Determining Difficulty Checks

Everything in the game is based on the d20  Check and it is referenced as Difficulty Check (DC) or Armor Check (AC)

All Checks work the same way:

  • Roll a d20 and add your modifier (Ability Score, Attack Bonus or Skill Bonus)
  • Add any situational modifiers, usually from environmental,  ability focus, magical items or class skills
  • The total is your check result.
  • Note: a roll of a natural 20 will always pass a check.

The check is a target number that the player must roll with the result meeting or exceeding a predetermined number to succeed at a task. Each check can only be made one time per character, per area, per level. We recommend using the teamwork check (below) instead of doing individual task for things the whole group is doing.

Attacking:

(roll d20 + Strength or d20 + Dexterity for Ranged Weapons) equal to or greater than the target’s Armor Class.

Performing a skill:

Searching a room with the check DC17 (wis).

Roll d20 + Wisdom (plus search bonuses or focus)

Saving:

Sometimes you need to save versus an effect. This is typically written DC20 (wis).

Ability Focus

This is shown on the character sheet as a checkbox by the ability score. What this means it, whenever that character makes any Check they can add a bonus (LEVEL divided by 2 then rounded up) bonus to their check.

Example: A 3rd level Barbarian with an Ability Focus in Strength would gain a +2 (3rd level / 2 = 1.5 rounded up to 2) when attempting any strength checks (bending bars, lifting things, hit a monster with a sword, etc)

Teamwork Bonus

Attempting an action collectively allows for one check (non-combat), using the highest player’s ability bonus AND advantage (roll 2d20 take the highest). If the check fails no additional attempt may be made by anyone in the party until somebody in the party goes up a level.

Common Checks

Situational Checks

Searching. 17 or greater.

Searching is used for finding things that are not out in the open. Secret Doors, traps and false floors would fall into this category. Both thieves and elves get additional bonuses

Listening. 17 or greater.

You should always listen carefully while you are exploring a dungeon; you may hear noises that give clues about what lies a head. To hear anything, all the characters must stop moving and be very quiet. Armor and weapons clank and rattle when you move, spoiling your attempts at listening.

To listen for noise, simply tell the DM that you are doing so. The DM will roll to see if you hear anything. When listening at closed doors, each character can try once. Thieves have better chances than other characters. Undead creatures, like skeletons and ghouls, make no noise at all. At a door by a waterfall, for example, listening is nearly impossible and the DM should adjust the Difficulty up to accommodate the situation, maybe even by adding 10 to the required roll.

Passive Checks

Passive checks are checks made by the DM automatically. Elves, for example, have a passive check to detect secret doors.

Save (Special Attack Checks)

A save is a roll of dice used to determine whether magic, poison, or various other types of attacks are effective against a character or monster. d20 roll then add your ability bonus – if the result is equal or greater the save is successful. It is listed as Target VS Ability in the text. ex: DC17 (int) would be a DC 17 vs the player’s Intelligence score

Sample Saves:

Poison ingested or injected – use Constitution Bonus

Magic and Spells – use Intelligence Bonus

Death in the event you are reduced to 0 hit points – use Constitution Bonus

Paralysis turn to stone – use Strength Bonus

Gas breathed in toxins (i.e.: Dragon’s Breath) – use Wisdom Bonus

More Checks (optional)

When in doubt about how difficult a check is, here are examples of specific tasks or if you are looking for more examples (optional):

Difficulty Example
Very Easy (0) Notice something large in plain sight
Easy (5) Climb a knotted rope
Average (10) Hear a loud approaching guard
Tough (15) Rig a wagon wheel to fall off
Challenging (20) Swim in stormy water
Formidable (25) Open a good lock
Heroic (30) Leap across a 30-foot chasm
Nearly Impossible (40) Track a squad of Orcs across hard ground after 24 hours of rainfall

Determining Magic Difficulty Checks (optional)

If no spell save is provided, use the following formula to determine the spell difficulty to save:

10 + spell level + caster’s requisite bonus (Wizard is Int, Cleric is Wis, or Hit Dice of Monster)

Example:

Our 4th level Wizard casts a Fireball.

The wizard is casting a 3rd level spell and the Wizard has a +2 Intelligence and +2 ability focus on Intelligence. 

The Difficulty Check (DC) to avoid getting Fireballed would be: 10 (base) + 3 (level of spell) + 2 (intelligence of caster) +2 (intelligence focus) for a total of 17.

To avoid damage the targets need to make a DC17 (dex) for half damage.

7 thoughts on “Determining Difficulty Checks

  1. Above you mention determining a Difficulty Check and as an example give: “This might be attacking (d20 + Strength + Hit Bonus)”.

    On the Basic Terminology page you say that Hit Bonus = Strength Bonus (or Dexterity for range) + Ability Focus (if applicable).

    So should the Difficulty Check for hitting actually just be (d20 + Hit Bonus) since HB includes Strength and other attributes?

    Just trying to get the rules down to play some simple games with my son.

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  2. There’s something I don’t totally understand about difficulty checks. From what I’m getting from the explanation, difficulty checks are easier to pass if the number is low. But from the examples shown so far, such as

    “Example: a Learned Spellcaster with a +2 Intelligence casts a Fireball. Since it is a 3rd level spell and the Learned Spellcaster has a +2 Intelligence, the difficulty check (DC) would be: 15 …. or 10 (base) + 3 (level of spell) + 2 (spellcaster skill)”

    it seems to be that the player’s skill is actually making the difficulty check harder. In the example, wouldn’t it make more sense for the +2 intelligence to make the difficulty check easier by being subtracted in the formula? Again, I could totally be missing something.

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    • This DC is not for the caster to cast the spell, it’s for a save from a target against the spell. In this example, the fireball is always fired (and the spell slot used). But the creatures taking the hit can make a save roll to try to dodge it and only take half damage. For that they’d have to roll a dexterity save greater or equal than 15 (the caster’s DC).

      It works in reverse from a classic attack, where the attacker have to make a roll against the target’s AC (armure class). Magic, you have to defend against it – if you want to.

      PS: In D&D 5e, the formula is now :
      « 8 + caster’s requisite bonus (Int/Wis/…) + caster’s proficiency bonus (fixed by the caster’s level) »
      Making it way more simple to use, as it doesn’t change depending on the spell cast. You just calculate it one time when you level up, like the AC.

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      • Yes there is a save if listed, but casters must make a cast check to see if their spell is successful. It’s 10+ the level of the spell. See spell casting for more details

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