Can you use a different key ability for a skill check when it would make more sense for the situation? I think that I've read of this being done. I know there are feats and other abilities that let you substitute key abilities (to do stuff like intimidate your opponent by break-dancing), but is it possible to use a different key ability score for a skill based on circumstances alone?

For example, I've become more and more enamoured with CatLord's idea of changing the Hide skill's key ability score for pre-setting Hide. It doesn't make much sense that it should be keyed off Dexterity when Hide is used to prepare your hiding place before going to sleep – here, Intelligence would make much more sense. I'm contemplating a house-rule for this but I want to support it with precedents.


3 Answers 3


Allowing skill checks to use different ability scores for skill checks in unusual situations is already an official rules variant suggested on page 33 of the Dungeon Master's Guide. It's in the page footer, and in addition to some examples of using different ability scores with your skill ranks, has this to say:

These sorts of unusual situations are always handled on a case-by-case basis, and only as exceptions. The vast majority of the time, use the normal key ability. Remember that when you change the way a skill works in this fashion, you should dictate when the change comes into play-it's not up to a player to make this sort of decision. Players may try to rationalize why they should get to use their best ability score modifier with a skill that doesn't normally use that ability, but you shouldn't allow this sort of rule change unless you happen to agree with it.


First off, thanks for the mention.

In D&D it often really doesn't matter which trait you use after a certain point unless you're min/maxing like crazy because a difference of 1-3 on the trait mod when you're sitting on a +10 skill rank. When it comes down to it, ability score substitution should be for rare or specific situations.

That said, why it should be considered comes from the more modular games I tend to play, especially L5R, there are a host of traits that all serve different purposes in the game so it's only natural to play mix and match when the roll calls for it. My players will want to know the quality of a sword and suddenly Int+Kenjutsu is being rolled, temporarily overriding the conventional Agi-based roll. The RAW even says something about saving throws, which is along the lines that sometimes you might want to make a Reflex save using Str instead of Dex. Although this option sort of got sideswiped a bit by feats like "Dexterous Fortitude" which let you swap out a given stat on a given saving throw whenever your heart desires.

When it comes to substituting traits for the more "important" things, IE combat, there are a slew of feats that allow you to substitute stats for all sorts of things, especially To Hit rolls (like using Wis + BAB). Plus, d20 is meant to be an adaptable system and thus as long as your table agrees to it, it can be put into effect.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "it often really doesn't matter which trait you use... because a difference of 1-3 on the trait mod when you're sitting on a +10 skill rank. " -- In 3.5, changing the stat might be a difference of 6 or 7 easily, and if you're not trained in the skill that'll be huge! This advice is way off. \$\endgroup\$
    – starwed
    Apr 17, 2013 at 13:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ A difference of 6-7 isn't easily attained in 3.5. It's certainly possible but not easy. However, it's a fair point that stat modifiers can make a reasonable difference at lower levels. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gaxx
    Apr 17, 2013 at 17:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ At the lowest levels I agree with you starwed. However, by level 6 you can have a +10 skill rank alone and that's still considered low level. Also, I feel that there was a lot more to my answer than just that comment. \$\endgroup\$
    – CatLord
    Apr 17, 2013 at 17:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ By level 6 can't you have the maximum of +6 skill ranks, on a given skill? \$\endgroup\$
    – RMalke
    Apr 17, 2013 at 18:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RenanMalkeStigliani - In D&D 3/3.5, you can have up to Level+3 ranks in a skill if it's a class skill, and half of that for a non-class skill. What CatLord probably meant was a +10 skill modifier which is, in fact, trivial at 6th level. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bobson
    Apr 17, 2013 at 18:38

In my games only certain classes get these special skills.

The easiest examples include the barbarian and his lock pick (sledge hammer) changing open lock and disable device from dex based to strength based. I realize this is just a specific use of sunder item...but it removes a lot of the repetitive dice rolls and allows a logical pass/fail when the rogue is otherwise engaged (or the barbarian is impatient).

Sleight of hand as a strength based application of pick pocket...pick up target by the ankles and shake all the valuables out of his pockets.

Move silently as a charisma based check....(while pointing a loaded ballista at a 1 hd kobold threateningly) "you never saw me".

Some of the last examples are less skill checks...but they were hilarious role-play moments

  • \$\begingroup\$ That's neither Sleight-of-Hand/Pick-Pocketing nor a situation where you are Moving Silently. The former is a "Roll Strength to see what you can shake out." The latter is a "Roll Intimidate to see if they'll stay quiet." There's nothing wrong with doing it this way, but if you're changing the key score for this, you're being TOO lenient. Even for the Sledge Hammer as a Lock Pick: that would be pure Strength, with good chance of perma-locking the lock. Also, I have a sneaking suspicion you're using 5e as your source of experience. If so, this is not as helpful seeing as the question is for 3.5e. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 15, 2018 at 5:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Take the tour. The site doesn't handle jokes well. An answer is supposed help readers by addressing the question… and if over the course of the answer there's some funny, that's cool. Similarly, the site respects users' practical experience—time playing often yields the best answers. That said, consider editing this answer so as to share your experiences with this topic in a serious fashion and, while you do, also being funny. (Honestly, I, too, think the site could laugh more.) Thank you for participating, and I hope this interaction doesn't wreck the site for you. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 15, 2018 at 11:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ An addendum to my earlier comment: My apologies if I came across too harshly, Timmermans. Your answer just came across as though you were suggesting ignoring the basics of the mechanics for the sake of comedy. If you were trying to be genuinely helpful on the topic, I am sorry for my response. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 16, 2018 at 4:35

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