Unsatisfied with the D&D 5e skill system

Satyrn

Visitor
On Page 4 of the basic rules:



The player is supposed to describe their action in natural language. The DM adjudicates the action calling for a ability check if there's uncertainty (and a meaningful cost to failure).

Edit: added some bold for clarity
And page 237 of the DMG is where the section called Using Ability Scores begins. It begins
When a player wants to do something, it's often appropriate to let the attempt succeed without a roll or a reference to the character's ability scores. For example, a character doesn't normally need to make a Dexterity check to walk across an empty room or a Charisma check to order a mug of ale. Only call for a roll if there is a meaningful consequence for failure.

When deciding whether to use a roll, ask yourself two questions . . .
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I think we regularly flub this then. Usually a player enters a room and says, "I'm make a perception check." or "I'm going to check the door for traps." and rolls. "Or, "I don't know what this monster is, I'll make a Nature/Arcana check to learn about it" (hoping of course, in all cases, for a nat 20).
That's a common way of playing and, for many, it works just fine. But it can lead to dissatisfaction with D&D 5e as a result since it is at odds with the game's design and you end up with the situations you describe. When someone isn't happy with the system, it's almost always this issue in my experience, being a fundamental process of play. It's basically playing this game as if it's some other game.

Could you tell me expressly where the rules state that the DM calls for the checks, not the players?
See the section on "How to Play" in the introduction of the PHB, plus the section entitled "Ability Checks" in PHB Chapter 7. The DM always calls for the ability check. The player can ask which skill proficiency applies to the ability check, but that's it. See also the DMG, page 237, "Using Ability Scores" and pages 236-237 "The Middle Path."

The idea here is you want your players to describe what they want to do which necessarily includes what they hope to accomplish (goal) and what they do in order to accomplish it (approach). Reasonable specificity is required, but don't fall into the trap of confusing this with being overly verbose or necessitating flowery language or acting chops.

This description by the player will help you to decide whether the outcome is uncertain and, given the situation, whether there's a meaningful consequence for failure. If you decide that both of those things are true, then the approach to the goal will inform you as to what ability score applies, possibly what skill proficiency, what difficulty it is (DC), and whether advantage or disadvantage is appropriate. Without the goal and approach being described by the players, the DM is left with little information with which to adjudicate and many DMs just assume what it is they are doing, often describing what the character is doing for the player. But that's the player's role in the game, not the DM's.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Thanks, I'll check that out. But what would be the in-game reasoning to not let multiple people try the same thing, such as bashing down a door? It would be easier if D&D had more built in autosuccess rules; if you have such and such stat you just DO that thing. It seems like common sense but for some reason myself and my players have gotten into the habit of rolling too much and relying on chance. I'd really like to move away from that.
5e relies on the DM to use their brains first rules second :) In this situation the DM decided that there was a chance the barbarian might not be able to bash down the door, and, importantly, if they failed there would be some consequence (monsters alerted, enemies escape, etc). The player proceeds to roll dice to see if their character can do the necessary. If they succeed great, if they fail the consequences occur and I would narrate that they actually succeed but it takes a few strikes and makes a hell of a racket, alerting anything in the vicinity.

The situation has now changed and there is no need/point for another character to have a go at the same task. That’s the key thing. The result of the dice roll must change the situation.
 

Nebulous

Adventurer
That's a common way of playing and, for many, it works just fine. But it can lead to dissatisfaction with D&D 5e as a result since it is at odds with the game's design and you end up with the situations you describe. When someone isn't happy with the system, it's almost always this issue in my experience, being a fundamental process of play. It's basically playing this game as if it's some other game.



See the section on "How to Play" in the introduction of the PHB, plus the section entitled "Ability Checks" in PHB Chapter 7. The DM always calls for the ability check. The player can ask which skill proficiency applies to the ability check, but that's it. See also the DMG, page 237, "Using Ability Scores" and pages 236-237 "The Middle Path."

The idea here is you want your players to describe what they want to do which necessarily includes what they hope to accomplish (goal) and what they do in order to accomplish it (approach). Reasonable specificity is required, but don't fall into the trap of confusing this with being overly verbose or necessitating flowery language or acting chops.

This description by the player will help you to decide whether the outcome is uncertain and, given the situation, whether there's a meaningful consequence for failure. If you decide that both of those things are true, then the approach to the goal will inform you as to what ability score applies, possibly what skill proficiency, what difficulty it is (DC), and whether advantage or disadvantage is appropriate. Without the goal and approach being described by the players, the DM is left with little information with which to adjudicate and many DMs just assume what it is they are doing, often describing what the character is doing for the player. But that's the player's role in the game, not the DM's.
I think I definitely need to start enforcing this with my players more and "unlearning" some of the habits we have developed. That might go a long ways toward making me like the skill system more. I do think it gets abused too much or used in ways that are much broader than what they were intended.

They rarely, if ever, actually describe their actions. It falls on the dice roll to "be" their action, which is dull.
 

Satyrn

Visitor
I think I definitely need to start enforcing this with my players more and "unlearning" some of the habits we have developed. That might go a long ways toward making me like the skill system more. I do think it gets abused too much or used in ways that are much broader than what they were intended.

They rarely, if ever, actually describe their actions. It falls on the dice roll to "be" their action, which is dull.
I figure that part of that comes from the player wanting to make sure that he gets to use the skill that he intends. I know I get a little irritated when I describe an action that I figure it's animal handing, but results in my DM choosing a different skill. ( The easy solution to that is for the DM to call for the ability score check and let the player choose - or at least request - a suitable skill)
 

Nebulous

Adventurer
I figure that part of that comes from the player wanting to make sure that he gets to use the skill that he intends. I know I get a little irritated when I describe an action that I figure it's animal handing, but results in my DM choosing a different skill. ( The easy solution to that is for the DM to call for the ability score check and let the player choose - or at least request - a suitable skill)
Right, and the Angry GM says so in that article, in the case of Animal Handling you would add your proficiency bonus if the player says I have Animal Handling, can I use that?
 

Satyrn

Visitor
Right, and the Angry GM says so in that article, in the case of Animal Handling you would add your proficiency bonus if the player says I have Animal Handling, can I use that?
Nice! (I didn't read the article.)

I do prefer that the player doesn't bother asking if he can use animal handing, but rather state that he is doing so. Like:

Player: I do my best Crocodile Dundee impersonation on that skag, so it doesn't alert the rest of the pack.
DM: okay, give me a Charisma check, DC 15.
Player: I'm using my Animal Handing on that, by the way *rolls*
. . . etc . . .


(Of course this example fails if you're wondering how the DM wouldn't know the player intended to use animal handing; just pretend the example is one where that isn't so obvious. It's not the details that I'm trying to illustrate, but the form)
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Right, and the Angry GM says so in that article, in the case of Animal Handling you would add your proficiency bonus if the player says I have Animal Handling, can I use that?
The article was quite enlightening as usual, damn him... :)
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Nice! (I didn't read the article.)

I do prefer that the player doesn't bother asking if he can use animal handing
I'm glad that works for you, but it would seem a bit presumptuous to me - especially when it gets into the grey areas... :)
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Based on the Angry article I had a go at revising the character sheet to promote the ability scores and demote the skill & saving throw proficiencies. I quite like the result:

Blank Character Sheet.png
 

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
Based on the Angry article I had a go at revising the character sheet to promote the ability scores and demote the skill & saving throw proficiencies. I quite like the result:

View attachment 106218
A while back on the DMsGuild WotC released a bunch of premade characters who's 'sheets' looked more like NPC statblocks.

I liked how simple it looked.

Capture.PNG
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
A while back on the DMsGuild WotC released a bunch of premade characters who's 'sheets' looked more like NPC statblocks.

I liked how simple it looked.
Yeah, but it is quite dense though. Fine for an experienced player, but difficult to grok for a newbie I'd imagine?
 

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
Yeah, but it is quite dense though. Fine for an experienced player, but difficult to grok for a newbie I'd imagine?
Easy enough to use if handed to them.

Super difficult to do heavy modification to, for new items or abilities and such.
 

Stalker0

Adventurer
Thanks, I'll check that out. But what would be the in-game reasoning to not let multiple people try the same thing, such as bashing down a door?
I think the concept comes down to "if the best person can't do it...there's probably something to it".

When the barbarian rolls a 5 on the strength check to break down a door, you don't treat it as "man the barbarian almost fell on his face when attempting to break down the door".

Instead its "this door is basically welded shut, and is impossible to budge".
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Right, and the Angry GM says so in that article, in the case of Animal Handling you would add your proficiency bonus if the player says I have Animal Handling, can I use that?
I find the easiest thing to do and the least prone to a mismatch in expectations is that the DM calls for the ability check and the player adds the skill proficiency that he or she thinks best aligns with his or her description of what the character is doing. This also means the DM need only work about 6 things (the ability scores) rather than all of the skill proficiencies. This method assumes that there's trust at the table and the players are playing in good faith, describing what they want to do and applying the appropriate skill proficiency to that effort as they see it.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
I find the easiest thing to do and the least prone to a mismatch in expectations is that the DM calls for the ability check and the player adds the skill proficiency that he or she thinks best aligns with his or her description of what the character is doing. This also means the DM need only work about 6 things (the ability scores) rather than all of the skill proficiencies. This method assumes that there's trust at the table and the players are playing in good faith, describing what they want to do and applying the appropriate skill proficiency to that effort as they see it.
I pushed back on Satyrn a bit at that idea, but you’re both probably right. If there’s trust then it should be fine, and, of course, if there’s not trust then there are going to much bigger issues than a skill proficiency battle :)
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
I think I definitely need to start enforcing this with my players more and "unlearning" some of the habits we have developed. That might go a long ways toward making me like the skill system more. I do think it gets abused too much or used in ways that are much broader than what they were intended.

They rarely, if ever, actually describe their actions. It falls on the dice roll to "be" their action, which is dull.
I've been encouraging the other players to narrate their characters actions instead of calling for rolls as well. The DM told me after one session when we discussed it that he'd decided to reward it by doing one of two things.

Suppose the players says, "I'm going to search in the corner behind the chair for a trapdoor or secret passage."
Our DM would either just say "When you moved the chair, one legs pulled on a cord in the floor and triggered the wall to crack open slightly." or if he still felt a rolls was better, would grant advantage on it since the player was specific in his intent and his actions indicate a greater likelihood of success.

I told him it's a great idea to reward good role-playing and game-play both, so maybe it will help your group?
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
I think the concept comes down to "if the best person can't do it...there's probably something to it".

When the barbarian rolls a 5 on the strength check to break down a door, you don't treat it as "man the barbarian almost fell on his face when attempting to break down the door".

Instead its "this door is basically welded shut, and is impossible to budge".
Instead, I represent it as a measure of how favorable the circumstances for that effort were - both in results and the perspective of the charsater.

So, nah, it's not welded shut, but part of the floor or ground gave wsy unexpectedly, or was slicker than expected, or any number things that seem very appropriate to the scene. Next guy, avoids those, maybe shoes up footing etc.

Alternatively, the effort dies push in, creating a slight opening, but something structurally goes awry and shifts and the door gets stuck. Now, future checks are at disadvantage but you can see into the next room, possibly teleport, send familiar etc. (Some progress with setback)

There are a lot of possibilities between the poles often put forth of infinite retries and one roll and that's it.
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
[MENTION=31465]Nebulous[/MENTION], you might find the Angry GM's latest piece helpful too: https://theangrygm.com/being-in-flex-able/ (along with Iserith's Adjudicating Actions guide in "Best of" thread.)

Basically if you find that the game results are ridiculous you're feeding the wrong inputs into the rules. If the Barbarian fails at a strength check don't allow another PC to "have a go", the dice will inevitably roll a suitably high number to make the outcome questionable. A different PC demands a different approach or something else in the situation to change to make the additional roll (if needed) relevant.
Actually, after reading his article, I didn't feel like there was much there not already covered in the PHB. Ability scores are "key", skills are added if they apply to the task.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Actually, after reading his article, I didn't feel like there was much there not already covered in the PHB. Ability scores are "key", skills are added if they apply to the task.
And yet there seems to be lots of confusion for some people. Certainly WotC doesn’t encourage that interpretation in their adventures when practically every suggested ability check is qualified with a skill...

The biggest problem WotC has is that while there’s plenty of good and useful information in the core books it is generally presented in such a way as to make that information confusing at best or buried under a bunch of unrelated stuff at worst.
 

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