4E Variant: Skills for All

One of the big features promoted in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons is class balance. The apparent design intent is that all classes will have similar levels of in combat effectiveness. However, the game then goes on to give classes different numbers of trained skills. As skills are the primary means of out of combat effectiveness, this creates an odd situation.

If we assume classes are balanced in combat, than these varied skill numbers make some classes more effective overall, leading to a general class imbalance. If we assume the classes are balanced overall, then that implies that the skill heavy classes are less combat effective. This does not only what has been seen in actual play. For example, both Rangers and Rogues get a large number of trained skills while also being among the game’s top tier strikers.

In this post I’d like to look at one way to even things out a bit. This does make characters more skilled overall in the long run. However, that also means there’s more situations where each character can contribute.

Rules Change

All classes start with only 3 trained skills. If your class would normally grant specific skill for free those skill are taken out of your starting picks. For example, a Thief gains Stealth, Thievery and one other class skill, a Wizard gains Arcana and two other class skills, and so on.

Each character also gain a bonus feat at levels 3, 13, and 23. These feats must either add a new trained skill or improve a trained skill. Good examples are the Skill Training, Skill Focus, or Skill Power feats. DMs may adjust this list as needed. For example, multiclass feats also grant a trained skill, but they also come bundled with other features and growth opportunities.

Behind the Scenes

I could have just fixed each class at a set number of skills. However, there are a few benefits to using feats instead.

The most notable of these is that feat slot can be used on skill related feats that don’t add a new trained skill, characters can stop adding new skills once they’ve reach a number of trained skills they’re comfortable with. One player might specialize in a few skills while another tries to cover a wide range of skills.

Another side benefit is feat selections aren’t limited to class skills. This makes it potentially easier for character to fill in for missing skills sets with the party. Normally filling in like that would keep the character from gain a combat related feat. Restricting bonus feat choices like this leaves the player free to improve skills with feeling like it costs them in another area.

A side benefit of this approach is it distributes skill selection over multiple levels. While starting character do have fewer skills, this also means potentially faster character creation and more informed decisions when they do add new skills.

Additional Variants

The above rule cover the standard range of skill coverage, with 3 skills on the low end and 6 on the high end. However, you might want to adjust these numbers in your own game. For example, starting with 4 skills instead of 3 means every class starts with an average skill spread. That does mean a slight power inflation at higher levels as it allows for 7 trained skills. However, such inflation is likely to be relatively minor and most likely result more in wider skill coverage by the party, which potentially means more character contributes per skill challenge.

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Published in: on November 15, 2011 at 3:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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