Just started DMing, and in a moment of hubris had a NPC challenge the party to a game of cards… which one of the PCs was proficient in. When asked the reasonable question of "ok what now," I realized I had no idea and a quick skim of the DM guide and PHB (and a longer look later) revealed nothing. Something that could have been fun and a nice character moment turned into a "sorry guys, let me just throw something together and move along."

Are there rules in 5e for what rolls/checks/contests are necessary or expected when using a gaming set? When and how would proficiency come into it? What other skills and proficiencies could come into play (ex: a sleight of hand check to cheat at cards)?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This question rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/69870/… might also be interesting \$\endgroup\$
    – Yotus
    Feb 19, 2016 at 9:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not posting small or incomplete answers. Please use answer posts to submit answers instead. Prior comments containing answers have been removed. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 19, 2016 at 18:55

4 Answers 4


The use of the various types of tools (including the Gaming Set) do not rely on a particular skill but instead simply use an ability score appropriate to what you are trying to achieve.

From the first paragraph on p. 154 of the PHB:

For Example, the DM might ask you to make a Dexterity check to carve a fine detail with your woodcarver's tools, or a Strength check to make something out of particularly hard wood.

Having proficiency with a particular set of tools allows you to add your proficiency bonus to the roll in addition to the bonus (or penalty) granted by the ability score that is being used.

As for how the situation would play out, p. 174 of the PHB describes how to handle a contest between two individuals:

Both participants in a contest make ability checks appropriate to their efforts. They apply all appropriate bonuses and penalties, but instead of comparing the total to a DC, they compare the totals of their two checks. The participant with the higher check total wins the contest. That character or monster either succeeds at the action or prevents the other one from succeeding.

If the contest results in a tie, the situation remains the same as it was before the contest.

In your particular case it would depend in part on what game they are playing and what sort of approach they are taking. They could maybe use Charisma to try and bluff their opponent. Or they could try and read their opponent with an Intelligence or Wisdom check. Maybe even Dexterity to try and discreetly slip a winning card into their hand.

Participants do not have to use the same ability check: the NPC could try to bluff the PC with a Charisma check while the PC tries to read the NPC with Intelligence.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just for extra clarity, a check made using a dragonchess set would be Intelligence (Dragonchess Set), or Dexterity (Dragonchess Set). It stacks on the ability modifier, and is used instead of skills like Insight. Excellent answer, +1. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aaron3468
    Mar 3, 2019 at 8:57

Here are the rules from the PHB p.154 concerning gaming sets:

If you are proficient with a gaming set, you can add your proficiency bonus to ability checks you make to play a game with that set. Each type of gaming set requires a separate proficiency.

It is not specified which ability checks you could use, but Sleight of hand (vs Perception, most likely) would probably be a good one for card games, for example.

Another example: in a bluff game (like poker), you could use Deception (vs Insight) and add your proficiency bonus if you are proficient with this particular game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, if you play without cheating or bluffing, I'd say it's straight up intelligence. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 19, 2016 at 10:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ You could also use straight Diplomacy in many games, to manipulate players into being overly cautious, or overly risky with their bets. \$\endgroup\$
    – lithas
    Feb 19, 2016 at 15:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1: The player handbook as written would mean you make an Intelligence (Playing Cards) or Dexterity (Playing Cards) check, no reason to drag in other skills in a game that has done away with skill checks. \$\endgroup\$
    – DonFusili
    Dec 11, 2018 at 12:33

What I would do is have the player and the npc each roll what I would call a "Game roll." Basically, instead of a skill, like Deception or Insight, they use their proficiency with that game, so the game itself is the skill check. For example, a player might engage a noble in a game of Dragonchess. Both participants would roll an Intelligence(Dragonchess) roll, then the highest roller wins the game. You could also do a best 3 out of 5 type of thing, since Dragonchess is a longer game.

I use this system because playing any game requires a variety of skills, so attaching it to any one skill isn't quite accurate. Plus, if you used Charisma(deception) for poker instead of your proficiency with playing cards, for example, what's the point of even having the proficiency? It would be useless.


I dislike all answers so far, so I'll give my own.

Solving the challenge with a pure diceroll is the same as solving a puzzle with a pure Intelligence/Charisma/Wisdom check: while RAW, it sucks.

If the NPC challenged the PC to a game of cards, play a (simple) game of cards with the player. If the character is proficient in the game, have them roll to gain advantages in the game, depending on the roleplaying.


  • The character gets challenged to a round of poker, so you play a hand of poker against the player.
  • The player rationalizes that because of the proficiency of their character in poker, they should have ample experience in counting and predicting cards.
  • Have them roll Intelligence (Playing Cards). On a 15-20, tell them one of the cards in your hand. On a 20-25, two cards, etc.
  • The player says he should be able to palm a few cards? Have them roll a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) or Dexterity (Playing Cards) and allow them to swap out cards in their hand depending on the result.
  • They're able to bluff away their opponent? On a successful Charisma (Bluff) or Charisma (Playing Cards) check, you play your hand sub-optimally.
  • The player says they can read tells? Wisdom (Insight) or Wisdom (Playing Cards) and you give away part of your thought process during play.
  • \$\begingroup\$ While I like the general idea, I feel that playing cards instead of D&D isn't what my group expects in a night, and would also leave three to five players feeling bored. \$\endgroup\$
    – user24827
    Dec 11, 2018 at 21:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ That being said, this may be more appropriate for a one-on-one segment between "episodes". \$\endgroup\$
    – user24827
    Dec 11, 2018 at 21:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rogem One hand of a card game/simplified board game takes less than 5 minutes. As such, the same reasoning applies as it does for puzzles: if the relevant player enjoys themselves and still the other players whine about not being in the spotlight for a few minutes, the problem is the other players being childish. That said, I agree that you shouldn't do this if the whole group doesn't like it. \$\endgroup\$
    – DonFusili
    Dec 12, 2018 at 8:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I suppose that one could attempt to make a card game more engaging for the other players - it could be played with an open hand or the other players could be given other options to help by for example allowing them to make the same skill checks. \$\endgroup\$
    – user24827
    Dec 12, 2018 at 8:53

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