Pathfinder read-through – Chapter 4: Skills (Intimidate – Use Magic Device)

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!

More Skills!

Picking up from where we left off, and hopefully I won’t miss anything big like using Bluff to feint and deny a foe his DX bonus . . . which is apparently the trigger for Sneak Attack, the Rogue’s raison d’etre.


“GRAR! G’mornin!”

                 –Random Viking from “How to Train your Dragon.”

This skill seems to have two primary uses: temporarily increasing the friendliness of a creature to force them to help you, and the ability to cause foes to become “shaken.” This is not detailed here, but can be found on p. 568 in the Appendices. -2 to attack rolls, skill checks, saving throws, and ability checks. Not bad at all.

This is the place where you go to know things, and given that the Pathfinder world of Golarion is not the world we live in, expect to be rolling against this a lot to find out things your character knows but you as a player don’t. The scope of the skill is mostly vague – not a bad thing.

Hidden Lore: The listed use of this skill that’s going to appeal is to use it to gain knowledge about foes and critters (but I repeat myself). The more obscure the creature, the more difficult the DC. It gives you a “useful fact,” which could be life-saving things like “will drain levels,” or “only magic weapons can harm it,” or “will cause your valuable magic items to dissolve into goo.”  That’s handy data, right there.

Working with language, including speaking and writing, but not only that. Structure and context will allow you to decipher most languages given time.

It’s hard, though: Base DC is 20, and goes right up to 30, which means you’ll need a lot of levels in this one before you’re doing this casually. It’s a prime candidate for Taking 20, since that means you work at the relatively fast pace of one page per 20 minutes for “ordinary text.”

Every rank in Linguistics gives you another language. Ten ranks is ten languages, and there are 21 “common” languages listed. So you won’t speak everything, but you’ll speak a lot.

Hidden Lore: Creating and detecting forgeries. Plot hook made in heaven, and a nice use of a noncombat skill for intrigue. The opposed skill is also Linguistics, so this can be a big deal – you have to watch out for Bards, Clerics, Rogues, and Wizards, but likely you’ll blow away all them warrior types. You really don’t need to see my identification, but if you want to, it’s right here. And totally authentic. Bite me. Well, this is Pathfinder; you shouldn’t say that – too many opportunities to be taken at your word.

The only surprise to me is that there are classes for which this is not a class skill. Fighters don’t need Perception? Please. I know, I know, you have to spread some of these around, but Perception checks – the ability to discern and thus react to your environment – are so fundamentally key to combat that I choke on this a bit

I’ll get over it.

Just talking about my own experience with Pel, my 4th-level Rogue, he’s got Per +11. He will continue to invest as many ranks in Per as he can get, and if he can find +5 Goggles of Perception he’ll wear those to bed. It’s just so damn useful.

Anyway, some sample DCs are given, and some of them can open your eyes to things to do – maybe in a way that’s disruptive to the game if your GM disagrees. For example, someone’s hiding out in the shadows and is going to fire an arrow at you. He’s 60 feet away. You can hear the sound of the bow being drawn, if you’re good: +6 DC for being 60 feet away on top of a base 25 for being naturally very quiet. DC 31 means Pel has a 5% chance of doing this . . . but he can do it. I’d personally allow a DC 15 check to hear an incoming arrow as well – and that has nothing to do with the Stealth of the shooter.

Hidden Lore: I’ll go ahead and make the statement that both the DC and the Modifiers tables count as hidden lore, and you should think of the kind of things you might want to do routinely and work out base DCs and modifiers with your GM in advance to the extent you can – that’ll take such decision-making out of immediate play, where it’ll be less disruptive to the game flow and less likely to start an argument, which again wastes time.

The skill of singing, dancing, and telling stories so you can starve more slowly than otherwise. I mean, seriously: Profession skills, if you can roll them at all, return half your profession check result in gold pieces per week. So if you have one rank in these, you’re bringing in 2-21gp per week, call it about 2 gp per day on the average, more or less.

Perform skills? Yeah . . . good luck. You need to make a DC 20 perform check to return that kind of money (3d10 silver per day, or about 1.6 gp).

The nice thing about performing, though, especially for those such as singers is that you don’t need a lot of equipment to do it. Short on cash? A day’s work can bring some in.

Hidden Lore: As one might imagine, if you don’t have this skill it’s tough to be a Bard. Meaning you need it to empower your special abilities, so don’t skimp. That’s not really hidden – Bards are all about performing. But don’t be a dolt and forget.

This is the skill of doing tasks related to making a living (architect, brewer, gambler, gardener, merchant, sailor, soldier as examples). It seems to be primarily related to making money, at the rate of half your skill check in gold pieces per week. For someone with decent skill (Pel at 4th level has +9 in both Sailor and Merchant) you can bring in some real money with downtime: Pel’s skill check will net him 10-21 gp per week. Those aren’t “replacement for adventuring” type wages, which is good.

We’ve played this as “knowledge and action skills related to your job.” Merchant has been particularly useful (especially paired with Appraise) to sell stuff, and the ability to have only a DC 10 check to hit “market value” is nice.

Hidden Lore: Nothing explicit, but it’s worth bearing in mind that while you can have (and make money with) Profession (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), the GM will frequently have to adjudicate whether a given task can be accomplished with this skill. You don’t roll against Prof(Soldier) to brain your foe with a sword. Profession (Sailor) doesn’t let you build a ship – there’s a Craft skill for that. Worth taking the time to figure out what the GM will sweep into the skill.

Doing fancy stuff on the back of a horse or similar mount. The tasks that are suggested are interesting and instructive: Guide with knees (hands free for fighting), stay in the saddle (when mount is spooked, or you’re damaged), let your mount attack independently of your own actions, hide behind your mount as cover (like the cowardly dog you are), fall off the mount gracefully, jump over obstacles, go fast, control an untrained mount in battle, or mount and dismount as a free action.

Hidden Lore: You don’t need to make any rolls to do most things with a combat-trained mount. Controlling such a mount in battle doesn’t require a roll, only attacking with it and preserving your own attack does.

Sense Motive
The high-level summary of this seems to be (more or less) “opposes the Bluff skill.” Three nifty uses for this one: getting a gut feel on the behavior or trustworthiness of a person. Detecting if someone’s been magicked with controlling spells (mind control, domination, etc. Not +1 to AC or stuff like that). Also intercepting secret messages sent to others by observation.

Hidden Lore: A Ranger acting against his favored enemy gets a bonus, and the Alertness feat boosts this as well.

Sleight of
Pick pockets, palm objects, secretly ready concealed weapons. Sometimes this is opposed by Perception (another good reason to take it). Tiny objects get bonuses.

Hidden Lore: Untrained Sleight of Hand is a DEX check.


For magic users, this is a big deal. Casting spells, identifying cast spells and magic items, and making magic items. Mmm. Making magic items.

This is what you roll against after you cast a spell like Detect Magic and Identify. It’s what you roll against to learn a spell or decipher a scroll. 

Hidden Lore: None, really – but you’d best master the rules for what you want to be good at, and know the modifiers. This is a primay skill for the magic set.


The art of hiding and moving silently. This is the Rogue’s big deal, and probably pretty important for Rangers too. Stealth is opposed by Perception, and since if you biff the detect roll, you may be open to the Rogue’s Sneak Attack ability, this is a bad roll to miss.

You can move pretty well with Stealth: half move at no penalty, and up to full move at -5 to skill. You get a bonus if you’re sneaky and small, and penalties if you’re a larger creature.

Hidden Lore: I’m going to call a lot of the subtleties of Stealth hidden lore. Some of this stuff is pretty key, and one even speaks to something I’ve bitched about in the past: shooting a bow from concealment.

If you’re being observed, you can’t use Stealth. But if you shout “Look! Over there! A dinosaur!” real loud, you can disappear in the resulting confusion (make a successful Bluff). Again: big deal, as it enables you to get into a position from which special abilities or undefendable attacks may be made. Granted, it’s -10 to skill, but it’s doable.

You can make a ranged attack from concealment if you’re more than 10 feet away, and then take a move action to use Stealth to regain concealment at -20 to skill. So you have to be good to pull it off.

On the flip side, I’d definitely apply a penalty to foes’ Perception if they’re actively fighting someone else (similar to background noise); I’d also make the Perception DC the LESSER of the Stealth check, the sound of a bow being drawn, or the sound of the arrow. That’s me, though.

Being invisible and immobile is +40 to skill; moving while invisible is +20. Invisibility is a good thing.

I understand why they named it Survival, but given the amount of text in the entry, it maybe should be called “Tracking.” Lots of information is given on following critters and sentients based on number, size, and type of ground.

Oh, sure – a basic DC 10 check helps you survive and feed yourself and your party, as well as aiding Fortitude saves versus weather. Oh, and predicting the weather is a Survival skill too. 

Moving and staying abovewater in various conditions. If you make a swim check, you can move forward. If you biff it, you make no progress, and if you really screw up, you can go underwater and may start to drown. 

Hidden Lore: You must always roll in a storm; you can’t Take 20. But, you don’t have to make routine swim checks if you actually have a Swim speed listed on your character sheet – this is for aquatic creatures: Fish don’t drown much. 

Use Magic

This one’s interesting. It allows you to use a magical device that usually requires a special ability. Like  using a wand usually requires that you have the spell on your class spell list (you needn’t know it). If it’s not, you have to use this skill.

The DCs of this skill are really high – none less than 15 (what you subtract from your roll to emulate having a high ability score), and may range up to 30 as a base, and using a scroll by a level 20 caster can be DC 40!

The list of magical deception you can pull off is pretty neat, though. Deciphering a spell, using a scroll or wand, or emulating a class feature, ability score, alignment, or race!

Parting Shots
For the game being played, I find the Pathfinder skills list broad enough to provide some limited differentiation, but narrow enough so you can get a move on and not worry about being brought to a halt by someone not having the right skill.

This is important, since it really allows those writing adventures to have a basic assumption as to what a party can do. This is a phenomenal advantage over a system like GURPS, with its monster skill list and no guarantees that “the party thief” has the right skill set. Or even that there will be a party thief.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this, and I’m sorry it took so long to put down.

Next up: Feats. Grar, there are a lot of them, so I’m sure I won’t be doing a blow-by-blow like I did with skills. 

2 thoughts on “Pathfinder read-through – Chapter 4: Skills (Intimidate – Use Magic Device)

  1. There are trained skills and untrained skills. If you don't have a rank in a trained skill, you can't even attempt the skill roll. Untrained skills, like perception, simply give you a bonus to your roll from the corresponding attribute bonus. Ex. you have a wisdom of 12 (+1), so you can make any perception check at 1d20+1. If you have a ranks in skill, that corresponds to additional +1/rank above and beyond your attribute bonus. If the skill is a class skill, you get an additional +3, but only if you have a rank in the skill.

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