Themed Parties and Skill Spread

March 17th, 2009

Harnessing all them magics and stuff

Previously I whipped up a demonstration that the “classic D&D party” (Cleric-Fighter-Rogue-Wizard) can cover the skill spread quite easily. With the Player’s Handbook 2 out today, it is now possible to make a couple of power-source-themed adventuring parties, with all four party roles covered but without having to mix your peanut butter and your chocolate. There’s no reason to avoid such delicious flavor combinations, but sometimes you just want chocolate, right?

What we find, pretty quickly, is that there is a lot of overlap in each power-source group. The Arcanists all have Arcana, History, and Insight. The Divine classes all have Religion. The Primal classes all have Athletics, Heal, Nature, and Perception. Some of this overlap is reinforced by requiring characters to train spefici skills as part of character creation (Arcana, Religion, and Nature being the big culprits for obvious reasons).

With the exception of the Bard (which has every skill available save Endurance, Stealth, and Thievery), each of these groupings have big gaping holes in skill availability. If you want to have a broadly-skilled Divine adventuring party, you will probably have to sink a fair number of feats into skill training, or resort to creating a gang of Eladrin.

Moral of the story: mix up your power sources. Most DMs and players have been stitching together traveling-circus hodgepodges of adventuring parties for years, of course.


Bard Sorcerer Swordmage Warlock Wizard
Acrobatics - - - -
Athletics - -
Bluff - -
Diplomacy -
Dungeoneering - -
Endurance - - -
Heal - - - -
Intimidate -
Nature - -
Perception - - - -
Religion - -
Stealth - - - - -
Streetwise - - -
Thievery - - - -

A very insightful bunch. I have always thought of students of the arcane as being a bit more bookish than this particular overlap suggests.


Avenger Cleric Invoker Paladin
Acrobatics - - -
Arcana - -
Athletics - - -
Bluff - - - -
Diplomacy -
Dungeoneering - - - -
Endurance -
Heal -
History -
Insight -
Intimidate -
Nature - - - -
Perception - - -
Stealth - - -
Streetwise - - -
Thievery - - - -

As with the general trend from the first PHB, the class taking striker role fills out a fair amount of the skill availability. This calls out how little the Sorcerer does this, invested as he is in such common-fare skills as he is.


Barbarian Druid Shaman Warden
Acrobatics - - -
Arcana - -
Bluff - - - -
Diplomacy - - -
Dungeoneering - - - -
Endurance -
History - -
Insight - -
Intimidate - -
Religion - - -
Stealth - - - -
Streetwise - - - -
Thievery - - - -

Hoo, boy! That’s a lot of raw athleticism going around. That totally makes sense for each of these basic character concepts. With the introduction of the Primal power source, the Perception skill just went from prime real estate to common fare. Nature got flooded (as of the first PHB, only two classes had it), but that’s to be expected when four nature-centric classes introduced. It’s their thing. For the same reasons that Perception is a reasonable class skill for these Primal classes, I’m surprised that none of them got Stealth. Odd, that.

Again I see that the striker doesn’t do a lot of filling-out for the skill availability, unlike the Avenger, Ranger, Rogue, and Warlock.

3 Responses to “Themed Parties and Skill Spread”

  1. Pint Glass Crusader Says:

    Another good analysis BurrowOwl. You are on the right the right track when you say that Strikers are the go to guys for skill choices. However, the downside to Striker skills is their need to load their prime “striking” stat. This tends to leave a deficit in other stats, which in turn means the typical +5 in a lot of skills, which is less than desireable… better than nothing… but less than desireable.
    This means that the best Striker skill users tend to be the “perfect race” (i.e. a race with a bonus to primary and secondary stats, allowing for 18/18 in those stats, 12 in another and 10 across the board).
    As a player of an atypical Tiefling Warlock (an infernal pact with 18 CON, 15 INT & 15 CHA) I really feel the pinch in the skill department as all Warlock skills (bar Thievery) are INT/CHA based and I really can’t spare the feats for Skill Training or Jack of all Trades. Mind you my Bluff skill is reasonable, so I usually end up lying to NPCs a lot.
    Also, as an LFR player, I find that you really need someone with a reliable (i.e. huge) Diplomacy skill for the inevitable social skil challenge that penalises the use of Intimidate.
    In fact, that might make for an interesting analysis… which skills are the most worthwhile/essential… for starters you’ve got Diplomacy, Athletics and Perception… but are there any others?

  2. Burrowowl Says:

    Once you start factoring in attributes that are likely to be high, things get pretty complicated. A Ranger is likely to have a high Dexerity or high Strength, and a reasonable Wisdom score, but pretty unlikely to be good with all three. A Warlord is likely to have a high Strength and either high Intelligence or high Charisma, but again likely not all of the above. This happens with every class, really. Put into a table format you’d basically need to make a column for each of the major class variants (two to four per class if you include the Martial Power book).

    As for which skills are most important for a party to have, that depends heavily on the DM. It is handy in 3.x or LFR to have a badass at Diplomacy. Actually it can get fairly game-breaking. But there’s no rule for just one-roll ending a confrontation via fast-talk in 4e. Streetwise is a skill that may see almost no use in a wilderness or spelunking-intensive campaign, but would be indispensable in an urban campaign. Not a lot of use for Insight when dealing with a rampaging drake, but plenty when accosted by brigands. Ideally a DM should set up skill challenges that give everybody in a party an opportunity to participate meaningfully (same as with a fight). That means having a good idea of what skills your players’ characters excel at and what their bare spots are. That will also vary pretty widely, what with players generally leaning towards skills that they’ve found useful in previous games (Diplomacy and Perception being the ones that occur to me immediately).

    Oh, and you put 18 into an attribute that only keys to one skill. You had it coming. Your mental stats tend to be your skill stats, thus a Orb-centric Wizard (high Intelligence, high Wisdom) is likely to be excellent at a broad set of skills, while an Axe-centric Fighter (High Strength, high Constitution) is likely to be looking for a lot of opportunities to jockstrap it out with Athletics or just tough it out with Endurance. Them’s the breaks.

  3. Pint Glass Crusader Says:

    However, the only two skills that key off one stat, are the two are the most essential… Athletics and Endurance…
    Athletics does so much (and I’m refering mostly to LFR here) and comes up a lot. It’s also a skill that is difficult to be substituted. Acrobatics can (with a following wind and an imaginative DM) typically get you out of trouble when climbing or jumping. However, when it comes to “pure grunt work” you really need an Athlete.
    Endurance is even more perscriptive, as it is actually a pseudo-defence and used to resist diseases. Of course if you have a buddy with a good Heal skill, you might be able to suffer through the worst of a disease/condition. But, without it your stuck.
    This is the reason I like the new 4e. skill system it’s only very rarely that you are stuck without a option.