Tools in D&D - Rules and How to Elevate Roleplay (2023)

Tools in D&D are amazing but unfortunately don’t get enough love. Apart from Thieve’s Tools that are strongly tied to Rogue archetype character, a lot of tools are simply picked and forgotten.

So let’s go through basic and extended rules for using the tools and see how they can change our role-playing and the game overall. After finishing, you will have tons of ideas how to use the forgotten tools in your kit. Not to mention, your team will love you for rescuing them from a creeping demon with Potter tools!

Table Of Contents

  1. Tools proficiency but no skill proficiency
    • Tools proficiency gives you a unique skill
  2. Using tools without proficiency in them
  3. Learning and gaining tools proficiency
  4. Tools proficiency but no tools in equipment
  5. What’s in my toolset
  6. Afterthought

First, let’s take a look at what tools we have access to in Dungeon and Dragons 5e.

Alchemist’s supplies50 gp8 lb.
Brewer’s supplies20 gp9 lb.
Calligrapher’s Supplies10 gp5 lb.
Carpenter’s tools8 gp6 lb.
Cartographer’s tools15 gp.6 lb.
Cobbler’s tools5 gp5 lb.
Cook’s utensils1 gp8 lb.
Glassblower’s tools30 gp5 lb.
Jeweler’s tools25 gp2 lb.
Leatherworker’s tools5 gp5 lb.
Mason’s tools10 gp8 lb.
Painter’s supplies10 gp5 lb.
Potter’s tools10 gp3 lb.
Smith’s tools20 gp8 lb.
Tinker’s tools50 gp10 lb.
Weaver’s tools1 gp5 lb.
Woodcarver’s tools1 gp5 lb.

Rules for using tools in D&D

You can find rules for using tools in Player’s Handbook in Chapter 5.

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. Your race, class, background, or feats give you proficiency with certain tools. Proficiency with a tool allows you to add your proficiency bonus to any ability check you make using that tool. Tool use is not tied to a single ability, since proficiency with a tool represents broader knowledge of its use. 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.

Player’s Handbook chapter 5.

Within this description there are several things that are worth paying attention to, but might not be visible right away.

Three pillars of Tools in D&D 5e

There are three major benefits from being proficient in using tools.

1. You can add proficiency bonus to the skill you are not otherwise proficient with, given that you specify how you use your tools to compensate it.

e.g. You try to find a way out of the mountains. You are asked to make Survival check but you are not proficient in it. You use your Cartographer's Tools to assess the distance between landmarks and create a general path out of the mountains for which you can add your Proficiency bonus modifier.

2. You gain advantage on skill check if you are both proficient in the skill you are trying to utilize and tools that help you with that.

e.g. You try to access a forbidden part of the city. You are asked to make a Persuasion check to see if the guards believe you. By using your Forgery Kit you muster a fake signature on documents that grants you advantage on the roll.

3. You gain access to additional and unique skills or benefits by using the tools.

e.g. With Jeweler's Kit you can modify the gem's appearance and potentially increase its value.

Tools proficiency but no skill proficiency

Tool + No Skill = Skill + d20 + Proficiency mod

This circumstance is simple mechanically but bring some interesting points to the narrative aspect of the game.

Having no proficiency in skill means that in the life of our character this particular skill hasn’t been utilized enough for them to be competent in it. Yet a character with tools proficiency has a knowledge and experience in using tools that possibly can help to mitigate this shortcoming. Perhaps this tool was always a way for your character to mask the incompetence or maybe it simply show how adaptive and creative the character is.

As always, in storytelling and narrative design, having two opposing forces is a good place to be. Figuring out where those oppositions come from and how they react with each other can be a great hook for a role-playing.

You are not be the best in performing in front of people. Usually your success relies on blending in and staying out of sight. That's why even the thought of standing in front of a crowd and speaking out makes you sweat. Fortunately, you know how to change your appearance, you know how to become someone else. With a little bit of make-up and a wig, this speech you are about to give will be way easier. 

This little example show you how a Performance check could be mitigate by Disguise Kit proficiency. Roleplaying the stress of making a speech, figuring out a way to use disguise kit, preparing and finally standing in front of all those people would make an amazing D&D moment to remember.

Tools proficiency gives you a unique skill

‘Tools can help you do something that you couldn’t otherwise do’, basically means that these are unique skills that your character has, that nobody else posses. This itself is a very important for your character and roleplaying. Distincting yourself from other members of the group in social and environmental situations is one of the key points to build believable and interesting character.

Rogue is trying to pick locks. The brute is trying to force open them. You have smith's tools and maybe you might be able to dismantle the hinges? 

Suddenly you and your team gets an additional way of dealing with whatever DM puts in front of you. Because of that, it’s smart to read upon the tools you are proficient in, to really get a grasp of what you are fully capable of. Start with Wikipedia and go into a rabbit hole of craftsmanship and various tools that had been used in the past.

Or perhaps you are a lucky owner of Herbalist Kit and can brew potions,

Xanathar Guide to Everything goes in-depth on how to use each tool proficiency to gain amazing and unique skills. Start from page 78 to learn more.

Versatile use of tools in D&D

All of the Skills in D&D can have at least few ways to use them. Tools make it even broader, giving you the ability to creatively bent your typical skill check by using tools proficiency.

Tool use is not tied to a single ability, since proficiency with a tool represents broader knowledge of its use. 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.

This opens a wide array of possibilities for you and your party. It gives you a way to negotiate with the DM how to approach a certain task and try out of the box solutions.

Bringing back our shy character with Disguise Kit. In out previous example he used it to give him a little boost to Performance check. Same tool would help him to stay stealthy when sneaking through crowded area, intimidate a local store owner or persuade a local priest that you are a part of the religious group by having their mark on your forearm.

On mechanical level it allows you to add your proficiency bonus to any ability check, so now it’s not only possible, but also probably as well!

Proficiency with a tool represents broader knowledge of its use. Make sure you talk about it with your DM. Whenever you are about to make a skill check that’s out of your realm, try to sneak in some tools.

Where do you get your tools and proficiency/header

In most canonical sense, using tools without being proficient in them doesn’t give a character any kind of benefit. Since most of the tools in D&D are very specific and allude to craftsmanship it would simply mean that a character doesn’t know how to use them to achieve a given goal.

This could be potentially interesting thing to explore when a particular character tries to learn and gain the proficiency in tools. Would a novice have a disadvantage on the rolls using the tools at first? How many fails does it take to learn the proper use of the tools and what role would a teacher play in the process of mastering the tools?

Learning and gaining tools proficiency

So how do you increase proficiency in tools 5e? XGtE gives a simple recipe on how to do that.

Receiving training in a language or tool typically take at least ten workweeks to gain new tool proficiency but the times is reduced by a number of workweeks equal to the character’s Intelligence modifier (an Intelligence penalty doesn’t increase the time needed). Training costs 25 gp per workweek.

Xanathar Guide to Everything p. 134

It is listed as a downtime activity, that would require a significant amount of time and money (250 gp per a training). Additionally, there is a hidden resource required – a teacher.

Finding a teacher could potentially be a quest on itself and might need more than just money to pay for tutoring. However, if you already have tool proficiency, including a teacher in your backstory could open new valley to explore the character motivations, personality and goals.

Tools proficiency but no tools in equipment

It might be confusing for some, but having a tool proficiency doesn’t grant you automatically all the tools in the equipment. When picking up the starting equipment, make sure to check for them.

Normally tool sets should be available in most general stores, but if the DM is rather conservative about hat, ask how your character might obtain such tools.

When starting on higher levels, ask if you could add them right away, to avoid mundane shopping at the beginning of the campaign.

Most sets like Thieve’s Tools or Alchemist’s Supplies are a group of items that could be used separately. Read the description in your equipment, so you can use all of it, for whatever purpose you want.

A mirror on a handle or a pair of scissors in the Thieve’s Tools could be use for preparing a trap as well as changing your looks before a big show. A mortar and pestle from Herbalist Kit could be great for crushing some gems or preparing a dinner.

Tools in D&D - Rules and How to Elevate Roleplay (1)

Having the knowledge of what you really have on you and roleplaying all those small details will add depth to the role you have in a group. Using skills will be much more than a mechanical activity and in itself will become a part of the character personality.

Just think about your own favorite items. Your best pen, a bag pack or maybe a spoon. Those quirks are part of you and adding this layer to the character can go a long way.

Some toolsets lack such description and don’t go into details what’s in them. Work out with your DM the content of the toolset.


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