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I'm trying to fill out the skills section on my first character, but when I look at the character sheets in the Starter Set as examples of how to make a character, the skills that are circled have higher modifiers than their Dexterity or Strength or whatever should make them.

I've filled out all skills but those. What do I add to the ability modifier to get those numbers?

  • My abilities are Strength 13, Dexterity 14, Constitution 11, Intelligence 15, Wisdom 8, and Charisma 8.

  • Proficiencies are Arcana, Athletics, History, Investigation and Stealth.

  • My saving throws are Strength and Dexterity.

I just started D&D and have the Player's Handbook, DM's Guide, Monster Manual, and the Starter Set.

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Skill modifier = relevant ability modifier + proficiency bonus (if proficient) + other modifiers

What follows is a distillation of much of Chapter 7 of the PHB, "Using Ability Scores"

  • relevant ability modifier: each skill usage is associated with an ability; you can find which either in tiny letters next to the skill on a WotC character sheet or in a chart on PHB p.174.* Your skill modifier has, as one component, that ability's modifier.

  • proficiency bonus (if applicable): if you are proficient in the skill, then you also add your proficiency modifier to the skill modifier. You obtain skill proficiencies from your class, from your background, and possibly from downtime activities.

  • other modifiers: you might pick up some other modification, the most commonly Rogues' "expertise" or Bards' "Jack of all Trades" class features. Their impact on skill modifiers is described in their respective class descriptions.

An example:

Stealth: +4 modifier

  • your DEX modifier is +2

  • you are proficient and (assuming you're starting this character at level 1) have a proficiency bonus of +2

  • you have not mentioned being a rogue with expertise applied to Stealth, so I'll assume no other modifiers. (Jack of all Trades kicks in at L2, and I'm still assuming level 1)


* - Okay, it's actually a bit more than that. Skills aren't uniquely tied to the ability listed on the sheet or in that chart; those are simply the most common abilities that invoke those skills. (And for many GMs they're the only ones that ever do.) If you read chapter 7 carefully you'll see that what we're describing aren't skill checks, but are ability checks to which a skill proficiency might be applied. So when walking into the Wizengamot and trying to talk circles around the gathering, a GM might find it appropriate to ask for an Intelligence-based intimidation check. See also the DMG p.239 or Angry GM's screed on the topic.

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Short Answer

Proficiency bonus is based on the Level of a character and nothing else; class or race don't matter, only the level of your character. For every skill you are proficient in you get the following bonus based on the level of your character: (Basic Rules, p. 10, Character Advancement Table)

Level / Proficiency Bonus
1st: +2
2nd: +2
3rd: +2
4th: +2
5th: +3
6th: +3
7th: +3
8th: +3
9th: +4
10th: +4
11th: +4
12th: +4
13th: +5
14th: +5
15th: +5
16th: +5
17th: +6
18th: +6
19th: +6
20th: +6

Long Answer

Each Class has a "Proficiency Bonus" chart under that class in "Chapter 3: Classes" in the Players Handbook (PHB). For some classes the chart is a stand-alone chart, like the fighter's on page 71. For the Druid the proficiency chart is part of the spell chart on page 65. All the classes have the exact same proficiency bonus chart so you can look at any class to determine your proficiency bonus. If you make a check on a specific skill you are proficient in, a weapon you are proficient in, or a spell you get both your standard modifier for that ability AND your proficiency bonus.

The proficiency bonus is also used to determine saving throws (DC) against any spell you cast. DC to resist one of your spells equals 8 + your spellcasting ability modifier (INT, WIS, etc.) + your proficiency bonus + any special modifiers. There are more particulars, but these are the basics and all you need to know to get started.

It took me a while to figure this out when I started playing and I think once players get it down it is very simple and they forget how complicated it can be for beginners. The PHB really does not lay this out very clearly; the necessary information is spread out over 3 or 4 chapters when it could be simply stated in one or two paragraphs and a single chart.

I hope this helps you.

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