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I am playing in a campaign as a wild reaper, which is a druid variant. One of the wild reaper disadvantages compared to a normal druid is that I only get 2 + Int bonus skill points per level, and I only get a +1 int bonus, so I'm trying to figure out which skills I need to prioritize. I think I should max concentration, but I'm not sure what else is really important.

Can I get away with not investing in Spellcraft given that there is an arcane caster in the party? Is there anything critical that I can't get them to do for me?

Also, I am the only person in the party with heal as a class skill - how important is it that I take a lot of ranks in Heal?

Handle Animal, Knowledge: Nature, and Survival also seem like they might be good investments, but is there a point where I should stop investing in them?

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5 Answers 5

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The Wild Reaper Skill List

Gaming groups in which I participate are pretty serious about following rules. Players do, in fact, make Handle Animal skill checks to handle and push animal companions, and the skill Spellcraft is used all the time to determine a school of magic using the spell detect magic [div] (PH 219) and to identify a spell already in place, for example. This means the importance I place on some skills will be different from the importance others place on some skills.

Anyway, amusingly, the variant druid wild reaper (Dragon #311 55-7) adds 1 class skill to the druid list (the Intimidate skill) then halves the class's skill points per level. How rude. I assume you're not planning for the character to be a mounted druid, nor are you planning to have the character win via the Intimidate skill. Here, then is an evaluation of the wild reaper's class skills.

  • Concentration (Con): This gets 4 ranks at level 1 and 1 rank per level. Note: It's possible to skip ranks when the character's bonus to Concentration skill check reaches the highest spell level he can cast + 14, allowing him to cast defensively consistently and fearlessly. This can be as early as level 2.

    • The torso slot item tunic of steady concentration (CAd 133, 136) (2,500 gp; 0 lbs.) grants the wearer a +5 competence bonus to Concentration skill checks. The face slot item third eye concentrate (MIC 141) (10,000 gp; 0 lbs.) grants the wearer a +10 competence bonus to Concentration skill checks.
    • The feat Steady Concentration (RS 144) grants the creature the ability to take 10 on Concentration skill checks always. Note: It's possible that, as a druid, you'll soon dwarf the other party members in raw power. So they don't get jealous, taking a feat that doesn't make you better all the time is sometimes the decent thing to do.
  • Craft (Int): No ranks. Usable untrained. Note: Although the druid variant wild reaper loses the Player's Handbook druid's venom immunity, if you're sandbagging, Craft (poisonmaking) (CAd 97-8) remains a possibility with the feat Master of Poisons (DrU 51). Really, though, let another character have this role.
  • Diplomacy (Cha): No ranks. Usable untrained. Note: Let another character have this role.
  • Handle Animal (Cha): This gets 4 ranks at level 1 and 1 rank per level until the character can consistently and fearlessly make DC 25 Handle Animal skill checks. Note: I disagree with others' assessments of the skill Handle Animal. The character will need to push his animal companion because there are way too many tricks. The druid's animal companion also dies all the time. Whatever tricks the character trains his animal companion to perform (short of the obvious ones) will be the wrong ones, and when the animal companion inevitably dies that time and effort is wasted anyway. Push the animal. A lot.

    • "A druid... gains a +4 circumstance bonus on Handle Animal checks involving [his] animal companion" (PH 75).
    • The feat Hardened Criminal (City of Stormreach 95) grants the character the ability to take 10 with a skill picked when this feat is picked, even if taking 10's "normally impossible." Further, when another attempts to use the skill Intimidation versus the character, the attempt fails. Note: See the note for the feat Steady Concentration, above.
    • The 0th-level Drd spell animal trick [trans] (MW 82) causes the caster's animal companion within close range to perform 1 trick. Alternatively, the 2nd-level Drd spell train animal [ench] (SpC 221) for 1 hour/level grants a touched animal additional tricks equal to half the caster's level (maximum 5).
    • The throat slot item collar of obedience (CAd 132, 133) (1,500 gp; 0 lbs.), in addition to other effects, reduces by 5 the DC of Handle Animal skill checks to push an animal or magical beast who wears the collar. Alternatively, the collar of cleverness (MW 29) (700, 1,400, or 2,100 gp; 1 lb.) grants the creature that wears it 1, 2, or 3 tricks, respectively, with tricks chosen when the item's created.
    • The feet slot item cavalry spurs (Dragon #334 71) (7,000 gp; 0 lbs.), in addition to other effects, grant a +5 bonus to Handle Animal skill checks.
    • The throat slot item amulet of aberrant empathy (CAd 132, 133) (1,400 gp; 0 lbs.) and pendant of draconic empathy (CAd 133, 134) (3,300 gp; 0 lbs.) grant the wearer the ability to use the skill Handle Animal instead of the skill Diplomacy to Influence NPC Attitudes (PH 72) either of aberrations with Intelligence scores of 9 or less or of dragons with Intelligence scores of 11 or less, respectively. Note: In case you want your character to get more use from his Handle Animal skill.
  • Heal (Wis): No ranks. Usable untrained. Note: Failing to make Heal skill checks to perform first aid (DC 15) makes the character a pariah. A wand of cure minor wounds [conj] (PH 216) is 7 gp 5 sp per charge, but anyone can use blessed bandages (MIC 152-3) (10 gp; 0 lbs.) in case the character himself is downed.
  • Intimidate (Cha): No ranks. Usable untrained. Note: When he can wild shape into Large and bigger creatures don't forget your character's size bonus to Intimidate skill checks (PH 76).
  • Knowledge (nature) (Int): This gets at least 1 rank at level 1 and as many as can be spared thereafter. While the animal, fey, and vermin types don't have many high-level creatures, the giant, monstrous humanoid, and plant types remain viable threats long into the character's career.
  • Listen (Wis) and Spot (Wis): No ranks. Usable untrained. Note: Druid spells can grant crazy bonuses to the skills Listen and Spot, and there's the 2nd-level Drd spell embrace the wild [trans] (SpC 79), the 3rd-level Drd spell blindsight [trans] (SpC 32), and the 4th-level Drd spell essence of the raptor [trans] (SpC 84) and more if the party doesn't think your character's pulling his weight, detection-wise. Further, the character's animal companion will probably have better bonuses to Listen and Spot skill checks than the rest of the party when play begins; put the animal on guard duty.
  • Profession (Wis): If the campaign's near water, 1 rank in Profession (sailor) (Sto 87-8). If in Eberron, 1 rank in Profession (miner) (MoE 17-18). If the DM's using those rules, 1 rank in Profession (taxidermy) (UA 151) so that your character can aid another who will eventually put enough skill points into Profession (taxidermy) so he can consistently and fearlessly make Profession (taxidermy) checks (DC 20).
  • Ride (Dex): No ranks. Usable untrained. Note: Don't forget the +2 bonus via 5+ ranks in the skill Handle Animal.
  • Spellcraft (Int): This gets at least 1 rank at level 1 and as many as can be spared thereafter. Note: The skill Spellcraft is essential to high-level characters' survival. The skill Spellcraft gets the ranks when the character's finished spending ranks on the skills Concentration and the skill Handle Animal.
  • Survival (Wis): No ranks. Usable untrained. Note: The character's animal companion may have the special ability scent and the feat Track (PH 101); if the animal companion's not trained for it, use the skill Handle Animal to push the animal to use the trick track--or just let the ranger do it. Also, remember the 1st-level Drd spells endure elements [trans] (PH 226) and goodberry [trans] (PH 237); druids survive just fine without the skill Survival.
  • Swim (Str): No ranks. Usable untrained. Note: Your character only need put ranks in the skill Swim if all the other characters have put ranks in the skill Swim. Otherwise, y'know, find a bridge.
  • Cross-class: Use Magic Device (Cha): Eventually at least 1 rank but enough ranks to overcome any Charisma penalty the character might have. Note: Without the skill Use Magic Device the character's relying on others to supply the 3rd-level Sor/Wiz spell anticipate teleportation [abjur] (SpC 13) and the 4th-level Sor/Wiz spell detect scrying [div] (PH 219-20). Teleport ambushes work versus druids until they can cast the 5th-level Drd spell hallow [evoc] (PH 238) et. al., and by then it might be too late.

Skilled City Dweller
If the DM allows the alternative class feature skilled city dweller (Cityscape Web enhancement "Cityscape, Part 1: Urban Class Features" here), your character won't trade away the skill Handle Animal for the skill Gather Information nor the skill Knowledge (nature) for the skill Knowledge (local) but can make the following trades:

  • Lose Survival (Wis) and gain Sense Motive (Wis): The character doesn't have enough skill points to make such a trade worthwhile in the short term, but once the skills Concentration, Handle Animal, and Spellcraft are at the point where success is assured, the skill Sense Motive is good place for those excess ranks to go.
  • Lose Ride (Dex) and gain Tumble (Dex): This trade should be made. 1 rank goes in the Tumble skill to start. Alternatively, don't put ranks into the skill Knowledge (nature); put those ranks into the skill Tumble instead. At low levels the Tumble skill is more likely to save your character's life than the Knowledge (nature) skill.

Masterwork Tools
Buy them! They're among the best ways to spend 50 gp. A masterwork tool (PH 129, 130-1) (50 gp; 1 lb.) is skill-specific (i.e. buy one for each skill) and grants the user a +2 circumstance bonus that skill's checks.


Sample Skills

Here's a well-rounded, I-m-going-to-contribute-to-the-game list. If you're playing a lighter game, just put the 4 ranks in the Tumble skill instead.

  • Concentration (Con) [4 ranks]
  • Handle Animal (Cha) [4 ranks]
  • Knowledge (nature) (Int) [1 rank]
  • Profession (sailor) (Wis) [1 rank]
  • Spellcraft (Int) [1 rank]
  • Tumble (Dex) [1 rank]
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This was really useful, thanks! I wasn't aware of the steady concentration feat, and you gave me a number of items to keep an eye out for. –  shaydwyrm Apr 30 at 21:57
    
It isn't ideal to have your animal companion as the only one with ranks in listen. Sure, Fido might hear/see/smell approaching danger before the players, but won't always be able to understand/communicate what they have heard. Particularly with stealth/invisible, players can say "target that square" better than an animal companion can. –  Scott Jun 17 at 3:19
    
@Scott The skill list above isn't suggested for the whole party, though. The Bbn or Rgr should have ranks in the Listen skill, not the 2-skill-points-per-level Drd variant. –  Hey I Can Chan Jun 17 at 3:42

Concentration: a must

You will be required to make Concentration checks to cast spells too often to not max Concentration. By the time you get to around level 5, you will probably be casting defensively (DC 15 + spell level) more often than not, which means you want as high a modifier as you can.

Handle Animal: thematic, appropriate, maybe useful, maybe necessary

Handle Animal is one of the better skills if you actually devote yourself to using it. You don’t need to have much of it for your Animal Companion since you get a big bonus on those checks for the Animal Companion, but you do need some for training. After that, remember that you can train other animals – and if you do, you’ll want more for pushing them if you need to. Your Animal Companion may even need pushing, though that is fairly rare.

Spellcraft: definitely nice, but you can get away without it

Spells are the most powerful things in the game. You want to know what they are when you encounter them. The wizard may cover it... but having two rolls rather than one is good for the party. You can get away without it, but I wouldn’t want to if I didn’t have to.

Knowledge (nature): really nice, not sure you have the points

Knowledge (nature) is really, really nice. Identifying animals, magical beasts, and fey is a big deal; a lot of those things have special attacks you do want to know how to avoid. That said, I’m not sure it clocks in among the top-3 most important skills for you.

Definitely put in the 1 rank so you can at least try to get lucky with a high roll, though.

Survival: meh

Survival’s not useless, and you probably are kind of expected to have it, but, Survival’s not actually that crucial. You usually have time to try a few times if you have to, you should have a very high Wisdom, you get a built-in bonus to it... might be worthwhile to put points here after you’ve gotten a decent baseline in Handle Animal (enough to hit the training DCs)

Heal: bizarrely worthless

Healing magic, which you get in spades (second only to the cleric), is always massively better than even the most stratospheric Heal checks. The Heal skill can’t actually do much – it doesn’t actually heal HP damage, there are very few conditions you can heal, and most of all, it takes forever to accomplish anything. It also doesn’t require training, depends on Wisdom, and the DCs are all pretty low. I wouldn’t bother with even a single point, not with only 3 skill points per level.

Conclusion

Concentration maxed, maybe some points in Handle Animal and Survival if you think they’ll come up, and then try to put as much as you can in Spellcraft and Knowledge (nature). As Handle Animal, Knowledge (nature), and Spellcraft require training, definitely get 1 rank in each ASAP.

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I have a spellthief and warmage both stacking spellcraft in my party - since we already have two rolls, does that tip the balance in favor of knowledge: nature vs spellcraft in your opinion? –  shaydwyrm Apr 30 at 21:59
    
@shaydwyrm Probably, yeah sure. I know I'd feel happier and more druid-y with Know (nature), particularly when it becomes a matter of being the only one to know anything about nature vs. being the third person to know stuff about spells. Definitely get the 1 point so you're not completely ignorant on the subject, though. –  KRyan Apr 30 at 22:18

Concentration is Great

If you want to be able to cast spells while near an enemy, Concentration is indispensable. You probably want to be able to do that. If for some reason you don't (if you intend to stay away from combat), then it doesn't matter.

My opinion: The important value in this is what you need to cast defensively. That requires beating a DC of 15 + the spell level. You'll want to get this high enough that you can't fail, and then you can cast spells even while threatened safely. That'll take many levels to do, but it's worth doing. You just lose too many options if you can't cast safely while threatened.

Handle Animal - Do you have a companion? If so, use this

Do you have an animal companion? If you do, you need Handle Animal. But you only need enough to get a modifier of +10 when dealing with your companion. That lets you take 10 to train and you can use the Handle action without failure. Handle lets you use your companion's tricks, like Attack and Heel. You'll need a good roll to Push your animal companion, but with good trick selection that rarely comes up.

The nice thing is that you get +4 when working with your companion automatically if you're a Druid (not sure about your variant), so you only need a modifier of +6 here otherwise. With a good Wisdom score, that is very easy. Do it. Ranks beyond that are unnecessary in my experience, but can be fun if you want to handle/train other (non-companion) animals, or want to be able to Push yours more easily.

Note: Some DM's do not enforce the rules about handling animal companions and just let you do it. If your DM doesn't care about making you use the skill, you don't need any ranks here at all.

Spellcraft - Handy

You can get away without Spellcraft, but you won't be able to do things like know what enemies are casting, decipher scrolls, identify potions, or such. Your party arcane caster can do many of those things for you, but it's still a good skill. I very rarely make a Spellcaster without investing in Spellcraft.

Knowledge: Nature - Flavorful

This is useful if you want to be able to identify animals and several other creature types in the wild. Thematically it fits Druid characters well. It also lets you identify things like their attacks and weaknesses, which is obviously useful information.

It's not necessary to do much of anything, so you can drop it if you need to. Your Wizard can take it instead if she wants to.

Heal - Not usually necessary

Heal lets you do things like stabilize dying characters and treat poison. The level 0 spell Cure Minor wounds can stabilize a dying character as well. You get spells to treat poisons and diseases more effectively.

Heal is occasionally useful at low level, but not necessary. It's up to you if you want to take it. You can skip it and miss nothing.

Survival - Essential for Tracking (and not otherwise)

Are you taking the Track feat? If so, you need to max Survival.

If not, it does some nifty things like letting you not get lost in the wild, survive on your own by finding food & water easily, and find North. You can do most of those things reliably with only a few skill ranks, as most of the DCs are 10 or 15 and it's Wisdom based.

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If Psionics are part of your game, I would suggest putting at least one point into autohypnosis. The Skill is Wisdom based, so even without a lot of investment you can get some milleage out of it and its effects can be very helpful:

  • Ignore caltrop wound (DC 18)
    Self explaining.

  • Memorize (DC 15)
    Memorize some obscure peace of knowledge or a map or...

  • Resist dying (DC 20)
    Stabilize with a Wisdom based Skillcheck DC 20? Yes please!

  • Resist fear (DC = effect DC)
    Skill checks don't have natural 1 — enough said.

  • Tolerate poison (DC = effect DC)
    Skill checks don't have natural 1 — enough said.

  • Willpower (DC 20)
    Take actions normally at 0 HP and don't lose HP at 0 HP. Situational, but when it applies, incredibly helpful.

There are other effects, but they have very high DC's; see the skill description in the SRD for details.

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Concentration is pretty necessary

As all the other answers state, you want to max concentration. You'll likely be in melee as a Druid, and you want to be able to cast spells in melee, even when you can do that reliably, the ability to turn into a bear, grapple something, and still cast spells is a very useful to have, assuming you have spells you can cast with your hands busy. (I'm not sure what Druid spells that would be, but it's very useful for Clerics and Wizards to get OUT of grapples). It does eventually stop helping much, but you want to get it to +23 before you stop maxing it, and you're not likely to get that high.

Spot is super great, and you'll likely have the highest in the party

You didn't mention it, but from a effectiveness perspective, Spot is one of the best skills, it prevents ambushes, lets you notice plot points, and sometimes gets you extra treasure. With your wisdom, it will likely be higher than anybody else if you max it, I'd do so.

After that, you'll want to spread the points around.

Normally in 3.5, you want to max all your skills, but in this case I would agree that you want to spread them around, you want a little bit of Survival/Knowledge Nature/Handle Animal so you're both trained and can perform basic tasks without too much trouble, after that, it's pretty whatever. Diplomacy and Listen are also vaguely useful, although Listen is less so, and you don't have to points to max either, which is what they really need to make a difference.

Personally, our group never got much use out of Spellcraft, most spells have obvious effects, and those that don't often aren't the most effective choices. It's most effective when somebody's trying to lie to you, either with illusions, or if pretending to cast buffs, but actually casting mind effecting spells on you. It will depend on your GM how helpful it is. It does have the problem that it gets harder as you level up, so putting a couple of points into it here and there will only help you so much, you want to get it to +10 to +20 for it to be reliable.

Similarly with Handle Animal, I don't think our GM ever remembered to use those details, and looking at them, I can see why. Your animal companion gets automatic bonus tricks, so you need the skill less and less as you level up. It's probably worth putting a point in, but with a +1 bonus, so long as you're trained, you can take ten to teach your companion DC 15 tricks with the extra +4 you get from it being a companion, and give it attack as it's bonus trick, giving you basic control for very little effort. You can use it on other animals, but this will become less useful very quickly, unless you go out of your way to try and find level appropriate animals and befriend them with your class abilities, which will only sometimes be an available option.

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