Have You Retrained Today?

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on April 16, 2010

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?

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1 Mad Brew April 16, 2010 at 9:41 am

Just to be a stickler, I believe the 3.5 PHB II formally introduced retraining as an optional rule. I may be mistaken on the exact book, but I do know that option was available in the previous edition.
.-= Mad Brew´s last blog ..Schattenkrieg Personalities =-.

2 callin April 16, 2010 at 11:04 am

IMO, retraining was allowed into the system primarily for one reason; to allow for easier intergration of new source material created after the start of the game. PH2, PH3, the various Powers books, setting books, DnD Insider all have added new powers/feats/abilites to the game. If there was no easy way to add them to your character many people would simply skip the new source books. With an easy way to do it, people do not ignore new material but instead embrace it as a way to augment and improve their character.
The secondary reason is because making a “wrong” choice at an early level is frustrating and counter-fun. Now there is a way to fix these “mistakes” after the fact.
.-= callin´s last blog ..Quick Hit-Reuse It =-.

3 Jenny Snyder April 16, 2010 at 2:40 pm

I think retraining is great, especially when the group is meeting for the first time–powers you thought were awesome turn out to not mesh well at all in actual play, and it’s good to have a way to tweak your character. DnD is all about synergy, and being able to play something and then defenestrate it because it doesn’t play well with others really brings home the teamwork aspect of DnD combat in 4e.

4 Wimwick April 16, 2010 at 4:50 pm

@ Mad Brew
I could be wrong about what edition allowed retraining. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if I am. However, I think 4e is the frist edition to really give retraining a focus. That may be more apparent because of things like character builder or just my perception on the subject.

@ callin
I absolutely agree with you. Retraining is a mechanic that allows easy integration of new source material.

@ Jenny Snyder
It’s amazing how what is great in our minds often turns out to be less than ideal in practice. After a level of realizing your new super cool, ultra powerful power is anything but, it’s great to know you can retrain.

5 Dungeon Newbie April 19, 2010 at 5:04 am

I agree. I once read about a player who got a “wicked sick” power but then realized most creatures the DM was giving him was resistant against it and it was almost useless against them. Thankfully, he could retrain 😀

6 Zerico June 12, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Might seem a sily question, but since I don’t see an answer in the books:

Can Themes and Backgrounds be swapped out in any way?

7 Ameron (Derek Myers) June 12, 2012 at 6:07 pm

The short answer is no. Your background cannot be changed nor can your theme. However, as a character progresses and advances in level the initial benefit your background provided may not really make sense any more and your DM may allow you to change it. Same goes with the theme. If your theme doesn’t make sense now the the character has hit paragon and gone down a different life path, a kind DM may let you change for something more suitable. But according to the Rules as Written (RAW) these are not things you can change once selected.

One other thought on the subject. As a DM I would absolutely allow an existing character who doesn’t have a theme to choose one after character creation if it makes sense for the way the game is progressing. I don’t think that this is necessarily something that the PC must select during character creation. But that’s just my thoughts on it, your DM may not be as open minded especially if you’re just trying to power-game the system.

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