Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is based on the proficiency system. Characters have different things that they know how to do, and thus add their proficiency modifier to them. For skills, weapons, and saves, that all makes sense; your DM will tell you when to make them, and you just roll. However, there’s something else that you can be proficient in, and it’s tucked away near the bottom of your character sheet; Tools.
Tool Proficiencies 5e
Tools are 5e’s way to ensure that characters can’t pick up a disguise kit and immediately know what to do. They are specialized kits whose proficiencies are locked behind class features, races, and backgrounds. Becoming proficient with a set of tools means unlocking all of the abilities that a tool kit might have. Each set of tools has their own set of features, and they can range from musical instruments to full blacksmith’s kits. If you’re proficient in a tool, your character sheet has an entry under skill proficiencies where you can take note of them.
None of these tools are designed to be used strictly in combat. They’re mostly for social events, rest periods, or crafting downtime. However, if you’re cunning with your proficiencies, you might be surprised!
List of Tools
There’s a myriad of tools that any adventurer can select, based on their background or class.
- Alchemist’s Supplies: Alchemy is not extremely potent in 5th edition. It’s taken more of a background roll, especially for identifying magical potions or chemicals. You can still craft alchemical items, an unfortunately limited endeavor.
- Brewer’s Supplies: Anyone want a drink? This is actually a decent grab for a survivalist campaign, since you can create potable water. You can also replace it with Persuasion proficiency… provided the person likes the drink you shoved under their nose.
- Calligrapher’s Supplies: With the hilarious “Decipher Treasure Map” ability aside, Calligrapher’s Supplies are mostly for background. You can use them to forge, but the DC is incredibly high. Identifying the intent of the writer can be useful, but this is far from the best of the kits.
- Carpenter’s Tools: One of the most interestingly versatile tools, you can use Carpenter’s Tool proficiency on basically anything wooden; identifying hiding spots, helping with stealth, providing shelter, making barricades, building items. This is a legitimately good choice for forestry campaigns.
- Cartographer’s Tools: The art of map creating gives you some knowledge of nearby landmarks. It also helps you sniff out oddities in false maps, or hidden paths in clever maps. Entirely map-centric, the cartographer’s tools are a bit specialized.
- Cobbler’s Tools: You work with shoes, a humble trade. For some reason, if you work on shoes, people can travel for another 2 hours. You can also tell where people have recently been by looking at shoes. You’re also a prime pick for identifying magical shoes… and you can make a hidden shoe compartment. A humble cobbler? That’s basically magic!
- Cook’s Utensils: Chef’s tools are a party member’s best friend. You can make medicine taste better, are a better survivalist, and help heal creatures that are resting. Honestly, not a bad option in general.
- Disguise Kit: Ah, the crème de la crème of a social intrigue campaign! The disguise kit vastly changes your options for walking into a new situation, since you have so many toys to work with. You can replace proficiency in Disguise Kits for… a lot of checks, honestly. Most charisma checks can use a Disguise kit instead. It’s an honestly good choice.
- Forgery Kit: This is the better Calligrapher’s kit. You can use this to create fake documents, examine documents for facilities, and combine this proficiency with others to make things like fake maps (calligrapher’s kit). Great for campaigns where having your governor’s signature is useful.
- Gaming Set: You’re incredibly good at playing a game. Whip this out during an interrogation, and you’ll be better at reading their lies. And… that’s about it. You could probably make money using this, if you ask.
- Glassblower’s Tools: You’re proficient at making, and identifying, glass. You can even use your glass knowledge to determine what a glass object once had. Extraordinarily specific, but… glass is everywhere. It might not be awful to at least consider for urban campaigns.
- Herbalism Kit: A non-magical healer’s best friend. You can use this kit to heal diseases and wounds, forage for supplies, and identify plants or poison. If your party’s cleric is always low on slots, this kit would not be amiss.
- Jeweler’s Tools: You can identify and beautify gems. This… mostly just helps you identify magical gems. But, if you stole a gem, you can use this kit to modify it’s appearance to help you sneak around with it. Way too specific; just have a good Arcana check.
- Land and Water Vehicles: You’re good at driving either land or water vehicles. If you’re at sea, having one creature good at driving a boat might be a pretty good idea, honestly. Land vehicles are weird, but they would be nice for fantasy heists or dramatic moments. On the other hand, riding an animal isn’t that hard.
- Leatherworker’s Tools: You can identify magical leather items, study leather for imperfections, or know the source of leather or leathercrafting. Honestly, might be one of the least powerful kits. Better if you’re constantly in light armor so you can fix it.
- Mason’s Tools: You’re pretty good at stonework. It’s like the Carpenter’s Tools, but only for stone, and you can do much less with it. However, with the Demolition ability, you can destroy brick walls with weapons twice as fast. That’s… actually pretty cool.
- Musical Instrument: Cute and charming. You know about the history of your instrument, and you can play and compose music. Can be good for distracting.
- Navigator’s Tools: Along with water vehicles, having someone who can navigate the world is essential for water campaigns. Spells can replicate this, but at least you save a spell slot. And it’s hard to become lost, since you have proficiency in these bad boys… but Survival might just do the same thing.
- Painter’s Supplies: Ah, magnifique! Painters are good at looking at art and creating art. This kit allows you to paint hidden messages or recreate a scene via painting. You’d have to be creative, but this can do wonders in a vigilante or urban campaign.
- Poisoner’s Kit: Ah yes, the creation of poison. This kit allows you to create and apply poisons without poisoning yourself. You’re also much better about treating poison, and knowing about poisonous animals. Basically, if it says “poison,” this kit can probably help. So… not an awful grab, honestly.
- Potter’s Tools: Pottery is niche, but there’s a lot of bowls and pots underground. This can help you understand clues and reconstruct broken pots. A DM can legitimately make a plot point circle around your proficiency in pottery! Otherwise, ceramics are often forgotten. This is a pretty rough pick.
- Smith’s Tools: Being able to fix metal objects will make you the friend of every heavily armored character in your party. Other than repairing, you don’t really do much (other than identifying) with this stuff.
- Thieves’ Tools: These are critical; every party needs one set of these. You can use these to unlock or set traps, know about the history of trapped locals, and become better at finding traps. The ability to unlock doors or disarm traps without alerting the entire dungeon is just so important.
- Tinker’s Tools: A bit wonky, tinker’s tools basically let you repair clockwork or traps. They’re pretty generally useful and good at repairing basically anything mundane. Fun, and actually pretty useful.
- Weaver’s Tools: You’re fantastic at fabric. You can identify, repair, and investigate cloth. You can also make fancy clothes for creatures out of cloth. Practically useless, but a really fun background – I can imagine an Orc Tailor right now.
- Woodcarver’s Tools: Like carpenter’s tools but for fixing items. Woodcarver’s tools are mostly useful for making small things, like arrows or repairing wooden tokens. They’re actually only really significant for arrow-making, and archers want proficiency with these somewhere in their team.
Variant Rules: Tools and Skills Together
Tool kits are pretty fantastic, but a lot of them step on the toes of… basic skill checks. Arcana and Nature come up often, for example, and they’re also pretty good skills to have. Be sure to ask if your DM is using “Tools and Skills Together” from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. If they are, then having both skills will either grant you advantage on the skill check, or give you extra information that someone without tool proficiencies wouldn’t get. That makes a lot of these tools, such as the navigator’s tools, much more useful, since Survival almost always can do the job.
See Also: Legendary Actions in 5E
Concluding Our Tool Proficiencies 5E Guide
Most tools are way too specific to take proficiency with them over proficiency with a skill. Skills are so much more useful in general, and have many more things you can do with them. However, one should not completely discard their tool proficiency. There may be situations where the specific activities with a tool can save your life; from quickly painting the portrait of the perpetrator of a crime, to using your lute skills to fascinate a dragon. With enough creativity, this entire list can come in handy. Just… make sure you know what they can do first. Or ask your DM what they can do beyond what Wizards say they can do.