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D&D 5E Asking for Ability Checks, not Skills?

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I'm thinking of shifting the way I ask for Ability Checks / Skill Rolls in my 5e game.

Currently, a player will describe their character's action, and, if appropriate, I will then ask for an ability check, naming a specific skill or tool and the associated ability.

For example:

Player: Tarzarian the Barbarian wants to track where the orcs came from.
DM: Go ahead and make a Survival Check.

(In this case I don't call for an ability since Survival defaults to Wisdom.)

Player: Vogue the Rogue wants to listen for any creatures beyond the door.
DM: Go ahead and make a Perception Check.

Player: Zirwad the Wizard wants to identify this strange glowing herb.
DM: You can make a Nature Check or an Arcana Check.
Player: Could I use my Herbalist Supplies?
DM: Sure!

Player: Biter the Fighter wants to find a way to bend the mechanisms of the porticullis in order to jam in.
DM: Go ahead and make an Athletics Check, using Intelligence instead of Strength.

These have all worked fairly well, but I find myself missing skills and proficiencies players really want to use. For example, the rogue in my game noted that I rarely call for an Acrobatics check. And the Barbarian said he rarely gets to use Survival.

What I'm thinking of doing is only calling for Abilities, not Skills. I'll call for a Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma check, and then the Player will choose whatever Skill or Proficiency is appropriate.

For example, if a character wants to look for something, I call for a Wisdom check. It's up to the player if they are using, say, Perception, Investigation, Survival, or some appropriate Tool (with DM approval, of course).

Here's how this might look:

Player: Vanger the Ranger tells the goblin boss to retreat before he gets his clan killed.
DM: Go ahead and make a Charisma Check.
Player: Can I use Persuasion?
DM: Yep!

Player: What does Wornok the Warlock know about these ruins?
DM: Go ahead and make an Intelligence Check.
Player: Can I use Arcana?
DM: Eh, that wouldn't be appropriate for this roll.

Player: Bartimer the Artificer wants to help guide the wagon over the bridge without hitting any rotting boards.
DM: Go ahead and make a Dexterity check.
Player: Can I use my proficiency in Vehicles?
DM: Absolutely!

My goals with this would be:

1. Giving players more agency and control with using their skills and proficiencies.
2. Allowing the characters to be heroic and do things they are good at more often.
3. Sharing the narrative burden with players.

One thing to note is that, in general, I trust my players not to "game the system" and try to use Athletics for every single check. At the same time, if they have invested heavily in Athletics, I want to reward them for coming up with creative ways to solve problems using Athletics.

What do you think? Do you think this would work? Do you usually call for skills, abilities, or both?
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
This is what I do already - only ask for ability check and players assign whatever skill or tool proficiency they think applies best, given their established approach to the goal. This works well in my view because it sidesteps any disagreement that may arise related to which skill or tool either person thinks applies. (By default, I side with the player since they know their intent better than I do.) It also means I only need to remember what 6 ability checks apply to rather than all the skills and tools.
 

payn

Legend
Lots of RPGs work with both, like Traveller. They also are geared mathematically towards combining both. Im not sure how the math on 5E works tho. I do like getting the player involved tho. Some GMs are so strict to the skill that its basically the party has it or they dont. I like letting the players solve problems with the character's toolbox myself.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I have everybody use DndBeyond, so I can take a gander at their character sheets at any time. What I do is have a spreadsheet that I can print out that indicates what the PCs are trained in, along with passive scores.

This reminds me to ask for checks that people have invested in. In addition, if the half-orc barbarian describes trying to intimidate someone by lifting them off the ground by grabbing the front of their shirt they can use strength instead of charisma. They can also always ask to use different ability scores if they can tell me why it would be appropriate.
 

ardoughter

Hero
Supporter
Would only cause confusion with my crowd since I play on VTT and they have to know what to click on to get the dice roll.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Would only cause confusion with my crowd since I play on VTT and they have to know what to click on to get the dice roll.
I play on a VTT too and it's fine for my group - they just click the corresponding skill proficiency they think applies and, if it so happens that the ability check is not the one I called for, we do some quick math to correct it. For example, if someone is trying to harvest valuable parts from a monster in my swamp hexcrawl, that's a Dexterity check with an appropriate skill proficiency attached (frequently Nature). So the player clicks Nature, then adds a couple points to account for Dexterity. Or, alternatively, just hits Dexterity and adds proficiency bonus, if applicable.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
My goals with this would be:

1. Giving players more agency and control with using their skills and proficiencies.
2. Allowing the characters to be heroic and do things they are good at more often.
3. Sharing the narrative burden with players.

One thing to note is that, in general, I trust my players not to "game the system" and try to use Athletics for every single check. At the same time, if they have invested heavily in Athletics, I want to reward them for coming up with creative ways to solve problems using Athletics.

What do you think? Do you think this would work? Do you usually call for skills, abilities, or both?
I've been trying harder to emphasize the stat aspect of the roll so that more of my players feel confident that any of them can try things that provoke checks without being proficient. But I also usually include at least one proficiency that's appropriate. So I'd say:

Player: Vogue the Rogue wants to listen for any creatures beyond the door.
DM: That's a Wisdom Check, Perception applies if you've got it.

I'm pretty flexible about players suggesting alternative proficiencies if they think of them, though.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I like leaving the skills on the player side for the reasons mentioned above, but also because it sometimes results in the player venturing an explanation of why skill X applies in situation Y, which isn't a bad thing.
 

ardoughter

Hero
Supporter
I play on a VTT too and it's fine for my group - they just click the corresponding skill proficiency they think applies and, if it so happens that the ability check is not the one I called for, we do some quick math to correct it. For example, if someone is trying to harvest valuable parts from a monster in my swamp hexcrawl, that's a Dexterity check with an appropriate skill proficiency attached (frequently Nature). So the player clicks Nature, then adds a couple points to account for Dexterity. Or, alternatively, just hits Dexterity and adds proficiency bonus, if applicable.
Just the make sure i understand you here, let say my character has: Str:18, Dex: 14 Int:14 and Proficiency +4
and I am proficient in Nature so the die roll above would be d20+2(Dex)+6(Nature)
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
This is exactly what I do, and I highly recommend it! Easier on the DM only having to choose between 6 types of rolls to call for instead of 18 (plus tools), and gives the players the opportunity to apply proficiencies they invested in more often.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
Would only cause confusion with my crowd since I play on VTT and they have to know what to click on to get the dice roll.
Which VTT do you use? The roll20 5e character sheet has a field for custom proficiencies, with a drop down menu for which ability to apply. You can use that to create a generic “proficient check” option for each ability.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I honestly thought this was what 5E expected you to do and have been trying to break myself of the habit of calling for a specific skill check instead of an ability check by reminding players that 1. if I do call for an ability check, they can suggest an appropriate skill proficiency and 2. if I call for a skill they can argue for the use of a different ability score.
 


Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I honestly thought this was what 5E expected you to do and have been trying to break myself of the habit of calling for a specific skill check instead of an ability check by reminding players that 1. if I do call for an ability check, they can suggest an appropriate skill proficiency and 2. if I call for a skill they can argue for the use of a different ability score.
I don't even mind opening up which abilities pair with which skills. At least in the right game with the right group.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I honestly thought this was what 5E expected you to do and have been trying to break myself of the habit of calling for a specific skill check instead of an ability check by reminding players that 1. if I do call for an ability check, they can suggest an appropriate skill proficiency and 2. if I call for a skill they can argue for the use of a different ability score.
It says the DM can do it either way (PHB p. 174), but that players can always ask if a skill or tool proficiency applies to the ability check. Arguably that means trying to advocate for a different one than the DM suggested. My own method basically is always a "Yes" answer to "Does X apply?" on the assumption that the player is acting in good faith by describing what they wanted to do before I asked for a roll. You don't get to start saying you're doing something else to get a proficiency applied after I've asked for the roll. The time for that is already passed.
 



Li Shenron

Legend
I'm thinking of shifting the way I ask for Ability Checks / Skill Rolls in my 5e game.

Currently, a player will describe their character's action, and, if appropriate, I will then ask for an ability check, naming a specific skill or tool and the associated ability.

For example:

Player: Tarzarian the Barbarian wants to track where the orcs came from.
DM: Go ahead and make a Survival Check.

(In this case I don't call for an ability since Survival defaults to Wisdom.)

Player: Vogue the Rogue wants to listen for any creatures beyond the door.
DM: Go ahead and make a Perception Check.

Player: Zirwad the Wizard wants to identify this strange glowing herb.
DM: You can make a Nature Check or an Arcana Check.
Player: Could I use my Herbalist Supplies?
DM: Sure!

Player: Biter the Fighter wants to find a way to bend the mechanisms of the porticullis in order to jam in.
DM: Go ahead and make an Athletics Check, using Intelligence instead of Strength.

These have all worked fairly well, but I find myself missing skills and proficiencies players really want to use. For example, the rogue in my game noted that I rarely call for an Acrobatics check. And the Barbarian said he rarely gets to use Survival.

What I'm thinking of doing is only calling for Abilities, not Skills. I'll call for a Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma check, and then the Player will choose whatever Skill or Proficiency is appropriate.

For example, if a character wants to look for something, I call for a Wisdom check. It's up to the player if they are using, say, Perception, Investigation, Survival, or some appropriate Tool (with DM approval, of course).

Here's how this might look:

Player: Vanger the Ranger tells the goblin boss to retreat before he gets his clan killed.
DM: Go ahead and make a Charisma Check.
Player: Can I use Persuasion?
DM: Yep!

Player: What does Wornok the Warlock know about these ruins?
DM: Go ahead and make an Intelligence Check.
Player: Can I use Arcana?
DM: Eh, that wouldn't be appropriate for this roll.

Player: Bartimer the Artificer wants to help guide the wagon over the bridge without hitting any rotting boards.
DM: Go ahead and make a Dexterity check.
Player: Can I use my proficiency in Vehicles?
DM: Absolutely!

My goals with this would be:

1. Giving players more agency and control with using their skills and proficiencies.
2. Allowing the characters to be heroic and do things they are good at more often.
3. Sharing the narrative burden with players.

One thing to note is that, in general, I trust my players not to "game the system" and try to use Athletics for every single check. At the same time, if they have invested heavily in Athletics, I want to reward them for coming up with creative ways to solve problems using Athletics.

What do you think? Do you think this would work? Do you usually call for skills, abilities, or both?
This is not far from how the game already works. The PHB already emphasizes that you make ability checks and apply a skill proficiency bonus (rather than making a skill check) and there's an optional rule for using different abilities than the one indicated by the skill. Therefore you won't go wrong with your idea.

Although, if your players complain they're not using their proficiencies often enough, I would first and foremost look into creating story situations for using them.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
This is exactly what I do, and I highly recommend it! Easier on the DM only having to choose between 6 types of rolls to call for instead of 18 (plus tools), and gives the players the opportunity to apply proficiencies they invested in more often.

It's funny but I do the opposite but for kind of the same reason. For example in a recent game the wizard was having an conversation with another caster involving things such as the nature of magic. I told them they could make a persuasion check with intelligence or charisma. Players can also make other suggestions, I think I once had an arcana check with charisma for example.

The other thing I've noticed is that for casual players it's a lot easier to look at their sheet and see "persuasion" rather than "charisma". May not be an issue if you use a custom sheet, but most are not set up that way.

But it's also why I keep a list of skills handy as a reminder to call for different things.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
It's funny but I do the opposite but for kind of the same reason. For example in a recent game the wizard was having an conversation with another caster involving things such as the nature of magic. I told them they could make a persuasion check with intelligence or charisma. Players can also make other suggestions, I think I once had an arcana check with charisma for example.

The other thing I've noticed is that for casual players it's a lot easier to look at their sheet and see "persuasion" rather than "charisma". May not be an issue if you use a custom sheet, but most are not set up that way.

But it's also why I keep a list of skills handy as a reminder to call for different things.
I also find the standard 5e character sheet is poorly set up for using skills with different abilities. I let my players use whatever they want for a character sheet as long as it makes sense for them, but I always provide a character sheet with a blank space to write in proficiencies they actually have instead of the default list of skills, for anyone who wants it, because it makes calculating your bonuses with any ability/skill combination easier at a glance.
 

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