D&D 5E Ability check DC based on level

Bunker

Hero
Sure this is a really obvious question. Is there a table somewhere which shows appropriate ability check DCs by level or by adventuring tier? I'm sure htere is and I'm just blanking on it.
 

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The DC set by a DM for any particular ability check is not based on level. It is based on the stated goal and the stated approach the character takes to accomplish that goal. The game works just fine if you assign the Typical DCs (DMG P238) of 10 (easy), 15 (medium), and 20 (hard) as your DCs. Experienced adventurers should be more capable than novices.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Sure this is a really obvious question. Is there a table somewhere which shows appropriate ability check DCs by level or by adventuring tier? I'm sure htere is and I'm just blanking on it.
There isn't one. 5e assigns DCs according to the task attempted, regardless of who's doing the task or what level/abilities they have. It's technically not even based on the task, but the specific action, so it's not technically correct to assign a DC to a wall to climb prior to a PC trying to climb it, although assigning static DCs is a common shortcut. Instead, the PHB has a list of common DCs by difficulty of the task (as determined by the GM), which are:

Easy.................................DC10
Moderate......................DC15
Hard................................DC 20
Very Hard......................DC 25
Nearly Impossilbe......DC 30

The reason for this is because of bounded accuracy -- the most the non-expert will be able to achieve with an ability check is +11, and that's after 17th level, with maximum ability, and proficiency. So, this character would fail about 40% of the time at a hard check (DC20). However, on the flip side, that same character could have a -1 in a different ability check, making a hard check (DC20) impossible. The expert can get up to +17, but they're an expert, and really should only be challenged by very hard or nearly impossible checks.

Now, if you're party can routinely leverage Bardic Inspiration or Guidance, then this gets skewed a bit, but that's really a matter of how easy is it to anticipate a challenge and leverage those abilities.
 


Bunker

Hero
There isn't one. 5e assigns DCs according to the task attempted, regardless of who's doing the task or what level/abilities they have. It's technically not even based on the task, but the specific action, so it's not technically correct to assign a DC to a wall to climb prior to a PC trying to climb it, although assigning static DCs is a common shortcut. Instead, the PHB has a list of common DCs by difficulty of the task (as determined by the GM), which are:
Yes, I know that. I'm assuming that somebody on the internet has done the math for me and put together what DCs are easy for a party of X level though.
 



Reynard

Legend
Level is irrelevant--only ability (i.e. total modifier) and luck matter. ;)

FWIW, I think the linear d20 is too swingy for ability checks (luck becomes more important than skill...) which is why a lot of groups use 2d10 or 3d6 for ability checks. 🤷‍♂️
The easiest solution is to either reintroduce "taking 10/20" or to just not roll unless it really matters. Why would a 10th level thief fail to pick the lock? Answer that question both from an in-world perspective and a meta-game perspective and you'll probably find you don't need to roll at all: it's either automatic, or impossible.
 



DND_Reborn

Legend
The easiest solution is to either reintroduce "taking 10/20" or to just not roll unless it really matters. Why would a 10th level thief fail to pick the lock? Answer that question both from an in-world perspective and a meta-game perspective and you'll probably find you don't need to roll at all: it's either automatic, or impossible.
Personally, I liked the take 10/20 options when time isn't a factor (especially taking 10 more so than 20...).

Why would a 10th level thief fail to pick the lock? Lots of reasons. In-world: the lock is insanely complex, the party is under attack, he'll die if he fails due to some trap, etc. Meta-game: The DC is so high he has no chance even with a natural 20 because he lacks proficiency and/or expertise, there is a significant consequence for failure (injury or death), a complication can occur (his tools get lodged in the lock), etc.

If it's automatic or impossible, you should never roll (that is the normal concept for when not to waste time rolling) anyway. IME, truly automatic things are common at higher levels due to the bonuses being so high you aren't really ever likely to fail (even if you suffer a set-back) and impossible are only at lower levels when the DCs are so high and bonuses so low there is no chance to succeed. shrug
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
Don't worry about it. I found what I needed.
Well, I am glad you found it, but IMO it makes little sense to use such a system...

A task is a task regardless of who attempts it. If someone is more skilled, the task (itself) becomes easier. A difficult task for someone who is highly skilled is impossible for someone without skill (due to the fact they can't hit the DC).

But, to each their own. Glad you have what you're looking for.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Personally, I liked the take 10/20 options when time isn't a factor (especially taking 10 more so than 20...).

Why would a 10th level thief fail to pick the lock? Lots of reasons. In-world: the lock is insanely complex, the party is under attack, he'll die if he fails due to some trap, etc. Meta-game: The DC is so high he has no chance even with a natural 20 because he lacks proficiency and/or expertise, there is a significant consequence for failure (injury or death), a complication can occur (his tools get lodged in the lock), etc.

If it's automatic or impossible, you should never roll (that is the normal concept for when not to waste time rolling) anyway. IME, truly automatic things are common at higher levels due to the bonuses being so high you aren't really ever likely to fail (even if you suffer a set-back) and impossible are only at lower levels when the DCs are so high and bonuses so low there is no chance to succeed. shrug
Passive checks are 5e's version of take 10. Automatic success encompasses take 20 in 5e, wrapping it up with a number of other things in a tidy package.
 


Bunker

Hero
Well, I am glad you found it, but IMO it makes little sense to use such a system...
For the purpose I'm using it, it makes total sense.

A task is a task regardless of who attempts it. If someone is more skilled, the task (itself) becomes easier. A difficult task for someone who is highly skilled is impossible for someone without skill (due to the fact they can't hit the DC).

Yes, I fully understand that point.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Well, I am glad you found it, but IMO it makes little sense to use such a system...

A task is a task regardless of who attempts it. If someone is more skilled, the task (itself) becomes easier. A difficult task for someone who is highly skilled is impossible for someone without skill (due to the fact they can't hit the DC).

But, to each their own. Glad you have what you're looking for.
Apparently, @Corrosive has a different design goal in mind, and just failed to articulate it in the post. If I had to guess, it was to try and avoid questions about what they're trying to do and the inevitable conversation that follows. Still, it seemed a pretty easy question to figure out on your own, given the limited range of DCs in the game, and the result is actually far more forgiving that the standard recommendation of 10/15/20.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Is there such a thing as a passive lock picking check?
Absolutely! The issue, I think, is that "passive" is read literally, as a thing you don't put effort into, when it's described in the rules as a repeated effort over time, and used to avoid lots of rolls for a repetitive action. It's poorly named.

I would consider using passive checks if a scene involved bypassing many locked doors, but there was no real consequence for an individual failure, just to speed things along. I'd probably just settle on narrating it, though, but that's because I tend to avoid scenes where there's lots of relatively trivial things to roll for.
 

Reynard

Legend
Absolutely! The issue, I think, is that "passive" is read literally, as a thing you don't put effort into, when it's described in the rules as a repeated effort over time, and used to avoid lots of rolls for a repetitive action. It's poorly named.

I would consider using passive checks if a scene involved bypassing many locked doors, but there was no real consequence for an individual failure, just to speed things along. I'd probably just settle on narrating it, though, but that's because I tend to avoid scenes where there's lots of relatively trivial things to roll for.
The section on Passive Checks definitely leans toward making it seem like it used for perception-like things, not active actions like tool use.
SRD said:

Passive Checks​

A passive check is a special kind of ability check that doesn’t involve any die rolls. Such a check can represent the average result for a task done repeatedly, such as searching for secret doors over and over again, or can be used when the GM wants to secretly determine whether the characters succeed at something without rolling dice, such as noticing a hidden monster. Here’s how to determine a character’s total for a passive check: 10 + all modifiers that normally apply to the check If the character has advantage on the check, add 5. For disadvantage, subtract 5. The game refers to a passive check total as a score. For example, if a 1st-level character has a Wisdom of 15 and proficiency in Perception, he or she has a passive Wisdom (Perception) score of 14. The rules on hiding in the “Dexterity” section below rely on passive checks, as do the exploration rules.

Not that it explicitly forbids things like tool use, but it definitely highlights stealth and perception.
 

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