Putting 3.5 Skills back into Dungeons & Dragons 5e

Today, I’d like to take a moment out of our regular scheduled programming to ¬†introduce a mechanic I’ve been working on for my 5th edition homebrew. I have a relatively non-intrusive skill system to replace the one within 5e and make it something that more resembles earlier editions. It’s going to get very numbers-heavy, for which I apologize, but for those of you drooling over excel spread sheets – this one’s for you! So, straight to the main question…

WHY CHANGE SKILLS?

The cross-generational hate within Dungeons & Dragons is strong.

I cut my teeth on the crunchy-rules and complicated mechanics of D&D 3.5, but I’ve begun to stagger into the fifth edition world after being asked to DM a new campaign using the fantastic DM’s Guild content The Triboar Trilogy.

My new group is a mix of rookie and veteran players. I’ve found that many of the new streamlined mechanics are extremely beneficial for new players learning the game (the advantage/disadvantage system which replaced the numerous miscellaneous modifiers of earlier editions springs to mind) without majorly reducing the customization options rendered to the player.

This applies to almost every slimmed mechanic – except skills.

In D&D 3.5, varied skill ranks allowed you to craft interesting and nuanced characters. You could be a Fighter with 8 ranks in Diplomacy and 3 ranks in Intimidate. Such a character may be a skilled diplomat, only falling back on their natural intimidating looks when violence is threatened.

In D&D 5e, you are either proficient in a skill or you are not. Such a Fighter would be equally proficient in Persuasion and Intimidation. You can still play the character as though they use physical intimidation only as a last resort, but that play style won’t be backed up by hard numbers.

MY HOMEBREW SWITCH

So I decided to find a way to implement the old 3.5 skill mechanics into fifth edition. I had four goals for my homebrew system:

  1. Maintain balance within gameplay, by using Proficiency Bonuses as a guide.
  2. Reintroduce the 3.5 Untrained/Trained Skills mechanic.
  3. Fix implementation of Feats or Class Features that my new system breaks.
  4. Address skill ranks for Tool Proficiency, the new 5e mechanic that replaced skills such as Craft and Profession.

Balancing

The skill system must create characters which are adequately skilled for their level, based on fifth edition standards. Based on the slow increase of 5e’s Proficiency Bonus, this means that characters should only be able to increase the ranks among their top skills every four levels.

First, I had to remove Proficiency Bonuses from the skill rolls so that I could replace them with my mechanic…

Skill Roll Modifier = Rank in Skill + Ability Score Modifier

Next, I had to implement skill points and skill ranks. Characters get Skill Points every time they level up, which they can use to purchase Skill Ranks. The mechanics listed below should keep your top skills from increasing significantly faster than 5e Proficiency Bonus mechanic did.

Skill Points Per Level = Intelligence Modifier + Proficiency Bonus
Increasing a skill rank requires skill points equal to your current skill rank + 1.
Raising a skill rank from 0 to 1 requires 3 skill points.
If you gain proficiency in a Skill or Tool during character creation, you automatically gain 1 Skill Rank in that Skill or Tool.

Untrained/Trained Skills

A character with no formal studies in Arcana should probably not be able to decipher a magical tome, no matter how high they roll. They simply have no knowledge on the subject to work with. By fifth edition rules, however, there is nothing expressly prohibiting this.

We will be re-implementing the concept of Trained Skills. If a character does not have ranks in the following skills, they cannot use them.

Trained Skills:
Arcana, History, Nature, Religion, Animal Handling, and Medicine.

Feats and Class Features

My homebrew system breaks a Feat and a Class Feature from vanilla D&D 5e. I’ve listed both below and recommended a way to utilize each of them in your new game.

Skilled: The cost for raising a skill rank from 0 to 1 is reduced to 1.
Bard College of Lore: You immediately gain 8 skill points + your Intelligence Modifier.

Adjusting Tool Proficiency

There are a list of tools, with which a character can become proficient, that do not appear on the skill list. When you list a tool proficiency on your character sheet, denote a rank of 1 beside it. Anytime you gain skill points, you may spend them as normal to increase your tool Skill Ranks.

WRAPPING UP

That’s all there is to it. In the true spirit of D&D 5e, the new mechanic is relatively streamlined. I’ve purposefully left out skill synergies and restrained from reintroducing old D&D 3.5 skills for the sake of simplicity. You can write your Skill Rank (+ Ability Modifier) in the blank beside each of the skills on a normal character sheet and then continue as normal with no additional calculations during play.

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