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Welcome to Part 4 of Zen & the Art of Character Creation. In the first installment, we looked at character styles and design philosophy. In part two, we examined different races and then in the third article, we discussed class choices and multiclassing. This week, we'll look at skill and feat selection


Every character has skill points, and although some have more than others, every character comes to rely on them from time to time.

What you Have and How to Use it
As a general rule, characters with magic or strong combat abilities have fewer skill points available to others. The destructive capabilities of arcane magic mean that arcane casters usually have fewer skill points than divine casters.

Characters with less skill points have a smaller number of skills available to them than others. While this all may seem very elementary, many players tend to overlook these basics and squander their skill points by throwing them into a handful of little-used skills or spread out thinly among a large number of skills.

Different Skill Types
Skills tend to be divided into three different schools: Active, Passive and Reactionary.

Active Skills
Active skills are ones that the player will tend to use themselves, regardless of the situation. Social-based skills like Bluff and Diplomacy, health-based skills like Autohypnosis and Heal and many Rogue-focused skills such as Move Silently, Open Lock and Sleight of Hand are all active skills.

Passive Skills
Passive skills, ones that don't see much use, are less common and much less well-defined. Knowledge, Profession and Craft can all be considered passive skills, as can Perform under most circumstances.

Reactionary Skills
Any skill that generally doesn't see use unless the character is met with a particular situation is a reactionary skill. Most physical skills like Climb and Swim are reactionary as are many mental-focused skills like Sense Motive and Concentration.

Choosing Skills
Skills should be chosen according to the character's needs and abilities. Take prerequisites for prestige classes or feats into mind first, as those are the skills that are most needed immediately.

When choosing skills, try to make your skills mesh with your character's abilities. Spellcasters often need Spellcraft and Concentration. Warriors generally need skills to assist them in getting around, such as Jump, Climb and Swim. Skill-users make use of skills for all kinds of purposes, such as stealth, knowledge or social interaction.

You'll also need to take your character's ability scores into consideration. Choosing skills that utilize your higher ability scores will make them more effective than if you focused on skills that used your lower ability scores.

Generally speaking, you'll probably want to spend most of your points in Active skills, with Reactionary skills secondly and Passive skills last. That way, you can be assured that you can make the most out of your skill selection with very little 'fat' around the edges.

Skill Tricks
When you're picking out skills, you may be tempted to choose a skill trick (see Complete Scoundrel). Skill-users tend to make the most use out of these abilities. Other characters can use them as well, but you'll want to ask yourself if you can afford to spare the skill points to pay for them.

Speak Language
Bards and Factotums are two rare classes that have Speak Language as a class skill (in addition to the odd race like the Illumian). Other classes have to spend more points to learn a new language. Spellcasters can learn spells that can help them simulate this skill. Characters who don't have access to this skill, likely will want to work out an alternative to help them speak other languages, as unless they have an excess of skill points, they likely can't afford to spend the extra points.


Characters gain about 7 feats on average throughout their career (except human characters who have 8 on average). When picking a feat, you can either enhance your characters natural abilities or use them to help build a focus for your character.

You should follow the same directives for picking feats that you use when choosing skills. Keep your choices focused on your character's strengths (or mitigating their weaknesses) and you can rarely go wrong.

Bonus Feats
Many classes like Fighter, Wizard, Scout and Shadowcaster offer bonus feats. For the most part, these feats can only be selected from a specific pool, which generally follows the class's theme. For example, most Fighter bonus feats are combat-oriented, while most Wizard bonus feats offer new options for magic or item creation.

Classes with a large number of bonus feats can be strongly customized according to their feat selection. For example, a Fighter can be focused on ranged or melee combat, be specialized in a single weapon, or can learn many different combat techniques.

That about wraps it up for part 4 of Zen & the Art of Character Creation. Join me next time for the final installment when we'll go through some sample character builds using the principles that we've discussed in the last four articles.

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