I've been playing DnD 5e for some time now, but just recently I've begun reading the ADnD rulebooks as they've come into my ownership.

A peculiar change I noticed is that the DM rolls many of the skill checks for the player.

I appreciate this allows the DM to relay information that may be incorrect based on the roll (i.e. you try to identify some tracks, the DM rolls and adds any modifiers - it's a poor roll and instead of being unable to identify them, you identify them incorrectly).

While in 5e, as we play in my sessions anyway, players roll skill checks themselves and it is a failure/success. Obviously the DM can't really provide misleading information this way because the players would catch on. I.e. "low roll means opposite happens"

I feel the old system has more realism involved - you might be an excellent scholar but it's entirely possible you misread a foreign language you studied if the entries in the alphabet have similarities.

I'm wondering what are some of the main reasons for this change, and which edition did the change occur?

Please note that I am aware the old method can be applied in any edition, but I am curious about when it stopped being 'taught' that way in the rulebooks.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Am I correct: you're talking not so much about proficiencies per se, but about the the philosophies/practices around "gm makes rolls" vs. "players make all rolls"? \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 13:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 Yes that is correct. I'm sorry this might not be clear in the title I will edit it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wharf Rat
    Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 13:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ No edition between 2nd and 5th has proficiencies, so this question is confusing to me. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 17:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this would be less confusing to readers if the skill/proficiency distinction was clearer in the question. They don't mean the same thing: in AD&D a "proficiency" means what is now usually called a "skill". In 5e Proficiency is related to but not = to a skill. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 21:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've edited the question. Is this better? Thanks for the feedback. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wharf Rat
    Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 22:12

1 Answer 1


3rd edition

If 2e advocates that the DM makes the skill checks for the player characters, then that approach was reversed in 3e, where the default assumption is that the player makes all rolls on behalf of their character and all the instructions about making any kind of skill checks are worded that way. No explicit justification for this is given in the manuals.

Possibly, this could be linked to 3e's adoption of what it calls the core mechanic - using one simple resolution system (roll a d20, add modifiers, compare to target number) to adjudicate almost everything that happens in the game, combat or not. The intended flow is that:

  1. the DM describes the situation
  2. the player describes what they want their character to do
  3. the DM tells them what kind of roll to make
  4. the player rolls their d20 and adds their modifiers
  5. the DM tells them if and how they succeed.

Complicating this by having the DM make some rolls on behalf of the character breaks this flow and may have been seen as undesirable. It also requires the DM to manage a lot more information, since they need to know the relevant statistics for the player for any rolls they need to make on their behalf. It is easier for this burden to be entirely handled by the player, as the DM already has enough to keep track of with their NPCs.

Finally, there is a general assumption in modern D&D that the point of the game is to tell a story together and that players can be trusted not to metagame - even if they know that their roll was poor and maybe they didn't spot a trap or a hidden ambusher, they play their characters without acting on that knowledge. Obviously, the truth of this assumption varies highly from table to table. I understand that in earlier versions of D&D the relationship between DM and players was traditionally somewhat more antagonistic, and the idea of essentially giving players information their characters did not have would have been much more strongly discouraged.


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