Sunday, August 9, 2015

Advanced D&D 5e: Skills

Hi folks! The other day I was talking with one of my players, OrkBossJo, and one of things we discussed was how great it’d be if there were more choices in the skill system. As is, you pick your skills at character creation...and that’s it. Unless you want to spend a feat (no thanks). I fondly remember the skill system from 3.5. While some might complain about the book keeping, every time you gained a new level there were a variety of things a player could do with their newly minted skill points. And does anyone remember when a high intelligence gave you extra skills?

I think it’s high time we bring a little more complexity to skills, and with it more choices for the players. Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition is an excellent game. It is my favorite edition of D&D by far. However, when the R&D team at Wizards was designing the game they were creating D&D for every target audience. I think the experienced players and anyone who wants a few more choices at the price of a little more complexity should get it. So for today I’ll give you guys the first thing me and OrkBossJo came up with.

Currently the skill system only distinguishes between trained and untrained skills. You always get to add the appropriate ability score modifier. The only distinction is whether you’re adding the proficiency bonus. What if there were a third category? Enter stage right: Untalented skills.

These are skills a player is not only unable to add their proficiency bonus to, but makes those checks with disadvantage. That’s right. If you’re untalented in a skill there’s only a snowball’s chance in hell of something good happening when making a check. Every class will have a handful of skills for which they are particularly ill suited. Yes, we’re adding a penalty, but there’s an upside.

Intelligence matters again. You can choose a number of untalented skills equal to your Intelligence modifier, and upgrade them to untrained skills. If your modifier is a penalty, you need to choose an equal number of untrained skills and downgrade them to untalented. Wait, there’s more! Let’s make the skill feat matter again too. If you take the Skilled feat, you can choose any number of your untrained or untalented skills and make them trained skills, in addition to upgrading a couple of untalented skills to untrained. I think this system will not only make the skill feat more relevant, but give more flavor to your character by making you worse at skills you already weren’t using. Plus, don’t you think it’s a little odd that every Orc with a decent Intimidate skill is also better suited to persuade people with argumentation and the art of deception?

Sample Untalented Skills List

Barbarian: Arcana, Investigation, Medicine, Religion
Bard: None
Cleri c: Acrobatics, Survival
Druid: Investigation, Sleight of Hand
Fighter: Arcana, Nature, Religion
Monk: Arcana, Performance, Sleight of Hand
Paladin: Stealth, Sleight of Hand
Ranger: Arcana, Performance, Religion
Sorcerer: Athletics, Medicine, Religion
Warlock: Insight, Medicine
Wizard: Athletics, Acrobatics, Survival


  1. Danger here is typecasting the classes - ie all Paladins start of non- stealthy, maybe mine is based on their background. Hey, if works in your game, great :)

    I like the idea of having skills taught to you by NPC or other players within the game, esp if there's some downtime. Perhaps the appropriate STAT check - roll d20 and get below give you some success in learning a new skill - this could count for months of training or as part of leveling up. Could be abused by players so DM will probably need to adjudicate - that's what they are there for. :)

    Anyway nice article.


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