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According to the PHB Crafting can only be done if you are proficient with the tools

You can craft nonmagical objects, including adventuring equipment and works of art. You must be proficient with tools related to the object you are trying to create (typically artisan’s tools). You might also need access to special materials or locations necessary to create it. For example, someone proficient with smith’s tools needs a forge in order to craft a sword or suit of armor.

However, I seem to recall designer Mike Mearls saying you don't need to be proficient.

Q. Confused about tools in game. Is it necessary to have proficiency in any of them to use them? nope - you can still use them, just without the proficiency bonus. -M

So I'm confused, was there an addendum or is M just reversing what is stated in RAW?

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There's no real contradiction here. In general, anyone can use a tool with or without proficiency - if they have proficiency, they get to add their proficiency bonus to checks made with that tool. For example, from artisan's tools:

Proficiency with a set of artisan’s tools lets you add your proficiency bonus to any ability checks you make using the tools in your craft.

However, as you've already discovered, crafting has specific rules:

You must be proficient with tools related to the object you are trying to create (typically artisan’s tools).

So in general, proficiency with tools isn't required to use those tools, and Mearls' answer reflects that, but in the specific case of crafting, proficiency is required.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Unless I am missing something, yes they seem very contradictory: You can use them but you can't use them to craft. Aside from non-crafting tools like thief's tool and musical instruments, what instances would allow to use tools for something other than crafting? \$\endgroup\$ – Chepelink Aug 23 '16 at 9:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chepelink For one quick example, repairing. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Aug 23 '16 at 9:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ I thought of that, but unless it is a very simple task, you usually need to know how to use the tools to fix things. I know, real world logic does not work in game world, but even in real world, sometimes fixing something needs more skill with tools than crafting. \$\endgroup\$ – Chepelink Aug 23 '16 at 10:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, the Mearls quote doesn't contain any mention of crafting. It's easy to imagine that he, not having read this question immediately before writing his post, read "tools" and thought first of thieves' tools, musical instruments, disguise kit, etc., and gave the general answer appropriate to those items, not thinking of the additional rule for the specific use of item creation. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Aug 23 '16 at 14:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Both answers here are good, I'll choose this one as it has the most votes (sorry Urho, but thanks for answering my question). However both answers gloss over the question asked to Mearls - Is it necessary to have proficiency in ANY OF THEM to use them? And he responds "Nope". So I guess this is a case of general vs specifics (where specific overrides general), but Mearls should have been clearer with his answer. That with the exception of Herbal kit and crafting, you dont need proficiency. Or just mention that there are some exceptions. \$\endgroup\$ – Al Sun Aug 24 '16 at 17:53
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Mearls is just restating what's written in RAW.

The overarching rules using tools (PHB, p. 154) say that

A tool helps you to do something you couldn't otherwise do, such as craft or repair an item, forge a document, or pick a lock...
Proficiency with a tool allows you to add your proficiency bonus to any ability check you make using that tool.

On top of this, most tools explicitly state that

  • Proficiency with this kit lets you add your proficiency bonus to any ability checks you make to create a visual disguise
  • Proficiency with this kit lets you add your proficiency bonus to any ability checks you make to create a physical forgery of a document.
  • In addition, these tools allow you to add your proficiency bonus to any ability check you make to avoid getting lost at sea

The only exception to these rules (in the PHB) is the herbalism kit, where

  • proficiency with this kit is required to create antitoxin and potions of healing.

This covers general use cases for a lot of the tools. The fighter can still try to pick locks, the wizard can still try to forge documents, and the barbarian can still try their hand at naval navigation.


However, crafting has its own set of rules, however. As per p.187 of the PHB

You must be proficient with tools related to the object you are trying to create.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, in the case of doors, you must have Proficiency with Thieves' Tools in order to pick the lock. That's the second exception, that I know of right now. PHB 175 and DMG 103 \$\endgroup\$ – Lost_in_Hyrule Aug 23 '16 at 13:49

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