Lidda the rogue can walk quietly up to a door, put her ear to it, and hear the troglodyte priest on the other side casting a spell on his pet crocodile. If Jozan the cleric were to try the same thing, he’d make so much noise that the troglodyte would hear him. Jozan could, however, identify the spell that the evil priest is casting. Actions such as these rely on the skills that characters have (in this case, Move Silently, Listen, and Spellcraft).

Skills Summary

A character’s skills represent a variety of abilities. As a character advances in level, he or she gets better at using some or all of her skills.

Getting Skills: A character gets a base allotment of 2, 4, 6, or 8 skill points for each new level, depending on the class to which that level was added. If the character gaining his or her 1st character level overall (that is, gaining his or her first level in any class), add his or her Intelligence modifier to the base skill point allotment for the class and multiply the total by four; then add an extra 4 points of the character is human.

If you buy a class skill (such as Listen for a rogue or Spellcraft for a cleric), your character gets 1 rank (equal to a +1 bonus on checks with that skill) for each skill point. If you buy other classes’ skills (cross-class skills), you get 1/2 rank per skill point. Your maximum rank in a class skill is your character level + 3. Your maximum rank in a cross-class skill is one-half of this number (do not round up or down).

Using Skills: To make a skill check, roll:

1d20 + skill modifier (Skill modifier = skill rank + ability modifier + miscellaneous modifiers)

This roll works just like an attack roll or a saving throw - the higher the roll, the better. Either you’re trying to match or exceed a certain Difficulty Class (DC), or you’re trying to beat another character’s check result. For instance, to sneak quietly past a guard, Lidda needs to beat the guard’s Listen check result with her own Move Silently check result.

Skill Ranks: A character’s number of ranks in a skill is based on how many skill points a character has invested in a skill. Many skills can be used even if the character has no ranks in them; doing this is called making an untrained skill check.

Ability Modifier: The ability modifier used in a skill check is the modifier for the skill’s key ability (the ability associated with the skill’s use).

Miscellaneous Modifiers: Miscellaneous modifiers include racial bonuses, armor check penalties, and bonuses provided by feats, among others.

Acquiring Skill Ranks

Ranks indicate how much training or experience your character has with a given skill. Each of his or her skills has a rank, from 0 (for a skill in which your character has no training at all) to a number equal to 3 + character level (for a character who has increased a skill to its maximum rank). When making a skill check, you add your skill ranks to the roll as part of the skill modifier, so the more ranks you have, the higher your skill check result will be.

Ranks tell you how proficient your are and reflect your training in a given skill. In general, while anyone can get a lucky roll, a character with, say, 10 ranks in a given skill has a higher degree of training and expertise in that skill than a character with 9 ranks or fewer.

Class starting packages provide an easier way to select 1st-level skills, because they assume that you max out (increase to maximum rank) each skill you buy and because they provide a shorter list from which to choose. Although selecting skills from a starting package feels very different from buying them rank by rank, your character winds up spending the same number of skill points no matter which way you select 1st-level skills.

Class 1st-level Skill Points 1 Higher-level Skill Points 2
Barbarian (4 + Int modifier) × 4 4 + Int modifier
Bard (6 + Int modifier) × 4 6 + Int modifier
Cleric (2 + Int modifier) × 4 2 + Int modifier
Druid (4 + Int modifier) × 4 4 + Int modifier
Fighter (2 + Int modifier) × 4 2 + Int modifier
Monk (4 + Int modifier) × 4 4 + Int modifier
Paladin (2 + Int modifier) × 4 2 + Int modifier
Ranger (6 + Int modifier) × 4 6 + Int modifier
Rogue (8 + Int modifier) × 4 8 + Int modifier
Sorcerer (2 + Int modifier) × 4 2 + Int modifier
Wizard (2 + Int modifier) × 4 2 + Int modifier

1: Humans add +4 to this total at 1st level.
2: Humans add +1 each level.

Acquiring Skills at First Level

Follow these two steps to pick skills for your 1st-level character:

  1. Determine the number of skill points your character gets. This number depends on his or her class and Intelligence modifier. For example, Lidda is a 1st-level halfling rogue with an Intelligence score of 14 (+2 Int modifier). At the start of play, she has 40 skill points to spend (8 + 2 = 10, 10 × 4 = 40). A character gets at least 4 skill points (1 × 4 = 4) at 1st level, even if he or she has an Intelligence penalty. A human gets 4 extra skill points as a 1st-level character. A human character with the same class and Intelligence modifier as Lidda would have 44 skill points at the start of play.
  2. Spend the skill points. Each skill point you spend on a class skill gets you 1 rank in that skill. Class skills are the skills found on your character’s class skill list. Each skill point you spend on a crossclass skill gets your character 1/2 rank in that skill. Cross-class skills are skills not found on your character’s class skill list. (Half ranks do not improve your skill check, but two 1/2 ranks make 1 rank.) Your maximum rank in a class skill is 4. In a cross-class skill, it’s 2. Spend all your skill points. You can’t save them to spend later.

Skills at Higher Levels

When your character attains a new level, follow these steps to gain new skills and improve those he or she already has:

  1. Determine the number of skill points your character gets. A character gets at least 1 skill point at each new level, even if he or she has an Intelligence penalty. A human gets 1 extra skill point per level.
  2. You can improve any class skill that you’ve previously maxed out by 1 rank or any cross-class skill that you’ve previously maxed out by 1/2 rank.
  3. If you have not maxed out a skill, you can spend extra skill points on it and increase its rank further. First, find out what your character’s maximum rank in that skill is. If it’s a class skill, the maximum rank is the character’s new level + 3. If it’s a cross-class skill, the maximum rank is half of that number (do not round up or down). You may spend the number of skill points it takes to max out the skill, provided that you have that many skill points to spend.
  4. If you want to pick up a new skill for your character, you can spend skill points equal to his or her character level +3. These skill points buy 1 rank each if the new skill is a class skill or 1/2 rank each if it’s a cross-class skill.

Regardless of whether a skill is purchased as a class skill or a cross-class skill, if it is a class for any of your classes, your maximum rank equals your total character level +3.

Using Skills

When your character uses a skill, you make a skill check to see how well he or she does. The higher the result of the skill check, the better. Based on the circumstances, your result must match or beat a particular number (a DC or the result of an opposed skill check) for the check to be successful. The harder the task, the higher the number you need to roll.

Circumstances can affect your check. A character who is free to work without distractions can make a careful attempt and avoid simple mistakes. A character who has lots of time can try over and over again, thereby assuring the best outcome. If others help, the character may succeed where otherwise he or she would fail.

Skill Checks

A skill check takes into account a character’s training (skill rank), natural talent (ability modifier), and luck (the die roll). It may also take into account his or her race’s knack for doing certain things (racial bonus) or what armor he or she is wearing (armor check penalty), or a certain feat the character possesses, among other things. For instance, a character who has the Skill Focus feat related to a certain skill gets a +3 bonus on all checks involving that skill.

To make a skill check, roll 1d20 and add your character’s skill modifier for that skill. The skill modifier incorporates the character’s ranks in that skill and the ability modifier for that skill’s key ability, plus any other miscellaneous modifiers that may apply, including racial bonuses and armor check penalties. The higher the result, the better. Unlike with attack rolls and saving throws, a natural roll of 20 on the d20 is not an automatic success, and a natural roll of 1 is not an automatic failure.

Difficulty Class

Some checks are made against a Difficulty Class (DC). The DC is a number set by the DM (using the skill rules as a guideline) that you must score as a result on your skill check in order to succeed. For example, climbing the outer wall of a ruined tower may have a DC of 15. For your character to climb the wall, you must get a result of 15 or better on a Climb check. A Climb check is 1d20 + Climb ranks (if any) + Strength modifier + any other modifiers that apply. Following are some Difficulty Class examples.

Difficulty (DC) Example (Skill Used)
Very easy (0) Notice something large in plain sight (Spot)
Easy (5) Climb a knotted rope (Climb)
Average (10) Hear an approaching guard (Listen)
Tough (15) Rig a wagon wheel to fall off (Disable Device)
Challenging (20) Swim in stormy water (Swim)
Formidable (25) Open an average lock (Open Lock)
Heroic (30) Leap across a 30-foot chasm (Jump)
Nearly impossible (40) Track a squad of orcs across hard ground after 24 hours of rainfall (Survival)

Opposed Checks

An opposed check is a check whose success or failure is determined by comparing the check result to another character’s check result. In an opposed check, the higher result succeeds, while the lower result fails. In case of a tie, the higher skill modifier wins. If these scores are the same, roll again to break the tie.

For example, to sneak up on someone, you make a Move Silently check. Anyone who might hear you can make a Listen check to react to your presence. For the opponent to hear you, his or her Listen check result must equal or exceed your Move Silently check result. Following are some example opposed checks.

Task Skill (Key Ability) Opposing Skill (Key Ability)
Con someone Bluff (Cha) Sense Motive (Wis)
Pretend to be someone else Disguise (Cha) Spot (Wis)
Create a false map Forgery (Int) Forgery (Int)
Hide from someone Hide (Dex) Spot (Wis)
Make a bully back down Intimidate (Cha) Special 1
Sneak up on someone Move Silently (Dex) Listen (Wis)
Steal a coin pouch Sleight of Hand (Dex) Spot (Wis)
Tie a prisoner securely Use Rope (Dex) Escape Artist (Dex)

1: An Intimidate check is opposed by the target’s level check, not a skill check. See the Intimidate skill description for more information.

Trying Again

In general, you can try a skill check again if you fail, and you can keep trying indefinitely. Some skills, however, have consequences of failure that must be taken into account. A few skills are virtually useless once a check has failed on an attempt to accomplish a particular task. For most skills, when a character has succeeded once at a given task, additional successes are meaningless.

For example, if Lidda the rogue misses an Open Lock check, she can try again and keep trying. If, however, a trap in the lock goes off if she misses an Open Lock check by 5 or more, then failure has its own penalties.

Similarly, if Lidda misses a Climb check, she can keep trying, but if she misses by 5 or more, she falls (after which she can get up and try again).

If Tordek has negative hit points and is dying, Lidda can make an untrained Heal check to make him stable. If the check fails, Tordek probably loses another hit point, but Lidda can try again in the next round.

If a skill carries no penalties for failure, you can take 20 and assume that you go at it long enough to eventually succeed eventually.

Untrained Skill Checks

Generally, if your character attempts to use a skill he or she does not possess, you make a skill check as normal. The skill modifier doesn’t have a skill rank added in because the character has no ranks in the skill. Any other applicable modifiers, such as the modifier for the skill’s key ability, are applied to the check.

Many skills can be used only by someone who is trained in them. If you don’t have Spellcraft, for example, you just don’t know enough about magic even to attempt to identify a spell, regardless of your class, ability scores, or experience level. Skills that cannot be used untrained are indicated by a “No” in the Untrained entry.

For example, Krusk the barbarian’s 4 ranks in Climb make his Climb check results 4 points higher than they otherwise would be, but even Gimble the bard, with no Climb ranks, can make a Climb check because Climb can be used untrained. Gimble has a skill modifier of –1 (+0 for his Strength, –1 for armor), but he can give it a try. However, Gimble’s ranks in Use Magic Device let him do something that he otherwise couldn’t do at all - namely, use a magic item as if he had a particular spell on his class spell list that he actually doesn’t have. Krusk, with no ranks in the skill, can’t make a Use Magic Device check even at a penalty because Use Magic Device can’t be used untrained.

Favorable and Unfavorable Conditions

Some situations may make a skill easier or harder to use, resulting in a bonus or penalty to the skill modifier for a skill check or a change to the DC of the skill check. It’s one thing for Krusk, with his Survival skill, to hunt down enough food to eat while he’s camping for the day in the middle of a lush forest, but foraging for food while travelling across a barren desert is an entirely different matter. The DM can alter the chance of success in four ways to take into account exceptional circumstances.

  1. Give the skill user a +2 circumstance bonus to represent conditions that improve performance, such as having the perfect tool for the job, getting help from another character, or possessing unusually accurate information.
  2. Give the skill user a –2 circumstance penalty to represent conditions that hamper performance, such as being forced to use improvised tools or having misleading information.
  3. Reduce the DC by 2 to represent circumstances that make the task easier, such as having a friendly audience or doing work that can be subpar.
  4. Increase the DC by 2 to represent circumstances that make the task harder, such as having an uncooperative audience or doing work that must be flawless.

Conditions that affect your character’s ability to perform the skill change the skill modifier. Conditions that modify how well the character has to perform the skill to succeed change the DC. A bonus to the skill modifier and a reduction in the check’s DC have the same result: They create a better chance of success. But they represent different circumstances, and sometimes that difference is important.

For example, Gimble the bard wants to entertain a band of dwarves who are staying at the same inn where he and his party are staying. Before playing his lute, Gimble listens to the dwarves’ drinking songs so he can judge their mood. Doing so improves his performance, giving him a +2 circumstance bonus on his check. His player rolls a 5 and adds +9 for his skill modifier (4 ranks, +3 Charisma modifier, and +2 for his impromptu research). His result is 14. The DM sets the DC at 15. However, the dwarves are in a good mood because they have recently won a skirmish with orc bandits, so the DM reduces the DC to 13 (Gimble’s performance isn’t better just because the dwarves are in a good mood, so Gimble doesn’t get a bonus to add into his skill modifier. Instead, the DC goes down). The leader of the dwarven band, however, has heard that a gnome spy works for the bandits, and he’s suspicious of Gimble. The DC to entertain him is higher than normal: 17 instead of 15. Gimble’s skill check result (14) is high enough to entertain the dwarves (DC 13) but not their leader (DC 17). The dwarves applaud Gimble and offer to buy him drinks, but their leader eyes him suspiciously.

Time and Skill Checks

Using a skill might take a round, take no time, or take several rounds or even longer. Most skill uses are standard actions, move actions, or full-round actions. Types of actions define how long activities take to perform within the framework of a combat round (6 seconds) and how movement is treated with respect to the activity. Some skill checks are instant and represent reactions to an event, or are included as part of an action. These skill checks are not actions. Other skill checks represent part of movement. The distance you jump when making a Jump check, for example, is part of your movement. Each skill description specifies the time required to make a check.

Practically Impossible Tasks

Sometimes you want to do something that seems practically impossible. In general, a task considered practically impossible has a DC of 40, 60, or even higher (or it carries a modifier of +20 or more to the DC).

Practically impossible tasks are hard to delineate ahead of time. They’re the accomplishments that represent incredible, almost logic-defying skill and luck. Picking a lock by giving it a single, swift kick might entail a +20 modifier to the DC; swimming up a waterfall could require a Swim check against DC 80; and balancing on a fragile tree branch might have a DC of 90.

The DM decides what is actually impossible and what is merely practically impossible. Characters with very high skill modifiers are capable of accomplishing incredible, almost unbelievable tasks, just as characters with very high combat bonuses are.

Checks without Rolls

A skill check represents an attempt to accomplish some goal, usually while under some sort of time pressure or distraction. Sometimes, though, a character can use a skill under more favorable conditions and eliminate the luck factor.

Taking 10: When your character is not being threatened or distracted, you may choose to take 10. Instead of rolling 1d20 for the skill check, calculate your result as if you had rolled a 10. For many routine tasks, taking 10 makes them automatically successful. Distractions or threats (such as combat) make it impossible for a character to take 10. In most cases, taking 10 is purely a safety measure - you know (or expect) that an average roll will succeed but fear that a poor roll might fail, so you elect to settle for the average roll (a 10). Taking 10 is especially useful in situations where a particularly high roll wouldn’t help (such as using Climb to ascend a knotted rope, or using Heal to give a wounded PC long-term care).

For example, Krusk the barbarian has a Climb skill modifier of +6 (4 ranks, +3 Strength modifier, –1 penalty for wearing studded leather armor). The steep, rocky slope he’s climbing has a Climb DC of 10. With a little care, he can take 10 and succeed automatically. But partway up the slope, a goblin scout begins pelting him with sling stones. Krusk needs to make a Climb check to get up to the goblin, and this time he can’t simply take 10. If his player rolls 4 or higher on 1d20, he succeeds.

Taking 20: When you have plenty of time (generally 2 minutes for a skill that can normally be checked in 1 round, one full-round action, or one standard action), you are faced with no threats or distractions, and the skill being attempted carries no penalties for failure, you can take 20. In other words, eventually you will get a 20 on 1d20 if you roll enough times. Instead of rolling 1d20 for the skill check, just calculate your result as if you had rolled a 20. Taking 20 means you are trying until you get it right, and it assumes that you fail many times before succeeding. Taking 20 takes twenty times as long as making a single check would take. Since taking 20 assumes that the character will fail many times before succeeding, if you did attempt to take 20 on a skill that carries penalties for failure (for instance, a Disable Device check to disarm a trap), your character would automatically incur those penalties before he or she could complete the task (in this case, the character would most likely set off the trap). Common “take 20” skills include Escape Artist, Open Lock, and Search.

For example, Krusk comes to a cliff face. He attempts to take 10, for a result of 16 (10 plus his +6 skill modifier), but the DC is 20, and the DM tells him that he fails to make progress up the cliff (his check is at least high enough that he does not fall). Krusk cannot take 20 because there is a penalty associated with failure (falling, in this case). He can try over and over, and eventually he may succeed, but he might fall one or more times in the process. Later, Krusk finds a cave in the cliff and searches it. The DM sees in the Search skill description that each 5-foot-square area takes a full-round action to search, and she secretly assigns a DC of 15 to the attempt. She estimates that the floors, walls, and ceiling of the cave make up about ten 5-foot squares, so she tells Krusk’s player that it takes 1 minute (10 rounds) to search the whole cave. Krusk’s player gets a result of 12 on 1d20, adds no skill ranks because Krusk doesn’t have the Search skill, and adds –1 because that is Krusk’s Intelligence modifier. His roll fails. Now the player declares that Krusk is going to search the cavern high and low, taking as long as it takes. The DM takes the original time of 1 minutes and multiplies it by 20, for 20 minutes. That’s how long it takes for Krusk to search the whole cave in exacting detail. Now Krusk’s player treats his roll as if it were 20, for a result of 19. That’s good enough to beat the DC of 15, and Krusk finds an old, bronze key discarded under a loose rock.

Ability Checks and Caster Level Checks: The normal take 10 and take 20 rules apply for ability checks. Neither rule applies to caster level checks (such as when casting dispel magic or attempting to overcome spell resistance).

Combining Skill Attempts

Ability Checks

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Sometimes a character tries to do something to which no specific skill really applies. In these cases, you make an ability check. An ability check is a roll of 1d20 plus the appropriate ability modifier. Essentially, you’re making an untrained skill check. The DM assigns a Difficulty Class, or sets up an opposed check when two characters are engaged in a contest using one ability score or another. The initiative check in combat, for example, is essentially a Dexterity check. The character who rolls highest goes first.

In some cases, an action is a straight test of one’s ability with no luck involved. Just as you wouldn’t make a height check to see who is taller, you don’t make a Strength check to see who is stronger. When two characters arm wrestle, for example, the stringer character simply wins. In the case of identical scores, roll a die. Following are some example ability checks.

Task Key Ability
Breaking open a jammed or locked door Strength
Threading a needle Dexterity
Holding one’s breath Constitution
Navigating a maze Intelligence
Recognizing a stranger you’ve seen before Wisdom
Getting oneself singled out in a crowd Charisma

Skill Descriptions

This section describes each skill, including common uses and typical modifiers. Characters can sometimes use skills for purposes other than those noted here. For example, you might be able to impress a bunch of riders by making a Ride check.

Skill Name: The skill name line includes (in addition to the name of the skill) the following information.

Key Ability: The abbreviation of the ability whose modifier applies to the skill check. Exception: Speak Language has “None” as its key ability because the use of this skill does not require a check.

Trained Only: If this notation is included in the skill name line, you must have at least 1 rank in the skill to use it. If it is omitted, the skill can be used untrained (with a rank of 0). If any special notes apply to trained or untrained use, they are covered in the Untrained section (see below).

Armor Check Penalty: If this notation is included in the skill name line, an armor check penalty applies (when appropriate) to checks using this skill. If this entry is absent, an armor check penalty does not apply.

The skill name line is followed by a general description of what using the skill represents. After the description are a few other types of information:

Check: What a character (“you” in the skill description) can do with a successful skill check and the check’s DC.

Action: The type of action using the skill requires, or the amount of time required for a check.

Try Again: Any conditions that apply to successive attempts to use the skill successfully. If the skill doesn’t allow you to attempt the same task more than once, or if failure carries an inherent penalty (such as with the Climb skill), you can’t take 20. If this paragraph is omitted, the skill can be retried without any inherent penalty, other than the additional time required.

Special: Any extra facts that apply to the skill, such as special effects deriving from its use or bonuses that certain characters receive because of class, feat choices, or race.

Synergy: Some skills grant a bonus to the use of one or more other skills because of a synergistic effect. This entry, when present, indicates what bonuses this skill may grant or receive because of such synergies.

Restriction: The full utility of certain skills is restricted to characters of certain classes or characters who possess certain feats. This entry indicates whether any such restrictions exist for the skill.

Untrained: This entry indicates what a character without at least 1 rank in the skill can do with it. If this entry doesn’t appear, it means that the skill functions normally for untrained characters (if it can be used untrained) or that an untrained character can’t attempt checks with this skill (for skills that are designated as “Trained Only”).

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