Using Skills – Index, Afterword, and a Poll

Using Skills is a series of posts that delves into and discusses each skill in 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. This index is meant to make this series easier to navigate for anyone wishing to look up a particular skill. Below the list is a lengthy Afterword in which I discuss the series, my thoughts on it, and the future of this blog. Lastly, there is a poll at the bottom in which I ask what content you are most interested in seeing.

Afterword

Using Skills came about mainly because I was trying to reach a higher amount of productivity with my blog. I tend to try and tackle projects that are too big in scope for an amateur RPG blog, and the few that I finish take a long time to get done. With my post count reaching a state of once every few months, I tried to think of posts of smaller content I could try to deliver every week. Something I haven’t really done with this blog is discuss the game itself; mostly I create new content. So when the idea hit me that I could discuss the skills individually it grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

In my own games and others I have seen there are always a few rule errors or misunderstandings when it came to the skills, in large part due to the simplicity and openness they wanted to give the system. There is some overlap in the skills as well, and maybe one or two instances that aren’t exactly intuitive. I thought that if I could delve into each skill and try to show examples of use and also discuss common mistakes made about what a skill does, I could be adding some small help to the D&D community while also increasing my own blog productivity.

Each entry follows the same template, a uniformity that I thought brought a cohesiveness to the series and that also helped me outline my thoughts before the first draft of each one. In fashioning the template for my entries, I wanted to make sure to always include the actual text of the rule before delving into it. I think a common problem we have playing D&D is that we don’t really read the rules until we need to. With many of these skills, creating this series was the first time I actually read the text on the page (which brought some surprises). So putting that first seemed like a good idea so we could start on the same page.

After that, with the Normal Usage section, I tried to gauge what the most common uses of the skill would be (or should be). Included in this were instances that the skill is brought up in other parts of the books, as well as things I observed while playing or listening to other people talk about playing. Trawling through message boards was a large part of this. I admit this isn’t an exact science, but I tried to only provide information in this section that I was comfortable with extrapolating on.

The next section, What it is Not, has proven to be the most useful part of the whole series in my opinion. Here I tried to parse through the information given to really show where the separations between skills were. Right out the gate with Acrobatics and Athletics I learned I had been doing skills wrong in my games. These sections also garnered the most discussion on Reddit, with many people arguing one way or the other. My objective with this section, and with the whole series, however was to present the rules as they were in the book -for better or worse.

In Optional Uses my usual home-brew design tendencies creeped in. My ultimate goal with this section was to perhaps shore up some of the less-used skills (as evidenced by the skills I ended up not giving options to) but to also inspire people to think about the skills as something that you can mess around with beyond their apparent scope. This, however, I think is the weakest part of the series. Quite a few of the optional rules I presented aren’t that well designed upon looking back at them, or aren’t really worth worrying about. However, I won’t go back and edit them out, because I still hope this section will help people design their own options.

In Dungeon Master Examples I had hoped to come up with specific instances of the skill in use, hopefully in novel ways. Because of the imbalance of the skill system, certain skills will see play significantly more than others. To combat this, I hoped to inspire DMs to create their locations, encounters, traps, and sessions with specific skills in mind. Skills like perception and stealth need no help; they will be used in every session and likely affect the session in a meaningful way. But Religion? Animal Handling? Less likely. Some of my examples were quite precise compared to others, and with Survival I sort of went crazy with a Ryuutama conversion. I tend to like what I did with this section, however, and in the end if I have inspired DMs to think in terms of the capabilities (all of the capabilities) of their characters, then I am satisfied.

My post-mortem, so to speak, of the series is that overall I think it was worth the time I put into it. It generated discussion, I’ve had emails and messages from people asking when the next would be posted, and best of all I started a lot of arguments.

My current thoughts on the skills and Ability Scores of D&D is that Dexterity is far too overpowered of an ability score and this effects the skill system to a degree. It is connected to a lot of skills, is one of the most common saving throws, affects initiative, affects AC, affects attack rolls, and affects damage. Personally I would want to remove Dex from all damage and to downgrade the rapier to 1d6… and I still think DEX would be too powerful in D&D. In the course of making this series it really stood out to me as the biggest flaw with this edition. A point of dexterity is simply worth more than the other ability scores.

As far as the goal of blog productivity, however, you can see that toward the end of the series the gaps between posts became longer and longer. Writing discipline, self-motivation, and focus are all things that I have struggled with and a cycle of productivity and apathy has dogged my writing my whole life. It just so happens that during the making of this series (biographical tangent incoming), I was diagnosed with ADHD. It is something that I had long suspected, however after a long burst of successful weekly updates when I saw the focus and motivation begin slipping (coupled with some situations outside the blog and D&D), I finally convinced myself to put in the effort to figure out if I had a problem. And I did!

It’s a bit strange to look back at your life and finally figure out what exactly was going on during periods or events decades in the past. Trouble with school despite knowing you were capable, focus issues that you laughed off as “I’m just an absent minded person”, being completely thoughtless or accidentally cruel without realizing it until later, forgetting important dates, engagements, appointments… well you get the picture. It took a lot of denial and a tad bit of an inferiority complex to hide it from myself into adulthood. Then realizing that a large part of these moments is because of a chemical imbalance in the brain – well it brings on a strange mixture of relief and frustration.

Luckily I’m now in the process of getting the symptoms alleviated as best as they can, which I hope will translate into more productivity for not only this blog but other more ambitious projects in the future.

I’m not usually so open about things like health and life situations, however I felt that maybe if I were to explain my situation other people might see some of the same symptoms in themselves or maybe it would help them understand it is okay to be open about their mental health and it is equally okay to try and seek help. Mental health in my country (the USA) is a strangely taboo subject. You’d not feel strange discussing your arthritis or spinal injury with another person, but the reaction to discussing your mental health tends to be a bit like showing off the dead rat you keep in your pocket. And it really shouldn’t be.

So, getting back to the blog, my current plan is to try and switch to a weekly schedule with a monthly format of posts. I’d like to come up with two or three series I can work on to release monthly, and to continue releasing home-brew rules modules, races, sub-classes, etc each month as well. I’m going to resurrect a poll from my very first post on this blog to gauge community wants.

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