293 Skill Piling in RPG's

Skill piling in tabletop rpg’s, the fail and subsequent “I check” from another player, and another, and another.

We list examples, determine if it’s a good idea, and whether it apply to all role-playing games.



I don’t see any problem with other players also checking, if they have the skill.

As GM, I don’t allow a player to check again unless he can describe what he did to obtain more information, or what he’s doing differently this time to allow another check…otherwise, he’s already given it his best shot. In some cases, I might allow another check at half.


I dig that approach, for sure.

I’ve seen two approaches (in different games) that I would use in D&D. (This is the system the topic addresses, of course, does it not?). I actually don’t have to use these rules, because my D&D is Swords & Wizardry. :wink:

In my Conan 2d20 games, PCs can Assist a character with a Skill test. First, the player must state specifically how the PC is helping. Then the player or GM rolls 1d20 under the Skill (for PCs acting alone, and for the main director of the collective action, it’s usually more d20s than that). If the roll is a Success, then this is added to the Successes of the PC directing the Action. (2d20 is a dice pool mechanic: PCs must generate # Successes at or above # Difficulty. Any Successes over # Difficulty becomes Momentum, but the elegant beauty of this system—including all its gorgeous nuances—is outside the discussion at hand.)

Against the Darkmaster, a percentile retroclone/re-envisioning of MERP, has a similar approach. One PC is the main actor. Everyone who is Helping must explain how their character actions are of benefit. Then the players roll, using their character’s most relevant Skill in relation to the actions the players described. Each success becomes +10 for the main actor.

This is easily ported into D&D. Successes from other characters who are able to describe how they are helping become cumulative +1 bonuses to the main actor’s Skill roll.

1 Like

There is no “skill piling” in my games of D&D 5e -

  1. No Role Required: Passive Perception/Investigation is what used to be called ‘taking a 10’ and is the default minimum score for those checks. If a difficulty is below the Passive score for any of the appropriate characters - you don’t even have to ask for a roll. They get the info. This is RAW. Note: It’s worth singling out the character with the highest passive score as be the one who “noticed” the info - to reinforce the specialization.

  2. One Roller [optional Helper]: When I call for a roll that is valid for the 5e Help mechanic, I often prompt “Are you doing this alone?”. I ask “How are you helping?” only to present a role-playing opportunity - “I just hand them tools and keep the light up” or whatever is fine.

  3. Everyone Roll Together: I often call “Everyone role a [skill/attribute] check. What was the highest, and who got it?” This is for anything where it is important that the PCs get some information. The highest score determines how much detail is revealed. If everyone can check (at the same time) this just gets everyone to pay attention to what’s going on - and listening to the result, as well as providing a role-play moment - as normally the proficient characters roll highest (but if they don’t it’s fun to ask them explain why.)

  4. I never allow a roll that isn’t called for. Don’t care what you rolled. Put your hands in your pockets if you can’t stop touching your dice…

In short, if passive beats DC, no roll. Otherwise determine one-roller or everyone-rolls. Resolve highest result. There is no piling on, since who (if anyone) rolls has been predetermined before even talking to the players.

Quick and easy. The game just moves along.


Just to tag along with OldSchoolDM, because my original comment was geared towards multiple checks. I totally agree that unnecessary rolls are to be avoided. I’ve played in too many games where you had to roll for everything.

If it’s something that’s going to get noticed at some point, I don’t require a roll. If it’s information that someone should know because of their profession, I don’t require a roll (unless it’s very obscure.) If people are just doing normal things, I don’t require a roll. A pilot doing a routine docking maneuver at the station? No roll. Attempting to dock with missing thrusters and a gunfight going on around him? Yeah, roll for it.

Rolls should really only be requested if a failure would be interesting and advance the story in its own right. If you’re driving to the scene of the adventure, I don’t want to spend 30 minutes covering a minor fender-bender you got into because you failed a driving roll.

1 Like

I only allow passive checks for detecting a hidden threat (and subtract 5 from passive if they are not taking their time). Active perception I think is better handled through verbal description/narration rather than die rolls in most cases. The PHB indicates you have to be specific to find certain hidden things. Die rolls with general descriptors (I search the room) regardless of how high the roll are irrelevant. And don’t forget to make active perception rolls at disadvantage for lightly obscured areas (i.e., seeing with darkvision).

1 Like

This was a really good podcast guys. Excellent topic and well covered. Gave me a few nuggets to tumble around in my toolbox. Thanks!

Skill piling (what I call skill check conga) Is a massive pet peeve of mine. It’s how you beat a CRPG not immerse yourself into a TTRPG. Usually If one person announces they want to try a skill and others announce the same before any dice are rolled I let them work it out in terms of how to approach the problem. I’ll quietly adjust the DC, add advantage, etc. based on what they came up with. If someone wants to try something after dice have been rolled, it becomes a case by case situation. Sometimes there is a reasonable explanation and it makes sense (Oog the barbarian has the muscle, but doesn’t have the touch to get that grappling hook to catch, so Uriah Boopeep the thief wants to give it a go). But say, if they want to search a room because they saw that the person before them searched and rolled a ‘4’, they will likely not enjoy the rewards of meta-gaming. If that person announces they’d like to try as they are already rolling dice… may the gods have mercy on their soul :wink:

This recently came to my attention as a irritation at my HackMaster game. Searching a room. 6 characters. There is next to no chance for failure. I’ve switched to one main roller and other to help, and that seems to be a serviceable answer for us.

As far as the just rolling dice, no. You can roll whatever dice you like, but no, you don’t get to “but I just rolled that check.” The check is rolled when the GM asks for it. Relieves any ambiguity.

Also, I really like the idea of a failed check making something not just not succeed, but genuinely FAIL. Great idea.

Hidden failures/successes or consequences for poor results remedy this issue. Ex:

  1. “Not only did you fail to pick the lock, you also jammed it in the process so no one else can pick it”
  2. “You search the room? Tell me how and what your perception is. rolls Okay, you don’t find much of interest.”
    For that second one, I don’t mind skill piling if it’s done in character eg. “Grog never looks hard enough, I’m going to search a bit more thoroughly and see if he missed any spots”
1 Like

Into the Unknown (a 5E + OSR system) addresses skill piling directly in a section called Failure & Trying Again in Book 4: Running the Game.

Making a roll already represents one’s best efforts and should not allow for a re-roll, unless conditions have changed (fx. Tools).

In cases where the most qualified character in the party has already attempted a task and failed, assume that die roll also applies to any further attempts from less qualified characters attempting the same task.


My take is generally what NOLAbert says: I have the most qualified try (though I allow others roll to help.)

1 Like

This is interesting. It recasts the roll as the “party’s best effort” to overcome the challnge, mitigating calling on the gods of chance to reverse a result. Tougher than my group check model of having everyone roll at the same time and taking best (for important information.)

Thanks for sharing that


I think that calling for a roll is really only best done when failing will lead to something cool. If everyone wants to pick the lock, as GM, you look them dead in the eye and say, “No. Because that would be lame. Take an ‘L’ and roll for initiative because all of a sudden there is a zombie T-Rex bounding down that corridor.”

Basically, a party will pile on a skill check unless the GM says no. You can say there is a rule in the book that mitigates that, but rest assured, players will try to slime into a second roll. You need to look them in the eye, oh, I already did that bit. Basically, the GM just needs to put their foot down. But, that means you can’t just let a failed roll lie, you have to make the failure memorable. That’s why I like T-Rexes.

Conversely, if you know that the group is prone to skill piling, just add a bunch to the difficulty. If they get persnickity about a DC 30 ladder climbing check, just remind them that you are also not a fan of extra super double advantage on rolls, and they should also roll initiative because there is a T-Rex sauntering across the promenade.

Also, I may not be a very good GM.