I'm trying to convert some 3.5e material over to 5e. Is there a way to convert modifiers to a proportional equivalent, rather than following the vague guidelines for changing the scores themselves, as put out by WotC?

The way I understand it, the highest possible modifier to a check in 5e is +11 (+5 from an ability score bonus and +6 from a proficiency).

If I know the highest possible check modifier for 3.5e, I could turn any lesser modifier into a percentage of that, and apply that percentage to the +11 of 5e to find the equivalent.

For the purposes of converting bonuses:

  • I am talking about non-epic character progression, lvl 21+ (5e has no equivalent to epic level progression).
  • modifiers should be the product of the characters class/race features, ability scores, feats, skills, and other fundamental, intrinsic aspects of their build.
  • Bonuses derived from spells cast or magic gear, or only circumstantially awarded, aren't eligible

If there is a way to make this work? I need a system to make conversions so that I can compare how it stacks up to content converted characters using the official guidelines. I am aware that the two systems do not scale equally.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure this method is sensible; I don't think the bonuses convert on a linear scale between the two games such that a straight ratio would work. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 20:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I voted to close as too broad because there is no real cohesion in the 3.5 skill system as far as maximum skill bonuses go, and the question can't be meaningfully answered without a whole lot more restrictions than just "mundane and non-epic". For example, you can get a nonmagical Strength score in the hundreds by using the Tauric template and stacking templates on your bottom half. There's way too much room for optimization in 3.5 for this question to be answerable as-is. \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 21:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have edited your latest revision to organize it, remove bloated prose, and try to identify concisely what your criteria are. If that edit has lost what you mean, please edit this question again to make it more clear. I suggest that in order to rein in the scope of this question, you identify one class as an illustration. (I realize that you are trying to create a system). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 1:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Even if there were a sensible maximum skill modifier in 3.5, this would still be an inadequate conversation method; the scope of 5e has a much lower ceiling than in 3x, which means the maximum check in 3x may exceed that of 5e's in utility as well as numeric value. For example, if the most extraordinary thing you could do with a balance check in 5e was a DC 25 tightrope check, and in 3x it was a DC 100 check to walk on air (literal flight) then it would be nonsense to port bonuses from 3x at a 1:4 ratio. Especially if the tightrope walk in 3x was ALSO a DC 25 check. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eikre
    Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 11:18

2 Answers 2


Eleventy Hojillion, give or take.

Ok, made up numbers aside, there's no absolute limit to the maximum bonus of checks.

Even if you limit it to non-magical bonuses, there are so many possible ways to boost a skill that there's no real determinable way to specify a precise maximum.

For instance...

"Pun-Pun", a Dragonwrought Kobold, level 1 Ardent, with 1 flaw
4 ranks in Knowledge (religion)
Trait: Absent-Minded (+1)
Trait: Specialized (Knowledge [Religion) (+1)
Psicrystal Affinity (Sage) (+3)
Call to Mind (+4)
20 Intelligence (17 base + 3 from venerable)... (+5)
Mantle Power: Knowledge (+5)
Mantle Power: Fate (+1)
Psicrystal: Aid Another (+2)
4+1+1+3+4+5+5+1+2 = 26.

Admittedly, this is grossly broken and exploitative, but it is all rules-legal, and (more or less) non-magical.

Even if you ignore the path that Pun-pun was created to follow as a theoretical build, it could still start taking skill-heavy classes that offer various bonuses to skills.

Additionally, as others have already pointed out, many skills may have greater or less flexibility in what bonuses can be found.

But even when you think you've found all the options, someone else will just go and find another way to add to the skills.

In short, there is no reasonable way to assign a "maximum" value to a skill bonus in 3.5E.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you know about the AEG feats book (3.0)? There's a feat in there that let you add your Int bonus to any skill in which you have 2 ranks... oh, craziness. For a knowledge skill in particular you might also want to check the "Collector of Stories" skill trick for its +5 when identifying monsters. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 13:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, and additionally, a "masterwork tool", for about 50gp, adds another +2. The point of Pun-pun's build is to give it a +25 or better knowledge check to guarantee success, which it then goes on to abuse in horrible horrible ways. \$\endgroup\$
    – tzxAzrael
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 16:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ I like the Knowledge Devotion feat, for my builds, so I often need to reach +35 in the 6 knowledges that are used to identify monsters (Arcana, Dungeoneering, Local, Nature, Religion, The Planes) or find some way to be able to take 10 on Knowledge skills (thanks to the Paragnostic Assembly) with a +26 bonus ^^ \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 17:29

Since in D&D 3.5e it is possible to level up indefinitely, the maximum modifier to a check is just infinite.

So, part of the modifier proportionally scales with your HD. Let's ignore it and let's focus on the rest.

It is possible to craft items that dish out a competence bonus to a skill. The manuals have these stop at +30, pre-epic (I don't know much about post-epic).

As SirTechSpec postulates in a comment, the rest of the bonuses vary from skill to skill. At least one feat that raises the skill by 2 (e.g. Agile) and Skill Focus (another +3) do exist, but magic items add to that (For perform (sing) we have a +7 from Admiral's Bicorn, a +10 from Chocker of Eloquence) and then the relevant ability adds to it. For some skills, accruing bonuses is so easy that some builds reach +22 to diplomacy checks at level 3, and jumping can be even worse since it scales with character speed.

Including favorable spells, feats, being in the right rune circle and in the right kind of room, I've seen people reach +80 in perform (singing) by level 20, and I have personally reached a +90 in Escape Artist (both without custom items).

At the same time there are skills that don't get much love. A bonus of +40 at level 21 is the most I would expect.


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