Pathfinder read-through – Chapter 4: Skills (Appraise – Heal)

A retroactive (and oft-repeated) introduction: After an actual-play hiatus where I was mostly writing and playtesting for GURPS. I was invited to play in a Pathfinder game, and after a few sessions, it was time to buy the book and learn the rules! I decided to try and read the Pathfinder rules cover-to-cover and see what inspiration strikes, for good or ill!

This is a compilation of the links to read-throughs of Pathfinder-related material

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races

3a. Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
3b. Classes (Paladin – Wizard)

Please make any comments you have at the individual entries!

So: we continue!


The skills chapter is something that you’re going to want to read, and closely. There are some positive gems tucked in here, including the answer to a beef I brought up – erroneously it turns out – in a previous Actual Play report!

There are 35 listed skills on page 89 of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. That includes 10 specializations of Knowledge (Whatever). Compare with, well, a frack-ton more in GURPS, and the first thing I’ll say is that the list is very well consolidated. This is one of the benefits of a genre-specific game, but from what I understand, the Pathfinder rules consolidated the DnD3.5 skill set down pretty hard. You can (and probably should) customize the GURPS skill set for the flavor of game you want to play, and options do exist through Wildcard skills to have things more broadly useful. Still: 35 skills in Pathfinder is utterly digestible, and the version of the PDF character sheet I was provided by +Jeromy French makes good use of that, listing all 35.

The chapter begins with notes on acquiring skills, and explains the skill check mechanic (1d20+skill levels vs. the Difficulty Class, or DC, of the task). It notes that you can never have more ranks, that is, skill levels that you get due to class level advancement, than you have hit dice (your level) in any one skill. But your ability score bonuses, racial bonuses, and special bonuses from Feats do add up. So my 4th level Rogue can get +13 in Stealth (for example) with four ranks from his level, +3 for it being a class skill, +3 more for my DEX bonus, and another +3 because I’m a no-good-sneaky half-elf Rogue with Skill Focus (Stealth).

Note to self: that’s +13, but the sheet only lists +12. Huh . . . math error. Gotta check that before the next game.

Taking 10 and Taking 20

Two key options for skills are rules – only allowed out of combat – for assuming an average roll of 10 for certain tasks. If you can try and try again – taking 20 times as long as you normally would (your chances of rolling a 20 are 1 in 20, so on the average, 20x as long) – you can assume you roll a 20. Both are nice hedges against the occasional maddening irritation of a flat distribution.

Irritating to me. I like the 3d6 bell curve. Biased. Admitting it. Cool with it. 

Aiding Another

Hey, you can also help people out, and a successful skill check gives a 10% bonus (+2) to skill for another. The book waves a hand at suggesting limits for certain things, but the GM is left on his own for what’s reasonable.

The Skills

After the obligatory introductory text explaining the legend for each entry, the skill list starts. As I mentioned earlier, there are some real key concepts and things you can do with your skills tucked in these areas (I call these Hidden Lore in the skill writeups), and the book puts suggested DCs for common adventuring tasks right in the skill description. So read it all, and read the skills you have twice.

Pedant Mode: It’s written in plain sight. It’s not hidden. I know. Lighten up.

Balance, gymnastics, and Obi-Wanning across a narrow ledge. Also covers long jump, high jump, and unstable and dangerous surfaces. Also recovery and mitigation of falling damage.

Interestingly enough, STR has no impact on distance jumped that I can tell. These are DEX checks. That would be an interesting area for house rules.

Hidden Lore: The diamond in the rough here is the ability to use acrobatics to move through a foe’s hex without provoking an attack of opportunity, though your move is halved while doing this, and you can’t do it at all if you are too heavily encumbered. While I’m not sure it passes a reality check – I’d probably say that backhandspringing through combat should draw fire from all foes (from drawing attention) and possibly also from friends (just in case that kind of stupidity is contagious).



It is surprisingly difficult to get the value of something: a DC 20 check. Presumably you can Take 20 out of combat, or Take 10 if you’re being casual about it.

Hidden Lore: If you have +5, Taking 10 will give you the value of an item within 20%; Taking 20 will not only give you the value, but identify if an item is magical as well (DC 25) – not what the powers are, but that it is, in fact, magical.

The skill for thieves and politicians (but that’s redundant, ain’t it?), the primary ability is simply a contest of skills: Bluff vs. Sense Motive, with a modfier based on how audacious you’re being and how much proof you have.

Hidden Lore: Speaking in code to another PC. If you succeed (DC 15 for simple, 20 for complex), they automatically understand you. You can be understood by another if they beat your Bluff roll with their Sense Motive. You get a bonus of +20 to your skill to speak in code if you’re between the ages of 4 and 8 years old speaking to anyone, or between 11 and 15 speaking around adults.

OK, I made that last bit up.

This one’s pretty much what it says on the tin. The listed difficulties are all generic for ascending, decending, bouldering, whatever. Only if you fail by 5 or more do you fall.

Remember: it’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the sudden stop.

Hidden Lore: Catching a falling friend is done with a melee touch attack, and then you need to make a Climb check at the wall’s difficulty+10 to prevent you both from falling too. Might want to think “safety line.” That would probably obviate the need for the melee touch attack, and maybe reduce the DC of bracing yourself by a bit (but maybe not).

Unlike knowledge skills, which are explicitly laid out for you in a table and on some character sheets, the craft skills are not. Well, not in tables. There are 21 variants of craft skills listed, including basket weaving (I knew that course wasn’t fluff!), but also shipbuilding, and the making of arms, armor, and bows. Some useful stuff in there.

A craft check requires a week of dedicated work, so it’s not something you just break out in between encounters while Entropic Spelunking is going on. You can go faster by increasing the DC of the task.

There are rules for how much it costs to make stuff: you always pay 1/3 the item’s price as raw materials, and the variable is really how many days/weeks it takes to make it. Seemingly a money factory . . . though presumably you have some sort of weekly cost of living to pay out. If you botch your roll, you can also ruin materials, which presumably must be replaced.

You can also make masterwork items, and you have to admit, self-crafting your own masterwork equipment is quite cool as backstory, and you have to loot approximately 2/3 fewer tombs to do it!

Hidden Lore: Woodworking and the Ironwood spell allows you to make wood stuff with the strength of steel. That’s gotta come in handy. Also, +Joshua Taylor plays an alchemist in the Skull and Shackles game I play in. He makes potions. A lot. This is so spectacularly useful that it almost makes my inner Destroyer of Munchkins curl up and cry.

This skill is either used to make people like you, so you can ask them to do stuff, or to perform interrogations. The mechanic for making people like you more seems a bit clunky to me; If you have a lot of this skill, you will just end up making repeated die rolls. Meh. Maybe it works in play.

Hidden Lore: Seeking out rumors in the local tavern and about the city is a Diplomacy check.

Disable Device
While finding a trap is Perception, making it not kill you is this skill. DCs are given for opening locks of varous quality, and disabling traps of various complexity. Really, this one’s easy: There’s a trap or lock. The GM sets the DC. Roll for it. If you succeed, booyah. If you fail by five or more, hope your saving throws are really good, your insurance is paid up, or both.

Hidden Lore: Not much. Just the abilty to disarm magical traps too, unless they’re spike growth or spike stones. For those, you just get spiked.

How to Change Your Appearance in one easy die roll! This skill vs. Perception, with modifiers depending on how radically you’re changing your appearance, and how well that appearance is known by others. Certain spells can enhance this.

Hidden Lore: Interestingly enough, True Seeing, a magic spell, will not penetrate a mundane disguise.  It only penetrates or negates the magical component of a disguise. Interesting.

Escape Artist
When B&D isn’t your thing, this is the go-to ability. Ropes, shackles, manacles, and Lola: you can escape from all sans broken spine. This also helps escape from grapples, which I’m not sure I buy even one little bit.

Hidden Lore: There’s a Feat called Stealthy which adds to Escape Artist. Huh.

Wings, magic, or pixie dust – if you’re airborne by natural or magical means, this is your go-to for complex maneuvering.

Hidden Lore: These rules take up at least a page, with two different tables and a bonus for being batman. I’m not going to try to summarize it; if you have this ability, read this section a few times.

Handle Animal
Dude. Two pages of rules on animal training and stunts. Some of this stuff is hugely valuable. There are over a dozen listed “tricks,” including Track, Guard, Defend, and Attack. You can also train an animal for a purpose, including “Combat Training” (“I know Cat Fu.” “Show me.”) and “Fighting.” Yes, those are different. Combat Training is a combat-trained mount that can also fight. Fighting is just about the slavering jaws.

Hidden Lore: You can do this on an INT 1 or 2 creature that’s not an animal (but it’s harder). Druids and Rangers rock at Handle Animal, as they should. Anyone who can make a CHA check can potentially do some of this stuff, but not the cool stuff.

This is where the healing rates are implied, and with this skill, accelerated. If you treat a character who has negative HP and is losing them, you can stop the loss. Long-Term Care allows doubling the recovery rate, up to 4 HP per level per day of full rest (!). Instantly remove the movement penalty (but not the HP loss) from stepping on certain hazards. Oddly enough, the effects of this are basically repeated twice. Pretty sure my editors would have cut that section for wordcount. 🙂 You can also boost the Saving Throw of a character suffering from poison or disease.


This is another long, detailed chapter. I’ll return to it and finish as soon as I can. In the meantime, enjoy!

7 thoughts on “Pathfinder read-through – Chapter 4: Skills (Appraise – Heal)

  1. Acrobatics and tumbling: in the D&D 3e games I've played and ran, that ability of Tumble (the skill that handles it in D&D 3e; about three skills were combined into Acrobatics) was absolutely coveted by players. Anyone who had it on his class list took it for at least 5 ranks (you got bonuses in D&D in certain tasks if you took 5 ranks of some skills).

    1. I certainly won't preclude picking up ranks in it if I can get them (it's probably a rogue skill; everything else seems to be), I still think I might have to take a shot at a fellow PC backflipping through combat.

      Remember The Golden Child? Eddie Murphy and that GORGEOUS Indian girl? Remember how that gymnastics scene ended? Crossbow? Yeah. That's what I mean.

  2. I find that the reactions I am reading tend to be pretty regular. Some people like more specifics, while others like a more generalized approach. Personally, having something I can say "makes sense" that doesn't require a bit of referencing when key skills are used is something I enjoy.

    That, and as you say: Genre specific skills go a long way of keeping this from happening. With GURPS games, having a list of "What I plan to use" and "What I don't plan to use" can help prevent this, but it still falls under the "But I want THIS skill!" detail (Which I point back to "Use only so many books" reference from last post!).

    One thing I absolutely did not like with 3.5 was that different race/class combos had class skills that simply did not make sense. Why would a Cleric NOT have Sense Motive? This seem like a no-brainier to me. Additionally, players now have Traits that most people automatically default to in most games that allow players to pick fun background perks that allow anything from bonuses to skills, and/or starting class skills.

    In a game I am currently playing, I am playing as a Sorcerer with the Verdant Bloodline. I have all the skills I need to survive in the wild (Survival, and plenty of Geography and Nature Knowledge skills to get me around)… but I am an arcane sorcerer.

    Additionally, why would someone specialize in just stealth and not move silently? Yeah you can hide, but you make a lot of noise when doing so? Thankfully, you can still do these things, and do so in such a way that fits a "concept" for a character.

    Though more times than not, this discussion falls into the "But low levels SHOULDN'T be so Over Powered!" In that case, all I say it has to do with scale. Pathfinder has a much larger scale than traditional DnD 3 or 3.5e, with much more skill bonuses/choices, class abilities, and some fun elements that make even the most seasoned old-timers jealous/bitter.

    I remember "back in the day" when a level 1 wizard had only 3 to 5 hit points, and was instantly killed with one horribly gone wrong die roll. Pathfinder lets you at least get 2 more hit points, which may or may not allow you to last longer.

    Though with that second level…
    Old DnD: Well… you made it this far…
    Pathfinder: That extra 2 hit points go a LONG way! Have a bad HP leveling roll? Take a favored class Hit Point! Rolled well? Polish off an additional skill, or use any of the other fun racial modifier buffs!

    As far as Fly, Jump, Climb, etc. goes… well I feel they don't really match up with some of the other skills, though fit more in the category of "flavor." Swamps get swimp, hills get climb, etc.

  3. "Hidden Lore: The diamond in the rough here is the ability to use acrobatics to move through a foe's hex without provoking an attack of opportunity,"


    " This also helps escape from grapples, which I'm not sure I buy even one little bit."

    It's probably more of a flavor or "because it sounds good" issue here – "Of course it's hard to hold onto Houdini!" – than an actual defensible discussion of what escape skills mean vs. grappling skills.

  4. Dude! Bluff! Hidden Lore epic fail! Ah…let me regain coherence. In 3.x games the Bluff Skill isn how you carry out the Feint action. You want to do this because it causes your opponent to lose his DX bonus. These are magic words to a Rogue because when that happens you get Sneak Attack damage.

    Also check out the Improved Feint Feat.With that you Feint on your Move Action and Attack with bonus dice on your Standard action. At levels on slightly above yours it's literally a killer app and important way that Rogues do stand up fighting in melee..

    Bluff is also one o the 3 "Influence" Skills in the game and can be key for npc interaction. Our Skyull & Shackles Sorderor Bluffs his way through many npc encounters.

    If not Bluff then use Diplomacy with NPCs.. You need it frequently to make NPC encounters work out. Very much the same as in Gurps..

    Reconcile yourself to Escape Artist v. Grapple. Consider it escaping grapples with skill rather than Strength. Without it only raging barbarians are any good at Grappling. Even Monks tend to sue Escape artist v. Grapples.

    Acrobatics v. AoO are the equivalent of the Gurps "Evade" action (and Gurps allows that with Acrobatics skill too).. More critical Rogue stuff. You use it to maneuver into Flanking position. Attacks of Opportunity seldom come up with ranged weapons and you don't use Acrobatics v. those.

    I've never actually seen the Handle Animal stuff come up much. Well, successfully anyway. Druids and Rangers who don't read the fine print keep trying their Wild Empathy ability agaisnt animals in combat. Which doesn't work because Wild Empathy requires 1 minute or 10 Combat Turns.

    Appraise is bread and butter loot evaluation and should be coming up often…

    Heal also tends to be the low tech version of Forensic Medicine. You find a corpse and you roll v. Heal to learn how it died (if not _really_ obvious such as decapitation). Also note Heal as an important way to stop Bleed damage..

    1. You're right! I totally missed Feint/Bluff. That is epic. I also didn't realize that it enabled Sneak Attack. That's . . . something I will be doing with Pel.

      Hadn't thought of that use of Heal – is that in the rules?

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