The rules mention that to follow tracks, you need to find them. It is also mentioned that it can take up to an hour outdoors to find tracks you have lost - all under tracking, which is Wisdom (Survival).

The way I read it would be to use Survival no matter the situation (for both finding and following) but I read some people would use perception or investigation to find the tracks. When looking at the table for Sylvan random encounter in DMG p. 87, in one entry it uses Wisdom (Survival) to both find and follow the tracks.

Also, I see a problem using other skills to find the tracks for a Ranger character because Ranger favored enemy feature states you have advantage on Wisdom (Survival) to track your favored enemy. Then it would be very strange for the Ranger not being able to find tracks he could easily follow due to his advantage on a check. And what if the Ranger for some reason is not proficient in perception would never be able to find tracks so not able to follow any?

So, the question is easy but I fear the answer is not, as I was not able to find a straight answer to it.

I want to make sure that any character who want to become a good tracker (either through ranger or rogue sub-class) can do so. I feel that having to be good at 2 or 3 skills to accomplish one thing (i.e. tracking) is not the common usage of skills in 5e.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Players don't "use skills" in 5e anymore. Instead, they say what they do, and the DM may (or may not) ask a player for an ability check. A relevant question: How to use skills — did this change between editions and how? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Dec 15, 2020 at 5:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor thanks for the comment. I have commented on this point in the answer's comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – jonDraco
    Dec 17, 2020 at 15:38

1 Answer 1


There are no skill checks in D&D 5e

Don't feel bad if you missed it, the Player's Handbook sucks at explaining it.

There are Ability Checks in D&D 5e

The first question to ask is which ability score is the correct one for tracking and finding tracks?

Strength, Dexterity, Constitution and Charisma don't immediately suggest themselves, although I can see circumstances where they would - tracking someone through a crowd by reading disturbances and asking questions, could use Charisma for sure. Or Dexterity if you are tracking someone across rooftops perhaps?

You are generally left with:

  • Intelligence "when you need to draw on logic, education, memory, or deductive reasoning", or
  • Wisdom "how attuned you are to the world around you and represents perceptiveness and intuition."

Now, consider the task of tracking or finding tracks in the particular circumstances: is it primarily analytic, or primarily intuitive?

There is no correct answer and different circumstances can give one answer one time and the other answer another time.

You're the DM, you make the call.

Once you've decided on the ability; is there one or more applicable skills?

If the PC has a skill that is applicable then they can apply their proficiency bonus to the roll.

For tracking: is Survival applicable? Of course, it is.
Perception? Yes.
Insight? Definitely.
Arcana? If the thing being tracked is magical, why not?
Following a wild animal? Nature is applicable.

There are no off-limits skills. If your player can convince you why it should apply; be convinced.

At my table, my call is "Make an [ability] Ability Check?" and I expect and encourage "Can I apply [skill]?"

I highly recommend these "no skill" character sheets to emphasise this.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Following that logic (with which I agree!), I'd argue you might as well go the rest of the way and replace "skill" with "proficiency". While the non-skill proficiencies may be less obvious with tracking, they may well still apply for other activities (eg., proficiency with Disguise Kits would be applicable while creating a mundane disguise, which would probably otherwise be a Charisma check). Plus, for this player/GM, removing that distinction helped cement the "make a check" "can I add X profiency?" loop. \$\endgroup\$
    – minnmass
    Dec 15, 2020 at 7:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dale M. I didn't take it personally but I really meant Survival skill using Wisdom ability. Because the way you described it in your answer assumes I would use the variant of using different abilities with different skills which I didn't plan on to keep it simple for players...in a sense of helping them make a strategy while playing or even for character building. maybe not using this variant will not help to meet my objective but we'll see. Again, I might have missed something. if I need to clarify something, please let me know so I can adjust my question. \$\endgroup\$
    – jonDraco
    Dec 15, 2020 at 18:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dale M I have modified my question and added how I perceive the different proficiencies so you can maybe modify your answer and add a part to address the specific question. thanks for bringing this point of view of ability checks versus skill checks. I worded my question so that it can be useful for others who play with the variant of different skills with different abilities. \$\endgroup\$
    – jonDraco
    Dec 17, 2020 at 15:37
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @jonDraco etiquette on this site is not to change a question once there are answers, it’s to write a new question if you find the question you asked wasn’t exactly the question you wanted to ask \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Dec 17, 2020 at 20:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dale M sorry about that. I'll see if I should delete or put back the original then ask another. \$\endgroup\$
    – jonDraco
    Dec 18, 2020 at 4:33

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