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Can you use a different key ability for a skill check when it would make more sense for the situation? I think that I've read of this being done. I know there are feats and other abilities that let you substitute key abilities (to do stuff like intimidate your opponent by break-dancing), but is it possible to use a different key ability score for a skill based on circumstances alone?

For example, I've become more and more enamoured with CatLord's idea of changing the Hide skill's key ability score for pre-setting Hide. It doesn't make much sense that it should be keyed off Dexterity when Hide is used to prepare your hiding place before going to sleep – here, Intelligence would make much more sense. I'm contemplating a house-rule for this but I want to support it with precedents.

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I think I understand your meaning, but an edit to unpack "specific situation" vs "special effect" might help clarify this for answerers. –  BESW Apr 17 '13 at 11:40
Hm, I guess that I should've focused less on defining it eliminatively. –  NiteCyper Apr 17 '13 at 12:46

2 Answers 2

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Allowing skill checks to use different ability scores for skill checks in unusual situations is already an official rules variant suggested on page 33 of the Dungeon Master's Guide. It's in the page footer, and in addition to some examples of using different ability scores with your skill ranks, has this to say:

These sorts of unusual situations are always handled on a case-by-case basis, and only as exceptions. The vast majority of the time, use the normal key ability. Remember that when you change the way a skill works in this fashion, you should dictate when the change comes into play-it's not up to a player to make this sort of decision. Players may try to rationalize why they should get to use their best ability score modifier with a skill that doesn't normally use that ability, but you shouldn't allow this sort of rule change unless you happen to agree with it.

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First off, thanks for the mention.

In D&D it often really doesn't matter which trait you use after a certain point unless you're min/maxing like crazy because a difference of 1-3 on the trait mod when you're sitting on a +10 skill rank. When it comes down to it, ability score substitution should be for rare or specific situations.

That said, why it should be considered comes from the more modular games I tend to play, especially L5R, there are a host of traits that all serve different purposes in the game so it's only natural to play mix and match when the roll calls for it. My players will want to know the quality of a sword and suddenly Int+Kenjutsu is being rolled, temporarily overriding the conventional Agi-based roll. The RAW even says something about saving throws, which is along the lines that sometimes you might want to make a Reflex save using Str instead of Dex. Although this option sort of got sideswiped a bit by feats like "Dexterous Fortitude" which let you swap out a given stat on a given saving throw whenever your heart desires.

When it comes to substituting traits for the more "important" things, IE combat, there are a slew of feats that allow you to substitute stats for all sorts of things, especially To Hit rolls (like using Wis + BAB). Plus, d20 is meant to be an adaptable system and thus as long as your table agrees to it, it can be put into effect.

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"it often really doesn't matter which trait you use... because a difference of 1-3 on the trait mod when you're sitting on a +10 skill rank. " -- In 3.5, changing the stat might be a difference of 6 or 7 easily, and if you're not trained in the skill that'll be huge! This advice is way off. –  starwed Apr 17 '13 at 13:42
A difference of 6-7 isn't easily attained in 3.5. It's certainly possible but not easy. However, it's a fair point that stat modifiers can make a reasonable difference at lower levels. –  Gaxx Apr 17 '13 at 17:50
At the lowest levels I agree with you starwed. However, by level 6 you can have a +10 skill rank alone and that's still considered low level. Also, I feel that there was a lot more to my answer than just that comment. –  CatLord Apr 17 '13 at 17:52
By level 6 can't you have the maximum of +6 skill ranks, on a given skill? –  RMalke Apr 17 '13 at 18:24
@RenanMalkeStigliani - In D&D 3/3.5, you can have up to Level+3 ranks in a skill if it's a class skill, and half of that for a non-class skill. What CatLord probably meant was a +10 skill modifier which is, in fact, trivial at 6th level. –  Bobson Apr 17 '13 at 18:38

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