Content of the article: "Unlocking Skills from Abilities"
I've seen a couple posts recently (namely this one) discussing that characters should be allowed to use the skills they are best at, but also leading to conversation in the same thread about how characters will justify using their best skill in any way they can, even if its not reasonable. It got me thinking again about how we as 5e players are so locked into the skill system as it is portrayed, that we forgot how flexible and powerful of a system it can be when used correctly, namely using other abilities other than the one listed on the character sheet.
The prime example for this is the one shown in the PHB under the variant rule on page 175, where it states that a character could use an act of raw strength in order to intimidate rather than charisma, leading to a Strength (Indimidation) check rather than Charisma (Intimidation). This is portrayed as more of a fringe example, but what if we were to make this the norm instead of the exception?
I tried this starting with a campaign a few months ago where all checks are presented as ability checks, not skill checks, with interesting results. When presented with a chasm, I told my players "Its a 20 foot chasm, a DC 18 Strength check to jump across." The fighter says, "Well I'll just jump it, can I add my athletics proficiency?" I reply sure, and he jumps across. The monk says, "I'm not proficient in athletics. Can I purposefully jump lower at the rock wall and try to grab onto a rock so I can climb up?" Acrobats regularly make jumps where a precise landing is vital, and often use grip strength, so I let the monk do a Strength (Acrobatics) check, adding their Acrobatics proficiency. Finally the druid looks around and says, "Hmm, can I just climb down to the bottom and then back up? Survival covers natural hazards, could I add that proficiency?" Sure I say, its still climbing, so strength, but survival makes sense to judge the best way down and back up, so Strength (Survival) check makes sense, though it'll take a while.
In my personal experience, this opens things up for players and lets them think more creatively about how to use their proficiencies. At the same time, it cuts down on players always hitting a problem with the biggest hammer (their highest skill) by forcing them to use other abilities in conjunction with those skills without creating too many conflicts (like a character arguing that jumping over a chasm should be allowed with a Dex-acrobatics check).
Has anyone else tried this variant rule? What positive or negative results have you found when doing so?
- I looked through all my books for the highest athletics checks to see what “nearly impossible” refers to RAW
- A Build Proficient with Every Skill by 7th Level
- Hero points and Proficiency dice, do they make the game funner.
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