Unearthed Arcana Unearthed Arcana: Get Better At Skills With These Feats

The latest Unearthed Arcana from Jeremy Crawford and again featuring guest writer Robert J. Schwalb introduces a number of feats which make you better at skills. Each increases the skill's primary ability score, doubles your proficiency bonus, and gives you a little bonus ability. "This week we introduce new feats to playtest. Each of these feats makes you better at one of the game’s eighteen skills. We invite you to read them, give them a try in play, and let us know what you think in the survey we release in the next installment of Unearthed Arcana."

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Hussar

Legend
/snip
So I decided landing on the back of a flying dragon was not simple so I called for two athletics checks, one to leap onto the back of the dragon and land on it's neck the other to try to hold on (wrap her legs around it's neck). I decided to treat the first as a stunt during her movement, the second check as a grapple attack and she still had one action to swing her axe.
/snip

So, you ruled that a grapple check was a non-action and granted the character an extra action. Considering that the rules here are pretty clear that grapple is part of an attack action, I'm not sure why you think you were actually following the rules here.

It should have been - Athletics check to jump (part of movement and perfectly part of RAW and RAI) and then attack action. Presuming more than one attack per round, the character gives up one attack to grapple and then can attack with the great axe. If the character has only one attack per round, for whatever reason, then the player would have to choose between grapple and attacking with the axe.

But, in any case, the only issue I have here is that you might have given the character an extra attack. Not a biggie.

OB1 said:
So if I describe an area of difficult terrain, say a muddy bog, and my player says, my years of running in the shallow waters of the Silvery Lake kicks in as I high step my way through the bog, I might determine okay, make a DC15 athletics check. On a success, your attempt to power your way through lets you avoid the normal movement penalty, on a failure, you get yourself stuck 5 feet in and are grappled by the bog.

See, this is why I have such a problem with dumping all these things in the DM's lap. Presuming a +6-8 Athletics skill, the character has a 35-45% chance of failure here. Now, if the character fails, the character gives up ALL movement, and is now Grabbed, meaning the character's movement is 0 until the character breaks free. Which costs an action. IOW, failure costs me the entire round.

That's the penalty. The reward is 15 feet of movement. Why on earth would a player attempt this? It's a total fools bet. Note, with the feat, there is no penalty for failure (other than the terrain still has effect) and all it costs is a bonus action to try. Never minding that the character could in that situation, simply move 10 feet (at a cost of 20 feet of movement) and jump 10 feet, losing 10 feet of total movement, true, but, at a 100% success rate.
 

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Oofta

Legend
So, you ruled that a grapple check was a non-action and granted the character an extra action. Considering that the rules here are pretty clear that grapple is part of an attack action, I'm not sure why you think you were actually following the rules here.

Her grapple check was one of her attacks. She has two. Just for to be clear.

Grappling
When you want to grab a creature or wrestle with it, you
can use the Attack action to make a special melee attack,
a grapple. If you’re able to make multiple attacks with the
Attack action, this attack replaces one of them.​

It should have been - Athletics check to jump (part of movement and perfectly part of RAW and RAI) and then attack action. Presuming more than one attack per round, the character gives up one attack to grapple and then can attack with the great axe. If the character has only one attack per round, for whatever reason, then the player would have to choose between grapple and attacking with the axe.

But, in any case, the only issue I have here is that you might have given the character an extra attack. Not a biggie.

The jump included a stunt (aiming for the neck of the dragon), which is why I called for the first athletics check.

The point of the story though is that the current skills give some examples of things you might do, not a list of things you do with specific DCs and specific results. Codifying an Acrobatics check DC 15 to ignore difficult terrain goes against the spirit of 5E.

Or as it says on page 5 of the basic rules

Even in the context of a pitched battle,
there’s still plenty of opportunity for adventurers to
attempt wacky stunts like surfing down a flight of stairs
on a shield, to examine the environment (perhaps by
pulling a mysterious lever), and to interact with other
creatures, including allies, enemies, and neutral parties.​

Or in my story, jump on the back of a flying dragon. Because that's what barbarians do. That's what epic stories are made of, not playing the card with the set DC or contest that applies a condition or ignores a terrain feature.
 

Satyrn

First Post
See, this is why I have such a problem with dumping all these things in the DM's lap. Presuming a +6-8 Athletics skill, the character has a 35-45% chance of failure here. Now, if the character fails, the character gives up ALL movement, and is now Grabbed, meaning the character's movement is 0 until the character breaks free. Which costs an action. IOW, failure costs me the entire round.

That's the penalty. The reward is 15 feet of movement. Why on earth would a player attempt this?
Because something in the scenario itself makes those 15 feet exceptionally valuable to the player in a way that no whiteroom theorycrafting can replicate. I don't know what that would be, but it's probably some rare thing that will never come up again. And that one time it does, it's awesome.

Made more awesome because it comes from the fiction, and is quickly resolved by the DM saying "Yeah, roll an Athletics check, DC 15."

By the way, someone here (I completely forget who) provided me with exceptionally useful advice for determining DCs. Paraphrased (because I made the advice my own), its:

If the check really ought to succeed, it's DC 10.
If the check ought to be tricky, it's DC 15.
If the check really ought to fail, it's DC 20 (Because heroes ought not fail too often),

And it's a gut reaction which category to use. The swamp thing is really ought to succeed. Jumping on the dragon really ought to be tricky, and I don't use ought to fail unless I can't justify tricky even a bit.
 


OB1

Jedi Master
If the check really ought to succeed, it's DC 10.
If the check ought to be tricky, it's DC 15.
If the check really ought to fail, it's DC 20 (Because heroes ought not fail too often),

This is a fantastic guide.
[MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION] - in regards to why someone would make that bet on the muddy bog, it would be because they need all 30 feet of movement to close with an enemy with strong ranged attack. If they just needed an extra 5 feet, I would just give it to them because of their athletics skill, if they needed 10 extra feet I would make it a DC 10. Note that they still have the choice just to take the regular movement penalty and let the enemy range attack them for a round. But if you want to "break" the rules by using a skill, I'm going to make it a significant risk/reward decision point to do so.

My one quibble with [MENTION=6801204]Satyrn[/MENTION] 's guide is (Because heroes ought not fail too often). I would say rather (because heroes will take big risks to themselves to help others).
 

Gradine

Final Form (she/they)
Not specifically acrobatics related, but something that happened our last game.

The PCs were fighting a dragon. The barbarian had climbed a tower the previous round and the dragon had attacked other characters on the ground, ending it's flight close enough that the barbarian could leap on it's back (it was a young, stupid dragon that didn't know the barbarian had boots of springing and striding).

So I decided landing on the back of a flying dragon was not simple so I called for two athletics checks, one to leap onto the back of the dragon and land on it's neck the other to try to hold on (wrap her legs around it's neck). I decided to treat the first as a stunt during her movement, the second check as a grapple attack and she still had one action to swing her axe.

On the dragon's round he did a barrel roll as part of his movement to try to get the barbarian off (it didn't work) but I had her make another athletics check to hold on. I thought about having the dragon try to grapple the barbarian (to throw her off), but decided instead to just attack her because his breath weapon recharged.

It was a lot of fun, and very cinematic.

But according to [MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION], the only thing she could have done was one athletics check per action. I don't see any support for that in the rules. I'm probably stretching the grapple a little bit, but she didn't ask "Can I jump on the dragon, grab it's wings and stop it from flying".

Like others, my concern is that if we start hard coding skills with specific results these types of things won't happen as often. It's very similar to how they handle stealth. They could have come up with very concrete rules, but chose to do more vague and give the DM a lot of leeway. That encourages me to reward my players for having their characters do creative things like hanging off the ceiling to hide from the guards entering the room even though there's technically line of sight.

The more skills with non-combat uses are "hard coded" the less creative the game gets.

I rather disagree with this point entirely. The reason for this is what I like to call the "blank page problem".

I teach creative writing (well, dramatic writing, so creative writing that's 95% dialogue) and I do a lot of in-class free-writing assignments. You know what free-writing assignment is consistently the most difficult for my students, every time?

Give them a blank page of paper and just tell them to "write."

Half the class will just stare at the page for a few minutes; the other half will start with something but most will hit a brick wall pretty early. Turns out having infinite possibilities with absolutely nothing to build on is pretty paralyzing, creatively speaking. But give them a prompt, any prompt, and the students will just write and write and some will even get upset when I tell them to stop. Parameters grease the wheels of creativity. Every time.

So when a feat or some other rule comes along and says "you can do X with Athletics" I don't (and I don't think my students would either) see "you can only X with Athletics". What we would all, collectively see, is a jumping off point. "Hey, if Athletics lets me do X, does that mean I can do Y also?" "Oh yeah! And what about Z?"

It's a pretty awesome thing to witness, really.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Not specifically acrobatics related, but something that happened our last game.

The PCs were fighting a dragon. The barbarian had climbed a tower the previous round and the dragon had attacked other characters on the ground, ending it's flight close enough that the barbarian could leap on it's back (it was a young, stupid dragon that didn't know the barbarian had boots of springing and striding).

So I decided landing on the back of a flying dragon was not simple so I called for two athletics checks, one to leap onto the back of the dragon and land on it's neck the other to try to hold on (wrap her legs around it's neck). I decided to treat the first as a stunt during her movement, the second check as a grapple attack and she still had one action to swing her axe.

On the dragon's round he did a barrel roll as part of his movement to try to get the barbarian off (it didn't work) but I had her make another athletics check to hold on. I thought about having the dragon try to grapple the barbarian (to throw her off), but decided instead to just attack her because his breath weapon recharged.

It was a lot of fun, and very cinematic.

But according to [MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION], the only thing she could have done was one athletics check per action. I don't see any support for that in the rules. I'm probably stretching the grapple a little bit, but she didn't ask "Can I jump on the dragon, grab it's wings and stop it from flying".

Like others, my concern is that if we start hard coding skills with specific results these types of things won't happen as often. It's very similar to how they handle stealth. They could have come up with very concrete rules, but chose to do more vague and give the DM a lot of leeway. That encourages me to reward my players for having their characters do creative things like hanging off the ceiling to hide from the guards entering the room even though there's technically line of sight.

The more skills with non-combat uses are "hard coded" the less creative the game gets.

I would say that letting the player also attack is a bit of a stretch, regardless of whether athletics to do fancy things can be done as just part of he movement. Were you considering jumping on eh Dragon and grabbing hold one thing, but used multiple rolls to make it harder/more complex, and deal with "what if they make he jump, but can't get a hold of anything"?

The way you describe it, sounds like from your own POV, the character got a move, an action..and then maybe an attack as a bonus action?

I've considered that as a houserule, actually. If you do "fancy movement", ie something that is an Action, and you have the ability to attack as a bonus action when you take the attack action, you can do so when you take most physical skill actions. But it is *definately* a houserule, not just a different ruling.
 

Oofta

Legend
The way you describe it, sounds like from your own POV, the character got a move, an action..and then maybe an attack as a bonus action?

No. I even quoted the rules above. You can ask for an athletics check as part of movement to do a stunt (jumping to land on the dragon's neck wasn't guaranteed). If you have multiple attacks, one of those attacks can be a grapple.

So stunt while moving required a check, grapple required a check as part of the attack, character has two attacks so I let her swing her axe as her second attack.
 

Satyrn

First Post
My one quibble with [MENTION=6801204]Satyrn[/MENTION] 's guide is (Because heroes ought not fail too often). I would say rather (because heroes will take big risks to themselves to help others).
Well, summing it all up in one sentence can't capture every nuance, especially since I was trying to reverse/soften the "really ought to fail" bit that came before to highlight that even the crazy stupid stunts the players want to try ought to work regularly enough to be worth trying.

But again, the guide wasn't originally mine. Someone else said something like "the game works perfectly fine just using DC 10 and 15" and that stuck with me.
 

Oofta

Legend
Give them a blank page of paper and just tell them to "write."

This is something all DMs have to be aware of. You need to describe the environment in such a way that they can envision what is going on (I use minis and blocks made of clay for 3D effect to help with this). I do agree that knowing nothing about the environment, about the combat, about what obstacle they are facing would be annoying. The DM has to paint a picture, tell a story. The players then fill in the blanks and complete the story with how their hero would react.

I try not to set up situations where the players don't know what there options are. But in my example, they knew where the tower was. I was describing the dragon swooping in low and (not that I thought of it) they knew the top of the tower was above the dragon.

At that point my player asked to run up the tower (she has a lot of movement as a barbarian) at the end of turn 1, I had no clue what she was doing. The dragon ignored her and attacked her companions on the ground and on turn two she surprised me by jumping onto it's back.

She knew there was a dragon, and had a reasonable idea of it's tactics. She knew her character would rather go toe to toe with the dragon and decided it would be awesome if she could leap heroically on it's back. She didn't think in terms of the game mechanics, she thought "What would a half-orc barbarian do?" That's the whole point.

This was by no means a "blank page". If I ever have a character who doesn't know what to do (particularly new players) I will nudge them and give them hints and options. It doesn't take long before they start coming up with crazy awesome stuff on their own.

In previous editions (4E in particular, but 3.5 also had this somewhat) the rules for how you could interact were very detailed. In 4E, we had powers which most people I played with would print out and put in card sleeves. The game became a tactical war game. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but it wasn't what I play D&D for.

People stopped thinking "What would my raging half-orc barbarian do in this situation" they started thinking "what card can I play that would counter the card the opposition just played?"

I don't want to go there again.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I rather disagree with this point entirely. The reason for this is what I like to call the "blank page problem".

I teach creative writing (well, dramatic writing, so creative writing that's 95% dialogue) and I do a lot of in-class free-writing assignments. You know what free-writing assignment is consistently the most difficult for my students, every time?

Give them a blank page of paper and just tell them to "write."

Half the class will just stare at the page for a few minutes; the other half will start with something but most will hit a brick wall pretty early. Turns out having infinite possibilities with absolutely nothing to build on is pretty paralyzing, creatively speaking. But give them a prompt, any prompt, and the students will just write and write and some will even get upset when I tell them to stop. Parameters grease the wheels of creativity. Every time.

So when a feat or some other rule comes along and says "you can do X with Athletics" I don't (and I don't think my students would either) see "you can only X with Athletics". What we would all, collectively see, is a jumping off point. "Hey, if Athletics lets me do X, does that mean I can do Y also?" "Oh yeah! And what about Z?"

It's a pretty awesome thing to witness, really.

This. Well said.

I've never seen the "oh this feat/power exists" guess you can only do the thing if you have it!

Like...do some people's games not allow tripping without the battlemaster?

Are your arcanists totally blind to magical effects without the Detect Magic spell?

Like...there are codified abilities to show specialization, codified for a given character the fact they are especially good at a thing, etc, not to create an exclusive thing that only that character can even try to do.
 

Satyrn

First Post
That XP is for your barbarian player. I love playing half-orcs.


For me, it was 3e's skill system, not 4e, that made me welcome 5e. I'd been longing to houserule in 2e's nonweapon proficiency nonsystem, complete with the simple "roll under your ability score to succeed at, like, anything" mechanic.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
So when a feat or some other rule comes along and says "you can do X with Athletics" I don't (and I don't think my students would either) see "you can only X with Athletics".


Not to discount your own experience (I couldn't of course because I don't know you), but I'm afraid that does happen, and did happen, a lot. When 3e came out with specific and highly narrowed skills and abilities, the "you can only do what's on your character sheet" was a very real problem that existed. Not only did it exist in the "you don't have acrobatics skills, so you can't do that", but also in the "your skill/power doesn't explicitly say you can, so you can't" and "since you don't have the highest bonus for that skill in the party, you should never be doing that." It's one of the driving factors as to why 5e's design went back to rulings over rules and more broad skill checks to be left to DM interpretation. Because the very thing you say you or your students would never do, did happen a lot.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
In previous editions (4E in particular, but 3.5 also had this somewhat) the rules for how you could interact were very detailed. In 4E, we had powers which most people I played with would print out and put in card sleeves. The game became a tactical war game. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but it wasn't what I play D&D for.

People stopped thinking "What would my raging half-orc barbarian do in this situation" they started thinking "what card can I play that would counter the card the opposition just played?"

I don't want to go there again.

Never saw that in 4e, even a little bit. And I credit both the actual text of the 4e core books, and good DMing, for that, so varying extents, but mostly I credit the players, whether I was a player or the DM.

People looked at their powers and asked, how can I riff off this? The rest of the time, it was, just like every other roleplaying game. The player wants to do a thing, checks if they have an ability that just lets them do it, and if not asks the DM.

The only time we came close to what you describe is brand new players (and brand new players do it in 5e just as much), which only lasts a session or two, and 1 DM we had who had a mindset toward 4e that it was more video-gamey, and we had to, as players, push back against that and point out things like page 42 of the DMG, and just the fact that the game is more fun when we improvise.

The fighter is better and more reliable at taunting enemies into attacking them, because he has powers that just *do that*. The rogue has to use skills and roll well, on top of making attacks, to pull it off, and even then it is going to work differently, because the rogue doesn't have extensive training and experience (class features) in being "sticky" in combat.

My point is, the issue that you and some others had in 4e was an issue your group had, not an inherent function of codified rules.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
No. I even quoted the rules above. You can ask for an athletics check as part of movement to do a stunt (jumping to land on the dragon's neck wasn't guaranteed). If you have multiple attacks, one of those attacks can be a grapple.

So stunt while moving required a check, grapple required a check as part of the attack, character has two attacks so I let her swing her axe as her second attack.

You hadn't clarified that the character had two attacks, yet, actually. Which is the only part that wasn't clear when I responded to it.
 

Satyrn

First Post
I've never seen the "oh this feat/power exists" guess you can only do the thing if you have it!

Like...do some people's games not allow tripping without the battlemaster?

Are your arcanists totally blind to magical effects without the Detect Magic spell?
I'm tired of trying to clarify myself to you. The last time you asked for clarification, it seemed like you simply attacked my response instead of looking to understand what I was saying.

And your questions here just look like argumentative hyperbole. I mean, we keep talking about how our games play out - [MENTION=6801845]Oofta[/MENTION] has an example in this thread, recently - and I'm sure you've seen me talk about my gnome battlemaster in other threads. So you can see some of how we do some things. Your questions seem to me to say you ain't listening.
 

Oofta

Legend
Never saw that in 4e, even a little bit. And I credit both the actual text of the 4e core books, and good DMing, for that, so varying extents, but mostly I credit the players, whether I was a player or the DM.

People looked at their powers and asked, how can I riff off this? The rest of the time, it was, just like every other roleplaying game. The player wants to do a thing, checks if they have an ability that just lets them do it, and if not asks the DM.

The only time we came close to what you describe is brand new players (and brand new players do it in 5e just as much), which only lasts a session or two, and 1 DM we had who had a mindset toward 4e that it was more video-gamey, and we had to, as players, push back against that and point out things like page 42 of the DMG, and just the fact that the game is more fun when we improvise.

The fighter is better and more reliable at taunting enemies into attacking them, because he has powers that just *do that*. The rogue has to use skills and roll well, on top of making attacks, to pull it off, and even then it is going to work differently, because the rogue doesn't have extensive training and experience (class features) in being "sticky" in combat.

My point is, the issue that you and some others had in 4e was an issue your group had, not an inherent function of codified rules.

All I can say is that I played with a wide variety of players and DMs in 4E (I was pretty active in LFR).

I was quite active in LFR, organizing or helping to organize a couple of gaming groups. I played with literally dozens of players, probably a dozen DMs, the entire lifespan of the edition. Everyone I discussed this with had the same issue. There were a handful of people that really liked 4E, but they almost all exclusively started with 4E.

So all I can say is your experience is different from what I, and many other people experienced.

I don't mean to slam 4E, I don't want to make this an edition war. It had some interesting ideas and I enjoyed it in many ways in the lower/heroic tier.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I'm tired of trying to clarify myself to you. The last time you asked for clarification, it seemed like you simply attacked my response instead of looking to understand what I was saying.

And your questions here just look like argumentative hyperbole. I mean, we keep talking about how our games play out - [MENTION=6801845]Oofta[/MENTION] has an example in this thread, recently - and I'm sure you've seen me talk about my gnome battlemaster in other threads. So you can see some of how we do some things. Your questions seem to me to say you ain't listening.

Then don't respond? I mean, the post you're responding to here quoted someone other than you, and yet you want to take it as if I'm somehow coming at you, specifically? Why?

I never attacked your responses to anything. im not sure what response you're even talking about.

And sure, the question you quoted is 100% rhetorical. I figured that was completely clear. The point of such questions, in pretty much any discussion, is to contrast against what is being suggested by others in a discussion.

The point, in this case, is that codification does not actually mean exclusivity, and if it does in your games, that is a thing you are allowing to happen in your games, not something the system is inherently pushing towards.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
FWIW, in my own anecdotal experience, being a DM and player since 1981 and teaching new players since the mid 80s, I saw a definite shift in player expectations on what you could and couldn't do as the editions progresses. And my DM style didn't change, so I'm pretty sure it was due to the differences in rules. To explain:

In AD&D, you had two basic rules: If you want to attack something, it's an attack roll. Anything else you want to do that wouldn't normally be an automatic success for failure is an ability check. That's pretty much it. And "attack" was a lose term. It mean attacking with a weapon, grappling, punching, tripping, anything that was a hostile action toward the target. Leaping from railings, intimidation, recalling lore, etc were all just ability checks. Anyone and everyone could attempt these things.

Then 3e came along with clearly defined abilities/skills/powers. I immediately saw a shift in players who would then look at their sheet to see if they had the power/skill/ability to do what they wanted. I mean, it was pretty much immediate and dramatic.

Then the optimizer crowd quickly followed, and actively discouraged players from attempting something if they didn't have the highest score in it.

Since I didn't change my DMing style, and I doubt the newer generation of players are less creative than old school players, the most obvious answer is the change in the rules. It also makes sense from a human behavior standpoint. Most people want to stick within borders of a rule. And if there's a rule/skill/power for tripping and that player doesn't have it, it is natural behavior for that player to not try it.

I know this is just my own personal experience, but I am positive it's not limited to me because we've had MANY internet arguments over this topic since 2000. Heck, it's the basis behind the "fighters can't do anything" argument that always comes up. There's no way I can see how a person can say they have never heard that this is a problem and be an active forum poster. I'm not calling anyone a liar or anything, but there is no way I can see how someone can say that. Especially when they've been part of those discussions in the past.
 

Oofta

Legend
You hadn't clarified that the character had two attacks, yet, actually. Which is the only part that wasn't clear when I responded to it.

Post 459

I decided to treat the first as a stunt during her movement, the second check as a grapple attack and she still had one action to swing her axe.

Technically I misspoke. She still had one attack action.

Which I corrected in post 462

Her grapple check was one of her attacks. She has two.

I'm going to give you some free advice. Being free, it's probably not worth anything. :)

What you are doing is a faulty debate tactic. You aren't directly addressing the issue, you are picking at relatively inconsequential details. You know that barabarians can have two attack actions. I assume you know the rules that if you have multiple attacks, one can be a grapple.

If you disagree with my basic premise, that's fine. It's great to get different ideas and opinions. It's one of the reasons I post. But it would be appreciated if we discussed those opinions, not sideline sniping and not resort to red herrings or equivocation.
 

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