One of the great aspects of 4e is it officially recognized retraining. Finally, we had a formal rule for the process of substituting a power or a feat. In previous versions this aspect of the game was either forbidden or house ruled. Now, the concept itself isn’t a big stretch. The idea of swapping this power for that one isn’t new. What is new is the recognition of the game creator to enable this as an official rule.
I’m well aware that many other gaming systems have had such rules for a long time, but D&D has not. Now, you might be wondering what’s the big deal. If I’m not happy with my character I’ll simply change it or speak with my DM about the problem. Fair enough and in most instances a change is able to be made. What happens if you only play RPGA games though and you don’t have a real mechanism to make the changes you desire because a new source book has been released?
Retraining is a vital part of 4e that I feel is overlooked by a great deal of players. I know I certainly don’t take advantage of this option nearly as much as I should. By this I mean every time your character increases in level. The normal process for 99% of players is to level, pick a feat, select a power and save the character. Great! Except you have missed a vital step in optimizing your character. You haven’t reviewed what you already have. You haven’t reflected over the past levels you have played and considered if there is a way that things could be done differently, more effectively. You haven’t checked if there is an alternate power that would provide more synergies with another PC in the party.
The step that gets missed when PCs level is reviewing existing skills, powers and feats. The rules allow you to retrain either a feat or power at each level. This is a key opportunity to optimize your character. For example, a new power might grant something similar to a lower level power that you already possess. You may dismiss it out of hand, but perhaps the power is worth selecting and then retrain the lower level power for something else.
At a certain point in your PCs career some skills will be more advantageous to have than others. Additionally, as you increase in level your ability with all skills increases at half that value. There comes a point where that skill that was critical for you to have training in at first level won’t matter as much. You’ll realize that you are able to accomplish what you desire without even rolling. When this happens it’s time to retrain your skills and consider training your worst skills. An area that often gets overlooked are knowledge skills. When you enter into the Epic tier every scrap of extra knowledge that you can glean from your foes is critical. The only way to know everything there is to know is knowledge skills. So consider training in the appropriate skills.
Normally, every party has at least one person trained in Arcana and Religion. Nature and Dungeoneering are the two knowledge skills that tend to get skipped in my experience. If you can, train one of these skills when the optimal time to retrain presents itself.
Retraining also has the practical application of correcting a mistake made at an earlier level or gaining access to a new power that has just been released. This is the joy of Character Builder for me, I don’t need to purchase the source book to be aware of a new power or feat. I simply need to take a quick look at my options the next time my PC increases in level. Within a few minutes I can ascertain if there is an option I’d like to consider for my PC.
While retraining is a great tool all players should be aware that there are two aspects of your PC that you can’t retrain. These are your Paragon Path selection and your ability scores. Earlier this week I spoke of the importance of considering the implications of your ability scores when creating your character. When we consider this aspect in the light of retraining it gains even more importance. There is no worse feeling than realizing that you don’t qualify for that super cool feat because you didn’t balance your PC correctly at level 1. Far too many players build a PC that is optimized for play right out of the gate. However, as that character advances flaws begin to show and invariably the enjoyment factor in playing such a character begins to dwindle.
Why? Because the character is a one trick pony.
Retraining is a vital tool available to PCs, but it isn’t a fix all for all the dilemma’s you may face as your adventuring career progresses. Make sure that you have made the right decisions at level 1. As you continue to advance in power look at retraining as a way to optimize your character, to ensure that powers mesh with your party members and you take advantage of new material that is released.
What experience have you had with retraining? Do you take advantage of it? Has your DM disallowed retraining?