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Cityscape includes a feat, Primary Contact, that includes as a benefit

Choose one skill associated with the organization to which your contact belongs. You gain 1 bonus rank in that skill (even if doing so would put you above your normal maximum ranks for that skill).

This is the only effect in the entire game that directly and explicitly allows your skill ranks to exceed your normal maximum.1 That means, in theory, you can take a feat or enter a prestige class a level sooner than you otherwise could, if the only thing blocking you from that feat or prestige class was a certain number of ranks in one skill.

There’s just one problem: it’s only 1 rank, and it doesn’t permanently increase your maximum in that skill, so you only have greater-than-normal ranks for the level you take the feat. That means you can’t take advantage of it to select a particular feat unless you get Primary Contact the same level you want to take the target feat, nor can you use it to enter a prestige class early unless you gain Primary Contact exactly one level before entering the prestige class.

Since you don’t naturally get two feats in a level, and most prestige classes require 8 ranks and therefore you want to gain Primary Contact at 4th when no feat is available, you need to gain Primary Contact as a bonus feat. But nothing I can find lists Primary Contact as an available bonus feat.

So then, how can you gain Primary Contact when you need it, before 5th level, so that you can gain early access to a feat or prestige class? Note that, while a common houserule, officially you do not automatically get to choose a different feat when you gain a bonus feat you already have.

Anything that abuses bonus HD and/or psychic reformation, retraining, DCFS, or similar is out, since if we were going that far we could just skip Primary Contact altogether.

  1. Every other approach involves bonus HD (e.g. from inspire greatness) to increase your maximum, and then some way of assigning new skill points during that effect (e.g. psychic reformation, undead or warforged bard to ensure inspire greatness is always in effect so you level up under it, etc.). This is RAW-legal, but extremely dubious in my opinion.
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    \$\begingroup\$ In addition to the feat Primary Contact, ranks can also be gained from Yenejg Togan’s planar syllabus (Dungeon #88 104) (3,000 gp; 0 lbs.) and the magic volume found among the jackalweres' treasure (Expedition to the Demonweb Pits 34) if the reader's happy with ranks in Knowledge (the planes) but especially if the DM allows PCs to create their own syllabuses covering other skills by extrapolating from the construction details that Togan's syllabus's description provides. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jul 24 '18 at 22:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you consider use of the feat retraining mechanic (PHBII, p192, 193) to be abuse of the retraining mechanic, or are you merely electing to disregard retraining for the purpose of this question? \$\endgroup\$ – Chemus Jul 29 '18 at 15:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chemus I consider any use of retraining to accomplish something you couldn’t have accomplished in the first place to be an abuse of that mechanic. Retraining is an opportunity to change choices you made in the past; it is not supposed to be an opportunity to do things you couldn’t have done in the past. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 29 '18 at 16:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan PH2 could be said to disagree: "After your character goes through the retraining… process, you might notice that he doesn’t quite match the specs of a similar character built up to the same level by the normal method. Maybe his skill points don’t add up quite right…. But the small variations that crop up in this process don’t significantly impact play balance, and writing rules to eliminate them would complicate the process without really improving the quality of your game" (191). But, of course, one must ask, "How do you know that, PH2? HOW DO YOU KNOW?" \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Aug 14 '18 at 0:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ By the way, a similar issue involves the feat Apprentice (DMG2 176) that says, "Upon becoming an apprentice, a character immediately gains… two bonus skill points to spend on [the] class skills" that the Apprentice feat makes into class skills. Since skill points are spent then feats gained (PH 59), this may or may not see a level 1 PC with 6 ranks in a skill… but if the former then the PC either may be unable to put to skill points into that skill for 2 levels or sees a permanent by 2 increase in the skill's maximum ranks. Depending on whatever bonus skill points means, of course. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 31 '18 at 19:47
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A marshal dip when you already have Skill Focus (Diplomacy)

The marshal from Miniatures Handbook gainst Skill focus (Diplomacy) as a bonus feat at 1st-level. Unlike every other class feature offering a bonus feat, the marshal’s class feature reads

Skill Focus (Diplomacy): Because a marshal has a way with people, he gains this feat as a bonus feat. If the marshal already has the feat, he can choose a different one.

(emphasis mine)

So you can take Skill Focus (Diplomacy) ahead of time, and then dip marshal when you need Primary Contact and get it as a bonus feat. Note that, since Primary Contact itself requires the Favored feat, you also need to take that feat—so two feats and a class level burned on this trick.

Frostblood orc or half-orc and Endurance as a bonus feat

Kind of coming at this from the other angle, the frostblood orcs and half-orcs from Dragon Magic gain Endurance as a bonus feat, again with some unique wording:

—Endurance: Frostblood orcs and half-orcs have Endurance as a bonus feat. If a frostblood orc or half-orc would later gain Endurance as a bonus feat, he can select any other feat for which he qualifies.

(emphasis mine)

So again, by being a frostblood orc or half-orc, you can gain Primary Contact as a bonus feat instead of Endurance as a bonus feat. The trick is timing things so the bonus Endurance feat lands on the level you want. Notably for prestige classes requiring 8 ranks, a mystic ranger from Dragon vol. 336 gets Endurance at precisely 4th level, perfect for early entry (simply dipping something else to take ranger 3rd at 4th level works for too, of course). The pugilist fighter from Dragon vol. 310 gets it at 1st level—alongside another bonus feat, which could allow for taking a feat a level early, too (though the pugilist feat list is fairly limited).

Compared to the marshal, this approach locks in your racial choice in order to save a feat: compared to a human marshal, you basically gain the benefits of the frostblood orc or half-orc’s other features—which leave a lot to be desired, thanks to the vulnerability to fire. However, the opportunity to use something other than marshal—which is a pretty terrible class—can easily make this a win for the right character.

Half-elf or human paragon

The variant racial paragon classes from Unearthed Arcana for half-elves and humans both include a bonus feat that can be any the paragon qualifies for. The half-elf gets it at 1st level, while the human gets it at 2nd.

Superficially, this approach costs much less than the frostblood (half-)orc, being just a race and one or two levels. The half-elf version also saves a feat compared to dipping marshal, since you don’t need to take Skill Focus (Diplomacy). But the half-elf race is notoriously poor, so much so that a human marshal or, in the right build, a frostblood (half-)orc, could easily be better. Meanwhile, the human race is one of the best in the game, but human paragon 1st is an extremely poor level, with almost zero going for it—dipping fighter to make up for the feat spent on Skill Focus (Diplomacy) is the better use of your resources for most characters.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ With thanks to @forrestfire for pointing the frostblood (half-)orc’s Endurance feat out to me. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 24 '18 at 20:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ For the sake of completeness you may mention bloodlines from UA. Not if its a particularily strong mechanic, but it may grant you a feat at level 4 (for prcs requiring 8 ranks) or level 8 (for 9th level feat) before drawbacks come into play. Feat at level 2 to affect 3rd level feat is pobably useless. \$\endgroup\$ – annoying imp Jul 25 '18 at 18:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @annoyingimp I refuse to try to straighten out the mess that is bloodlines. If someone else desires that completeness, they’re welcome to write their own answer. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 25 '18 at 19:17
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Retraining

You can spend 50 gp (or less, the added cost is an optional rule) and two weeks of time when levelling up to replace any one of your feats with any one other feat you qualify for which you would also have qualified for at the time you obtained the original feat. This feat and its benefits are gained immediately prior to leveling up1, which allows a character to retrain a feat to Primary Contact at the same time as they wish to enter a prestige class, so long as they do not otherwise make use of the retraining rules. This feat can then be retrained back next level (or to a different Primary Contact if there's more prestige classes to dip) for another at-most 50 gp, if you've nothing better to do with your retraining options. See pages 192-194 of the PHBII for more information.


  1. "The decision to retrain must be implemented before any of the benefits of the newly attained level are applied." (PHBII pg. 192)
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Cost is optional. Where'd you find the rules explaining when the retrained feat is gained? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 16 at 1:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Page 192. "The decision to retrain must be implemented before any of the benefits of the newly attained level are applied." and then it gives an example with a 10th rogue swapping out improved evasion for opportunist and then recieving the benefits of levelling up to 11th. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer May 16 at 2:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer I’ve already upvoted, but that would be well worth including in the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 16 at 3:49
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Frame Challenge

The Primary Contact feat's clauses relevant to the question state:

You gain 1 bonus rank in that skill (even if doing so would put you above your normal maximum ranks for that skill).

That bonus rank is separate from normal skill ranks (evident from the Special section's treatment of the bonus rank as differentiated from your normal skill ranks), and can explicitly put you over your normal maximum ranks for that skill. The parenthetical caveat is not limited to the level that you took the feat.

I contend that the bonus rank continues to break the skill rank cap, by the one rank it provides.


Answering the question posed:

Akin to the Marshal Dip mentioned in this answer, the Favored Soul (Complete Divine), at level 3 gains:

Deity's Weapon Focus: At 3rd level, a favored soul gains the Weapon Focus feat with her deity's favored weapon. If the character already has that feat, she can choose a different one.

This is much more expensive than the Marshal Dip (by requiring the taking of two more levels), but permits the feat at 4th level as the querent requests.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The frame challenge is, as discussed at length in the chat with nijineko, demonstrably false. The only basis for that claim is pure “well, this isn’t well-defined, so I’m going to make up rules for it that work the way I like, with no regard for precedent or textual evidence.” It mars an otherwise good answer, and this isn’t a useful place to argue the point—this question is pointless if a bonus skill rank works as claimed. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 29 '18 at 16:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I read the discussion, and do not see that you proved your case. And indeed, if the premise is false, the question is unnecessary. If you'd rather I simply vote to close as unnecessary, I will. \$\endgroup\$ – Chemus Jul 29 '18 at 16:50
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Leverage your Disadvantages in your favor

The Flaw rules from the Unearthed Arcana (or SRD) are your simplest solution

Found on page 91 of the Unearthed Arcana (and also in the SRD in the appropriate section) the Flaw rules are basically "anti-feats". A character is allowed to take up to two Flaws at first level and gain two extra feats, also at first level.

While normally this is rather limiting given that you must still otherwise qualify for the feats in question, at first level, this can work quite nicely for obtaining the Primary Contact feat early - an optimization I have used in the past for a specific character. Another popular choice is one of the versions of the Cosmopolitan feat, specifically the version that lets you pick any skill as a class skill.

While this nets one up to two extra feats, note the sidebar which emphasizes that for a flaw to "really count" it must actually be a penalty to the character, not something that will never come into play.


A note on Primary Contact: this feat affects the "max skill rank" of the skill in question. Gaining a "bonus rank" that can exceed the max by one is the basic effect in question. This increase is found in the PHB p22, table 3-2. Each level, the max skill ranks increases by either 1 or by 1/2 depending on class or cross class. This feat continues to affect the skill in question every level, even after a level up, or in other words, it effectively becomes a floating +1 rank only for that skill.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ UA says, "After 1st level, a character cannot take on additional flaws unless the DM specifically allows it" (91). Of course, since the DM has to specifically allow flaws in the first place, I don't know why it bothers to say that… except that it implies that a DM can allow it, so this DM does allow taking flaws later… which, in turn, I guess, could allow proper timing of the feat Primary Contact therefore early entry to prestige classes. (My tables' gentlemen's agreements are pretty strong, though, so this information was met with a fairly resounding, "Meh.") \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jul 28 '18 at 2:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ How does getting a feat at 1st level help? There aren’t a whole lot of things requiring 5 ranks in a skill. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 28 '18 at 3:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan The prereq for Primary Contact is the Favored feat. The prereq for the Favored feat is belonging to a guild, church, or other organization (which can be done at first level). With two flaws you gain two bonus feats, thus you can take both of these feats at first level, well before 5th level. As the question was "how can you obtain the Primary Contact feat before 5th level", this allows you to do so at 1st level. If you prefer a more gradual progression, you can use one of your bonus feats to take another feat, also take Favored at first and then take Primary Contact at third. \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Jul 28 '18 at 14:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ As explained in the question, taking Primary Contact at 1st level is useless, unless you specifically want to get some feat or prestige class requiring 5 ranks. The bonus rank from Primary Contact is a one-time thing—if it puts you over your limit, you can’t put more skill points in it the next level as it will already be maxed. So your character will have 5 ranks at 1st, 5 ranks at 2nd (as normal), 6 ranks at 3rd, and so on, but not be able to qualify for anything early. If it were just about about taking Primary Contact before 5th there’d zero challenge. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 28 '18 at 14:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Oh, that's how you're playing it. Didn't realize that conceit. Our groups always played it that it was a permanent floating +1 rank for that specific skill. So that once taken, that skill was forever after +1 rank compared to everything else. My answer was based on that, since that is how all of my circles have always played it. Perhaps that interpretation would not work for you. \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Jul 28 '18 at 14:16

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