A player in my game has a habit of making statements like:

"I make a Religion check to see if I recognize that symbol."

"I want to use my Persuasion skill to talk past the guard."

"Can I use Insight to try to..."

All of these sound wrong to me, as I'm expecting them to just say what they want to do without reference to a skill. Sometimes there wouldn't even be an ability check required, or what they're describing is covered by a different skill.

I don't find much support in the core rules for players describing actions like this, though the books don't spend a lot of time on how players describe actions. Are players allowed to declare outright that they are making a specific ability check?

I'm not necessarily looking for how to handle this particular player. The problem I'm seeing at my table is that less experienced players have started to adopt the same mannerism. I want to tell them "this isn't how you play the game", and my question here is really "This isn't how you play the game, right?" or "Should I be discouraging new players from playing this way?" I think the example of play and the How to Play on pages 5 & 6 of the PHB support this. I want to know if there are other sources that might strengthen or weaken that argument.

Note: I'm concerned only with the general rules. There might be specific cases where this is okay, e.g. if a monster had turned invisible and a player, knowing the rules about hiding said, "I make an active Perception check to find them", I'd allow it (though even here the player could just say "I try to find them" without needing to reference the skill).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 3, 2018 at 17:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd say yes, usually they ask to do things they're good at. I don't know if I'd draw that conclusion though: I would expect any player who says "I look at the symbol" or "I try talking to the guard" does so because they think their character is good at it. But I'm questioning whether they should lead with "I use [skill] to..." \$\endgroup\$
    – A. Foster
    Apr 4, 2018 at 10:23

5 Answers 5


The Ability Check is a DM decision

Page 174 of the PHB covers Ability Checks and how they work (emphasis mine):

The DM calls for an ability check when a character or monster attempts an action (other than an attack) that has a chance of failure. When the outcome is uncertain, the dice determine the results.

The player comes up with the narration of what they're doing and then the DM determines HOW or IF success is determined.

But why can't the player suggest?

The rules (Basic Rules, 58) also account for this.

Sometimes, the DM might ask for an ability check using a specific skill--for example, “Make a Wisdom (Perception) check.” At other times, a player might ask the DM if proficiency in a particular skill applies to a check.

So, they absolutely CAN, if that's the way the table environment is set up. But it is the DM who has final determination on what ability that action described requires. It may not be the ability someone is proficient in, but that doesn't mean it's unfair. The player may have a good reason for wanting to use that ability - and if they narrate their action appropriately it may work the way they want. But the DM determines if, when, and what the player will roll to determine success.

The key is really in how they describe what they want to do. Not everyone is comfortable with roleplaying, but all players should be able to describe what they're doing and HOW they're saying something (but not necessarily WHAT they are saying.)

Being a good DM is listening to players and knowing their strengths and weaknesses (both as characters and as players.) Helping guide the player to the narrative they're trying to create is absolutely fine! Just be wary of twisting a situation so that it's always at their best. There are times when that's fine, but there are times when what they're trying to do really only works one way and the DM can make that call, too.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 3, 2018 at 18:30

Can Players Declare Proficiency Checks?

Strictly, no. The GM decides when they happen, and a declaration cuts into the GM role. At least some GMs allow it within reason, whatever they decide reason is.

Can Players Ask For Proficiency Checks?

Sure, why not? Aside from the rules specifically allowing it, it is in one sense a perfectly natural thing to do. This is a game, it has rules, and even though the GM is arbitrating, the players know they are playing a game. Talking in terms of the rules makes sense.

Why Do Players Ask For Proficiency Checks?

In my experience, a few broad reasons covers most instances of this, including:

  • It's a signifier from the player to the GM that some action is not idle, but is serious. I'm not idly wondering if I've seen that symbol before, I'm Checking Religion, Dammit. I'm not engaging in chit-chat with this guy for my health, I Want To Persuade Him. Sometimes this comes across as a breakdown of trust, or the player not trusting the GM to figure things out-- I'm sure I come across that way, too, sometimes, but when I'm in that (drive-the-GM-nuts) mode it also means I'm engaged and want to do things and know things.

  • It's a signifier of wanting to short-hand something instead of play it all out. I am infamous at my table for not wanting to role-play haggling with a merchant. I will invariably ask a GM to just let me roll for it and spare me the agony. Here I think is where your particular issue may lie, if your player(s) want to short-hand things that you want to go through in detail.

There's going to be some give and take on these matters. You're within your rights as a GM to pull players farther into the immersive and descriptive end of role-playing, but they're within their rights to push back against things they don't want to immerse too deeply in.

The somewhat vague but useful advice that falls out of this is: Listen to what your players are asking behind the surface of their requests for rolls. Are they trying to signify serious intent? Tell them or show them, directly or indirectly, that you're already taking them seriously.

Are they signifying interest in the setting, or that they're starved for information and descriptions? Adjust, give them more.

Are they trying to affect the pace or control the amount of immersion? This one is tricky, because a lot of people have firm notions on what they want without even being aware they have firm notions. But sound them out above the table if need be, and get to a meeting of the minds.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the why. I fall into the camp of having trust issues so I want to make it clear. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Apr 4, 2018 at 11:17

This will change on which table you are at as each has its own play style. The PHB p174 does have a bit to suggest that the DM calls for those checks.

The DM calls for an ability check.

Lots of DMs just go with it though, as @Adam pointed out this was brought up in the Basic Rules, however I believe this was very much geared to newer players and DMs that needed that extra guidance. I have not played with newer players in quite some time so I have not had to rely on that.

That being said if you dislike that sort of (what some would call) meta-gaming aspects of the skill system the AngryGM has a number of articles on aspects that are not explicitly called out in the system, one of my personal favorites is 5 Simple Rules for Dating My Teeanage Skill System.

Rule #1 is my favorite:

Players Can Only Declare Actions or Ask Questions

You might find his articles useful, there are a great many.


I don't think there is a right, or even a wrong, answer for this question as it will depend on the people sitting at the table. As a DM, you have a little more power/authority to nudge things the way you see fit, but in the end, is everyone having fun?

If you want players to stop stating what roll they wish to make, you can politely correct them with, "You don't need to say what kinda of check it is, just let me know what you're doing. Sometimes, I'll just take you at your action and we won't even need to roll."

This gently says, "Let me handle what to roll and when," with the added incentive of if they role play well, they may automatically succeed.

"I want to roll Investigation to search the room" and it forces a roll. But, "I want to search in and around the desk for a key." means that it's DM discretion (and most likely will work to serve as an encouragement).

If you want to encourage role play, then ask the player to act it out, even just an opening line for a conversation. A player may not have the persuasive skills that their character does, but you can at least get a concept of how the the player wants this to act out.

If they start with "Working hard, or hardly working." to the guard, it's a Persuasion check. It they say, "You're kinda small for a king's guard." then it's more Intimidation.


I agree with both answers provided, but wished to provide a bit of insight on my own.

Oftentimes, I view ability checks as a tool for me as the DM to convey the world to the players. For example, when attempting to climb a wall, and I open with, "The cave wall is riddled with holes and crevices, but a thin sheen of moisture drips from the walls, pooling at your feet before passing out of the radius of the light and into the darkness."

The players for the Rogue and Fighter might be thinking to themselves, "This shouldn't be a problem for me to climb at all. With my proficiency, I should be able to hit a DC15 and even a 20 without much effort."

However, the Wizard's player might be very unsure. There's a lot of cracks, does that mean it's easy. But it's also wet, which makes it harder. Some players enjoy roleplaying that out and hearing about exactly how deep they can get their fingers in and exactly how much algae has built up in that stagnant water, and that's fine, but others want to know how good are their odds with a +1 in Athletics on this check.

We could go back and forth on this, but at the end of the day, the player wants to know that his character perceives this to be a DC15 check.

So back to your question, "Can players declare that they are making a specific ability check?"

In my game, yes

Sometimes doing so cuts to the chase and helps move things along. While I agree with the Angry DM about a lot of things, I also tend to be an adult without a lot of tabletop time, so cutting out a lot of unnecessary back and forth can be useful.

As a general rule, though, I tend to view a straight-to-business ability check to be performed how I think it'll be done. So unless the players tell me otherwise, I'm going to assume they just climb straight up that wall without safety ropes or other precautionary measures.

I'm also a firm proponent of telling players the DC when their characters have a good reason to perceive it. This doesn't mean that's actually the DC, just a measure of what the character thinks the difficulty is based on the information they have.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Which of the other three (or more) answers are the "both" you agree with? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Apr 3, 2018 at 0:47

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