Dungeons & Dragons: Skills Overview
Welcome back my friends! Karthas here with another Dungeons & Dragons guide for new players! Last week we reviewed the different abilities, today we will look at each of the skills! Currently 5th Edition has 18 skills to choose from. These can range from your knowledge of magical items or magic in general, to how well you can persuade people. For a new player, it can be difficult to understand what these skills do. Or even know how you’d even use them. So today I will be giving a brief overview of each skill and how it can be used in game. Let’s get started!
What Are Skills?
As I said before, skills cover a wide range of things. They basically allow you to do things in Dungeons & Dragons, like a sphere of knowledge or expertise. This will usually mean you have to roll your D20 and add the modifier you have associated with that skill. Skills are based on one of 5 attributes in Dungeons & Dragons: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma. You may notice that Constitution is missing from this list. Well that is because it doesn’t have any skills associated with it. I will separate the skills out based on the ability they are tied to.
This is a handy skill to have especially if you plan on being in melee combat. Athletics can be used to perform any feats of athletic strength. This can include jumping a gap, climbing a rope, or swimming against a current. Additionally athletics can be used if you wish to shove a creature which can either push the creature back 5 feet or knock them prone. This in combination with the Shield Master feat is quite fun, and can be used to drive your DM nuts! Attempting to shove or even grappling will result in a contest. In a contest both creatures will roll either an Athletics or Acrobatics check, whoever has the higher value wins the contest. So invest in Athletics if you want a character who may be in peak physical condition, will be in the middle of combat, or even a character who can jump and climb with ease.
This skill is used any time you are trying to balance or remain on your feet when encountering a tricky situation. These may include balancing on a rope, scaling a building, or walking across a slippery surface. Additionally Acrobatics can be used if you wish to roll, flip, dive, or even somersault. As mentioned above in the Athletics section, whenever a creature attempts to shove or grapple, there will be a contest. Typically you can use either your acrobatics or athletics in a contest. So you’ll want to invest in Acrobatics if you want a character who can move nimbly and keep their balance in difficult situations.
Sleight Of Hand
This skill is used mainly in acts of trickery, typically done with your hands. This may include pick-pocketing someone, concealing a dagger, or even planting something on someone else. Additionally some DMs may use this skill for picking locks or even performing a precise task with a character’s hands. You’ll want to invest in Sleight Of Hand if you want your character to be a thief who can easily lift things off of NPCs and break into places you shouldn’t be. Or maybe even an assassin so you can sneak a weapon into an area where weapons are forbidden.
This skill is used when you attempt to conceal yourself from enemies, hide in the shadows, move silently, or even sneak up on someone. You can actually attempt to hide in combat using Stealth to try and get the drop on enemies. 5e also introduced group stealth checks which can be used to help your Half-Orc in full plate avoid alerting everyone in town. You’ll want to invest in Stealth if you want to be able to scout areas without being noticed, surprise an enemy when you stick a dagger in their back, or even if you want to break in somewhere without being detected.
Used to measure your ability to recall information about magic such as books, spells, symbols, traditions, locations, etc. Most Wizards will have a high Arcana as that is kind of the Wizard’s thing…knowing stuff about magic. And their Intelligence will typically be one of their highest stats since Intelligence factors in to a Wizard’s spells. If you are in a low magic setting, this skill may not be as helpful, but if you are in a high magic setting, this skill will be quite helpful. So invest in Arcana if you want to be the magic guy who knows stuff about magic.
Used to recall lore about historical events, figures, locations, wars, civilizations, etc. This skill can be used in a wide range of ways. It can be used to learn more about a city you are entering, or even knowing about ancient struggles or wars that took place in a particular kingdom. I’ve used it to help players with puzzles or riddles if they ask “have I heard of this before?” If you really like learning lore, it can give the DM the opportunity to share some backstory…please ask! I wrote all of that stuff for a reason! So invest in History if you want to be a bit of a history buff or war buff.
This is a skill players seem to have some trouble knowing how to use. Investigation is used to help you make deductions based on clues and facts you have gathered. It can also be used to figure out the location of a hidden object, figure out what happened at an abandoned campsite, and even determine the weak point in a structure. This is kind of the Sherlock Holmes skill. And it can be helpful in solving mysteries your DM places before you. So invest in Investigation if you want to be a sleuth who uncovers mysteries, or even someone who is good at deductive reasoning.
Used to recall lore about terrain, plants, animals, weather and even natural cycles. Any self-respecting Druid or Ranger will try to put some points in Nature since that is where they tend to thrive. It can be helpful in determining what creature made certain tracks, or whether or not a particular flower is poisonous. I’ve used it when my players have tried to determine if a storm was naturally occurring or not. So invest in Nature if you want to be the nature guy who knows a lot about animals or even someone who travels the wilds often.
Used to recall lore about deities, prayers, rituals, rites, symbols, or even cults. Surprisingly, Religion is a very helpful skill to have. This is because Religion can be used in addition to an Arcana, History, or even Nature check, since some cultures view these things as sacred. Not all DMs may see things this way, but I have on a number of occasions. So for example if you are trying to gather some more information on a group of murderers, you may be able to roll a Religion check in addition to a History check because they may have seen murder as some strange religious practice. I know for many of my campaigns the big bad guy is typically part of some cult or a follower of some evil deity. Its a good skill to have in your back pocket.
Personally, I have not found Animal Handling to be particularly useful. This is because it involves some sort of creature. It can be used to keep a mount from getting spooked, or to try and figure out an animal’s intentions. Like I said, I haven’t found it very useful because it just seems like most of my games don’t really have a lot of animals. I have seen it used to great effect, such as convincing a wild animal to assist you, or even convincing it to allow you to ride it. I see it as one of those skill that may come in handy every once in a while, but maybe I’m just not creative enough to use it, who knows. So invest in Animal Handling if you want to be the Cisar Milan of wild animals.
This skill is used to determine the true intentions of a creature, trying to figure out if someone is lying, or even determine an NPC’s next move. This information is typically gleaned from body language and other subtle things. I’ve found this skill helpful because it always seems like NPCs are hiding something, though it is not always for a nefarious purpose. Rolling a successful Insight check can sometimes help you avoid an obstacle or prevent a surprise from catching you and your party off guard. So invest in Insight if you want to determine if NPCs or even players are lying or if someone is not being entirely truthful.
This is a strange skill. It’s main use is to stabilize an unconscious ally. But it can also be used to determine an illness or maybe even come up with a remedy. I’ve not find this skill to be super helpful. This is because your healer will typically have a cantrip like spare the dying or something else that would heal an unstable ally. But that isn’t to say it can’t be helpful. For example, if your healer is down, you’d be able to stabilize them. And there is nothing more frustrating then trying to stabilize an ally, only to fail and then they fail their 3rd death save….woops! So invest in Medicine if you want to be a healer or even the non-magical healer guy!
This is probably the most useful skill in D&D! This allows you to spot, hear, or even detect the presence of something. It measures your awareness of the environment around you. It is used for a multitude of checks like overhearing a conversation, determines what you can see when you peer into a room, or if you can sense anything that seems out of place. I would suggest trying to put some points here because it is kind of the default check a DM will have people roll when they enter a room. If you are the scout, you’ll definitely want to put some points here. If you are struggling to gain a proficiency here, Elves are proficient in Perception simply by being an Elf! So invest in Perception because…just do it.
I’ve found Survival to be an ok skill. It is used to follow tracks, hunt wild game, determine what type of creatures are in the area, and even guide a group safely through a treacherous area. The reason I say its ok, is because it mostly has to do with being outside, which not all campaigns are. But if you are playing in a campaign that takes place in the wilds, it may be very helpful! I’ve had players use it in cities when they are tracking someone and even when they are outside to determine what creatures are around. But like I said, not every campaign occurs outside. So invest in Survival if you want to be Les Stroud…everyone knows Bear Grylls is a phony.
Used when you wish to hide the truth or outright lie, either verbally or physically. This skill can be used to lie to a guard to get into town, pass yourself off as someone else, or even shown some fake credentials. Depending on how you want to play, it is a pretty helpful skill. It is similar to persuasion in that they can both typically be used in the same scenario, but failing a Deception check will typically have a worse outcome than a Persuasion check. This is because the person you are lying to may know you were trying to deceive to them should you fail. Invest in Deception if you want to be a good liar, which can actually get you pretty far in D&D. Ever heard the story of Sir Bearington?
Used when you want to influence someone the “hard way”. Typically through threats, hostile actions, or even physical violence. You can use an Intimidation check if you are trying to pry information out of a prisoner, “convince” the doorman to let you inside, or even to make sure the store owner doesn’t spill the beans about your sticky fingers. Intimidation is one of those skills that I’ll give a player advantage should they do some good role-playing. A great threat, is always worth a good laugh. But be careful, failing an Intimidation check can cause some serious consequences…what did you think attempting to threaten a town guard wouldn’t cause any issue? Invest in intimidation if you want to be good at “convincing” people to see things your way.
Used when you want to entertain an audience. Either through song, music, acting, storytelling, or some other form of entertainment. This is the Bard skill if there ever was one. Performance can actually come in handy. Its great for distracting a group while your Rogue slips into the backroom, or even to make a little coin on a cold night at the tavern. Overall I think its a fun skill and you can get creative with it. Invest in Performance if you are a Bard, or if you want to be the life of the party!
Used when you want to convince someone or a group of people of something. Typically done with tact, social grace, good nature, and sometimes flattery. The less heavy handed approach compared to Intimidation and the other side of the Deception coin. Persuasion is typically less punishing should you fail the check. People get less angry should you fail at persuading them rather than fail at lying to them! Can be used when you want to convince a guard to let you inside, find out the King’s schedule from one of his servants, or even negotiate peace between two groups.
Well those are all the skills in 5th Edition. Other editions have had more, 3.5 had a ton of skills, I personally like that they consolidated them. I have by no means included every possible way you can use each of these skills, so if you think you could use a skill in a certain situation, ask your DM. For most DMs if you have a convincing reason as to why you think something would work we are more than willing to allow it. Thanks for reading! Subscribe to our site to stay up to date on all our guides, reviews, and to join our discord!