Playing the Game

Ability Modifiers

All checks in the game are tied to one of the six ability modifiers—Strength (STR), Dexterity (DEX), Constitution (CON), Wisdom (WIS), Intelligence (INT), or Charisma (CHA). You add one of these six ability modifiers to every check. The rules typically dictate which modifier you must use for a particular check, but in cases where no ability is listed, the GM decides which one is relevant.

Proficiency Bonus

All PCs have a proficiency bonus (PB) determined by their level. Monsters also have this bonus incorporated into the various components of their stat blocks.

You only ever add your PB to a roll once. For example, if two different rules allow you to add your PB to a WIS save, you still add it only once.

Occasionally, you might double or halve your PB before you add it to a roll. If some circumstance suggests that your PB applies more than once to the same roll, you still add it only once and double or halve it only once.

If your PB doesn’t apply to a roll, doubling doesn’t change that. For instance, if you lack proficiency in the History skill, you gain no benefit from a feature that lets you double your PB when you make INT (History) checks.

In general, don’t double your PB for attack rolls or saves. If some feature or effect allows you to do so, the above rules still apply.

Determining Success or Failure

In most cases, you measure your check result against a target number the GM sets for you, called a difficulty class (DC). If your check result is equal to or higher than the DC, your roll succeeds! If it’s less than the DC, you fail.

Determining DC

Most of the time, the rules tell the GM what a DC should be. For example, a PC must get a check result of 19 or higher to successfully attack a creature with an AC 19 (AC is one example of a pre-determined DC).

When the rules don’t provide a DC, the GM sets an appropriate number. If you’re the GM and you aren’t sure, think about how hard you want a task to be. Then consult the Typical Difficulty Class table to assign a number. You can always set it at a number that isn’t divisible by 5.

Typical Difficulty Class

DifficultyChance of SuccessDC
EasyHigh Chance of Success10 or less
MediumModerate Chance of Success15
HardLow Chance of Success20
Very HardAlmost No Chance of Success25 or higher


Every PC has a special resource called Luck. You use Luck to influence the result of any check.

Gaining Luck

When you create your character, start with 0 Luck. You gain Luck in the following ways:

  • Once per turn, when you fail to hit with an attack roll or fail a save, gain 1 Luck.
  • The GM can award 1 Luck as a reward for a clever idea, excellent roleplaying, or pursuing an interesting—rather than optimal—choice.
  • The GM can award any amount of Luck to one or more PCs for surviving difficult encounters or achieving story goals (in addition to XP or other rewards).

Losing Luck

You can have a maximum of 5 Luck at one time. If you already have 5 Luck and gain more, you must immediately roll a d4 and reset your Luck total to the number rolled.

Spending Luck

You spend Luck to add a 1-for-1 bonus to any check you make. For example, if you have 4 Luck, and roll a 13 on the die, you can spend 2 Luck to make your result a 15 (leaving you with 2 Luck for later).

Alternatively, immediately after you make a check (attack, ability check, or save), you can spend 3 Luck to reroll a d20 used for the check.

Luck can’t stop a critical miss on a 1 or create a critical hit by adding up to 20. Note that Luck gained from a failed attack or save can’t be used to enhance the same roll that generated the Luck—you only accrue Luck after you officially fail the roll!

The Three Types of Checks

Attack Rolls

Attack rolls are checks used almost exclusively during combat for attacking.

Relevant Proficiencies

If you have proficiency with the weapon you’re making an attack with, making an unarmed strike attack (all creatures are proficient with this), or casting a spell you know or have prepared, add your PB to the attack roll.


Saves are checks made to resist or avoid threats from spells, traps, poisons, diseases, or similar hazards. The GM normally asks you to make a save because your character is at risk of harm. There are six types of saves in the game, each tied to one of the six ability scores: STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS, or CHA.

To make a save, roll a d20 and add the appropriate ability modifier. For example, if your GM asks you to make a DEX save, roll a d20 and add your DEX modifier to find the check result.

The DC for a save is determined by the effect that calls for it. For example, when you make a save against a spell, the DC is determined by the caster’s relevant ability modifier and PB.

The consequences of success or failure are described after an effect’s DC. A successful save usually means that you suffer no harm, or partial harm, from an effect.

Relevant Proficiencies

Your character class gives you proficiency in at least two saves. The wizard, for example, is proficient in INT and WIS saves. Talents and similar features can also give you proficiency with a certain type of save. Add your PB when you make a save you have proficiency with.

Ability Checks

When you want to do something that isn’t covered by an attack roll or save, make an ability check. Since ability checks are so wide-ranging, they are more complex than the other two types of checks.

To make an ability check, roll a d20 and add the appropriate ability modifier. As with other d20 rolls, apply bonuses and penalties, and compare the total to the DC. If the total equals or exceeds the DC, the ability check is a success. You overcome the challenge. Otherwise, it’s a failure. You make no progress toward the objective, or you make some progress but also suffer a setback, as determined by the GM.


Sometimes your efforts are directly opposed by someone else. This can occur when multiple creatures try to do the same thing but only one can succeed, such as snatching a magic ring falling to the floor. It can also occur when one creature tries to prevent another one from accomplishing a goal—for example, a monster might try to force open a door while an adventurer holds it closed. In situations like these, the outcome is determined by a special form of ability check, called a contest.

Every participant in a contest makes an ability check. Apply appropriate bonuses and penalties, but instead of comparing the total to a DC, compare the check results to each other. The participant with the highest check result wins the contest and either succeeds at the action or prevents other participants from succeeding.

If the contest results in a tie, the situation remains the same. Thus, one participant might win by default. If two creatures tie in a contest to snatch a ring off the floor, neither character grabs it. In a contest between a monster trying to open a door and an adventurer trying to keep it closed, a tie means that the door stays shut.

Passive Checks

A passive check doesn’t involve any die rolls. This kind of ability check can represent an average outcome for a task done repeatedly, such as searching for secret doors over and over again. Or a GM can use it to secretly determine whether a PC succeeds at something the player doesn’t know to try to do, such as noticing a hidden monster.

A passive check total is called a score. Here’s how to determine a character’s passive score:

  • 10 + all modifiers that normally apply to the check.
  • If the character has advantage, add 5. For disadvantage, subtract 5.

So, for example, if a 1st-level character has a WIS +2 ability modifier and is proficient in the Perception skill, they have a passive Perception score of 14 (10 + 2 for WIS modifier + 2 for PB).

Working Together

Sometimes two or more creatures work together. In this case, the creature with the highest ability modifier is designated the lead for the effort. That creature can make an ability check with advantage, reflecting the help others give. In combat, a creature can only provide this kind of assistance by taking the Help action.

A creature can only provide help if they have capacity to do the task. For example, trying to open a lock requires proficiency with thieves’ tools, so a creature who lacks that proficiency can’t provide help with a lock-picking job. Moreover, a creature can provide help only when their assistance would be productive. Threading a needle doesn’t get any easier with another pair of hands.

Group Checks

When several individuals try to accomplish something as a group, the GM might ask for a group check. In this case, characters who are skilled at a task help cover for those who aren’t.

To make a group check, each member of the group makes the ability check separately. If at least half the members succeed (round up), the whole group succeeds. Otherwise, the group fails.

Group checks don’t come up often, and they’re most useful when all characters succeed or fail as a group. For example, when adventurers navigate a swamp, the GM might call for a WIS (Survival) group check to see if the whole party can avoid quicksand and sinkholes. If at least half the group succeeds, the successful characters guide their companions out of danger. Otherwise, the group stumbles into a hazard.

Relevant Proficiencies

Two main types of proficiencies can modify an ability check.

Skill Proficiencies

Every PC starts the game with skill proficiencies granted by their background, class, heritage, lineage, or talents. Proficiency in a skill means you can add your PB to ability checks that involve that skill. Without proficiency in a skill, you don’t add your PB to ability checks.

For example, if a character attempts to climb a dangerous cliff, the GM might ask for a STR (Athletics) check. If the character is proficient in Athletics, the player rolls a d20, adds their character’s STR modifier and then adds PB. If the character lacks that proficiency, the player rolls a d20 and adds only their character’s STR modifier.

The rules in a scenario usually prompt a GM to ask for an ability check using a specific skill. For example, “Make a WIS (Perception) check.” Sometimes though, more than one skill might reasonably apply. You can ask the GM if a different skill is relevant to the check. If the GM agrees, you can use that skill instead.

See the following Skills section for a full list of skill proficiencies and more information about their use.

Tool Proficiencies

Some tasks require a particular tool to accomplish, such as repairing an item, forging a document, or picking a lock. Your background, class, heritage, lineage, or talents can give you proficiency with certain tools. Proficiency with a tool allows you to add your PB to any ability check you make using that tool.

Tool use isn’t tied to a single ability modifier. The check depends on what you’re trying to do, at the GM’s discretion. For example, when using construction tools, the GM might ask for a DEX (Construction Tools) check to carve out fine detail or a STR (Construction Tools) check to make something out of particularly hard wood.

Skill Descriptions

These descriptions include different ways you can use a skill.


Associated Ability: DEX

Your DEX (Acrobatics) check covers your attempt to stay on your feet in a tricky situation, such as running across a sheet of ice, balancing on a tightrope, or staying upright on a rocking ship’s deck. The GM might also call for a DEX (Acrobatics) check to see if you can perform acrobatic stunts, including dives, rolls, somersaults, and flips.

Animal Handling

Associated Ability: Wisdom (WIS)

When you want to calm a domesticated animal, keep a mount from getting spooked, or intuit an animal’s intentions, the GM might call for a WIS (Animal Handling) check. You also make a WIS (Animal Handling) check to control your mount when you try something risky.


Associated Ability: Intelligence (INT)

Your INT (Arcana) check measures your ability to recall lore about matters such as spells, magic items, eldritch symbols, magical traditions, the planes of existence, and inhabitants of those planes.


Associated Ability: Strength (STR)

Your STR (Athletics) check covers difficult situations you encounter while climbing, jumping, or swimming. Examples include scaling a rain-slicked cliff, avoiding hazards on a climb, jumping unusually far, pulling off a stunt while jumping, swimming in treacherous currents, or staying afloat when a creature tries to pull you underwater.


Associated Ability: Charisma (CHA)

Your CHA (Deception) check determines whether you can convincingly hide the truth, verbally or through actions. Deception ranges from misleading through ambiguity to telling outright lies. Typical situations include trying to fast-talk a guard, con a merchant, cheat at gambling, or wear a convincing disguise.


Associated Ability: Intelligence (INT)

Your INT (History) check measures your ability to recall lore about matters such as legendary people, ancient kingdoms, past disputes, recent wars, and lost civilizations.


Associated Ability: Wisdom (WIS)

Your WIS (Insight) check decides whether you can determine the true intentions of a creature, such as when searching out a lie or predicting someone’s next move. This involves gleaning clues from body language, speech habits, and changes in mannerisms.


Associated Ability: Charisma (CHA)

An attempt to influence someone through threats, hostility, and physical violence requires a CHA (Intimidation) check. Examples include prying information out of a prisoner, convincing street thugs to back down, or using a broken bottle to suggest that a sneering vizier reconsider.


Associated Ability: Intelligence (INT)

Looking around for clues and making deductions based on those clues involves an INT (Investigation) check. You might deduce the location of a hidden object, discern from a wound what kind of weapon dealt it, or determine the weakest point in a tunnel that could cause it to collapse. Poring through ancient scrolls for a fragment of hidden knowledge might also call for an INT (Investigation) check.


Associated Ability: Wisdom (WIS)

A WIS (Medicine) check lets you try to stabilize an unconscious companion at 0 HP or diagnose an illness.


Associated Ability: Intelligence (INT)

Your INT (Nature) check measures your ability to recall lore about matters such as terrain, plants and animals, weather, and natural cycles.


Associated Ability: Wisdom (WIS)

Your WIS (Perception) check lets you spot, hear, or otherwise detect the presence of something. It measures your general awareness of surroundings and keenness of senses. For example, you might try to overhear a conversation through a closed door, eavesdrop under an open window, or catch the scent of monsters skulking through the forest. You might also try to spot things that are obscured or easy to miss, such as orcs lying in ambush, thugs hiding in the shadows of an alley, or candlelight under a closed secret door.


Associated Ability: Charisma (CHA)

Your CHA (Performance) check determines how well you delight an audience with music, dance, acting, storytelling, or other forms of entertainment.


Associated Ability: Charisma (CHA)

When you attempt to influence someone or a group of people with tact, social graces, or good nature, the GM might ask for a CHA (Persuasion) check. You use Persuasion when acting in good faith, to foster friendships, make cordial requests, or exhibit proper etiquette. Examples include convincing a chamberlain to let your party see the king, negotiating peace between warring tribes, or inspiring a crowd.


Associated Ability: Intelligence (INT)

Your INT (Religion) check measures your ability to recall lore about matters such as deities, rites and prayers, religious hierarchies, holy symbols, and secret cults.

Sleight of Hand

Associated Ability: Dexterity (DEX)

An act of legerdemain or manual trickery, such as planting an item on someone else or concealing an object on your person, calls for a DEX (Sleight of Hand) check. The GM might also call for a DEX (Sleight of Hand) check to determine whether you lift a coin purse off another person or slip something out of another person’s pocket.


Associated Ability: Dexterity (DEX)

Make a DEX (Stealth) check when you attempt to conceal yourself from enemies, slink past guards, slip away without being noticed, or sneak up on someone.


Associated Ability: Wisdom (WIS)

The GM might ask you to make a WIS (Survival) check to follow tracks, hunt wild game, guide your group through frozen wastelands, identify signs that owlbears live nearby, predict the weather, or avoid quicksand and other natural hazards.

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