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5E The Wonkiness of Tool Proficiency

The_Gneech

First Post
During Saturday night's Starter Set game, I had a dickens of a time trying to explain to the rogue player what exactly he was rolling when attempting to use his thieves' tools. He kept looking for Disable Device or Open Locks/Disable Traps etc., and the wording of the Expertise blurb on his character sheet wasn't helping. He knew that he got "+7" to his rolls with the thieves' tools, but not why [1], which is kind of an important detail when it comes to figuring out how it changes later.

And I gotta say, I feel his pain. When I was first going through the rules, I couldn't figure it out either. Basically, "tool proficiency" is a skill by another name, why not just put it in the skill list? I still haven't found a good answer. One blog I found suggested that they wanted a mechanic that would require the presence of the thieves' tools to pick locks, without adding the mechanical complexity of a +2 circumstance bonus for "having the required tools."

Seriously? XD Why go through all that confusion? Why not just include good ol' Disable Device (or even the anemic 4E "Burglary" skill), and say that using it without tools gives you Disadvantage? Done and done, without adding a whole new and confusing mechanic.

Thoughts, anyone?

-The Gneech :cool:

[1] Proficiency bonus +2, doubled for expertise to +4, +3 Dex bonus.
 

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Seriously? XD Why go through all that confusion? Why not just include good ol' Disable Device (or even the anemic 4E "Burglary" skill), and say that using it without tools gives you Disadvantage? Done and done, without adding a whole new and confusing mechanic.

Thoughts, anyone?

-The Gneech :cool:

[1] Proficiency bonus +2, doubled for expertise to +4, +3 Dex bonus.
If picking locks requires tools then just giving disadvantage on the roll for not having them kind of misses the point. The Halfling rogue walks up to the lock with bare hands and gives picking it without tools a try. DISADVANTAGE FOR YOU! Ok no problem. Dang! I rolled a 1. Oh look I'm lucky, so I will reroll that one! A 20! Cheeseball Baggins picks the lock with his thumb! HOODY HOO!

I can't think of a reason why tool proficiencies couldn't be listed along with skills though.
 

KarinsDad

First Post
Tool proficiency is wonky and is so non-memorable as a rule that when it does come up in our game the first time, it will bring the game to a screeching halt as everyone sits there with their PHBs open and tries to figure out. I probably should just go look it up and add it to everyone's character sheets now. It's listed on their sheets, but the bonus isn't.
 

The thing with tool proficiency is all of them don't give bonuses. Some just unlock things without asking for a check. Does the base game need sailor PCs making navigation checks?

Then there's the "skill bonus + item bonus" math nonsense of 3rd and 4th. One of 5e's bigger goals was to minimize the bonus bloat.

So any of the old skills that didn't make sense as checks were made as tool proficiencies.
And any old skills that had a heavy item or tool focus had all the bonus outside of magic and ability score was placed on the tool and made a tool proficiency.
 
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ki11erDM

Explorer
This is the only rule I have found that is not intuitive to me. I personally think it came to pass because they made a lot of other good design decisions in other parts of the game and they went with something that did not impact any other part of the system.

As an example, if they had added it directly to the Skills list then it would have to be as “good” as any of the other skills, or why else waste recourses on it? Instead they put it into the “background” so that most of this tool proficiencies only have a role playing impact, not a mechanical impact. I personally think this is a MUCH better option than 3.x… were picking a craft was just a way of making your character un-optimized.

In the end this will really only impact the roguish person… so one or two people at your table will have to understand one extra rule… everyone else can just say “I know how to use a hammer, I can hammer things! Yea!”
 

McBars

First Post
As far as why they are different from skill proficiencies, from what I can understand in reading the PHB, it seems that unlike skill proficiencies tool proficiencies are not necessarily tied to a particular ability. I believe the listed example is that someone with tool proficiency with wood worker's tools could apply their proficiency bonus to a dexterity check when being asked to carve something delicate and intricate or S2 to a strength check when attempting to fashion something out of a very hard wood (...there is certainly a joke here)

Personally, I rationalize their existence and their separation from the skill proficiencies by the fact that certain tasks simply cannot be performed without tools (For instance the above example of Scroto Saggins picking a lock with his thumb). In such a situation I think merely granting The character disadvantage on his dexterity check, assuming you're asking for dexterity check to pick the lock, Doesn't quite accurately capture just how difficult the task becomes without the proper tools.

That said, I had to go back and read the handbook just now to refresh myself on what they say as far as skill proficiencies, tool proficiencies, and their application.

Just my tuppence
 

sgtscott658

First Post
I dont think its wonky at all, your slight of hand is what is used for Thieves tools. So for example if your going to remove a trap, pick a lock your going to use slight of hand and your proficiency mods to apply to the DC.

Scott
Tool proficiency is wonky and is so non-memorable as a rule that when it does come up in our game the first time, it will bring the game to a screeching halt as everyone sits there with their PHBs open and tries to figure out. I probably should just go look it up and add it to everyone's character sheets now. It's listed on their sheets, but the bonus isn't.
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
Basically, "tool proficiency" is a skill by another name, why not just put it in the skill list? I still haven't found a good answer.
It's goes a bit against what D&D did in 3e and 4e, but I personally think it's kind of frickin' genius. Here's the way I think about it:

  • First, you have ability scores. You roll straight ability checks when there is no element of personal skill or training involved (like a STR check to lift a gate)
  • Second, you have skills. You use a skill when there is some specialized training, but it is a part of you that you can always do, much like an ability score. A skill is a specialized application of an ability check. Perform is a skill -- you can be naked and thrown in prison and still do a Perform check. IYKWIMAITYD.
  • Third, you have tools. Tools require some object to do, and proficiency represents your ability to use that object. A tool proficiency represents your ability to use a certain item to a certain end well. Tools can also be used with any ability score that the DM deems worthy. Tool proficiencies are also "cheap," because anyone can learn to do it.

I think to a certain degree for experienced players this will be one of 5e's many Yoda Moments: "You must unlearn what you have learned."

Why is picking a lock or disarming a trap related to theives' tools now? Because you need thieves' tools to do it. Without that tool, you can't do the thing. And with the tool, sometimes it might be a Dex check (steady hands), sometimes it might be an Int check (figuring out how a mechanism works), sometimes it might be, I dunno, a Wis check (the room is pitch black and you're disarming the combination lock entirely by feel!). And thus, anyone can learn to do it -- it isn't class-specific.

Meanwhile, Sleight of Hand is a skill. Your character is pretty much always capable of Sleight of Hand, and they don't need any equipment to do it, and doing it is a deliberate function of Dexterity, and it is a certain, specialized application of that general ability score.

Animal handling is a general ability to influence beasts. But proficiency in, say, land vehicles, lets you make a donkey pull a cart. Performance is an application of Charisma to put on a good show, but playing a specific instrument is a tool proficiency (and if you had to play a particularly complex piece, you might have to make an Int or Dex check with the thing -- or maybe a CON check if it's a horn!).

The division conveys quite clearly where the specialized training is applied, and lets skills be ability-score-narrow, but with broad application (so good for classes to grant), while the tools are application-narrow, but with broad ability score potential (so great to allow anyone to get).
 
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SilverfireSage

First Post
Kamikaze Midget basically said exactly what I came here to say, but I'll sum up in just a few words: Skills are something anyone can try to use, tools require a specific object to do them. That's it, that's the entire rule. There's no disadvantage anywhere, there's no adding weird skills into the mix. If you have the tool, you can try it, if you don't, you can't.

I think the funniest part to me in all of this is that in my group, the three players who had been doing the campaign for years and playing 3.5 and Pathfinder the whole way took hours to finally get this, but the people who had just started for their first time got it right off the bat! The only thing that I really see as truly tripping people up is "kits" vs "tools" but that has no bearing on this.
 

am181d

First Post
I don't find Tool Proficiencies confusing on their own. (You're either proficient or not. That's pretty straightforward.)

The only issue I have is with the Skill/Tool overlaps, like Musical Instrument and Perform.
 

SilverfireSage

First Post
I don't find Tool Proficiencies confusing on their own. (You're either proficient or not. That's pretty straightforward.)

The only issue I have is with the Skill/Tool overlaps, like Musical Instrument and Perform.
There isn't much of an overlap there though. If you pick proficiency in Musical Instrument, you can add your proficiency to any check made with that instrument, but you must have the instrument on hand. Perform is for when you don't have the instrument on hand, and is done only with what you can do with your person alone.
 

The_Gneech

First Post
My thinking with disadvantage was that the rogue was macguyvering his way past the lock using the tip of a dagger and a belt buckle, that kind of thing, not just straight-up using his thumb. :p

That said, maybe just some blank lines at the bottom of the skill list labeled "Tool Proficiences" would have done the job in this particular case.

-TG :cool:
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
The invention of the Tool Proficiency also seems intertwined with the removal of Attack Bonuses. Not to mention the streamlining of the Skills list.

Very metagame reasons, but from my perspective, sorely needed.

Yes, it's counter-intuitive to think that knowledge or skill somehow vanishes in the absence of a certain tool, but that's just because the name is misleading.

Call your tool proficiencies "Required-Item-Skills," and maybe they'll sink into place easier?
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
I think the funniest part to me in all of this is that in my group, the three players who had been doing the campaign for years and playing 3.5 and Pathfinder the whole way took hours to finally get this, but the people who had just started for their first time got it right off the bat!
Memo to any long-time D&D players who want to give 5e a try:

[video=youtube;z4jeREy7Pbc]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4jeREy7Pbc[/video]
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
I dont think its wonky at all, your slight of hand is what is used for Thieves tools. So for example if your going to remove a trap, pick a lock your going to use slight of hand and your proficiency mods to apply to the DC.

Scott
Sleight of Hand is not what is used for thieves tools. Tool proficiencies are not tied to any single ability score like skills are, and they are not used when using a skill. Tool proficiency cab be tied to any ability score as the DM sees fit. So removing a trap is proficiency + DEX, which can be different from a rogue's sleight of hand bonus if the rogue is proficient in one but not the other or has expertise in one but not the other.

In any case, the player only applies proficiency or expertise if they have it for that tool, and if the player does not have it, in many cases they cannot use the tool and hope for success.
Removing a trap: thieves' tools + DEX
Convince a potential employer that the rogue is the thief for the job: thieves' tools + CHA
Play the lute: Lute + DEX
Appraise a lute: Lute + Int
Win at dragonchess: dragonchess + Int
Bluff to convince opponent to draw at dragonchess: dragonchess + CHA

The important thing to remember is that the tool lets you add your proficiency or expertise to an ability check (not a skill check) while using the tools.
 

Henrix

Explorer
Chalk me up as one of those who really like it.

To me it's pretty intuitive. You know how to use that stuff.

I see weapon and armour proficiencies as tool proficiencies, and those have been around for a while. The proficiency is not only wearing and using them, but maintaining them, judging them in the store - perhaps recognizing famous makers and styles.
 

the Jester

Legend
Huh. I find the notion that tool proficiency is confusing to be somewhat baffling. I mean, it's like a skill, only you need the requisite tool. Simple.

Obviously, that's not everyone's experience. I just don't see much room for confusion there.
 


Because any character can gain any tool proficiency with time. You can't do that with skills.
You can't? I suppose everyone currently going to school should just drop out and quit wasting their time. You are either born with the ability to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc. or it isn't going to happen.

Skills are the very definition of things that can be learned in time.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
You can't? I suppose everyone currently going to school should just drop out and quit wasting their time. You are either born with the ability to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc. or it isn't going to happen.

Skills are the very definition of things that can be learned in time.
Not by the Basic game rules, they aren't.

Basic said:
Training
You can spend time between adventures learning a new language or training with a set of tools. Your DM might allow additional training options.
First, you must find an instructor willing to teach you.The DM determines how long it takes, and whether one or more ability checks are required.
The training lasts for 250 days and costs 1 gp per day. After you spend the requisite amount of time and money, you learn the new language or gain proficiency with
the new tool.
There is no training for new skills in the Basic rules of which I am aware. Just Tools and Languages.
 

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