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D&D 5e ability checks


up to no good
Validated User
Like many already said, I think its a great improvement over some of the previous editions (2nd and 3.x). Though, to my players' chagrin, they still fail DC 15 rolls at higher levels and get frustrated by how it breaks their immersion. After all, shouldn't the super smart wizard be able to recall basic arcana knowledge?
They should be able to if they have the skill or even a decent Int score since it is basic knowledge.

5e ability checks: "An ability check tests a character’s or monster’s innate talent and training in an effort to overcome a challenge. The DM calls for an ability check when a character or monster attempts an action (other than an attack) that has a chance of failure. When the outcome is uncertain, the dice determine the results."

Even if there is a chance of failure why is the DC 15 (medium) instead of 10 (easy) or even 5 (very easy) for basic knowledge?

Why are they rolling to recall basic arcana knowledge in the first place?

They definitely needed to include more examples of when not to roll.


Eager Critmouse
Validated User
I quite like the system, though it is undoubtedly swingy, as others have stated.

I use it in play as it is written, with a couple of modifications:
  • I try to encourage not rolling when people are proficient and the task is simple, i.e. only unproficient people need to roll, especially for Int related stuff
  • I allow people to add proficiency when the roll matches their background, or a tool proficiency, not just when they have the skill proficiency
  • I sometimes gate knowledge behind a certain level of skill (e.g. Arcana 5+)
  • I sometimes give advantage as a substitute for expertise, when two areas apply. i.e. if you are proficient in a skill and a tool which should both apply
I am pretty sure the "get advantage for synergy" rule is in Mordenkainen's in the chapter on tools? (I might have the wrong book, but I'm pretty sure that's the right rule).


Can I be your familiar?
Validated User
I've played around with the idea of just reintroducing 3.X-esque skill points in some capacity, and attaching their acquisition in some way to Intelligence - this has the dual benefits of allowing more specialization and customization beyond the ultra-simple proficiency system, and making Int less of a dump stat for almost all classes. Pretty much every other ability has some pretty solid reasons that it's nice to have a good score in it even if it's not important to your class; Int could use a little love. Not quite sure what this would look like; maybe something like "every X levels you get (Int modifier) extra skill points to distribute" (possibly stipulating that no more than one of those can go to any given skill). This would mean that, for example, it suddenly becomes very good for Rogues to be at least moderately clever, because their Stealth and Perception scores will quickly outstrip those of their more stupid colleagues.


Registered User
Validated User
Int for skills has always been a little weird - it makes sense for some skills (e.g. knowledges), but there's enough physical skills to throw it off a fair bit. That said it's far from the only case of attributes being a little bit weird, and if you want more of a skill focus swapping out 5e's skills with something makes sense. There's probably much better options than 3e style skill points though, especially if you're good for the sort of bonuses 3.x used for things. Something like a skill pyramid involving multiples of Proficiency, where you gain a new slot and push the pyramid a bit with every ASI.


Simulator & Spellcaster
Validated User
My own feeling is that while skill points may be too fiddly, a simple on/off for skill progression is too simplistic. In 3.5, I often found myself going for either a fully capped or a half-capped skill in practice, to reflect strong points and weaker-but-still competent points in my characters' skillsets. Then there were the skills I min-maxed for their best points, if there was room in the build. There's undoubtedly simpler ways to get the same effect.

It's an open question whether reactive perception should even be a skill at all. It feels to me like something that should probably just increase with level automatically...

I've also found myself pondering taking the middle roll of three large dice, instead of rolling one large die or two or three smaller dice; it wouldn't be as predictable as a triangular or bell curve distribution, but wouldn't be as swingy as a completely flat distribution. Though I am left to wonder what the odds look like for, say, rerolling the low/high result for advantage/disadvantage...


Actual Size
Validated User
I'll reiterate what others have said and state that the 5e system is too swingy. It also links skills to specific attributes, which means they are just sub-attributes, and causes weirdness like having both athletics and acrobatics as skills. Uncoupled skills would be better, with an option to not define skills by activity - 'task' oriented skills are fine, but having vocational or background skills that cover a bunch of skills you normally see together (like thievery) is a godsend. Also, Perception shouldn't be a skill, it should be a straight Wisdom check. There is no Remember skill, or Lift Heavy Weight skill, or Holding Breath skill, why is there a Perception Skill?

I'd also like to address a comment from the OP: the 6 attributes from 5e are not an especially good system. There are several attributes which are poorly defined (what is Wisdom in 5e? It changes every edition), some attributes are far more important than others (Dexterity), and some attributes can be dumped if you're not playing a character that uses them (Charisma and Strength).


Registered User
Validated User
Some of the frustrations involving skills, particularly the DC15 check (which Really should be considered difficult) could be alleviated by a success range, or treating a successful check as a bonus, particularly in the example of the “super smart” wizard, above. A wizard with high INT should automatically know something in her field of expertise. A successful roll could indicate additional known lore. If the stats are used as a baseline, the DM should be able to make judgment calls based on those abilities. The character with a 20 STR is going to bust open the toughest doors. CHA18 rogue canvasses the neighborhood, and automatically gains some useful info (CHA10 fighter, by contrast has to roll to glean anything beyond what everyone already knows). Some of this is approach. The game mechanics have gotten us used to skill checks as another means of challenge, however, using the same conceits as combat, without the commensurate Feats, Abilities and loads of dedicated Spells to buff our mundane skill sets.
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