Dungeons & Dragons isn’t all about the fight. Players don’t just hack, hack, and launch Fireball – most of their time is spent navigating the world, searching for treasure, and interacting with the NPCs they come across. And as they do, the success or failure of all their actions is ruled by d20 skill tests.
All skills can be useful; for example, druids use animal manipulation to rally fellow creatures, and paladins can rely on religion tests to inspire followers of their faith. Still, some checks tend to be more frequent D&D campaigns. Others may not be as common, but are critical when they appear. It is always an advantage to have at least one group member competent in the following skills.
Understanding the laws, traditions and legends of one’s region can often be invaluable in a D&D campaign. Successful history checks can help players identify important people or places, understand the local customs of an area, and identify hazards that may surface in a given location.
History checks can also give players a head start on quest objectives. Smart characters can know where to start looking for an item or enemy without having to spend time asking around town or chasing rumors. With a successful test, they will know where to find the Mystic Amulet on the top of their head.
Whether passing through a snowy wasteland, hostile woodland, or scorching desert, the group will no doubt be at the mercy of nature at one point or another in most countryside. When navigating an untouched wilderness, Nature checks allow players to guide themselves by the stars, determine if a storm is brewing, or find the safest place to camp for the night.
Like history, nature testing can also be helpful in identifying hazards. Although history checks provide general background information, knowledge of nature is more immediate and specific. There is an animal hiding in the trees – is it a predator or a harmless creature? Which mushrooms are edible and which berries are poisonous? Knowing these details can help parties avoid unnecessary risk.
Sleight of Hand (Dexterity)
There’s more to this rogue skill than pocket picking and shoplifting. Putting down a lock, forging a signature, trying to pocket a valuable magical item before the party wizard sees it – all of these actions require skillful and quiet hand movements, and all can come in handy throughout a campaign.
Broadly speaking, Sleight Of Hand describes a person’s ability to use their hands without others noticing. When players approach it from this angle, it becomes an incredibly versatile skill. For example, since some spells require somatic components (i.e. movement), a player may attempt a Sleight of Hand test to cast such a spell without the NPCs noticing. Likewise, characters can communicate via hand gestures, with Sleight Of Hand controls indicating how subtly they are able to do so.
Athletics (Strength) / Acrobatics (Dexterity)
All over the Forgotten Realms there are cliffs to climb, paths blocked by rocks and trees, chasms opening up beneath our feet, and more. In such situations, the characters rely on their muscles or flexibility. Athletics and acrobatics help the characters physically navigate the world, but in different ways.
Since Athletics is governed by Force, it often covers controls such as climbing or moving heavy obstacles. Dexterity-based acrobatics, on the other hand, can mean balancing on a narrow bridge or jumping over a fallen tree.
For characters who have a knack for getting into trouble, i.e. 90% of TTRPG characters, this skill is essential. Quite simply, Deception is a character’s ability to lie convincingly. A roll for this skill will determine how obvious their stories are when trying to sell their story.
Whether a character is pretending to be someone else, selling a counterfeit product, or providing a false alibi, players can use Deception to unlock opportunities that would otherwise be closed to them. This may irritate members of the Lawful Good group, but they will end up thanking their resident crooks.
This skill is especially useful in a recurring scenario: looting items. Whether the party has killed a gang of thugs or stumbled upon a cellar full of treasure, an investigative test will tell characters what they find when rummaging through bodies, chests, or crates.
High rolls on this skill can allow players to find rare or valuable items. Meanwhile, a low result can cause players to miss out on a vital clue, such as a letter hidden in the pocket of a slain enemy.
Not all NPCs are trustworthy. Even if they don’t strictly lie, they may have hidden agendas or information they don’t share with the group. Insight is a character’s ability to read others and determine their angle.
This skill doesn’t appear as often as others, but when it does, a successful or failed roll can determine the direction an interaction or quest will take. Can the party spot a dangerous situation and outsmart an NPC who tries to play them? Or will they fall into a trap and end up in a dungeon full of angry goblins? Either way, players (and even the DM) may find themselves on a different adventure than they expected.
No matter what the Barbarian says, it’s not always the best idea to charge headfirst into battle. Whether the party is storming a castle, sneaking into caves full of hostile creatures, or just trying not to wake a sleeping bear, stealth checks can often make or break an encounter.
By sneaking around successfully, the party can gain the element of surprise when attacking an enemy; alternatively, a character may be able to gather the necessary intelligence in enemy territory without even being spotted. Ask any Rogue, and they’ll confirm that Stealth is still a smart approach – when she succeeds.
Every party needs a good talker. Whether it’s trying to gain access to a restricted area, convincing an NPC to agree to a plan, haggle over a trader, or get information from someone, a silver tongue does the trick.
The Intimidate skill can also work under many of the same circumstances; However, as the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. NPCs may not be too nice to the party if a character is known for their threats and creepy tactics. A persuasive character can use words to get things done and stay on everyone’s good side in the process.
For the parties to accomplish their quests, it is often necessary to capture the small details present in its environment. DMs know this all too well and often hide essential information that players might not immediately notice.
While Insight involves reading another’s behavior, Perception tests test the acuity of a character’s senses. A successful test may allow a player to pick up the sound of footsteps that tell them they are being followed, or feel a strange sensation in the air that tells them that dangerous magic is nearby. With a character mastering Perception, players will be able to collect essential clues or bring down their enemies.
MORE: Dungeons & Dragons: Tips for Playing a Half Elf
A fan artist has reinvented Peter Parker’s best friend Ned as the villainous Hobgoblin, and it almost works very well.
About the Author