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

Gradine

Final Form (she/they)
I don't think we've added anything new here for a while. I think that when people say "these are just suggestions" they are making house rules, and overriding what the feat clearly says. Some people think that if there's a feat that says "if you do X then Y" doesn't mean people won't try to do "X" without a feat. I can tell you from my personal experience, that's exactly what I've seen happening.

I will respond to this specific point, because I don't think you're understanding what I mean when I say "these feats offer examples", because what I am not saying is "these are just suggestions"; obviously I would rule the feats as written, but the feats as written are clearly still ability checks, and all of the things that apply to ability checks still apply. There is nothing "houserules" about that.

As to your second point, I will again, one last time, point out that this is a completely outdated mindset for 5e. Acrobat says "if you do X and then Y, you can do Z"; it does not mean "this is the only way to do Z". Again, I wouldn't even buy that argument in 3.5 or 4e, which were systems that were actually designed to explicitly limit the range of player actions. 5e is all about empowering players to try any damn thing they want to try, which means if they want to try to do Z you as the DM are required to figure out how player might accomplish that. Which means if they have Acrobat they can do Z by doing X then Y (bonus action then DC 15 check); if they don't have Acrobat then maybe they'll have to do A, B and/or C instead; it'll cost them more and/or be more difficult to accomplish, but that's up to you to decide.

If your players are stuck in the notion that they can't do it at all because they don't have the feat, then they are stuck in the wrong mindset for 5e and it is your responsibility as a DM to disabuse them of that.
 

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dco

Guest
I think we just need to agree to disagree. If someone said "I acrobatically jump through the thorns to avoid the difficult terrain" I guarantee someone else in my group would say "you can only do that if you have a feat".
It's logical, what would be the point of that part of the feat?
 

Gradine

Final Form (she/they)
It's logical, what would be the point of that part of the feat?

Is Actor the only way to successfully do a vocal impression of somebody else?

Is Keen Mind the only way for a player to know which direction they're facing? Or be able to keep track of time? Or remember things?

The idea that "you can't do that if you don't have the feat for it" doesn't hold water in 5e. Feats give you advantages (or, in the case of Keen Mind, automatic success) but the idea that without that feat you can't intuit your direction, or intuit the amount of time that has elapsed, or recall a bit of lore you heard once? That's completely asinine. I refuse to believe that that's playing 5e as intended.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Is Actor the only way to successfully do a vocal impression of somebody else?

Is Keen Mind the only way for a player to know which direction they're facing? Or be able to keep track of time? Or remember things?

The idea that "you can't do that if you don't have the feat for it" doesn't hold water in 5e. Feats give you advantages (or, in the case of Keen Mind, automatic success) but the idea that without that feat you can't intuit your direction, or intuit the amount of time that has elapsed, or recall a bit of lore you heard once? That's completely asinine. I refuse to believe that that's playing 5e as intended.
There a clever substitution going on in your argument. You've substituted in "can't ever do it without the feat" for "the feat now sets the floor conditions for doing this thing." Take acrobat, for example. Having the feat exist does not prevent someone without the feat from avoiding difficult terrain, but it does say that to avoid difficult terrain in any and all cases now takes a minimum of a bonus action expended, and a minimum of a DC 15 DEX(acrobatics) check. If you don't have the feat, it, at best, either costs more in action economy or has a higher DC. If you have the feat, then it always costs a bonus action and a DC 15 check, regardless of prevailing circumstance. Breaching either of these cases requires devaluing the feat, which is something DMs should avoid (retroactively reducing the effectiveness of player build choices).

Therefore, this puts hard limits on DM adjudication space. As do the feats you've pointed out like Actor and Keen Mind. They engage restraints in the firm of minimums necessary to do something. If I want to mimic a voice using perform, either it must be harder to do than the ability offered in Actor, or I'm devaluing the Actor feat. If I do this before a player takes Actor, fine, but if a player at the table has Actor, then I am removing utility from his limited build choices, and I should not be doing that as a casual matter of play. As a functional matter, mimicry would require an ability check without the feat -- you couldn't just do it (outside of specific and narrow circumstances, like, I'd not call for a role to mimic the speech pattern and sound of your identical twin your close to, but would if you've been imprisoned in an iron mask for years while your twin has been king, frex).
 

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dco

Guest
Is Actor the only way to successfully do a vocal impression of somebody else?

Is Keen Mind the only way for a player to know which direction they're facing? Or be able to keep track of time? Or remember things?

The idea that "you can't do that if you don't have the feat for it" doesn't hold water in 5e. Feats give you advantages (or, in the case of Keen Mind, automatic success) but the idea that without that feat you can't intuit your direction, or intuit the amount of time that has elapsed, or recall a bit of lore you heard once? That's completely asinine. I refuse to believe that that's playing 5e as intended.
Actor gives the player a bonus under some circumstances. Keen mind is an auto success.
This one lets the player roll acrobatics for something, if the DM lets the players roll without the feat then the value of the feat is less, because that part is worthless. Logically one of those players who are rules savy will ask or talk about this using their own words.
 

Gradine

Final Form (she/they)
There a clever substitution going on in your argument. You've substituted in "can't ever do it without the feat" for "the feat now sets the floor conditions for doing this thing."

Thanks! :cool:

Maybe it's because I don't play with powergamers or rules lawyers, so I don't really see or care much about the problems associated with those kinds of players (which, I have to say, are problems with the players and not the system/specific rules).

And I don't really see the issue with a feat that's really, let's be honest, mostly about gaining skill expertise, giving an additional rider that simply makes the character better at doing something (a la Keen Mind or Actor) rather than giving them some kind of unique powerful ability that only they can do (like the signature ability of most of the combat-specific feats). Especially when the abilities are something everyone should be able to accomplish. Which is the entire point of 5e's ability check system in the first place (so I also don't see how this is incongruous with the rules or "house ruling" or whatever).

I'm not a huge fan of these feats as written by stretch; I'd make heavy modifications to Perform, Menacing, Diplomat and Survivalist, at the very least. But I appreciate what they've put out so far because they've given some great examples of what can be done with the ability check system.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Thanks! :cool:

Maybe it's because I don't play with powergamers or rules lawyers, so I don't really see or care much about the problems associated with those kinds of players (which, I have to say, are problems with the players and not the system/specific rules).
Huh? What on Earth are you going on about? What does any of this have to do with rules lawyers or power-gamers?

And I don't really see the issue with a feat that's really, let's be honest, mostly about gaining skill expertise, giving an additional rider that simply makes the character better at doing something (a la Keen Mind or Actor) rather than giving them some kind of unique powerful ability that only they can do (like the signature ability of most of the combat-specific feats). Especially when the abilities are something everyone should be able to accomplish. Which is the entire point of 5e's ability check system in the first place (so I also don't see how this is incongruous with the rules or "house ruling" or whatever).

I'm not a huge fan of these feats as written by stretch; I'd make heavy modifications to Perform, Menacing, Diplomat and Survivalist, at the very least. But I appreciate what they've put out so far because they've given some great examples of what can be done with the ability check system.

Again, I don't have much of a problem with a feat that says, like Actor's mimicry, you can do this thing without a check. Because the baseline is that the DM determines if the thing is uncertain and, if so, calls for a check. This sets some conditions where the feat taker can remove uncertainty. That's not bad stuff (although the Actor feat is imminently abusable by a skilled player). My issue is with things like Acrobat, where the ability is codified as condition/action/DC. This now sets the baseline by which all other considerations of that thing, or a similar thing, are judged by. Previously, if the DM determined something was uncertain, the DM set the DC according to the fiction at the time (so rolling over a table may be DC 10, but wall-bouncing using slick walls over quicksand might be DC 20). Now? It's locked in -- you cannot ever assign a DC 10 to roll over a table because the feat says it's minimum DC 15. That's the kind of codification that moves away from rulings not rules and restricts the flow of the game to 'hey, wasn't there a feat for that? Oh, yeah, let's look it up. <turns pages> Yep, here it is, bonus action and DC 15 to roll over the table, if you have the feat, so lets say you can do it at DC 15 for an action or you can try it at DC 20 for a bonus action!" Blegh, no thank you.
 

Oofta

Legend
I don't really follow that flow of logic. I've never seen a feat that said, either explicitly or implicitly "and by the way this is now the only way to accomplish this". I'm not even sure I'd buy that argument about a 4e feat, to say nothing of 5e. Even if I did, what you're claiming is implicit is only so if you look at these feats from outdated action resolution frameworks. 5e works differently from that.

I'm just relaying what I've seen. If I have a shallow 20 ft wide river that has water tumbling over rocks and is therefore difficult terrain, I may not think of the option as a DM that the character could dextrously jump from rock to rock. But now? If we use this feat I guarantee someone will raise a fuss if someone tries to cross without the acrobat feat.

Maybe I just need better players. Unfortunately I kind of like them. Heck, I liked one of them so much I married her.

This is the heart of 5e. DM empowerment. Rulings over rules. If you feel you have a responsibility as a DM to maintain verisimilitude and internal consistency in your world, you are empowered to do so, to the explicit extent that you can declare that a PC's proposed action has no chance of success. This is made as clear to the players as it is to the DM. Presumably your players also care about verisimilitude and internal consistency; if not they might not be at the right table.

Ultimately I don't disagree with you ... but (you knew there was a but, right?) I think these feats are different. They've kept stealth and hiding vague for just this purpose. So the DM can make rulings on how they envision stealth working in their game. They can make it nearly impossible to hide in combat, or they can be extremely lenient. I try to strike a happy balance.

But the new "stealthy" feat breaks that rule. It specifically states conditions (if you have cover and move less than 10 feet) that you can remain hidden. According to the wording of the feat, you can walk right in front of the demon with truesight and not be noticed.

Can I override that as a DM? Of course. I could also say that I just decided that your greatsword only does 1d6 damage because I think 2d6 is too much. Either case I would consider a house rule (overriding the rule), not a ruling.

Now this I can absolutely respect. I'd been giving this some thought and I think one of the biggest problems is the use of conditions. Because conditions are such a hard-coded and clearly-defined part of the game system, I don't think they should interact in the more nebulous world of ability checks. Certainly not to the extent that these feats suggest. I'd like the option to decide if your action, your target and the context of the scene in question warrant a specific condition like charmed or frightened. There are obvious situations where they don't seem to be warranted; I'd like the riders to be a bit more nebulous and "DM determines results of the ability check"-esque. I don't blame them doing so; it's an easy resolution and I still don't really see how either effect would be game-breaking in any game run by a DM with half a pulse. It's just that I don't think conditions and ability checks mesh well together. So yeah, I've come around to the idea that the conditions ought to be removed from Diplomat and Menacing.

They're still not anywhere near as terrible as Performer though :p

See? We do agree on some things.

I dunno. I think Frightened is more powerful in combat. A fighter with a decent charisma could frighten several opponents and keep them locked down and ineffective (or force them to run away) for the entire fight while the rest of the party pelts them with ranged. I know people (particularly in AL) that would look at this as being an optimal build, and if you didn't use it as written would be upset.

How do I know this? Because it happened on a regular basis in LFR. Chuck would say something like "I intimidate Gorax the Dragon. [insert some ridiculously high intimidate check]. He is frightened and can't approach and can no longer come into melee range of the party, etc". I got away with overruling it because I ran the game day, but technically his intimidation should have worked. His one skill check should have made a tough fight a cake walk. If I had allowed it, every fight with only one or two opponents would have ended the same way. Menacing adds that power to 5E.

If the many of the tricks and stunts one could accomplish with skill use were laid out for players and GMs alike, and the skill feats only served to enhance these options instead of providing brand new capabilities, then their codification wouldn't get in the way of improvisation.

I agree. I wouldn't mind some additional advice on how to handle skills, I think it would be helpful. Maybe walk through a scenario showing off each of the different skills. I could even see having examples for two DMs with different styles of game. Describe how two different DMs could rule differently and why.

If you haven't listened to Jeremy Crawford's podcast on stealth, I'd recommend it. He explains why they left stealth open, and that at one point they did have very detailed rules on how to handle everything and decided not to use those.
 

OB1

Jedi Master
Take acrobat, for example. Having the feat exist does not prevent someone without the feat from avoiding difficult terrain, but it does say that to avoid difficult terrain in any and all cases now takes a minimum of a bonus action expended, and a minimum of a DC 15 DEX(acrobatics) check. If you don't have the feat, it, at best, either costs more in action economy or has a higher DC. If you have the feat, then it always costs a bonus action and a DC 15 check, regardless of prevailing circumstance. Breaching either of these cases requires devaluing the feat, which is something DMs should avoid (retroactively reducing the effectiveness of player build choices).

Therefore, this puts hard limits on DM adjudication space.

This is precisely my issue with these skill feats, and why I said that these feats are shrinking the game rather than expanding it. Thank you Ovinomancer for saying it better than I have been! It really is the set DCs and Contests for Conditions that is bugging me about many of these skills.

Heck, in the case of Acrobat, I would even be okay if it simply stated that you could use your bonus action to dash across difficult terrain. In that form it would riff of an existing ability (Thief Cunning action allows the same thing) but only in a specific circumstance. And at my table, the expertise also gives the PC a better chance at beating the DC I set to use the skill to avoid the difficult terrain penalty as part of her move, which everyone can try but her expertise will give her a better shot at.

But I think the best way forward is if the feat simply said that you can now do as a bonus action what previously took an action to do, as you are still providing a clear benefit, it works at every table and gives the DM plenty of room. Plus it's the added benefit that you only need a single feat to cover every skill, leaving room for other more interesting feats.

Skill Master - Expertise in 1 skill, +1(maybe +2) to the relevant ability Saving Throw (because why be boring and have it go to the ability score, and why shouldn't being a Skill Master in Acrobatics help your Dex Saving throw), uses of the skill that previously took an action take only a bonus action for you. You can take this feat multiple times, but must choose a different skill to apply it to each time.

I do like the idea of skill feats in the abstract. I like letting players specialize. I've liked almost everything in the weekly UAs. This one just needs to be remixed with some different ingredients and baked again.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
So, can we all agree that Investigator is terrible? Most searching won't even be in situations where I need to track Action economy.

What would make a good replacement?
 

Oofta

Legend
So, can we all agree that Investigator is terrible? Most searching won't even be in situations where I need to track Action economy.

What would make a good replacement?

While I agree, I think the fundamental issue is that the concept is broken, which is the problem. You could say that in certain circumstances you succeed if you hit a DC 15 like acrobat. You could get advantage on your next attack or ability check ala Sherlock Holmes but that's already taken by Empathic. You could think of some clever way to assist someone ... no that's Historian.

The structure of proficiency bonus + some unique cool power associated to that ability is the issue. There's just not that much room for unique powers that aren't overpowered or change the flavor of the game that also mean something when you have 18 of them.

I feel for the author of the article. I do. Because if this were a previous edition of the game it would be easier. You could have looked at the rules for stealth and given a specific advantage that was not already indicated by the specific rules instead of giving a specific (overpowered IMHO) rule in a system that was purposely left vague.

So my suggestion? Maybe just the proficiency bonus - and the proficiency bonus alone - is enough. They're already half feats, do they need anything more?
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
While I agree, I think the fundamental issue is that the concept is broken, which is the problem. You could say that in certain circumstances you succeed if you hit a DC 15 like acrobat. You could get advantage on your next attack or ability check ala Sherlock Holmes but that's already taken by Empathic. You could think of some clever way to assist someone ... no that's Historian.

The structure of proficiency bonus + some unique cool power associated to that ability is the issue. There's just not that much room for unique powers that aren't overpowered or change the flavor of the game that also mean something when you have 18 of them.

I feel for the author of the article. I do. Because if this were a previous edition of the game it would be easier. You could have looked at the rules for stealth and given a specific advantage that was not already indicated by the specific rules instead of giving a specific (overpowered IMHO) rule in a system that was purposely left vague.

So my suggestion? Maybe just the proficiency bonus - and the proficiency bonus alone - is enough. They're already half feats, do they need anything more?

Well, the benefit works fine, as is. It's just not a particularly useful benefit, at least IME, because it's so narrow. The only time Search as a Bonus action is going to come up is combat with hidden creatures, and the occasional "gotta find the mcguffin and do the thing with it while the doom clock counts down" scenario. Pretty much every other feat is useful a lot more often than that.

But I'd have no issue with it if it were just part of a feat. Or a small class feature, etc.

Also, yes, the feats do need more than proficiency. Look at the half feats in he phb, other than the sad AF Linguist feat. We switched that to this still of feat, bc we have the Riddle skill, which covers cyphers, translating text, and speaking in and understanding coded language. Side note, I've mostly seen players take these feats to get proficiencies they didn't have, so far.

Some things Investigation handles are;

examining something to learn about it's past. "The door handle is well worn, as is the floor in front of the door, this room is accessed often." Or forensics stuff like examining a body for clues.

Research? Or am I adding that to my games because I do a lot of investigation?

What it doesn't naturally do, I would say, is allow for big jumps like Sherlock Holmes makes. Or to learn things normally covers by other skills, examine magical effects to deduce their purpose...all things a feat could add.
 

Gradine

Final Form (she/they)
I'm just relaying what I've seen. If I have a shallow 20 ft wide river that has water tumbling over rocks and is therefore difficult terrain, I may not think of the option as a DM that the character could dextrously jump from rock to rock. But now? If we use this feat I guarantee someone will raise a fuss if someone tries to cross without the acrobat feat.

Maybe I just need better players. Unfortunately I kind of like them. Heck, I liked one of them so much I married her.

I can sympathize with that. I recognize that it's a lot easier in theory to talk about player vs. DM expectations and aesthetics and talk about how some players may not fit at some tables, and yet... not everyone has the luxury of choosing their table. I don't know how uncommon or common it is, but I too run mostly for people who are already my friends (rather than specifically finding new players for my games). I imagine AL also makes it hard to choose who your players or DM is.

This argument pretty much run its course thirty pages ago, so I won't drag it on further. I still stand by what I've always claimed: that no matter what it looks like a 5e feat does not override the core frameworks of 5e. I frankly think that they're in the right direction with these feat riders, but they've missed the mark on quite a few of them. But if you or your players have a problem with them, I can't tell you to just change your framework so that they aren't a problem anymore (I mean, I can, and I have, and I'm still not quite sure why that doesn't just solve it for anyone, but that's neither here nor there :p). And I definitely stand by what I've said about the impact of parameters on creativity. But there's little more to be gained from continuing to hash that out.
 

Gradine

Final Form (she/they)
So my suggestion? Maybe just the proficiency bonus - and the proficiency bonus alone - is enough. They're already half feats, do they need anything more?

I think that they do. Maybe not to the extent that some (most?) of these do currently, but yeah, I think they need to do something more. Otherwise they're a 3.X or 4e feat; some bonuses to die rolls, and that's not what 5e feats should represent. There needs to be that extra rider. But the riders could be better, more interesting, less intrusive. But they should probably follow a few rules more strictly:

* They are still ability checks; ie, DM still has to determine chance of success/failure before calling for a check.
* That means no static DCs. I'd avoid opposed rolls too, at least in combat. Which reminds me...
* NO DIRECT COMBAT UTILITY. Leave these riders for mostly Exploration and Social pillars. That's going to be unavoidable for some skills that already have combat utility (see: Athletics) but I can't imagine how that's going to be especially game-breaking.
* Which means no action economy rules, no conditions, probably nothing related to specific movement (which ties back into the action economy, really).

Something neat and conditional that might very well turn the tide in a particular non-combat encounter every once in a blue moon. Because from a balance perspective, Expertise plus the half ASI is probably enough for the feat, so the rider doesn't have to powerful or consistently useful. But it does need something interesting and flavorful, something that expands upon the idea of what skills can be used for without also gating said content. I really do think feats like Actor or Keen Mind should be the examples to follow here.
 

Oofta

Legend
Something neat and conditional that might very well turn the tide in a particular non-combat encounter every once in a blue moon. Because from a balance perspective, Expertise plus the half ASI is probably enough for the feat, so the rider doesn't have to powerful or consistently useful. But it does need something interesting and flavorful, something that expands upon the idea of what skills can be used for without also gating said content. I really do think feats like Actor or Keen Mind should be the examples to follow here.

The problem is that they have to come up with 18 such feats the way these are done. Actor and Keen Mind started with the question of "We have this common fantasy trope that the rules don't currently have, how do we implement that without breaking the game?"

These feats try to reverse that process with "We have these 18 skills, where can we cram them in?" I think it would be difficult, if not impossible to do that with the open nature of 5E.

If they had instead come up with 1 or 2 special abilities per attribute then maybe you could have something.
- Strength grants proficiency in Athletics. Gain advantage on strength checks (other than grapple) or the ability to use strength instead of charisma for intimidate.
- Dexterity grants proficiency in one Dexterity based skill. Gain advantage on dexterity saves vs traps or the bonus action sleight of hand.

And so on. The idea is that you could narrow down the special abilities you gain to be meaningful without being game breaking. Focused advantage on a particular type of check or something fun based on the ability but not necessarily the skill.

I'd have to think about it a little more, but I think I have a decent start on a home rule I'd be OK with.

[EDIT] added the "other than grapple", because otherwise it would be too powerful.
 
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Ashkelon

First Post
I am disappointed about how many of these feats provide additional combat features. I feel it is a missed opportunity to enhance a characters social or exploration pillar.

I don't think these feats should give players capabilities they couldn't already do with skills, but instead should enhance what those skills already do by getting rid of the skill check automatically or providing a drastically improved effect.

For example, with the acrobatics feat I think it should just allow the character to ignore difficult terrain. That wouldn't be overpowered by any stretch. That way players without the feat could attempt to ignore difficult terrain with an acrobatics check, but possessing the feat ensures your ability to always inore difficult terrain.

The athletics feat should grant a climb and a swim speed. Athletics already let's you climb and swim, but the feat allows you to do it without needing a check.

The deception feat could produce a non magical effect similar to the suggestion spell. Deception already allows you to convince NPCs to do things, the feat just makes the types of effects bigger and better.

More cool abilities like that would have been welcome
 


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