Player’s Guide – What do you do?

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October 12, 2010 by Sarah Darkmagic

In past articles, we discussed everything from designing a character concept to filling in your ability scores. Now it’s time to look at two of the most common ways to differentiate your character, skills and feats.

Skills

Skills define what your character can do in a way that is only hinted at by ability scores. All characters have some proficiency in each skill. How good they are depends on their natural talents, determined by ability score, and training. Being trained in a skill means your character is more knowledgeable than most in that area. Your character may have learned these things through daily life, for instance someone who grew up in the woods is likely to have a much firmer grasp of nature, or through focused study such as attending an academy of magic.

Most classes have one or more skills characters of that class are automatically trained in and all have a list of additional skills that are available for training. For instance, a class feature of rogues is automatic training in stealth and thievery. They also may train in four more skills from the following list: Acrobatics (Dex), Athletics (Str), Bluff (Cha), Dungeoneering (Wis), Insight (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Perception (Wis), and Streetwise (Cha). A brawny scoundrel might choose skills such as athletics and intimidate which reinforce his image while an aerialist rogue might go for acrobatics and perception. In these ways, which skills are trained can reinforce the character concept.

If the perfect skill is missing from a class’s list, a few methods exist to change the list. Backgrounds often give access to additional skills. For instance, the Noble background gives one access to diplomacy and insight while Prophesy is associated with history and religion. Another method is the use of feats. Skill training gives training in one untrained skill and is not limited to the class skill list.

So which skills are important? Well much of that depends on your character, your party and your DM. First, make sure your choices make sense for your character. If she grew up in the woods yet only has streetwise or dungeoneering, that may seem a little off. Also, try to work with your group so that you have at least one character trained in every skill. Avoid too much skill duplication. If half the table is trained in diplomacy, it can be difficult for everyone to get their turn in the spotlight. Finally, try to get a sense from the DM what sorts of adventure he might run. In an urban game, spending your training resources on nature and endurance might lead to frustration.

Feats

Whereas only 17 skills exist and that list is reduced even further by class limitations, the feat list totals over 2600 with approximately 1500 in the heroic tier alone. While not every feat will apply to a particular character, as many of them have racial, class, ability score or other similar prerequisites, the list can be daunting for any player. Yet feats provide a way to truly differentiate a character while providing much needed bonuses to further augment strengths or shore up weaknesses.

One way to deal with the information overload is to use a restricted feat list. Heroes of the Fallen Lands provides one aimed at new players, limited to under 70 feats that do everything from increasing training with arms and armor to providing a bonus when performing tasks tied to the character’s deity. While the character builder provides a list of suggested feats for a character, a nice thing about using the book is that all of the other feats aren’t visible. At least for me, out of sight is out of mind and I’m not constantly worried that I’m missing “the perfect feat.”

If you have a DDI account, another way to provide a limited list is to use the online compendium. If a character is all about fire, search on that as the keyword and limit the feats to the character’s tier and allowed source materials. This will save you time as you won’t have to look through every feat before you find the one that works for you. Also, look through the articles in Dragon to see if any of them speak to your character concept.

Also, don’t stress too much about finding that perfect feat. Some people enjoy creating characters where every choice leads to larger mechanical benefits, some enjoy the flavor and story elements more. It’s useful if the feat you choose, particularly at lower levels, is something you see coming up often, but really feats are about making the character yours.

Next month we’ll tackle some more of the character sheet, class builds and powers. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on skills and feats? How do you pick which ones are right for you?

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One thought on “Player’s Guide – What do you do?

  1. Now that every class gets a minimum of three skills to train, there is a lot more room for customizing and making a character ‘yours’. In 3rd Edition, some classes were likely to have only two skills trained to full potential (and, with some builds, only one), which didn’t leave a lot of room to play around. The addition of granting automatic training for some classes guarantees that you won’t have a character who lacks a skill that is essentially ‘mandatory job training’.

    I always recommend to my players that every character — even the dim, musclebound barbarian — possess at least one skill useful in social interactions, whether it’s Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, or even Insight. With the way 4th Edition handles skill training, even a character with a minimum Charisma score has a decent shot at success if they’re trained in the skill they’re trying. By encouraging everyone to do this, even the no-nonsense combat-monster has some way to contribute in a social situation, which keeps everyone at the table and engaged.

    Something else I like to point out early, especially with relatively new players, is the ‘standard’ range of skill DCs. They’ve been adjusted so that ‘easy’ DCs can be met by anybody, ‘moderate’ favor those with good stats or training (both aren’t required), and ‘hard’ DCs favor those with both advantages. Because the numbers on the low end of the scale are so easy — in a standard skill challenge, an ‘easy’ check just requires an 8 for a 1st-level challenge — I encourage my players to try *anything* they think will help, even if they’re not optimized for it.

    Regarding feats, I like to build characters along specific themes, like maximized healing, or exploiting ongoing damage, or things along those lines. It generally requires digging through the bulk of the feat list to find feats that back it up, but making a ‘wish list’ as you’re building the character helps in later advancement, as you’ve already picked out ones that are attractive — at that point, it’s just a matter of deciding in which order to pick them up.

    I also like to encourage players to take at least one feat per tier that emphasizes their racial abilities, or takes advantage of their race/class combination. It’s easy to overlook race-locked feats, but in general they provide more benefits than other types, and reinforce the character’s unique abilities in the party.

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