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Ability Check

Ability Check

An Ability Check in Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a fundamental mechanic used to determine the success of a character when performing tasks that have a chance of failure. These tasks can range from picking a lock or jumping a chasm to recalling ancient lore or intimidating a foe. Unlike saving throws, which are reactive measures against external threats, ability checks are proactive attempts by players to interact with the world around them or overcome challenges posed by the Dungeon Master (DM).


Ability checks are directly tied to the six ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Each ability check tests a character's competence in one of these areas. For example, a Strength (Athletics) check might be required to climb a cliff, while a Charisma (Persuasion) check could be necessary to negotiate with a guard.


When a player declares an action that requires an ability check, they roll a 20-sided die (d20) and add the relevant ability modifier. If the character is proficient in a skill related to the action, their proficiency bonus is also added to the roll. The total must meet or exceed a Difficulty Class (DC) set by the DM, reflecting how hard the task is. The DC can vary greatly depending on the task's complexity and the circumstances under which it is attempted.

Skills and Proficiency

Skills are specific competencies within each ability score's broader scope. D&D 5th Edition includes 18 skills, each linked to a particular ability. For example, Stealth is tied to Dexterity, while History is tied to Intelligence. Characters can be proficient in specific skills, indicating specialized training or particular aptitude in those areas. Proficiency allows a character to add their proficiency bonus to ability checks involving those skills.

Role in Gameplay

- Exploration: Ability checks are crucial during exploration, determining the success of actions like navigating wilderness, searching for hidden objects, or surviving in harsh environments.

- Social Interactions: In social encounters, ability checks facilitate various interactions, such as deceiving, persuading, or intimidating NPCs, shaping the narrative and outcomes of these encounters.

- Problem Solving: Players often use ability checks to solve puzzles, bypass obstacles, or come up with creative solutions to the challenges posed by the DM.

Variants and Modifiers

Several factors can modify ability checks:

- Advantage and Disadvantage: Under certain conditions, players may roll two d20s and take the higher (advantage) or lower (disadvantage) result, reflecting favorable or unfavorable circumstances.

- Tools: Proficiency with certain tools can add a proficiency bonus to ability checks where those tools are applicable, such as using thieves’ tools for a Dexterity check to pick a lock.

- Spell and Item Effects: Various spells and magic items can provide bonuses or impose penalties on ability checks.

Beyond Mechanics

Ability checks offer opportunities for players to engage creatively with the game world and drive the narrative forward. They encourage problem-solving, teamwork, and role-playing, contributing to the shared storytelling experience of D&D. Successful ability checks can lead to memorable moments, while failures can introduce unexpected complications, adding depth and dynamism to the adventure.


Ability Checks are a core component of D&D gameplay, enabling characters to interact with and influence the game world. Through these checks, the game balances character skills and abilities with the element of chance, ensuring that both player choice and randomness play roles in shaping the unfolding story.

Ability Check
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