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I'm homebrewing a rotten, collapsible staircase. I want there to be a Dex check to climb it, but if they fail the check, they can make a save to avoid falling.
Should the check or the save be of a higher DC?

For saves and checks in general, is one typically higher than the other?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you mean Dex(Acrobatics), or Dex check? \$\endgroup\$ – András Oct 28 '18 at 18:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why not use Str(Athletics) to climb, since climbing is explicitly part of that skill? \$\endgroup\$ – ValhallaGH Oct 28 '18 at 18:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ValhallaGH Climbing stairs and climbing walls might use the same word, but they don’t mean the same activity or test the same human abilities. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 28 '18 at 18:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Depends upon how rotten and collapsing the stairs are. At a certain point, it's safer to treat it like a ladder. \$\endgroup\$ – ValhallaGH Oct 29 '18 at 13:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question is incomplete. What are the consequences of a failed dexterity check when climbing these stairs? Until you define the consequence, it is unclear what you are making the check for. Again, what happens, while climbing these stairs, if the Dex check fails? Answer that before you think through a second problem to save for. Put a different way, why are you putting two rolls into an outcome where one suffices? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 29 '18 at 14:54
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There is no rule about which is harder

DMG p. 239 says the following regarding setting the Difficulty Class (DC):

When you do so, think of how difficult a task is and then pick the associated DC from the Typical DCs table.

Very easy 5
Easy 10
Moderate 15
Hard 20
Very hard 25
Nearly impossible 30

The numbers associated with these categories of difficulty are meant to be easy to keep in your head.

(The table also appears here in the basic rules.)

In your given example, think about how bad you want the stairs to be. Are they ready to collapse or only a few bad steps? On a fail, does only one step give way or the whole flight? Etc.

A sample scenario

There is a flight of rotting stairs. 5 steps are too weak to support any weight. A DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check is required to spot the rotten steps. On a failed check, the PC needs to make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw to avoid falling through the rotten step; a creature takes 1d4 bludgeoning damage on a failed save.

NOTE: Depending on the character's ability score and proficiency, a DC10-DC15 usually has a 50% chance of success.

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Saves should be higher than ability checks

You can get a proficiency bonus to saves, but not to ability checks*.

Skill checks are a subset of ability checks, you might add your proficiency bonus to Dex(Acrobatics), but not to pure Dex checks.


*) Bards can get half for ability checks, and some other classes for some abilities.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You can't get proficiency on ability checks like dexterity, but you can get proficiency on skill checks, like acrobatics. The question does say "dexterity check", but that could also mean "some kind of skill check involving dexterity". \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Oct 28 '18 at 18:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanThompson There is no skill checks in 5e. There are ability checks only, with proficiency bonus, if you have a skill. "a dex check to climb it" would be "Strength (Athletics)" or "Dexterity (Acrobatics)" check, with proficiency bonus for respective classes. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Oct 28 '18 at 18:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Champions also get "Remarkable Athlete: Starting at 7th level, you can add half your proficiency bonus (round up) to any Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution check you make that doesn’t already use your proficiency bonus." \$\endgroup\$ – Valley Lad Oct 28 '18 at 19:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ValleyLad "and some other classes for some abilities" \$\endgroup\$ – András Oct 28 '18 at 19:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ This does tackle a core part of the difficulty values, but it doesn't cover the real difficulty with checks vs. saves. Failing a check is usually a minor inconvenience, but failing a save might mean certain death. \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Zastoupil Oct 29 '18 at 15:14

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