Pathfinder Skill Ranks: A General (Yet Awesome) Guide

The thief had been through this before. She knew the telltale signs of a trap, and she had the skills to get out of them. This time, though, was different.

The trap was more sophisticated than anything she had ever seen. It was a finely crafted killing machine, and it was about to claim her life.

The thief was not about to go down without a fight. She put her skills to use, trying to find some way to disable the trap. But it was too late. The trap sprung, and the thief barely escaped with her life.

Skills are an essential part of Pathfinder. They allow characters to perform extraordinary feats, and they can be the difference between life and death in a tight situation. 

There are a lot of different skills in Pathfinder, and each one is important in its own way, but you’ll only be able to use them effectively if you have skill ranks. In this article, we will look at the different skill ranks and what they mean for your character.

Skill Ranks Explained

While ability scores gauge your raw talents, your skills measure your experience in specialized activities. Your ability to earn an income or make a lasting impression are examples of useful skills your character can learn.

Skills are typically categorized by their use. For example, diplomacy is a social skill. Use these skills to overcome obstacles and achieve your goals. Pathfinder skills provide options for character customization and roleplaying.

Each skill has a rank that indicates the character’s proficiency with it. As characters advance, they can gain ranks and unlock new skill actions. 

There are five possible proficiency ranks in Pathfinder:

  • Untrained
  • Trained 
  • Expert
  • Master
  • Legendary

Pathfinder skills are used in a wide variety of circumstances: from finding hidden traps to haggling prices to repairing damaged items. There is no limit to what Pathfinder skills can be used for, but some uses are more common than others.


Certain general actions, such as recall knowledge, don’t require any training to perform. A character without training in a skill is said to be untrained. Anyone can use a skill that doesn’t require training but only at the most rudimentary level. 


Trained characters have some experience with a skill and can use it more effectively than untrained characters. For example, you can only use a skill to earn income if you’ve been trained to do it.


Experts have extensive training and can use their skills effectively. With their advanced skill set, experts can accomplish tasks that even trained professionals can’t do.


Masters have perfected their skills and can achieve amazing results. For most people, it takes years of hard work to achieve mastery. Once you’ve mastered a skill, you’ll have access to advanced abilities that are beyond the reach of other players.


Characters with legendary skills can accomplish seemingly impossible feats with ease. Years of practice have led to deep insights, allowing them to see and do things that others cannot.

Skill Rank Example: Recall Knowledge

Any character can attempt to recall knowledge, but masters of the skill have an uncanny memory. Use the following table to gauge the difficulty level of a recall knowledge task.

TrainingRecallable Knowledge
UntrainedThe name of a ruler or a major deity.
TrainedThe major doctrines of a religion.
ExpertObscure ancient teachings.
MasterExtraplanar temples.
LegendarySecret doctrines of a religion.

Skills in Action

Pathfinder skills can be used in various ways, depending on the situation. If you’re trying to haggle with a shopkeeper, you might use diplomacy to convince them to lower the price of their wares. 

However, you can also use your diplomacy skills to settle disputes or make an impression. Most skills can be used creatively, but only those proficient in a skill can make use of its full potential.

For example, anyone can use acrobatics to keep their footing, but only a character with legendary skills can balance on a razor’s edge.

General Skill Action Proficiencies

Some general skills require training to use. For instance, most people can earn an income, but only after they’ve received professional training. 

While any character can use the untrained actions associated with a skill, you’ll need a proficiency rank of trained or better to use advanced actions. 

General SkillProficiency
Decipher WritingTrained
Earn IncomeTrained
Identify MagicTrained
Recall KnowledgeUntrained

Source: Core Rulebook, 234

But that doesn’t mean a lucky roll can’t prove extremely useful. For example, even though a Fighter may lack training in Aracana, they might be able to identify an Elemental creature using Recall Knowledge. It will be up to the GM to decide the difficulty of such rolls.

Skills and Actions Table 

SkillAbilityUntrained Trained
AcrobaticsDexterityBalanceManeuver in Flight, Squeeze
AracanaIntelligenceRecall KnowledgeDecipher Writing, Identify Magic, Learn a Spell
AthleticsStrengthClimb, Grapple, SwimDisarm
Crafting IntelligenceRecall Knowledge, RepairEarn Income, Identify Alchemy
DiplomacyCharismaImpersonate, LieFeint
LoreIntelligenceRecall KnowledgeEarn Income
MedicineWisdomAdminister First AidTreat Disease, Treat Poison, Treat Wounds
PerformanceCharismaPerformEarn Income
SurvivalWisdomSense Direction, SubsistCover Tracks, Track
ThieveryDexterityPalm an Object, StealDisable a Device, Pick a Lock

Source: Core Rulebook, pg 235

Making Skill Checks

Actively using your skills in Pathfinder usually involves a skill check. To perform a skill check, you’ll need to roll a d20 and add your ability modifier and any proficiency bonuses you might have. 

As you gain ranks in a skill, your proficiency bonus will increase, allowing you to push your abilities even further.

There are many different types of skill checks in the game. The higher your proficiency bonus, the greater your chance of success. But even masters can fail a skill check if they roll poorly.

Skill Difficulty

The GM will set a difficulty for the check based on how easy or hard they deem the task to be. Easy tasks might have a DC of 10, while impossible tasks could have a DC of 30 or higher.

If your check equals or exceeds the DC, you succeed. If it’s lower, you fail. You might still get some partial effect if you fail, but it will be up to the GM to determine what, if anything, happens. 

For example, if you’re trying to fast-talk your way past a guard, you would make a Charisma (Deception) check. In this case, the GM would set a DC for your check.  

If your check is successful, your lies will go undetected. But if the result is low, they’ll definitely spot you!

Task DifficultySample DC

Secret Checks

Sometimes the GM will make a secret check to decide whether your skill check failed. Secret checks are necessary when the GM needs to keep information from the player.

For example, the presence of a hidden opponent may interrupt your attempt to conceal an object.

Improving Your Skill Ranks

There are a few ways to improve your character’s skills in Pathfinder. One way is by leveling up and improving your ability scores.

Each character begins with ability scores determined by their class. For example, a Fighter might start with a +2 Intelligence modifier, while a Wizard might start with a +4 Intelligence modifier.

As you gain experience, your abilities scores will increase, improving your skills. As you level up, you’ll gain ranks in specific skills. 

Learning new feats can also improve your skills, giving you access to hidden abilities and situational bonuses. Finally, you can use magic items or spells to boost your skills.

It’s up to you to decide what skills you want to focus on and how you want to shape your character. There is no “right” way to do it. It all depends on your character’s build and what you want to be good at.

Using Skill Ranks Effectively

Understanding skills is paramount for your success in Pathfinder. Skills give characters the ability to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals.

There is no limit to what Pathfinder skills can be used for, but some uses are more common than others.

When using skills, keep in mind the following tips:

  • Know your character’s strengths and weaknesses. This will help you decide when to use a skill and when not to use a skill.
  • Be familiar with the different ranks of skills. This will help you know how difficult a task is and whether or not your character is capable of completing it.
  • Use the right skill for the job. There is no point in using a skill that is not well suited for the task at hand.
  • Practice, practice, practice. The more you use a skill, the better you’ll understand it.

Final Thoughts

Pathfinder skills are an important part of any Pathfinder game. They can be used in a variety of ways to overcome obstacles and achieve goals. With the right skill set, you can accomplish anything.

As you play Pathfinder, your abilities and skills will improve. You’ll become more familiar with the different ranks of skills and how to use them. With time and practice, you’ll be using Pathfinder skills like a pro!