Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons revolves around the mechanics of ability scores (physical and mental character traits) and how those scores apply to proficiencies (what you’re good at). Both are represented numerically, as modifiers to any number you roll on a d20 whenever you make a skill check. Ability checks are written like this: Ability (proficiency). For example, your Dungeon Master might call for an Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check. The reason for this is Intelligence is the applicable ability score, while your Religion proficiency allows you to further modify the skill check. Quick disclaimer: any 5E D&D DM can require or allow any ability check or skill proficiency check for any reason, even outside this purview. This article is meant as a guide for new players and DMs to explain how skill checks work and what they look like, narratively.
What is Sleight of Hand?
Feeling sneaky? Shifty, perhaps? Maybe you want to plant some evidence of your trickery on another person? Then Sleight of Hand is your go to skill!
Before we slip into this discussion, let’s peek at how the 5E D&D Player’s Handbook defines Sleight of Hand as a skill proficiency:
“Whenever you attempt an act of legerdemain or manual trickery, such as planting something on someone else or concealing an object on your person, make a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check. The GM might also call for a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check to determine whether you can lift a coin purse off another person or slip something out of another person’s pocket.”
Deception, but physical
Remember the article on Deception and how we discussed it was all about manipulating situations with your words? Well, Sleight of Hand is like that, but physically. The key with Sleight of Hand is it’s all about tricking others. While Deception allows you to lie well and manipulate situations verbally, Sleight of Hand allows you to manipulate situations physically.
Maybe you need to subtly pocket something or get something off a person without their notice? Sleight of Hand could also let you subtly trigger a trap or some other string of events resulting in another’s bodily harm.
Maybe you need to wriggle free of some bonds, or perhaps your character is being tied up and wants to manipulate their muscles so there’s enough slack to easily break free later? That would also qualify as Sleight of Hand.
The ol’ switcheroo
Anytime deftness of hands is involved Sleight of Hand is your skill check of choice. Remember the scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark where he had to try to subvert a trap by swapping an item of equal weight with the treasure? That was definitely Sleight of Hand. Being able to swap things on the fly, whether it’s in the pocket or worn on the person, all of it falls under this skill. Granted, slipping off a necklace or a bracelet during a hug might have a pretty high DC, but if a master magician or grifter can accomplish it, then why not a 5E D&D character?
When it comes to Sleight of Hand, misdirection is a given. As mentioned above, perhaps you need to draw attention instead of avoid it? Sleight of Hand can command attention where you want it, and when. It doesn’t always have to be subtle. Sometimes Sleight of Hand is about showmanship, but in a more manipulative context than, say, Performance.
Another use of Sleight of Hand many don’t traditionally think of is the ability to change clothing or accessories quickly. Quick change artists are absolutely a thing in our world, and a rogue in game might need a sudden, nonmagical wardrobe change. After all, not all applications of Sleight of Hand are affiliated with thievery.
With a flourish
A last application of Sleight of Hand, in my opinion, is the ability to do things with a little more panache. Remember my monk Shui, who I mentioned in the Performance article? Using tools, weapons or other items with a bit of flair could definitely fall under this skill, particularly if you are using your tools in a non-traditional sense. Those hibachi chef tricks where they deftly manipulate knives and spatulas to throw food could easily be argued as Sleight of Hand skills.
What do you think?
Do you have a character who relies heavily on Sleight of Hand? Do you have a story about a time a character in one of your games used Sleight of Hand spectacularly, for good or ill?We want to hear what you have to say in the comments!