Strength checks? We don’t need no stinkin’ strength checks!

house-rules-lNote:  Holes in this idea have been found.  Read the next post for more.

So, we’ve been playing 4e regularly since September 2008, and like most groups have found some things that work for us, and others that don’t.

In 4e, however, there are a lot fewer things that we don’t use as written thus far.  Up until now, I’ve only found need to house rule three things.

  1. Daily Magic Item Uses – As suggested by Wyatt:

    Unlimited Item Power:  You can use any item’s daily power once per day but have no restrictions on your own uses, so you can have 10 different items and use all of their powers. Once an item’s daily power is used once it is spent – you can’t give it to another character for a go, for example.

    And if anyone decides to abuse the system by hoarding multiple cheap items, you smack them with the rulebook and take the privilege away.  They don’t get nice things.

  2. Skill Challenges – I haven’t quite figured out what to do with these, but had my first really good one at the MM2 Game Day.  They are not run by the book, however, and are affected by #3.
  3. Skill Check DCs – The errata’d DCs are too low, and make Skill Challenges a cakewalk.  The original ones (with the +5 for being skill checks) were too high, and made Skill Challenges too hard.  I use the new Skill Challenge system (X/3), as the old one didn’t scale properly, and the original DCs (sans the +5 for being skill checks).  It seems to give the difficulty I want.

And of course the minor per-character house rules, such as reflavouring powers or making a Wizard into a Druid.

But recently, I’ve been thinking over another house rule, which I want to present to you here (and to the players on Sunday).

Let me start with a question.

Outside of the Grab and Bull Rush combat maneuvers, where would you use an Ability Check instead of a skill check?

I can’t think of a single case that isn’t better represented by either a skill check or an attack against the player.  On top of that, there is a lot of confusion about when to add the 1/2 level or not, with some people never remembering to add it for ability checks, and some adding it for even damage rolls.

So I am putting forth the following hypothesis:

All Ability checks can be better represented by a Skill check.

Strength -> Athletics

Dexterity -> Acrobatics/Stealth/Thievery

Constitution -> Endurance

Int/Wis -> the various Knowledge skills

Charisma -> the social skills

I even propose that Grab and Bull Rush are just athletics moves, taken from wrestling and football (and many other sports) respectively.

Can any of you, dear readers, come up with a situation that is better represented by an ability check than anything else?  Please, I’d like to hear it.

Well, I can’t, so I put forth this house rule:

Grab and Bull Rush are now Athletics checks.  Ability Checks don’t exist until I am shown that they have some merit.

Doesn’t that make Grab and Bull Rush too powerful, you ask?  I say no!  The PHB2 already brings forward the Improved feats for both of them (which gives a +4/+6/+8 bonus), indicating that they needed a boost.


The Improved Grab and Improved Bull Rush feats no longer exist.  Skill Training (Athletics) is sufficient.  Skill Focus (Athletics) can bring it up to the full +8 bonus that the Improved Feats do.

And other abilities that affect the maneuvers still apply, such as the Goliath getting a +2 bonus and being able to roll twice.

As an added benefit, before, it was far easier to escape a grab than establish one.  This fixes that.

These maneuvers are now not only viable alternatives, but they are potentially superior alternatives in some cases.  And they don’t require a feat to become viable, if your class gets Athletics as a class skill.

With 4e’s emphasis on maneuverability and tactics, I can’t see that as a bad thing.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Uses for Ability checks that I missed?


greywulf  on June 6th, 2009

Good point about using Skill Checks instead of ability checks. The only real difference between the two is Training (and Feats & Racial abilities too, to a lesser extent), so the times you’d need an ability check would be when training doesn’t factor in, only raw talent.

For example, trying to calm a savage beast might be a straight CHA roll as Diplomacy just won’t cut it with a Dire Bear. Or defeating an archlich in a game of chess (INT vs. INT).

Those cases would be few and far between, though would crop up occasionally enough merit keeping ability checks in the game as a fallback mechanism, imho.

Graham  on June 6th, 2009

Thanks for the comment, greywulf.

Regarding the calming of a beast, why would it not be Diplomacy? You might take a penalty for it, for not sharing a language, but Diplomacy is not a purely vocal thing.

As far as defeating an Archlich in a chess game goes, that’s an interesting one. But I’d put it as a History check, opposed by the target’s Insight, or even just opposed Insight checks. Chess is less about raw intelligence, and more about knowing what your opponent is going to do.

If the player made a case for it, I’d also allow the substitution of a Thievery, Bluff, Intimidate or History (if using the all-Insight method) check. And all of those (even back and forth Insight) are far more interesting to me than just rolling Intelligence.

But that’s just my perspective, of course.

The Chatty DM  on June 6th, 2009

It’s one of those nearly self-evident things when you stop and think about it. I have been playing skill checks/challenge using the non-errata numbers and I never even knew that there was a +5 to DC to skill chellenge… I just found the math to work fine with the numbers as is.

As for converting all ability checks to skill checks, I buy it. In one year I don’t think I’ve had one ability check in my game… as you say, a skill check or an attack always seemed to be a better solution.

EastwoodDC  on June 7th, 2009

Commenting on a game I don’t play is probably stupid, but I’ll take a whack at it anyway.
What you suggest about using Skills in place of Abilities makes sense even to me. Perhaps an Ability check is still appropriate where there is no skill to apply. Perhaps a strength check for a feat of shear physical strength, especially is the character does not have any particular training in athletics.

Graham  on June 7th, 2009

@ChattyDM –

Thanks for the comment, man. It just sorta clicked to me, too.

@EastwoodDC –

If there is no appropriate skill, then that is definitely time for an ability check. My thought is that this is never the case.

As for a feat of strength for someone without Athletics training, you’re missing one part of how skills and ability checks in 4e work. As you don’t play the game, please allow me to explain:

A skill check in 4e is:
1d20 + 1/2 level + Ability Mod (+5 if trained)

An ability check in 4e is:
1d20 + 1/2 level + Ability Mod

The only difference is the +5 for training (and other bonuses, if your race gets +2 Athletics or something).

So an untrained skill check and an ability check are almost identical.

This is why, in the case you mention, I would still ask for a skill check.

Graham  on June 7th, 2009

Holes in this idea have been found. Read the next post for more.

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