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Pathfinder - Practical Guide to Skill Unlocks

Disclaimer

I will use content from the core rules, but will intentionally omit any content not published on the official Pathfinder SRD due to the unmanageable volume of non-SRD content, and the wildly varying quality of non-SRD content. If you would like me to write handbooks for specific content not published on the official SRD, please email me and I will consider it on a case-by-case basis. I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.

Temporary Note: Pathfinder Unchained and Occult Adventures were both recently added to the SRD. I'm excited to explore them, and I am actively working on adding their contents to my collection of handbooks. I appreciate your patience while I make these changes.

This article includes content beyond the official Paizo SRD. SRD links will instead use the unofficial D20 PFSRD.

Introduction

Skill Unlocks add exciting new options to skills.

Rules

Skill unlocks come into play every 5 skill ranks (5, 10, 15, 20), and provide gradually more powerful abilities beyond a linear improvement of your character's ability to use a skill successfully.

Who can use skill unlocks?

Your group might choose to allow all characters to use skill unlocks for all of their skills, which disproportionately rewards highly skilled characters. In groups which lean toward casters and other low-skill classes, this might be acceptable and might help balance out class usage.

You might instead require that characters take the Signature Skill feat, which allows characters to use skill unlocks for a single skill. You might also use the Unchained Rogue, which gives Rogues easy access to skill unlocks.

Personally, I recommend allowing both the Signature Skill feat and the Unchained Rogue. There is a huge variance in the quality of skill unlocks, and granting them for free to everyone disproportionately rewards a subset of characters who frequently take the skills with the best unlocks.

Skills

Acrobatics

The options for acrobatics are too situational to justify.

Appraise

Appraise is a garbage skill, and skill unlocks do little to improve it.

Bluff

Only bluff's 20 rank ability is worth of consideration. Rogue's might consider it for their 20th-level Rogue's Edge, but this is certainly not worthy of Signature Skill.

Climb

Climb is a very situational skill, and can be easily replaced by a potion of Spider Climb for a meager 50 gp. At mid and high levels flight becomes prominent and important, which makes climb functionally useless. Skill unlocks only manage to emphasize this disparity.

Craft

Craft is for NPCs and poison enthusiasts. There are options to make magic item crafting available to non-casters using Craft, but they're all terrible compared to regular magic item crafting. Poison crafters might be able to make use of Craft's skill unlocks, especially since Rogues make up a disproportionate section of the poison-using population. Poison is very expensive, which means that it takes a long time to craft, and combining the 5-rank and 15-rank unlocks effectively multiplies your craft speed by 14. Combined with the existing rule which allows you to willingly increase your craft DC by 10, you can churn out poisons at a dizzying rate. Unfortunately, none of the unlocks do anything to address the problematic cost of poisons.

Diplomacy

Diplomacy enthusiasts like it because it's a great way to get out of a potentially lethal situation. The 10-rank and 15-rank abilities both play to this very well.

Disable Device

The skill unlocks for Disable Device pertain exclusively to traps, which makes sense, but they're really no good enough to make them interesting. The unlocks either allow you to disable traps faster or mitigate failure to disable a small subset of traps.

Disguise

Buy a Hat of Diguise; it gets you nearly all of the same benefits.

Escape Artists

If you care about Escape Artist this much, you need to get Freedom of Movement.

Fly

Despite the importance of flight at high levels, Fly is a nearly worthless skill. You get a +8 bonus just for having a fly speed, so one rank and the class skill bonus gives you a comfortable +12 bonus (before your ability score), which will get you through most effects in the game which call for Fly checks. The Fly skill unlocks make you more able to change direction in the air, and allow you better resist pesky wind effects, so in games with a lot of flight and counter-flight effects, they can be helpful.

Handle Animal

Handle Animal is used almost exclusively for Animal Companions, and the skill unlocks reflect that. Druids and Hunters are the only ones who will get any real use out of Handle Animal.

Heal

In 3.5 Heal was a joke skill on par with Use Rope. You took it to qualify for shitty feats and prestige classes. In Pathfinder the "Treat Deadly Wounds" option makes Heal a fantastic and cost-effective way to boost your party's healing abilities. Heal's skill unlocks further improve the Treat Deadly Wounds to provide additional healing. The max DC you need to hit is 25, which is fairly easy with a few ranks, decent Wisdom, and items. Beyond that, skill unlocks are the only reason to continue investing ranks. Each unlock provides a better version of the same effect, so I believe the intent is that they do not stack, though the rules don't say so specifically.

Intimidate

Intimidate has two uses: Intimidating people in conversation, and fear-stacking. Using Intimidate to demoralize a foe is standard action, which makes it hard to justify in most fights, but many abilities allow you to use it for free.

Knowledge

One of the most important uses of Knowledge skills is the ability to identify enemies, and the Knowledge skill unlocks play to this very nicely. Unfortunately, selecting Knowledge with Signature Skill only applies to a single knowledge skill, and unless you face that creature type almost exclusively you're not going to get a lot of use out of your Knowledge unlocks.

Linguistics

Linguistics is mildly amusing until you can cast Tongues, at which point it goes the way of Use Rope. The skill unlocks are terribly and not particularly well worded.

Perception

Perception is the most frequently rolled skill in the game. Perception's skill unlocks address some of the biggest pain points of using Perception.

Perform

Like Perform itself, Perform's skill unlocks are really only viable and useful for Bards. That said, Bards will get a lot of use out of these effects.

Profession

Profession is for NPCs. If your character wanted to be a professional, he wouldn't have started adventuring.

Ride

Mounted characters might find Ride's unlocks appealing, but the effects are situational and don't last very long.

Sense Motive

Sense Motive's skill unlocks are surprisingly good. The initiative bonus is great for Sneak Attack users and for spellcasters, and the 15-rank and 20-rank unlocks provide some excellent defensive options.

Sleight of Hand

Sleight of Hand is a Rogue skill which I frequently skip over because it sees so little use. Even stealing items can be done as a Combat Maneuver, making Sleight of Hand that much less useful. The first unlock allows you to combine a Steal maneuver with a Sleight of Hand check for a paltry bonus, and the rest of the unlocks all pertain to quickly drawing hidden weapons, which only a handful of Rogues will ever care to do.

Spellcraft

None of the benefits are even remotely worthy of consideration.

Stealth

Stealth's skill unlocks add a lot of really fantastic options for snipers.

Survival

Survival is already a situational skill, and tracking is rarely important.

Swim

In any campaign where you need Swim this much you should be playing a race or a class which grants you a swim speed.

Use Magic Device

The abilities aren't worth the effort.