“Variant: Skills with Different Abilities”

"An owlbear carrying a large treasure chest on her back through a burning forest." (NightCafe)

I’m writing an adventure at the moment, which features an organisation called the Reclamations Agency, the state sanctioned thieve’s guild. Most people know a bit about them, but do your characters know a little more? What’s the skill check for this? D&D lacks any kind of Culture (Starfinder) or Street Skills (Shadowrun).

A dry Int check might be the easiest thing to reach for but the problem is that they’re pretty boring. We can do better.

Both the PHB (page 175ish) and DMG (page 239ish) talk about using different ability scores skills, which potentially allows using proficiencies in surprising ways.

To intuit why the Agency works a certain way, I might suggest Insight (Charisma); understanding the social protocols you’ve spotted and trying to understand why they might work like that. Or even Insight (Intelligence) to piece together the clues you’ve collected so far. Deception (Intelligence) to make use of your knowledge of the underhand methods you’d use to sneak something out the city.

The problem is that all these require a bit more maths from the player. They don’t have these numbers written on their sheet already. If you find you’re using them often (or want to persaude your DM to start usign them), you could always note them down though. After all, the DMG says:

If a player can provide a good justification for why a character’s training and aptitude in a skill should apply to the check, go ahead and allow it, rewarding the player’s creative thinking.

Here are some more ideas:

Acrobatics (Int)* How difficult does that climb look?
Animal Handling (Int)* Should the animal be behaving like that?
* How much weight can this owlbear carry?
* Can a druid turn into something like that?
* Is that a beast or a monstrosity?
Arcana (Cha)* Is that person charmed?
Athletics (Int)* How long would it take to run that far?
Athletics (Wis)* How strong is that guy?
Deception (Con)* Can I hide how gross this food is?
History (Wis)* Does that sound like something the Queen would have done?
Insight (Cha)* How does this social structure work?
Intimidation (Str)* Can I punch the wall to scare the guy?
Investigation (Wis)* Does anything feel off here? (More active version of Perception (Wis).
Medicine (Con)* Will I get poisoned if I drink this much ale?
Nature (Cha)* Can I say the right things to persaude this Dryad?
Perception (Str)* Is that guy pulling his blows?
Performance (Int)* Can I remember the correct thing to say here?
Persausion (Con)* Can I out drink this Dwarf to win her respect?
Religion (Cha)* Can I fool this bumkin into thinking I speak the words of a god?
Sleight of Hand (Wis)* What are my odds of pick pocketing that person?
Stealth (Wis)* I do think I’ve been spotted?
Survival (Str)* Can I pull this bear trap off my leg?
This table wasn’t even what I had planned today. I timeboxed it to 15 minutes – but look how many cool things already!

Other than just filling in gaps where the D&D skills are lacking, this also lets the PCs have more utility. The paladin might not be intimidating in most situations, but when the time comes for a religious intimidation, their Religion (Str) check might be pretty imposing.

GM doesn’t stand for “Genius Minderreader”

Angry wrote about tips for players and they’re almost all decent. (I recommend that players do look at their character sheet as they make a decision, only to figure out if that’s how their character would behave.)

There’s one I’d like to reinforce though:

Don’t Make Your GM Guess. The more your GM knows about what you’re trying to do and how, the better off you are.


The contrary advice for this is “Trick your DM into letting you do something cool.”

I’ve been at tables – and may have even done this myself, come to think of it – where a player is asking probing questions of the DM, clearly fishing for something. Maybe they’ve got Heat Metal trigger finger and are hoping the DM will say, “yeah, I guess they do have a family medaleon on them, what I strangely specific question!”

This comes from a mindset that the DM is not a player, but are actually an adversary.

In reality though, when the Secret Society of DMs inducts another we all take a sacred vow: remember your players are Heroes and let them do cool shit. “No, that doesn’t work” is not a fun thing for a DM to say. It shuts the scene down, kills the energy. It’s only a reasonable thing to say when you’ve asked for something that doesn’t fit the internal consistency of the world.

DM’s love it just as much as the players when a sneak Heat Metal disables The Big Bad. (We can always make a new Big Bad.)

Instead, Angry’s advice should be followed: let your DM know what you want to do. I don’t know if you know this, but the DM can literally make shit up. “I’d like to do a cool freerunning thing to catch up with the bandit – are there any footholds along the buildings?” “Absolutely there are! Do an Acrobatics check for me and we’ll see how you do!”