I was looking into maximizing the effectiveness of the rogue feature Reliable Talent which says:

Whenever you make an ability check that lets you add your proficiency bonus, you can treat a d20 roll of 9 or lower as a 10.

Unfortunately, some ability checks do not qualify for skill proficiencies (such as Initiative, memory checks, or generic ability checks that are required for certain spells), so I was wondering if it were possible to gain proficiency in ability checks beyond skills.

I was hopeful that Jack of all Trades would offer some aid here, but that feature does not allow one to add your proficiency bonus, instead adding only half your bonus (contrast that to Expertise which doubles the bonus itself):

[emphasis mine]

you can add half your proficiency bonus... to any ability check that doesn't already include your proficiency bonus.

Is there any way I haven't seen where you can add your proficiency bonus to a generic ability check so as to benefit from Reliable Talent. I'd prefer an option that applies to all abilities, but a specific one would be nice as well.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I'd prefer in general, but a specific one is a good second option \$\endgroup\$ Feb 22, 2019 at 19:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you want it "always on," or a limited use? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 22, 2019 at 19:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ It might help ground this question if you gave an example of an ability check which isn't a skill and to which you don't add your proficiency modifier. Maybe the check made when you cast Counterspell (against a spell of higher level than the slot used for Counterspell)? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 22, 2019 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wait, I think I may have misunderstood you. Are you asking for any way to add your proficiency to some non-skill ability checks? Or to any non-skill ability check? Or to every non-skill ability check? I thought you strictly meant the last one, but now I'm not sure. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 22, 2019 at 20:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Add your proficiency bonus to at least one non-skill ability check. Example added \$\endgroup\$ Feb 22, 2019 at 21:06

3 Answers 3


There is no always-on, any-ability way.

If you're looking for a way to add your proficiency bonus to all non-proficient ability checks every time, suppose that you found such a way. Then all skills, tools, and other existing proficiencies in the game would be obsoleted because you would always effectively be proficient anyway.

So I'm confident in stating there is no such always-on, any-ability way in the core rules and there never will be, because it would explicitly obsolete the entire proficiency system as applied to ability checks. The sole exception I can think of is the possibility of an epic boon (those already break the game intentionally), but none of the ones in the core rules do what you're looking for.

There are some limited-use, specific-ability ways.

If you're looking for a way that benefits only non-proficient ability checks made with a specific ability or made for a certain task, they are rare but the game does support them, either in niche cases or with a limited number of uses. For example (the only example I know of currently):

  • An Abjuration Wizard of 10th level can add their proficiency bonus to all ability checks they make as part of casting an abjuration spell. They can do this as often as they'd like, but in practice it's only helpful for counterspell and dispel magic. In effect, this is like having an ad hoc skill.

The best you're going to get is a very niche use such as that, and a vanilla Rogue isn't going to have access to that sort of thing.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Great answer. The abjurations wizard's niche is exactly what I was looking for. Do you know of any other examples? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 22, 2019 at 20:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel like I've seen some, but I can't recall any other than that one. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 22, 2019 at 20:15

Using tools

Consider the case of a Dexterity check for using thieves' tools to unlock a lock or disarm a trap. The proficiency bonus is added if the character is proficient with that tool. This would benefit from Reliable Talent.

(I've seen a DM occasionally apply skills, such as sleight of hand, to tool use checks, but often no skill is applied.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Whole this is technically a correct answer to my question, I meant skill checks that lack any explicit proficiency (like initiative or a memory check). \$\endgroup\$ Feb 22, 2019 at 19:27

Not really, because of the limitations of proficiency and non-skill checks

Because we're used to level 15 mages raining fire and it's all on paper, we tend to lose the gravitas of how powerful a level one character really is compared to the average joe, and things like proficiency tend to be understated.

Proficiency comes from practice, spending days and years doing the same thing, learning the ins and outs of what and when. Skills are things that can be practiced, and thus it is fairly common to have proficiency in a handful of skills over a lifetime. You can even become proficient in tools over the course of a year.

But to get an idea of how difficult proficiency really is, there is no in-game way to train yourself to proficiency with a skill because that kind of training takes years. You can't even train yourself to be proficient in a weapon without adding a player class, and most characters only have one player class in their whole life.

But checks like memory and initiative rely on things that can't be trained at all. You can't practice yourself to be more alert or have a keen memory. You can't even practice yourself to be proficient in resilient mental defenses or abnormal weapons. Improvements on these rely on feats and racial abilities, or in role-playing terms, innate talent.

You can train your abilities to compete with those talented (insert anime montage here), but you cannot be proficient in your talents. Experience and expertise just don't play a role in acquiring these abnormal abilities.

Initiative especially is tricky from a meta perspective because it's supposed to represent all the chaotic little factors that make people slower to react and faster to get moving. And when I say little factors, we're talking about splitting 6 seconds (a round) down into 1d20 pieces, so the +5 granted from alert is only really helping someone move a second faster.

From a gameplay perspective, it's really not good for battles to become predictable, and one of the easiest ways to shake things up is to have people going in different orders in each combat. The less random that initiative becomes, the more predictable battles become.

TLDR: You can have advantage on these kinds of checks, you can have flat bonuses to these kinds of checks, you can improve your abilities to benefit these checks, but proficiency and non-skill checks aren't supposed to overlap.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, in retrospect, this isn't going to get any upvotes. It's basically answering a "how do I do this?" with a "You're not supposed to be able to." Oh well. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 23, 2019 at 12:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's a perfect explanation of why these features practically don't exist. To avoid the downvotes, I suggest you do what people usually do when challenging the premise of a question: technically answer it, then present your challenge. Up at the top, make sure you actually answer whether these features exist (at least one of them does), then go on with the existing answer explaining why more don't exist. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 23, 2019 at 14:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. "No, and here's why" is a valid answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Feb 23, 2019 at 16:12

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