How do you handle a skill check if needed.

How do you as GM handle as skill check if it is needed.

  • They just declare they rolling a skill check

    Votes: 8 30.8%
  • They must give a reason why they are rolling a skill check

    Votes: 14 53.8%
  • They must use the "magic words" for me to allow a skill check

    Votes: 3 11.5%
  • If they use the "Magic words", I give a bonus

    Votes: 1 3.8%
  • No skill checks allowed at all.

    Votes: 4 15.4%

  • Total voters
    26

5ekyu

Adventurer
Agreed.
To steal one of Dungeon World's Principles, "Begin and end with the fiction."

Also, as noted above, but I feel it needs repeating... There is no such thing as a "skill check" in D&D 5E.
Count me in with the group who does not fret at all whether the d20 roll that adds the ability modifier snd posdible skill or too proficiency was called a skill check or an ability check.

To me it doesnt matter. The term "skill" has been used across a great many systems to differentiate them from attack scores for ages and they seemed to survive just fine.

It doesnt bring any sense of trouble in our actual play if someone says skill check instead of ability check. We arent that hung up on using the new lexicon for the edition which really pushes " rulings" over "rules."

Pondering whether if one house ruled explicitly for your table that ability checks can be referred to ss skill checks without consequences it would be more accepted on forums by those who at least give lip service to house rules being allowed?

Obviously though, a non-AL game.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
My argument for using the words the specific game uses is so that DMs and players don't conflate the mechanics and processes of one game and a different game and thereby risk the game not working as intended, potentially leading to an undesirable play experience. I like to keep a nice strong firewall between how different games handle things unless I purposefully make changes to have one game be more like the other. I learned to do this years ago when I realized my D&D 4e game wasn't going as well as my D&D 3.Xe games were going, and that was because I was running the game as if it was a different game. A lot of DMs do this in my experience to the detriments of their campaigns.

"Skill checks" exist in D&D 4e, for example. In D&D 4e, the game comes right out and says players often initiate a skill check by asking the DM if he or she can make one. Almost always, the D&D 4e rules say, the DM says "Yes." Contrast that with D&D 5e which says nothing of the sort when it comes to ability checks, except that the player may ask if a particular skill proficiency applies to the ability check.

If I come from a background of running and playing D&D 4e (as I do), I might be tempted to think of ability checks in D&D 5e the same way as skill checks in D&D 4e - players ask to make checks and the DM says "Yes." As a result, I'm going to end up with a different game experience than what may be intended.

Will my game be terrible if that happens? No, probably not. But it definitely won't look like a D&D 5e game where players describe what they want to do without asking to make ability checks. Or what I would consider the smart play of trying to avoid ability checks as often as possible. You won't ever catch a regular player in my game asking to make a check. It's just not the smart play to want to roll a fickle d20. Working to remove uncertainty as to the outcome and/or the meaningful consequence of failure is the way to go. Sometimes you can't, but you damn sure try. And that game is going to look different than a game where players ask to make checks.

So, when I'm engaged in a discussion on the forums about these things, I make the effort to be reasonably specific and consistent in the language I use, especially if I'm referencing game terms that have a specific meaning in the given game's rules. It's not about being pedantic, but rather being accurate and trying to make sure I'm not conflating one game with another game or leading others to do the same. @DM Dave1 and @Elfcrusher had it absolutely right when they asked upthread which game the OP was referring to. Without a tag to identify this as a D&D 5e thread, we could well have been talking about D&D 3.Xe or D&D 4e, and how those games handle these issues can be different.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I do not ask a player to meaningfully describe what their character is doing because I want to catch them in a bind or ensure they are saying the right thing. I ask first of all because I am curious. The details of what is happening right now are important to me. I also ask because I cannot meaningfully know what sort of consequences or rewards the player might reap if I do not have handle on what is happening right now in this moment. I am not leading play down any particular road. I want to find out what happens. For that I need a certain amount of detail.
 

coolAlias

Explorer
Speaking of skills and editions, I remember back when I was playing AD&D 2e, probably 8 or 9 years old, and thinking how strange the proficiency system was - "why does taking the Riding proficiency give me a +3 bonus to Dex, and why would I ever take a proficiency that gives me a penalty???"

Needless to say, I had some characters with pretty crazy stats for a while. Good times.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
My argument for using the words the specific game uses is so that DMs and players don't conflate the mechanics and processes of one game and a different game and thereby risk the game not working as intended, potentially leading to an undesirable play experience. I like to keep a nice strong firewall between how different games handle things unless I purposefully make changes to have one game be more like the other. I learned to do this years ago when I realized my D&D 4e game wasn't going as well as my D&D 3.Xe games were going, and that was because I was running the game as if it was a different game. A lot of DMs do this in my experience to the detriments of their campaigns.

"Skill checks" exist in D&D 4e, for example. In D&D 4e, the game comes right out and says players often initiate a skill check by asking the DM if he or she can make one. Almost always, the D&D 4e rules say, the DM says "Yes." Contrast that with D&D 5e which says nothing of the sort when it comes to ability checks, except that the player may ask if a particular skill proficiency applies to the ability check.

If I come from a background of running and playing D&D 4e (as I do), I might be tempted to think of ability checks in D&D 5e the same way as skill checks in D&D 4e - players ask to make checks and the DM says "Yes." As a result, I'm going to end up with a different game experience than what may be intended.

Will my game be terrible if that happens? No, probably not. But it definitely won't look like a D&D 5e game where players describe what they want to do without asking to make ability checks. Or what I would consider the smart play of trying to avoid ability checks as often as possible. You won't ever catch a regular player in my game asking to make a check. It's just not the smart play to want to roll a fickle d20. Working to remove uncertainty as to the outcome and/or the meaningful consequence of failure is the way to go. Sometimes you can't, but you damn sure try. And that game is going to look different than a game where players ask to make checks.

So, when I'm engaged in a discussion on the forums about these things, I make the effort to be reasonably specific and consistent in the language I use, especially if I'm referencing game terms that have a specific meaning in the given game's rules. It's not about being pedantic, but rather being accurate and trying to make sure I'm not conflating one game with another game or leading others to do the same. @DM Dave1 and @Elfcrusher had it absolutely right when they asked upthread which game the OP was referring to. Without a tag to identify this as a D&D 5e thread, we could well have been talking about D&D 3.Xe or D&D 4e, and how those games handle these issues can be different.
Spot on. Those who think the difference is pedantic, or is about being too uptight about slight differences in language, seem to be missing the point entirely.

Similarly, frequently in these threads some people argue that "I'll make a [Skill] check" is just time-saving shorthand for some more elaborate description. "Magic words", et al.

Sure: if that's how someone is using the skills then, yes, it's a convenient shorthand. And in that case to insist that the player phrases it differently, so that the DM can ask for a skill check, is indeed kind of silly.

But what those posters seem to not understand (despite how many threads on this topic?) is that some of us are not using the skill system that way. And anybody who thinks it's simply about the phrasing must (again, still) not comprehend that difference.
 
I use all of the first four options. To me, it seems like it is usually the most fun for the players if they don't have to ask for a skill check. They will tell me what they want to do or ask a question, and if necessary, I will call for a check (skill check, ability check, attack roll, whatever).

A lot of times, the player can easily guess what sort of check I am going to call for, so they are free to make it and tell me the results as a part of their declaration. If they guess incorrectly, we apply the correct bonus (or penalty) to the roll and carry on from there.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
I use skill checks for multiple reasons.
1. Have gamers from other editions who use it.
2. If I say skills all the new gamers know to look at the pcs sheet to see if that box is check.
3. Some gamers play video games and use skills. If I hear from another kid who has more hours than I in Skryim I will scream.
Yes magic words is snarky that is why I used it. Some of you in other threads have heavy hinted you require your players to be very detail in describing actions outside of combat.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
.
Yes magic words is snarky that is why I used it. Some of you in other threads have heavy hinted you require your players to be very detail in describing actions outside of combat.
I really don’t think anyone has. Specificity sure, but detailed, nah :) But I know what I say won’t change your mind or those of similar opinion.

So why not let’s call a truce in this endless skirmish? In the inevitable future threads, raised by poor unsuspecting newbies, we’ll each describe our ways of handling uncertainty in PC actions (see what I did there? ;) ) but let’s try to avoid offering commentary on the other?

But perhaps, if the questioner is specifically asking about 5e, you could at least be up front that skill checks are a hold over from earlier editions and are considered a table rule in 5e? So we don’t feel the urge to point it out and appear rude? :)
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Yes magic words is snarky that is why I used it. Some of you in other threads have heavy hinted you require your players to be very detail in describing actions outside of combat.
For actions in combat or out of combat, I ask that players tell me what they want to do and what they hope to accomplish by doing it. If that task is simple, then the description tends to be simple. If that task is convoluted, then the description tends to be detailed. If the player is good with words, the description tends to be succinct. If the player is not so good with words, the description tends to be less so. The goal here is not particular words or phrases, but a clear statement of an approach to a goal that everyone at the table can understand.

The rules for D&D 5e set forth a standard of reasonable specificity for the player, particularly as it relates to exploration challenges. I imagine this is because the DM has to have enough information to judge whether what the player has described is successful, a failure, or whether the outcome is uncertain. It also permits the DM to more easily set the DC since sometimes multiple approaches to a goal might be successful, but some may be more or less difficult than others. Finally, it allows the DM to determine what some potential consequences for failure are which is required for there to be an ability check at all.

If a player only asks to make an ability check with no additional detail, the DM is left to either assume or establish for the player what the character is doing. A common thing I see at many tables is that the player offers very little description of what he or she wants to do and asks to make an ability check. The DM says "Sure." The player rolls, the DM sees or hears the result, and then both describes what the character does and narrates the result. While people are free to play the game however they want, this is all kinds of out of order according to the rules and can, not surprisingly, lead to misunderstandings. The player had something else in mind in terms of what the character is doing, for example, and now we need to have a conversation to correct that problem.

At the end of the day, the game is basically just a conversation. The DM says something, the players respond, the DM comments on that response, repeat. Sometimes the DM gets to say that dice are rolled before he or she provides comments on the players' responses. Like any other conversation, it tends to go well if everyone has a chance to participate, get their observations and points across clearly, and thoughtfully listens to what other people are saying before responding. This makes the conversation flow smoothly, usually with little disagreement based on bad assumptions, and at the end everyone walks away feeling they've had the opportunity to have their say. If one or more participants in the conversation isn't holding up their end, then the conversation tends to fall flat or be one-sided.

So, that's all some of us are doing. That is the goal we hope to achieve, which are aligned with the goals of play as provided by the game, and the approach is as I've outlined above. In my experience, it leads to success without uncertainty.
 

Mistwell

Hero
I voted, then read some of the thread, agreed it was a crappy poll, and unvoted.

There is just too much here to fix to make it a decent poll. Start by talking about ability checks. Talk about the things you apparently meant by "magic words" instead of phrasing it as a "mother may I" scenario and instead use language in the books as your guidelines for how to describe it if your own words fail you.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
How do people handle other skill ... umm ... ability checks with proficiency bonus such as arcana, history or religion? BTW: the reason I and my table still refer to skill checks is simple. Ability check modified by proficiency just doesn't roll off the tongue. If there's a better way to refer to an ability check modified by a proficiency feel free to chime in.

But take an example. The group is looking at a McGuffin. In my game someone could ask for a history check to see if it had any historical significance. Maybe it should and I didn't think to ask the players for it or forgot that anyone was proficient in history, so I go ahead and let them a roll.

It's obvious what they are doing (wracking their brains for information related to the McGuffin. How? Approach? I'm not sure how anyone would phrase that.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Spot on. Those who think the difference is pedantic, or is about being too uptight about slight differences in language, seem to be missing the point entirely.

Similarly, frequently in these threads some people argue that "I'll make a [Skill] check" is just time-saving shorthand for some more elaborate description. "Magic words", et al.

Sure: if that's how someone is using the skills then, yes, it's a convenient shorthand. And in that case to insist that the player phrases it differently, so that the DM can ask for a skill check, is indeed kind of silly.

But what those posters seem to not understand (despite how many threads on this topic?) is that some of us are not using the skill system that way. And anybody who thinks it's simply about the phrasing must (again, still) not comprehend that difference.
If a group needs to insist on not using "skill check" because that leads to some bad game experience or confusion at the table on what game they are playing, or for whatever reason they choose - if it's good for them, great.

For me, as I said, it's not a problem, never caused a problem in spite or or because of the fact that we have all played different games over time and dont have a problem like that. Nobody gets any bad experience or confusion when we say skill check and it's much like the terminology we have seen over and over.

That said, when in forum discussions the habit of correcting folks ehen they say "skill checks" starts being kinda like a jab at kinda implying "you may not know how to play 5e" it starts to get annoying. When using the rather common parlance is taken as an opportunity to raise a question about the other poster's acumen, its annoying.
 

coolAlias

Explorer
How do people handle other skill ... umm ... ability checks with proficiency bonus such as arcana, history or religion? BTW: the reason I and my table still refer to skill checks is simple. Ability check modified by proficiency just doesn't roll off the tongue. If there's a better way to refer to an ability check modified by a proficiency feel free to chime in.

But take an example. The group is looking at a McGuffin. In my game someone could ask for a history check to see if it had any historical significance. Maybe it should and I didn't think to ask the players for it or forgot that anyone was proficient in history, so I go ahead and let them a roll.

It's obvious what they are doing (wracking their brains for information related to the McGuffin. How? Approach? I'm not sure how anyone would phrase that.
When the goal and approach are pretty self-evident, I have no problem with a player asking for a {whatever} check, whether directly or as "Do I know anything [history | arcana | religion]-related about this item?"

I may be wrong, but I think that in actual play, most of our approaches to skill / ability resolution would look more similar than not, despite any of our stated differences in an online forum.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
How do people handle other skill ... umm ... ability checks with proficiency bonus such as arcana, history or religion? BTW: the reason I and my table still refer to skill checks is simple. Ability check modified by proficiency just doesn't roll off the tongue. If there's a better way to refer to an ability check modified by a proficiency feel free to chime in.

But take an example. The group is looking at a McGuffin. In my game someone could ask for a history check to see if it had any historical significance. Maybe it should and I didn't think to ask the players for it or forgot that anyone was proficient in history, so I go ahead and let them a roll.

It's obvious what they are doing (wracking their brains for information related to the McGuffin. How? Approach? I'm not sure how anyone would phrase that.
At my table these are often done by the player asking a question like "do I know anything about... " or "do I recognize anything..." and a reference to a check - but just as likely its something like "can I tell anything with arcana" etc.

Sometimes if there are specific bits they are curious about then they will zero in with more detail "those purple snd yellow Rose's, are they like anything specific in the Chauntean lore - roses are big there" That is after in the fiction the Chauntean Rose's has been introduced of course.

So, for like general "what does this mean to me, given my expertise" very little is asked - kinda like just asking for more detailed description. But if there are particular clues they are honing in on, they identify more precisely.

That's the vast majority of our play cases, not just from 5e. I mean, it's not like skills for knowledge, hunting, spotting, investigations etc hsvdnt bedn implemented snd used alongside "abikity" or "atttibutes" for decades in countless games, right? 5e does not have dome magical new thing as far as skills go that deserves scripture status.

I did have an experience where at one table - not sure if it was just one player or a GM thing - where a player would take time to always wrap these in a backstory wrapper - "I will think back to my days studying at the blah blah mountain library and lectures from old msn blah blah about monsters of the south hills and see what I recall about trolls."

I also have had players who went really heavy the other way- giving a lot of out of character explanation of the reasoning as to what he thought and why it made sense and what he was expecting at many many many cases of tryingbyobuse his skills for knowledge. At times, I did have to stop that, interrupt and get on because it was becoming an issue and was unnecessary. To be fair, I think he had issues with fear of failure and getting "gotcha" etc ftom som prior gaming experience, so it was a thing we had to work thru.
 
How do people handle other skill ... umm ... ability checks with proficiency bonus such as arcana, history or religion? BTW: the reason I and my table still refer to skill checks is simple. Ability check modified by proficiency just doesn't roll off the tongue. If there's a better way to refer to an ability check modified by a proficiency feel free to chime in.

But take an example. The group is looking at a McGuffin. In my game someone could ask for a history check to see if it had any historical significance. Maybe it should and I didn't think to ask the players for it or forgot that anyone was proficient in history, so I go ahead and let them a roll.

It's obvious what they are doing (wracking their brains for information related to the McGuffin. How? Approach? I'm not sure how anyone would phrase that.
In games I run (which is not D&D 5e), this will be handled either immediately upon encountering the thing, like so...

DM: "Behind it, is revealed the mighty Hucka Pucka Valve. Sammy the Sage recalls that this ancient device was invented by Hammforce, the Gnome Paladin during the Age of Things Being Quite Sticky as a way to separate things that were quite sticky."

This information would be based off of a "take 10" value for something like History or Arcana.

Or it will be triggered by the player asking a question, like so...

Scott: Does Leo Frogman know if the Hucka Pucka Valve is dangerous?
DM: Possibly. Make me a History or Arcana roll.
Scott: I got one million on history!
DM: Makes up or reveals notes about history of Hucka Pucka Valve

Or it will be revealed by the player declaring a check.

Jason: I Arcana it, 28.
DM: Invents or reveals notes about magical technobabble about the Hucka Pucka Valve.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Part of the reason for insisting on specificity of action and wanting to know more about what a player is trying to accomplish is to make certain success and failure are meaningful. If a player wants to know how strong is a troll in comparison to us a successful Nature check will reveal how potent a creature it is. If they want to know about weaknesses a successful check will let them know that it is weak to fire. I want to avoid the scenario where a successful check results in a massive info dump that does not meaningfully answer the player's question.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Part of the reason for insisting on specificity of action and wanting to know more about what a player is trying to accomplish is to make certain success and failure are meaningful. If a player wants to know how strong is a troll in comparison to us a successful Nature check will reveal how potent a creature it is. If they want to know about weaknesses a successful check will let them know that it is weak to fire. I want to avoid the scenario where a successful check results in a massive info dump that does not meaningfully answer the player's question.
That would drive me a little bit nuts. If I know about trolls, I know about trolls. I may know additional information based on how high a result I get. But if I want to know how strong they are because that's what I specifically ask for but don't remember that they regen? No thanks.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Part of the reason for insisting on specificity of action and wanting to know more about what a player is trying to accomplish is to make certain success and failure are meaningful. If a player wants to know how strong is a troll in comparison to us a successful Nature check will reveal how potent a creature it is. If they want to know about weaknesses a successful check will let them know that it is weak to fire. I want to avoid the scenario where a successful check results in a massive info dump that does not meaningfully answer the player's question.
Most of the times, it's like "what do I know about trolls?" At our table that may get a 30 second high spots "bullet list" then any more specific questions come out in discussion. We dont require a 20 questions type thing.

so the troll answer would be like
Big hungry not too bright giant
Huge claws- RIP you apart - usually no weapons
Regeneration a lot if you dont use fire

Tho often that info is given frankly for common creatures by simply giving them stat blocks as "commonly known" for cases where that is reasonable. Its understood there are frequent variations for specific individuals that will come out in description.
 

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