The party wizard is about to copy a high-level scroll into her spellbook. She has a +10 on Arcana, and a good chance of making the DC16 roll, despite it being a sixth-level scroll:

A wizard spell on a spell scroll can be copied just as spells in spellbooks can be copied. When a spell is copied from a spell scroll, the copier must succeed on an Intelligence (Arcana) check with a DC equal to 10 + the spell’s level. If the check succeeds, the spell is successfully copied. Whether the check succeeds or fails, the spell scroll is destroyed.

However, scrolls are rare in the campaign in general, and high-level scrolls are exceptionally rare where the wizard is at the moment. Thus, she would like to maximize her chance of a successful outcome.

The process of copying the scroll will take six hours (if the scroll is her school, or 12 hours if not), and at some point during that time, the wizard's player will make the Arcana roll. As far as I can tell, the rules themselves don't indicate at what point in time, in-game, the roll is made, or whether the character or player knows the timing of the roll.

If the roll could not be influenced by other effects, it would not matter when it was made. But the 5e rules have a number of different ways to influence this roll - and most of them are limited resources that have a duration of less than six hours. Many of them are available to this party: Bardic Inspiration (10 minutes), Enhance Ability (1 hour), Skill Empowerment (1 hour). Others have a duration of "about six seconds" but have no cost but opportunity to reusing them: "I take the Help Action every round for the next six hours"; "I cast guidance on the wizard every round for the next six hours".

My general question is this; when a process takes longer than a round, how is it decided at what point a skill check is made? And do the players know when this will happen and are they able to take account of that by using abilities that affect rolls?

My suspicion is that this is not addressed RAW. Thus, my specific request is for a 'good subjective' answer about affecting the results of a scroll copying roll - what have you used in your game, what has worked, what hasn't, and why?

  • \$\begingroup\$ That would depend on the ruleset you're using. Since you're talking about scribing a magic scroll, I'm inclined to believe that you're using Xanathar's ruleset, but that would be helpful for clarification. \$\endgroup\$
    – J Thompson
    Commented Apr 10 at 16:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JThompson Actually using a scroll (magic item) to copy a spell into a spellbook, as decribed in the core rules of the DMG. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Apr 10 at 16:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Scribing a scroll isn't the only time this may come into play either, maybe you are spending the night researching in the library and rolling to see how much information you uncover. I actually make most of my ability checks take 10 minutes (for reasons) so this is a great question. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Apr 10 at 18:20

2 Answers 2


This depends on the task, usually the DM can pick any time

An ability check is a test to see whether a character succeeds at a task that he or she has decided to attempt (DMG, p. 237)

There is no explicit general rule in the core rules when that test is made, like the beginning or the end of the task that requires it. Instead, this depends on the task, if the tasks specifiy or imply when you make the check.

For example, when you use the Researching downtime activity, the PHB says (p. 187)

The DM might also require you to make one or more ability checks, such as an Intelligence (Investigation) check to find clues pointing toward the information you seek, or a Charisma (Persuasion) check to secure someone’s aid.

Here, the check is made sometime in the middle of the task, because obviously, you will have to spend more time to process the information or get the aid, and conclude your research work.

In other cases, like the Carousing downtime activity (Xanathar's Guide to Everything, p. 127), you make a check at the end (although, because it is a separate sentence, that is also not 100% unabiguous):

Resolution. After a workweek of carousing, a character stands to make contacts within the selected social class. The character makes a Charisma (Persuasion) check using the Carousing table.

A wizard spell on a spell scroll can be copied just as spells in spellbooks can be copied, and the rules for copying spells into the spell book require no ability check, so there is no indication when the check would be made. The process is described as follows

For each level of the spell, the process takes 2 hours and costs 50 gp. The cost represents material components you expend as you experiment with the spell to master it, as well as the fine inks you need to record it. Once you have spent this time and money, you can prepare the spell

If you would make the check earlier in the process, you might already know you botched the attempt before spending all the expensive ink and components, and you would not need to spend the rest of them. Or you might not, as there is no rule that you always know if you botched a an ability check or not. The DM might have you roll early, and only later, after writing and experimenting much more, you find you failed in the early stages of your work. Because the rules do not say here explicitly, here the time of the test is up the DM.

How does Bardic Inspiration work?

I'm just picking Bardic Inspiration as one example abilitiy that grants a bonus to an ability check. It says

You can inspire others through stirring words or music. To do so, you use a bonus action on your turn to choose one creature other than yourself within 60 feet of you who can hear you. That creature gains one Bardic Inspiration die, a d6.

Once within the next 10 minutes, the creature can roll the die and add the number rolled to one ability check, attack roll, or saving throw it makes.

The way this is written is quite clear -- you grant a bonus to a roll you make within the next 10 minutes. That's it. You do not inspire a creature for a task. And if the ability check falls within those 10 minutes, then even if the task took days before that test, you are inspired for the roll and get to add the bonus.

Narratively this does make little sense: for example, you spend a week carousing in order to make new friends, and did so without any help by the bard. Why on Oerth would you improve your chances of success for that task, just because the bard sang an inpiring ditty afterwards when you are nursing your hangover? You had all the interactions with the people you met long before then, and it were those interactions that made you friends or not.

So at least for cases where a time for the test is not prescribed, as a DM you could reserve the right to ask for the test at any time during the task. That way, these ability-enhancing buffs only are guaranteed to work if they are applied consistently throughout the duration, or if the bard gets really lucky with chosing when to inspire, randomly hitting the crucial moment when it matters most.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ " a DM you could reserve the right to ask for the test at any time during the task. That way, these ability-enhancing buffs only are guaranteed to work if they are applied consistently throughout the duration" - I was going to write an answer, but this was really the core of it. Unless you have consistent access to the buff throughout the process, you shouldn't get the benefit. If you have a couple friends, one constantly Helping, one constantly casting Guidance the whole time, you benefit. Otherwise, nope, it's ridiculous to have one minute of assistance matter to a long task. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 10 at 21:57

The DM calls for an ability check when a character or monster attempts an action ...

The check happens when the attempt is made. You attempt to climb a mountain when you leave base camp, you attempt to swim a river when you dive in, and you attempt to copy a scroll when you make the first pen stroke.

  • \$\begingroup\$ How does this work if you are attempting to scribe a scroll, roll a success but then get interrupted? Would it be a new attempt with a new roll, or have you already succeeded? \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Apr 10 at 20:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri depends on if you have abandoned the attempt or not. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented Apr 10 at 21:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ So if I get interrupted and have to start again tomorrow is that a new check (in which case what was the first check for?) or the old check (in which case I can use meta knowledge to maybe not bother since I failed)? \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Apr 10 at 22:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri if you abandon the attempt, then no roll is needed - you failed. However, being interrupted is not necessarily abandoning. There is no specific time limit for this activity so I would say you haven't abandoned it until you choose to or render the attempt null (such as by starting to copy a new spell into your book). However, if you make a climb check to ascend the mountain and halfway up you go home, climbing it again would be a new check. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented Apr 11 at 6:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ But you rolled already if you use your ruling \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Apr 11 at 6:48

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