First Look PHB3: Skill Powers

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on September 17, 2009

Player's Handbook 3It’s been a few weeks since Wizards of the Coast released the latest preview content for the Player’s Handbook 3: Skill Powers. During that time I’ve read over and digested the new information. Overall, I like what I see.

There was a time when I was worried about the direction 4e was going in, but with the recent release of the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 and the preview content made available to DDI subscribers those fears have been abated. So just what is WotC provided in this latest offering?

“Skill powers are utility powers that you qualify for not based on your class, but by virtue of your training in a particular skill.” In other words more options for you.

I’m a fan of the skill power concept. It borrows from the idea of skill tricks presented in the 3.5e Complete Scoundrel accessory. In 4e players are able to select utility powers that are based on skill training, in lieu of utility powers that are available through their class. To me this seems to be a natural progression of the skill system. It’s also a nice way to blend skills and utility powers.

This allows the player to create a very versatile character or a highly specialized one depending on their preference. Most of the powers presented have a combat application, though some are focused on skill challenges or rituals.

The preview features 51 skill powers. Of those powers 49 are from the heroic tier and 2 are from the paragon tier. It would have been nice to see a few more options from the paragon tier and perhaps one or two from the epic tier. Especially considering the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 was just released and it focuses on running games in the paragon tier.

From the 51 powers I’ve selected 6 to highlight.

Arcana Utility 16 – Elemental Countermeasures

One of the two paragon powers, Elemental Countermeasures allows you to reduce elemental damage by an Arcana check divided by 2. As an encounter power this almost seems like a must have for anyone trained in Arcana.

Bluff Utility 10 -Improvisational Arcana

This power allows you to reduce the gold piece cost of a ritual that is half your level or lower. Additionally, you can make a Bluff check in place of any skill check required by the ritual. A great option for Rogue’s who might want to diversify a bit. Bards could also take advantage of the bluff check vs. arcana checks if they desired.

This power might also create some interesting diversity in Wizards and Clerics by pushing them to train in Bluff to gain cheaper rituals. Though the power is called Improvisation Arcana it isn’t dependant on Arcana check based rituals.

Endurance Utility 16 – Diehard

Our other paragon power, no it’s not a Bruce Willis movie. Diehard allows your character to keep fighting long past the point of sensibility. Essentially being knocked to zero hit points won’t mean much to you if you select this power.

Insight Utility 10 – Insightful Comment

One of the powers that designed for primary use in skill challenges. Allies will receive a boon to Bluff, Diplomacy and Intimidate checks equal to your Wisdom modifier.

Nature Utility 2 – Nature Sense

This power almost seems like a given if you are trained in nature, though it comes with a price as it’s a daily power. You can use a Nature check instead of a standard initiative roll and all your allies gain a +4 bonus to all defenses until the end of the first round of the encounter. That’s a fairly powerful level 2 utility power as the bonus isn’t dependant on range or where you actually fall in the initiative order.

Perception Utility 2 – Far Sight

If you’re playing an archer ranger build and you don’t select this power you should get your head checked. It’s an encounter power, minor action that negates the penalty to attack rolls at long range and it ignores cover and concealment. I know there are feats that cover similar ground but I don’t think they are as encompassing as this power.


The article has commentary from Mike Mearls, Peter Schaefer and Robert J. Schawlb to give you an idea of what the designers were thinking when they developed the powers. I like this feature that they’ve included in the debut content. It’s a great opportunity to look behind the developers screen and allows for a glimpse of the direction they want to take the game.

While most of the powers presented were very interesting and open up new expanded options for players to pursue, some of the powers were a clear stretch. The power Practiced Rider is one example that stood out to me. Maybe it’s because my gaming group doesn’t use mounts at all, but I didn’t think mounting or dismounting a willing animal as a minor action was worth a level six utility power.

Another power I didn’t like was Stolen Defense, which is a Thievery Level 6 power. I should clarify, I like the power but I think the mechanics as presented don’t make sense. If I’m successful at a thievery check I shouldn’t be noticed, but this power does just the opposite and allows an ally to gain combat advantage as a result. Great power, but it should be based on bluff not thievery.

Overall I’m impressed and I’m looking forward to seeing the full collection of Skill Powers when the PHB3 is published next year. If you don’t have a DDI subscription (what are you waiting for?) or you just want additional uses for the skills you do have, check our Skill Challenges page. We have articles dedicated to most of the skills. We provide ten uses you might not have previously considered, allowing you to get the most out of your skills.

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1 Toldain September 17, 2009 at 1:05 pm

The Stolen Defense power seems to me to be a way for a sneaky to tie the enemies shoelaces together, or to pull his pants down around his knees, thus giving someone else a chance to whack him.

With that kind of visualization, the power makes more sense to be Thievery than Bluff.
.-= Toldain´s last blog ..In Praise of Randomness =-.

2 Wimwick September 17, 2009 at 9:13 pm

@ Toldain
When you put it like that I’m inclinded to agree with you.

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