Greetings and welcome to a bit of a departure of the usual Role Play Craft fare. I tend to stick to optional rules mechanics or campaign and story content. However, my content production is around one or fewer posts a month these days – generally because what I do release is pretty comprehensive or wordy.
Recently I’ve begun to try to organize myself using the Bullet Journal technique, and in doing so have challenged myself to practice certain daily, weekly, and monthly habits. One of those that pertains to this blog is to get one post published a week. What this means is I need to generate smaller bite sized bits of content to space out the time between the larger rules modules and story content.
Thus this limited series of blog articles was born: Using Skills. What I hope to accomplish with this series of articles is to give both Players and Dungeon Masters a good idea of what a Skill is, it’s uses, as well as unique ways in which to use it. This latter effort is a bit of a continuation of the last post dealing with Skill Specialties. Hopefully this will make this series useful for beginner, intermediate, and veteran role players.
I’ll be going in alphabetical order, and you can expect a new blog post about Skills each week on Tuesday until we reach “Survival” -whereupon I’ll need to find a new weekly subject. Interspersed with these, hopefully around once a month, will be the larger posts of rules mechanics and story inspiration that I tend to release as PDFs.
That’s the plan, anyway! There’s no telling what might happen between a penchant for procrastination and probable undiagnosed ADD. With that being said, let us begin with the go to skill of gymnasts and foppy duelists…
Using Skills – Acrobatics
The agile thief leaping from a rooftop into a small window below in the alleyway. An elven ranger falls from a slippery cliff, but rolls expertly to avoid hurting herself. A cocky duelist somersaults over two brutish bandits to come up behind them. Acrobatics is the domain of those wishing to perform stunts of agility and balance.
The Player’s Handbook describes Acrobatics as: “Your Dexterity (Acrobatics) check covers your attempt to stay on your feet in a tricky situation, such as when you’re trying to run across a sheet of ice, balance on a tightrope, or stay upright on a rocking ship’s deck. The DM might also call for a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to see if you can perform acrobatic stunts, including dives, rolls, somersaults, and flips.” (PHB pg. 176)
The main usage for acrobatics is maintaining your balance in a situation where doing so is a challenge. When you’re trying to traverse a tight precipice, a DM should call for a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. The same for moving across a tightrope, to travel among the canopy of a jungle using vines, or to perform a stunt like those mentioned above. It might be used in conjunction with Athletics to perform tricky long jumps (athletics) in which one needs to land precisely (acrobatics), such as through a window across an alleyway.
Another common use for Acrobatics is to defend against a grapple (or similar combat situations, such as trips). During the initial grapple attempt, you can use your Dexterity (Acrobatics) check in an opposed roll against the grappler’s Strength (Athletics) check. You can also use it to try to escape a grapple as an Action.
This skill is enormously useful for positioning on the battlefield. Using it to traverse parts of the terrain that others cannot easily access can gain you a great advantage, or even allow you to attack using ranged weapons without too much reprisal. A good DM would keep in mind that providing three-dimensional opportunities such as ledges to balance on will go a long way in making a fight more interesting for characters with these capabilities.
What it is Not
Common misuses of Acrobatics include:
- Climbing – Athletics is the domain of climbing, especially in hazardous conditions such as slippery surfaces. Acrobatics might be used if you fall from a surface to see how well you land.
- Jumping – Athletics is the domain of jumping, including determining distance and height. Acrobatics should be used when landing would be difficult to maintain footing.
The following are optional uses or edge cases for using Acrobatics, and are entirely dependent on the Dungeon Master.
- Avoidance – In earlier editions of the game, Acrobatics could be used to avoid Attacks of Opportunity. This is not so in 5th edition, presumably to lower the power level of the Skill. Here is presented a possible compromise: When moving in such a way as to trigger an Attack of Opportunity, you can use your Acrobatics to attempt to avoid the blow. Roll a DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) ability check. On success, the attacker gains disadvantage. However, on a failure, the attacker gains advantage on the attack roll.
- Landing – Also in earlier editions, Acrobatics could be used to mitigate some falling damage. Again, in 5th edition this was left out presumably to lower the power level of the skill. Herein is, again, presented a compromise: When falling from a height high enough to give you falling damage, you may make a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. When calculating falling damage, decrease the amount rolled from the number of feet of the fall. For example: If you are falling from a precipice 50 feet up from the landing, and your Dexterity (Acrobatics) check equals 16, you would calculate damage as if you have fallen 34 feet instead. (At 50 feet the character would suffer 5d6 falling damage. At 34, it would be 3d6 instead).
- Skill Synergy: Performance – Using Acrobatics in combination with Performance might be used to perform dramatic feats of agility for a crowd in order to gain money or notoriety. Having two characters doing so might create the effect of a small circus performance that is sure to get a crowd going.
Dungeon Master Examples
When creating encounter settings and explorable areas for your game, the following examples might inspire you to create unique opportunities for characters using Acrobatics. Again, think about the terrain when designing encounters. Providing opportunities such as ledges or ropes can help an acrobatic PC add drama to an encounter.
- Chandelier – A chandelier is hanging from the ceiling. If a character, with a running start, can grab onto the chandelier (DC 15) it immediately swings with the character attached in the opposite direction as far as it can go. This should provide the PC with a way of crossing the room very quickly, perhaps from one balcony to another, or from one side of a mezzanine to another.
- Tilting Platform – A character might wish to maintain their footing on a treacherously tilting platform. This could include a chunk of ice floating in ice-cold water, a platform of pure rock floating in an underground lake of lava, or a trapped portion of a dungeon room that will deposit the unwary in a pit filled with spikes, oozes, or gelatinous cube. The DC would be variable based on the texture of the surface (slippery vs. rough) or how easily it tilts. Example DCs might be 10 for the dungeon platform, 15 for the stone platform floating in lava, or 20 for the slippery chunk of glacier. Extrapolating on this, remember that a ship’s deck in choppy or stormy conditions would be hard to traverse for those not Acrobatically inclined.
Well that’s it for the first of these weekly articles. Did you find it useful? I’ll adjust later posts based on feedback. Next week expect to see Using Skills – Animal Handling for those cowboys and dinosaur wranglers among you.