I am a long time RPG player, including both computer and PnP RPGs. Thus I have experience with these types of games. However...
I do feel a bit overwhelmed, mainly by the lack of proper descriptions in this game. I decided to start with a ranged Cipher character. I read a few threads around this forum and have an idea what talents/spells are good picks.
Skills, however, are a mystery to me. I want to ask - how many points does a character get? Because I want to put a few points in Athletics, Mechanics, Stealth, Lore... you get the idea.
Now, I understand it might be better to focus and use NPCs to fill the holes, but I have no knowledge of what NPCs there are.
My question is - between how many skills can I split my points and still function late game? I was thinking of getting Mechanics max, Lore up to 10 and some points in Stealth and Athletics. Is it doable?
Also how's that for an attribute spread for my Wood Elf (i really really like the female elf model) Cipher:
Skills: Like Moxy said, 3 points in Athletics is essentially mandatory. That said, you shouldn't feel obliged to take them all at once. But do get them fairly quickly in your progression. Below 3 points in Athletics, the best way to describe such a character is that they're out of shape and get tired easily. At 3 points, characters are in pretty good shape and won't tire easily.
Don't bother putting points into Mechanics, unless you intend to make the character a traps and locks master. And then you'll need to start pumping something like over 80% of your skill points into the Mechanics skill to be good at it. It's basically an all or nothing skill. It's not a skill that worth putting a couple of points into.
I personally think that having a few points in Stealth is useful, though it can depend on one's personal play style. Do you like sneaking around on maps, or do you just boldly go where no one has gone before? If you're into the sneaky method, then having some stealth on everyone is good. And it doesn't hurt to have one character who is excellent at stealth for the sake of being a scout.
Lore can be useful for being able to cast spells from scrolls, so a few points in it is useful. It's something like 2 points in Lore for every scroll spell level. That is, if you have only 2 points in Lore, you can only cast level 1 spells from scrolls. Everyone doesn't need a LOT of Lore, though it doesn't hurt to have someone with strong Lore skills.
Survival isn't a critical skill, IMO. There are dialog options tied to it (ditto for other skills). And Survival extends the duration of various potions and "food" potions. That said, you can get by just fine without any points in Survival. It's not a bad place to put a spare point or so here and there though.
As for Skill points, you get 6 skill points per level when you level up. And you do NOT have to spend them. If you don't spend them, they carry over to the next time you level up, which is important because each point in a Skill gets progressively more expensive in terms of skill points. So after a while, you'll see that it takes more than 6 skill points to by a point in a a skill. So you need to save the your earned skill points for the next level up when you'll have more than 6 and be able to afford that more expensive next point in Mechanics or whatever.
As for Companion NPCs, there are 8 of them. A Fighter, a Priest, a Wizard, a Chanter, a Cipher, a Druid, a Ranger, and a Paladin. They're all playable as is, in spite of the claims of others. And IMO, the Paladin, named Pallegine, is entirely playable. Some people seem to have the opinion that unless a Companion is an epitome of min-maxed stathood, then that Companion is useless, sucks, and all other sorts of hyperbole. Don't listen to them. None of the Companions is perfect, but they're all completely playable as is.
And yes, a Wood Elf is a very good choice for a ranged Cipher. Heck, a wood elf is a solid choice for any character you intend to be a ranged combatant.