Last Updated: August 10, 2022
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In this episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast, we discuss tools in TTRPGs. We dig into how tools are implemented in games like DnD and Pathfinder, and we discuss how to make tools mechanically meaningful and how to use them as a story device.
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Materials Referenced in this Episode
- Articles from RPGBOT.net
- DnD 5e
- Pathfinder 2e
- Other Stuff
- Brennan Lee Mulligan
- Call of Cthulhu (affiliate link)
- Dimension 20
- Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
- Fantasy Flight Star Wars (affiliate link)
- Star Trek (The Chris Pine version)
- Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
Hi everybody. Tyler here. I’m happy to announce that RPGBOT.net has been nominated for an Ennie in Best Online Content for 2022. Winners are selected by an online vote for members of the community like you. So we need your help to take home the award. If we had asked you for a moment to vote for us and for other great creators in the Ennies, that would be a huge help. We’ll have links in the show notes. Thanks for listening and enjoy the episode.
Welcome to the RPGBOT.Podcast. I’m Randall James, your poorly-equipped peasant. And with me is Tyler Kamstra.
And Ash Ely.
All right, Tyler, what’s happening?
Well, today, we’re gonna talk about tools. Tools in tabletop RPGs. Not, not tools like the Monsterizer or your random dice generator. We’re talking like blacksmiths tools or thieves’ tools, things like that. Tools that your character will use in your tabletop RPG.
We’re also not talking about power tools. We’re not talking about ourselves.
I mean, I would say that I am a tool. So…
Okay. Maybe we’ll spend a little time on ourselves, and it probably couldn’t hurt.
Hey, we can we can talk about RPGs where there are power tools, because there are such things.
Is it, Is there a Tool Time?
I do not believe that there is an officially licensed to Tool Time RPG. But Randall, I’m going to say Hey, be the change you want to see in the world.
I don’t think I want to see that change, bud.
Okay, that’s, that’s reasonable. So let’s talk about tools, what they do, why they’re useful, things like that. If you’ve played 5e since launch, you have probably gone most of your time with the game and given very, very little thought to tools, because honestly, for a huge portion of game’s history, they were pretty useless, to be blunt. And they got a big update in Xanathar’s. But even with that big update, they’re still very easy to overlook. So we’re going to try and go into what we can do with tools, what we can do to make them interesting and like some benefits you can get from your tools that you might not know about. And of course, we’ll hit on other RPGs and how those things… like, how tools fit into those RPGs for comparison, and like because… 5e is an outlier here. So Randall, I’m going to pick on you.
It’s worth calling out. We’ll have it linked in the show notes. So Rocco, one of the writers for RPGBOT just posted an article on tools and so this is all kind of time we’re looking at that kind of made me think this would be an awesome topic to talk about on the podcast.
Yeah, sometimes it’s fun to you know, talk on the podcast, but stuff we’re writing about or write about stuff that we’re talking about on the podcast. So you know, it goes back and forth. It’s fun. And yeah, Rocco’s article is very, very good. Strongly recommend it. So Randall, I’m gonna pick on you a bit: Name me three tools.
Well, I’ve got a drill. I’ve got… Oh, no, that’s… okay. In 5e? That’s what you’re going for?
Yeah, sure. Three tools in 5e. Let’s start there.
Okay, well, I’ve got a I got a lock… Okay, I got thieves’ tools, Right?
So I’ve got thieves’ tools. I have chef’s tools. And the only reason I know I have chef’s tools is because yeah, Bugbear Grylls uses chef’s tools all the time. He makes sausage out of everything. And I think that’s fantastic. Um… artisan’s tools? Is that right?
Kind of. So in in 5e, artisan’s tool is a category of tools, it is not a single singular tool. Now, in other RPGs artisan’s tools are the generic stats for any other set of tools. So like blacksmith’s tools. Specific thing in 5e, generic artisans tool in PF2.
Well count it.
Nailed it. The goal was three, right? I can stop? Okay.
Yeah. While we’re on the subject of artisan’s tools, let’s talk about what they are just super quick. So artisan’s tools are the tools that you use for crafting and repairing items in fifth edition. In PF2, it’s just for crafting. So if you want to make a suit of armor, a shield, a boat, a clay pot, any of those things, you will need appropriate artisan’s tools. Like, it… It’s very difficult to build a boat completely with just your hands. I’m not saying it can’t be done.
The boat’s probably gonna sink. Yeah. Everything’s a boat for a minute.
How far do you have to get from a floating log before you can actually call it a boat?
I’m pretty sure it’s your destination. I think that’s your answer.
We’re just gonna skip over that one. That’s fine. I don’t know what to do with that.
No, I’m just saying, like, if you don’t if you don’t make it your destination, it wasn’t a boat. It was a death trap.
Okay, wait, does that… Does that mean the Titanic was a floating log?
I think that’s the conclusion.
Technically, yes. No, I’m just kidding.
Destination was all the way to the scene of the crash.
So, speaking of things that crash and sink: vehicles are another variety of tool. How about that segue?
It was great. It was perfect. That’s right, because you are proficient in land vehicles. Bugbear Grylls is proficient in land vehicles.
Yes. Bugear Grylls is proficient in land vehicles. Yes, in fifth edition vehicles are a type of tool that you can be proficient in. So you’ll typically get that proficiency from your background. Like, soldier gives you proficiency in land vehicles. So that’s things like wagons, chariots. If, if you’re in a game where those exist, cars, possibly trains. Things like that. And then of course, there’s the broad grab bag of assorted tools, quote, unquote, which is anything else that doesn’t fall into one of those first two categories. So that’s like your musical instruments, your thieves’ tools, your your herbalist kit for some reason. Yeah, they have slightly different rules from artisan’s tools in 5e. And then looking at different rule sets for like… let’s stick to the same kind of three broad categories just as a nice way to categorize things. But in other RPGs, you will still have like, tools for making stuff, vehicles will frequently be a different thing, and then assorted tools for accomplishing things, but not necessarily making things.
Okay. And so those three categories that we have, we are we have our artisan’s tools, where the expectation is by the time you finish using artisan’s tools, there’s a product. You have constructed something and you can now hand it to somebody, theoretically. Boats are very large, it’s difficult to handle to people. There’s a special cut out, we’re gonna call vehicles, which is like I can, I can operate… I don’t know a large snail and ride it to my destination, therefore, land vehicles. And then assorted tools, which is everything else, but I have to have a tool to execute the task. And so like forgery is a good example of this in 5e. Gaming, like it’s really hard to play a game if I don’t have anything to play the game with. Hard to roll dice, you know, hard to play cards, unless I have the equipment to go with it.
Awesome. So you talked a little bit about Pathfinder 2. I want to make an argument that like what this covers in 5e… In Pathfinder to it has to be some combination of lore and adventuring gear, where artisan’s tools is the broad category of one of the types of adventuring gear.
Frequently, yes. Lore skills can get used in place of, like, more regular skills for a couple of things. If you’re making stuff with artisan’s tools, or if you’re repairing things, it’s going to be crafting, which is just the the all-purpose I know how to make stuff skill. So like if you’re really really good at… let’s say, cooking, you’ve, like, you’ve got a ton of ranks in crafting, you can craft the greatest food. If somebody hands you a set of blacksmith tools is like “hey, can you make a sword?” The answer is yes. And that, you know, defies real world logic a little bit. But…
Whoa, wait a second. Okay, I want to make sure I understood that. So I have a really high crafting skill. You give me a kitchen and I can make like Michelin star cuisine. You give me blacksmith’s tools and I can make the best dagger ever made?
As long as you have the formula for it.
That’s the key in Pathfinder is that certain certain items can only be crafted once you have the proper formula, which is not something that exists in 5e. 5e is kind of nebulous. It’s, like, up to DM discretion as to what you can craft.
Which just seems like a lot of the things that 5g does, which is both good and bad.
Okay, wait. So, so what I’m hearing though, is that crafters in Pathfinder 3 are software developers. So like as long as they can Google it, they can solve the problem.
Yes, essentially. Like, if they if they have the proper equations and formula then yes, they can solve the problem. But the key is finding those formulae, and usually the like finding the right formula, like, it even calls this out in Pathfinder rule book. Finding the right formula to craft an item can be an adventure in and of itself, which I kinda like.
I’ve been there 100%. Like, how is this not on StackOverflow yet?
Find the recipe for full plate on some like weird geocities page from 30 years ago.
Yeah. It’s like somebody’s Angelfire account still holds the secret that’s what we that’s what we need. We need craft overflow.
I think they just call that Etsy.
Yeah, no, that’s fair.
What’s the other one? Pinterest, right? Because like Etsy, Etsy is where the Pinterest people are selling their, their their goods,
That makes sense.
We’ve classified the internet.
I also think when it comes to… you guys can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe in Pathfinder 2, you are also limited based on your level as to what kind of items you can craft. I don’t think you can craft an item that is higher than your level.
Correct. And that’s that’s to keep players from getting items that are like way crazy powerful.
Way too powerful, yeah.
Which has long been a thing in D&D. But we’ll save crafting for a separate episode because it’s involved.
Yes. In Pathfinder for sure.
In 5e it basically doesn’t exist, right?
Not involved at all. We just did the whole D&D 5e crafting episode.
Wanna hear it again?
Alright, so, PF2. Yes. Tools, artisan’s tools are kind of a generic thing. There are some specific tools like healer’s tools, repair kit, a couple other specific things, alchemist supplies. And then generally you’ll use those either with crafting or it’s some something lore skill. Generally, the crafting is going to be the go-to, but there are weird exceptions like vehicles, we’ll touch on those in a little bit. And then there’s a bunch of items that are kind of tool-adjacent that you could just call adventuring gear. Fishing Tackle. D&D has long had rules for, like, you can you can buy a block and tackle and take that fishing. And that gives you some benefit. I don’t know, ask your DM. But yeah, those things are in there. They don’t have super specific rules, but it’s an option. And if you want your character to go fishing, perhaps ice fishing, I don’t know.
But I will say, like, that’s a perfect example of a tool where, right, I can know everything there is to know about fishing. If you don’t give me a hook, a line, and a stick, probably not gonna catch very many fish. You know, if if you don’t let me borrow your net that you’re using for catching bad guys, so I can throw your net into the water, I’m not going to catch very many fish. So like you have to have some tool available to actually go and execute on it. But the other piece though, right, we have to have the item. There’s also an idea of tool proficiency.
Yes. Yeah, knowing how to use tools can be super helpful. Fifth Edition is an outlier in that you can be proficient in specific tools. Like, I’m sure there are other RPGs that do something similar. I haven’t read any of them. So you can be proficient in any kind of tool. So there’s artisan’s tools, vehicles, whatever else, and having proficiency in that tool just lets you apply your proficiency bonus to checks to use that tool. So like if I am driving my wagon down a rocky road, the DM might say, Okay, make me a dexterity land vehicles check to keep your wagon from careening off a cliff. And then if you, if you’re not proficient, you just don’t get your proficiency bonus. Like there’s nothing stopping you from using a tool. Like, if if me as someone who is not proficient if I pick up a set of carpenter’s tools, the Fun Police don’t kick in my door and tell me to stop that.
Yeah, so this comes to… It’s Asher’s rant time. I have issues with the way tools are implemented in 5e. I don’t feel like they add a lot other than nice scenarios, like the ones you just mentioned, like with vehicles. But unless you’re in a modern setting, I don’t typically see vehicle skills being used all that much in DnD. Because either you have a horse or you don’t. But like so when you’re approaching tools, a few major issues that I have with 5e is, like, one: which attribute are using, because it’s not really clear. And two: like if if you’re doing something that can be related to a skill that you’re already proficient in,then why are you rolling with the tools? So for instance, thieves’ tools are a good example. I always forget that they exist. Because when I have someone pick a lock, especially since you can attempt to pick a lock without having proficiency in thieves’ tools, I just ask for sleight of hand. And if a person is proficient in sleight of hand, if a person who has a rogue has thieves’ tools, they’re probably going to be proficient in sleight of hand, too. So it’s essentially the same bonus. So why would I call for thieves’ tools? I would just call for sleight of hand because it’s just easier to remember, and it applies in more situations. So if you’re gonna use tools, I feel like the way to implement it would have been to have a reason. Like, either give it a floating bonus, like what Pathfinder does, by using the tool. Like you can use it without a tool, but you have a bonus, an extra bonus added on top of you use the tool. Or you can’t attempt certain checks at all, without the proficiency and tools, which is a little bit more limiting. But it does make tools have a more important aspects to them. No, I think 100%. And if you think about, you know, trying to be realistic, because we all love realism in our tabletop games. If that Rogue is trying to pick a lock by hand versus trying to pick a lock with their thieves’ tools, which situation do you think is going to be better for the Rogue? Probably with the thieves’ tools, right? Yeah. 100%.
So why not? Maybe give… would you would you allow double proficiency bonus?
Yeah, I think… yeah, even just doing something like that. Or even just, like, I believe in Pathfinder 2, when you use, when you use a toolkit, it’s like a plus one or plus two, like, it doesn’t need to be a ton of stuff. Even if it’s just like a plus one, or plus two people are going to want to use the tools more because now they have a reason to. It gives them extra bonuses. If it’s the same bonus as their skill, they have absolutely no reason to call out that they have thieves’ tools.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything actually talks about how to handle when you have both a tool and a skill that apply at the same time. And the rule is just use the higher modifier of the two and you get advantage. So easy example, if I am proficient in a musical instrument and the performance skill, my modifier is probably going to be the same with both of those, and then I’m going to roll with advantage which… if you were a performer who isn’t playing with an instrument in D&D, you have shortchanged yourself. So, you know, if you were planning to be a comedian Bard, become a singing comedian.
Might as well. And I guess at lower levels, that’s actually because advantages, what plus three and a half, on average?
About. Like, 3.3.
Okay, perfect. So in like tier one and tier two play, that advantage is actually going to be better than double your proficiency anyway.
Yeah. And that’s, so that’s, that’s a good point about the performance. Like, there should also be consequences for not having the tool. So like, if you want to perform, and you say, I want to, you know, play the lute or whatever, but you’re proficient in violin, let’s say, it’s like, okay, you can try to do this. I’ll say that your proficiency in instruments at least doesn’t make you… mean you do it with disadvantage. But like, if you’re trying… if you’re someone who is not proficient in a musical instrument and you want to try to play an instrument, you should at least get disadvantage for that, right?
Reasonably. Yeah. Like, you can’t just pick up a guitar or violin that you’ve never played before and be like “eh, I’ve got 20 charisma. This is going to be fine.”
Yeah, yeah. But I pick up a hammer and a chisel and I can make a boat though, right?
I don’t actually know if you can make a boat with a hammer and a chisel. I’m gonna choose to believe you. I am not the person to ask.
I don’t think you can, no.
I didn’t think the answer would be yes.
Okay. Well, that’s how you get one past me as a DM: ask me questions about the real world that I don’t know the answers to.
Can I make a boat with… can I make I’m gonna make a boat with stone worker’s tools?
I don’t know. What are stone workers tools? Because I’m pretty sure it’s a hammer and chisel.
You say that… Like everybody’s University probably has the concrete canoe.
Oh, no, no, no, I haven’t heard this.
Yeah, that was a real thing. Right? You, you engineer a, a small boat out of concrete.
What? How does that float?
Well, as long as the volume displaced is larger, you know is… the weight of the equivalent amount of water volume displaced is larger than the weight of the concrete boat, it’ll float.
Yeah. So I live in the Seattle area famous for famous for many things among them. The world’s longest floating bridge. It is this enormous, like, currently six lane freeway or a six lane bridge that crosses Lake Washington and it floats on concrete pontoons. It’s a thing. You can hold up a bridge with cars on it and everything. It’s great.
That’s insane. Science is weird.
So what’s important: they did not build up with a hammer and chisel.
Yeah. So to go back to sleight of hand and thieves’ tools. So in fifth edition, like, those are intentionally separate discrete things, because when they built the game, they figured if we make this one thing, it’s gonna be too good. Like, sleight of hand doesn’t do a whole lot. It’s basically picking pockets and hiding stuff on your body and that’s pretty much it, so basically no one takes sleight of hand because it doesn’t do anything. But thieves’ tools: really good. Disarm traps, open locks, cause mischief, things like that. So a lot of RPGs, including fourth edition D&D and PF2, rolled that into one skill called “thievery” which is both sleight of hand and, you know, picking locks, disabling traps, all of those things in one function. So it’s weird that sleight of hand was separated in fifth edition. Like, that may have just been like, Okay, we’re going to keep this just to appease the people who’ve been around for a super long time. No one’s going to take it anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
Okay, I want to I want to call back what you just said. So they didn’t combine them, because they knew it would be too good. So what they did is they said, let’s take the good parts that will actually functionally change the game. Let’s wrap that in a box and we’ll call this thieves’ tools. And all this other garbage, like, we’re just gonna push it off to the side and like, we’re going to offer them, like, people… Oh, you know, you know, choose one or the other. Which do you want? Oh, you want thieves’ tools? Okay. The next guy comes along it’s like “ah, we’re all out of thieves’ tools” so I had to take sleight of hand.
That does kind of feel like it. Yeah.
That’s that’s interesting, because I guess it just kind of depends on the person who’s running the game because like it my in the games that I’ve I’ve run and the games that I’ve been a part of in my circle. Sleight of Hand is one we always take because we almost never call for thieves’ tools. It’s, uh… you want to pick a lock? Sleight of hand. Want to disarm a trap? Sleight of hand. Want to pickpocket? Sleight of hand. So thieves’ tools almost never entered the equation because it’s always seemed extraneous to us. So I get that that’s the thing is, like, when you make a system that’s as confusingly worded as the tool system is in 5e, people are just not going to interact with it in some cases or miss-interact with in other cases. I don’t know if there’s a perfect solution to be honest.
I will say though, it feels like a perfectly great home rule. So if the rules as written are that they’re two separate ideas, and you use this for, you know, lifting purses and rolling coins on your fingers like a villain. And over here, you’re disarming traps and breaking into things. If, if you as a home rule, just say, Look, that’s one thing and we want to treat it like one thing, that feels fine.
You know, it’s up to the DM to not let that be gamebreaking.
Yeah, I mean, that works fine, and plenty of other RPGs. And so Rogue skill proficiency and thieves’ tools for free. So I’d say just, yeah, if you’re gonna go there I would just change that to sleight of hand for free. Works just fine. It’s not a huge deal. It’s a difference of one skill proficiency and think back to your entire history of playing D&D. How many times has someone picked a pocket? Probably not super often.
Almost never. No, almost never. Yeah, I didn’t know that. You guys are educating me. I didn’t know that sleight of hand was just for pickpocket in 5e.
Oh, it’s also for tying ropes for some reason.
Interesting. Oh, yeah, that is true.
Well, it’s a lot of manual dexterity there.
Although, I will say I have seen sleight of hand used pretty frequently in a different context, which is trying to disguise a spell that is being cast. I have seen that used quite frequently.
That does make sense. Like, if you’re going to allow that, that makes sense as the skill that you would use for it. I don’t think there’s official rules for that in fifth edition. But yeah, if you’re going to allow that new game, sleight of hand is definitely definitely the one I would use for that. Maybe deception if you want to disguise the verbal components, but for somatic components, teah, that’s definitely it.
That’s what I was saying is like, for certain spells, like if it’s verbal, then yeah, would probably be deception. But for, for somatic, it’s definitely sleight of hand. Like if you’re trying to cast Friends on someone or something. Well, no, Friends is just verbal. But you get the idea. If you’re trying to cast like an enchantment spell on someone, you don’t want them to know that you’re casting a spell feels like sleight of hand is a good one to use for that situation.
Okay, you don’t want to… you don’t want them to know what spell or that you were casting a spell at all. That makes a lot more sense of what was going on in my head. What was going on my head is like the villain leader is like, Yeah, I thought he was trying to charm me at first and all of a sudden, there was a fireball coming in my face really confused.
Oh, that’s not a bad idea either. Like, trick them into what spell you’re casting. That’s, that’s pretty brilliant, actually.
It’s like “I thought it was gonna be fine, then it wasn’t.”
Yes. Xanathar’s has rules for identifying spells as they’re being cast. So you as a spell caster might identify a spell and say, “Oh, I would like to counterspell that because I don’t want to be on the receiving end of that… whatever.” And then it turns out to be completely different spell. You made a bad call. Yeah, that that could work out in the caster’s favor if you want to let that happen. So let’s dig into artisan’s tools. We’re not going to… we’re not going to go crazy into crafting. Again, that really does need to be its own episode.
But let’s talk about what they are, why they exist, and maybe some, like, there are some edge cases for things that you can get out of artisan’s tools in 5e. So for for PF2, it’s gonna be like, here’s your bonus for crafting. In a lot of other RPGs we’re crafting is involved, it’s probably just gonna be like, if you have the tools, you can craft things. If you have better tools, you get a bonus. In 5e there are some specific other benefits that you can get from artisan’s tools, like I learned this from Rocco’s article. If you have chef’s tools, if you prepare food during a rest, everyone who spends a hit die, gets more hit points back. Like, the chef feats adds a d6 if they spend at least one hit die, but just having chef’s tools gives you another plus one per hit die, which is pretty nice. I wish I’d known that like six months ago.
Yeah, that would have been great.
I will say the stuff that Xanathar’s adds to like the practical features that Xanathar’s adds to the tools is, is good. I like it. I think it does add some value to tool proficiency that didn’t exist before. As long as your players remember to use them.
I would also say as long as the DM like makes a world that, you know, that it works for but I suppose we’ll get to that in a moment.
Yeah, it’s kind of frustrating. You can… with the custom origin rules, like, you can trade weapon proficiencies from your race down to tool proficiencies. So if you’re an elf and you’re a martial character, you’re already proficient in all the weapons. You probably have four weapon proficiencies from being an elf. What are you going to do with it? Okay, traded down to tools. I’m proficient in calligraphy tools, navigator’s tools, brewer’s supplies, and… why not? Carpentry tools. None of this is ever going to matter. I’m never going to use any of these things.
You say you’re never going to use any of these things. But I’ll also make the argument: knowing about tools can also… like, the proficiency in the tool itself can also help us when we’re working in the area. Right? So I might not have my brewers tools with me. But if I’m in a brewery, that could be to my advantage. And I’m making a check… Instead of having to make, you know, a history check. I guess in 5e or maybe call it an alche… Excuse me, alchemy, wow. An arcana check because beer is magic all on you. You know, on on the Pathfinder side instead of like invoking… alchemy is a thing. It is a skill in PF2, right?
Alchemists… Alchemy is a thing in PF2. It’s… you just use crafting to create it and then there’s the like, advanced alchemy thing, which lets you craft higher than like level one items.
Yeah, you get an alchemy lab. You’re gonna be… Okay. I gotcha, gotcha. But I guess there’s a point I was gonna make as opposed to invoking my skills, being able to go to my lore and using that history. I feel like that’s also useful in 5e.
Yeah. If you’re in a situation where you can apply your artisan’s tools, then yeah, it’s definitely cool. But it’s just so rare. And like, there’s so many artisan’s tools that as a DM, it’s hard to… it’s hard to write those things into the game. Like in a published module, they’re not going to write something into the game that’s gonna say, hey, if the players have brewer’s tools, something, something something. Yeah, it mgiht be easier if you as the DM know what they have.
I’m going to ask my question a different way. If I’m in a situation where I don’t have to use my tool, but proficiency with the tool would grant me additional knowledge… it would grant me additional knowledge. Would you grant my proficiency bonus in an investigation or perception check?
Yeah, I think so.
Yeah, I could see that.
But, like, give me an example. Let’s let’s talk through it.
Okay. Yeah. All right. I am proficiency within… with alchemist’s tools.
I am in a shop where an alchemist has been murdered. I’m looking around, and I realized several things have been stolen. So my DM should be working with me on this. And DM’s, at home, like, I think this is this is a big part of your role. Like, notice that somebody… you’re in an alchemist’s shop. Notice that somebody has is proficient with the alchemist’s kit, the alchemist’s tools, and say to them, you notice that the eye of newt, the capsicum, and the vinegar has been stolen. Alright, now to everybody else, nobody else in the room doing an investigation check or a Perception check would notice these things. But the perfect person proficient with the alchemist’s tools would notice these things. And obviously would know that somebody is making a barbecue sauce.
Sure, yeah. I’ll allow it.
So one thing that I would say is that if… maybe I’m just a meaner DM. But I would say that if you succeed on just a base investigation roll to notice that those things were missing, then you could make a check with your alchemy tool to figure out what they’re trying to make. That would be the way that I would rule it. But I could see it being ruled the other way, how you just described it as well.
Oh, no, actually 100% I think that’s probably the right way to tell this story. Right? So on the investigation check, though nobody else in the party would even have a chance of noticing that these things have gone wrong. And so it’s almost… it’s a two tier setup, exactly as you say, where maybe later you allow the person to come back and figure out like the secret sauce, like the important part of what they actually needed put together for the story.
Yeah, no, I think that’s a good way to bring in tool proficiency. I know later, we’re going to talk about how DM’s can make tools matter. I think you’re right, just having a list of where most DM’s have like their copies of character sheets on their screens or whatever with people’s paths and perceptions, you should also have their tool proficiencies. And just whenever there’s a check that you think might relate to tool proficiencies, check to see if anybody has that proficiency.
No, 100%. Let’s hit pause on that, because I’m actually really excited to have that conversation.
So let’s jump to vehicles and drive quickly in a different direction.
I see what you did there.
Thank you. So vehicles and proficiency, they’re in… are in a ton of RPGs. And just like that one tiny detail was actually really interesting window into how… how different rule sets work. So, like, D&D, proficiency in skills, proficiency in tools. Bery, like, boolean. Very simple. You have it or you don’t. Like there’s not a lot of minutia there. And then the DM is, is burdened with deciding when things apply and when they don’t. In other RPGs, the rules for vehicle proficiencies can often be much more specific. So in 5e, you have proficiency in land vehicles and you have proficiency in aquatic vehicles. And if you’re an Eberron, there’s also the possibility of, of air vehicles because airships are a thing. In other RPGs, like PF2 as an example, yhere’s no proficiency specifically for vehicles, but you can take a lore skill, which can sometimes be used for driving things. There’s driving lore, piloting lore, and I believe sailing lore. And I complain about lore skills and PF2 quite a bit because they’re super vaguely defined, and you can have whatever you want lore. Like, if I wanted to have like, wool socks lore, that’s a thing. I could just write that on my character sheet. You can’t stop me, Fun Police. But then you can go and drive a vehicle and the rules for vehicle say like, Okay, here’s the check DC to pilot this thing based on how how much of a pain it is to control. And it’ll give you a list of skills you can use. So like airships, you can use arcana, crafting, or piloting lore, and the lore skills have a DC that’s two lower than the other skills. So like, if, if you know 100% for certain that it’s gonna matter, the lore skill might be a better idea, but it’s like… I could also just take arcana and arcana is going to be useful for other stuff. So once again, PF2, why do more skills need to exist? They don’t.
I think lore skills are awesome.
We’ll agree to disagree.
They’re never gonna matter for combat. But I think that the right GM can take these things and really make them interesting and matter as part of the storytelling. That’s my whole argument. That’s it. But it’s going to take an attentive GM who has that list of lore skills, like, sitting there ready to look at them ready to make them matter.
There’s always this kind of skill in… and I feel like 5e is kind of the exception, but there’s there’s a lot of these like generic specialization skills, like education skill in Call of Cthulhu. I believe there’s like a knowledge skill in vampire that works the same way where it’s like you have… you’re trained in like, just generic lore education. But you have a specialty in that. So like, for instance, in Call of Cthulhu your education might be in history, or… no, history’s its own skill! Again, it’s like a redundant thing. So it’s like, it has to be hyper specific. Like maybe… there’s a science skill as well that allows you… there’s specializations in Call of Cthulhu. It’s like you could be “I am a science nerd in atom… atomization or, or quantum neutrino fields or something like that.” These like very niche skills that almost never come up. But when they do, man does it feel good to have it. Hey, I have that specialty!
But only the red color quarks, like, nothing else. Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting you say that though. Like, if somebody approached you and said, “I am a scientist” you would look at them and be like “you’re a liar.” Like, I don’t… you know? But as soon as it’s like, “oh, you know, yeah, I’m a microbiologist focused on the gut bacteria of ruminates” you’re like, “yeah, no, totally a scientist, that guy.”
I’m something of a scientist, myself.
Computer scientists. Is that a scientist?
It very much is and we can… let’s duke that ont out after the episode
Not the way I do it.
I believe we call it the sweet science. Also, fantastic Spider Man reference.
I’m here for it. That’s all.
Alright. So so lore skills, they’re a thing in PF2. Specializations are a thing in other RPGs. Call of Cthulhu. I believe Shadowrun has them as well. I love the idea of specializations within RPGs. I think the folks doing the advanced 5e thing also introduced the concept of specializations. I haven’t read into it super far so do not quote me on that. But anyway, lore can always be replaced with more interesting skill in PF2. Back to vehicles. I love the way vehicles work in PF2, you get that list of like, here are the specific actions you can take with vehicle. You can drive the vehicle. 1 to 3 actions, depending on how crazy you want to be. And there’s just an action called “Run Over” that you can just use to ram your vehicle into things and that’s great. And I love that that’s just in the core rulebook.
I feel like they finally gave you cavalry back and that’s exciting.
I don’t know if there’s a run over action with a horse. You could do with a horse-drawn carriage. I don’t know about just with a horse. I think there’s an overrun rule, but I’m forgetting.
All right, fine. We leave unsatisfied.
Just let us do it with a horse. Come on. Come on!
So I mentioned, like, vehicles as an interesting window into other RPGs. So we mentioned Shadowrun. Shadowrun… My sixth edition book, it has vanished into somewhere. So I found my PDF of the fifth. Oh, you have it! Okay, how many skills for piloting are there in sixth edition Shadowrun? Because there were like 10 in fifth.
I’m guessing a lot.
So fifth edition Shadowrun has like 10 skills for piloting. Basically one for each kind of vehicle. There’s land vehicles like cars, there’s walker’s, there’s flying cars… flying cars. Flying vehicles. There’s aquatic vehicles. So many skills! Sixth Edition consolidates that down to one piloting skill and then you have specializations for each of those individual skills. So you no longer have to be like, I don’t know if I’m going to be driving a plane or a car so I need both of these skills. Now you can just be like, “I can pilot things. I’m really good at cars, but I’m still okay at everything else.”
And that that essentially it gets reduced down to ground craft, aircraft, and watercraft, which really raises the question: is the submarine closer to an aircraft or a watercraft?
To crabs, do fish fly?
then it’s an aircraft
Good. We’ll have to to navigate in three, in three dimensions. Obviously, it’s an aircraft.
Oh, my god.
If you think about it, driving, driving a boat, you try very hard not to navigate in three dimensions.
I mean, I want to disagree with you, but yeah, that’s true. You make a valid point.
It’s what we’re here for.
Thanks, I hate it.
Submarines. You really don’t want to hit the bottom. Like, the ground is bad. The wet ground is bad. Yeah, what is a spaceship but an airplane that went too high?
Speaking of spaceships, hey, how about Star Wars?
Solid transition. A+.
Yes. Fantasy Flight Star Wars. There are… If you look at the table of skills in the skills chapter, it is a full page top to bottom, just the names of the skills. So there are a lot of them, but skills include, like, weapon proficiencies, knowledge stuff, and then general skills. There are two piloting skills. oOne for planetary things and one for space things That’s it. So like if you’re piloting an airspeeder you want piloting planetary. If you’re piloting a car, planetary. Piloting a boat, planetary. Bicycle: planetary. I you want to fly anything capable of going into space, piloting (space).
Yeah, like when you think about it characters in any of the Star Wars shows or films or anything, like, generally they’re going to be in spaceships. If they’re piloting something on the ground, it’s never for a super long period of time. Like, Luke Skywalker flies and X-Wing. He does very briefly fly in Airspeeder and it was fine for him. But you don’t think like, yes, Luke Skywalker clearly knows how to drive a getaway car.
Yeah, um… it. I mean, that’s true. But like, in the extended universe, it’s sort of like, expanded upon that Luke is an ace pilot, right? And that he got a lot of that from… he practiced his piloting skills through the use of his ground vehicle. So maybe there’s some overlap. I don’t know.
I thought it was just hereditary.
That’s part of it, and The Force.
Also, it’s with him. The Force is one with him. And yeah… that Ani kid. I don’t know if you guys saw that movie. That movie was really cool. It was like the Phantom Menace. It had nothing to do with the other… the remainder of that. Yeah, but, but like that kid, you know? That was pod racing, right?
This is pod racing!
Something something wizard.
I remember that. Yeah, the force… it’s just the force. Don’t think about it.
Honestly, now that you mention it, yeah, it is weird that they even bothered separating piloting into two skills. Like, they, they probably didn’t want like your ace fighter pilot to magically be good at driving stuff on the ground. But I mean, that is pretty much exactly how it works in all of the canon media. Like, Anakin Skywalker never flies a spaceship until he accidentally gets into a spaceship and he’s like, “Eh, this is fine.”
And then blows up a space station.
Yeah, actually, yeah, I can’t off the top of my head think of any character that was like bad at one and good at the other.
Maybe Han? Did we ever see him fly a ground ship?
Well, no, he’s bad a both! No, he’s actually bad at both, right? He just…
How dare you, sir?
His luck is just like, muah!
He does have a huge luck stat, that’s for sure.
Also, yeah, that’s the time we started flying. He’s got like a wrench out banging on the aluminum Falcon, just…
I mean, they had, they had an entire origin story movie. And at one point, like his high school buddies are like, “Huh, you’re pretty good pilot.” And he’s like, “I’ve been… I’ve been telling you guys that this whole time.”
No one buys it. But I mean, it is funny that in the canon, they say they kind of connect the ground vehicles skill with the space like they’re equivalent. They’re really not, though. They should be different. Just because you know how to drive a car does not mean that you are qualified to fly a plane. Yes, this is exactly like flying a plane!
Yeah! I have to hope that they’ve just standardized the controls and stuff galaxy-wide to the point that it’s like, “well, it’s got a joystick. I can drive it.”
Okay, now here’s… let’s talk about the reality of it. Flying in space, it is actually really hard to hit something. Because there’s nothing there.
That’s it. That’s the secret for space travel.
Just go in that direction. Stop at the appropriate time.
I think it wouldd be funny if canon Star Wars just told us that Han Solo was bad at driving vehicles on the ground. It’s like, “well, I can fly recklessly when I’m in the space! Now there’s things in the way!”
I just crossed universes. I’m sorry, team. We’re going here. The Chris Pine series Chris. Fine. He’s gonna star in the new Dungeons Dragons movie. We’re very excited for it when it comes out. The Chris Pine Star Trek series, right? It opens up with kid Kirk driving a sports car off a cliff and then like barely hanging on at the last minute to be like “Ha ha! I wrecked the car!” And he becomes a good pilot.
There you go. Ahead of its time.
Just taking the Cthulhu method. You gotta get it wrong to advance.
All right. So I want to spend a little bit of time talking about how DM’s can help make tools work. And some of the ideas that we’ve already talked about. So one: know what tools your your player characters are proficient in. If we’re talking about PF2, know what lore that your players have taken. Know what kits and what tools they actually carry on their person. So it could be the case that somebody took a proficiency but didn’t actually take the tool or the kit. Maybe at some point as a gift to them, this is something that they find somewhere. Know these things, put these things together. The second thing I’ll say is find a way to integrate them into your story. And I feel like, I don’t want to do this by session, because everybody runs different length sessions, but I think on the order of four hours of play, find a way to make one of your player characters’ tool proficiencies or loress matter. So one thing you can do is create better outcomes. We talked about this all the time. Like, binary pass/fail a lot of times really sucks. But giving, like, let’s say they go into a shop, and they’re trying to buy something. But a particular tool proficiency could help the person behind the counter. Let’s say you have an alchemist, an alchemist toolkit, and they’re out of potions, but they have the ingredients for the potions. So if you agree to sit there for however long it takes to create the potions, they’re gonna give you a discount off the rest of your items. And then maybe they’ll give you some stuff for free. So what is the party trading? They’re trading in-game time for money. And neither of those things matter, so it’s fine. They probably do it and they feel good about it.
In 5e, yeah.
Yeah, I agree. When you’re when you’re when a party member has a specialization or something that they like a tool or something, that’s kind of niche that should come up. Um, especially in a big way, like if you’re either you use it pretty frequently, like, like Randall said, every four hours, or it becomes a crucial part of the storyline, or something like that. One of the things… One of the interviews I watched recently with Brennan Lee Mulligan, the Dungeon Master of Dimension 20, is he says that when he prepares his storyline, like his campaigns, obviously, his campaigns are pretty short. But when he prepares his campaigns, he always makes sure that he tries to include something from all of his party members. So they all have a stake in the story in some way. And it’s not just you know, the one person. And he even tries to build his encounters around this, like every encounter should have something that at least one of the party members can exploit or use and make themselves shine. So especially, I mean, it’s hard, because for dungeon masters, we have a lot that we’re trying to work with. But that’s why I think, like, having your copy of characters character sheets next to you, so you can just like look at them and be like, “hm, you know, those those tinkerer’s tools that my party member has haven’t come up in a while. How can I integrate those into the story?” Maybe there’s a maybe there’s some sort of broken down machine that the villain is using in their abandoned lair that I can ask for a tinkerer’s check. And you do it in such a way that doesn’t feel like I planned for this to be a tinkerer’s check. Yes, yes. But you’ll see like there’s, you know, there’s a broken down machine. Is anyone proficient in tinkerer’s tools? And the party will be like “I am!”
More likely everybody’s like, “no, no, nobody is.” And you’re like “is anybody?”
I know one of you are!
No one remembers. If you look at the front page of the character sheet, I don’t think there’s a space for tool proficiencies. At least, I’m pretty sure. It might be way down there in the bottom left corner, but like, yeah.
Some people don’t even write down their tool proficiencies I know I haven’t in a while. So I’m just like “I get a proficiency in gaming tools.” Does anybody use gaming tools ever in a D&D game? I have never used those.
I’m proficient in dice sets, which means I know how to read a d4.
Oh! That’s a very useful skill!
He actually just uses them as caltrops though. Like he throws them out, lets people step on them. Caltrops!
That’s a good use of gaming set. There you go. Perfect.
I will say though, like we’re talking about finding ways to make things matter. So one, like it shouldn’t be like a pat on the head like “oh, look threw you a bone!” I want to call out, you can do this in modules though, right? I’ll give an example. Now I’ll think of an example. Yeah, okay. Here’s one. So we’re playing Rime of the Frostmaiden, right? Early on and no spoilers. Okay, some very small spoiler, but, you know, come with me. I’ll make it vague. You go on a fishing adventure. There is a village being plagued by lake monster. If you looked in, you saw that somebody had a fishing toolbox as a toolkit, leverage it, make it work. Like they’re the person who has to do it. And they, you know, they’re able to help other people as they’re trying to fish to catch the fish monster. These are things that you can think matter. Like, as you’re looking… as you look and plan the session that you’re going to run, be thinking about the things that you can substitute in to say, like, okay, look, it isn’t super consequential to the story. Like another example I wanted to give is let’s say you’re talking to a guard and it’s not hostile or it’s not like you’re in prison or something, but you’re trying to get through because you want to talk to somebody. And, you know, investigation check or perception check. The jeweler who succeeds on the investigation check notices that the the gold chain that they’re wearing is slightly broken, and offers to fix it. Now you’ve endeared yourself to that person, and they’re just gonna let you in, it’s gonna be great. You know, allowing this to be one of the pads that you take when you’re solving problems, and kind of putting these things in your pocket so that when you’re just trying to advance the story, like, the goal was just to get to the door, and you would have allowed anything to get through the door, being ready to go to find a way to make the tools matter for the person who maybe succeeds on that investigation, perception check. I think it’d be a way to make the tools feel important while, bluntly, if you’re not a DM at home earmuffs, maybe they didn’t really matter that all that much at all.
Yeah, I think that’s actually a good transition into how players can make their tools matter. It shouldn’t just all be on the DM. Players need to remember that they have them and offer to use them in places where they think that they would work. And even in places where they think they don’t, because that that that example that you said about noticing that the guard has a broken gold chain and how you can exploit that to escape. That’s brilliant. And that’s something that I would I would just if one of my players is like… if I asked my players how they want to get out of the situation, and the guy who was proficient in jewelers kit, like “can I do that?” I’d be like, “That’s dope! Yes, you can do that.” So think of weird, like, what’s the word I’m looking for? Unorthodox ways of using the kits that you’re proficient in, um, because it can really add something to them, and it can probably make your DM very excited.
So I’m gonna use the word absurd here. But I’ll say like these absurd ideas in my mind, I feel like occasionally they’re fun. If you try to do that to solve literally every problem I think your DM is just gonna go to a flat no. And so the same way we said, hey, you know, DM’s/GM’s at home use tool proficiencies use lor, like once every four hours or so. Hey, player at home, like maybe once a session pop off with one of these things because your DM probably will enjoy it.
Yeah. Yeah, it’s the same as with anything. You you want to use it sparingly because otherwise, for players especially this is just good advice in general. Use your things, the things in your back pocket sparingly because otherwise your DM will plan to explout it against you.
Save your trump cards. Save your trump cards.
I feel that. The other thing I’ll say here is that.. be in tune with the GM and never be afraid to “Yes, and” with what they’re giving you. So if they… if they throw this offhand comment about like, there’s a guard, the guard is wearing, you know, a ring on each finger and a gold chain. Latch on to that, you know, if the guard comes in and the guard has a hook, like, snapped into the bill of the hats that they’re wearing, and you’re you you have a fishing tackle proficiency, take advantage of that. Like, if there are these little details that your your DM or GM is throwing in, even if they didn’t mean for it to be something for you to latch onto, hook onto it and be like “Well, you said this” because I guarantee your DM GM will be so happy that you’re just paying attention to what they’re saying.
Yeah, absolutely. Take advantage of those things. And while you do want to do it sparingly, so it doesn’t become annoying. Yeah, definitely look for fun ways to apply your tool proficiencies. Stretch your imagination a little bit. Like if you have mason’s tools be like “hey, does this wall look weird?” If you have carpenter’s tools be like, “Hey, can I saw through this locked door?” Like… these are tools in your arsenal. If you have calligrapher’s tools, that that hate mail you’re writing to the local government. Make it nice.
This is a very fancy person who hates what we’re doing.
Or you’re putting a lost person, missing persons poster, make it look nice.
Yeah, wanted posters, reward posters. Actually, that’s a great idea for a party right like if you find the you know, reward 500 Gold bring it to X. You use your calligraphy kit to make one with 100 gold reward. You post that, pull the other, have them come to you, and then you bring the price to the other. Franchising.
All right. I think we did it, right?
I think we did.
All right, awesome. So we have a question of the week this week, our question of the week this week comes to us from @IsBeePoint0, with the possibility of an updated fifth edition ruleset. In 2024. What is one thing you want to see in a 5.5 edition.
Better diseases. This is a sticking point for me. I want better diseases!
The past three years haven’t been enough?
Fair enough. But it’s just a thing that I’ve I’ve, I don’t know, there’s a lot of things I would want from a five point… if it’s the one that immediately jumped to mind is like I’ve wanted to eat I am fascinated by diseases, especially in like a fantasy setting because, you know, diseases have been a thing that have shaped human history for as long as we have been around. And they are a thing that humanity is constantly struggle with. And it kind of is a thing that I can’t use right now. Because it is so easy to get rid of. So… fix that.
Yeah, that’s a that’s a good point. We talked about conditions on the last two episodes and diseases basically aren’t a thing in 5e like Paladins get immunity to disease at level two. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that mattering in fifth edition. Like, 3.x, yeah, there’s a lot of things that can lead to diseases being immune to it is nice. In 5e it literally never matters.
So disease isn’t a class of thing anymore, right? Like it isn’t an ontological category. Instead, it’s just that, you know, I can get mummy rot and hey, here’s a list of things that don’t care my mummy rot.
Well, mummy rot is a curse now.
Yeah. So the thing, the reason I bring it up is like, I had been running a campaign. It was sort of a steampunk style thing. And there were two instances that I wished this disease had been better that I could have used, because I had to homebrew a lot of stuff. There was a… there’s a big, bad pandemic that’s going around, not as… not, not as like a real world one, like it was definitely contained. But it was sort of like a thing that was always there, like the consumption and stuff like that. Cause, you know, consumption was a big part of 19th-century life. And so I wanted that to be an ever present sort of threat that’s just like, this person has this disease. And this is like a thing that happens to people in society. And then I had this other character, who. I had this NPC that I was really attached to who she, one of the things that made her so interesting was she was constantly underestimated because she had a degenerative bone disorder. But she was… she’s this young girl who’s very, like a genius. So she’s constantly trying to fight to be taken seriously and not being seen as a victim. But in a world where you could, she could probably just have that curate if she just hopped down to her local Cleric. Just, like, that sucks, man. I have to, like, there, there are moving and interesting stories you can tell about stuff like that. So and that are just completely negated? I don’t know. It’s a weird quirk that it’s a weird demand. And it probably won’t happen. But I’m hopinh. What about you, too?
So I’m gonna I’m gonna cheat a little bit and answer with snark. I hope all of my fifth edition content is still in 5.5. That is my answer.
You know, and we’re already taking steps we’re, we’re changing things a little bit, right? We have a new three pack which supersedes to some extent some of the stuff in the the original three pack. And I say that to say that if we get to 5.5, and it’s like, actually, basically, the original Player’s Handbook is useless. It’ll make me a little sad. I’m gonna buy it. Like, that’s…
I think, realistically, what’s going to happen with 5.5 is we will get a completely new core rulebook. So Player’s Handbook, DMG, monster manual. Hopefully everything else will stay backwards compatible. Like that’s, that’s what they told us they were going to do when they announced it, but who knows the full stick to that. But yeah, almost certainly the existing core rule books will be obsolete to some degree or another. But you should get all of the exact same things just updated in the new book. At least that’s how it went with 3.5, so I’m hoping.
Let’s go with expansion, not contraction.
Expansion, not contraction. Don’t cut out features, add features.
I think I’ve said this before, but I’d like I would like better mounted combat rules.
I agree. I 100% agree with that.
We’ll have a link to the episode on mounted combat.
Ah, something I hated so much that we started this podcast. Yeah, there there are some subsystems in fifth edition that they really need to, like, start over from scratch. Reimagine. Mounted combat is a good example. Yeah, that’s probably the biggest example I can think of. And then yeah, there’s always some pain points that I hope they’ll fix. It would be nice if it was easier to play monks and if you could build them more than one way. Yeah, send off the rough edges, fix the broken subsystems. Let me ride a horse that doesn’t suck. And hey, large races.
Yes! I know it’s a joke to you, but I want it!
I know, I know.
He actually also wants it.
I mean, a little. I do now. I just want it to be there. I don’t think I’ll ever actually play a large race, but…
Yes you will.
I want to have an option.
Yes, I agree. Just give us the option.
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I missed that.
A block and tackle isn’t fishing gear, it’s a set of ropes and pulleys used to lift heavy things. Fishing tackle is also on the equipment list, but there’s no proficiency for it, so you’d likely use Wisdom (Survival). Really, most of the tool proficiencies could be handled as skill checks. For most non-adventuring professions, there are far more necessary tools than are available as proficiencies than are on the PHB list, and the PC crafting rules are sparse to say the least. They could have just based it all on ability (skill) checks and assume you know how to use most of the tools related to your background.
Thanks for the correction! I think I mixed up “block and tackle” with “tackle box”. Clearly I don’t fish.
WotC could have done a lot of things differently will tool proficiencies. I’m curious to see what happens in 5.5/6e, but I would be surprised if tools stay as they are.
If they went the route of releasing updated rules that aren’t necessary to the base game but provide optional expansions along a theme, they could make tools relevant through a crafting system. 3.x had a comprehensive system for everything. I wouldn’t want to go back to that level of complexity in the base game, but WotC could get a lot of books out of focused expansions. Not every game has use for maritime rules, but entire campaigns could be built around them if they weren’t hidden in a module which many players aren’t even going to look at. Not every campaign has the players building a stronghold or ruling a realm, but the Birthright campaign setting and the Kingmaker adventure path depend on it. Difficult survival through many environmental dangers are a big deal in Dark•Sun. And as for tool usage, crafting isn’t part of every campaign, but Eberron and the Artificer class don’t feel right without the sort of crafting coverage 3.5 had. Artificers should also be ‘full’ casters, with access to practically all spells, but with few or no spell slots. Everything would be available _as rituals_, so all of an artificer’s ‘action casting’ is based on limited-use items like scrolls, potions, wands, etc.). Not everyone wants to track their materials, tools, etc., but those who do want the fantasy of being a master crafter need a better system than what’s presented in the basic rules or XGtE.