D&D 5E The skill system is one dimensional.

I've mentioned this in another thread before. I think, at certain levels of play, a player should be able to choose abilities for skills so they should be able to tackle problems that, currently, only spells can do. This legendary rogue is so good at picking locks, he can open a portal to another dimension. (for example). The Fighter can jump 50 feet in the air or the bard balance on a twig.

That kind of thing.

How to do that, mechanically, to make it balanced and interesting? I don't know. I just feel there's a whole part of the game that's untapped.

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B/X Known World
In my opinion the current system is excessively granular while at the same time considering improvements only along one dimension.
Yep. They should remove the skill subsystem entirely and only use the abilities. Classes get trained in two abilities (from their saves) and they should get that bonus for all ability checks. Done. No need for the weird skill subsystem.


A suffusion of yellow
In my hypothetical homebrew I tied Skills and Knacks (Feat) together so you get the Attribute + skill + knack to do something awesome (knacks are stackable)

so Mario has the Knack “Multi Jump” which lets him extend his verticle Jump distance by rolling successful Athletics checks for each increase (double/triple/quadruple) *if he is by a wall Mario gets advantage

Bowser gets a Body slam knack that turns his jump into an attack (successful athletics check) that causes a 10ft AoE

Princess Peach on the other hand has the Glide knack which on a successful acrobatics check allows her to glide 5ft forward for every 1ft of verticle height in her jump.

something like that, I’d have to go search for notes to recall fully


Yep. They should remove the skill subsystem entirely and only use the abilities. Classes get trained in two abilities (from their saves) and they should get that bonus for all ability checks. Done. No need for the weird skill subsystem.
Sound a lot like Castles & Crusades. I kind of like it, but it does result in weird scenarios where Wisdom-based classes like Clerics are suddenly better than rangers at tracking and wilderness survival.


I agree with the OP that PCs with very high skill levels should be able to do astonishing, nigh-magical things. What are these things? For some skills it is easier to imagine than others, partly because some skills are narrow and others are wide. Thieves Tools : disarm magical locks and traps, is fairly obvious. What should someone with +20 in survival be able to do? I have no ideas right now.

Perhaps the best solution is open-ended : let the players propose something like "exemplar trick" in the normal course of play - special uses of mundane skills that break the normal rules. The DM sets a DC of 30+ : if they succeed once then they can attempt the action again at DC25, so it becomes a more reliable part of their ability suite henceforth. The number of such tricks could be limited to your proficiency bonus.

So if your acrobatic elf bard wants to be able to balance and run across the flexible twigs of a forest canopy that's one trick they can attempt.


A suffusion of yellow
. What should someone with +20 in survival be able to do? I have no ideas right now.

Signs of Nature:
By observing the signs of nature including cloud formations amd reflection, scents on the wind, plant distribution and bird and insect habits You gain knowledge of surrounding area in a 3 miles radius. You make a Survival check and can note three facts of your choice for each minute spent observing your surroundings, about the following subjects as they relate to the area:
  • terrain and bodies of water
  • prevalent plants, minerals, animals, or peoples` creatures in the area
  • Powerful Unnatural influences eg celestials, fey, fiends, elementals, or undead
  • influence from other planes of existence
  • buildings
(its Commune with Nature (Divination, Ritual), Spell is Level 5)

Read the Tracks : (Aragorns trick)
With a survival check You are able to identify tracks and sign in the surrounding area and use them to reconstruct any major occurance in the past 3 days Including
  • the type and number of creatures or vehicles that passed
  • the direction and speed they were moving
  • the state of their health
  • whether they were wearing armor
  • if they were carrying anything extra
  • if any major actions besides movement occured
  • how long since they left the area
Restful Shelter
With a successful Survival Check You can set up a short rest stop that gives the benefit of a Long Rest to up to Nine creatures of Medium size.
or just go with a Skill based Tiny Hut
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Few things can help skill system while not reworking 5E skill system completely.

1st: drop the d20 from skills. It's completely unreliable. Replace it with 3d6.

2nd: as it was introduced in XGtE for tools, add things that you can do with skills if you have proficiency.
Add more advanced features for those that have expertise.
This things can be automatic or require a skill check.

alternative for 1st solution:
Have a weaker version of rogues reliable talent for all.

I.E. if you are proficiency in a skill/tool, every roll on d20 lower than 5 is counted as 5.
If you have expertise in a skill/tool, every roll on d20 lower than 7 is counted as 7.
If you are rogue with reliable talent, every roll on d20 lower than 10 is counted as 10.
If you are rogue with reliable talent and you have expertise in a skill or a toll, every roll on d20 lower than 12 is counted as 12.

In my opinion the current system is excessively granular while at the same time considering improvements only along one dimension. It's focused on maximising this one single number that represents how likely you are to succeed if you use that skill. It's uninteresting. Isn't it more interesting to think about skills as something that changes how you can interact with the world? It's not interesting to know that you have a 50% chance of picking this one lock, but it's interesting to know that you have a 50% chance of picking that lock without any tools at hand, just using your hands and nothing else.
I would strongly urge you to consider that +1 is not +1, but more like adding 5%. A rather large difference.

Also, skills should not be specific. The second they are, that player that specialized in it has to wait for the specific time and place and circumstance to be in the limelight. And the DM has to custom-tailor some silly circumstance just to meet the need of the player.

Here are two things for skills you could do to make them seem less granular:
  1. Only allow PCs with proficiency in the skill to roll. A fighter climbing a cliff wall. Great, you need to understand climbing in order to scale it for the first time. That's covered under athletics. If the fighter makes it up, they can throw a rope or show the others what to do, thus allowing them to attempt the skill check. If no one has the proficiency, they can all try but at disadvantage since no one understands the basics of climbing. This same rule can apply to any skill as long as it makes sense. It is a way for the PCs with proficiency to not just feel like they have a +5, but that they actually have knowledge other PCs do not. That goes a long way in solving the granular feel.
Regarding your interesting statement, this is so DM/player reliant that it's difficult to accomplish at all tables. I mean, how much do you know about the nature of oak trees and the shrubbery that symbiotically lives underneath them? Now, translate that to the roots of the weeds that live underneath those plants. What does that gariig smell like? This is the root that your ranger is looking for to help stop the poison from spreading in their companion. They find it by spotting the holt of oaks, then finding the red holly, then spread that apart to find the gariig. They pull the thin grass out at the roots and smell: it smells like wild onion, so it is old enough to work. With that they run back to camp and... Limiting the number system with narration means understanding how things work. And that comes with age, experience, and reading. Which leads to number two:
  1. -
  2. The DM should curate scenes specifically for skills that they have studied or that they know the players have knowledge of. This will allow the type of narration and storytelling to happen and reduce the granular feel of making skills just numbers. But they must curate it. I've seen DMs write ten pages just on how to make different potions so they can narrate the scene of alchemy. I've seen DMs take notes while hiking and climbing to accurately describe constitution checks and athletics. And it doesn't have to be realistic, but it does need to be in story form. I've seen a player that was a professional ballet dancer, he used to describe his bard's performances by describing the dance moves. It definitely lured the players and me in.
Hope this helps.


Non-D&D Skill based RPG's with skill systems that work basically exactly the same way do not get critiqued for this. It's just not an issue.

I think that it is more of a thing in D&D because of the way PC's combat ability and HP scales in comparison to D&D's tacked on skill system.

There is just a different set of player and GM expectations of what a PC should be able to do...

You never see fans of Interlock, or BRP systems complain about the "single upgrade" nature of skills. If anything, the arguments revolve around the skill lists themselves.

In my opinion; it is the way those games instruct GM's to use the skill systems, there is a different mindset/expectations among the player base.

I am critiquing it not because of the HP or combat ability or whatever. I'm critiquing it because the whole skill system is orthogonal to the spell system. At high levels you end up with skill classes being entirely reliant on GM fiat (because the skill system is trash) and and spell classes being godlike (because spells are clearly defined in the rules).

It is specifically an issue in D&D-like system because spells are so easy to cast, they are so easy to learn, and there are essentially no limit to them.

My attempt here is to expand the anemic skill system into something that is less pathetic at higher levels.


I will disagree with the premise. Reason being... skills should not be a "mechanics mini-game" within an RPG.

D&D Combat is a "mini-game". You can strip the entire system out of the RPG and play it on its own-- and we know this because WotC has actually created board games that specifically do this. They remove the roleplaying from games like Wrath of Ashardalon and Legend of Drizzt to just have the combat mini-game.

But ability checks and skills are not that. And they shouldn't be that. What they are, is giving us 'Yes' / 'No' answers to the questions regarding our narrative experiences within the roleplaying. We don't play "skills" to play skills-- we use skills as randomizers to describing our actions within the story. We tell the DM what it is we want our characters to do in the story... and the ability check (with or without skills added) is there purely for the DM to help them decide how successful the action was. That's it. Because whatever the result, the DM will then narratively describe what happens.

The fact of the matter is... we don't NEED skills at all. AD&D didn't have them after all. D&D can completely function just by the player describing what it is their PC wants to accomplish and the DM could just decide for themselves "Is this something I think should work?" and describe the results from that. But that's an arbitrary DM decision that results in players and DMs oftentimes arguing if the player doesn't accept the DM's reasoning for why some action wouldn't work. So instead, we add in a die roll specifically just to take the heat off the DM.

The DM still gets to make a decision on how possible they think the action should be... they choose the DC of the action... but then the player gets a chance for their PC to be successful by making a check. And this process-- replacing a DM fiat decision with a die roll-- should be just as easy and quick as it was when the DM just said 'Yes' or 'No'. Because we aren't trying to gamify skill checks, we're just using randomness in our narrative description and roleplaying. So trying to enlarge the entire thing by expanding the die rolling systems or creating multiple layers of things you can and can't do with skills... that's all unnecessary. Describe narratively what you want to do, make a die roll, gets the results. Then move on in the adventure.
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