DnD 5e Skills

The skills related to each ability score are shown in the following list. (No skills are related to Constitution.)

Strength
Athletics

Dexterity
Acrobatics
Sleight of Hand
Stealth

Intelligence
Arcana
History
Investigation
Nature
Religion

Wisdom
Animal Handling
Insight
Medicine
Perception
Survival

Charisma
Deception
Intimidation
Performance
Persuasion

Sometimes, the DM might ask for an ability check using a specific skill — for example, “Make a Wisdom (Perception) check.” At other times, a player might ask the DM if proficiency in a particular skill applies to a check. In either case, proficiency in a skill means an individual can add his or her proficiency bonus to ability checks that involve that skill. Without proficiency in the skill, the individual makes a normal ability check.

Player’s Handbook, pg 174

DnD Skills

Skills are a massive part of the Dungeons and Dragons experience. From persuading someone to give up information to sneaking by a group of guards, you’re guaranteed to make several skill checks during any adventuring day.

How Are Skills Used in DnD 5e?

Skills are used whenever a DM feels that a specific skill applies to an ability check, rather than the general ability modifier. A player can also ask a DM if their proficiency with a skill applies to a check they’re asked to make.

Each skill applies to a number of different circumstances. Here’s how each skill is used in DnD 5e:

Strength

  1. Athletics

    • Escaping/avoiding being Grappled

    • Grappling a creature

    • Swimming, jumping, climbing, etc.

    • Maneuvering over hazardous terrain

    • Playing sports

    • Catching a falling object

    • Holding onto narrow handholds in difficult conditions

    • Holding on against resistance

    • Stopping a heavy object’s momentum

  2. Dexterity

  3. Acrobatics

    • Escaping/avoiding being Grappled

    • Squeezing through tight spaces

    • Staying on your feet or landing on your feet

    • Performing acrobatic tricks and stunts

    • Balancing

  4. Sleight of Hand

    • Stealing something in plain sight

    • Concealing an object

    • Planting an object

    • Magic tricks

    • Juggling, catching, tossing

  5. Stealth

    • Hiding

    • Sneaking by creatures without being noticed

    • Slipping away without being noticed

    • Following someone without attracting notice

  6. Intelligence

  7. Arcana

    • Knowledge of lore and magic

    • Recalling facts about other planes of existence and those that live there

    • Identifying symbols and magic artifacts

    • Magical creature lore

    • Detecting and disabling magical traps

    • Identifying spells that are cast (XGtE 85)

  8. Investigation

    • Finding a hidden object, doorway, etc.

    • Investigating crime scenes

    • Researching

    • Identifying weaknesses (in a person, structure, etc.)

    • Seeing through illusions

    • Confirming/disproving rumors

  9. Nature

    • Recalling knowledge of flora or fauna

    • Understanding climate patterns

    • Reading the terrain

    • Creating natural remedies

  10. Religion

    • Knolwedge of deities and religious lore

    • Recalling rites, prayers, and relgious symbols

    • Identifying holy magic

    • Understanding religious hierarchies and their political underpinnings

  11. Wisdom

  12. Animal Handling

    • Preventing a mount from becoming spooked

    • Calming a domesticated animal

    • Understanding what an animal wants

    • Controlling a mount

    • Influencing an animal

    • Training an animal

  13. Insight

    • Determining a creature’s intentions

    • Predicting what a creature will do

    • Detecing lies

    • Noticing that you’re being followed

    • Picking up on hidden messages

  14. Medicine

    • Stabilizing a dying creature

    • Diagnosing a disease, illness, poison, etc.

    • Preparing an antidote

  15. Perception

    • Noticing other creatures that are hiding or attempting to ambush you

    • Overhearing conversations

    • Noticing specific details

    • Observing things that are somewhat hidden or obscured

    • Recognizing or identifying things you’ve seen before

  16. Survival

    • Tracking creatures

    • Hunting and gathering

    • Finding a path thorugh unknown and/or difficult terrain

    • Identifying signs of nearby creatures

    • Avoiding natural hazards

    • Predicting the weather

  17. Charisma

  18. Deception

    • Telling lies convincingly

    • Concealing the truth without giving away hints

    • Gambling

    • Pretending to be someone you’re not

  19. Intimidation

    • Influencing behavior through threats

    • Securing information

    • Scaring creatures from fighting

  20. Performance

    • Performing (playing music, singing, acting, dancing, storytelling, etc.)

    • Impressing someone with entertainment

    • Creating attention-grabbing diversions

  21. Persuasion

    • Convincing someone to agree with your point of view or plan of action

    • Behaving and speaking gracefully and tactfully

    • Making friends

    • Making requests

    • Negotiating deals and contracts

    • Rallying support

What Is a Skill Check?

A skill check is an ability check that uses a specific skill’s modifier, rather than its corresponding ability. This allows for a player to add their proficiency bonus to ability checks that use this specific skill.

The DM decides when a skill check occurs, as well as which ability and skill are used for the skill check.

To determine whether a character passes a skill check, they roll a d20 and add the skill’s modifier to the result.

So if a player has a +3 Deception modifier and rolls a 12 on a d20, their final result is a 15 on their Deception skill check. To determine if this is enough to succeed and pass the skill check, the DM needs to know the difficulty class (DC) of the task at hand.

As a general reference, here’s what each DC equates to in relative difficulty:

Task Difficulty DC
Very easy 5
Easy 10
Medium 15
Hard 20
Very hard 25
Nearly impossible 30

Key takeaway: If the player’s final result (d20 roll + skill modifier) is equal to or greater than the DC, the skill check is successful. Otherwise, it’s a failure, which means no progress is made or, worse, a setback is incurred.

Variant: Skills With Different Abilities

While proficiency in a certain skill usually only applies to that specific ability check, a DM may decide or a player may request that a different ability is used.

For example, Persuasion checks are usually based on Charisma. However, a DM might decide that if a player appeals to a person’s sense of logic, they make an Intelligence (Persuasion) check instead.

Similarly, a DM might ask for a Dexterity ability check while a player is pulling off some acrobatic stunt in a bar, and a player might ask if they could make a Dexterity (Performance) check.

I’d recommend reading RPGBOT’s great guide on variant skill checks, which covers many more examples.

Key takeaway: DMs are free to un-tether skills from their associated abilities, usually as a way of providing a benefit to a player by letting them use a higher ability score modifier or applying a skill proficiency.

Passive Skill Checks

Passive skill checks don’t involve any die rolls and are instead tools that a DM can use. These are typically implemented for tasks that players could, in theory, just keep rolling to complete. They are also used when a DM doesn’t want to give away information by asking for a die roll, as in the case of passive perception.

Passive perception is so frequently used that it’s included on each character sheet. However, all skills have a passive number associated with them: 10 + their modifier.

Passive skill checks will never involve the player, but a player question might prompt the DM to choose to use them. For instance, if a player asked a basic historical fact, and the DM noticed that they have a passive history score of 18 (quite high), the DM might choose to answer their question without requiring a history skill check.

Group Skill Checks

If two or more characters are trying to accomplish something together, you can use group skill checks. If at least half the group succeeds, the whole group succeeds; otherwise, everyone fails.

Group checks are commonly used when sneaking around (Stealth checks), avoiding hazards, and engaging in conversation as a group (persuasion, deception, etc.).

Rules Clarifications

A few quick rules clarifications on skill checks:

  • There’s technically no such thing as a “skill check” in DnD 5e. This is a colloquial term used to shorten the mouthful of “an ability check with a skill.”

  • Players don’t choose to make skill checks. Typical DnD etiquette sticks to the golden rules of “How to Play:” “The DM describes the environment. The players describe what they want to do. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions.” (PHB 6).

    In other words, players should describe what their characters do, and then a DM can interject by asking for an appropriate skill check.

    The only exceptions to this are grappling and shoving, as players have agency over making a specific skill check in this circumstance.

    Additionally, players can request using a certain skill or ability to give themselves proficiency or a more favorable ability modifier, but the DM has the final say.

  • Any change to an ability modifier also changes its associated skills. So if you’re temporarily Hex’d to have disadvantage on Charisma checks, that affects all the skills associated with Charisma as well.

The Most and Least Useful Skills in 5e

If you spend a few sessions playing DnD, you’ll notice that some skills seem to come up a whole lot more often than others. It’s not the DM’s fault — it’s just that certain skills come up in everyday adventuring than others. Plus, the game’s mechanics serve to make some skills feel redundant or useless.

In any case, let’s break down the three most and three least useful skills in DnD 5e:

The Most Useful Skills

  1. Perception

    Perception is undoubtedly one of the most common skill checks you’ll be asked to make during any DnD campaign. So much so that a player’s “Passive Perception” score is featured on their character sheet to help as a quick reference. It’s worth noting that proficiency in perception does boost your passive perception score as well.

    Having a high perception modifier is just so handy, both in and out of combat. Surprise rounds from ambushing creatures can be absolutely devastating — that’s the big in-combat perk of being proficient in perception.

    Besides that, your party will progress through narrative elements, notice and remember important details, and find key shortcuts in dungeon crawls if you have more people with keen eyes in the party.

  2. Persuasion OR Deception

    For most good and neutral players, persuasion is the skill of choice. It allows you be a better diplomat and learn important information with less hassle. Heck, you might even be able to talk your way out of some combat encounters with good persuasion rolls.

    Deception is a good back-up, especially if your character has fewer moral scruples or (you’re dealing with unscrupulous sorts). But it carries a higher risk — being caught in a lie is usually worse than being caught as a bad debater.

    That’s why we didn’t bother including intimidation here — there’s always a cost to threatening someone to get what you want.

  3. Stealth

    Sneaking by creatures to avoid combat encounters and ambushing enemies to gain the huge advantage of a surprise round are some of the most potent and common tactics that DnD parties employ. While group skill checks can be used to cover a weakness in the party (looking at you, plate-wearing Paladin), you do want at least half of your group to be proficient in stealth.

The Least Useful Skills

  1. Medicine

    Stabilizing creatures is great and all, but you know what else stabilizes creatures? Literally any healing magic. Unfortunately, the mechanics of stabilizing creatures in DnD 5e makes medicine feel rather redundant as a skill, as long as your party has any form of healing on them (including a healing potion).

  2. Animal Handling

    By a very strict reading of the rules, animal handling doesn’t really help much with wild animals. And most of the animals you’re likely trying to handle during an adventure aren’t the well-tamed types. Plus, the subclasses that seem to go well with Animal Handling have other, better tools for accomplishing what animal handling can do.

  3. Sleight of Hand

    Unless your character plans on specializing in thieving, there’s not much use for sleight of hand. Sure, there may be the odd time when you want to quickly conceal something, but in general, most characters will rarely make a sleight of hand check.

DM Tips: How to Incorporate More Under-Used Skills

For DMs who’d like to reward players for picking proficiencies in skills that don’t normally see as much love, here are some good options:

  • Medicine:

    • Determining how many hit points a creature has

    • Granting extra hit points at the end of a short rest to one player

    • Fixing a lingering injury (DMG 272)

    • In place of Nature or Arcana, when the medicinal properties of a natural or magical product are in question

  • Animal Handling:

    • Influencing the behavior of wild animals

    • Luring or scaring beasts

    • Allow for players to use Animal Handling when dealing with any <3 intelligence creature, not just beasts

  • Sleight of Hand:

    • Concealing the somatic component of a spell

    • Performing an extra “free” object interaction during combat

    • Tying good knots

    • Catching a falling object

  • Religion:

    • Identifying holy spells cast by Paladins or Clerics (instead of Arcana)

    • Recalling additional knowledge about demons, celestials, undead, and fey

    • In place of Persuasion when debating on religious grounds, or Investigation if investigating religious matters

  • Nature:

    • Identifying spells cast by Druids or Rangers (instead of Arcana)

    • Predicting the weather (in place of Survival)

    • Identifying the exact nature of Regional Effects created by a legendary creature’s lair