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D&D 5E When is it OK to let a player substitute one skill for another?

Haha I don’t have an NDA - all this stuff is publicly available in the playtest packets, though they are a bit tricky to find these days.

Fundamentally, skills worked the same way they do now throughout the playtest. That is to say, if you had proficiency in a skill, you could add a bonus to ability checks to resolve actions to which that skill might be beneficial. The specific bonus changed from draft to draft. They started out as a flat +3, later changed to proficiency die (which still exists as a variant rule in the 5e DMG), and finally to the proficiency bonus as we see it in 5e. At first though, there was no list. You just got a number of skills and you could pick whatever you wanted. Want a bonus on checks to run, climb, and jump? Use one of your proficiencies on “Athletics.” Want a bonus on checks to weave baskets underwater? Use one of your proficiencies on “underwater basket weaving.” With no fixed list, you could be proficient in anything you could describe in a few words.

Of course, players wanted a list they could pick from, so we got a list pretty quickly. And the exact form of the list changed a few times as WotC tried to find the degree of specificity that satisfied the greatest number of players. But you can see vestiges of the no skill list approach in other optional skill variants in the DMG. Background proficiency is probably the closest of these to how it worked without the list, and though I’ve yet to run a campaign with it, I find it a pretty appealing variant rule.
This seems to somewhat confirm my thinking that the skill system in Numenera reflects the originally design intentions behind DNDnext.

It would be a better game if they'd kept it. The playtesters are not always right.
 

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Rune

Once A Fool
This seems to somewhat confirm my thinking that the skill system in Numenera reflects the originally design intentions behind DNDnext.

It would be a better game if they'd kept it. The playtesters are not always right.
Considering the public playtest was really more of an extended test-marketing phase, I’d say they got exactly the D&D they were aiming for.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Considering the public playtest was really more of an extended test-marketing phase, I’d say they got exactly the D&D they were aiming for.
Well, they didn’t get the D&D Monte Cook was aiming for, and he left the project. Though, my understanding is that him leaving had more to do with the corporate culture at WotC rather than anything about the direction of the game design. But, I do agree with Don Dorito that the game could have been a better game than it is if WotC had stood behind some of their design decisions that got ruled out by the poll results.

And don’t get me wrong, I like 5e. But I can’t help but see the places it could have been better. Especially when it was better in some of those places during playtesting.
 

MGibster

Legend
After reading this thread, I'm rather amiable towards the idea of getting rid of skills proficiency altogether. Adventurers travel far and wide and are exposed to different cultures, stories, and have a broad range of experiences. Olaf the barbarian might not be as adept as Goren the wizard at remembering ancient cultures, but why not let them both make History rolls with the appropriate modifier based on their attribute? Just off hand, the only draw back I can see is that maybe the rogue and bard are suddenly not the only ones good at slight of hand or sneaking.
 

After reading this thread, I'm rather amiable towards the idea of getting rid of skills proficiency altogether. Adventurers travel far and wide and are exposed to different cultures, stories, and have a broad range of experiences. Olaf the barbarian might not be as adept as Goren the wizard at remembering ancient cultures, but why not let them both make History rolls with the appropriate modifier based on their attribute? Just off hand, the only draw back I can see is that maybe the rogue and bard are suddenly not the only ones good at slight of hand or sneaking.
I'm not sure it matters in terms of sneaking. In the caste of Sleight of Hand you could make it something only certain characters can attempt (Either rogues only, or if you're keeping backgrounds, characters with appropriate backgrounds.)

After all there's only a small percentage of people in the real world who could even really attempt to pull off something with sleight of hand.

The variants in the DMG basically reflect how other games handle things. Castle and Crusades is an almost retroclone built on on the 3e chassis which has a Primes system very similar to the ability score variant, while Shadow of a Demon Lord and 13th Age both use a system similar to the background proficiency variant.

A lot depends on what you want? I can see different results depending on whether the desire is to double down and protect class niches, or to have things wide open.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
After reading this thread, I'm rather amiable towards the idea of getting rid of skills proficiency altogether. Adventurers travel far and wide and are exposed to different cultures, stories, and have a broad range of experiences. Olaf the barbarian might not be as adept as Goren the wizard at remembering ancient cultures, but why not let them both make History rolls with the appropriate modifier based on their attribute?
I mean... They can. It’s an Intelligence check. History proficiency is just a bonus you can add to the check if they have it.

That said, I think you would like the Background Proficiency variant rule. Instead of having skills, you’re proficient in your background. A Sailor is proficient in all the things a Sailor would be good at. A Spy is proficient in all the things a Spy would be good at. etc. Whenever the DM calls for an ability check, if you feel your background training would be helpful in accomplishing the task, you can ask to add your Proficiency Bonus. “As an Outlander, I heard all kinds of stories about ancient peoples from my tribe’s elders. Could I add my Proficiency bonus for that?”
 

I mean... They can. It’s an Intelligence check. History proficiency is just a bonus you can add to the check if they have it.

That said, I think you would like the Background Proficiency variant rule. Instead of having skills, you’re proficient in your background. A Sailor is proficient in all the things a Sailor would be good at. A Spy is proficient in all the things a Spy would be good at. etc. Whenever the DM calls for an ability check, if you feel your background training would be helpful in accomplishing the task, you can ask to add your Proficiency Bonus. “As an Outlander, I heard all kinds of stories about ancient peoples. Could I add my Proficiency bonus for that?”
If I used that system I'd basically use two backgrounds.

I'd personally probably insist on a background that reflects your class in some way and leave the other wide open, but mileage may vary there.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
After reading this thread, I'm rather amiable towards the idea of getting rid of skills proficiency altogether. Adventurers travel far and wide and are exposed to different cultures, stories, and have a broad range of experiences. Olaf the barbarian might not be as adept as Goren the wizard at remembering ancient cultures, but why not let them both make History rolls with the appropriate modifier based on their attribute? Just off hand, the only draw back I can see is that maybe the rogue and bard are suddenly not the only ones good at slight of hand or sneaking.
I like skills. I really don't want a game where the only crunch is for fighting.

I was part of the playtest and sentiment for skills was strong. I find the current mechanics function better than I expected
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
You look like you’re actively trying to make it sound like more of a hassle than it is. You don’t have to say “strength check with athletics proficiency modifier if you happen to have one,” you can just say “strength plus Athletics check,” or even just “strength check.”

It's just a personal preference, what I disagree with is the tone that if people don't say it a certain way they're "doing it wrong". Besides, a strength check (to me) means that no proficiency could apply. Well, that and in the US we're incredibly lazy. Like how I just said "US" instead of "United Stated of America" or even "USA" and people will abbreviate just about anyone's name down to one syllable. Because two syllables for someone's name is just way too much work.

But I still thing the "strength plus" is just superfluous for a lot of people when the default is strength. It also seems to be telling people that they can't use any other ability score. So if I say "charisma plus intimidate check" as a DM I've just told them they can't substitute strength (or any other appropriate ability) for charisma. I'm not saying asking for a specific proficiency check is great either, just that the less specific while indicating you can use a proficiency is my preference.

I also don't think it's that big of a deal, and these discussions amplify what (to me) is a really minor aspect of the game. People don't need to run the game exactly the same.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
It's just a personal preference, what I disagree with is the tone that if people don't say it a certain way they're "doing it wrong".
I don’t think anyone has said you’re doing it wrong if you just call for the skill. You’re doing it differently than what the rules describe, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
Besides, a strength check (to me) means that no proficiency could apply.
Well that’s not what it means according to the rules.
Well, that and in the US we're incredibly lazy. Like how I just said "US" instead of "United Stated of America" or even "USA" and people will abbreviate just about anyone's name down to one syllable. Because two syllables for someone's name is just way too much work.
🤷‍♀️ I live in the US and it isn’t too much work for me.
But I still thing the "strength plus" is just superfluous for a lot of people when the default is strength.
Well, yeah, it would be when the default is strength. The advantage of calling for the ability instead of a skill is that there doesn’t need to be a default.
It also seems to be telling people that they can't use any other ability score. So if I say "charisma plus intimidate check" as a DM I've just told them they can't substitute strength (or any other appropriate ability) for charisma. I'm not saying asking for a specific proficiency check is great either, just that the less specific while indicating you can use a proficiency is my preference.
That’s why I would call for a “Charisma check” rather than a “Charisma plus Intimidate check”. That’s actually less specific than “Intimidate check” because there are eighteen different options the player can substitute (or more if you include tools), compared to the 6 they can substitute if you call for an “Intimate check.”
I also don't think it's that big of a deal, and these discussions amplify what (to me) is a really minor aspect of the game. People don't need to run the game exactly the same.
People certainly don’t need to run the game the same, and if just calling for a skill check works for you (as it does for many DMs, I might even say the majority of DMs), great. I’m not telling you you can’t or shouldn’t do it that way, I’m just explaining why I do it the way I do, because people seemed confused by it and have been asking a lot of questions about it. Advocating for my preferred method is not an attack against your preferred method. They can co-exist.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I don’t think anyone has said you’re doing it wrong if you just call for the skill. You’re doing it differently than what the rules describe, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Well that’s not what it means according to the rules.

🤷‍♀️ I live in the US and it isn’t too much work for me.

Well, yeah, it would be when the default is strength. The advantage of calling for the ability instead of a skill is that there doesn’t need to be a default.

That’s why I would call for a “Charisma check” rather than a “Charisma plus Intimidate check”. That’s actually less specific than “Intimidate check” because there are eighteen different options the player can substitute (or more if you include tools), compared to the 6 they can substitute if you call for an “Intimate check.”

People certainly don’t need to run the game the same, and if just calling for a skill check works for you (as it does for many DMs, I might even say the majority of DMs), great. I’m not telling you you can’t or shouldn’t do it that way, I’m just explaining why I do it the way I do, because people seemed confused by it and have been asking a lot of questions about it. Advocating for my preferred method is not an attack against your preferred method. They can co-exist.

My post was in response to this:

Yeah. There's really no way to read the rules and arrive at that approach. It comes from elsewhere.

While it may not be the intent, to me it clearly says: "only people who played previous versions do it that way, people who actually read the rules do it the right way".

In any case, I don't think there is a "best" way. My "least favorite" way is the way it was interpreted by a lot of DM's back in 4E was that every challenges could only be resolved with a skill check and nothing could be done or said to change the required DC.

Back to the OP, I do try to encourage alternatives proficiencies mixed and matched with alternative non-default ability scores. I'm just not sure what the best way to do that is. For the most part I try to get people to describe what they're doing (even if it's just "do I know anything about" or "do I recognize", etc.) and let them know that they can propose alternatives.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
My post was in response to this:

While it may not be the intent, to me it clearly says: "only people who played previous versions do it that way, people who actually read the rules do it the right way".
Well, in my experience, and I think @iserith would agree, people who played previous editions and people who learned from people who played previous editions (and people who learned from people who learned from people who played previous editions, etc.) run it the way you do. Which is probably the significant majority of players and DMs, including everyone who got into the game through Critical Role, or like... any streamed game, pretty much. On the other hand, the relative minority of players who started with 5e and learned from reading the books alone, or who, like I did, tried to set aside assumptions based on their experience with past editions and to understand the intent of the 5e rules on their own terms alone, tend to run it the way I do. Now, that isn’t to say the players who run it the way you do are wrong. They’ve found a way that works for them, and that’s fine. Saying that there doesn’t seem to be a way to arrive at that way of running it from reading the rules alone isn’t a judgment, it’s just an observation.
In any case, I don't think there is a "best" way. My "least favorite" way is the way it was interpreted by a lot of DM's back in 4E was that every challenges could only be resolved with a skill check and nothing could be done or said to change the required DC.
I don’t think there is a best way either. I think different ways may be better or worse suited to different goals and different tastes. The way I run it works “best” for what I want out of the game, from what I have found. Your way might work “best” for what you want out of the game, and if so, great!
Back to the OP, I do try to encourage alternatives proficiencies mixed and matched with alternative non-default ability scores. I'm just not sure what the best way to do that is.
Whereas the way I’m advocating for is, in my evaluation, the best way I’ve found to do what you’re describing here. Maybe you’ve tried it and found it not to be the best for you, and that’s fine. But just offering it as a suggestion for those who might be looking for a better way to do what you describe.
For the most part I try to get people to describe what they're doing (even if it's just "do I know anything about" or "do I recognize", etc.) and let them know that they can propose alternatives.
Yep. Seems like a solid approach.
 

nomotog

Explorer
Well, in my experience, and I think @iserith would agree, people who played previous editions and people who learned from people who played previous editions (and people who learned from people who learned from people who played previous editions, etc.) run it the way you do. Which is probably the significant majority of players and DMs, including everyone who got into the game through Critical Role, or like... any streamed game, pretty much. On the other hand, the relative minority of players who started with 5e and learned from reading the books alone, or who, like I did, tried to set aside assumptions based on their experience with past editions and to understand the intent of the 5e rules on their own terms alone, tend to run it the way I do. Now, that isn’t to say the players who run it the way you do are wrong. They’ve found a way that works for them, and that’s fine. Saying that there doesn’t seem to be a way to arrive at that way of running it from reading the rules alone isn’t a judgment, it’s just an observation.
I think they could have easily addressed that by just not using the word skill.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Saying that there doesn’t seem to be a way to arrive at that way of running it from reading the rules alone isn’t a judgment, it’s just an observation.
Right. In the rules of some games, like D&D 4e, the expectation is that players will ask to make or say they are making a "skill check" and the DM almost always says "Yes." That is not the case in D&D 5e where it explicitly says players describe what they want to do and the DM decides whether an ability check is called for and what proficiency may apply. It's not a controversial statement to say that people using an approach like D&D 4e in a D&D 5e game isn't getting it from the D&D 5e rules.
 

nomotog

Explorer
Right. In the rules of some games, like D&D 4e, the expectation is that players will ask to make or say they are making a "skill check" and the DM almost always says "Yes." That is not the case in D&D 5e where it explicitly says players describe what they want to do and the DM decides whether an ability check is called for and what proficiency may apply. It's not a controversial statement to say that people using an approach like D&D 4e in a D&D 5e game isn't getting it from the D&D 5e rules.
I think that was also the approach in 3 and 3.5. 5 is the odd one out here.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I think that was also the approach in 3 and 3.5. 5 is the odd one out here.
Yes, it's certainly how I saw most people play it back when my group played it. I just don't have my books anymore to be able to see if that's explicitly stated in the rules.
 

nomotog

Explorer
Yes, it's certainly how I saw most people play it back when my group played it. I just don't have my books anymore to be able to see if that's explicitly stated in the rules.
I know the divided between skills and ability checks was much more explicitly and guarded because there were a lot of systems pushing and pulling on skills. You even had explicit you can't use this skill unless you have points into it type things. Also you just hated making an ability check because your bonus would be crazy low in comparison to any skill check.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Right. In the rules of some games, like D&D 4e, the expectation is that players will ask to make or say they are making a "skill check" and the DM almost always says "Yes." That is not the case in D&D 5e where it explicitly says players describe what they want to do and the DM decides whether an ability check is called for and what proficiency may apply. It's not a controversial statement to say that people using an approach like D&D 4e in a D&D 5e game isn't getting it from the D&D 5e rules.
This is also true. There’s really two parts to this though. One is whether or not the players ask to make (or say they’re making) checks, and the other is whether those are skill checks modified by an ability, or ability checks modified by a skill.
 

nomotog

Explorer
This is also true. There’s really two parts to this though. One is whether or not the players ask to make (or say they’re making) checks, and the other is whether those are skill checks modified by an ability, or ability checks modified by a skill.
Technically there is also the unmodified check, but no one uses them. (Not even sure if they are official.)
 

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