Tweaking the Core of D&D 5E

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Good news, everyone! The article I posted the other day? That counts as the Long, Rambling Intro™ for THIS article! So, we get to jump right in! For those who are fans of the Long, Rambling Intro™, just go read that article again.

That said, I need to do two things before the first header. First, I need to say that THIS article is about tweaking the core action resolution system in D&D 5E. And that means also revisiting some of MY core ideas about what an action resolution system SHOULD and SHOULDN’T do. Second, the whole point of this article is to gently TWEAK the core mechanics of D&D 5E and – more importantly – to look at WHY tweaking it is valuable. These tweaks will be useful in building subsystems to allow for more complicated modes of play.

Now, here’s the deal – and this is important because I don’t want to deal with this bulls$&% in the comment section – some of the crap I’m proposing DOES ALREADY SORT OF TECHNICALLY EXIST in D&D 5E. That is, some of it is buried in variant rules. Some of it is lightly mentioned in the text. And some of it is lost somewhere in the poorly organized, poorly arranged pile of kludge we got instead of a DMG. I fully admit I ain’t proposing anything radical. Well, maybe one or two things will be a little more out there. But yeah, this is more of a tweak and clean-up job to make the various tools the system offers work together nicely and stand out in nice, obvious ways. Long story short: I don’t want to hear any crap about how “that’s already technically POSSIBLE in D&D.” Yes, it is. I am not trying to rewrite the goddamned game. I’m just trying to organize my toolbox. And to discuss the tools that are available and what they can do. And, in some cases, to clarify and reinterpret things the game designers did wrong.

So, let’s jump in.

The Core Mechanic

I’m going to begin by very clearly spelling out (and restating) the Core Mechanic of D&D 5E.

When a player declares an action – which includes a desired outcome and an approach anticipated to bring about that action – the GM determines the outcome and describes the result. First, the GM determines whether there is a chance that the action might succeed and a chance that the action might fail. If the GM determines the action can’t succeed, the action is a failure, though the GM may warn the player of the impossibility of the action instead. If the GM determines the action can’t fail, the action is a success. If the GM determines that the action can fail, but there is no risk or cost for failure such that the player can keep trying until they succeed, the action is a success. Otherwise, the GM uses the Core Mechanic to determine the outcome.

Under the Core Mechanic, based on the approach the player is using, the GM determines which Ability (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma) governs the action. The GM also determines an appropriate Difficulty Class for the action. The GM – possibly with help from the player – determines whether the character has a relevant Proficiency. The GM also determines any circumstantial Modifiers. Modifiers can include a static bonus or penalty or the roll can be made with Advantage or Disadvantage.

Once all of that has been determined, the player rolls 1d20 and adds the relevant Ability Modifier, Bonuses and Penalties, and their Proficiency Bonus (if relevant). If the total equals or exceeds the chosen Difficulty Class, the action succeeds. If not, the action fails. If the roll is made with Advantage, the player rolls 2d20 and uses the highest single die roll. If the roll is made with Disadvantage, the player rolls 2d20 and uses the lowest single die roll.

If an action succeeds, the player either accomplishes their desired outcome or makes progress toward that outcome. If the action fails, the player does not accomplish their desired outcome and may suffer costs or risks associated with the roll. Regardless of the success or failure of the action, the GM may also apply consequences based on the player’s approach. The GM describes the results and applies any necessary consequences. Then play continues.

Phew. Seems like a lot, right? And except for the parts about my PERSONAL AND CORRECT approach to action resolution, it SEEMS like it’s in-line with the Player’s Handbook, right? Well, let’s look at some of the important departures.

For New Denizens of Angry: Approach and Outcome, Consequences and Costs

First and foremost, for those who are relatively new to this blog, welcome! You picked a weird time to jump in. And you are probably confused by this Approach and Outcome bulls$&%. These are things I spelled out a long, long time ago in one of my first “How to Run a F$&%ing Game” posts. Essentially, the idea is that a player’s job is tell you WHAT they want to accomplish and HOW they want to accomplish it. When a player says, “I want to pick the lock,” what they are saying is “I want to open the door BY picking the lock.” Simple, right? But important. Because that’s different from saying “I smash down the door,” which is saying “I want to open the door BY breaking it down.” But it also isn’t. The OUTCOME is the same: the door is open. But the APPROACH is different: how they get the door open.

Success and failure determines whether they get their outcome. In either case, a good die roll gets that door open. But their choice of approach determines the mechanics used. A Dexterity check and a Proficiency Bonus from Thieves’ Tools in one case and a Strength check in the other case. A battering ram might grant a bonus in the second case. Or a crowbar. But neither would be useful in the first case.

The Approach also determines the CONSEQUENCES. And those CONSEQUENCES aren’t always dependent on success or failure. Smashing the door down is LOUD, whether you succeed or fail. Someone will hear you. Picking the lock is QUIET. You get to keep the element of surprise.

Finally, if an action doesn’t entail any risk, it isn’t worth rolling because someone can keep trying until they succeed. As a GM, its you’re job to either determine the risks and costs of taking actions OR else just skip the die roll. Either way is fine. You might decide there’s no cost of breaking the door down. That’s fine. It just succeeds. But it’s still LOUD. Or you might decide that, if the door doesn’t burst open on the first try, the party loses the element of surprise and the thing on the other side has time to prepare. That first failure costs the party the element of success. If they want to try again, though, there’s no further cost for failure. They can just keep bashing away at that point. The enemy has already had the chance to prepare an ambush. So, a second die roll is unnecessary. Likewise, picking a lock doesn’t carry any risk or cost. Unless you determine the lock might break. Or the lock picks. Or there’s a chance someone on the other side might hear the lock picking attempt. Maybe they get to roll a check.

And, by the way TIME doesn’t count as a risk or cost unless there’s also a timer. Yes, it takes time to pick a lock and trying over and over IS time consuming. But if there is nothing stalking the party, no chance of random encounters every 10 minutes, no water or sand or acid filling the room, no ritual to stop by midnight, no guard patrol that will wander by, or no time bomb, TIME isn’t a cost. Missing an attack in combat, however, IS A COST – dips$&%s always miss this point – because actions and rounds are a limited resource and any round spent not making progress toward victory is a round the enemy can make progress toward your defeat.

Why Approach, Outcome, Cost, and Consequence NEED to Be Part of the Core Mechanic

Remember, the goal is to turn our action resolution into a robust toolkit for building subsystems and modes of play. And the other goal is to fix some of the wonky s$&% going on in the rules. They are minor wonks, I admit, but they are wonks nonetheless.

The Core Mechanic will serve as the core for every subsystem. We don’t want to build a whole bunch of new rules and s$%&. We don’t want to go back to the days when finding a secret door was one type of die roll and sneaking was another and attacking was another and so on. F$&% that mess. But to build useful subsystems, we need hooks. As it stands, the action resolution system only has one explicit hook: an action succeeds or it fails. Success and failure aren’t QUITE enough to do interesting things with. Costs for failure and consequences for approaches are things we can attach mechanics too.

It also fixes a couple of wonky bits. Most importantly, the rulebooks occasionally remind the GM that they shouldn’t fall back on die rolls for every little thing. But the rulebooks don’t give any sort of firm criteria for when to roll and when not roll. And the books don’t give the GM any firm alternative to die rolling. That is, they don’t explicitly spell out that it’s okay to declare an action a success or failure on the face of it.

Finally, it addresses TWO things that aren’t handled well by the D&D 5E rules as they currently stand. One isn’t really addressed at all and the other is sort of weirdly addressed in throwaway mentions in odd places. The first is the question of whether you can try again after you fail at something. The second is whether you can attempt something without a skill or without tools. And these are questions that 3.5 and Pathfinder TRIED to handle, but they didn’t do a great job. They made each SKILL explicitly state whether it could be retried, whether it required tools, and so on. But those things vary on a case-by-case basis.

So, now, the answers are clear. If an action can be retried over and over until success, we just assume that the character does just that. Retry until succeed. Otherwise, the action carries risks and consequences. So, every time the player makes an attempt, the situation changes. In some cases, the risks or consequences will invalidate a retry. In others, they will allow a retry after a cost has been paid but will carry further risks or consequences. And if the retry doesn’t carry further risks and consequences, there’s no point in rolling. The action just succeeds.

As for tools and training, by giving the GM permission to say “no, that is impossible and therefore it will fail” BEFORE considering the game mechanics, we can allow the GM to rule that tools are needed to even attempt something. Or specialized skills. The GM can simply say that a character with no tools and/or no access to equipment of any kind cannot simply turn an iron ingot into a sword.

No Skill Rolls

According to the Player’s Handbook, skills represent specializations of various abilities. Athletics, for example, is a subcategory of Strength. It’s a particular application (PHB 174). That is a ridiculous interpretation and it is, frankly, a massive problem. I could rant for pages about why that’s the stupidest explanation ever AND why it is literally contradicted by every other explanation for Proficiency Bonuses in all the books. But let’s just assume that I’m right without massive explanations. Because I am.

The PHB goes on to present a Variant rule called Skills with Different Abilities. Under that system, the GM can occasionally, in super rare and extra special cases not well defined, decide to connect a skill with a different ability.

There is a GREAT benefit to divorcing skills and ability scores. It allows people to play to their strengths and apply their skills more creatively and it creates more options for engaging with situations. This is especially useful in social situations, where the skills are poorly defined and only characters who specialize in Charisma will ever have any options in social interaction. It allows an Intelligent character a chance to persuade with reason rather than personality or to deceive with complex verbal puzzles and doublespeak rather than personality. It also fixes some of the weirder assignments of skills to ability scores. Animal Handling, for example, could easily be under Charisma instead of Wisdom. Some applications of Athletics would certainly fit Constitution, as do some applications of Survival.

My Core Mechanic explicitly divorces Skills from Abilities and explicitly tells the GM not to think along those lines. Moreover, it also explicitly divorces the skill from the outcome. And some skills are very explicitly tied to outcomes. And that makes some skills much narrower in focus than others. So, the GM must pick the Ability Score based on the Approach and then determine afterwards if any proficiencies for tools or skills are relevant.

The GM Decides the Rules to Use

Finally, the Core Mechanic very explicitly spells out that the rules for action resolution are TOOLS used by the GM to determine the outcome of ACTIONS chosen by the players. It may not seem like a big deal – because we all know that’s how it’s supposed to be anyway – but that wording is very useful to new GMs and new players. And some experienced players and GMs need to hear that too. Under these rules, a player who asks the GM “can I make an Insight check” is not playing the game properly. They are playing against the rules.

The Weirdness of Non-Actions

Now, let’s look at a wonky bit of D&D. And it’s a bit of D&D that’s been around since 3.5. The Core Rule SEEMS easy enough. Hell, even the original core rule – not my restated one – is pretty straight forward. Player or creature chooses an action. Ability check gets rolled. Action gets resolved. Right? Well, not quite. Let’s explore two weirdities. Avoidance and non-action.

Saving Throws are Weird

First, there’s avoidance. Under normal circumstances, D&D is clear about who the aggressor or initiator of an action is. If you hit someone with a sword, YOU are acting against THEM. You roll an Attack Roll. If you try to fool someone, YOU are acting against THEM. You roll a Deception check. If you try to sneak past someone, YOU are acting against THEM. You roll a Stealth check. If someone comes looking for you while they remain hidden, THEY are acting against YOU. They roll a Perception check. And if you cast burning hands at someone, YOU are acting against THEM. You roll a … well, wait just a f$&%ing minute. THEY roll a Saving Throw.

Weird, right? I mean, it probably doesn’t seem weird until you look at it in those terms. Saving Throws are the opposite of actions. They are reactions. And they are automatic. And the only actual reason they exist is because they used to exist. The fact that some spells have attack rolls and the fact that 4E completely flipped everything around and made Saving Throws passive just proves that. Moreover, the fact that the math works either way means they could easily go the other way. Sort of. That’s where things are weird.

In 5E, spell Attack Rolls are based on 1d20 + Spellcasting Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus. In essence, spellcasting is a skill. Some of the time, anyway. Spell Save DCs are 8 + Spellcasting Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus. That’s basically a passive check, right? Well, except Passive Checks are calculated based on 10 + Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus. Because 10 is the average roll on 1d20 rounded down. And that slight down-rounding means it SLIGHTLY favors people TAKING actions over people SUFFERING actions. Armor Class is just a Passive Defense that replaces Proficiency with an Armor Bonus. Except for some tricks of wording.

Why do Spell Save DCs use 8 instead of 10? To modify for the fact that MOST creatures and characters are not Proficient in MOST Saving Throws. Of the six possible Saving Throws, PCs are only Proficient with two of them. So, the 8 instead of 10 thing balances that out, favoring the defender and making up for the fact that there aren’t as many good ways to modify Saving Throws as there are to modify Armor Class. The other side of it is that, because magic – the primary source of Saving Throws – cost limited resources (spell slots), magic should be more effective. That is also why many spells also have partial effects, even on a successful save.

Am I saying that you could totally replace Saving Throws with fixed defenses and make any spellcaster make a Spellcasting Check against those Fixed Defenses? Well, yes, actually, you totally totally could. It’d be super easy, in fact. 4th Edition did exactly that because they were willing to say: “isn’t the fact that in some cases – for which there is no particular logic – you make attack rolls and ability checks and other times, your victim makes don’t die checks?”

And this will form the basis for a weird little combat module I’m working on. But don’t worry about that for now.

Because, no, I’m not proposing to rip out Saving Throws. That’s too big a change for this. I just want to extend the Core Rules a little. Not warp them. That’s the sort of thing that can be an active module.

But here’s where we can add an interesting roll. Saving Throws introduce the concept of Reactions. And I don’t mean the Reaction action type. But also, I sort of do. And this, again will come back in the weird little combat module. But this does provide a space for what I once termed the “click rule.”

The problem with Saving Throws isn’t that they are Reactive by their nature. The problem is they are a dice roll without a choice attached. You get TOLD to make a SAVING THROW. And that’s fine for combat. But outside of combat, it’s kind of dull. And we’re going to need something better if we’re going to do a better trap module or a stealth module.

The Reaction Rule. A GM can use the Reaction Rule whenever a character has a moment to respond to something unexpected. The GM describes what the character is aware of. The player then describes their reaction. The GM then determines if the reaction could avoid or mitigate the unexpected event, whether it can succeed, and whether it can fail. The GM then asks for a Saving Throw or Ability Check based on the action. Any spell that can be cast as a Reaction can be used in this instance.

Example: A player has stepped on a pressure plate that will trigger a trap-door opening underneath the forward rank members of the party, Alice and Bob. The GM tells the party “Alice, as your foot hits the ground, you feel a tile give way and hear an audible click. You’ve triggered a pressure plate. What do you do?” Alice, not knowing what is coming, says “I tumble forwards, trying to roll out of the way.” Bob, also unaware of what is coming, says “I raise my shield and stand my ground, gritting my teeth and trying to absorb whatever is about to hit me.” The GM determines that Alice’s action could conceivably carry her forward away from the pit trap. He asks her to make a Dexterity Saving Throw. Bob’s action, however, won’t do him any good. He plunges into the pit.

Example: Carol is trying to sneak past a patrolling goblin to steal a valuable thing. The goblin is walking ahead of her and she’s creeping silently behind, several feet back. Unbeknownst to Carol, she has failed her stealth check and the goblin is about to turn around because he thought he heard her breathing. “Suddenly, the goblin freezes. He’s about to turn, what do you do?” Carol thinks for a minute. “Is the cave wall irregular enough? Can I hide in the folds and crevices?” The GM says, “You could, but you’ll have Disadvantage since you have to move fast.” Carol thinks and says, “I’ll whip my dagger and try to take out the goblin before he turns.” The GM says “okay, give me a ranged attack roll with Advantage since the goblin is currently unaware of you.

I’m not proposing – yet – that all Saving Throws get replaced with Reactions. I’m just offering up a new and interesting type of roll INSPIRED by Saving Throws that have an in-built component of choice. It gives the party more control of their defenses when they are on the receiving end of surprises, even if they don’t know what the surprises are. And it gives the party a chance to recover or mitigate failed checks. These will be useful features in rules modules.

Knowledge Checks Are Weirder

So, that’s automatic reactions out of the way. We have a neat rule we can build on. Now, let’s talk about Non-Action Checks. A Non-Action Check is a check that literally involves the character doing NOTHING. And knowledge checks are the perfect example.

Imagine you are at the zoo and you see a giraffe in an enclosure. You don’t see the sign. You just see the creature. Instantly, you recognize the creature. That’s a giraffe! They are from Africa! From the Savannah! And they can’t make noise! Your head is filled with the things you know about the creature. You didn’t have to DO anything. You didn’t have to flex any brain muscles. Your brain’s JOB is to recall information when you need it. It responds to triggers.

Now, yes, sometimes it takes time for your brain to recall things. But making a conscious effort often gets in the way of that process. That’s why you tend to figure out, discover, or remember something you’ve been trying to remember hours later when you have stopped thinking about the problem.

Contrast recognizing a giraffe with solving a math problem. Say, long division. When you are solving a long division problem, you have to work through a series of steps. Actively. Divide this, subtract, carry, divide, subtract, and so on.

D&D does not distinguish between Active Skills and Passive Skills. Or rather, Active USES of a Skill and Passive USES of a Skill. Technically, for example, if someone with a proficiency in Sleight of Hand watches a street magician do a card trick, they should have a chance through simple observation and their experience to recognize how the trick is done. That’s a PASSIVE use of the skill, it’s your senses and your brain just firing away. Doing the card trick is an ACTIVE use of the skill. Likewise, seeing the symbol of a particular god and recognizing it and recalling facts about that god? That’s a PASSIVE use of the skill. But performing a ritual, like a sacrifice on a holiday or funerary rites, that’s an ACTIVE use of the Religion skill.

Why is THAT a problem? Because PASSIVE uses of the skill really CAN’T be described. And the trigger for a die roll should be the player describing an action. That is to say, if we were watching a movie of the game, we should be able to see the character DOING SOMETHING on the screen. And I don’t mean in the sense of banging on his head and saying “think, Pooh Bear, think” or squinting really hard.

What’s really weird is that D&D KNOWS this. It KNEW it even better back in 4E. 4E was very much devoted to “if YOU take the action, YOU make a roll.” That’s why 4E introduced Passive Perception and Passive Insight to represent your physical and social senses being pretty much turned automatically.

In the past, I’ve mentioned that PASSIVE use of skills should be automatic. That the GM shouldn’t make the players play the game of “finding the proper button to activate a skill.” Don’t make players “examine the thing” or “try to remember anything about the thing.” Now, let’s extend that with two extremely useful and powerful rules that are both better than the quick little paragraph about how, sure, you can use skills Passively sometimes if you want to but not really telling you how.

Passive Proficiencies as Knowledge. All Proficiencies (skills, tools, weapons, and armor) are assumed to represent both active uses of those things and relevant background knowledge, lore, information, and awareness. When a player with a Proficiency encounters something in the game, the GM should simply give them any relevant information based on their expertise. The GM is advised to gate information based on skill proficiencies in the flavor text and descriptions of items and monsters. In addition, advanced knowledge may be gated behind specific levels of knowledge. A character’s Passive Skill is equal to 8 + Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus. If the character has Advantage on such skill checks, the Passive Skill gains an additional +5. If the character has Disadvantage, the character suffers an additional -5. Any bonus that can be granted to a skill roll, such as from Bardic Inspiration or from a Cleric’s bless spell may also be applied to Passive Skills.

Under this rule, flavor text information could be gated as follows:

This small, natural grotto is filled covered with strange glowing fungus.
[Nature] The fungus is naturally occurring and harmless.
[Herbalism Kit, Alchemy Tools or Arcana] The fungus is useful for making antivenoms and medicines.

A skeletal creature wrapped in tattered linens with glowing eyes.
[Religion 20] The creature is not a skeleton. It’s a lich. Liches are powerful magic users that have turned themselves into undead creatures. They retain their spellcasting abilities and have other abilities such as…
[Religion] The creature does not appear to be a normal skeleton at all.

This rule allows us to quickly set up flavor text for our adventures and provide GMs with information gated to relevant proficiencies. It removes the need for players asking questions. It also means that we’re now free to make skills useful in more active ways as well. Disarming a magical trap, conducting research, or puzzling out the steps to use an ancient arcane device to recharge a magical item might all be active uses of Arcana, for example. Animal Handling, for another example, can now also serve as an equivalent to Insight when dealing with animals.

Opposed Rolls. When a character attempts an action that puts it in direct opposition with another character’s skills or proficiencies, the DC for the character’s action is 8 + target’s Ability Modifier + target’s Proficiency Bonus for the relevant skill. If the target has Advantage or Disadvantage on the skill, apply +5 or -5 to the DC. Any bonus that can be granted to the target’s skill roll, such as from Bardic Inspiration or from a Cleric’s bless spell may also be applied to the DC. The notation for this is an Ability (Skill) Check vs. Ability (Skill). E.g.: Roll a Dexterity (Stealth) check vs. the scout’s Wisdom (Perception).

Example: Dave is trying to bluff his way past a guard. Dave would roll a Charisma check and add his Proficiency Bonus for his Deception Skill. The DC would be equal to 8 + the guard’s Wisdom modifier + the guard’s Proficiency Bonus for her Insight Skill.

Yeah, I admit this is already basically the way certain things are specifically called out, like Stealth vs. Perception and Deception. But now I’m codifying it as a standard rule. This gives us an easy tool for quickly resolving opposing rolls in various rules modules. Also, the notation is now nice and clear.

However, note that I’m using 8 instead of 10. Why am I using 8 instead of 10? Well, frankly, I think that SHOULD be the standard. It favors action. I’m using the same logic as for Spell Saves. Players use way more skills than have skills used against them. And using 8 instead of 10 favors the person rolling the die. That is, the person who is doing the action should be more likely to succeed.

Does that mean that I think DCs should be dropped? Should AC also be based on 8? The answer is, you could sort of argue that it already is. Armor Class is a Passive Ability, right? Like a Save DC. It has some special rules that allow it to get bonuses for equipment. But what it doesn’t include is a Proficiency Bonus, which runs from +2 to +6 throughout the game. But you could argue equally well that, at low levels, the base AC is 8 + Proficiency Bonus because 8 + 2 is 10. Now, I realize AC doesn’t scale with level, so that logic breaks down at higher levels. BUT, it is also subsumed by armor bonuses from spells, magical items, and actual armor. Likewise, the baseline DC for an Easy check – one that any character in the group should have a good chance of succeeding on with or without training – is 10. At low levels, that’s the equivalent of saying DCs have a base of 8 and the world adds a “Proficiency Bonus” of +2. A Medium DC, one that should be doable for a character with proficiency more than half the time, is the equivalent of the world having 8 + Proficiency Bonus + Advantage. A hard challenge is the equivalent of the world having 8 + Proficiency Bonus + Advantage + 5 Ability Modifier. And since easy, medium, and hard are the baseline difficulties for most of the game, it all works out.

When we’re building rules modules, using 8 instead of 10 as the logical baseline for Passive Abilities gives more characters the opportunity to participate in different modes of play even when they are lacking a specialization. An untrained bluffer can pull the wool over the eyes of a trained but low-level opponent most of the time.

Teamwork and Group Checks

Now here is where I piss some people off with an idea that is OBVIOUSLY TERRIBLE! Blargle-wargle-wargle. But this is where my logic for 8 instead of 10 as the baseline becomes very important. And trust me, this has some unintended side effects.

First, Teamwork. When two characters or more characters work together on the same task. This is already covered in the Aid Another ability. But it creates a bit of a problem. Under the basic rules, the character with the higher modifiers rolls a check with Advantage, right (PHB 175)? Well, there’s a problem with that. It gets in the way of other modifiers. For example, two characters attempting to kick down a door with their bare hands are just as effective as five characters with a battering ram. Because Advantage doesn’t stack. Now, honestly, in the basic game, that isn’t a big deal. But if we’re talking about adding modes of play which will involve an emphasis on teamwork and getting more people involved, we need to allow a bit more granularity. But we don’t want to add too much granularity either.

Working Together. When two or more characters work together to accomplish the same task, the character with the higher modifier leads the effort. The leader makes the appropriate ability check and enjoys a +2 bonus for one or two helpers or a +5 bonus for three or more helpers. Characters can only work together if it is task where such help is feasible and possible. In addition, a character can only help with a task if they would not be incapable of attempting the task on their own (due to a lack of Proficiency for instance).

Notice now that there is now some advantage when larger numbers of characters can combine their efforts and it also leaves room for Advantage and Disadvantage to come from other sources. Neat, right? Okay, now prepare to be pissed off. Because that rule is useful when two characters are working together to accomplish a single, specific task. But now we get to group checks. And the rule in the PHB is garbage.

Group checks occur when everyone in the group are all trying to accomplish something, but not quite as a team. For example, everyone in the group foraging for food, everyone in the group sneaking across a courtyard, everyone in the group searching for a hidden passage, or everyone in the group keeping watch as they move through enemy territory. Those don’t really represent the characters working together on one task. Rather, each character is trying to succeed or fail. But what unifies them is that the party does succeed or fail as a group. That is, if anyone finds the secret passage, everyone wins. If anyone gets spotted moving across the courtyard, everyone loses.

Now, PHB 175 gives a simple rule for those: everyone rolls a check and if there are more successes than failures, the whole group succeeds. What’s wrong with that approach? Well, there’s a few things. First, it’s five die rolls that need to be resolved and then counted. It’s always nice when everyone gets to roll dice, sure, but personally, I’d rather fit MORE actions in an hour of gameplay than more die rolls for the SAME action. Second, it doesn’t model the “all win if one wins” types of contests that make up the bulk of the action. Perception, searching, spotting lies, and all that crap? That s$&% happens a lot more often than the “all fail if one fails.”

Now, here’s the other problem. D&D is a game in which each player is encouraged to specialized and groups are encouraged not to duplicate their skills and abilities. So, in most tasks you generally have more weak links than strong characters. And with each character rolling on their own, “all win if one wins” tasks are hurt by this system. Far better if only the best character rolls one check. Sort of. I know you’re doing the probability math, but hear me out. I have another point.

The problem with group checks like that is that most parties tend to overlook abilities that help in skill checks or take an “every person for themselves” approach. So, any bonuses or clever ideas that can’t be shared among the whole party are either spread out OR ignored as useless because they can’t modify all five rolls.

In “all win if one wins” scenarios, it is better if only the BEST character makes the roll. No threshold must be overcome. The party is throwing their best modifier at the problem. And the party can focus their bonuses on one person.

What about the alternative? “All fail if one fails?” The classic example is, of course, the entire party is in disguise or the entire party is attempting to sneak around. Well, having only the best character make the roll is nonsensical. Now, it’s weighing on the weakest character. And that puts a lot of pressure on the weakest character. Admittedly. That one die roll will determine the outcome. But, the teamwork issue enters because the party can focus their efforts on shoring up the ONE weakest character instead of trying to shore up two or three weaker characters. The focus of the task isn’t “how are we all going to get through this,” but rather “how are we going to get Elaine through this?” And that is a much more manageable problem. Elaine can simply remove and stash her armor, for starters. And she can drink a potion of sneakiness. She can spend her halfling luck if she tanks the roll. Or Frank can give her Inspiration dice.

The point is, the BEST or WORST roll shifts the focus from everyone planning for themselves to everyone working together to focus on one character. It also expedites the resolution. And it adds to the tension.

See, Teamwork and Group Rolls are going to be very important in various modules. And when you combine these rules with the Opposed Skill Check rule that sets 8 as the basis for DCs, it becomes easier to get everyone working together. It makes these problems seem more surmountable and gives groups the option to decide how many resources to expend on a task.


Group Checks. When several PCs are trying to accomplish something as a group, the GM can call for a group check. First, the GM determines whether the group will succeed if any member succeeds (such as with searching) or if the group will fail if any member fails (such as with stealth). In the first scenario, the character with the highest base Ability Check modifier (Proficiency Bonus + Ability Bonus) rolls the check. In the second scenario, the character with the lowest base Ability Check modifier (Proficiency Bonus + Ability Bonus) rolls the check. Bonuses, penalties, Advantage, and Disadvantage are applied normally to the character rolling the check, but these should only be applied after the GM has determined which player has rolled the check.

The End and The Beginning

In the end, nothing I’ve proposed here is super radical. And frankly, none of it really changes the basic game very much at all. But that was the point. I didn’t want to change the Core Rules so much as expand and clarify them a little. What I really wanted to do was just add some variety to the toolbox. The real magic is what we can do with this toolbox. With these simple tools, we now have the power to add more modes of play to the game and to emphasize teamwork and clever thinking. And it’s that last part that is exceptionally important. The minor tweak to opposed DCs slightly favors untrained PCs. The ability to describe approaches that might mix and match different Ability Scores and Proficiencies allows weaker characters to throw their strengths at problems. And the expanded rules for Teamwork and Group Checks give the players more options when approaching situations as a team.

Now we just need to design some structures to take advantage of all this crap.

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92 thoughts on “Tweaking the Core of D&D 5E

  1. Thank goodness SOMEONE is putting up modular options! There have been some interesting things coming out of Unearthed Arcana, but they feel less like modules and more like applications of existing rules. I look forward to more from this category of articles!

    • I wish wizards would start some dialogs with their community around alternate views of the rules. Like @theangrygm said, some slight tweaks to the rules can make much more sense. I think the Unearthed Arcana series is a good start at least. They are starting to make some foundational changes in some of these articles.

      Here’s a complete list of Wizard’s Unearthed Arcana including the new downtime rules:

  2. How do player abilities interact with passive knowledge skills? You listed Bardic Inspiration in your example, do you ask the players if they would like to make use of Bardic Inspiration before telling them if the fungus is poisonous or not? Or do you just assume that Bardic Inspiration is active at all times without making them actually make use of a limited resource? If so, do you just use the average result from BI and and add it to their passive scores? That would make a Bard fantastically useful for the entire group, which might not be a bad thing.

    How about the cantrip Guidance? That really can be used an infinite amount of times, the only cost is in action. It makes sense for a Cleric to pray over the thief before they try to climb a wall or some other active action, but do you add it in as a bonus in passive situations? There is technically nothing in the rules that stops a Cleric from constantly casting Guidance on the Ranger as the group moves through the woods so that the Ranger has a bonus on Perception checks/passive Perception. As a DM I might rule that every time you cast a spell as a divine caster, you are petitioning your deity for help, and casting Guidance over and over constantly will piss God off. Do you just make a judgement call on a case-by-case basis for abilities or do you have a guideline that you use for all abilities?

      • Most of what he’s describing (better than I do usually), is how we handle things in our campaign.

        In general, anything that benefits a skill check, benefits a passive skill check. So guidance and bardic inspiration affect passive checks too. In theory.

        The problem is, those (along with inspiration) affect only one action. Currently they are both written the same basic way – the player decides when to use it.

        In the case of Guidance I think it makes more sense to provide a bonus to passive abilities. The character’s Deity is providing guidance, leading them in the direction that is most beneficial. In that case, when the spell is cast, the player rolls the d4, and the DM applies it to whatever skill is appropriate at the time. It’s also entirely possible that there might not be anything that it really applies to. I like this approach, particularly for a cantrip. In fact, I’m going to update it right now…

        Bardic inspiration is a bit different. It’s more that the character is feeling particularly…inspired, allowing them to accomplish something they might fail. In that case, I think it’s better tied to an active check.

        So I would add Guidance to passive abilities (and probably remove the ability for the player to add it to an active roll.

        I would relegate bardic inspiration to an active roll only.

        I would say regular Inspiration dice are also for active rolls.

        I also use a variation of take 20. In cases where outright failure doesn’t result in a bad thing, then as long as the character is capable of something (20 + proficiency and ability bonuses), then they will eventually succeed. So the difference between the DC and the die roll becomes a measure of time.

    • The two cents from a mediocre GM:

      re Guidance, if the cleric is casting it every round it’s obvious it would be applicable. Otherwise, there’s no reason for that to be applied in this situation. No retroactive casting.

      re limited resource bonuses, my ruling would be that for passive (only), if it’s active it’s automatically applied without loss. In other words, if the bard has for some reason cast bardic inspiration and it’s been less than 10 minutes since it was cast, it applies automatically and without ‘burning’ that resource. No retroactive casting.

      So if the bard heard odd sounds from behind the door and decided to cast inspiration on the cleric, once the door is open and the cleric sees the skeleton he gets the bonus (6 or 3 as your ruling prefers) applied for knowing whether it’s just odd or it’s a lich.

    • I would just not allow them. It’s not, in theory, they couldn’t work.

      It’s that, for any given specific circumstance, there’s no reason you would’ve acted to improve your chances. When you’re st the zoo, looking at animals, you’re just looking. You’re not actively trying to do anything, the thoughts are just coming.

      Once you decide to act, only thenwould it occur to you to try to imprive your chances.

    • You could just use the Reaction Rule here. Take the Lich example from the Passive Skills. If a player is trained in Religion but does not have a Passive Religion 20 or higher, they know it’s not a normal Skeleton but don’t know exactly what it is. In this case, they may suspect there is more to know about this thing, so they may use Bardic Inspiration under the Reaction Rule to try to improve their Passive Religion enough to find out more.

  3. And my musings from the previous article are now moot. The way you handle group checks seems so obvious now I can’t believe I never thought of it before. It totally fixes the biggest issue I’ve always had, which is that the game encourages specialization, but also teamwork, and the two have always seemed to work against one another to me.

  4. For once will you just shut the funk up, Elaine.

    Great article. The grand cleanup operation dnd needs.

  5. Some good thoughts here. Thanks for the article.

    I’m left wondering, though. How do you handle the classic situation of a room which has a hidden button on the underside of the desk?

    Does a DM just sit there like a fatass and wait for somebody to say “I use INVESTIGATION to search the room!”, or else, they don’t and they never had a clue and screw them because they should have used their INVESTIGATION. Or, do they have to specify that they investigate the desk?

    Does a DM say “Because your PP is 12, the desk looks strange…”

    In the former case, it feels too binary. In the latter case, it feels like you’re just handing the players a win, playing the game for them.

    • How about option 3? They find the button if they say they look under the desk… no check required. Even intelligent PCs are not necessarily more inspired searchers than players themselves, no matter what their Investigation proficiency says.

      They might, however, deduce better from the facts they have, a perfect use for Angry’s system of passive use of proficiencies and thresholds in knowledge checks.

      • This is right. There’s no way to “notice” the button Passively just by standing in the doorway. If someone “searches the desk” or “ransacks the desk,” they might notice or they might not. But that’s an active roll. If someone specifically “looks under the desk” or “examines the underside for buttons,” no roll needed. They can’t fail to notice the button if they look right at it.

        I’ll actually be dealing with “Hidden Things” specifically shortly. That’s part of what set all of this off: how do you hide stuff.

        • Thanks Angry.

          I Like the idea that a player is rewarded for actively trying to find stuff in a specific place (like in real life), that feels more “adventurous” to me than the player just being delivered prizes in exchange for his high PP.

          That said, though….what does a high PP do for a player?

          • I’d assume it mainly gives them extra information that the DM has already written into the flavour text, like with the typical uses of passive Arcana, Nature, Religion etc.

          • To me, passive Perception is a bit of a special case. If there’s something like a secret door, then they’ll notice it if the PP is high enough.

            But most of the time I use PP as a lesser type of perception. For example, several goblins have set up an ambush in the woods, you get the sense that something is watching you.

            Or you might be in a castle where you notice that the passages and rooms don’t quite line up, that there’s a space that’s not accounted for. Obviously it’s probably a secret room, but you might not be in the room or passage where the door is located.

            Essentially, I use PP as a tool to stimulate action.

            In terms of the use of skills, players should be telling the DM what their characters are doing. A character can’t make a Perception or Investigation check. A player makes one to see if the character locates anything with the actions they are taking.

            So walking into a room and saying “I make an Investigation check” means nothing. It’s not a thing to the character. A character doesn’t “make an investigation check.” They investigate, the deduce, etc.

            The term passive is a bit of a misnomer, I think. Although I still use it, I view it as a baseline.

            I do use passive Investigation for non-actions, such as (automatically) piecing together several clues.

            But I’m interested to see how Angry handles the hidden stuff.

          • Personally, I handle it with a compromise- PP+”Investigation Level” gets compared to a DC. So if a PP 16 guy walks into the room when a DC 15 button, he gets it for free as if it weren’t hidden. If a PP 12 guy walks into the room, he gets it as soon as he takes an action that’s +3ish, like saying “I search the desk.” If a PP 8 guy walks into the room, he’d need either a very specific action (“I search under the desk for a secret button, because I’ve fought Dr. Underdesk before”) or a very resource-consuming action. (“I ransack the room for an hour, breaking things with my axe if need be.”)

  6. I like these a lot. Group rolls need a better mechanic, they’re kind of punishing the party, I feel, because as you say, most people are not specialized.

  7. I really enjoyed how elegantly you laid out the system here.

    In the section about the Reaction Rule you say “Any spell that can be cast as a Reaction can be used in this instance.” Is there a reason you specifically mention spells and not just normal reaction actions in general? For example, a monk’s feather fall ability should be usable to mitigate pit traps.

    Is there some deeper reasoning behind this wording that I’m missing?

  8. Does your saving throw reaction rule apply to spell saving throws as well (where the spell description specifies the saving throw to be made)?

  9. This looks pretty good. Only in ‘Working Together’, you might want to change ‘the character with the higher modifier leads the effort’ into ‘the character with the higher modifier can normally be assumed to lead the effort, unless circumstances dictate otherwise’

    It’s not very common, but I can imagine a few situations where it might apply. For example, the party is trying to get the king to help them. Alice – not the most social character in the group – is expected to lead the conversation because, I dunno, the party leaned on her noble status to get an audience in the first place. Or whatever. Bob and Carol and Dave might interject, or emphatically confirm Alice’s points when the king turns to ask them a question, or just subtly nudge Alice into the right direction, so they’re definitely assisting her with the check. But Alice is still the leader, since she’s the main one talking to the king.

    So, like I said, not very common but potentially relevant sometimes.

  10. This is good, I agree and I look forward to where it is going. However, with group rolls, I see what you’re trying to do… but:

    Elaine and Tim have the lowest stealth modifiers in the group by far but Elaine is one lower than Tim. She is the lowest and must make the check. So she takes off her armour as you described. One of two things now happen?:

    1) She now has a higher modifier than Tim, but she WAS the lowest so she makes the check and Tim doesn’t have to take off his armour. This is weird.

    2) She now has a higher modifier than Tim, so Tim is now the lowest and he must make the check, so he takes off his armour. Now Elaine has the lowest modifier again, so the cleric casts a spell on her to make it higher. Now Tim is the lowest, so they cast a spell on Tim too. Now Elaine and Tim are both actually higher than Fred. So they cast a spell on Fred. Finally Elaine makes the check afterall.

    I assume you mean for 1) because you kept mentioning only having to pay attention to the one weakest character and 2) can involve buffing the whole party. However you then get odd things like one noisey paladin getting to keep their armour on because the slightly noisier paladin took theirs off. So it seems like the solution is 2). Thoughts?

    • I believe Angry is going with the first option, and abstracting away the “second noisiest character”.

      Basically, it’s like: “if you can manage the noisiest character to pass the stealth check, we can assume that the others pass as well.”

      It’s indeed less simulationist, but it does add more tension, more fun (players can buff Noisy to hell and beyond), and reduces dice rolls and stat management, in a scene that ask for good pacing.

      It’s “less real”, but I like it.

      • I mean I get it… but whether or not both noisey warriors leave their armour behind or just one of them does has real significant consequences.

        • His rule specifically states “lowest ability + proficiency”. Armor only ever gives disadvantage on stealth checks. The bless spell doesn’t increase either of those numbers. It’s a non-issue

          • Good point, but my general point still stands. For example. disadvantage on a roll is quite significant. It’s an odd system if only one of the noisey warriors has to leave their armour behind when infiltrating the castle because only one of them makes the roll if they always stick in a group.

            I’m just wondering if Angry would hand wave this, if he would insist both of them take off their armour despite the rule because logic, or if it’s a potential issue with the rule.

          • It’s not an issue for the sneaking, it’s an issue for *after* the sneaking. If Elaine flubs the stealth check and a fight breaks out, then whether or not Fred is still wearing his heavy armor will matter a lot.

          • This is a perfect example of the difference between Outcome and Consequence and how the Intent leads to the Outcome and the Approach leads to the Consequence. The Intent to remain undetected by removing one’s armor and sneaking around. That will succeed or it will fail. And the dice will determine that. The Consequence of the approach is that the player is not IN their armor. And that is true whether the sneak fails or the sneak succeeds but the party gets jumped by some other encounter before they can put their armor back on. The Consequence also may never matter. The players might not get jumped before the character puts their armor back on. But that’s why the seperation between Intent/Outcome and Approach/Consequences are SO IMPORTANT.

      • Yes. The monsters hear them taking off their armor.

        Really, all of what you’re describing is activity taking place before the check needs to be made. If they have time to take their armor off, or make other preparations, then go ahead and make them all, then determine what the lowest score is. In other words, the group determines what preparations will increase their chances sufficiently enough to make it worthwhile. That 10 minutes of taking off armor, stowing it somewhere, casting spells, etc., is also a period where you’re making noise, and wasting time. Time that might be making things more dangerous, or eliminating your window of opportunity.

        If you’re at a point where you ARE making the stealth check, then it’s too late. You aren’t making preparations at that point, you’re making the check. Nobody’s taking armor off. You either succeed or you don’t.

        So no it’s not weird. It’s just getting hung up on the mechanics of the game, instead focusing on the actions of the characters in the game. I get that’s a problem that a lot of folks fall into, but that’s a different issue. When I look at a scenario like you’re describing, I see people playing a game, rather than characters making decisions. Removing your armor for a 5% increase in your chance of being stealthy, meaning you’ll be unarmored if you’re caught? Probably not a good tradeoff. Instead, if your group stealth ability is so poor that you’re trying to scrape up another 5%, I’d look for a different solution than the group trying to be stealthy together.

        I also don’t think it’s less real. The point is that of the group as a whole, Elaine’s lowest score is representing the collective likelihood that they will be noticed, as a group. If it fails, it doesn’t even necessarily mean that Elaine is the one that was noticed.

        I have considered taking it a step farther. If the circumstance is one where if one fails, then they all fail, then they have disadvantage on the check as well (or the numeric modifiers if using Angry’s variation). On the one hand you could say that the act of the rest of the team helping would at least negate disadvantage, if not give them a bonus. But many things, like trying to be stealthy, get worse as a group – even if everybody is very good at being stealthy.

        For example, if you have a group where everybody has the same chance of being stealthy, it’s still easier to be stealthy alone than with a group.

        Having said that, an active group stealth check is extremely rare in my campaign. Can’t think of when it’s happened. Because if it fails, it’s usually important to know who failed.

        Group stealth checks in my campaign are almost always passive. It’s the base level of noise. So the lowest character in the group -5 = the base stealth of them trying to be quiet when exploring a passage.

        • I probably went a bit over the top. I’m not caught up on anything, I know how I would handle that situation, the problem is it’s up for interpretation and Angry has made it clear over and over again that he prefers his rules to be crisp clear and generally intuitive.

          I’ll reiterate. For example, disadvantage on a roll is quite significant. It’s an odd system if only one of the noisey warriors has to leave their armour behind when preparing to infiltrate the castle because only one of them makes the roll if they always stick in a group.

          I’m just wondering if Angry would hand wave this, if he would insist both of them take off their armour despite the rule because logic, if it’s a potential issue with the rule, or if he’s fine letting people who read the rule figure it out for themselves.

          • I think Angry is assuming that if one person removes clunky armor everyone else wearing clunky armor would be smart enough to follow suit, what with people knowing that sneaking in armor is a terrible idea

        • I was going to ask the same question as above, but this really clarifies and answers it. You only decide who the least skilled person is WHEN YOU ROLL, and that resolves all the issues.

  11. This is exactly how I was running 5e already (from my own understanding of the rules + your illustrious blog) and the saving throw thing was something I independently came up with as well. It is really a lot of fun.

    One thing I will say about saving throws – one argument for them is that in the case of something like the party getting fire-balled, everyone rolling themselves makes a lot more sense than the DM rolling 5 attacks at once and having to cross-reference 5 different target numbers. Another is that saving throws usually include binary results and so it feels better to roll against mind control yourself instead of the DM declaring you mind controlled after he rolls. However things like acid-splash or sacred flame are ridiculous and really should be attack rolls.

    • You’d probably just roll once, and compare the result to the characters’ Dexterity Class. Beat their number, apply full damage. Fall short, they take half.

      You know what else has a binary result? An orc swinging a greataxe. Would you prefer to give the orc a “Greataxe DC” and have the players roll their “Armor Save” against that?

      • That’s actually exactly how my group plays it, albeit in a DnD 5e Star Wars conversion. All NPCs have a static attack rating. When attacked, a player rolls a defence roll (1d20 + defence modifier) and compares the roll to the attack rating.

        “The three trandoshan mercenaries are up. The largest springs upon Elaine, striking at her with his claws. The two smaller ones take cover behind a crate and fire at Frank with their blaster rifles. Frank and Elaine, roll defence. They all have an attack rating of 17.”

        The players roll defence and can then describe how the attacks affect them in a way fitting to how they envision their character. Frank the Jedi describes himself deflecting the first blaster bolt with his lightsaber, but he is hit by the second. He maintains his composure despite the searing pain. As Elaine stashed her armor earlier in order to sneak into the hideout, she describes herself dodging the large Trandoshan’s claws.

        I find this both speeds up play, engages the player more as an active participant, and builds up the illusion of simultaneity.

  12. Amazing article! The only thing I don’t like are the Teamwork +2 and +5 bonuses, because they tend to break bounded accuracy even more. Maybe I’d prefer to keep the Advantage when someone helps you… and add modifiers for extra resources like the battering ram.

    That’s only my own feeling though.

    Yet, I’d like to make a very small suggestion to your method, to increase teamplay even more: instead of +2 for 1-2 helpers and +5 for 3-4 helpers… just give +2 when you have a helper, and +1 for each extra helper beyond the first (up to +5).

    I tend to play a lot with three players, and the third player would be left out if his extra help didn’t add anything to the roll.

  13. I was going over this to summarize it more succinctly for actual use and felt that the way you defined an action should be rephrased just eliminate any chance of bickering from rule-lawyers.

    In my summary, I defined an action as the player’s intent and the character’s approach to fulfill that intent. Then I defined intent as will for a specific outcome. This divorces the result of the action resolution from the intended player outcome.

    While this is essentially just a small abstraction, it reinforces that a successful round of action resolution only progresses the intent and not the actual desired outcome. So regardless of how well someone rolls other consequences can and will happen.

    This allows GMs to do “You succeed, but…” with RAW with no chance for arguments as the player’s intent was accomplished even if the outcome isn’t exactly as desired.

    A pedantic fix for combating rules-lawyers.

  14. Hmm.. as a thought experiment; granted there is no risk or time contraints to speak of, a GM would surely not let a nincompoop forge a master sword, or let an 100-year old cripple knock down a heavy wooden door, right? It just wouldn’t happen, and the GM would surely rule it impossible and call automatic failure. Fair enough. But if the sword to be forged was a bit more simple one or the door was increasingly weaker, there would be a point where the GM would instead rule automatic success. So this no-risk scenario turns into a binary system where the GM just has to decide automatic success or automatic failure. … but to be honest, as a GM, I enjoy when die-rolls drives the story forward. And for a long time I’ve had this understanding of die-rolls as not necessarily how good that specific attempt was, but rather of “this is a wall I’d be able to climb”, or a “is this a lock I know how to pick”. In a way, to let the die-rolls meta-physically impact the world around them, or at least decide whether the character has the right specific training to perform that particular action.
    This guy explains it a bit better, but I think it’s a worthy way of interpreting die rolls. At least if you want to avoid binary situations where GM have to just decide success or failure.

    As a GM I would totally always try to create risks and time contraints, but I also find value in this interpretation, where a failed die-roll leads to something like “no, you have never seen such a lock before and have no idea what to do”.

    • Okay, but why should a random lock be one they’ve never seen before just because of a failed roll? If they haven’t seen it before and don’t have the skill to adapt then it’s impossible.

    • Even in a perfectly risk-free situation. you’re still spending time in your attempts at the task. The task’s difficulty and your bonus then factor into how much time you actually spend. (This is what the take 10 and take 20 rules in 3.5/Pathfinder are there for). Anyhow, it’s not as trivial as a binary automatic success/automatic failure system.

    • The DC is the measure of “a wall I’d be able to climb” or “a lock I know how to pick”. I’m reasonably certain I know how to pick most locks, and I’m just as reasonably certain that most times I’d fail to do so because I’m not terribly experienced with doing so. If it’s something within your ability, you’ll be capable of hitting the DC. “I’ve missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Missing those shots didn’t mean Michael Jordan couldn’t make them, only that he didn’t. I will concede that there may be systems out there that treat the random determination the way Lindybeige interprets it, but D&D 5e is not such a system. From the 5e SRD-OGL p77: “For every ability check, the GM decides which of the six abilities is relevant to the task at hand and the difficulty of the task, represented by a Difficulty Class. The more difficult a task, the higher its DC. … If the total equals or exceeds the DC, the ability check is a success – the creature overcomes the challenge at hand.” That explicitly contradicts his statement in that video.

      How do you let a die roll drive the story if you alter the story to explain away the result of the roll? “That was totally a lock you could have picked a minute ago, but now it’s one you’ve never seen the like of and cannot imagine how it might work.” You’re actually just shifting the binary from “It succeeds or fails” to “It can or cannot have succeeded” based on the random number generator. Really, that initial one’s a false binary anyway, since there are more options: “It doesn’t matter and can succeed, it doesn’t matter and can’t succeed, it matters once and can succeed or fail, it matters and can succeed or fail, it matters and can’t succeed, or it matters and it can’t fail.” You’re only dealing with those first two with the thought experiment, and they don’t really matter to the story. If it mattered, the result wouldn’t be yes/no, it would be “You pop the lock and burst in the room just as the cultists are tying the dragon to the sacrificial altar/You can’t manage to open the unfamiliar mechanism, and realize that you have to find another way into the ritual chamber.” For reference.

    • It should not be binary. There is a point where it is flat-out impossible, a point where it is an automatic success, but still also a point where it is near-impossible and the time starts mattering. A human might not ever be able to forge a master-sword, but a slightly easier sword might be feasible, except it would take decades. Then the question becomes “Can I finish this sword before I die of old age?” and most players probably wouldn’t risk the roll since failure means dying of old age. Or you could ask “Can I finish this sword in 2 years?” and if you fail the roll, it’s 2 years later and the answer is no.

      There’s plenty of room between the “impossible” and “automatic success”, because the edges of “impossible” comes with its own, weird costs.

      Likewise with the door; some doors can’t be broken, and some are easy, but there’s a set of doors in between those where the question is “Can I open this door before I dislocate my shoulder?” and failing the roll means you dislocate your shoulder.

  15. Does the roller in the group check get the teamwork modifier? When the rogue sticks with the pally to make sure he is walking in the right places, not bumping the walls etc. …+2.

  16. This article and your others on rules modifications/clarifications make me want to run 5e again. These are exactly the questions I’ve been struggling with lately.

  17. A bit puzzled about your description of passive skill checks. My understanding is that these are for repetitive actions over a period of time. For example, keeping a lookout for traps while exploring a dungeon. Watching a cardsharp perform a trick seems like an active skill as your attention is absorbed in following the particular trick?

  18. The only point that leaves me a bit uncertain is the Knowledge part. With this system of passive skills, this means that if 2 people have the same bonus, they will always know EXACTLY THE SAME things regarding that topic.

    if a weird symbol requires a Knowledge Arcana 20, for instance: you may say that’s the case because it’s very rare to find it, it’s generally unknown, and very few people happen to know what that is; but with this system you can’t really do that.

    Every single person in the world who reaches Knowledge 20 recognizes it; everyone else does not (unless one particular character has a story-related reason, but that’s not the point we’re discussing now).

    In D&D worlds I find it quite hard to believe that 2 people studying “magic” or “religion” in completely different societies and regions will have 100% identical knowledge of a topic, especially when every “topic” is so incredibly vast and vague: if you take two people who studied in any “religious” field for the same amount of time and have the same intelligence, they would have about the same level of Knowledge, but they would certainly NOT know exactly the same things.

    Rolling for knowledge is better when there’s the possibility that someone -may or may not- know about the things they are looking at. It’s not perfect, but it’s better that giving everyone exact perfect knowledge up to a certain point and absolutely nothing above that.

      • That’s not a good justification, though. “The GM chan change these mechanics to make them reasonable” doesn’t mean that those were good to begin with.

        My point was, unless you add a random element, two characters with the same score know the same things despite learning in different places, with access to different information: the GM can, of course, make the descriptions different for each character, but this doesn’t change the fact that with this rule you will need to go out of your way every time this happens to make it work.

    • You’re right, but I think it’s easily remedied by adding an element of chance, or by tweaking the presentation. For examples of the former, check out this Stack Exchange question

      Ahd here’s an example of tweaking the presentation of knowledge: ‘Fiona and Greg, you recognise the great winged lizard as a kind of dragon – a wyvern. Greg, you know they are both stupid and gluttonous; Fiona recalls something about a sting in the tail’. In fact the knowledge check indicated that both PCs knew all these facts, but the presentation made each of them feel unique. An alternative is to randomly decide what a PC recalls about a creature: for each point by which they beat the DC, give them one more piece of information. Beating the knowledge DC for a wyvern by 3 might yield this information for one character:
      * The creature is a wyvern, a kind of dragon
      * It has a sting in its tail
      * It won’t fight on the ground if it can help it.

      and this information for another:
      * The creature is a wyvern, a kind of dragon
      * It attacks with its claws
      * It can fly faster than an eagle

    • Who cares? I mean really, why is that even an issue. As has been discussed in previous comments, most players purposely avoid overlapping skills. And under this system, the players should KNOW there is no benefit to overlapping knowledge skills. So, who the hell actually cares that two people with the same modifier know exactly the same things? Why would that even come up? And even if it did, would the players actually be upset about this?

      And “realism” is not a good argument.

      Here’s the real question: is it FUN to roll to see what your character knows? Is it somehow more rewarding to interrupt flavor text with a die roll and give the players a chance to fail? Or is it more fun, in passive cases, to say “because you’ve studied, you know this creature shoots poison out of its anal glands and is vulnerable to lightning?”

      Here’s the thing. HERE IS THE F$&%ING THING! A die roll is fun because it pays off a choice IN THE GAME. The player CHOOSES an action, the DICE determine the outcome. That’s cool.

      But there is no choice with a knowledge check. All you’re doing is halting the game to randomly determine what the players know and don’t know, then resolving it, then feeding them exposition. The player didn’t make a choice in the scene. They didn’t choose one tactic over another. They didn’t come up with a clever, cunning plan. They just get told to roll a die.

      Passive knowledge checks are BORING die rolls. They are boring because there’s nothing the characters can do to affect the outcome other than having or not having the skill to begin with. They are BAD randomness. No one likes randomness they don’t have a sense of control over.

      That said, you want to pay off the knowledge skill choice itself. That’s fine. The player did choose that skill. At character generation. Over other skills. The reward is extra knowledge. But the die roll doesn’t make that any more rewarding. It often makes it less rewarding. And it interrupts the flow of narration to do it. It’s a die roll for the sake of the die roll.


  19. Yet another great article, Angry! But all your main articles in March have been definitions. They’re good definitions, and I can see how they’re setting up some great game improvements in the future. But it’s been a long time since you did a serious, in-depth analysis of an actual part of GMing. The Ask Angry about Speed and CRs was nice, but my favourite articles are the ones about how to make decisions and run or design games. I hope you’ll be able to find room in your schedule for a little bit of that in the next few months.

  20. Hello, Angry.

    There seems to be one inconsistency. When using DCs with base 8 + bonus + proficiency you do this to “favor action” – in other words, the one who rolls has the advantage and you justify this by the fact that players roll more often than being rolled against.

    Which is just peachy.

    But you also use DC 8 for passive knowledge checks where there’s never anyone rolling. Your example is using DC 20 – which with your system is almost impossible to reach using standard scores. DC 8 + 5 (max regular attribute) + 6 (max proficiency) = DC 19. In other words, a character can not reach this DC without advantage (like owns a book on the topic), some sort of magic or magical item bonus (including the reading of manuals). So, this is a very hard gate.

    Now, DC base 8 or DC base 10 does not matter if you just did this for consistency. But then the DC gates need to be lower. And since no one ever rolls, they surely can’t be the same DC values used for checks (DC 5, 10, …, 25, 30) because these account for the possibility of rolling a 20 whereas here you only account for rolling average, and with DC 8 as base I would feel the gate thresholds would even need to be lower than they would be for DC 10 as base.

    What do you think?

    • I think you misunderstood what Angry is saying. I don’t see anything saying that people are never rolling for knowledge checks.

      What he says is that passive use of knowledge and other skills is automatic. That is, it’s always on. You can still roll to see if you can do better, but if it’s something that falls within the passive score, you just give them the information. If it’s not, then they can still roll for a knowledge check – which is when you’re actively using your brain, like long division.

      • I’m not sure I understand the comment system here, I was trying to reply to another post of yours but there was no “reply” button.

        Anyway I just wanted to say I really like how you use Passive Perception as a “tool to stimulate action” ! Maybe it’s a sort of sense that the DM can use to inspire or hint, such as “Thinking about it, you realize it’s more than likely there is something hidden in this room!” Or perhaps it lets them notice part of a mechanism that’s not the button/switch/level, but that indicates they need to search and find it. That way, work is still done, and the player and DM both feel that player adequately discovered/accomplished something , yet with the advantage of the high pp.

        • Yeah, it looks like there’s a limit to the number of sub-comments….

          I love passive skills.

          In fact, I’ve planned a new tracking sheet for my upcoming campaign so I have the passive and maximum skill checks for each PC, at least for things like Perception and Stealth. Of course, this assumes they are using the primary ability that is tied to that skill. I’ve been going back and forth about totally separating skills from abilities like Angry has suggested.

          The other factor I have generally settled on, is that something that has a DC of 21 or higher (sometimes I’ve considered 20) requires the character to be proficient. In other words, if something is hard to do, you must be trained.

          I’m really looking forward to this series of posts, although I’m also pretty close to finishing my home-brew PHB so I’m not sure how much more tweaking I’ll want to do.

          Oh, who am I kidding? I’m always looking for ways to simplify and improve the rules. He should have big flashing warnings that once you start tweaking, you can’t stop.

        • Ok. But in your post you also note some active uses for knowledge skills. In other words, there are times when people will roll for active knowledge checks. That’s where the confusion lies.

          Otherwise your math does get wonky. If the DC of something is a constant – that is “hard” is always a DC of 20, and knowledge checks are always passive, then you’ve reduced their best possible score by half (or more), since they can’t get higher than a 10 (or an 8 in your proposal).

          In which case DerKastellan is correct. For everything else, a DC 20 is hard, but for a knowledge check a DC 20 is impossible without some other assistance, probably magical.

          To me, the passive knowledge check makes perfect sense as the baseline. The things you can easily recall. To remember more than that, you might consult your journals, or if you’re a wizard at home, your library. Otherwise you might just take some time to try to dig it out of your memory.

          You could require the use of some resource (like a library) to make an active knowledge check. In general, I use a modified take-20 approach, where failing the check indicates that it will take more time to complete. The roll determines how much time – the more you fail by, the longer it takes. In any event, this would require more action than “just thinking about it” but also means that somebody who has invested in knowledge skills can benefit more when utilizing resources like a library. The only real catch is that the library has to contain something relevant to the information they are searching for.

          If you want to eliminate active knowledge checks altogether, then you could just apply the take-20 approach to all knowledge checks, probably with the caveat that it takes longer to remember the higher DC information.

          I don’t have a problem with being able to make an active check if you’d like. The take-20 approach would probably be my second choice. I would prefer to grant advantage (to passive or active checks) when you have access to a resource like a library, rather than require it.

          • There is no such thing as an “active knowledge” check. Rolling to know or recall something is inherently passive. It is something your brain does automatically. Or, more to the point, it is something the GM ASKS YOU TO DO when there is information the GM could give your character based on specialized knowledge or training. These should not involve die rolls.

            You can also use a Knowledge skill as the basis for an action. In such a case, the character is actively doing something in the game world that would be aided by their specialized knowledge. Conducting a religious or magical ritual, for example, or hunting for a rare flower, or doing research in a magical library, or having a debate with another wizard and trying to impress them. In those cases, the player has chosen a specific action to take in the world because they are seeking a particular outcome. That is when you roll dice.

    • I was under the impression that the base 10 was used for passive checks because it was the average (10.5 actaully, but close enough) of a d20 roll and for something that happens continuously or repeatedly then your rolls would average to a 10.5.

      That being said, there is no reason you can’t just change the rule to a base 8. I like it as it improves the chances my monsters can sneak up on the party as well.

      The thresholds might need to be lower, but it depends on how hard you want it to be to obtain the information. Perhaps the point is that they’d need something special, like a spell or advantage, to have any hope. Also, it is possible to have a +17 bonus, so the check is still normally obtainable. Rogues and bards get expertise, which doubles their proficiency modifier for chosen skills (2*6+5=17). This means they could make up a DC 25 passive knowledge check, which is very reasonable with the standard DCs, as they are clearly an expert at that point.

  21. Wonderful. I was sort of doing this, but here it is better systematized.

    I’m mostly wandering on this but… shouldn’t we make a character sheet with “passive skills” just besides the modifier, as well as passive saving throws for the DM’s “secret” effects -like catching gonorrhea from an inn’s barmaid, or drinking tainted water-, unknown by the characters? I say this only to improve the interface of passive skills.

    I am also trying to modify the character sheets to have the Exhaustion effects on the front page, so the players don’t forget about it and increase tension.

    Aside from this, I as a rule of thumb don’t allow rerolls unless something changes. The skill check sums the best efforts combined if there is enough time to do it. If they fail, the overall sum of attempts has failed (not a single check): the check is simply beyond the ability of the character. If something changes (like a bless spell, a change of approach, or using new tools), the character can attempt again. If not, they simply can’t. Of course, something that only time prevents to do is successful eventually. I would instead make them roll a dice for the amount of time wasted on this (in case of time being relevant), like looking for timber for a camp. I asume that wasting 6 hours looking for it (very bad luck) would exhaust the characters and add the expenditure of a resource.

    Sorry for the crappy English. I’m not a native speaker

  22. “Need to get Elaine to stealth”

    Gonna drop a story here from this saturday. Our DM had a cool.fog of war mechanic going on and we wanted a map of the region. The mapmaker was charging an outrageous amount, so we decided to sneak into his shop that night and copy the maps, but leave the original copies. Our mage is a cartographer but clumsy. We had a potion of invisivility, but we were still concerned about noise. We had him.cast levitate and the rogue just guided him around by gently pushing him. In the mean time my bard distracted the watch patrol.

    Great article angry.

  23. I hereby dub this edition: Five Point Angry.

    Great article, as always. Sheds some interesting light on things that I have been doing by the rules, but wrong nevertheless. *sigh*

  24. Somebody else may have already mentioned this (a quick Ctrl+F didn’t find any, but…) and even if they didn’t it’s not a big deal, but just as a point of order, the examples given that mention Bless are technically incorrect. The spell actually only gives bonuses to attack rolls and saving throws, not to ability checks. In “Passive Proficiencies as Knowledge” and “Opposed Rolls” you mention Bless as something which can affect those ability checks. A better example might be the Guidance cantrip (PHB 248).

    I doubt anyone misunderstood because of the simple error, but since you intend these rules to be convenient for reference I thought you’d appreciate the comment.

    Other than that, great stuff! A better-codified version of what I’ve been thinking I might do myself. Haven’t put it into play because I feel like I shouldn’t mess with rules too much mid-campaign, but I may well use it next time around.

  25. Glad to see that the two types of group checks were covered. I feel like so many RPG rules miss the concept that there are two types of group tasks.

    The section on passive knowledge seemed like it had some problems though. As I understand it, there’s no roll at all, so knowledge is either an always yes or always no proposition. The problem is that by taking away the roll, any knowledge skill overlap becomes useless. It also heavily discourages anyone without a very high intelligence bonus from taking a knowledge skill, because their passive will be garbage anyway and they can’t even hope for a high roll.

    • I’d say that the teamwork rule applies for overlapping knowledge skills, so the overlap gives a bonus to the most knowledgeable character, and this bonus may unlock some new intel, passively or actively.

      • I would NOT do this. Teamwork is specifically for when two characters are actively assisting each other in some way. Being near someone who is thinking about the same thing you are does NOT do this. And it’s really unnecessary.

        • I’ll disagree with this, teams of experts exist so that they help each others, someone may think of something which reminds that other one of something else et eventually they find some higher insight about stuff than they would on their own.
          The unnecessary part is also discutable, maybe for some RP reasons both characters get to feel the need for the same knowledge skill and this makes it feel like it’s not totally wasted on either of them, it’s not like a +2 to passive knowledge skill checks is going to break your game (as you said it’s immatérial) so you might as well give the option…
          Finally it happens that teams split up or characters die and when that happens, that overlapping knowledge is gone and some knowledge does leave the group in the way of a +2 bonus that’s not here anymore.

          • Look, yes, in real life, teams of experts do get together in meetings and in laboratories and talk through trying to solve complex problems and help each other with whiteboards and s$&%. And in universities. None of that has any actual thing to do with “adventurer sees blob monster and tries to remember what the blob monster is in the microseconds before combat starts.” And when the team of PCs does retire to a library to do research or solve a complex magical problem, that’s NOT a passive knowledge roll. That’s an active task. And teamwork DOES help.

            There is no role-playing involved in a die roll that is automatic or one that occurs entirely within a character’s head. No decision is involved. Again, for an active task like research or labwork, yes, that IS active. But passive die rolls are a waste of time because they SHOULD require NO player input and if they DO require player INPUT, you’re forcing the players to treat their skills like buttons they have to press. And that also isn’t role-playing. That’s not how human brains work.

            The logic of “well, it won’t break your brain so you might as well give the option” is wrong here. It is BAD for the game to spend time rolling dice on non-actions and non-decisions. You’re dragging out the parts of your game that are NOT interactive. You’re making EXPOSITION last longer by gating it behind die rolls.

            And yes, sometimes – in edge cases – it is useful for player-characters to overlap their knowledge skills. And, you know what? They have that option. They CAN overlap their skills. But the number of times when it IS actually useful is pretty small. And frankly, that’s better anyway. Because most players like to distinguish themselves by having different skillsets. Basically, players tend to take two approaches to skills. Either they don’t give a f$&% what anyone else is doing, they just pick the skills that suit their character. In that case, any overlap is a pure accident. Or, alternatively, players actually discuss what skills they are taking and purposely AVOID overlapping. And if you give the players the chance to discuss their characters before they make them, you’ll notice players tend to work VERY HARD to avoid overlapping in all areas. Not just skills, but also classes, backgrounds, and even combat styles. Players like to claim wheelhouses and the game works best when they do.

            But, look, if you still don’t agree, remember, you don’t need my permission to run your game any wrong way you want.

            But this thread is talked out. Please let it drop.

    • Yes. PASSIVE knowledge is a yes or no proposition. To you, as the GM. But to the player, every time you say to the player “and because of your knowledge of the natural world, you recognize the thing as a jackalope and here’s some stuff you know,” they are rewarded for taking the skill. You have to look at this from the perspective of players playing the game. Not as the omniscient GM.

      And yes, knowledge overlap is useless. There is very little value in bringing along two experts in the same field. Which is fine because most players prefer not to overlap skills like those. And it frees the players to double up on the skills everyone can benefit from doubling up on. Once you have one Religion guy, you don’t need another.

      And if you set the Passive thresholds properly, the fact that the Passive Skill can’t roll high is immaterial.

  26. Personally, I prefer Passive scores to be 10+ instead of 8+

    Easier to calculate. 🙂

    Not sure if that’s a good enough reason, but it’s worth pointing out that a simple calculation greatly increases the speed of play when you suddenly need to work out an obscure passive score because nobody ever expected your players to need a goddamn Passive Intimidation! (Yes, this happened to me just the other day)

    My point is that, unless you add a full 2D Array of passive scores by Ability vs Proficiency to the character sheet (now that you’ve explicitly decoupled the two), you WILL need to work out passive scores on the fly.
    And that is to be encouraged, as it allows for a lot more interesting passive scores than just Perception.
    But it would sure be a lot easier if you only have to add 10 to the equivalent Active check modifier.

    For this reason I had already considered increasing Save DCs to be 10+, and to be honest I still think that’s a good idea.
    Plus, it’s really lame when you spend a resource on something like a spell, and it just fails because they passed their save.

  27. Since I can’t comment inline to Angry’s post that “there is no such thing as an active knowledge check…”

    I can be onboard with what you’re describing. Fair enough. But then we’re back to the math issue that DerKastallan pointed out.

    If a knowledge check is always passive, then you can only score an 8+ or 10+, never a 20+ like the skills that allow a passive and an active check.

    So does that mean that you can never know something hard (DC 20), or harder?

    Or can you “take 20” on a passive check?

    • When you set your knowledge DCs to see if people KNOW stuff, set them based on the fact that no one will ever ROLL. Easy, medium, and hard are DCs for tasks that players will ROLL against. If you know the players will always be using the skill passively for certain tasks, set your DCs accordingly.

      • Gotcha. Although I think that the general design assumes that a hard task is always the same DC for the same level of difficulty.

        You gave examples of active knowledge checks:

        “Disarming a magical trap, conducting research, or puzzling out the steps to use an ancient arcane device to recharge a magical item might all be active uses of Arcana, for example,” and, “Contrast recognizing a giraffe with solving a math problem. Say, long division. When you are solving a long division problem, you have to work through a series of steps. Actively. Divide this, subtract, carry, divide, subtract, and so on.”

        Which means the DM has to figure out ahead of time whether it’s a passive only knowledge check or a potential passive or active check. What if they decide it’s a passive only check, and the players come up with an active approach that the DM didn’t consider? Does the DC change to the active scale at that point? Perhaps they just figure it out?

        I like where you’re going with the concept, but I’d like to maintain the same DCs across the board for simplicity and consistency. I think the second one is a good example. Even if you’re doing long division in your head, you are still performing an action, even if nobody else can see it. In addition to the effort that is involved, there is also an element of time. Passive knowledge things are instantaneous and automatic. Active knowledge things require focus and/or concentration, and take time.

        In fact, that adds a lot of clarity for me. Passive use of skills don’t require an action. But an active use of a skill (knowledge or otherwise) requires the use of an Action. That is, when in the midst of a combat, you can choose to attack somebody, or solve a long division problem (work out a puzzle, disarming a magical trap, etc.), but not both.

        Which actually solves the DC problem too. Hard questions, that is difficult uses of a knowledge ability, requires an active check. Passive checks for most people are only easy things. If you happen to be a very intelligent person, or highly educated, than some things that others find more difficult (such as medium difficulty), may be easy for you. As reflected in the higher passive knowledge score.

        So if there’s a problem at hand, and you think there’s more than what just comes to mind, you can use an Action (spend time to focus, concentrate, write out the equation, thumb through your journal, even debate with a colleague (which might provide an option for the Help action, if both are using their action to work the problem instead of something else). Using an action, expending that energy and time, is an active check.

        • You could also just subtract ten from the active checks (or add ten to the passive ones). That math is pretty quick and should automatically adjust them to the appropriate levels.

  28. It suddenly occurs to me that the wording of the Reaction Rule applies perfectly to Opportunity Attacks!

    “A GM can use the Reaction Rule whenever a character has a moment to respond to something unexpected. The GM describes what the character is aware of. The player then describes their reaction.”

    So, as the enemy runs away, you notice an opening where their defence falters.
    You then use the Reaction Rule to make an Attack Roll against them just as they leave your reach.

    It fits so well, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was intentional on your part, Angry.

    In fact, I’ve always felt uncomfortable about opportunity attacks, and never really sure what to think of them.
    But this actually works so perfectly, I think you may have inadvertently made me like opportunity attacks. 🙂

  29. I can appreciate the nods to 4E in this article. That is still the system that I run, so seeing things like this that take something that had a decent system in 4E grown to fit into 5e is awesome. And it makes it pretty easy for me to “retrofit” it back to 4E.

    • I never played 4e, but I keep discovering how well-made it was in spite of everything I heard about it at the time.
      I kinda feel like I missed out.

      I might suggest trying it out when we start planning our next campaign.

      • Look, 4E has a lot of really neat parts. But, as much as I applaud the parts of 4E – and the amazing courage that the game designers showed AND HAVE SINCE FORGOTTEN – they just didn’t gel together into a good whole for me. Give it try, sure. But I don’t want to give the impression that 4E was the greatest thing ever. I stopped playing it long before 5E came out.

        • Fair enough.

          I mainly want to scavenge it for ideas to improve my 5e games, to be honest.

          Unfortunately I don’t have the experience to know which ideas are worth stealing.

          • I ran 4th ed until the 5e beta started. I doctored it a little to bring in more mind’s-eye combat than pure battle-mat for some of my games, but there are definitely things that I loved about 4e and some that I didn’t.

            My favorite is 5e, but I try to take things that weren’t absorbed from other editions that I liked and incorporate them some when I run games.

  30. This is an incredibly useful article. It summarizes some of the things you’ve been writing about for a while on this blog and provides succinct ways of applying the rule modifications you’ve come to. I’ve been puzzling over some of these same things (especially passive knowledge skills and using skills outside of the ability score they’re supposedly tied to) so this article is very welcome.

    Looking forward to more!

  31. You might want to include a rule for “working against groups”, similar to the “working together” rule. Unless what you wrote above already covers that in which case these are some wasted words.

    Say a PC wants to show off a magic trick to a group of people. That PC would make a check contested by the viewers’ passive Perception or something. The passive perception would be calculated with the viewer with the best natural ability to percieve something, possibly adding advantage if they’re actively trying to figure out how you’re doing the trick, or if you’re using real magic, or whatever, and then add a bonus for however many people there are currently watching (+2 to +5). That way, you’d have a way to calculate the DC for trying to affect a group of people, meaning you don’t have to roll for every single person watching, do some weird fiat ruling or anything else.

    Hopefully, my memory serves correctly and you didn’t write this in the article. It’s pretty basic, so not like somebody can’t figure it out themself, but might be nice to have in there.

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