D&D 5E Some thoughts on skills.

Reynard

Legend
At least according to the poll I put up recently, Skills are the single most agreed upon mechanic for D&D. Thinking about the way 5E uses skills, I would like to propose some ideas for how I think they could be better utilized in the game.
1) Skills need to be defined as a specific thing, not treated as an afterthought of an ability check.
2) Skills need to be disconnected from ability scores. there is already a rule that makes this possible, but it needs to be explicit.
3) there should be a penalty (disadvantage? -2?) for using any skill untrained.
4) Skills need to inherently outweigh ability scores on the d20 roll.
5) the skill list needs to be expanded and more skill points need to be provided to all characters.
6) Backgrounds should determine how many base skill points you get, modified by class.
7) Tool proficiencies need to go away and having or not having the right tools should modify skill checks.

In addition, this is a more general rule, but I think advantage and disadvantage should stack from different sources and cancel each other out on a one for one basis, AND if more than 1 "level" of advantage or disadvantage remains, you roll multiple additional dice and take the bester/worst of all of them.

EDIT: For clarity, I am "liking" posts because I am glad people are engaged in the topic, not necessarily becaaue I agree with you lot.
 
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Rabulias

the Incomparably Shrewd and Clever
3) there should be a penalty (disadvantage? -2?) for using any skill untrained
There already is a built-in penalty: if you are untrained, you don't get to add your Proficiency Bonus. Put another way, the current rules are the reverse of your request: being trained gives you a bonus.
7) Tool proficiencies need to go away and having or not having the right tools should modify skill checks.
This I am onboard with. IMO, tool proficiencies make a distinction for very little purpose.
 

payn

Legend
I started writing several items, then realized they either break BA or are likely too complex for 5E simplicity ethos. I need to just stop and listen to folks for a bit.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
At least according to the poll I put up recently, Skills are the single most agreed upon mechanic for D&D. Thinking about the way 5E uses skills, I would like to propose some ideas for how I think they could be better utilized in the game.
1) Skills need to be defined as a specific thing, not treated as an afterthought of an ability check.
This is just perception. It's a unified mechanic, that's all. And when (2) comes into play separating them from specific abilities that perception is cured. No action needed.

2) Skills need to be disconnected from ability scores. there is already a rule that makes this possible, but it needs to be explicit.
I am all for this, but I find that some of my players get really confused when it's not pre-calculated on my character sheet. So this needs to be evaluated for newbie/casual friendliness.

3) there should be a penalty (disadvantage? -2?) for using any skill untrained.
There already is. It's lack of adding in proficiency. No action needed.

4) Skills need to inherently outweigh ability scores on the d20 roll.
I am all for this concept personally. But, it needs to stay within D&D ideas (so no "half ability score modifiers" or the like) and 3ed and 3.5 showed large problems where DCs needed to be either where some characters had no chance to challenge ones with big modifiers, or to challenge tghe majority of the party some characters would always succeed. Those were no good, so we still need to keep them in a fairly small range.

5) the skill list needs to be expanded and more skill points need to be provided to all characters.
Definitely for this. The most rolled ones need to be split up so there's no "god" skills like perception.
That said, with removal of being tied to an ability score some fo the lesser used ones could be combined - no need for separate athletics and acrobatics, for example.
Also, ones that never get any use need to be buffed so they are valid choices. Adding more if some are universally ignored as weak choices doesn't really increase the selection.

6) Backgrounds should determine how many base skill points you get, modified by class.
OneD&D Background has become thematically meaningless, which was an issue I had with it. If you want free floating skill points, do that separately. But leave backgrounds as meaning something thematically - that it it's only contribution.

7) Tool proficiencies need to go away and having or not having the right tools should modify skill checks.
Good with this.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
At least according to the poll I put up recently, Skills are the single most agreed upon mechanic for D&D. Thinking about the way 5E uses skills, I would like to propose some ideas for how I think they could be better utilized in the game.
1) Skills need to be defined as a specific thing, not treated as an afterthought of an ability check.
2) Skills need to be disconnected from ability scores. there is already a rule that makes this possible, but it needs to be explicit.
3) there should be a penalty (disadvantage? -2?) for using any skill untrained.
4) Skills need to inherently outweigh ability scores on the d20 roll.
5) the skill list needs to be expanded and more skill points need to be provided to all characters.
6) Backgrounds should determine how many base skill points you get, modified by class.
7) Tool proficiencies need to go away and having or not having the right tools should modify skill checks.

In addition, this is a more general rule, but I think advantage and disadvantage should stack from different sources and cancel each other out on a one for one basis, AND if more than 1 "level" of advantage or disadvantage remains, you roll multiple additional dice and take the bester/worst of all of them.
Backgrounds are going away in oned&d with good reason. Otherwise I agree with pretty much this entire list. Especially 3 4 5 & 7. I don't mind tool proficiencies as a concept like 3.x craft magic X type feats but masquerading as generic skills is just a mess because there's literally no cost or opportunity cost to having half the table being able to say "well I'm proficient in smith tools can I try to make...." but almost no plausible benefit in normal play to choosing the vast majority of tools.

Everything else combines into creating room for players to carve out their PC's niche as something other than "generic adventurer" isekai self insert do everything best type thing. I want my players to be specialized in their niche so I can build plot drama & story around their niche, I can't do that around five players who say "oh I want to try that too dice clatter"

A penalty for untrained creates room for jack of all trades (ie bard) & tangential skill acquisition without shoulder checking other PCs out of what should be their own spotlight niche. A wizard or similar might have a very solid claim on arcana & other knowledge skills as a skill (as they once did) while a rogue or certain fighters with their own areas of solid claim might be able to justify having some skill at arcana as well. Having a penalty on untrained means that said fighter & rogue can justify enough knowledge of arcana to be dangerous & maybe know a thing or two in a pinch without expecting to know as much as the PC who literally embodies that knowledge in every pore of it's fluff & lore. Shifting more weight to the skill itself expands that split & raises the floor for specialists.

Bounded accuracy needs to die in a game where skills & levels advance with the character
 

1) Skills need to be defined as a specific thing, not treated as an afterthought of an ability check.
No moreso than attacks and saving throws are. This mentality (along with #3 below) leads to skills being gated, as what happened in 3E.
2) Skills need to be disconnected from ability scores. there is already a rule that makes this possible, but it needs to be explicit.
This was done in the playtest, but apparently too many people complained. DMs asked for an ability check, and players offered skills they felt appropriate to the task. Unfortunately players tried to find any excuse to use a skill, even if it made zero sense.
3) there should be a penalty (disadvantage? -2?) for using any skill untrained.
No. Just no. Not being trained gives you at least a 10% greater chance of failure, this would double that.
4) Skills need to inherently outweigh ability scores on the d20 roll.
I agree with this, but IMO the problem is the ability score modifiers, not the proficiency modifier. They should have used the modifiers from BECMI instead of 3E's.
5) the skill list needs to be expanded and more skill points need to be provided to all characters.
Only if you open tool proficiency as skills. Very little cannot fit into an existing skill or tool.
6) Backgrounds should determine how many base skill points you get, modified by class.
I disagree. I think that everyone should have pretty much the same skill amount, except for the rogue and maybe the bard.
7) Tool proficiencies need to go away and having or not having the right tools should modify skill checks
More or less agree. Turn them into skills.
 

Stormonu

Legend
At the least, I think there should be a few more skills. Lore (with a possible subskill or specialty) being one distinct from History - and the return of some Constitution skills like Endurance and/or Concentration. I also think Profession should be brought back to replace Tool proficiency.

Likewise, I feel that expertise should be narrower - perhaps requiring a specialty to make it more attractive and being a half-step rather than a blowout ability. Like "Move Silently" or "Hide In Shadows" would be a specialty for Stealth that grants you expertise for that subset of the main skill.

Unfortunately, the skill system has always felt tacked on to D&D rathere than how it is incorporated into the core of most other RPGs. The only way it will ever become truly integrated is if D&D were to eliminate the combat mini-game or greatly reduce its scope. Otherwise skills will always play second fiddle (or even third, considering spells) to combat abilities and combat "skills".
 

I am all for this concept personally. But, it needs to stay within D&D ideas (so no "half ability score modifiers" or the like) and 3ed and 3.5 showed large problems where DCs needed to be either where some characters had no chance to challenge ones with big modifiers, or to challenge tghe majority of the party some characters would always succeed. Those were no good, so we still need to keep them in a fairly small range.
I'm not persuaded this is a problem. Experts should basically never fail at things they are good at, and characters with no training should generally fail at anything less than simple tasks. I think better integration of take 10/take20 rules would resolve most of these problems, by encouraging characters to simply choose to succeed in low pressure scenarios, and in high pressure scenarios, some characters but all but incapable of doing things and other ones being all but incapable of failing is I think a reasonable reflection of character building choices.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I agree with this, but IMO the problem is the ability score modifiers, not the proficiency modifier. They should have used the modifiers from BECMI instead of 3E's.
I'm pretty sure BECMII & 2e used the same ~6=-1& ~15=+1 so very much agree. Prior to 3.x the attribute mods were not as critical to minmax as they've been such. Roll 3d6 & all the other methods worked because it didn't really matter but now players feel like they've been kneecapped if they don't get to start with the elite array or better. Even forcing players to only use the elite array instead of pointbuy often gets resisted as if the GM is kicking off some kind of adversarial back & forth arms race.
edit: For those who didn't play back then...
It's complicated because they did a lot of things that have no clear analog to anything at all& bonuses were not in any way uniform across the attribs. Here are a couple minus the bits that don't convert

  • Con
    • 1 -3hp/level
    • 2 -2hp/level
    • 3 -2hp/level
    • 4 -1hp/level
    • 5 -1hp/level
    • 6 -1hp/level
    • 7 0hp/level
    • 8 0hp/level
    • 9 0hp/level
    • 10 0hp/level
    • 11 0hp/level
    • 12 0hp/level
    • 13 0hp/level
    • 14 0hp/level
    • 15 +1hp/level
    • 16 +2hp/level
    • 17 +3hp/level
    • 18 +4hp/level
    • 19 +5hp/level
    • 20 +5hp/level
    • 21 +6hp/level
    • 22 +6hp/level
    • 23 +6hp/level
    • 24 +7hp/level
    • 25 +7hp/level
  • str
    • 1 tohit mod -5/damage mod-4
    • 2 tohit mod -3/damage mod-2
    • 3 tohit mod -3/damage mod-1
    • 4 tohit mod -2/damage mod-1
    • 5 tohit mod -1/damage mod+0
    • 6 tohit mod +0/damage mod+0
    • 7 tohit mod +0/damage mod+0
    • 8 tohit mod +0/damage mod+0
    • 9 tohit mod +0/damage mod+0
    • 10 tohit mod +0/damage mod+0
    • 11 tohit mod +0/damage mod+0
    • 12 tohit mod +0/damage mod+0
    • 13 tohit mod +0/damage mod+0
    • 14 tohit mod +0/damage mod+0
    • 15 tohit mod +0/damage mod+0
    • 16 tohit mod +0/damage mod+1
    • 17 tohit mod +1/damage mod+1
    • 18 it's complicated
    • 19 tohit mod +3/damage mod+7
    • 20 tohit mod +3/damage mod+8
    • 21 tohit mod +4/damage mod+9
    • 22 tohit mod +4/damage mod+10
    • 23 tohit mod +5/damage mod+11
    • 24 tohit mod +6/damage mod+12
    • 25 tohit mod +7/damage mod+14
 
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Vaalingrade

Legend
At least according to the poll I put up recently, Skills are the single most agreed upon mechanic for D&D. Thinking about the way 5E uses skills, I would like to propose some ideas for how I think they could be better utilized in the game.
Well, let's take a loot.
1) Skills need to be defined as a specific thing, not treated as an afterthought of an ability check.
2) Skills need to be disconnected from ability scores. there is already a rule that makes this possible, but it needs to be explicit.
Ooo, looks like I won't be using my red pen that much :p

Agreed. I think training and learning is way more important than so-called natural talent, and if you want that, it should be a feat.
3) there should be a penalty (disadvantage? -2?) for using any skill untrained.
I don't agree with this largely because there should instead be more Trained only skill uses to encourage getting trained.
4) Skills need to inherently outweigh ability scores on the d20 roll.
How about this: Being trained in a skill lets you use the relevant ability score.
5) the skill list needs to be expanded and more skill points need to be provided to all characters.
Right on, right on.
6) Backgrounds should determine how many base skill points you get, modified by class.
Also good with this. Never thought of it.
7) Tool proficiencies need to go away and having or not having the right tools should modify skill checks.
Let's do both. You can pick a lock with a bobby pin, but you're much better with tools.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I would like to see more abilities that allow for a take-10 or autosucced X number of time, along the lines of the Kender’s Fearless ability.

Rather than the Ranger never being lost, for example, I’d like to see them have advantage on Nature checks to navigate and once per day they can auto succeed on such a check - assuming they’d be making 2-3 such checks a day.

In the case of the Rogue’s reliable talent, the take-10 could be done PB times per day, instead of every time.

Alertness would give you advantage on Perception checks to avoid being surprised, and you could auto succeed once per day. And so forth.

Of all things, I would like to see this ability given to Fighters and some of their (non-combat) skill checks to help them in the exploration pillar of the game.
 

Reynard

Legend
In general, I prefer the 3.x philosophy around skills to the 5E philosophy (as is probably obvious from my OP) with the caveat that different applications of skills should be modified by different ability scores, as is appropriate. You can deceive someone with intelligence, with wisdom or with charm depending on your approach, for example.

The reason I think untrained use should confer disadvantage is simple life experience. Natural talen will only get you so far, and the more difficult the attempt the more likely that talent will be insufficient. As I mentioned in another thread, one obvious example is untrained Athletics versus a Warrior Dash obstacle course.

I know, simulation is a dirty word around here, but sometimes I still want to lean into real life experience to inform design.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
IME it pretty much just comes down to complexity and how much you want to do to have a system that works for you.

I've been leaning more towards removing skills and doing proficiency in ability checks from the DMG instead. We already do it with one group and in many ways I prefer it to the nit-picky 3E skill point system.

However, I agree in some way with the points made in the OP.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I'm not persuaded this is a problem. Experts should basically never fail at things they are good at, and characters with no training should generally fail at anything less than simple tasks. I think better integration of take 10/take20 rules would resolve most of these problems, by encouraging characters to simply choose to succeed in low pressure scenarios, and in high pressure scenarios, some characters but all but incapable of doing things and other ones being all but incapable of failing is I think a reasonable reflection of character building choices.
Consider the context we're working in.

Should stealth be absolutely impossible for talented amateurs because it's designed to be not-a-sure-thing for the focused expert? Or can a focused expert sneak past everything because DCs were set so it's possible a party without a dedicated stealth character will find it challenging but manageable.

What should the DC for finding this hidden treasure in the module? Should the perception focused character always find all of them because it's set up that the average party will find some of them?

Same for locks, and just about everything else.

Do you nerf character abilities by scaling up DCs in the module if you have a character that has invested heavily in it?

Basically, this has well been shown to be a problem, enough so that there's an entire design philosophy in 5e, bounded accuracy, to help deal with it. Some of the designer diaries from back when it was being create can do a better job than I can to show that this is a real problem, and one they vastly changed the skill modifier range of the game in order to solve.
 

Consider the context we're working in.

Should stealth be absolutely impossible for talented amateurs because it's designed to be not-a-sure-thing for the focused expert? Or can a focused expert sneak past everything because DCs were set so it's possible a party without a dedicated stealth character will find it challenging but manageable.

What should the DC for finding this hidden treasure in the module? Should the perception focused character always find all of them because it's set up that the average party will find some of them?

Same for locks, and just about everything else.

Do you nerf character abilities by scaling up DCs in the module if you have a character that has invested heavily in it?
Stealth is a tricky design question for a lot of reasons, but assuming you can solve the iterated probability issues and make a system level decision on individual vs. party stealth as tactics, then yes, the an expert sneak should walk past nearly all foes, except those specialized in perception.

I think these situations should have clear answers that are intrinsic to the system, and that module design should not hinge on adjusting the DCs of their presented skill checks, but on putting different challenges in that are appropriate to the scale of characters handling them. The reward for specializing in something should be success at it. If someone spends the resources to excel at Search checks, they're telling me as the DM that they want to find all the hidden things and should get to see them.

It's okay that locks are meaningless to level 12 characters, or that at level 5, a rogue that isn't under time pressure can unlock any locked door, level 15 adventures should present things like "the air is made of fire here" and "the castle is balanced on needle of stone, threatening to tip if any unaccounted for weight is added to either side" as challenges instead, and allow the rogue to enjoy ripping open the treasure chest when the figure out how to deal with those things.
Basically, this has well been shown to be a problem, enough so that there's an entire design philosophy in 5e, bounded accuracy, to help deal with it. Some of the designer diaries from back when it was being create can do a better job than I can to show that this is a real problem, and one they vastly changed the skill modifier range of the game in order to solve.
Bounded accuracy is just as much a choice here. It's a stance that no one should ever be better than a d20 roll at anything, and expertise should provide only marginal benefit compared to an amateur.
 

1) Skills need to be defined as a specific thing, not treated as an afterthought of an ability check.
Agreed. I know in 5e 'skill checks' are just a subsection of 'ability checks' but I'd prefer to get rid of ability checks and let 99% of rolls reside in either Skill, Attack, or Saving Throws. If we need to alter the list of skills to make this happen I am all for it. I rarely call for ability checks and when I do I always think that it didn't have to be this way.
2) Skills need to be disconnected from ability scores. there is already a rule that makes this possible, but it needs to be explicit.
I agree with this in principle. I know we can already mix-and-match skills and ability scores but that's not how it plays out most of the time. Especially for players that only have a player side view of things. My problem is that the disconnect messes with the simplicity of determining my modifier for a skill check, writing it down, and then referring to it when I'm asked to make a roll using that check. It may not be that complex in the moment but over time that's a lot of extra work that the current system doesn't require from you.
3) there should be a penalty (disadvantage? -2?) for using any skill untrained.
I'm flip-flopping here. Using an untrained skill should lead to poor results most of the time. That I'm totally on board with. But 5e doesn't balance between carrot and stick most of the time. Instead, it is carrot or no carrot. If you really wanted to widen the gap between untrained and trained you'd get the same result by making proficiency start at 4 and climb to 8.

That might screw with the game's math a bit too much though. Instead I suggest you cap their roll at their ability score for an untrained skill. Make it a minimum of 10 to prevent negative numbers from being a double whammy. Or maybe cap it at 15 and don't bother with checking ability scores. They'll be able to succeed on easy and medium tasks but more difficult tasks would be out of their reach.
4) Skills need to inherently outweigh ability scores on the d20 roll.
I agree. I posted this in the thread with your poll but I would drop expertise to 1.5x and make mastery the new 2x. With a little bit more granularity we can start giving out expertise, mastery, and half-proficiency (a very underutilized mechanic) to more skills. The new expertise adds 3, 4, 6, 7, 9 over levels 1-20. Unless you rolled really well expertise will have your training in a skill outstripping your ability modifiers in everything but your highest ability. There's more to this idea obviously but I like that it keeps everything within the same range that currently exists, mathematically.
5) the skill list needs to be expanded and more skill points need to be provided to all characters.
I already covered this in points 1 and 4 but yes I agree. We may have different takes on how that happens, but that's for another time.
6) Backgrounds should determine how many base skill points you get, modified by class.
It would certainly make backgrounds more important mechanically than they currently are.
7) Tool proficiencies need to go away and having or not having the right tools should modify skill checks.
I can't figure out how to write what I'm thinking on this one. When you use a tool to aid in a skill you should get some kind of bonus. Advantage, a flat -5 to DC, take 10, or something else. But when you craft something with a tool I think that should have some kind of gating aspect. I may edit this later if I can think of a way to say what I mean.
 

I'm pretty sure BECMII & 2e used the same ~6=-1& ~15=+1 so very much agree. Prior to 3.x the attribute mods were not as critical to minmax as they've been such. Roll 3d6 & all the other methods worked because it didn't really matter but now players feel like they've been kneecapped if they don't get to start with the elite array or better. Even forcing players to only use the elite array instead of pointbuy often gets resisted as if the GM is kicking off some kind of adversarial back & forth arms race.
It gave a wide margin of no modifier, but not as much as AD&D. IIRC, BECMI had the following

3...............-3
4-5...........-2
6-8...........-1
9-12..........0
13-15.....+1
16-17.....+2
18............+3
 

amethal

Adventurer
7) Tool proficiencies need to go away and having or not having the right tools should modify skill checks.

In addition, this is a more general rule, but I think advantage and disadvantage should stack from different sources and cancel each other out on a one for one basis, AND if more than 1 "level" of advantage or disadvantage remains, you roll multiple additional dice and take the bester/worst of all of them.
I wonder why they introduced tool proficiencies. It seems like the kind of design choice that I'd make after a few glasses of wine, only to realise the next day that it was an extra complication that wasn't really achieving anything you couldn't already do with the basic skill system.

Presumably they had their reasons; did they ever say what those reasons were?

The only one I can think of is that it is (arguably) easier to introduce new tool proficiencies than to introduce new skills.

"I assume you don't have tool proficiency in chariots?" is somehow more palatable than "You don't have proficiency in charioteering, and there was no way you could have done since it wasn't on the list of available skills I gave you at character creation".

Re rolling with multiple advantages, it is a brave person who advocates for "dice pools" in D&D :)
 

Horwath

Hero
It gave a wide margin of no modifier, but not as much as AD&D. IIRC, BECMI had the following

3...............-3
4-5...........-2
6-8...........-1
9-12..........0
13-15.....+1
16-17.....+2
18............+3
even less intuitive than what we have now.

I would go the opposite:
...
...
...
5: -5
6: -4
7: -3
8: -2
9: -1
10: +0
11: +1
12: +2
13: +3
14: +4
15: +5
...
...
...
 

Stormonu

Legend
It's okay that locks are meaningless to level 12 characters, or that at level 5, a rogue that isn't under time pressure can unlock any locked door, level 15 adventures should present things like "the air is made of fire here" and "the castle is balanced on needle of stone, threatening to tip if any unaccounted for weight is added to either side" as challenges instead, and allow the rogue to enjoy ripping open the treasure chest when the figure out how to deal with those things.
This is probably one of the reasons I don't play/like high-level D&D because I just don't agree with this sentiment.
 

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