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"Lidda the rogue can walk quietly up to a door, put her ear to it, and hear the troglodyte priest on the other side casting a spell on his pet crocodile. If Jozan the cleric were to try the same thing, he’d make so much noise that the troglodyte would hear him. Jozan could, however, identify the spell that the evil priest is casting. Actions such as these rely on the skills that characters have (in this case, Move Silently, Listen, and Spellcraft)." -- Player's Handbook

Skills allow a character to measure what they are good -- and poor -- at doing. Each skill has its own primary attribute.

When your character uses a skill, you make a skill check to see how well he or she does. The higher the result of the skill check, the better. Based on the circumstances, your result must match or beat a particular number (a DC or the result of an opposed skill check) for the check to be successful. The harder the task, the higher the number you need to roll.

Circumstances can affect your check. A character who is free to work without distractions can make a careful attempt and avoid simple mistakes. A character who has lots of time can try over and over again, thereby assuring the best outcome. If others help, the character may succeed where otherwise he or she would fail.

A skill check takes into account a character’s training (skill rank), natural talent (ability modifier), and luck (the die roll). It may also take into account his or her race’s knack for doing certain things (racial bonus) or what armor he or she is wearing (armor check penalty), or a certain feat the character possesses, among other things.

Using Skills

Difficulty Class

A DM has a group of adventurers cross a rickety bridge. He has each roll a Balance check with #bal, and views this as an easy task. Everyone passes the DC 5 challenge, except for the party's Cleric, who crashes through a plank in his heavy armor. Now in the rapid-moving water below, the DM determines the challenge to be tough, and sets a DC 15 Swim check. The cleric fails several tries before managing to wash up ashore, far from the rest of the party, who now must rescue or abandon him.

Some checks are made against a Difficulty Class (DC). The DC is a number (set using the skill rules as a guideline) that you must score as a result on your skill check in order to succeed.

It is important to note that skill checks do not auto-fail or auto-succeed on a roll of 1 or 20. Additionally, the roll itself is irrelevant, only the result matters.

Difficulty (DC) Example (Skill Used)
Very easy (0) Notice something large in plain sight (Spot)
Easy (5) Climb a knotted rope (Climb)
Average (10) Hear an approaching guard (Listen)
Tough (15) Rig a wagon wheel to fall off (Disable Device)
Challenging (20) Swim in stormy water (Swim)
Formidable (25) Open an average lock (Open Lock)
Heroic (30) Leap across a 30-foot chasm (Jump)
Nearly impossible (40) Track a squad of orcs across hard ground after 24 hours of rainfall (Survival)

Opposed Checks

Bob the Barbarian and Fred the Fighter have been at odds for some time now, a source of contention in the party. They decide to follow the plan of the person who can win an arm wrestling contest. To do this, each character rolls a Strength check. The one with the highest result wins.

An opposed check is a check whose success or failure is determined by comparing the check result to another character’s check result. In an opposed check, the higher result succeeds, while the lower result fails. In case of a tie, the higher skill modifier wins. If these scores are the same, roll again to break the tie.

Task Skill (Key Ability) Opposing Skill (Key Ability)
Con someone Bluff (Cha) Sense Motive (Wis)
Pretend to be someone else Disguise (Cha) Spot (Wis)
Create a false map Forgery (Int) Forgery (Int)
Hide from someone Hide (Dex) Spot (Wis)
Make a bully back down Intimidate (Cha) Special1
Sneak up on someone Move Silently (Dex) Listen (Wis)
Steal a coin pouch Sleight of Hand (Dex) Spot (Wis)
Tie a prisoner securely Use Rope (Dex) Escape Artist (Dex)

Trying Again

Richard and Rachel, rogues, are attempting to work at a door. Richard works at the lock, and fails. But, there's no penalty for that failure, so he tries again, and again. Taking 20 (tries), he eventually gets the lock open. Rachel meanwhile works on a trap on the door. She, too, fails, and takes a spike to the gut, and hears the trap reset itself. She cannot take 20, but she may try again until the trap runs out of ammunition.

In general, you can try a skill check again if you fail, and you can keep trying indefinitely. Some skills, however, have consequences of failure that must be taken into account. A few skills are virtually useless once a check has failed on an attempt to accomplish a particular task. For most skills, when a character has succeeded once at a given task, additional successes are meaningless.

Taking 20

When you have plenty of time (generally 2 minutes for a skill that can normally be checked in 1 round, one full-round action, or one standard action), you are faced with no threats or distractions, and the skill being attempted carries no penalties for failure, you can take 20. In other words, eventually you will get a 20 on 1d20 if you roll enough times. Instead of rolling 1d20 for the skill check, just calculate your result as if you had rolled a 20.

Taking 20 means you are trying until you get it right, and it assumes that you fail many times before succeeding. Taking 20 takes twenty times as long as making a single check would take.

Since taking 20 assumes that the character will fail many times before succeeding, if you did attempt to take 20 on a skill that carries penalties for failure, your character would automatically incur those penalties before he or she could complete the task. Common "take 20" skills include Escape Artist, Open Lock, and Search.


A necromancer begins a ritual to ascend to his form to that of a lich. The party's cleric recognizes the ritual's intent with a Spellcraft check, while the party's barbarian, having 0 ranks in Spellcraft, opts instead to charge blindly to interrupt.

Generally, if your character attempts to use a skill he or she does not possess, you make a skill check as normal. The skill modifier doesn’t have a skill rank added in because the character has no ranks in the skill. Any other applicable modifiers, such as the modifier for the skill's key ability, are applied to the check.

Many skills can be used only by someone who is trained in them.

Checks Without Rolls

Confident in her abilities, Madeleine the sorcerer attempts to identify a scroll. Relaxed and under no pressure, she takes her time with the roll. Across the room, two fighters arm wrestle, the stronger one always winning.

Taking 10

When your character is not being threatened or distracted, you may choose to take 10. Instead of rolling 1d20 for the skill check, calculate your result as if you had rolled a 10. For many routine tasks, taking 10 makes them automatically successful. Distractions or threats (such as combat) make it impossible for a character to take 10. In most cases, taking 10 is purely a safety measure —you know (or expect) that an average roll will succeed but fear that a poor roll might fail, so you elect to settle for the average roll (a 10). Taking 10 is especially useful in situations where a particularly high roll wouldn’t help.

Ability Checks and Caster Level Checks

The normal take 10 and take 20 rules apply for Ability checks. Neither rule applies to Caster Level checks.