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It has been established that a character cannot willingly choose to fail a saving throw. But can they willingly fail an ability check contest?

While most spells say that the target must succeed to fail a saving throw, the Telekinesis spell description states (in part):

Creature. You can try to move a Huge or smaller creature. Make an ability check with your spellcasting ability contested by the creature's Strength check. [...]

I wanted to cast this on the party rogue so they could get up to the second-story window to sneak in; a rich man's Levitate spell. Alternately, cast it on a fighter and help him chase around the flying monsters.

The obvious workaround is to have them stand on an object that cannot contest the spell and lift that up instead, but then there is a chance of them losing their balance.

In the PHB/basic rules, it talks about ability check contests:

Sometimes one character's or monster's efforts are directly opposed to another's. This can occur when both of them are trying to do the same thing and only one can succeed, such as attempting to snatch up a magic ring that has fallen on the floor. This situation also applies when one of them is trying to prevent the other one from accomplishing a goal — for example, when a monster tries to force open a door that an adventurer is holding closed. In situations like these, the outcome is determined by a special form of ability check, called a contest.

This assumes that the two efforts are at odds. However, in this case a contest would not be required, as the characters are working together. But the spell description bypasses that and flat out says there is a contest – no mention of willing or unwilling.

So can my warlock give a boost easily, or is there a chance of failure?

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They cannot choose to fail, but they can choose not to contest, which is effectively the same

The spell description of Telekinesis calls for the check regardless of the intents of the warlock and rogue. However, the rules for this situation encompass much more than the spell description.

The spell directs us to use the rules for ability checks
The spell description tells us to "Make an ability check with your spellcasting ability contested by the creature's Strength check." In doing so, it connects us to the rules for a contested ability check. The spell description does not supersede the contested ability check rules; this is not a case of specific over general. Rather, the spell description relies on our understanding of all the contested ability check rules. For example, the spell description does not state what to do in case of a tie; it assumes that we are using the contested ability check rules in their entirety.

The rules for ability checks say they are not needed if there is no contest
The contested ability check rules are divided into two sections. The first four sentences describe when to apply them, while the remainder describes how to apply them. The first section concludes with "In situations like these, the outcome is determined by a special form of ability check, called a contest." The concomitant is that in situations not like these, the contest rules are not applied, and that is what we have here - it is not the case that 'only one of them can succeed', nor that one of the PCs is 'trying to prevent the other from accomplishing a goal'. Because the warlock and rogue are explicitly working together to a common end, there is no contest.

No roll is needed
In the DMG section on Using Ability Scores we see that:

When deciding whether to use a roll, ask yourself [this question]:
Is a task so easy and so free of conflict and stress that there should be no chance of failure?

Since the answer here is yes, no roll is required.

Thus, even though the spell description calls for an ability check, this is based on the assumption that the target of the spell is resisting. The totality of rules surrounding contested ability checks specifically, and making rolls in general, tells us that no check is required.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer, and upvoted. It takes guts to come in and answer contrary to a well-received and even accepted answer, but popularity does not mean something is right. If there is no contest, there is no contested check. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Mar 25 at 20:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ While I agree with your answer, why 'is a task is so easy and free of conflict and stress that there should be no chance of failure' cannot be applied to voluntarily fail saving throw from a spell, which is also a form a roll? \$\endgroup\$
    – Vylix
    Mar 26 at 18:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Vylix I think in some instances it could, and the designer agrees. There's not a clear line on when or in what circumstance, though. One difference is that a contest - whether to struggle against Arcane Hand or allow it to grasp you - occurs over the round and is largely under voluntary control, while most saving throws are instantaneous, instinctive responses. Or, perhaps, the player decides whether the PC contests a check, but the PC makes a save without the player's consent or decision. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Mar 27 at 0:59
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By strict rules reading, no

The contest is called for by the spell. The spell does what it says it does

You can try to move a Huge or smaller creature. Make an ability check with your spellcasting ability contested by the creature's Strength check.

The contest is not optional. The target can't fail intentionally.

However, what should happen is the target describes its intent to lose the contest and DM decides what should happen. DnD provides a mechanism for this called advantage-disadvantage:

The DM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result. Basic Rules: Advantage and Disadvantage

The target is not resisting the telekinesis. DM then grants disadvantage to the strength check, advantage to the spellcasting check, or both, to make it easier for the caster to win the contest.


However, it is well within DM's right to rule that the contest is automatically won by the caster. A DM might be more simulationist and use this ruling instead. It is still RAW.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Depends on what we envision as the baseline. If the spell is written with the assumption that it would typically be used on enemies, then nobody should get advantage when it is used on an enemy. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Mar 19, 2019 at 14:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would the "attacker" get advantage to the spell ability roll (easier to attack because the "defender" was not resisting), or the defender get disadvantage to the Strength check (harder to resist because the defender was not resisting), or both? If only one, which one, and why? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jul 25, 2020 at 21:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ RAW support for this answer: there ARE spells who state that the target can fail intentionally. This obviously wouldn't be explicitly stated on some few spells, if it were the general rule \$\endgroup\$
    – Hobbamok
    Mar 12, 2021 at 10:01

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