Saturday, October 10, 2009

Skill Powers

Okay, let's see if I can remember how to do this blogging thing again. Having only played two D&D sessions in the last two months really has an effect on my D&D attention; I've not read an article for over a month, and feel so out of touch. I'm now making a concerted effort to keep active, even if our group doesn't, although now that snow has fallen, I think our usual summer distractions will soon be out of the way.

Last month's Dragon magazine had the third sneak peak into the Player's Handbook 3, regarding Skill Powers. In a nutshell, I think these are terrific. These provide powers whose prerequisites are based on your skill training, not on race or class. Long have I complained that every power in the game is chooseable by a single make of character, that there was no reuse of powers. If you wanted a fighter power, you had to be a fighter -- it wasn't going to appear in any other list.

But now, there CAN be some shared ability between otherwise very different characters. And since skills are an area where there can be some common ground between two different characters -- an acrobatic wizard or a diplomatic barbarian are both possible -- it perhaps makes a little more sense that it is in this area where commonality can occur. The stereotypically diplomatic classes (those with it available as a class skill) will seem appropriate if sharing the Cry For Mercy power, but if the party's fighter invests the time, he too should be able to exhibit some diplomatic prowess when needed.

But the ability to share powers across varied characters isn't the only attractive point about skill powers; the other is to make otherwise "worthless" skills useful. Now I'm sure I could start a debate with many people about whether this skill or that skill is "useless", and I assure you I could argue both sides. But these are some skills that, most will admit, are taken more for roleplay purposes -- "because she would have this skill" -- than for any utilitarian reason. D&D3.5 did the right thing by adding a lot of synergy bonuses to the worthless skills, and 4e did a better job by merging some and improving the others. And now that 4e has taken away the decision-making involved in ascribing ranks to skills, it was even easier to choose a few at character creation, and hope that those were the ones that needed Training in future skill challenges.

Now, with a new purpose to skills (if only to unlock access to these new skill powers), players might again put some thought into their skill choices beyond "I'm a paladin, I should probably take Diplomacy" or "the DM always drops us off of cliffs -- I'll take Acrobatics to be safe"; now the availability of skill powers might sway them to choices they'd otherwise avoid ("Religion? I'm no roleplaying paladin! Let the cleric worry about that."), or even better, might urge players to take the Skill Training feat, which I'm sure only sees use by roleplayers or heavily-themed builds.

Perhaps my favorite skill powers, I'll admit, are the at-will ones, which aren't many. Any time I look at "alternate" powers (racial or paragon/epic) to a class's regular set of powers, I always feel like I'm giving something up, losing something, instead of just swapping it. A bit irrational, I know, provided I'm happy with my choice. But this feeling doesn't occur if I'm gaining an at-will - and since skill powers are Utility powers, which generally aren't at-will, it feels like a gain if you can swap an at-will in. Two of my favorites are Agile Recovery (Acrobatics, Minor, "You stand up") and Fast Hands (Thievery, Free Action, "You draw or sheathe a weapon, pick up an item in your space or adjacent to it, or retrieve or stow an item"), both which can improve the effectiveness of your character in a very character-suitable way.

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