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I was thinking about having a character that's pretending to be something they're not, kind of like the '3 goblins in a trenchcoat' meme, but my character is one of the ones with an increase in stats when said stats are rolled. I was wondering if I could feign not having those increases to my stats by holding back and lowering the modifier I use for some of my skill checks. Is this possible, based on the rules as written?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Related, possible duplicate: Is it possible to fail an ability check on purpose? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Mar 13 at 1:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is the character hiding this from the other player characters, or specific NPCs? Will the intention be that the player be hiding it from the other players? \$\endgroup\$
    – StuperUser
    Commented Mar 13 at 11:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you trying to deceive other characters or other players? \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Mar 13 at 12:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ To answer both of those, yes. It's a fairy pretending to be an elf in a party with an elf. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tasi
    Commented Mar 13 at 19:00

3 Answers 3

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If your intent is to fail the task, you don’t roll any dice.

You don’t have to do a skill check if you aren’t trying to succeed on a task:

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.

In your case, if you are trying to feign being bad at something, the outcome is not uncertain. Just do the task wrong and you will “fail” on purpose. Now, your DM might ask for a deception check if you are trying to deceive others into thinking you are worse at a particular skill or task than you actually are, but that is a conversation you should have with your DM.

To directly answer the question, no, there is no rule for reducing your ability modifier at will for a particular check.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "I can tell you're not really trying -- stop sandbagging and pull!" \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 12 at 20:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym But also "Haw, haw! Weakling -- let me show you how a real man does it". \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 13 at 19:21
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Thomas Markov already gave a good answer to what the title asked: Indeed, if you want to fail a task, just fail it. You don't need to roll to fail.

However, allow me to answer this part of your question:

I was wondering if I could feign not having those increases to my stats (...). Is this possible, based on the rules as written?

This sounds like a Deception and/or Performance check. Because you are not trying to fail the task. You are just trying to pretend to be bad at the task.

If I was a DM, I'd let you roll separately for the task (with full modifiers), as well as a Deception and/or Performance check for the feigning. I'd even dare to say this is RAI.

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I agree with the notion in another answer about a Deception check being required to pretend to do a job badly but realistically.

However, based on the comments from the poster about what they are trying to achieve, I'd like to suggest another strategy as a frame challenge to the question: the character does not necessarily need to hold back at all.

  • The poster mentions wanting their fairy character to pass themself off as an elf, and needing to conceal their higher stats. However, D&D Fifth Edition, which is what the question is tagged with, has custom origin rules, which are now the default for new races and allow for either a +2 and +1 or three +1 increases. As far as I can tell, these are the rules used in Wild Beyond The Witchlight, published in 2021 and which introduces "fairy" as a playable race, so the fairy should not have any modifiers not available to the elf.
  • Even if this were not the case, the characters cannot read skill proficiency bonuses off of players' character sheets, so they generally will not know if another character is succeeding in a task because they are skilled or because of their intrinsic abilities ("stats"), particularly in the more-than-typical case that a character has both proficiency and an ability bonus.
  • Furthermore, the characters cannot read rulebooks, so while they could note, for instance, "This person is unusually strong," short of extreme examples (i.e. strength greater than 20), they could not know whether they are strong because they were, say, a minotaur in disguise, or because they had been born with huge muscles, or had engaged in heavy labor, or had been magically enhanced somehow.

So there is really nothing to conceal with regard to skill checks. It might make more sense to focus on what the fairy character actually might need to conceal: they are Small rather than Medium, so they would look quite short for an elf; they are not mentioned as trancing and presumably need to sleep, whereas elves do trance and do not sleep; they have wings and elves do not; and they lack elves' darkvision and Keen Senses.

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