Using Skills – Performance

So I may have missed a couple of updates here for a couple of weeks. Holidays keep me busy and tired because of my real (lame) job, and so my blog suffers. Nevertheless, late though it is, I have for you the next part of our Using Skills series. Last time on this series we covered Perception, which I recommend you go back and read. This time clear your throat and tune those strings, it’s…

Using Skills – Performance


The old warrior, far past his battle years though those long near-forgotten days still marked him with scars upon his arms and face, leaned forward in his customary chair by the fire. His audience, a small group of disparate children, crowded around him. The light of the fire cast shadows that danced behind them on the oaken beams of the great hall. He stared past the children to these fey shapes and as he leaned in, they did the same – ready to cling on to his every word. His voice, it was said, had the power to summon up the spirits of warriors and dragons from days gone by; to transport you to primeval glades and crystalline caverns; to unveil the very fabric of the magical universe. Finally his old voice, gravelly and low, spoke out the first incantation that brought all of this to life: “Once upon a time…”

Performance is the skill of entertaining. The player handbook describes it thus: “Your Charisma (Performance) check determines how well you can delight an audience with music, dance, acting, storytelling, or some other form of entertainment.” (PHB, pg. 179)


Normal Usage

Performance is the check you need to make when determining how effective you can entertain targets. This could be anything from a tavern crowd to a group of councilman at a speech function. Often times the end goal is to gain money or favors. Paying for your room and a supper for a song is a useful resource for a wandering adventurer, after all. However, it could also be used to soften up a crowd, to turn opinion one way or the other. Ultimately the skill’s goal is to entertain and delight, however. Providing pleasure to a group of people can grease the wheels for future endeavors, or a well performed act could be its own reward.

Remember that performance is not necessarily musical in nature. A well told tale, a speech greatly orated, or a even a religious scripture well recited are under the performance umbrella making this a skill not just for Bards and musicians.

What it is Not

  • A tool proficiency – Performance does not provide you with the ability to play an instrument. In fact, if you do know how to play one, Performance is not in a specific sense a “how well you play this instrument” so much as it is “how much entertainment do you cause when playing this instrument”. That is not to say the skill and the tool proficiency do not overlap. Being good at an instrument certainly makes it easier to entertain with it. In Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, in fact, it is recommended that when such an overlap occurs between a skill and a tool proficiency, you should gain advantage on the roll.
  • Deception – Acting to entertain falls under performance. Though it is good to get an audience to become immersed in a performance, they still ultimately know that you are acting out a part. To try and act in such a way as to actually deceive a person, you use Deception.


Optional Uses

The following are optional or edge cases for Performance, and are entirely dependent on the Dungeon Master.

  • Great Work – If you are proficient in Performance, rather than spend downtime performing for money, you can spend days on trying to create a great work. This might be a body of music, a book of poetry or song, a play, or another similar written work. Creating a great work takes a large amount of time, depending on your Charisma (Performance) bonus. Consult the chart below for the number of days. If your Charisma (Performance) bonus changes in the middle of completing the great work, simply apply your current investment of downtime into the new number of days needed. In order to complete the work for each day put towards the work you must maintain at least a modest lifestyle (1gp a day). When you finish the work, you may try to sell the work. Its worth is equal to your Charisma (Performance) bonus x 100 gold pieces. Once it is sold, you might later be recognized as the author of the work.
    • +2-+3: 500 days
    • +4-+5: 450 days
    • +6-+7: 400 days
    • +8-+9: 350 days
    • +10-+11: 300 days
  • Group Performance – In the event of a group performance, choose one PC as the ‘lead’. They make the actual roll, however each other performer may make a separate Charisma (Performance) roll vs. DC 15. For each one that makes the roll, the lead performer may add 1d4 to her roll.


Dungeon Master Examples

The following is meant to inspire a Dungeon Master to design with Performance in mind. Performance is largely a skill used to facilitate role play. It is not often used to overcome an immediate obstacle, however it still sees a lot of play in games in which someone possesses it. It’s hard to resist pulling out an instrument and playing at opportune times (or inopportune times as is often the case). The usual suspects are playing in the tavern or on the street corner. As the DM, your job should be to elevate both the uses of the skill but also the stakes.

  • The Music Loving Genie – There is a crystal blue bay off of a tropical island filled with beautiful birds and exotic fruit. Beneath the waters of this bay lies the coral palace of a great Marid; a water genie. The ancient elemental has a peculiar hobby: that is, collecting music. By this we mean the genie kidnaps musicians and forces them to play for him. Unfortunately, those that don’t play well enough end up being kicked out of the palace (and drowning). If the PCs happen to be on a boat near such a place, the Genie might break the ship and spirit the PCs away to his palace, giving them the ability to breathe water. Once there he demands any of them that can perform music must do for him. In order to please the Genie, the Charisma (Performance) check must beat a DC 15. The other PCs may Aid as normal. They may try three times before the Genie removes the water-breathing enchantment and throws them out into the waters, far too much a depth to swim to safety before drowning. If, however, they are successful, the Genie puts them away in one of his great bird cages – intending on forcing them to perform again the next day. Now they must figure a way out of the cage and out of the palace and to the surface before the Genie awakes to find them gone and either comes after them or removes the enchantment before they are a safe distance to the surface of the water. This hook can be expanded to a full adventure location with many marvelous wonders to behold in the palace.

Thanks for reading! Next week we’ll be covering Persuasion, so don’t put away that bard character sheet quite yet. See you then!

Author: Patrick McGill of 9th Key Press

Content creator for 9th Key Press.

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