View Full Version : [3.5/PF] Uses for Ability checks

Rogue Shadows
2014-01-01, 09:28 PM
Man do ability checks get the short end of the stick.

Part of this is, of course, the fact that nearly anything you can think of as a potential ability check can be covered by some skill. Another part is that the sheer randomness is unsettling: even a 20 Intelligence gives you only a +5 bonus on Intelligence checks. That d20 is just too harsh a mistress to take the risk.

Still, I think that ability checks should have more uses in the game in and of themselves, and not simply as a result of some other action (such as with disarm attempts). The below are my thoughts, as well as some stuff I pulled from other sources, such as the Star Wars Revised Core Rulebook and Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed. Tell me what you think, and feel free to add or suggest some of your own!


Making Ability Checks
Sometimes your character may wish to perform a task or react to a situation in a way that is not covered by skills. In this case, use an ability check.

When your character makes an ability check, roll a d20 and add the relevant ability score -10. For example, if you are making a Strength ability check, and you have a 15 Strength, you add +5. This is done instead of the usual ability modifiers because ability checks, as they represent the very fundamental of what you are capable of doing, are generally easier to perform than more specialized attack rolls or skill checks.

Note that making a skill check untrained is not the same as making an ability check. An ability check is only made when no other skill or system covers the task your character wants to perform. Having said that, as with skill checks, rolling a 20 on an ability check is not an automatic success, and rolling a 1 is not an automatic failure.

Circumstances permitting, you may take 10 or 20 on an ability check.

Carrying around objects in one’s pockets or backpacks requires no Strength check: a character is either strong enough or he isn’t. However, sometimes it may be necessary for a character to make use of their Strength quickly and with a possibility of failure, such as pulling up a comrade in danger of falling into a ravine, or holding up a column in danger of collapsing on everyone. This is called deadlifting.

Deadlifting requires a Strength check, with the DC determined by the weight the character is trying to lift or push against, as shown on Table: Deadlifting.

Table: Deadlifting
{table=header]Weight|Check DC
Light load|0
Medium load|5
Heavy load|10
Heavy load x2|15
Heavy load x3|20
Heavy load x4|25
Heavy load x5|30

If the character succeeds on the Strength check, he or she can push back against the deadlifted object or pull it towards him or her. If the character fails by 4 or less, then he or she makes no progress – he or she does not object, but nor does he or she lose against it. If she fails by 5 or more, he or she loses grip on the object – the creature she is holding slips from her grasp, the falling block comes crashing down, and so on, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Deadlifting is only used when the other object does not have a Strength of its own or cannot effectively utilize it. If the character is being actively opposed, such as, for example, in an arm wrestling competition, then opposed Strength checks are used instead.

Catching Objects
Dexterity can be used to catch incoming objects, such as tossed potions, hurled stones, or even incoming arrows or crossbow bolts. Obviously, the slower the incoming object is coming and the lighter it is, the easier it is to catch.

You must have at least one hand free (holding nothing) to catch an incoming object. The DC of the Dexterity check depends on the object’s size, as follows: Fine, 18; Diminutive, 14; Tiny, 12; Small, 11; Medium, 10; Large, 9; Huge, 8; Gargantuan, 6; Colossal, 2. You cannot catch an object one size category larger than you or larger; while you may certainly be hit by the object, it is simply too large to effectively catch, even if you have tremendous personal strength. The DC to catch an object is further modified according to: Catching an Object, as follows:

Table: Catching an Object
{table=header]Object is...|Check Modifier
Tossed (the object was deliberately thrown at you for you to catch)|-2
Slick (the object is wet or otherwise slippery)|+2
Attack (the object was intended to harm you)|+10
Launched (the object was fired, such as from a bow or sling)|+5[/table]

All modifiers are cumulative. So, for example, catching an incoming arrow fired from a bow is a DC 27 Dexterity check (base 12 for the Tiny arrow, +10 because the arrow was fired as an attack, and +5 because it was launched). A healing potion tossed to you by an ally, meanwhile, is a DC 10 Dexterity check to catch (base 12 for the Tiny potion, -2 because the thrower intended you to catch the object).

Untrained Knowledge Checks
As a change to the way the Knowledge skill functions, you can make a Knowledge skill check untrained as long as the DC is no higher than your Intelligence score. So a character with an 18 Intelligence can make up to DC 18 Knowledge checks untrained.

Your character knows things that you (as a player) don’t – things he or she learned over the course of his or her life, but which is not necessarily covered by a Knowledge check: people he or she has met, places he or she has been, common knowledge for the world that he or she is in that might not be common in our world, and so on. When you want to call upon information that you feel your character should know based on his or her background, you make an education check.

First, your DM assigns a DC to the information you are asking for. Typically, simple information has a DC of 10-15, while more complex information might range up to a DC of 30. Once this has been decided upon, make an Intelligence check. If the check succeeds, then your DM gives you the information. If it fails, you don’t know it.

Note: I'd love to have a table here of example DCs, but I'm having trouble of coming up with one that doesn't significantly overlap with Knowledge checks or Remembrance checks (below). I'd appreciate help. Education checks are meant to be distinct from Knowledge checks in that they represent the basic things that everyone has access to even without the specialized training that Knowledge entails, such as the name of the king of the land or the location of a favorite childhood getaway.

Education checks are free actions, though you may only make one per round and may not ever retry a roll you have failed – if you miss the education check, you simply don’t know the information (though you can research it in-game by asking the right questions to NPCs and following the right leads).

Your DM may refuse you an education check at any time by saying “you don’t know this information.”

You may take 10 on an education check, but you can’t take 20.

Sometimes a sudden flash of insight strikes your character. When you are stumped as to what to do next, your character can attempt to make an inspiration check.

First, the DM assigns a DC to the check – the higher the DC, the less likely you are to have a flash of inspiration. Typically, the more stuck you are, the lower your DM sets the DC. Once the DC has been decided upon, make a Wisdom check. If the check succeeds, the DM gives you a hint to the correct course of action to take at this time; if the check fails, you don’t get the hint.

You can make a number of inspiration checks each game session equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum 1).

A character can’t take 10 or 20 on an inspiration check.

Inspiration checks are the “great equalizer” and can help a DM bring a session back on track after the players have gone too far afield. They should not become a crutch, however: the DM may refuse them at any time, but similarly the players are not under any particular obligation to make them, nor follow through on them.

Whenever a character needs to remember something that happened to him or her in actual play, or to check whether or not a player undertook an action that seems natural but may have slipped his or her mind, the player can make a Wisdom check to see if their character remembered to perform the action.

Checking to see if a character remembered an event should never be used to harry characters. Certain actions, such as a wizard remembering to memorize spells, a bard remembering his favorite song, or a fighter remembering to put his or her armor on right, should simply be automatic, even under stressful situations. Remembrance checks should only be made for something critical but not necessarily rote – remembering to lock a door behind you as you’re fleeing a band of goblins; recalling the name of an important contact in a city; holding a long sequence of numbers in a character’s head; and so on.

Remembrance checks are distinct from education checks because while education checks represent the breath of your learning and your ability to actively memorize facts and details, or else represent something that should be common knowledge, remembrance represents your ability to recall details that you may have only had minor exposure to.

To remember something, make a Wisdom check. The DC of a remembrance check can be determined by Table: Remembrance Check DCs, below.

You can take 10 on Remembrance checks, but you can't take 20.

Table: Remembrance Checks
5|Something just about anyone would have noticed and remembered, such as the general appearance of the man who killed your father, assuming you got a good look at him.
10| Something relatively easy to remember, such as the location of the tavern where you ate lunch yesterday
15| Something fairly difficult to remember, such as mostly-accurate lyrics to a song you just heard for the first time a few minutes ago.
20|Something only those with very good memories might recall, like the kind of earrings that a woman was wearing when she spoke to you three days ago.
25|Something only someone with a phenomenal memory might remember, such as the name of a man you met once, when you were only six years old.
30|Something no normal person could remember, such as the 19th six-digit combination code on a list of 80 possible combination codes for a lock, when you only saw the list for a moment or two.[/table]

As characters gain levels and perform heroic (or villainous) deeds, word of those deeds are going to spread – and there are going to be people in the world who will want to seek them out and become their followers. These could be eager young squires for a paladin, hopeful apprentices for a sorcerer or wizard, aspiring thieves for a rogue, or anything else. Such a character is called a cohort.

Beginning at 4th level, each time the character gains a level, the character may make a DC 20 Charisma check to see if he or she attracts a cohort. The player cannot take 10 on this check, but he or she may take 20. This check is not mandatory; some players might not want followers, and the DM should not force a cohort onto a player. If the Charisma check succeeds, the character has attracted a cohort, who arrives at some time in the next few days or weeks. If the roll fails, the character can’t try again until he or she gains another level.

A character can have a number of cohorts equal to half their Charisma modifier (minimum 1). A cohort’s level is equal to the character’s level -2, assuming that the cohort is a mundane humanoid (some might not be; as determined by the DM).

The DM and the player should work together to design the cohort. While the player may see the cohort as an opportunity to cover any weaknesses in his or her character, in general a character tends to attract like-minded followers. A Lawful Good paladin in shining armor who traverses the countryside slaying dragons, for example, is unlikely to attract a Chaotic Neutral kleptomaniacal rogue as a cohort (though it is not impossible).

Cohorts are people in their own right. A mistreated cohort is likely to grow to resent a character, and may even leave them

The DM is free to disallow the use of cohorts.

Characters can call in favors from those he or she knows. By making a favor check, the character can call upon contacts he or she has to gain important information without going through the time and trouble of doing a lot of research. Favors can also be used to acquire the loan of equipment or documents from influential acquaintances.

To call in a favor, the character makes a Charisma check. The DM sets the DC for this check based on the scope of the favor being requested. The DC ranges from 10 for a simple favor to as high as 25 for highly dangerous, expensive, or illegal favors. The character can’t take 10 or 20 on this check, nor can he or she retry the check for the same (or virtually the same) favor.

Favors should help to advance the plot of an adventure. A favor that would enable a character to circumvent an adventure should always be unavailable to the character, regardless of the results of the favor check.

A character can try to call in a favor a number of times in a week of game time equal to half his or her character level, rounded down (minimum 1). The DM should carefully monitor the character’s use of favors to ensure that this ability isn’t abused. The success or failure of a campaign probably shouldn’t hinge on the use of a favor, and calling in a favor shouldn’t replace good roleplaying. The DM may disallow any favor deemed to be disruptive to the game.