Sunday, August 19, 2018

Fun With Sleight of Hand (in Pathfinder)

There are some skills we always make sure we have on our sheet. Perception, since we know it's always going to come up. Intimidate or Diplomacy, so you can do something when it comes time to sniff out plot relevant information. Acrobatics, because you're going to need it sooner or later. And if you read Use Magic Device is a Great Skill, and Pathfinder Players Should Invest in It, then you probably took U.M.D. as well.

But what about those skills you never take? You know, those niche skills that are almost never going to come up? Skills like Sleight of Hand, for example.

My, my, my, this looks expensive. Now where is that pawn shop...
While this skill is an old standby of pickpockets and assassins, you can do more with it than you might know. And, with a little bit of investment, turn it into a valued combat ability, too.

What Sleight of Hand Does

The two main uses for Sleight of Hand are palming coin-sized objects (a DC 10 check), and lifting a small object from a person (a DC 20 check). For the latter, the target gets a Perception check opposed by your Sleight of Hand to see if they notice you doing it, but noticing doesn't stop you from taking it. In addition to these two, basic uses, you can make a Sleight of Hand check to hide a small object or weapon on your person. If your check is high enough, then you appear to be unarmed even if someone frisks you (though they get a bonus for the frisking, since it's harder to hide that). You can also palm a a light weapon (a DC 20 check) to arm yourself without anyone noticing (though, again, observers make an opposed Perception check to see what you've done).

Those are the basic basics. For most players, the use of this skill is highly circumstantial. Because unless they're constantly sneaking into places and being checked for weapons, or they need to unobtrusively steal (or plant) small objects, it isn't going to come up. You can't use Sleight of Hand for anything other than hiding weapons if the DC is higher than 10 without training, either (making it similar to a knowledge skill). Lastly, you can't use Sleight of Hand in combat as long as your target is aware of you. If they know you're there, then you need to make a Steal combat maneuver.

The devil's in the details with that one.

Expanding Your Options

The first thing to note is that you cannot use Sleight of Hand in combat if your target is aware of you. That is where your stealth options come into play.

If you have the ability to turn invisible (assuming your opponent can't detect you through other means), that could allow you to do some serious damage. Ditto if you have Hide in Plain Sight, or something similar that means you can Stealth up without worrying about cover or concealment. Stealing a wizard's bonded item or a cleric's holy symbol, for example, or snatching a spell component pouch away. Lifting an amulet providing protections, or stealing a scroll, wand, or potion off of an enemy's belt means you now have a resource they don't have access to. You might be able to get great results if you have darkvision, and your target doesn't, by snuffing their light sources as well, letting you go full Raphael on their bells under the right circumstances.

Just something to think about there.

Can't catch these hands if you can't see them.
As to expanding what you can do with Sleight of Hand, there are some feats that give you additional options. Walking Sleight, for instance, lets you make a Sleight of Hand check as a move action without the associated -20 penalty. Not only that, but you can make a Sleight of Hand check as a standard action in the middle of moving, allowing you to essentially be a spring attack pickpocket. Another good option is Manipulative Agility, which allows you to make Sleight of Hand checks to pass secret messages (using hand gestures and body language), and to use Sleight of Hand checks in place of Bluff checks to feint in combat. This is ideal for those who intend on feinting, but who aren't going to be making a lot of other Bluff checks throughout the game, as it allows you to focus your skill points and make the maximum investment into the skill you'll actually be using more. It also lets you rely on your Dexterity instead of your Charisma, in case you didn't invest in the latter all that much. The trait Palm Potion grants you a +2 on Sleight of Hand checks made to see that you are drinking a potion rather than casting a spell, which might sound like more flavor than practical use, but there are times where it might come in quite handy.

There are also a few, fun magic items that anyone with an interest in legerdemain might want to check out. The Masterful Gray Gloves give you a +10 bonus on Sleight of Hand checks to take an object from a creature unnoticed. Additionally, if the target catches you taking an object, then you can make it turn invisible three times per day as an immediate action as a way to disavow that you actually took anything. Additionally, the Gloves of Larceny give you a straight up +5 competence bonus to all Sleight of Hand checks, and the Prestidigitator's Cloak gives you a +8 competence bonus on Sleight of Hand checks. The latter also allows you to hide objects of up to 100 pounds in the cloak's extradimensional space for up to 1 hour, which provides additional potential fun.

How Are You Going To Use It?

Sleight of Hand can be a central feature of your play style, but you need to think about it, and ask how you're going to make it work. If you're using it to feint in combat, for example, then make sure you actually get a benefit from opponents that are flat-footed to you (like sneak attack damage). If you're going to be stealing objects, or hiding weapons on your person, make sure you're in a game where that sort of thing is going to be a smart use of your actions (shambling undead and red dragons don't tend to have much in the way of stuff to steal, after all). Or, if you're looking to have fun (and generate a cover identity), remember you can use Sleight of Hand the same way you would a Perform check to impress an audience, and to earn a little extra gold.

That's all for this Crunch installment. I hope you enjoyed it, and if you've got any cool stories about Sleight of Hand in your game, then feel free to share them in the comments below! If you're looking for more of my work, then head over to my Vocal author page (or just check out my Gamers archive if you want to see only tabletop stuff). Or you could head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out. To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time tip, or become a regular patron by heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Either way, there's a lot of free stuff in it for you!


  1. Sleight of hand can also be used to perform card tricks for tips. which pays more than pickpocketing and doesn't get you arrested when you account for fines and medical treatment.

  2. As a caster, craft a custom immovable rod with an attached manacle. o invisible and sleight of hand the manacle to an opponent you want to sit still. Turn on the rod and you got someone rooted for the ground!