How to Adjudicate Ability Checks & Skills in Dungeons and Dragons 5e



In this video, we discuss how ability checks work in Dungeons & Dragons 5e, breaking down how to determine which ability scores and skills apply, how to set the difficulty class, and how to use natural language to get players roleplaying and thinking creatively.

Check out Monty’s 5e Skills and Ability Check Spreadsheets for examples of common skill uses and suggested DCs:
Or Reddit user Ozuro’s incredible, printable, Dungeon Master Screen:

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41 thoughts on “How to Adjudicate Ability Checks & Skills in Dungeons and Dragons 5e

  1. This is a great video, but I'd also like people to read https://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/4238/roleplaying-games/the-art-of-rulings it covers the same ground but in a longer form. It also covers mechanisms from other systems

  2. Hey guys! Love the video series and it has been very helpful in navigating the DM waters. I struggle with coming up with a DC on the fly and always second guess myself (Was that DC 15 too hard? Too easy? etc). I found what really helps me is using the help action to get each player to describe what they are doing, then I'll use the highest roll of the players involved and give them advantage. This seems to involve my entire party without them all wanting to roll separately.

  3. If a player say "I want to roll on [skill]" ask them if their character has a dice set, and ask them why they think now is the appropriate time to play dice.

  4. You know a tool that makes group actions smooth well out, and not have the "I wanna do it too", is the concept of a caller:
    Only one person in the group is allowed to communicate directly with the DM about what the party does, he isn't dictating what happens, just summarizing the information.
    This does two really neat things:
    You avoid the most extroverted player from ALWAYS running into a room and taking the treasure, you allow for the team to actually discuss with each other what they want to do, and not with the DM. I have seen in many sessions IRL and online, that players tend to always look at the DM and always play with the DM, not their group.
    When we introduced the caller we saw the dynamics shift, suddenly we were talking inwards, planning inwards, and communicating with each other.

    So when we enter a room the loot happy rogue will say, I want to loot the chest! But the DM isn't allowed to react on that until the rest of the group has had a chance to react to it. Then once the plan of action is ready, the caller looks at the DM and says: "Did you catch all that?" or gives a summary of actions:
    So the rogue will open the chest, the Warlock will examine the statue for clues of it's origins, the Fighter examines the walls for hidden doors, and I the Cleric looks in the bookshelf for anything that can help us.

    Then the DM executes the actions.

    And if a combat happens, then the DM either has the location of all the players, OR he can ask the caller to determine where everyone was when the monsters happened.

    (I got the idea from Angry GM, you can find a long winded grumpy article about it on his blog)

  5. I joined a group where someone always had guidance and the other two DMs would let them use it all the time. When I started running the current game i had to break them of the habit. No, you dont get to give them guidance instantaneous checks, like perception. This caused some consternation until I explained to them that guidance is for when you know someone is going to do something, or attempting to learn/find something. It is not for situations where the player has that split second to notice or remember something.

  6. This gets to the core of being a good DM. You can have all the intricate dungeons, monsters, traps and puzzles and story twists you like, but if you can encourage your players to roleplay their characters naturally with positive encouragement, and cut down on mechanical dice rolling, everyone is going to have more fun.

  7. On the point of contested checks, I think of the player who initiated a check(such as a thief sneaking or a bard trying to lie) is simply creating the DC for their opponent to pass. If you reach the DC set by a sneaking rogue, you are able to find them in the shadows.

  8. Would it be a good house-rule that if you are proficient in something and the ability check is rated as easy (DC 5) you automatically pass it, while the others who aren't have to roll for it?

  9. In the example of asking the king for his throne, I'd probably handle it a bit differently on a successful roll… I'd go with the "Yes, but…." response in that case… (Basically making the character next in line for the throne along with the consequences that go with it… Like maybe whoever was the original heir to the throne wanting you dead, having to deal with the Kingdoms PR as your actions now carry more weight in regards to the fate of the kingdom….

  10. 1:43 charisma is selling a tomato salad

    Perfection

    19:32 I PERCEPTION THE DESK

    that killed me lmao

  11. My friend (playing a bard in the campaign, naturally) has openly stated that he will seduce a dragon if I put one in a dungeon. Yes, I'm going to let him do this. Because if he succeeds in doing so, the dragon will be male, and he will regret seducing the dragon.

  12. is it a thing to let people roll an impossible check at something like quadruple disadvantage or something like that. IE Roll 4 or 5 D20 and take the lowest result?

  13. Generally speaking, if the players have no way of immediately knowing that a roll failed I make the role myself. For example: listening to doors to see if they can hear something on the other side. If they roll a 1 then they are just going to go down the line and have every party member listen to the door until someone rolls high.

  14. Ideally I agree with natural language but I can't count how many times that's screwed me over while playing where the DM doesn't have me roll anything and essentially rail roads the story where as the same DMs if I say "I'd like to do a perception/diplomacy/etc" it actually changes what's done if I roll well. Same goes with being specific on checks. I've specifically said I look for hidden traps, yet missed a hidden door despite the roll should be applying to both "hidden" things and rolling extremely well with a high perception character.

    I know this is DM dependent, just something to keep in mind for your DMs who tend to be forgetful or take things too specifically and thus fail to mention other things a character may stumble upon.

  15. Hey guys. I've recently sparked an interest in this game and I purchased the Starter Set. I've watched a few of your videos and you're doing excellent work. Something that I would love to see in a future video is if you could put a few players on the table in these situations and actually role play, showing the character sheets as you go. Being new I get confused about which line I should look at when figuring out an ability role, stealth, surprise attack, perception checks, etc. Great explanations – but it would really help me out if you could then demonstrate. Thanks for your consideration.

  16. This was extremely helpful! I'm running my first session this weekend and needed some last minute reminders on how to use these checks. Thanks dudes (:

  17. ithink if its a sentient creature it should be able to be seduced but that should not be the end the of fight but a different ending to the encounter maybe ocne you get them to very low health they just surrender and are way more willing to give you information

  18. I really wish I'd found yall when I first started DMing. Between this and the common mistakes for camapigns video ive picked up some amazing new ways to run my campaign

  19. When all the players are trying to perceive or remember something, I usually say everyone can make a check and everyone who succeeded is successful if whoever has the best modifier is. That way if that person decides to hide it, they'd still know. It usually makes no difference, but it allows everyone to feel like they're making the check while still making it so that the check isn't almost certainly successful because many players are making it.

  20. I disagree on not having them roll if they could continue to try until they succeed. The roll simply shouldn't decide success or failure but instead how quickly they achieve the task. As that could effect roleplay at the very least if not something bigger than that.

  21. I had a player once that it seemed like every room they entered he would roll his dice and say, "I made my perception check. What do I perceive?" To which I began responding, "That you are in a room…" and proceed to describe the room again. Every now and then i would throw in something extra like, "The paint on the wall was made with lemon skins for color." or "You smell the farts of the ages that has seeped into the walls for the last thousand years." And most of that stopped. I would then only give cryptic clues if any player did a perception check with out me asking.

  22. Thanks for yet another great walk through. As a DM switching to 5e from 1e after a LONG break, the DC concept was bugging me. Now I think I have a good grip on it. Also the table Monty put together of examples is fab. Thanks for that as well. GG guys.

  23. Very solid philosophy for calling for ability checks, and one I generally try to apply in my own DMing experiences.

    One other variant condition for calling for ability checks I sometimes use (Inspired by similar mechanics in other systems) is what I usually call a "Simple Success Check". This is the sort of check I sometimes call for when the characters are attempting a task where there wouldn't be a chance for failure, but how well they are able to perform the task could have consequences to the narrative.

    An example would be if the party is going through a dungeon that is being regularly patrolled (ala older editions' wandering monster rules) and the Rogue needs to pick a lock. The Rogue isn't under a hard time limit to do so, but how long he takes is potentially going to effect the party's progress – If he takes longer there's more chance a guard patrol is going to stumble across the party. In a case like that I might call for the Rogue to make a roll not to determine whether or not they can pick the lock, but to determine how long it's going to take them.

    In cases like the above example, I'd probably also give the character the option on whether or not they'd like to follow through with picking the lock after they've made the roll and have an idea as to how long it would take their character to pick said lock ("With an 8 on your roll to pick the lock your character knows that this is a fairly tricky lock that will take them a good hour of finagling to pick, do you want to take that time to pick it or do you guys want to try and find a faster option?").

  24. I think you should have also mentioned banded DC's, where depending on your roll different outcomes will occur, ranging from great to disastrous. To use the example of a player trying to get the king to give up their crown, a roll of 18+ would have the king laugh and invite the player to stay as they love their jokes, a roll of 13-17 would have the king laugh and not take the suggestion seriously, 7-12 would have the king become hostile to the player who he now sees as a threat, and <7 would have the king call for the players arrest.

  25. As someone who has been unable to find a D&D game to play in for some time (online) I am wondering if my characters are simply unappealing to DMs because I give the character(s) I make actual backstories that involve them being seasoned warriors or former nobles returning to their days of swordsmanship. Would it be possible, at some point, to sit down and have a video about the different levels of character BGs and how DMs could/should incorporate them without outright disregarding the player?

    Not being able to play anymore is incredibly demoralizing and I feel like it's because of my character background/stories being too much.

  26. I'm a fan of DM rolled perception and insight checks.
    The player doesn't know what the dice rolled – only the result.

    Especially effective with a DM screen.

  27. Though a PC might be able to just keep doing an ability check rolling for failure might not be appropriate but rolling an ability check to determine how long it takes them to complete a task is always an option.

  28. Want to make a quick comment. AC is not the number required to HIT a target. It is the number required to DAMAGE a target. Very different concepts and it improves roleplay to have that in mind. If you were super close to surpassing the AC check then maybe you got past their defenses but their armor prevented any real damage, if you missed by a small margin then they probably were forced to block your attack in some way. If you miss AC by a lot that was probably a total miss

  29. This a huge help for my homebrew campaign. I'm incorporating alot of interaction with the environment and characters.

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