log in or register to remove this ad

 

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

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
Like I said, the vast majority of times it's obvious. Guess I'd have to see a scenario where it wasn't or maybe I just don't understand.
I was responding specifically to @Umbran ’s example where depending on the way the PC was trying to convince the goblin boss they should retreat, Charisma (Intimidation) or Strength (Intimidation) might have been more appropriate. I was agreeing that knowing the player’s approach is important to determining what ability to call for it a check is necessary, but suggested that expecting the player to be clear with their action declaration up front would be more efficient than asking probing questions every time.
Most extreme example: they're at the base of a wall and someone says "20 on an athletics check" after rolling (not that I remember that happening). I'll assume they're going to climb the wall. A more common example "Insight check on this guy?" or "History check to see what I remember about this?" is enough to tell me what they want.
I don’t think this is really applicable to what I was discussing with Umbran. We were talking about a case where what the character is trying to do is clear, but the way in which they go about it might affect which ability ought to be applied to the check (assuming one is necessary)
Works for me. Do what works for you. I just don't see there being enough of a difference in efficiency for it to have much of an impact on the game is all. 🤷‍♂️
If you’re asking follow-up questions after every action declaration to figure out what ability to call for a check with, I imagine it would make a big difference in efficiency. If you’re not doing that (which I take it you are not), I don’t imagine it would make much difference in efficiency. But I imagine it would run into the phenomenon Umbran was pointing out, where you always end up calling for Ability (Skill) checks with the same combinations of ability and skill, even when a different ability might have been more appropriate to what the player was trying to do.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
I think this just might be a difference in play styles. In the games I run, when we are not in combat, there's a lot of narrative retcons, fast forwards, rewinds, etc. I always figure the characters know what they're doing, even when it takes the players a little bit to figure it out.
Obviously it’s a difference in play styles - you’re fine with players retconning actions and I’m not… What does this have to do with the exchange I was having with @Umbran about determining what ability to call for a check with based on their approach?
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Obviously it’s a difference in play styles - you’re fine with players retconning actions and I’m not… What does this have to do with the exchange I was having with @Umbran about determining what ability to call for a check with based on their approach?
Huh? I was replying to your reply to me. Never mind then!
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I think this just might be a difference in play styles. In the games I run, when we are not in combat, there's a lot of narrative retcons, fast forwards, rewinds, etc. I always figure the characters know what they're doing, even when it takes the players a little bit to figure it out.
The upside of having players be reasonably specific with their action declaration means no need for retcons, fast forwards, rewinds, etc. "I try to force open the door using a hammer and wedge from my smith's tools." The DM calls for a Strength check. The player adds Smith's Tools proficiency bonus. And it's resolved.

This is part of the reason why mine and @Charlaquin's game run at such a fast clip. Anything that might cause more back and forth than necessary is mostly removed from the equation. That, plus other approaches, means the game moves quicker than others I've seen. (And Charlaquin and I don't play together. We just happen to both see this happening.)
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
The upside of having players be reasonably specific with their action declaration means no need for retcons, fast forwards, rewinds, etc. "I try to force open the door using a hammer and wedge from my smith's tools." The DM calls for a Strength check. The player adds Smith's Tools proficiency bonus. And it's resolved.

This is part of the reason why mine and @Charlaquin's game run at such a fast clip. Anything that might cause more back and forth than necessary is mostly removed from the equation. That, plus other approaches, means the game moves quicker than others I've seen. (And Charlaquin and I don't play together. We just happen to both see this happening.)
Yeah, though from the sound of things your game runs even faster than mine.
 


fba827

Adventurer
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 what I already do. Works well for my style/group
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
Likely the difference between VTT and table play. I don't think there's a lot of daylight between how we otherwise do things by the sounds of it.
There’s gotten to be less and less of it over time. I’ve experimented with my technique throughout my DMing tenure and arrived at what I do now based on what has, in my experience, produced the best results. But it is interesting how my technique has gradually gotten more similar to yours through that process.

I distinctly remember being baffled by your accounts of your games during the Next playtest, but it was your adaptation of Lost Mine of Phandelver that convinced me to give it a shot myself, and it was a night and day improvement over what I had been doing before.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
The upside of having players be reasonably specific with their action declaration means no need for retcons, fast forwards, rewinds, etc. "I try to force open the door using a hammer and wedge from my smith's tools." The DM calls for a Strength check. The player adds Smith's Tools proficiency bonus. And it's resolved.

This is part of the reason why mine and @Charlaquin's game run at such a fast clip. Anything that might cause more back and forth than necessary is mostly removed from the equation. That, plus other approaches, means the game moves quicker than others I've seen. (And Charlaquin and I don't play together. We just happen to both see this happening.)
Also, these specific descriptions of a player character action make the story more immersive. Players are visualizing the scene and thinking about things within it that they can utilize to their benefit. The story becomes prominent.
 


IIRC, during one of the playtest packets this was suggested. I think it was dropped as the default because it does add a bit to every check, as the players try to find an acceptable proficiency. My experiences would lead to players trying to wheedle any potential proficiency for the bonus, no matter how ridiculous. I would have no issues with this at all with my current group, but I also find they don't try to limit their actions based on their proficiency either.
we had (I hope) a joke a player tried to use athletics instead of investigation by dropping and doing 10 quick push ups to get the blood flowing and clear his mind so he could think better... in short hand sometimes my group still says "Can I do a push up for insight?"
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
The way i do, players announce what they want to do, and i tell them what to roll. It's usually worded as an ability (skill or tool) check but we may name it as a skill check alone since most of the time, a skill has an ability associated with it. One way or another, naming a skill is for me an easy way to indicate what can apply.

Skills are not checks like in previous editions though, rather representing a specific aspect of an ability and are Proficiency bonus enabler to such check. We can even see it baked in on character sheets such as Passive Perception, which are Passive checks in the form of Wisdom (Perception) checks. They could have been called Passive Wisdom (Perception) but naming it after the Perception skills made more sense as featured in 4E.

Such way of calling for checks also stayed with many who played previous editions. I even somethimes hear dead names being called for, such as Bluff, Diplomacy, Heal, Thievery or Spot check!
 

There are other cases - like a rogue can find a trap using Wisdom (Perception) or by Intelligence (Investigation). You need a bit of information to know which ability will be applicable.
my group has an ongoing debate on this...
rogue is checking for traps... is that a theives tools+ dex, an Investigation + Int, a Perception +Wis are the 3 most common answers, but I have heard and seen argued Thief Tools + Int or Wis and Investigation + dex as well.

I also had a player VERY upset when to identify a strange metal I on the fly said "Int + smith tools" because the difference between +0 int and +5 Str was huge... I told the player I didn't think str would be right but he insisted black smiths are always strong...
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
we had (I hope) a joke a player tried to use athletics instead of investigation by dropping and doing 10 quick push ups to get the blood flowing and clear his mind so he could think better... in short hand sometimes my group still says "Can I do a push up for insight?"
For my group, it's "I intimidate the grass" which arose for us out of players trying to wedge their best skill into D&D 4e skill challenges.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
my group has an ongoing debate on this...
rogue is checking for traps... is that a theives tools+ dex, an Investigation + Int, a Perception +Wis are the 3 most common answers, but I have heard and seen argued Thief Tools + Int or Wis and Investigation + dex as well.

I also had a player VERY upset when to identify a strange metal I on the fly said "Int + smith tools" because the difference between +0 int and +5 Str was huge... I told the player I didn't think str would be right but he insisted black smiths are always strong...
The trick is getting players to be reasonably specific about their approach to a goal in my view. "I do X in hopes of achieving Y" or some version of that statement. In this case, "X" is the approach to the goal and should be reasonably specific enough for the DM to determine whether there is uncertainty as to the outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure (the prerequisites for an ability check) and what ability check and skill or tool proficiency may apply.

Ultimately it's about the players holding up their end of the conversation. When players do this, it's very easy to adjudicate as DM and adds a lot to the unfolding scene in terms of description.
 
Last edited:

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
my group has an ongoing debate on this...
rogue is checking for traps... is that a theives tools+ dex, an Investigation + Int, a Perception +Wis are the 3 most common answers, but I have heard and seen argued Thief Tools + Int or Wis and Investigation + dex as well.
I don’t want to tell you how to run your game, but you might find it useful to reverse the order you’re considering these things in. 5e renders checks as Ability (Proficiency) rather than Proficiency + Ability, and I find that thinking about them accordingly helps alleviate the ambiguity here. Which of the following is most relevant to determining whether someone successfully detects the presence of a trap?

• Agility, reflexes, and balance
• Mental acuity, accuracy of recall, and the ability to reason
or
• Attunement to the surrounding world, perceptiveness, and intuition

Personally, I think the first option is obviously not very relevant. Either the second or third could be relevant, depending on how the character is going about trying to find the trap, so I would call for either an Intelligence or Wisdom check depending on the approach the player described. Once that’s been established, we can start considering whether a given proficiency would be applicable. I think Investigation, Perception, and Thieves’ Tools all seem like they could be applicable (hence the ambiguity leading to the ongoing debate at your table), so I leave it up to the player to self-select an appropriate proficiency to apply, so long as it isn’t obviously irrelevant based on their stated approach.
I also had a player VERY upset when to identify a strange metal I on the fly said "Int + smith tools" because the difference between +0 int and +5 Str was huge... I told the player I didn't think str would be right but he insisted black smiths are always strong...
Int + Smith’s tools seems like a very fitting check for that. Blacksmiths are indeed strong, but that’s not really in question- the question is if bodily power, athletic training, and the extent to which you can exert raw physical force is relevant in determining whether or not you can successfully identify a strange metal, given your stated approach. I struggle to imagine an approach to that goal where it would be.
 
Last edited:



Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top