We're considering swapping out the skill system from 3.5 for pathfinder's skill system. We like pretty much every change. We're not going to be adopting any of the other changes, just the skill system.

Is this sometimes done? Has anyone tried it and run into problems? Is there a specific set of concerns, or is it basically a safe thing to do?


3 Answers 3


It is, but be aware of the impacts

  • The Pathfinder skill system leaves PCs with way less Skill Ranks. There's no more *4 on the first level, and the limit for Ranks is equal to their Hit Dice, not Character Level + 3.
  • The first point is a consequence of all class skills not being cheaper to purchase, but receiving a +3 modifier in any check. Therefore, the pre-requisites for feats and prestige classes may need value tweaks, as they consider the 3.5 rules for this.
  • The merging of skills may be another point to remember for the same reason. If a feat/prestige requires spot or move silently and hide, what would you consider?

What to do if you decide to change it mid-campaign

  • Ask your players if they have any plans for prestige classes or feats, and adjust their pre-requisites. Also adjust feats they already have (or use their Pathfinder counterparts, if any).

  • Recalculate the skill points based on the new pathfinder rules, your PCs would use their current level for that, of course.

  • Have your PCs redistribute their points before the session starts.

I was thinking about the same thing for my game, but personally I won't do it until we are finished with the current campaign, and even then we will just switch to Pathfinder for real.


Using Pathfinder's skill system in D&D 3.5 is a little challenging

Here are some issues you'll encounter:

  • Instead of the flat DCs for the skill Tumble in D&D 3.5 (if optional rules aren't used), using Acrobatics in Pathfinder to move through threatened squares is a check against the foe's Combat Maneuver Defense. A foe's virtual Combat Maneuver Defense must be calculated each time such an attempt is made.
  • Instead of using D&D 3.5's impractical tactical aerial movement, the inclusion of the skill Fly sort of sticks you with the Pathfinder flying rules, which, while not as impractical, remain incomplete.
  • Pathfinder's consolidation of creature types makes some initial confusion likely among long-time D&D 3.5 players. For example, in Pathfinder a giant is a subtype of humanoid, so rather than identifying it using the skill Knowledge (nature) as in D&D 3.5, it's identified using the skill Knowledge (local).
  • Characters used to getting along with only the D&D 3.5 skill Spellcraft—that is, without the skill Knowledge (arcana)—will now need to acquire both, Pathfinder having split the uses of the D&D 3.5 Spellcraft skill among both skills.
  • The Pathfinder skill Ride has creatures suffer an armor check penalty with it generally, yet the D&D 3.5 skill Ride has creatures suffer an armor check penalty on their Ride skill checks only when attempting to fast mount and dismount. While nominally realistic, Pathfinder mounted combatants suffer because, for example, their mounts get hit more often.
  • The consolidation of D&D 3.5's Listen, Search, and Spot skills into Pathfinder's Perception skill and the consolidation of D&D 3.5's Hide and Move Silently skills into Pathfinder's Stealth skill eliminates a lot of the earlier system's nuance and, in my opinion, decreases verisimilitude. Some may find it hard to swallow, for example, that a creature good at detecting undetectable-to-the-naked-eye traps by prodding and close examination is equally good at detecting potential encounters 240 ft. away along a rocky beach and that the spell invisibility also inexplicably makes one inaudible. (Admittedly, the latter's more of a stretch than the former.)

This list is made from having played both games extensively but not made from actually trying to incorporate Pathfinder's skill system into D&D 3.5. Were I to've tried this, I'm certain other issues would've arisen in play (for example, I haven't compared Pathfinder's list of animal tricks to those in D&D 3.5 for each's Handle Animal skill). Each game's skill system is integral to each game and different for each game, Pathfinder's much ballyhooed backwards compatibility notwithstanding.

Were I only mildly dissatisfied with D&D 3.5's skill system I wouldn't attempt such a kludge. If my dissatisfaction were due to D&D 3.5 characters' limited competence, I'd instead either consolidate some D&D 3.5 skills as suggested in KRyan's answer or increase the number of skill points D&D 3.5 characters classes receive. (The latter has the advantage of leaving untouched many monsters' statistics so most monsters can still be used straight from the books without modification.)

Also, keep in mind that if the table is more focused on narrative a lot of the items mentioned in the list can be effectively ignored or house ruled on the spot with little loss of overall system integrity. In other words, if you're already making a house rule that deletes from your D&D 3.5 game the D&D 3.5 skill system and inserts the Pathfinder skill system, it's probably also okay if you also make more house rules when a problem arises with a certain skill, but letting the players know that's going to happen ahead of time is a good idea.

  • \$\begingroup\$ One could just incorporate the "Class skills receive a +3 bonus, cost the same as cross class" rule without touching anything else too, right? My players always feel like not going through the hassle of getting a cross class in 3.5 because of that, and the builds appear to be too stiff for such an extensive skill system. \$\endgroup\$
    – Punkgeon
    May 3, 2016 at 6:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Punkgeon You mean a house rule using only the +3 to class skills like in Pathfinder instead of D&D 3.5's at 1st level ×4 (×6 for a swordsage)? I've found that when building a Pathfinder character I spread out my skill ranks during the first few levels then catch up at later levels with the skills I really want because that +3 is so huge early on. So that house rule's a possibility, but it'll probably mean low-level omnicompetence yet still high-level siloing. Early levels will probably be slightly easier for such characters, but that should be the only significant change. \$\endgroup\$ May 3, 2016 at 6:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ It would be less of a mathematical and mechanical change and more of a character development aid. One of my players leveled up and asked me if they could get a Rank at knowledge (planes) as the party was encontering a really lot of extraplanar things. I said yes, but the game says "You suck, use half of your skill points for that, fighter". And +1/+2 on a skill is ridiculous to say the least, so it was just to flesh out that his character can now identify plane related stuff due to exposure and experience, but felt rather punishing due to mechanics. \$\endgroup\$
    – Punkgeon
    May 3, 2016 at 8:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Punkgeon In both games, though, 1 rank in a Knowledge skill is important: in addition to the bonus, that 1 rank changes the maximum result from 10 to as high as can be rolled, and it's maybe worth half the fighter's skill points for one level to identify monsters instead of relying on the wizard. But I agree that for, like, Climb, that +1 is insulting. We could probably work out a better fix than Pathfinder's (like having at least 1 rank in a skill also grants the creature a competence bonus on the skill's checks equal to 1/4 the creature's HD or something), but not here. \$\endgroup\$ May 3, 2016 at 12:18

Changes to starting skill points and rank max

Pathfinder removed the 4× multiplier on 1st-level skill points, limits ranks to a character’s level, and gives a +3 bonus on class skills with at least one rank. The effect of this is that players get slightly fewer choices for skill points (which is largely a good thing since the 3.5 system is far more fiddly than it’s worth). It also eliminates much of the pain in cross-class skills, which is very nice (you just miss the +3 bonus, rather than having to pay double forever).

It also means players have 3 fewer ranks in skills at a given level than they could in 3.5. Reduce skill rank requirements by 3 (to a minimum of 1), and that is solved.

The great upside here is the simplicity, particularly when creating a new, multiclassed character at high level. Because you do not pay more for ranks when a skill is cross-class, you do not have to track when you buy each rank, and that is wonderful. But even for simpler cases, ranks=level is nice and easy, which is good.

Changes to skill list

Pathfinder consolidated the skill list. This was already a common houserule in 3.5, and the list Paizo came up with is actually one of the worst I have seen (Fly is awful, Climb and Swim definitely do not need to remain separate).

My list often looks something like this:

  • Acrobatics (Dex) covers Balance, Escape Artist, Jump, and Tumble.
  • Athletics (Str) covers Climb, Jump, and Swim.
    • Yes, Jump is under both Acrobatics and Athletics. People can use whichever is better for them to jump, and to meet requirements for Jump ranks.
  • Disable Device (Dex) covers Disable Device and Open Lock.
  • Linguistics (Int) covers Decipher Script, Forgery, and Speak Language (learn a language for each rank in it).
  • Perception (Wis) covers Listen and Spot.
  • Stealth (Dex) covers Hide and Move Silently.
  • Use Esoteric Device (Cha) covers Use Magic Device and Use Psionic Device.
  • I also often allow broader skill usage, e.g. Knowledge (arcana) in place of Spellcraft to identify arcane spell effects.

I also make sure that all classes that are not Intelligence-based full spellcasters (e.g. wizard, archivist, psion) get at least 4+Int skills.

The effect of this is that characters can actually be reasonably well-rounded, competent people. The original skill system was horribly bloated and skill points handed out so stingily that most skills never got used and most characters could only do a couple things.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .