Unsatisfied with the D&D 5e skill system

twofalls

Explorer
I will be starting a new game in a few months, and find that I am very dissatisfied with the D&D 5e skill system, and would like something more comprehensive, but not terribly more complex. I could just import the system from 3.0 into 5e, however I can well imagine that this is a topic that has been addressed here before, and thought that someone might be able to point me in the direction of some good ideas or information, at least I hope as much.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
If you do port over part or all of 3e's skills, my advice would be to not break perception and stealth back up into, respectively, Listen/Spot and Hide/Move Silently. There's a reason other systems used the blanket Stealth term when AD&D was mired in Hide in Shadows and Move Silently - it's easier to work with and doesn't effectively require a PC to succeed at both checks to by stealthy.
 

Bacon Bits

Adventurer
I think you need to start by describing the goals you're trying to achieve by changing the system. You say you're very dissatisfied, but you don't really describe what's dissatisfying. You also say you want something more comprehensive, but I'm not sure what you think is lacking. Then you mention 3.0 skill system but, to be honest, I find that system equally comprehensive and needlessly more complex (and 3.5 is worse with all the situational modifiers). You think there should be more skills? You don't like the proficiency system? You think a 10th level character should expect to automatically succeed on skill rolls?

My problem with skill systems in general is that there are only two broad types of systems. The first one has fairly generic all-encompassing skills that you get to pick a few of. That's not terribly realistic because characters can do things that don't seem related and some skills just become must-haves. However, the alternative systems that say, "Our Zombo.com system has unlimited skills! Anything can be a skill!" can be much worse. The problem with those systems is that you still only get a limited selection of skills, and because the number of skills is so diverse you stand a much better chance of not being able to even roll a die because the DM thinks that, for example, modifying the starship navicomputer requires Electronics instead of Computers, Astrogation, or Repair. It's a pigeonholing problem. Skills stop being about things you're good at and instead define everything you can't even try to do.

So, that's kind of what I mean. What kind of outcomes in game play do you want for a skill system? What do you intend for it to accomplish in the game itself? Define your problems, describe your desired outcomes. Be specific. "I want more skills," isn't an outcome but, "I want the players to have to make tougher choices," is. "I want bigger bonuses," isn't an outcome, but, "I want skills to represent a broader range of expertise than 'skilled' and 'not skilled'," is.
 

akr71

Explorer
Having gone from 2e straight to 5e (with a couple decade hiatus), I can't offer insight on how to import 3e skills effectively.

Are there skills missing that you wish were there? If so, I would not hesitate to homebrew them in, selecting an appropriate ability score for it to fall under.

Is it a skill rank system that you find lacking? As in, once you are proficient in a skill, there is no way to improve that skill other than increasing the base ability score or get enough levels to increase your Proficiency Bonus? If so, I have introduced an Expertise Feat into my game - similar to the Rogue. The Feat can be taken more than once, but not applied to the same skill more than once.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
I will be starting a new game in a few months, and find that I am very dissatisfied with the D&D 5e skill system, and would like something more comprehensive, but not terribly more complex. I could just import the system from 3.0 into 5e, however I can well imagine that this is a topic that has been addressed here before, and thought that someone might be able to point me in the direction of some good ideas or information, at least I hope as much.
before i could even begin, i would need to know more about what you want and what you do not like? I mean you could be unhappy because there are too many skills or way too few. you could be unhappy with proficiency vs tools or fixed ability score to skills or not advancing skill ranks or number of skills as you level, or that they advance too much and make tasks too easy when combined with class features and options.

So i would ask the following:

Can you name two things that the 5e skills system *currently does* that you like and want to keep?
Can you name two things that the 5e skills system *currently does* that you dont like and want to scrap?
Can you name two things that the 5e skills system *currently does not do* that you like and want to add to it?
Can you name two things that the 5e skills *currently does not do* that you don't like and want to make sure doesn't get added by your new changes?

those four questions create a set of boundaries in which we can evaluate a set of changes and basically get an idea as to how well they hit your mark.

it will also help to get an idea as to what you see as "more" but "not too" complex once we have advantages of each.

"If you don't know where you want to go, you will likely wind up somewhere else."

Edit to add -

have you looked at XGtE and its more advanced tools proficiencies? Is that more what you want or the wrong way or neither?

Have you looked at the DMG options for changing the skills and traits systems? I find those options and even their variants to have a lot of potential. I personally use some of their auto-success rules from DMG and am strongly considering the implementation of some of the "lighter" proficiency schemes based on backgrounds or ability scores.

Do you use any support tools you want to keep - such as DDB etc - in your game where changes that can still "fit within that" would be more appealing than ones which drive you away from that tool? For example, IRL, in our last game, we used the DMG proficiency dice variant and it did what we liked a bit better than the proficiency value does, but when we went to full-on DDB for the current campaign it was better overall to drop the proficiency die system since DDB does not currently support that option.
 
Last edited:

dave2008

Hero
Not sure what your looking for, but we have had a lot of success using the alternate rules in the DMG that decouple skills from a specific ability score. We have also expanded skills to include backgrounds. So if you have the "Noble" background you can make an ability check w/ proficiency for anything that relates to being a noble, even if it goes beyond the skills provided by the background.

EDIT: the emphasis with this approach is the player has to describe what their doing and how their skill or background helps them. The DM then decides if they get proficiency and what ability score to check.
 
Last edited:

twofalls

Explorer
First thank you for these comprehensive responses, they are so far more than I expected.

I will respond first to the questions that 5ekyu posed as they are more in depth than I had even really thought of myself, and I think they cover what everyone else has asked. My general dislike for the 5e system stems from my feeling that it is too limited in scope, that the skills are so broad that I'm often being left with uncertainty about how to apply them. Also, I have found that more comprehensive systems give players ideas on how to use skills themselves they may not have thought of.

Can you name two things that the 5e skills system *currently does* that you like and want to keep?
I do like that the current system is simple, and it meshes well with the manner in which D&D is played in that it uses a D20 and is tied to both the proficency bonus and the attribute bonus. I like this and would like to keep it.
Can you name two things that the 5e skills system *currently does* that you dont like and want to scrap?
As I said above, I'd like a system that offers more skills. I really love the Shadowrun system and how skills work there, which is entirely inappropriate for D&D I understand, however the depth and scope of the skills offered lends itself to suggesting to players how to use them, and helps to define characters.
Can you name two things that the 5e skills system *currently does not do* that you like and want to add to it?
I'm certain that the current system can accommodate all that I would like a more robust system to handle, however as stated a couple of times now, I do not like how general it is.
Can you name two things that the 5e skills *currently does not do* that you don't like and want to make sure doesn't get added by your new changes?
My group is filled with new players. Though they have been gaming together now for nearly two years, they have only gamed together with very little variation in the player base. I'd like to expose them to a broader skills system that would lead them to think of using skills in new ways. I think the 5e system would allow them to do most anything they can think of currently, but I wish for them to see new role-playing opportunities that a more robust skill system would suggest to them.

Thank you for your time.
 
Last edited:

twofalls

Explorer
Not sure what your looking for, but we have had a lot of success using the alternate rules in the DMG that decouple skills from a specific ability score. We have also expanded skills to include backgrounds. So if you have the "Noble" background you can make an ability check w/ proficiency for anything that relates to being a noble, even if it goes beyond the skills provided by the background.

EDIT: the emphasis with this approach is the player has to describe what their doing and how their skill or background helps them. The DM then decides if they get proficiency and what ability score to check.
This is an interesting idea.
 

Krachek

Adventurer
You may also create a list of « speciality » skill, and allow player to pick some from that list.
And why not give expertise for those skills, to make sure they are special.
It may give some flavor to character.
5ed is pretty much « house rule as you want. »
 
Last edited:

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
It's also worth noting that, given the rules on How to Play and adjudicate actions, there is a fairly stark difference in game play between D&D 3.Xe and D&D 5e in this area. The former is much more mechanics forward, for lack of a better term, where players are expected to "use skills." In D&D 5e, players just describe what they want to do and the DM decides whether the proposed action is successful, unsuccessful, or if there's uncertainty as to the outcome. If there is uncertainty as to the outcome and a meaningful consequence of failure, the DM calls for an ability check. Otherwise he or she just says what happens.

You don't have to play that way, of course, but that is what the rules say to do and it may help inform what choices you ultimately make for your house rules and how that may impact the intended play experience.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
First thank you for these comprehensive responses, they are so far more than I expected.

I will respond first to the questions that 5ekyu posed as they are more in depth than I had even really thought of myself, and I think they cover what everyone else has asked. My general dislike for the 5e system stems from my feeling that it is too limited in scope, that the skills are so broad that I'm often being left with uncertainty about how to apply them. Also, I have found that more comprehensive systems give players ideas on how to use skills themselves they may not have thought of.

Can you name two things that the 5e skills system *currently does* that you like and want to keep?
I do like that the current system is simple, and it meshes well with the manner in which D&D is played in that it uses a D20 and is tied to both the proficency bonus and the attribute bonus. I like this and would like to keep it.
Can you name two things that the 5e skills system *currently does* that you dont like and want to scrap?
As I said above, I'd like a system that offers more skills. I really love the Shadowrun system and how skills work there, which is entirely inappropriate for D&D I understand, however the depth and scope of the skills offered lends itself to suggesting to players how to use them, and helps to define characters.
Can you name two things that the 5e skills system *currently does not do* that you like and want to add to it?
I'm certain that the current system can accommodate all that I would like a more robust system to handle, however as stated a couple of times now, I do not like how general it is.
Can you name two things that the 5e skills *currently does not do* that you don't like and want to make sure doesn't get added by your new changes?
My group is filled with new players. Though they have been gaming together now for nearly two years, they have only gamed together with very little variation in the player base. I'd like to expose them to a broader skills system that would lead them to think of using skills in new ways. I think the 5e system would allow them to do most anything they can think of currently, but I wish for them to see new role-playing opportunities that a more robust skill system would suggest to them.

Thank you for your time.
Ok so what i am hearing here is that you want more details on specific skill uses - set examples and DCs - both to serve as a guide for the Gm and a nudge for the players. Your hope is that it will drive players to use them more or in different ways and that it will give you a perhaps more consistent framework on how to apply them.

if that is way way off, not what you were putting forth, then i apologize.

So, let me give you my advice based on similar goals but different outlook.

Go the other way - go left instead of right but wind up at the same spot.

MY EXPERIENCE - says that the longer, more detailed laundry list of pre-fabbed noun-verb-dc-result "events" a system gives the less imaginative it leads players and GMs to be. if your system has a list of 30 uses for athletics with modifiers and DCs for all sorts of different thing, the actual play tends to be "fit my actions and choices into this list somehow." if the system says "here are a few skills and ability scores and a mechanic" you get a lot more variety in actual play choices made.

So, based on my experience (in multiple systems and skills etc) and my own current games in 5e, the route i would suggest to try is the following.

Consistent DCs: As Gm come up with your own simple, easy to express "here is what DC means in my games" and stick to it. For things like saves and such, the rules are fine. but for traps and locks and walls and keeping balance, have a common reference that you can express in a hot minute for any scene. Then apply it with lots of obvious descritions that show them what it is. The DMG section on setting skill checks is fantastic for this.

IN MY GAMES: i use the DMG 10-15-20 is it (except for special circumstances.) I think of it as "who set this up and how good were they" or "who could look at this and say "hold my beer" and how good are they"?

DC 10 is easy and it is for cases where neither skill (proficiency) nor aptitude (primary ability and focus) are required. So, an innkeeper doesn't really care about security on the rooms has DC 10 "locks" on all the resident rooms, except for his own - more on that under special." That wall around the village put up by farmers etc might be only DC 10 to climb if they had no soldiers experienced at fortifications

DC 15 is for the "guy" has either skill (proficiency) or aptitude (primary ability or focus.) So an innkeeper who used to be a burglar but long since retired might be Dc 15 locks guy. That village wall might be DC 15 if there is a retired soldier or carpenter or mason.

DC 20 is for "masters", the guy is an expert with both skill (proficiency) and aptitude (primary focus and ability.) You can figure this one out from the above.

SPECIAL: this gets into a +5 or -5 (advanatage or disadvantage) for how much effort or time or resource went into it above the norm. A rich shopkeeper willing to spend a lot more money on security or a village where their is someone with wealth or extra manpower backing the wall - +5 (advantage for help - if you will) to whatever the DC would be. The reverse for someone who skimps and cuts corners or really does not really care - or for some cases where they had to rush the finish and its not really a fully complete thing yet.
Extra time/resources +5
Insufficient time or resources -5


This produces 5 - 25 range across the campaign - same at 10th as at 15th as at 1st. My PCs met a DC 20 and a DC 25 check in their first session at level 2 and just met a DC 10 one recently. be consistent and show them descriptively how they can see the "DC" in the setting.

Then if they walk up to some mud village with a fancy wall or some dive with a very well-built security system, they can go "what is up with that?"

Auto-success - i use the DC10 easy is automatic for proficienct checks unless you have advantage rule from the DMG.

I generally disregard the other DCs for non-character trait tasks. i find 5e is rather inconsistent in their DCs in modules and such and *really* what matters is the DC you set.

I would recommend you look at the DMG skill proficiency options for *less skills* - specifically for background based skills, where what is required is for the PC to tie "what he is doing" to his background and training, not to a skill list. That moves the "what i do" more into the dramatic than the "checklist". This syncs well with a descriptive-based Dc as i describe above.

So, my suggestion is to try to spark the imagination with "less rules specifics and definition" before you go to more defined lists.

My group has played tons of systems at all sorts of degrees of crunch from 1e dnd to black book Traveller to HERO to shadowrun to Cyberpunk 2020 to Amber to vampire to T20 to traveller with Striker to RollMaster etc etc etc. We never found "more crunch" or "more lists" to spur more imagination. They did shape the events, but in doing so they also limited our in-play perspectives and outlooks.

Also, for most skill use i always point to the Ability Check definition in the PHB where any failure can be a "some progress with setback" - not just pass/fail. that is an awfully potent tool in the Gm to bring skills to life in the campaign.

"I go hunting and scavenging."
"Make Wisdom (survivial) foraging check. The area you know is sparse but not barren - so wont be that hard but not easy enough for sure success." Code word for DC 15
"Rolled net 11. Dang it"
"Ok so you found some smaller game and bagged some stuff. Get 3 lbs (Wisdom modifer) and roll a Perception check."
"What?"
other players "You just went from the hunter to the hunted - cuz some beastie just made *its* hunting check and found you! HAHAH!!"
Everyone grabs dice in anticipation of the *possible* conflict depending on how our scavenger handled himself.







Final bit - Definitely use the Swapping ability scores bit from the PHB - Strength (Intimidation) is an obvious case for brute force coercion. Con (Performance) perhaps for more subtle ways of influence that may take all night (in-game time not in game-play time unless that is your thing!) :)


***

That said, this is how i would recommend trying to achieve the goals you set forth, but it is the opposite direction you had originally leaned. if thats because you have tried lighter more self-managed-consistent approaches and found them lacking then hey, thats fine. But in my experience, no longer list is gonna be the right fit that hits the imagination dial to 11 and also gives you the room to maneuver as freely and consistently. thats because a list tells you to check the list for how tough the wall is... while the approach i outline above is for *you* the Gm to decide *how tough the wall is* based on your chgsen setting and reasons and then tie the description and DC together to match that.

DC IMX is better when the first question is WHY and the rest follows from that.

Hope this helps even tho it is not the direction you were leaning.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
It's also worth noting that, given the rules on How to Play and adjudicate actions, there is a fairly stark difference in game play between D&D 3.Xe and D&D 5e in this area. The former is much more mechanics forward, for lack of a better term, where players are expected to "use skills." In D&D 5e, players just describe what they want to do and the DM decides whether the proposed action is successful, unsuccessful, or if there's uncertainty as to the outcome. If there is uncertainty as to the outcome and a meaningful consequence of failure, the DM calls for an ability check. Otherwise he or she just says what happens.

You don't have to play that way, of course, but that is what the rules say to do and it may help inform what choices you ultimately make for your house rules and how that may impact the intended play experience.
This. Read the Intro section of the PHB and the Basic rules for the core play loop of:

1. Player declares character actions
2. DM determines if result is successful, unsuccessful, or uncertain.
2a. If uncertain, DM calls for ability check and sets DC.
3. DM narrates outcomes.

The repeat. This is, as [MENTION=97077]iserith[/MENTION] notes, different from previous editions.

I also recommend reading the DMG sections on the Role of the Dice (p 232) and further recommend the "Middle path" presented therein.

These two things form the core of how I run 5e. You may find it helpful as well.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
There has been some great advice here that I don't think I could improve on. I particularly like the idea of backgrounds giving general knowledge and background not tied to specific skills.

There are times when I ask my players if it's okay if we do a 1-shot with a different style or rule implementation just to see if it "fits". There is no one way that's going to work for everyone, so experiment a bit.

In addition to what others have said, I'd just say that I'm pretty flexible on how skills are applied. Want to intimidate or assist in intimidating someone using a strength (athletics) check to lift them up in the air one handed? Go for it! Might backfire depending on the NPC though, so I might ask for a wisdom (insight) check before you try it.

In my experience the "looser" I can make the implementation of the rules while abiding by the spirit of the rules while still being consistent the more creativity I seem to get out of my players. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy video games that have skill trees as an example, but I just don't think it's a great fit for this version of the game.
 
It's also worth noting that, given the rules on How to Play and adjudicate actions, there is a fairly stark difference in game play between D&D 3.Xe and D&D 5e in this area. The former is much more mechanics forward, for lack of a better term, where players are expected to "use skills." In D&D 5e, players just describe what they want to do and the DM decides whether the proposed action is successful, unsuccessful, or if there's uncertainty as to the outcome. If there is uncertainty as to the outcome and a meaningful consequence of failure, the DM calls for an ability check. Otherwise he or she just says what happens.
.
It's funny because this how I play every system that has skills, 3e included. "I want to do this, do I need to roll anything?" "Yes, skill x is most appropriate."

I think you are describing an rp style. Maybe 5e encourages that style more than others, I don't know.

And sometimes rolling a skill is appropriate even when success is guaranteed because:

a) my player has invested heavily in a skill and 'wants' to roll a dice and show off how cool his character is at doing skill (x). Who am I do deny a player a chance to throw a die if it brings them joy? Players tend to approach problems using the tools they are best at and, often, like to show those things off.

b) Sometimes I use degrees of success which doesn't usually affect anything other than narrative. So it lets a player or GM narrate a cooler description or outcome if they succeed with style.

Usually 'b' comes as a result of 'a'. I'm happy to narrate a cool success without the use of dice too.
[MENTION=23718]twofalls[/MENTION]

The skill list in 5e is good.
Expand the use of Investigation a bit and make Perception less of a catch-all
Use Medicine more

If you were looking for a way to incorporate point-buy skills in 5e, then I'd probably have suggestions but it doesn't look that way. [MENTION=6919838]5ekyu[/MENTION] had lots of good suggestions.

- As suggested, Definitely separate stats from skills. Use the skill/stat combinations that best suit the situation/action.

- I've done away with 'tools as skill proficiency' and just made each tool a 'profession' skill. A lack of tools either makes it impossible to do that skill or gives you disadvantage. It hasn't changed much - it's really mostly a change in semantics (using Burglary instead of 'Thieve's Tools', for instance) but I like the change.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
It's funny because this how I play every system that has skills, 3e included.
Yes, lots of people play a game as if they are playing some other game. Then some of those same people complain that the game doesn't work as well as they might hope.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
There has been some great advice here that I don't think I could improve on. I particularly like the idea of backgrounds giving general knowledge and background not tied to specific skills.

There are times when I ask my players if it's okay if we do a 1-shot with a different style or rule implementation just to see if it "fits". There is no one way that's going to work for everyone, so experiment a bit.

In addition to what others have said, I'd just say that I'm pretty flexible on how skills are applied. Want to intimidate or assist in intimidating someone using a strength (athletics) check to lift them up in the air one handed? Go for it! Might backfire depending on the NPC though, so I might ask for a wisdom (insight) check before you try it.

In my experience the "looser" I can make the implementation of the rules while abiding by the spirit of the rules while still being consistent the more creativity I seem to get out of my players. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy video games that have skill trees as an example, but I just don't think it's a great fit for this version of the game.
i will second this... strongly.

Example - I have a cliff. that cliff is an obstacle (they need to beat it or avoid it) not just an impediment (no-fail climb at slow pace). because of WHY (loose rocks but fairly solid, irregular handholds and footholds, some vines some strong some not.) i assign it Dc 15 climb needed.

So, when Mr Strong guy describes climbing it by grunting his way up the more silid holds and ledges i i let that bet athletics check with strength. maybe i make it CON if its really really long climb. he will likely be avoiding the vines for the most part due to his being a heavy sucker.

But when MR Halfling nimble guy says they want to use the vines, swing back and forth avoiding the most lightweight but since they are small and light... that is acrobatics - likely dex.

They key is, to me, to not link a TASK to a skill but let the skill choice flow from the HOW and the WHY. Those two folks are going about beating that wall in two very different ways each using a different aspect of the scene to their benefit. Both are "climbing the wall" but that should not mean "climbing" is under strength or athletics necessarily.

l
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
It's funny because this how I play every system that has skills, 3e included. "I want to do this, do I need to roll anything?" "Yes, skill x is most appropriate."

I think you are describing an rp style. Maybe 5e encourages that style more than others, I don't know.

And sometimes rolling a skill is appropriate even when success is guaranteed because:

a) my player has invested heavily in a skill and 'wants' to roll a dice and show off how cool his character is at doing skill (x). Who am I do deny a player a chance to throw a die if it brings them joy? Players tend to approach problems using the tools they are best at and, often, like to show those things off.

b) Sometimes I use degrees of success which doesn't usually affect anything other than narrative. So it lets a player or GM narrate a cooler description or outcome if they succeed with style.

Usually 'b' comes as a result of 'a'. I'm happy to narrate a cool success without the use of dice too.

[MENTION=23718]twofalls[/MENTION]

The skill list in 5e is good.
Expand the use of Investigation a bit and make Perception less of a catch-all
Use Medicine more

If you were looking for a way to incorporate point-buy skills in 5e, then I'd probably have suggestions but it doesn't look that way. [MENTION=6919838]5ekyu[/MENTION] had lots of good suggestions.

- As suggested, Definitely separate stats from skills. Use the skill/stat combinations that best suit the situation/action.

- I've done away with 'tools as skill proficiency' and just made each tool a 'profession' skill. A lack of tools either makes it impossible to do that skill or gives you disadvantage. It hasn't changed much - it's really mostly a change in semantics (using Burglary instead of 'Thieve's Tools', for instance) but I like the change.
Re the bold, i agree completely. Whether its been HERo, traveller ad infinitum, cyberpunk etc this divide to me is not system driven or forced. Some of the most complex number crunchy systems plkay the same way with skills and talent being WHAt-HOW-WHY driven rather than pick-a-list.

its not new to 5e or even necessarily strongly supported in 5e. Its just perhaps such a striking difference from 4e i guess that to some it seems new or a focus.

Then again, I am always amazed at the generational shock. i think perhaps some of my own perceptions are colored by the realization of how many folks came in new to RPGs in 5e and so they see it as "what is" sometimes with little knowledge of "what has come before." See it all the time with broader social media posts about someone with a "new idea" which is like "adding a death spiral" or "adding called shot" or... insert any number of things that have been done, house ruled, used in other RPGs or DND splat books for decades.
 

bedir than

Explorer
One of the ways that you can expand the skill list is by adding tools. I know, who needs more boring tools, but within the 5e structure there are a ton of medieval/early-Ren skills/tools that aren't covered. Allowing players, by just granting an extra tool, to pick these helps their character know things that may only be useful in specific social/exploration contexts, but also strengthens the "who am I" of creation.

Farm tools for example. Currently building a farmer is a custom background that doesn't have a lot of skills to support it, and yet working the land was quite common. Grabbing the examples from XGtE you could see some overlap/help with checks in Survival, Nature and Animal Handling.

I added Appraiser's Tools for a travelling merchant. They aren't a jeweler/locksmith/etc. They are someone who knows what things are worth and how to trade/buy/sell. A small scale, magnifying glass, and ledger all make sense to have. It could help them with Persuasion, History, Arcana and Religion.
 

Advertisement

Top