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The Art of Rulings: Skill by Skill
In order to run any RPG, it’s important to calibrate your expectation to the system’s rules. A lot of arguments, including edition wars, stem from people expecting a game to be good at one thing when it isn’t, or not noticing when a game transitions from one tier to another. There are many valid complaints about 3.X, but several of the complaints to do with the system stem from a misunderstanding of its tiers. Legendary blacksmiths from the real world are not level 20 experts, they are level 5. The greatest heroes of many fantasy worlds are between levels 5 and 10. Higher levels are the domain of demigods. This is one reason why epic level rules for 3.X often fail. They assume that level 20 is the pinnacle of heroic potence, but not near the realm of the gods. In truth, level 20 3.X characters are firmly in the realm of the gods, with the gods of most fantasy settings being in the neighborhood of levels 15-25. The Alexandrian has an excellent article on exactly this subject, so I will let that speak for itself.
We aren’t talking about 3.X, of course, so all of this is just to present an extreme example of how far off expectations can be from experience, and the harm that can do to the play experience. Later editions, including 5e, have sought to more closely model the expectation that the average fantasy world will go from level 1 to level 20, whereas in D&D 3.X most fantasy worlds went from level 1 to about level 8. In other words, 5e made 20th level characters much less powerful so that Aragorn and Conan can be level 20 characters instead of level 8.
To calibrate expectations for 5e, here is a chart showing various DCs and at what level characters can be expected to meet them. This gives us a much more solid grasp of what it really means to be level 5, 10, or 20 in 5e. Before we dive into the chart, though, let’s define some terms. Non-specialists are assumed to have either a good attribute bonus orproficiency, but not both. Specialists are assumed to have both a proficiency and a good attribute for their level. Experts have, in addition to the bonuses of a specialist, a double proficiency bonus from a race feature, class feature, or (particularly rarely) a feat. Generally speaking, only Rogues and Bards get expertise, but it’s reasonable to assume that an NPC blacksmith or the like would have this class feature without the rest of the Rogue or Bard class. 5e doesn’t have NPC classes like Expert, but if it did, Expertise would probably be one of the only class features that Experts got.
You can get a proficiency bonus either from having a skill trained or from having relevant tools. Generally speaking, these don’t overlap, some tasks you get skill bonuses on and some you get equipment bonuses on. Both of these are in fact proficiency bonuses, so in the rare cases where both apply, they do not stack, however you should probably give advantage on the roll.
Speaking of advantage, according to anydice.com using the formula “output [highest 1 of 2d20]” and the “at least” results graph, there is a 51% chance of getting at least a 15. This means that if a character has advantage, it’s reasonable to rule that they can take 15 instead of taking 10 (alternatively, you can consider them to have a +5 bonus when taking 10, but applying a bonus feels contradictory to the spirit of the advantage mechanics even if it’s mathematically very similar). Bizarrely, anydice.com reports that [lowest 1 of 2d20] will give an average of 7 (49% chance of 7 or higher), not 5. I have to trust anydice.com because the probability math on advantage dice is beyond my fairly meager knowledge of statistics (I knew I should’ve taken that course in high school), but kudos to anyone who can explain why this is in the comments.
A masterpiece is literally the piece that proves someone a master, and it might seem odd that such a piece is within the grasp of a level 5 character. A journeyman blacksmith hits level 5, continues forging weapons, and twenty blades later he will have, on average, produced one masterpiece without having reached level 6 or higher. Is that really right?
It is, because the level scale goes much beyond the standard level of accomplishment of ordinary people. Keep in mind that most blacksmith shops in any population center of the size of a market town or up will be run by a master who employs some number of journeymen and apprentices for the grunt work. Larger towns and cities will have multiple different shops each run by a different master. Level 5 represents an average level of accomplishment for someone perfectly ordinary who spends a lifetime pursuing a career. They needn’t necessarily even pursue it with particular dedication, as long as they are not particularly lazy, either.
A good equivalent to a master blacksmith would be a captain of the guard, and a level 5 captain of the guard is, presuming he has pure Fighter levels, right around on par with his villainous equivalent, the hobgoblin captain from the Monster Manual. He will have slightly less HP (unless you let him max out his starting hit die automatically like a PC, in which case he has about the same HP), a slightly better attack score, he will use Battle Master maneuvers like Commander’s Strike and Rally instead of the hobgoblin’s Leadership ability, he shares the hob’s multi-attack, and he has an action surge and a fighting style on top of it. You wouldn’t expect the captain of the guard to much more than level 5, nor would you expect him to be much less, and you wouldn’t expect someone like a master blacksmith to be higher level than the captain of the guard (you wouldn’t expect a blacksmith to have PC levels at all, but he’d still be the equivalent of about level 5). Heroes and villains can easily expect to reach levels of accomplishment far beyond the common town master.
DC 5: Climb a 45 degree slope, wade through chest deep water. DC 10: Climb a wall with plenty of good handholds (equivalent to one of those rock-climbing walls you get in modern gyms), swim in calm waters. DC 15: Climb a wall with unevenly spaced handholds (your average good climbing spot in the wild), swim in rough waters. DC 20: Climb a treacherous cliff face with few and unevenly spaced handholds, swim in stormy waters. DC 25: Climb a cliff face that slopes outwards and has few and unevenly spaced handholds, swim in a mild hurricane. DC 30: Climb a cliff face with handholds barely large enough to fit a finger into, swim in a full force hurricane. DC 35: Climb a cliff face that is nearly smooth, swim in a full force hurricane for an extended period of time.
STR also governs jumping, as is covered in chapter 8 of the PHB. With a running start, a character can long jump their STR score (not bonus) in feet, and must succeed on a DC 10 check to clear a “low obstacle.” You can also high jump up to 3 plus your STR bonus (not score) feet. Speaking personally, I can jump obstacles tall enough that I apparently have a +2 modifier to STR (+3 on a good day, so call it a 15), but in terms of carrying capacity I am, if anything, below average. I am rather nimble, though, so characters should have the option to use their DEX in place of STR for purposes of jumping.
DC 5: Keep your footing on a beam six inches across, fall out of bed without damage. DC 10: Move at half speed on a beam three inches across or while walking across icy ground, fall five feet without damage. DC 15: Move at half speed on a tightrope, keep your footing while running across icy ground, fall ten feet without damage (or reduce falling damage by 1d6). DC 20: Move full speed across a beam three inches across, leap from one pole to another, fall twenty feet without damage (or reduce falling damage by 2d6). DC 25: Move full speed across a tightrope, keep balance on a pole so narrow as to require you stand on tiptoe, fall thirty feet without damage (or reduce falling damage by 3d6). DC 30: Run across a tightrope, dance on shifting, unstable poles so narrow as to require you stand on tiptoe, fall forty feet without damage (or reduce falling damage by 4d6). DC 35: Run across a slippery tightrope, fall fifty feet without damage (or reduce falling damage by 5d6).
DEX: Sleight of Hand
Set DCs are given for various pickpocketing activities here. This assumes picking a target out of a crowd more or less at random. If a specific target is being pickpocketed, roll Sleight of Hand opposed to Perception like normal.
DC 5: Tie your boots. DC 10: Hide a tiny object under a coat for a medium creature. DC 15: Hide a small object under a coat for a medium creature, hide a tiny object up your sleeve and slide it, unnoticed, into your palm (if it is small enough to fit in your palm), juggle three balls, pick a pocket. DC 20: Hide a small object underneath a normal set of clothes which are not loose or large, but not skin tight either, juggle five balls. DC 25: Hide a medium object underneath a trench coat for a medium creature, hide a small object up your sleeve, remove someone’s belt without their noticing, juggle eight balls. DC 30: Hide a small object up someone else’s sleeve without their noticing while giving them a handshake, remove someone’s shoes without their noticing. DC 35: Palm an object right in front of someone’s eyes without their noticing.
This is almost always covered by opposed checks, which means the Hiding sidebar from the PHB and principle of “let it ride” discussed earlier are sufficient guidance for making rulings on a roll-by-roll basis. We’ll have more thorough advice for proper stealth encounters later.
For most ability scores, the specific skill DC guidelines provide good guidelines even for general ability checks that don’t fall under those proficiencies. Like STR, however, it has some movement-related checks attached to it in Chapter 8 of the PHB. On a forced march for 9 or more hours a day, characters must make a CON check every hour with a DC equal to 10 plus the number of hours past 8 they’ve been marching. On a failure, they take a level of exhaustion (rules for exhaustion can be found in the PHB’s appendix).
What this means is that characters can march a number of hours equal to 8 plus their CON mod without getting exhausted on average. A character with +1 mod can usually make it 9 hours, with a +2 they can usually make it 10, and so on up to characters marching 13 hours with little trouble at +5. The difference between a +1 and a +2 is supposed to be a full hour of travel, but in practice it’s usually lost in the noise of the die roll, so in most cases it’s best to allow taking 10 on CON checks against exhaustion from travel, only requiring rolls when characters attempt to exceed their limits.
Casters are going to have an easy time recognizing spells they personally know, so any caster can automatically identify spells on their list. Spells they don’t know, either because they aren’t high enough level or because they have a limited number of spells learned per level (or because they aren’t a caster at all), are the realm of Arcana checks.
DC 5: Recall the existence of the outer planes and that arcane and divine magic are different. DC 10: Recall the names and basic natures of each of the planes, know the difference between demons and devils, recall the eight different schools of arcane magic and the eight major domains of divine magic (don’t forget the Death domain from the DMG!), recognize a specific cantrip, 1st, or 2nd level spell. DC 15: Recall major landmarks of a specific otherworldly plane, like the City of Brass in the Plane of Fire, identify a specific type of outsider like an ice devil or a famous individual outsider like Orcus, recognize a 3rd or 4th level spell. DC 20: Recall specific details about major landmarks of a specific otherworldly plane, like the street layout of the City of Brass, identify a high-ranking individual outsider like a specific balor or marilith, recognize a 5th or 6th level spell. DC 25: Create a complete map of an otherworldly plane including all major landmarks and most minor ones such that it could be used to navigate the plane, recognize a 7th or 8th level spell. DC 30: Create a complete and detailed map of an otherworldly plane including all major and local landmarks, including many secret ones, recognize a 9th level spell. DC 35: Intimate familiarity with an otherworldly plane’s structure (or lack thereof) such that even very local and obscure customs and secrets are known to you.
A DC 15 Arcana check to recognize an outsider works as though it were a successful History check to identify the capabilities of any celestial, construct, elemental, fiend, or undead (not all of these are outsiders, but they are made of or run on magic and have the same DC).
One of the best uses for History is to identify the capabilities and weaknesses of an unknown monster. A successful identification check means the players are essentially allowed to read the Monster Manual entry for the default monster. So, if players roll a successful History check on a named orc Barbarian, they get the Monster Manual entry for a regular orc. If the orc is particularly famous, he can be identified with a DC 15 check (as an important figure of the region), and if he is only moderately famous, he can be identified with a DC 20 check (as a minor figure of the area). Otherwise, all they get is the stat block for a regular orc, even though a specific named orc’s stat block may be radically different.
DC 5: Identify a humanoid. Recall the name of the city you’re from. DC 10: Recall the capabilities of a beast, humanoid, or plant. Recall the major nations of the area, their most prominent ruling figures, who they get along with, who they don’t get along with, and the nominal reason why they do or don’t get along with one another. Be aware of recent events as known by the general public. DC 15: Recall the capabilities of a specific humanoid tradition (like the Shadow Thieves of Amn) or of a dragon, giant, monstrosity, ooze, or undead. Recall the basic histories of the major nations of the area, including important figures by name and events by date, and including a basic grasp of how one thing led to another. Have a general idea of the major ages of the world at large and the names of important nations from far away. DC 20: Recall the capabilities of an aberration, celestial, construct, elemental, fey, or fiend. Have a thorough and in-depth knowledge of a specific period, like a war or a renaissance or a golden age, such that you could write an entire book on the subject, including an analysis of why things happened the way they did. Recall obscure historical facts about minor figures or time periods of the area. DC +5*: Recall something to do with a distant or hostile region, with which there is relatively little exchange of ideas, like someone from the Sword Coast recalling historical facts from the Moonsea, Thay, or the Underdark. DC +10*: Recall something to do with an extremely distant region, with which there is almost no exchange of ideas, like someone from the Sword Coast recalling historical facts from Kara Tur. DC +5: Recall something from an ancient age, which has little connection to modern politics and from which relatively few pieces of historical information have survived intact, like a modern day inhabitant of the Sword Coast recalling something from the age of Netheril or earlier.
*These two are mutually exclusive, so one modifier or the other will apply, not both. They do stack with the other modifier, however, for a maximum possible DC of 35 for recalling obscure historical facts about distant lands to do with another age. All of these can apply to identifying monsters as well as to recalling facts, if the monster appears only in distant lands or if they’ve been unheard of since ancient times (or both). The DC is not increased for identifying a monster who lives in a distant land if other monsters like it live in a land the character is familiar with. A character from the Sword Coast can identify an orc from Thar in the Moonsea region just as easily as he could an orc of the Many Arrows Kingdom of his home. They’re both orcs, and he is familiar with orcs.
In addition to the CSI: Camelot shenanigans you can get up to in the below chart, you can also use Investigation in place of any other INT-based skill provided you have source material to scour through, and that this source material does actually contain what you’re looking for. A single history book probably doesn’t contain enough material to answer any higher than a DC 15 History check no matter how good your Investigation is, but your ability to research questions in a hidden cathedral-library of Vecna is limited only by your own abilities.
DC 5: Yep, it’s wood. DC 10: Determine whether a wound was from a slashing or piercing weapon. Scan a single small area, like one table, for clues. DC 15: Determine exactly what sort of weapon dealt a wound. Scan a small shop or one room of a tavern for clues. DC 20: Recreate who was standing where when a wound was dealt based on footprints, blood splatters, and the position of the corpse. Scan a small building, like a tavern or a guardhouse, for clues. DC 25: Determine the race (orc, elf, etc.) of a victim from only their blood splatters and footprints. Scan a large building, like a marketplace or a castle, for clues. DC 30: Discern the difference between riverbank mud and mud from a road further inland, thus proving that the suspect’s alibi about being at the riverbank at the time of a murder is a lie. +5 DC: While scanning for clues, discover clues which are not obvious, like a murder weapon that’s been intentionally hidden. +5 DC: Scan an area for clues even if it is very cluttered and poorly organized, like the scene of a violent altercation or a poorly kept library with books constantly misfiled and left strewn about.
In order to sort terrain types by similarity, I have created the following list for use with this skill.
Arctic Mountain Underdark Swamp Coast Forest Grassland Desert
DC 5: You know the order of the seasons. DC 10: You can identify basic animal types, like wolves, bears, cows, rabbits, etc. etc. You know the difference between temperate forests and pine forests. DC 15: You can identify specific animals like the difference between a black bear and a brown bear. You know what different animals eat and how basic food chains work. DC 20: You know the details of the specific terrain type near where you live, including how the food chain works, what creatures live there and how to avoid trouble with them, and the uses of different parts of them, including monstrosities. DC 25: You know the details terrain types similar to the one you are from. Similar terrain types are terrain types which are adjacent to your home terrain on the list above. DC 30: You know the details of all terrain types. DC 35: You know the details of even the most obscure creatures, with an exhaustive knowledge of every kind of bird or bug to ever walk the earth or fly the sky, in addition to the larger and more well known creatures.
A successful Nature check to identify an animal provides the same benefits of a successful History check to recognize the capabilities of a beast, monstrosity, or plant. The Nature check may have a higher or lower DC depending on your familiarity with the climate in which the creature lives.
DC 5: You are aware of the concept of “praying.” DC 10: You can identify most of the major gods and their symbols. DC 15: You know all the major gods and their symbols, and you know their rites and rituals for things like marriage, birth, and funerary services. DC 20: You know the meaning behind different religions’ major rituals, and you’re familiar with the doctrinal disputes that exist or have existed within the religion. DC 25: You have the scripture of a specific religion completely memorized. +5 DC: The religion is intentionally secretive, like the cult of Vecna. +5 DC: The religion is small, like the worshipers of a minor god or demi-god.
WIS: Animal Handling
In addition to the commands below for tamed mounts and tamed animals, Animal Handling can also be used for social encounters with non-sentient animals. We’ll discuss that more in the encounters section.
DC 5: Remain in the saddle while horse is walking. DC 10: Remain in the saddle while horse is trotting (standard move action), command a tamed animal to follow instructions, tame a mundane beast (dog, cat, horse). DC 15: Remain in the saddle while horse is galloping (dash action) or jumping (athletics checks), command a tamed animal to follow instructions in a hazardous situation, tame a wild beast (wolf, bear, elephant), attack simultaneously with mount with disadvantage. DC 20: Remain in the saddle while mount is flying or attacking, tame a monstrosity. DC 25: Attack simultaneously with mount without disadvantage. +5 DC: Target animal is unfriendly. +5 DC: Target animal is hostile.
The border between a mundane beast and a wild beast is not as clear as the border between a beast and a monstrosity. A beast whose CR is at least 1 is almost definitely wild, but otherwise this is a question of whether it’s a farm animal (mundane) or a circus animal (wild).
Also, taking 10 should generally be allowed for anything to do with a mount or animal companion. It’s one thing to require someone to have decent WIS and a relevant proficiency to get their animal companion to attack in combat (DC 15) and quite another to give them a 45% failure rate even when they do.
Like Stealth, Insight is only ever rolled as an opposed check and thus is mostly covered by its description in the PHB (though it doesn’t get its own sidebar) and the Let it Ride advice above. We’ll have more details on how to run a social encounter in the Art of Encounters.
DC 5: Identify sneezing as symptomatic of some kind of illness. DC 10: Staunch bleeding wounds to stabilize a dying character. DC 15: Diagnose and treat a common illness like filth fever or the shakes. DC 20: Diagnose and treat an uncommon illness like plague, cackle fever, or blinding sickness. DC 25: Diagnose and treat an especially virulent illness like demon fever or devil chills. DC 30: Halt the progress of mummy rot for a day. +5 DC: Treat an illness without the appropriate herbs and medicines.
An herbalist kit check of the same DC can be used to attempt to prepare proper medicines and avoid the +5 DC. You also take a bonus to the Medicine check equal to +1 for every two points by which an herbalist kit check to concoct medicine exceeds the DC.
Perception is almost always used passively. Essentially, characters are taking 10 on Perception basically all the time. Objects that can be spotted by their passive perception are spotted. Objects which can’t be, aren’t. Characters rolling Stealth or Sleight of Hand will use the passive perception as a DC, as is described in the PHB.
DC 5: Spot a door. Not a hidden door, just, like, a door. DC 10: Spot a specific object in a moderately cluttered environment. DC 15: Spot a concealed door, pit trap, or pressure plate with a slightly noticeable seam or a specific object in a very cluttered environment. DC 20: Spot an expertly concealed door, pit trap, or pressure plate, camouflaged into the surrounding environment. DC 25: Spot scuff marks on a shop floor that reveal that someone has been here recently or some similarly tiny and unassuming detail. DC 30: See an invisible creature based on the displacement of tiny amounts of dust on what appears to be a swept floor. DC +5: Spot something from 50 or more feet away.
Survival difficulties depend heavily on what the terrain and biome is like, which have been split up (like Nature) by Druid circles. Druids who have a circle gain advantage on Survival checks made in that circle.
DC 5: Find food for a party of six in a restaurant. DC 10: Navigate in a grassland or coast. DC 15: Find food and shelter for a party of six in a forest, coast, mountain, or grassland outside of winter, navigate in a forest, mountain, arctic, or desert area. DC 20: Find food and shelter for a party of six in a swamp, the Underdark, or in a forest, coast, mountain, or grassland during winter, navigate a swamp or the Underdark. DC 25: Find food and shelter for a party of six in a desert or arctic region. DC +5: Find food and shelter for 7-25 people. DC +5: Find food and shelter for each additional 25 people after the first 25.
Arctic: DC 15 navigation, DC 25 survival Coast: DC 10 navigation, DC 15 survival, DC 20 in winter Desert: DC 10 navigation, DC 25 survival Forest: DC 15 navigation, DC 15 survival, DC 20 in winter Grassland: DC 10 navigation, DC 15 survival, DC 20 in winter Mountain: DC 15 navigation, DC 15 survival, DC 20 in winter Swamp: DC 20 navigation, DC 20 survival Underdark: DC 20 navigation, DC 20 survival
Deception is often rolled against an Insight check, but sometimes a fixed DC makes more sense, particularly if talking to a random villager or town guard or someone else whose stats you might not have readily available. For all of these DCs, the assumption is that the target in question is some random schmoe. If they’re any kind of named character, have them roll Insight (possibly with advantage or disadvantage).
DC 5: Trick someone into believing something they already believe, like convincing a peasant that the king, whose death they have not yet heard about, is still alive. DC 10: Trick someone into believing something they’d like to believe already, like convincing a peasant that an army of orcs has been defeated. DC 15: Trick someone into believing something when they have no particular reason to believe you one way or another, like convincing a peasant farmer that it’s illegal to run a ferry after sunset. DC 20: Trick someone into believing something inconvenient for them, like convincing a peasant that his farm is built on cursed lands, or unlikely, like convincing a local merchant that you’ve got a bridge to sell him. DC 25: Trick someone into believing something that is both inconvenient for them and harmful to their sense of identity, like convincing a happily married peasant that his wife has been cannibalizing children in secret. DC 30: Trick someone into believing something that is bizarre to the point of immediate incredulity, like convincing a happily married peasant that his wife is five kobolds standing on each other’s shoulders and wearing a coat. DC +5: Trick someone who dislikes you or is otherwise suspicious of anything you have to say.
The primary difference between Persuasion and Intimidation is in the long term effects. As such, refer to the Persuasion chart below for guidelines to adjudicating a single roll, but bear in mind the long term consequences of scaring someone into helping you as opposed to charming or inspiring them.
How much money you earn when performing is largely a function of how wealthy the people you’re playing for are. People in D&D worlds don’t tend to be strictly divided by class as in a caste system, but they do tend to avoid people who are far outside their social class. Nobles rarely hobnob with beggars and wealthy merchants aren’t often in the company of street urchins. As such, we’ve divided the seven lifestyle levels found in the PHB into five social classes, each containing three different lifestyle levels.
Slums: Wretched, squalid, and poor Street: Squalid, poor, and modest Tavern: Poor, modest, and comfortable Market: Modest, comfortable, and wealthy Noble: Comfortable, wealthy, and aristocratic
DC 5: Play music in the slums without being physically attacked for the racket. DC 10: Keep the people passing by on the street more or less content, earn 1d10 copper pieces (mostly out of pity). If you’re very lucky, it’ll bump you up from wretched conditions to merely squalid conditions. DC 15: Draw a small crowd while playing in the street or the tavern, earn 1d10 silver pieces. Usually enough to maintain a poor standard of living (even reasonably talented artists tend to struggle compared to blacksmiths or tailors similarly skilled in their own trade). DC 20: Keep a tavern audience entertained, get hired by a merchant to perform in order to draw attention to their store for a market audience, become locally well known, earn 1d4-1 gold pieces, to a minimum of five silver pieces. Usually enough for a modest and often for a comfortable standard of living. DC 25: Stand out amongst the competition in market audiences, get hired on for a private performance at a nobleman’s ball, become known throughout a small region like Elturgard or the city of Greyhawk, earn 1d10 gold pieces. Usually enough for either a comfortable or a wealthy lifestyle, and if you’re lucky enough for aristocratic. DC 30: The star of the show, known throughout a large region like the Sword Coast or Flanaess, playing exclusively for the highest bidder amongst wealthy nobles, earn 3d6 gold pieces, usually enough to maintain an aristocratic lifestyle and in all but the unluckiest cases enough to maintain a wealthy lifestyle. DC 35: A master of the form who shall go down in history, known throughout the better part of a continent and playing only for kings and emperors, earn 1d10 platinum pieces, easily enough to maintain an aristocratic lifestyle.
If a single performance has multiple performers, they each roll, their earnings are totaled up, and the total is split evenly between them, or they can choose to assist one another to give each other advantage. This is especially helpful if some of the performers aren’t as good as others. Someone with a +4 in the same band as someone with a +9 is better off giving that +9 guy advantage so he’s more likely to hit a DC 20 and get 1d4-1 (average 1.5) gp, as opposed to making the check himself and making an average of 1d10 cp plus the other guy’s 1d10 sp for a total of about 6 sp on average, less than half of what they’d make working together. This is just the gap between a level 1 expert with a good CHA and a level 1 trained with a middling CHA. Additionally, a large band (like an orchestra) is going to have much more predictable earnings due to the law of large numbers, whereas a single performer will vary quite a bit from very good nights to very bad nights due to the law of large numbers.
If you’re trying to persuade someone into doing anything especially important, you’re probably going to want a full-on social encounter, which we’ll cover in the Art of Encounters. A lot of social interactions are best covered by a single die roll, however. Charming a guard into looking the other way while you step into the treasury for a look around, inspiring a militia to keep fighting despite the odds, or persuading a hireling to stay with the party on credit after you run out of treasure to pay him with up front.
This chart refers back to the 3.5e Diplomacy rules for NPC attitudes like helpful, indifferent, unfriendly, and so on. These terms don’t have any specific rules meaning in 5e, and are only used as a reference point.
DC 5: Persuade someone to do something they were going to do anyway. DC 10: Persuade someone who is helpful to act in a helpful manner, like convincing a barkeep whose children you saved from goblin kidnappers to hide you in a back room when angry guards of a corrupt noble come looking for you. DC 15: Persuade someone who is friendly to act in a helpful manner, like convincing a barkeep whose business you saved from thieves guild extorters to hide you in a backroom, or persuade someone who is indifferent to act in a friendly manner, like convincing a guard not to report you when he catches you snooping about where you shouldn’t be (but he still throws you out), rally professional soldiers whose morale is waning. DC 20: Persuade someone who is indifferent to act in a helpful manner, like persuading a guard to look the other way altogether while you do something illegal, rally a ragtag militia whose morale is waning, or persuade someone who is hostile to act in an indifferent manner, such as convincing people who are trying to stab you to stop trying to stab you and instead just walk away. DC 25: Persuade someone who is unhelpful to act in a helpful manner, like persuading a discount arms merchant whose business tanked when you came back to town with eighty goblin short swords and flooded the market with cheap weapons to lend his caravan guards to your next expedition. DC 30: Persuade someone who is hostile to act in a helpful manner, like convincing someone to switch sides mid-fight. DC +X: Add an affected character’s Wisdom save bonus to the DC. For the majority of creatures, this is in the neighborhood of -1 to +2, and will not often make a difference, but particularly for those with a Wisdom save proficiency, it could be the difference between being talked into defecting mid-fight to not even being talked into stopping to hear out the other side.
Persuasion can also be used to haggle for better prices with merchants, although attempting to haggle and getting a poor roll can instead result in a character paying more or receiving less for their goods. Some items may require haggling by default, with no option for just paying list price without a roll. For example, while large cities have wealthy merchants who use gems as a currency because they are lighter than gold coins, smaller towns do not generally have any merchants with so much money that it's a hassle to carry it around in gold coin form, and therefore don't have a fixed exchange rate for gems or art objects. As such, in these towns a Persuasion roll is always required to haggle over price.
Most merchants have flat +0 Wisdom scores, but specific named merchants might have a bonus or penalty to their Wisdom saves. Add this bonus to the minimum and maximum for each range except for the top one, whose minimum is always 1. For example, a merchant with a +3 Wisdom save sells items at 200% value from 1-7, at 150% from 8-12, and so on (another way to think about it is applying the merchant's Wisdom save bonus as a penalty to the Persuasion check).