Overview of Pathfinder’s Skills: Stealth to Use Magic Device

To strike from the shadows is a valuable skill. Stealth (Full Description on PFSRD)(-C’s Post):  The stealth skill is not quite so broken as I thought it was before I sat down to do my analysis. It can be easy for those of us who played Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition for years to not notice, or forget, some of the changes which Pathfinder has made. Pathfinder’s stealth skill doesn’t include any information on hiding whatsoever: hiding is left up to the GM and players to work out on their own. Which is good and proper. If my players tell me they would like to hide behind a statue, then I see no reason to make them roll for it. Simply using commonsense rules about line of sight is enough. Though I would appreciate it if the stealth skill included information about hiding in shadows, or using camouflage in the woods.

In my games, I assume that all characters standing in darkness and not moving are effectively hidden and cannot be perceived unless a creature has darkvision. Moving half your speed in darkness requires a stealth check (for moving silently) made with a +4 bonus. Characters standing in dim light make stealth checks directly opposed to perception checks so long as they are not moving. If they do move, they make their check at a -4 penalty. In areas of normal or bright light,  hiding in shadows is done at a -2 penalty when standing still, and a -6 penalty when moving.

I also use facing in my games, as presented under the OGL for D&D 3.5. Note that the rules include a -5 penalty for perception checks made to the “flanking” (left and right) areas, and -10 penalty for perception checks made towards the “rear” area. So characters standing to the side or the rear of a creature can attempt to use stealth checks to move silently into an area where they can hide, which allows them to hide during combat.

Judgement: As written, the skill is not clear on several key points. And, without facing, the skill’s use in combat becomes a little ridiculous. By polishing these aspects of the skill, it can be made acceptable.

The Mythbusters can survive with just Duct Tape, because they rolled a 20 on their survival check.Survival (Full Description on PFSRD)(-C’s Post): I like survival. When attempting to subsist in the wilderness, there are some tasks which shouldn’t be ignored, but which are none the less not interesting or easy enough to actually model at the table. Finding food and water, for example. While this may be a simple task in a forest, scrounging up the necessities of life might be significantly more difficult on a rocky mountain, or in a desert, or a poison-filled swamp. The skill also helps players avoid becoming lost, which is good when world travel is handled by a hex crawl rather than the much less entertaining “fade to black” style travel. The skill is also essential when attempting to find, and follow tracks, which is a time honored ability in D&D, and functions effectively under the Pathfinder rules.

Judgement: I would like it if this skill had more utility, but some of the utility it already has (determining weather a day in advance, for example) is pretty useless. A better mechanic for these tasks could probably be worked out for future editions of the game, but as it stands survival is adequate.

THEY DON'T HAVE ANY RANKS IN THE SWIM SKILL, YOU FOOLS!Swim (Full Description on PFSRD)(-C’s Post): If you read my entry on climb, then you already know why I hate the swim skill. It is utterly without merit for a game which takes place largely on land to treat the ability to swim as anything more than a binary function. Either yes, a character can swim, or no, they cannot swim. I suppose that if a specific adventure called for the characters to spend significant amounts of time in the water, then a “water maneuverability classes” similar to the ones traditionally used to gauge flight ability might be useful. But that’s about it.

The rules offer a number of examples of when a swim check should be asked for, such as when the water is rough, or stormy. But how often is this really an issue? In all my years, I’ve only ever played through a single underwater dungeon, and a handful of water-environment combats. Even in those instances, I never felt the need to roll dice to determine how well players could move. I understand, of course, that my personal experience can’t be extrapolated to everyone who plays the game. But the game is clearly not designed around adventuring through watery environments, and if it was, I doubt you would need to roll dice to determine whether or not you could move at all.

In my games I allow players to simply swim if they feel as though it’s an ability their character would have. If you need a mechanic, then have players who wish to swim spend a single skill point to gain the ability to do so. It makes more sense than learning languages by spending a single skill point.

Judgement: Purge this skill from your game, and let its name never be spoken again.

Scroll Thief, art taken from a Magic the Gathering CardUse Magic Device (Full Description on PFSRD)(-C’s Post): This is another example of a well constructed skill, like Sleight of Hand. It allows any character to use items, such as wands and scrolls, which would typically only be usable by casters. This allows characters greater flexibility in their planning. My players, and myself when I am a player, often come up with elaborate plans which require the use of a specific spell cast in a specific place at a specific time, where there might be no caster present. But since a fighter is not fully capable of understanding the complexities of a scroll of fireball, it’s only logical for there to be a chance for failure.

Judgement: Keep this skill in the game as-is.

And there you have it. All of the skills. The conclusion will go up over the Weekend, after which we will return to our regularly scheduled writings.

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7 thoughts on “Overview of Pathfinder’s Skills: Stealth to Use Magic Device”

  1. We agree with you about Swim, insofar as it should have a binary nature, etc. etc. One thing important to note is that whether or not someone can swim it becomes orders of magnitude harder with heavy weights strapped on, like armor or 3000 pieces of gold. Perhaps one can swim as long as one is not encumbered by a medium load, or wearing medium armor?

    Love your site. Look forward to looting all of your good ideas mercilessly and seeing you driven before us and hearing the lamentations of your women reading more.

    1. That’s a good point which I had not thought of including in the post. Yes, of course medium loads & medium armor should prevent a person from swimming.

      Thanks for your comment. It’s never anything but an absolute pleasure to know my writing is being read and enjoyed.

  2. I’m still fairly new to Pathfinder, and I’m researching all the skills using your critiques. So, forgive my noobiness when I ask: did they remove Hidden from stealth? It seems that way considering that it is nowhere in the 5th printing Core Rulebook.

    Do you agree with that? Do you have new thoughts regarding Stealth?

    1. I actually don’t play Pathfinder anymore, but yes. Stealth does not include any information about hiding. D&D 3.5 had two skills, “Hide,” and “Move Silently,” neither of which appear in Pathfinder. Hiding was dropped completely, while Move Silently was changed to Stealth.

      I have a later post detailing some further thoughts on how stealth ought to be handled.

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