Is an attack an ability check too? DnD 5e


Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition is a complex role-playing game that operates with an intricate set of rules set inside an elaborate alternate reality. For many, it takes multiple rounds of the game to fully grasp the rules and commit all the spells, monsters, and classes to memory.

Is an attack an ability check too? An attack is not the same as a check. In the rule book, these are often linked together as they are similar in the way roles, bonuses, and advantages/disadvantages are handled. The differences between the ability check and attack rolls are clearly outlined in Chapter 7 of the Players Handbook.

It is quite easy to mistake the attack roll, ability check, and saving throw for three faces of the same thing because they all require you to roll a d20. They are all also subject to advantage and disadvantage, modifiers, and have similar difficulty class. However, they are not in the same category of moves, rather they just share a similar procedure for determining success or failure.

Basic Game Moves

Three basic game moves that are at the heart of the rules of Dungeons and Dragons include:

  • The attack roll
  • The ability check
  • The saving throw

These moves differ greatly in the time and place they can be utilized but also contrast in the way they impact the game. This article will break down each of these moves and cover how they differ when to properly use them, and the rules that surround each move.

Group checks may come into play when the game master wants a number of individual players to accomplish or overcome a milestone as a group. When this situation arises, it is critical that those players who are skilled in the skills needed for the check help cover those who are not skilled in the required abilities needed to overcome the check.

The Attack Roll

The attack roll move is one that is usually only used in a combat setting and has the narrowest use. This move is used when you are attempting to strike your opponent. This move works by the player rolling the d20 and adding their attack bonus. This determines your success or failure in this combat.

When rolling the d20, there is a certain number of rolls that automatically determine your fate without any future moves. During this process, if you roll a 1 this is an automatic miss. If you roll a 20, this is an automatic hit and can possibly be a critical hit.

The Ability Check

The ability check is a very common move and pops up often throughout the game. This roll can be used in a variety of situations throughout your roleplaying, including:

  • In combat
  • During social interactions with other players
  • While your character is exploring

For newer players, the easiest way to identify if you are using an ability check is if the rules say that you are making a check using one of the six ability scores. This can often confuse players if you are not using one a skill in the ability check; however, regardless of if a skill is being used, the move will still count as an ability check.

In addition to the variety of circumstances, you can utilize the ability check, there is an assortment of ability check types that can be put into play. Examples of some different ability checks that can be used during the game include:

  • A strength check
  • A dexterity check
  • A charisma (persuasion) check
  • A wisdom (perception) check

Each of these checks breaks down further into subcategories—it is important to be familiar with these categories to best be able to judge which check to use and when. These subcategories describe the more specific situation in which you should utilize each check.

For example, when testing the ability of animal handling, the check you would put into play would be the wisdom (sometimes called the perception) check, other specifics for each category are as follows:

Strength Dexterity Intelligence Wisdom Charisma
Athletics Acrobatics Sleight of hand Stealth Arcana History Investigation Nature Religion Animal handling Insight Medicine Perception Survival Deception Intimidation Performance Persuasion

The purpose of these checks is to test the ability, talent, or training of another creature with the intention to then overcome a challenge or beat them in a duel. For each ability check, it is up to the game master to decide which of the six abilities are pertinent to the task and the difficulty. Difficulty classes are defined as follows:

Task Difficulty Difficulty Class
Very easy 5
Easy 10
Medium 15
Hard 20
Very hard 25
Nearly impossible 30

The ability check is determined by rolling the d20 and adding relevant modifiers, bonuses, penalties and comparing the number outcome to the difficulty class. The total needs to equal or exceed the difficulty class number for the check to be successful.

The Saving Throws

This move is also commonly called a save and allows you to resist a move that may harm your character. If another character or creature sets a potentially harmful move in place, be sure to use your saving throw to reduce or eliminate the threat. Common threats that can be avoided with your saving throw include:

  • A spell
  • A trap
  • Poison
  • Disease

Among other similar threats that can be posed to your character! This move requires you to roll the d20 and add the ability modifier appropriate for the move—for example using the dexterity modifier for a dexterity saving throw.

Usually, the outcome of a successful saving throw is a lack or harm (or a reduced amount of harm) to a creature from the effect that was inflicting the harm. The difficulty of the saving throw is determined very differently than the ability check. The difficulty here is based solely off of the effect that causes the need for the saving throw.

For example, the difficulty of a saving throw as it relates to a spell will be highly dependent on the characters ability to spell cast. Their proficiency will be tested by this saving throw and will determine difficulty as well as success.

The basic three types of saving throws include:

  1. Fortitude—this particular save will measure the players ability to stand up to physical attacks. The best modifier to apply to this saving throw is your constitution modifier.
  2. Reflex—this save will measure the player’s ability to dodge area attacks. The best modifier to apply to this saving throw is your dexterity modifier.
  3. Will—this save will measure the player’s ability to resist mental influence (including magical effects). The best modifier to apply to this saving throw is your wisdom modifier.

Similarly to the attack roll, when rolling the d20 to determine your saving throw, there are automatic fails and successes determined by the number you roll. Rolling a 1 will again result in automatic failure while a 20 results in an automatic success in your saving throw.

Takeaway Points

When playing the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons, it is critical that players can identify not only the differences between an ability check, attack roll, and saving throw but also know the intricate details that accompany each move.

Each of the three moves listed above is utilized in different scenarios and are supplemented by a differing set of rules and situational usage. Before you begin using these moves in your game, become very familiar with how and when to use them for the most success in your game!

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