D&D 5E 5E skills and how to use them

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
Skills in D&D 5E are very loosely defined. This is a feature, not a bug. It keeps the rules simple and allows for fast play. No skill system, no matter how detailed, can cover all eventualities, so the 5E system doesn’t even try, instead letting the GM make rulings when necessary.

Some players, particularly those coming from a 3E background, may be uncomfortable with the lack of detailed skill descriptions in the 5E rules. For my own group's use, I put together a document which aims to bridge the gap between editions, by collecting and presenting some specific rules for skill use in 5E.

It takes as the starting point the general skill definitions from 5E, adds specific skill-based rules from the 5E PHB and DMG to the degree that they exist, imports a few things from 3E/PF, and adds a few house rules. The goal is definitely not to end up with a fully detailed system, just to have some specific rules for common situations.

Just sharing it here, in case it is useful for anyone else. Let me know what you think in the comments below! :geek:

 

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Strider1973

Explorer
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your work! The Skill System is one of the things I like less of D&D 5e, and I'm always interested in ways to better refine and define it, while maintaining its simplicity. In fact, I'm hoping for some refinement of it in One D&D, but I don't think this is something Wizards of the Coast is going to prioritize as a game design aspect: thanks again!
 

payn

Legend
Nice document. My issues are more around the lack of engagement in leveling and the skill system. You set it and forget it at level one and then that's it. I do like the flexibility of 5E system, its just sort of boring when it comes to chargen. I wish my character could do more to specialize, improve, and be versatile.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Nice document. My issues are more around the lack of engagement in leveling and the skill system. You set it and forget it at level one and then that's it. I do like the flexibility of 5E system, its just sort of boring when it comes to chargen. I wish my character could do more to specialize, improve, and be versatile.

Sounds like Level Up Advanced 5E is for you then.
I found a lot of it to be more than I want, but piecemeal there is a lot to pick and choose from along those lines.
 

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
I'm hoping for some refinement of it in One D&D, but I don't think this is something Wizards of the Coast is going to prioritize as a game design aspect
I also doubt they will develop the skill system much (and I'm fine with that, I don't want it to become another PF again...!). But they could improve what they already have by better editing and organization of the new PHB and DMG, gathering everything in one place instead of scattering various bits and pieces across different books and chapters. (This could also be said about rules for hiding, exploration, etc, etc...)
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Skills in D&D 5E are very loosely defined. This is a feature, not a bug. It keeps the rules simple and allows for fast play. No skill system, no matter how detailed, can cover all eventualities, so the 5E system doesn’t even try, instead letting the GM make rulings when necessary.

Some players, particularly those coming from a 3E background, may be uncomfortable with the lack of detailed skill descriptions in the 5E rules. For my own group's use, I put together a document which aims to bridge the gap between editions, by collecting and presenting some specific rules for skill use in 5E.

It takes as the starting point the general skill definitions from 5E, adds specific skill-based rules from the 5E PHB and DMG to the degree that they exist, imports a few things from 3E/PF, and adds a few house rules. The goal is definitely not to end up with a fully detailed system, just to have some specific rules for common situations.

Just sharing it here, in case it is useful for anyone else. Let me know what you think in the comments below! :geek:

Were they to associate DCs with their examples, that could have a useful normative effect. They have done that implicitly with DCs in published adventures. You can find those collated online somewhere.

As a minor quibble, you jump DC looks incorrect to me. A STR20 char can jump 20' without rolling. Per your calibration, their roll is most likely clearing 15', hanging on by fingernails 19', and falling at 20'. I know they would not roll, but hopefully it illustrates the problem.

I use - you can clear roll*2' with a run up, and roll without, or roll*1/2, high jump, or 3+mod without. So STR20 clears 20' with no roll, and may clear up to 50' with roll. That's 20' further than world record. They can high jump 8' with no roll, or up to 12' 6" with roll. 4' higher than world record.

As background, I take STR20 to be that of mythological heroes. Not any real world person.
 

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
Were they to associate DCs with their examples, that could have a useful normative effect.

Where applicable, I've left the original text from the 5E PHB and put in specific DCs for the examples given.

As a minor quibble, you jump DC looks incorrect to me. A STR20 char can jump 20' without rolling. Per your calibration, their roll is most likely clearing 15', hanging on by fingernails 19', and falling at 20'. I know they would not roll, but hopefully it illustrates the problem.
Yes, I have deviated from the RAW here.

The official rules have this as "When you make a long jump, you cover a number of feet up to your Strength score if you move at least 10 feet on foot immediately before the jump."
and
"When you make a high jump, you leap into the air a number of feet equal to 3 + your Strength modifier if you move at least 10 feet on foot immediately before the jump. (...) In some circumstances, your GM might allow you to make a Strength (Athletics) check to jump higher than you normally can."

So by RAW, you can long jump only up to your Strength score (and no further). And only the high jump text mentions that you may (possibly) make a check to jump higher. At the very least, the long jump text should also have similar language, ie "In some circumstances, your GM might allow you to make a Strength (Athletics) check to jump longer than you normally can."

Instead of the RAW, I've actually used text from Pathfinder for climbing. I guess you could always fall back to the RAW and say that you don't have to roll for any long jump DCs lower than your Strength score, only roll if you want to jump even longer.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Were they to associate DCs with their examples, that could have a useful normative effect. They have done that implicitly with DCs in published adventures. You can find those collated online somewhere.

Interestingly, in a discussion about the playtest, I discovered that many DMs set DCs based on the character attempting the task, not the absolute difficulty of the task. Which was new to me, but apparently quite common (among people who answered the thread). It goes contrary to the "sample DCs" (that I personnally would prefer).
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Where applicable, I've left the original text from the 5E PHB and put in specific DCs for the examples given.


Yes, I have deviated from the RAW here.

The official rules have this as "When you make a long jump, you cover a number of feet up to your Strength score if you move at least 10 feet on foot immediately before the jump."
and
"When you make a high jump, you leap into the air a number of feet equal to 3 + your Strength modifier if you move at least 10 feet on foot immediately before the jump. (...) In some circumstances, your GM might allow you to make a Strength (Athletics) check to jump higher than you normally can."

So by RAW, you can long jump only up to your Strength score (and no further). And only the high jump text mentions that you may (possibly) make a check to jump higher. At the very least, the long jump text should also have similar language, ie "In some circumstances, your GM might allow you to make a Strength (Athletics) check to jump longer than you normally can."
Exactly. And of course, the problem we have is what is the DC.

Instead of the RAW, I've actually used text from Pathfinder for climbing. I guess you could always fall back to the RAW and say that you don't have to roll for any long jump DCs lower than your Strength score, only roll if you want to jump even longer.
Yes, only roll if you want to jump farther. My view is that the probabilities should favour jumping at least as far as you can automatically. So this is a statement about how to calibrate the DC.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Interestingly, in a discussion about the playtest, I discovered that many DMs set DCs based on the character attempting the task, not the absolute difficulty of the task. Which was new to me, but apparently quite common (among people who answered the thread).
I think I know which thread. It surprised me, too. The DC is subjective for contests, but otherwise objective, is one way I might put it.
 

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
Interestingly, in a discussion about the playtest, I discovered that many DMs set DCs based on the character attempting the task, not the absolute difficulty of the task. Which was new to me, but apparently quite common (among people who answered the thread). It goes contrary to the "sample DCs" (that I personnally would prefer).
Count me among the "fixed DC" people as well. A standard lock should be DC 15 to pick whether the character attempting it is level 1 or level 20, or whether he has +1 or +10 to the check. You become more skilled, things get easier.

I guess the same kind of "relative difficulty" would have such GMs populate the city guard with guards that have 11 hp and +2 to hit when the characters are level 1, and then suddenly if the characters return to the same city when they are level 10, the same guards have 90 hp and +7 to hit... :LOL:
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Interestingly, in a discussion about the playtest, I discovered that many DMs set DCs based on the character attempting the task, not the absolute difficulty of the task. Which was new to me, but apparently quite common (among people who answered the thread). It goes contrary to the "sample DCs" (that I personnally would prefer).
Yeah, fixed DC give a feeling of objectivity but using d20 skill checks rigidly doesn't otherwise give me a feeling of fairness, which is more important to me.

The root cause is because skills represent wildly different things that cannot be balanced without a good DM's policy.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Count me among the "fixed DC" people as well. A standard lock should be DC 15 to pick whether the character attempting it is level 1 or level 20, or whether he has +1 or +10 to the check. You become more skilled, things get easier.

I guess the same kind of "relative difficulty" would have such GMs populate the city guard with guards that have 11 hp and +2 to hit when the characters are level 1, and then suddenly if the characters return to the same city when they are level 10, the same guards have 90 hp and +7 to hit... :LOL:
Given that this is how a number of popular video games work, I can see why many players would apply the same logic to their D&D games.
 

ECMO3

Hero
Nice document. My issues are more around the lack of engagement in leveling and the skill system. You set it and forget it at level one and then that's it. I do like the flexibility of 5E system, its just sort of boring when it comes to chargen. I wish my character could do more to specialize, improve, and be versatile.

I hated the 3E skill system and specifically disliked its tie in with leveling and skill points. I disliked how I could start at level 1 and be awesome at something and then by level 8 you completely suck at it becasue the target moved. I like how 5E gives you feat and subclass options to boost skills if that is what you want to do without making you invest resources level after level just to maintain.

You can build skill monkeys pretty easily in 5E. My half Elf Scout Rogue currently has 10 skill proficiencies, with expertise in 6. If I take a Fey Wanderer multiclass I would boost that to 12 with expertise in 7 in addition to Wisdom plus Charisma on all my Charisma skills. Both of those builds are without any feats that get more skills, you could even get more than that out of some Bard-Rogue multiclass builds.
 


payn

Legend
I hated the 3E skill system and specifically disliked its tie in with leveling and skill points. I disliked how I could start at level 1 and be awesome at something and then by level 8 you completely suck at it becasue the target moved. I like how 5E gives you feat and subclass options to boost skills if that is what you want to do without making you invest resources level after level just to maintain.

You can build skill monkeys pretty easily in 5E. My half Elf Scout Rogue currently has 10 skill proficiencies, with expertise in 6. If I take a Fey Wanderer multiclass I would boost that to 12 with expertise in 7 in addition to Wisdom plus Charisma on all my Charisma skills. Both of those builds are without any feats that get more skills, you could even get more than that out of some Bard-Rogue multiclass builds.
I do like bounded accuracy, wont argue there.
 

Pedantic

Adventurer
Skills in D&D 5E are very loosely defined. This is a feature, not a bug. It keeps the rules simple and allows for fast play. No skill system, no matter how detailed, can cover all eventualities, so the 5E system doesn’t even try, instead letting the GM make rulings when necessary.
I'd say it's certainly an intentional design choice, but I'm not so sure I'd call it a feature.

The point about the futility of "cover[ing] all eventualities" gets held up routinely as an argument against trying to put an objective skill system in place at all, when a more developed skill system will always provide less need for actual work on the GM's side. The cases that require new rules are sparser and sparser the more descriptive the base rules are and the distance from those rules you may need to wander to derive a resolution in those rarer cases is smaller and easier to bridge.

That, and you don't actually have to use a detailed skill system, even if it does exist. The 5e skill DCs read like a heuristic for a more developed system, and I could absolutely imagine a world where they get used that way, until the one session you decide it's really important to figure out exactly how many days old this corpse is and go look up the more obscure forensic uses of the Medicine skill.

Simplicity is expensive. You pay for it with GM mindspace, inconsistency, and in the worst case scenarios, player disempowerment. That, and I'm not actually sure that simplicity is what's actually desired by players, so much as elegance and intuitiveness. In play, it matters a lot less that a wall's climb DC is derived from a description of the wall type and 3 situational modifiers than how accurate a player's intuition about their wall-climbing ability regularly holds up to their attempts to climb things.

Some players, particularly those coming from a 3E background, may be uncomfortable with the lack of detailed skill descriptions in the 5E rules. For my own group's use, I put together a document which aims to bridge the gap between editions, by collecting and presenting some specific rules for skill use in 5E.
This continues to be my single biggest point of frustration with every RPG I've picked up in the last 8 years. Objective skill DCs have been either abandoned in favor of very generic DM advice, with the occasional check called out in a module or odd usage here or there, or in favor of generic resolution systems that aren't fundamentally gameable.

Though to be fair, even if there were a more detailed DC system, I think skilled PC capability in general has suffered in 5e. Skill specialists have to wait until very late levels to push even "Moderate" tasks off of the RNG and suffer worse on opposed rolls, so it's hard to actively use skills to resolve situations.

I had really hoped this was one area that Level Up would lean in harder on, but its skill section is about on par with suggestions in this article. This is good work, and there's several useful examples. I just wish this was the starting point, instead of the best we're going to get.
 

ECMO3

Hero
Though to be fair, even if there were a more detailed DC system, I think skilled PC capability in general has suffered in 5e. Skill specialists have to wait until very late levels to push even "Moderate" tasks off of the RNG and suffer worse on opposed rolls, so it's hard to actively use skills to resolve situations.
I don't know if I really agree with this.

I have an 8 Strength Goblin Ranger who can beat most Dragons on an opposed athletics check most of the time and she isn't even fully invested in the skill, if she had actually invested in strength and something giving her advantage (like a barbarian multiclass), she would probably never lose a contested athletics check in play. It would be possible to lose, but not very likely to happen considering you are probably only rolling 1 or 2 such checks a level.

The Ranger class and backgrounds like Outlander and Archeologist can make some checks automatic successes regarless of skill level and since DC is capped at 30 and you can retry until you succeed, a Rogue can automatically open any lock in the game in 10 minutes at level 5 with expertise or a Ranger at 5th level can find any findable thing in 10 minutes with perception expertise and an 18 Wisdom.

At 5th level anyone with expertise and an 18 ability will pass any check in the game given the 10 minutes required for automatic success (DMG page 237). With a 20 ability and regular proficiency you can do this at level 13 for any check. This is for a DC of 30, which I find is extremely rare. A very hard DC (25) can be done by any character even without proficiency once they maxed the stat or at first level with a +3 stat and proficiency and 10 minutes. A hard (20) DC is automatic at 1st level in 10 minutes with a 10 in the ability and no proficiency.
 
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ECMO3

Hero
FWIW you can build a PC with 7 levels who has proficiency in all skills and expertise in something like 8-10 of them.
variant Human level 3 Scout Rogue/Level 3 Lore Bard/level 1 knowledge cleric, with skilled feat
18 skills, 8 with expertise

Background 2 skills
V Human 1 skill
Rouge 4 skills, expertise in 2
Scout 2 skills, expertise in 2
Bard (multiclass) 1 skill, expertise in 2
Lore 3 skills
Knowlege cleric 2 skills, expertise in 2
Skilled feat 3 skills

That is hard statwise though. If you go to 8th level (4 Rogue/4 Bard) and take prodigy and skill expert you can do the same thing without the cleric dip.
 
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DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
variant Human level 3 Scout Rogue/Level 3 Lore Bard/level 1 knowledge cleric, with skilled feat
18 skills, 8 with expertise

Background 2 skills
V Human 1 skill
Rouge 4 skills, expertise in 2
Scout 2 skills, expertise in 2
Bard (multiclass) 1 skill, expertise in 2
Lore 3 skills
Knowlege cleric 2 skills, expertise in 2
Skilled feat 3 skills

That is hard statwise though. If you go to 8th level (4 Rogue/4 Bard) and take prodigy and skill expert you can do the same thing without the cleric dip.
Like I said...
 

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