Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition – Part III

Well, on to chapter 5!

CHAPTER 5: SKILLS

The positive side: There are less skills, yet they still cover the same options as before, streamlined to work well together with the new +1/2 level progression which is the basic idea behind any d20 roll in the 4th edition. There are 17 skills left and characters are now limited to a certain number of trained skills as described in their class. You do not get additional skill points from a high intelligence score, but you can take a feat to gain training in a new skill… Which brings me to the downside of the new Skills.

Training means, that you gain a +5 to a certain skill. Being untrained means that you do not have this bonus. Which means that, because of the half level rule, you have, effectively, a difference of 5 points between any trained and untrained skills if you do not include ability bonuses at any level of play… 5 points. Which means that, on a neutral level, you have about 25% chance of sneaking past an opponent that is not trained in the skill of about your level. Which means, that you have 25% chance to bluff your untrained opponent into whatever you want him to do. Now, of course, you might have high ability scores or you might only try to sneak past opponents of whom you know have a low perception score. But this sounds a little bit strange to me. Because if I want to specialize in sneaking about, I want to be exceptional good at it before I even try to handle it as an option in which I could feel confident that I would succeed. 75% chance would start to get me there. Which means that I somehow have to gain an additional +10 bonus to my skill in comparison with an untrained opponent.

+10.

That is quite a lot. Luckily for me, there is such a thing as Skill Focus, which grants me a +3 feat bonus to a single trained skill. That is a difference of 3 out of 10 solved! unluckily for me, a feat called Jack of all Trades gives my opponent a +2 feat bonus to ALL untrained skills… Yes, to ALL untrained skills. Fortunately, there is the feat called Light Step, which grants me an additional +1 on my stealth skills checks… Uhm… Well, no! Because that feat grants me a +1 feat bonus as well, and they do not stack. No race in the PHB grants me an unnamed bonus to the check, and so my gap remains at 6, for which I took a feat to train in a single skill and my opponent took a feat to gain a +2 feat bonus in all all untrained skills.

Okay, so I might as well start to upgrade my dexterity. Let’s say that I had a 16 in that score to begin with. Which means another +3. I now have 45% chance to sneak past an opponent, taking into account the feats I described earlier. 45% is quite risky, but I could manage it at first level. 55 if my opponent isn’t a Jack of all Trades. And 55% for a first level character is a good score. But it stays that way forever! At 30th level, my Dexterity might have reached its peak at 24 (there are no items that increase ability scores), but my opponent has at least gained a +1 compared to my additional +4 (because of its ability increases) and so in the best of circumstances I now have a 70% chance, excluding items. But it is so easy for my opponent to gain some points in perception to close that gap while I have to scrape of every point of stealth I can get, that the gap probably closes over the levels rather then widens. One feat let’s my opponent gain a +5 bonus to its check, because perception is now a trained skill, another feat levels it all out and every incidental two points of wisdom closes the gap even more. I’ve would never guess that a burglar my take a 50% chance of succeeding at breaking in, nor could I imagine a 30th level hero still feeling uncomfortable with his own abilities in this manner. And, of course, the real cool stuff consists of sneaking not only past a guard, but past your most feared enemy. But that enemy might well differ a couple of levels with you, so the 1/2 level rule works even more to his advantage.

As I see it, the only thing that the stealth skill does with some confidence, is granting you a chance to avoid surprise. Now, I took stealth as an example, because it can be compared to an opponents skill checks. Skills like bluff suffer from the same maladies. It just doesn’t seem right to me. Skill training seems weak to me, while gaining an advantage to an untrained skill seems overly easy. Jack of all Trades might as well be the best heroic skill out there.

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