isn’t even the norm. Even a vanilla Rogue can do well in combat, given some luck and skill, but Fighters? They don’t do well at skills.

  7. Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

    My issue with skills is the pass/fail mechanic. I succeed at my check, or I don’t, and there is no variance. Your Master Spy was disruptive, not because of the skill checks, but because of the Master Spy prestige class which is a disruptive class. From one point of view, the Master Spy is a great Prestige Class because it does it exactly what it’s supposed to do and does it well.

    At the same time, it does it’s job too well and makes the Master Spy untouchable in the skill department. You cannot find him, you cannot see through his lies, you cannot detect his disguise etc. He is all but impervious to skill checks and magical effects like divination.

    However, skills themselves are disruptive because of the pass/fail mechanic. If I pass a diplomacy check to persuade someone, then that person is persuaded. There is no degree to the conviction of the persuasion, the person is simply persuaded. Knowledge checks are much the same; either I know it, or I don’t. As someone who spends time reading about a wide variety of subjects, I often times recall information about different things, without recalling everything exactly. Sometimes I recall only bits of the information, which can lead me to recovering all of it, but not always exactly when the question is asked. This isn’t possible under the current system.

    This can be said about combat, (as someone up thread did), but the difference is, combat can try again. I get multiple attacks a round, (most of the time) and can attack each round. However, I, normally, only get a single attempt at a skill check. Either I succeed, or I don’t, and that’s the end of it.

    That, and unlike combat, skill checks can drastically change the outcome of an encounter. Turning an enemy into an ally (or non-combatant), spotting critical weaknesses or identifying strengths etc.

    Some things are designed around knowing something, and if the check is biffed, horrible things happen because of it, or whole sections of a story are lost.

  8. Just discovered your blog and have been reading it from the first posts on the other site to the oldest ones to the present. I have long been unhappy w/ the way skills were treated in 3.x and PF. (started w/ AD&D in HS back before the invention of the wheel btw).

    I have adopted two house rules that I think work fairly well.
    1. I let people swap out class skills for non-class skills on a 1 – 1 basis (number of skills associated with the class remain the same) so long as they have a backstory / reason for it.

    2. I’ve borrow and modified the training rules from Atlas’ Ars Magica 4.0 (my favorite RPG of all time for its OMFG awesome magic system) and allow people to earn skills outside the level limits if they take down time – 1 + 1/2 int mod ranks / 3 months of study time. That works b/c on my world winter is harsh enough that most people don’t go adventuring for those 3 – 4 months.

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