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How Difficulty Class works in D&D


In Dungeons and Dragons, a difficulty class (DC) measures the difficulty of a task or challenge that a character might attempt. It is used to determine whether a character succeeds or fails at a job, and it is typically set by the Dungeon Master (DM) based on the challenge being faced.

There are several different types of tasks that might have a DC in D&D, including:

  • Saving throws: When a character is subjected to a harmful effect, such as a spell or a trap, they may be required to make a saving throw to avoid or mitigate the impact. The DC for a saving throw is typically based on the strength of the effect and the character's ability to resist it. For example, a character might be required to make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw to avoid taking damage from a poisonous trap.

  • Ability checks: When a character attempts to perform a task that does not fall under a specific skill, they may make an ability check using one of their six ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma). The DC for an ability check is typically based on the difficulty of the task and the character's relevant ability score. For example, a character might make a DC 10 Strength check to try to lift a heavy object.

  • Skill checks: When a character attempts to use a skill, such as Stealth or Persuasion, they make a skill check to determine whether they are successful. The DC for a skill check is typically based on the difficulty of the task and the character's proficiency in the relevant skill. For example, a character might make a DC 12 Stealth check to sneak past a guard.


Saving Throws

A saving throw is a roll made by a character to avoid or reduce the effects of a harmful effect, such as a spell or a trap. Saving throws are typically made using one of the character's six ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma). The difficulty class (DC) for the saving throw is set by the Dungeon Master (DM) based on the strength of the effect and the character's ability to resist it.

Saving throws are usually called for in one of two situations:

  1. When a character is subjected to a harmful effect: When a character is subjected to a harmful effect, such as a spell or a trap, they may be required to make a saving throw to avoid or reduce the effect. The saving throw (Strength, Dexterity, etc.) and the DC are typically specified in the effect's description. For example, a character might be required to make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw to avoid taking damage from a poisonous trap.

  2. When a character is asked to make a saving throw by a spell or effect: Some spells and effects, such as the hold person spell or the fear effect, require the target to make a saving throw to resist the effect. The saving throw and the DC are typically specified in the spell or effect's description. For example, the hold person spell requires the target to make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw to resist being paralyzed.

To make a saving throw, the character rolls a d20 and adds the relevant ability modifier. If the result is equal to or greater than the DC, the character succeeds at the saving throw and avoids or reduces the effect as appropriate. If the result is less than the DC, the character fails the saving throw and suffers the full effect of the harmful effect.


Ability Checks

Ability checks are rolls made to determine whether a character succeeds at a task that requires a particular ability score. When a character makes an ability check, they roll a d20 and add their proficiency bonus (if they are proficient in the relevant skill) and the relevant ability score modifier to the roll. The difficulty class (DC) for the check is set by the Dungeon Master (DM) based on the task's difficulty.

There are six ability scores in D&D: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Each ability score represents a different aspect of a character's abilities and traits. Here is a brief overview of each ability score:

  • Strength: Strength represents a character's physical power and ability to perform tasks that require physical exertion. Tasks that might require a Strength check include lifting heavy objects, breaking down doors, or grappling with an opponent.

  • Dexterity: Dexterity represents a character's physical agility, reflexes, and coordination. Tasks requiring a Dexterity check include sneaking past guards, picking locks, or balancing on a narrow beam.

  • Constitution: Constitution represents a character's physical endurance and ability to withstand stress, injury, and disease. Tasks requiring a Constitution check include resisting poison or other harmful effects, holding their breath, or surviving in extreme environments.

  • Intelligence: Intelligence represents a character's mental acuity, logic, and memory. Tasks requiring an Intelligence check include solving puzzles, recalling knowledge about a particular subject, or crafting a complex item.

  • Wisdom: Wisdom represents a character's intuition, perception, and insight. Tasks that might require a Wisdom check include spotting an ambush, tracking a creature, or understanding the motivations of an NPC.

  • Charisma: Charisma represents a character's charm, persuasion, and leadership. Tasks requiring a Charisma check include convincing an NPC to do something, persuading a guard to let them pass, or negotiating a peace treaty.

Ability checks are important in Dungeons and Dragons because they provide a way for characters to interact with the game world and overcome challenges. Ability checks allow characters to perform tasks that require a particular ability score, such as physical tasks that require Strength or mental tasks that require Intelligence.

By making ability checks, characters can try to overcome obstacles and succeed at tasks that would otherwise be beyond their capabilities. For example, a character with a high Strength score might lift a heavy object that another character couldn't, while a character with a high Intelligence score might solve a complex puzzle that stumps another character.

Skill Checks

A skill check is a roll made by a character to determine whether they successfully use a specific skill. Skill checks are made using one of the character's six ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma). The difficulty class (DC) for the skill check is set by the Dungeon Master (DM) based on the difficulty of the task and the character's proficiency in the relevant skill.

There are 18 skills in D&D, and each one is associated with a specific ability score:

  • Acrobatics (Dexterity)

  • Animal Handling (Wisdom)

  • Arcana (Intelligence)

  • Athletics (Strength)

  • Deception (Charisma)

  • History (Intelligence)

  • Insight (Wisdom)

  • Intimidation (Charisma)

  • Investigation (Intelligence)

  • Medicine (Wisdom)

  • Nature (Intelligence)

  • Perception (Wisdom)

  • Performance (Charisma)

  • Persuasion (Charisma)

  • Religion (Intelligence)

  • Sleight of Hand (Dexterity)

  • Stealth (Dexterity)

  • Survival (Wisdom)

When a character attempts to use a skill, they make a skill check by rolling a d20 and adding their proficiency bonus (if they are proficient in the skill) and the relevant ability modifier. If the result is equal to or greater than the DC, the character succeeds at the skill check. The character fails the skill check if the result is less than the DC.

For example, suppose a character is trying to sneak past a guard and makes a Stealth check. The DM might set the DC for the check at 12, based on the guard's Perception skill and the task's difficulty level. The character has a Dexterity score of 14 (+2 modifier) and is proficient in Stealth, so they add their proficiency bonus of +2 to the roll. They then roll a d20 and get a result of 9, for a total of 11. Because this is less than the DC of 12, the character fails the Stealth check, and the guard notices them.


The Acrobatics skill allows a character to perform balance, agility, and coordination feats. A character might use Acrobatics to walk across a tightrope, avoid falling damage after tripping, or tumble past an enemy during combat.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require an Acrobatics check:

  • Walking across a tightrope: A character might need to make an Acrobatics check to balance and stay upright while walking across a tightrope. The DC for the check might be based on the width of the tightrope, the character's speed, and any distractions or obstacles they face.

  • Avoiding falling damage: If a character trips or is knocked prone, they might need to make an Acrobatics check to avoid taking falling damage. The DC for the check might be based on the distance the character falls and any obstacles they need to navigate.

  • Tumbling past an enemy: During combat, a character might use the Acrobatics skill to tumble past an enemy and avoid their attacks. The DC for the check might be based on the enemy's size and reach and any terrain or obstacles the character needs to navigate.

The Animal Handling skill allows a character to train, handle, and care for animals. A character might use Animal Handling to calm a frightened horse, teach a dog new tricks, or train a hawk to hunt.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require an Animal Handling check:

  • Calming a frightened horse: If a character is riding a horse that becomes frightened by something, they might need to make an Animal Handling check to calm the horse and keep it from bolting. The DC for the check might be based on the severity of the horse's fear and the character's familiarity with the animal.

  • Teaching a dog new tricks: A character might use the Animal Handling skill to teach a dog new tricks, such as fetching, rolling over, or sitting on command. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity of the trick and the dog's intelligence and temperament.

  • Training a hawk to hunt: A character might use the Animal Handling skill to train a hawk to hunt a small game. The DC for the check might be based on the hawk's age and experience and the character's familiarity with the animal.

The Arcana skill allows a character to understand and use magic. A character might use Arcana to identify a magical item, decipher a magical code, or understand the properties of a spell.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require an Arcana check:

  • Identifying a magic item: If a character comes across a magic item they are unfamiliar with, they might need to make an Arcana check to identify its properties and abilities. The DC for the check might be based on the rarity and power of the item, as well as the character's familiarity with magic items.

  • Deciphering a magical code: A character might encounter a magical code or script written in an arcane language and need to make an Arcana check to decipher it. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity of the code and the character's familiarity with arcane languages.

  • Understanding the properties of a spell: If a character encounters a spell they are unfamiliar with, they might need to make an Arcana check to understand its properties and effects. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity and power of the spell, as well as the character's familiarity with magic.

The Athletics skill allows a character to perform feats of strength and endurance. A character might use Athletics to climb a sheer cliff, swim across a river, or jump over a pit.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require an Athletics check:

  • Climbing a sheer cliff: A character might need to make an Athletics check to climb a steep or slippery cliff face. The DC for the check might be based on the height and difficulty of the climb, as well as the character's equipment and any distractions or obstacles they face.

  • Swimming across a river: If a character needs to swim across a fast-moving or treacherous river, they might need to make an Athletics check to stay afloat and progress. The DC for the check might be based on the width and depth of the river, the character's equipment, and any distractions or obstacles they face.

  • Jumping over a pit: During combat, a character might need to make an Athletics check to jump over a pit or other obstacle. The DC for the check might be based on the width and depth of the pit, as well as the character's speed and any distractions or obstacles they face.

The Deception skill allows a character to deceive, mislead, or manipulate others. A character might use Deception to lie convincingly, disguise their true intentions, or bluff their way past a guard.

The Deception skill is associated with the Charisma ability score, representing a character's charm, persuasion, and leadership. When a character makes a Deception check, they roll a d20 and add their proficiency bonus (if they are proficient in the Deception skill) and their Charisma modifier to the roll. The difficulty class (DC) for the check is set by the Dungeon Master (DM) based on the difficulty of the task and the character's proficiency in the skill.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require a Deception check:

  • Lying convincingly: If a character needs to lie to someone and make it seem believable, they might need to make a Deception check. The DC for the check might be based on the plausibility of the lie and the level of scrutiny it is likely to receive.

  • Disguising their true intentions: A character might use the Deception skill to conceal their motivations or goals from others. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity of the deception and the level of scrutiny it is likely to receive.

  • Bluffing their way past a guard: If a character needs to talk their way past a guard or other authority figure, they might make a Deception check to convince the guard that they are someone they are not or that they have permission to be where they are. The DC for the check might be based on the guard's skepticism and the plausibility of the character's story.

The History skill allows a character to recall and recount past events, people, and places. A character might use History to identify an ancient artifact, recall the details of a battle, or understand the customs and traditions of a foreign culture.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require a History check:

  • Identifying an ancient artifact: If a character comes across an ancient artifact that they are unfamiliar with, they might need to make a History check to identify its origins, purpose, and value. The DC for the check might be based on the rarity and complexity of the artifact, as well as the character's familiarity with ancient cultures and history.

  • Recalling the details of a battle: A character might use the History skill to recall the details of a specific battle or other historical events, including the participants, the outcome, and any significant consequences. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity and significance of the event, as well as the character's familiarity with the period of history in question.

  • Understanding the customs and traditions of a foreign culture: If a character encounters a foreign culture that they are not familiar with, they might use the History skill to understand its customs, traditions, and social hierarchy. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity and uniqueness of the culture, as well as the character's familiarity with similar cultures.

The Insight skill allows a character to sense and interpret the emotions and intentions of others. A character might use Insight to determine whether someone is telling the truth, gauge an NPC's trustworthiness, or predict an enemy's actions.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require an Insight check:

  • Determining whether someone is telling the truth: If a character needs to determine whether someone is being truthful or deceptive, they might make an Insight check. The DC for the check might be based on the person's story's plausibility and level of sincerity.

  • Gauging the trustworthiness of an NPC: If a character meets an NPC and needs to determine whether they can be trusted, they might make an Insight check. The DC for the check might be based on the NPC's demeanor and actions and any clues or cues the character picks up on.

  • Predicting the actions of an enemy: During combat, a character might use the Insight skill to predict the actions of an enemy and anticipate their movements. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity of the enemy's tactics and their level of experience.

The Intimidation skill allows a character to use threats, fear, and persuasion to influence the behavior of others. A character might use Intimidation to bully or intimidate an NPC, persuade a guard to let them pass, or coerce an enemy into surrendering.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require an Intimidation check:

  • Bullying or intimidating an NPC: If a character needs to bully or intimidate an NPC into doing something, they might make an Intimidation check. The DC for the check might be based on the NPC's confidence and resolve, as well as the character's reputation and demeanor.

  • Persuading a guard to let them pass: If a character needs to talk past a guard or other authority figure, they might make an Intimidation check to convince the guard to let them pass. The DC for the check might be based on the guard's skepticism and the character's reputation and demeanor.

  • Coercing an enemy into surrendering: During combat, a character might use the Intimidation skill to coerce an enemy into surrendering. The DC for the check might be based on the enemy's confidence and resolve, as well as the character's reputation and demeanor.

The Investigation skill allows a character to gather and analyze information, solve puzzles, and uncover secrets. A character might use Investigation to search for clues, examine a crime scene, or decode a message.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require an Investigation check:

  • Searching for clues: If a character is trying to solve a mystery or crime, they might use the Investigation skill to search for clues and evidence. The DC for the check might be based on the mystery's complexity and the clues' number and quality.

  • Examining a crime scene: A character might use the Investigation skill to examine a crime scene and gather information about what happened. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity of the scene and the amount of evidence present.

  • Decoding a message: If a character comes across a coded message that they need to decipher, they might use the Investigation skill to figure out the code. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity of the code and the character's familiarity with similar codes.

The Medicine skill allows a character to diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses. A character might use Medicine to stabilize a dying character, diagnose a disease, or perform surgery.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require a Medicine check:

  • Stabilizing a dying character: If a character is gravely injured and on the verge of death, another character might need to make a Medicine check to stabilize them and keep them alive. The DC for the check might be based on the severity of the character's injuries and the resources available to the medic.

  • Diagnosing a disease: If a character suspects that someone is suffering from a specific illness, they might use the Medicine skill to diagnose the disease and determine the best course of treatment. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity and rarity of the disease, as well as the character's familiarity with similar diseases.

  • Performing surgery: In some cases, a character might need to perform surgery to treat a serious injury or illness. The character would need to make a Medicine check to determine the best course of action and successfully perform the surgery. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity of the surgery and the character's familiarity with similar procedures.

The Nature skill allows a character to understand and interact with the natural world. A character might use Nature to identify plants and animals, navigate through difficult terrain, or understand an area's weather patterns.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require a Nature check:

  • Identifying plants and animals: If a character comes across a plant or animal they are unfamiliar with, they might use the Nature skill to identify it and understand its properties and behavior. The DC for the check might be based on the rarity and complexity of the plant or animal and the character's familiarity with similar species.

  • Navigating through difficult terrain: If a character travels through dense forests, rugged mountains, or another challenging terrain, they might use the Nature skill to find their way and avoid hazards. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity and danger of the terrain, as well as the character's familiarity with the area.

  • Understanding an area's weather patterns: A character might use the Nature skill to understand the local weather patterns and predict what conditions they can expect in the coming days or weeks. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity and unpredictability of the weather, as well as the character's familiarity with the area.

The Perception skill allows characters to use their senses to detect and interpret their surroundings. A character might use Perception to spot an ambush, listen for footsteps, or search for hidden objects.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require a Perception check:

  • Spotting an ambush: If a character is entering an area where they suspect an ambush might be waiting, they might use the Perception skill to scan their surroundings and spot any signs of an ambush. The DC for the check might be based on the skill and stealth of the ambushers, as well as the complexity of the terrain and any distractions the character faces.

  • Listening for footsteps: If a character is trying to detect someone or something approaching, they might use the Perception skill to listen for footsteps or other sounds. The DC for the check might be based on the distance and stealth of the person or thing approaching and any distractions or background noise.

  • Searching for hidden objects: If a character is looking for a hidden object or secret, they might use the Perception skill to search for clues and find the object. The DC for the check might be based on the search area's complexity and the clues' subtlety.

The Performance skill allows a character to entertain, persuade, and inspire others through various forms of artistic expression. A character might use Performance to sing, play an instrument, or tell a story.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require a Performance check:

  • Sing: If a character wants to sing a song that will entertain or inspire others, they might make a Performance check. The DC for the check might be based on the song's complexity and the character's level of skill and training.

  • Play an instrument: If a character wants to play an instrument and create a pleasing or evocative sound, they might make a Performance check. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity of the music and the character's level of skill and training.

  • Tell a story: If a character wants to tell a story that will engage or captivate an audience, they might make a Performance check. The DC for the check might be based on the story's complexity and the character's level of skill and training.

The Persuasion skill allows a character to use their charm, charisma, and eloquence to influence the attitudes and behaviors of others. A character might use Persuasion to convince an NPC to do something, persuade a guard to let them pass, or negotiate a peace treaty.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require a Persuasion check:

  • Convincing an NPC to do something: If a character wants to persuade an NPC to do something, they might make a Persuasion check. The DC for the check might be based on the NPC's resistance to persuasion and the character's reputation and demeanor.

  • Persuading a guard to let them pass: If a character needs to talk past a guard or other authority figure, they might make a Persuasion check to convince the guard to let them pass. The DC for the check might be based on the guard's skepticism and the character's reputation and demeanor.

  • Negotiating a peace treaty: If a character is trying to negotiate a peace treaty between two factions, they might use Persuasion skill to persuade the parties to agree to the terms. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity of the negotiations and the parties' resistance to compromise.

The Religion skill allows a character to understand and interact with different religions' deities, rituals, and practices. A character might use Religion to identify a deity's symbols and attributes, understand the teachings of a particular religion, or perform a religious ceremony.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require a Religion check:

  • Identifying a deity's symbols and attributes: If a character comes across a symbol or artifact associated with a deity, they might use the Religion skill to identify the deity and understand its attributes and portfolio. The DC for the check might be based on the rarity and complexity of the deity, as well as the character's familiarity with similar deities.

  • Understanding the teachings of a particular religion: If a character wants to learn about the beliefs and practices of a particular religion, they might use their Religion skill to research and understand the religion's teachings. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity and obscurity of the religion, as well as the character's familiarity with similar religions.

  • Performing a religious ceremony: If a character wants to perform a religious ceremony or rite, they might need to make a Religion check to ensure that the ceremony is conducted correctly. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity of the ceremony and the character's familiarity with similar rites.

The Sleight of Hand skill allows a character to perform tricks and manipulations with their hands and fingers. A character might use Sleight of Hand to pick pockets, palm small objects, or distract an opponent.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require a Sleight of Hand check:

  • Picking pockets: If a character wants to pick someone's pocket without being noticed, they might make a Sleight of Hand check. The DC for the check might be based on the character's skill and the victim's awareness and vigilance.

  • Palming small objects: If a character wants to hide or palm a small object without being noticed, they might make a Sleight of Hand check. The DC for the check might be based on the character's skill and the object's size and visibility.

  • Distracting an opponent: During combat, a character might use the Sleight of Hand skill to distract an opponent and create an opportunity to attack. The DC for the check might be based on the opponent's vigilance and the character's skill and demeanor.

The Stealth skill allows a character to move quietly and discreetly to avoid being noticed. A character might use Stealth to sneak past guards, hide from enemies, or move quietly through a dungeon.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require a Stealth check:

  • Sneaking past guards: If a character wants to sneak past guards or other authority figures without being noticed, they might make a Stealth check. The DC for the check might be based on the guards' vigilance and the character's skill and demeanor.

  • Hiding from enemies: If a character wants to hide from an enemy or group of enemies, they might make a Stealth check. The DC for the check might be based on the enemies' vigilance and the complexity of the terrain and surroundings.

  • Moving quietly through a dungeon: If a character wants to move quietly through a dungeon or other location, they might make a Stealth check to avoid being heard or detected by any creatures lurking in the area. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity and noise level of the environment, as well as the character's skill and demeanor.

The Survival skill allows a character to navigate and survive in various environments, including wilderness, urban, and dungeon settings. A character might use Survival to track a creature, find food and water, or build a shelter.

Here are a few examples of tasks that might require a Survival check:

  • Tracking a creature: If a character wants to track a creature through the wilderness, they might make a Survival check. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity of the terrain and the creature's skill at hiding its tracks.

  • Finding food and water: If a character is lost or stranded in the wilderness and needs food and water to survive, they might make a Survival check. The DC for the check might be based on the availability and quality of food and water in the area and the character's skill and training.

  • Building a shelter: If a character needs to build a shelter to protect themselves from the elements or hostile creatures, they might make a Survival check. The DC for the check might be based on the complexity and materials required for the shelter and the character's skill and training.

Here is a sample character sheet for a level 1 human fighter in Dungeons and Dragons with just the Ability Scores and Skills:

Name: Marcus Steelheart

Class: Fighter

Level: 1

Ability Scores:

- Strength: 16 (+3)

- Dexterity: 14 (+2)

- Constitution: 14 (+2)

- Intelligence: 10 (+0)

- Wisdom: 12 (+1)

- Charisma: 8 (-1)


Skills:

- Athletics: +5

- Perception: +3

Depending on your character's Abilities and Skills will dramatically influence the game's play.

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