I've seen answers to this question for Pathfinder and D&D 5, but I cannot seem to locate any explicit statements for D&D 3.5. Essentially, I'm looking for a reference that explains whether or not Ability Checks, Attack Rolls, and Damage Rolls are mechanically distinct, or if Attack Rolls and/or Damage Rolls are a special subset of Ability Checks.

I've read through various versions of the SRD and searched through my pdf of the Dungeon Master's Guide, and come up empty. My instinct is that they are separate and distinct, but since Ability modifiers do affect Attack and Damage rolls, the opposite argument is difficult to counter.

Can someone help?


3 Answers 3


Your examples are distinct

Damage rolls, in particular, are completely different from any other check, since they do not use a d20, but rather anywhere from 1d2 to 2d6 (and that’s just for player-race-sized options!) plus various “damage bonuses” that vary from weapon to weapon (non-composite projectile weapons get none, light weapons get half-Strength, one-handed weapons get Strength, two-handed weapons get half-again-Strength, composite projectile weapons get a fixed number, and exceptions and special cases exist for each) and from class to class (rogues might add Sneak Attack damage, rangers may add Favored Enemy bonuses, etc).

But attack rolls are also distinct from any ability checks, whether that be Strength or Dexterity. For one thing, they use Base Attack Bonus and auto-succeed on a nat-20 and auto-fail on a nat-1, and have critical threats and critical hits, and all kinds of other things that apply “attack bonuses,” and ability checks do none of these things.

Skills too, for all they represent almost the same thing as ability checks, just with training added, are not technically ability checks. Bonuses to ability checks wouldn’t apply to skill checks (which is why almost every single bonus to ability checks is actually explicitly a bonus to ability checks and to skill checks using that ability).

Some rolls are subsets or specific types of other types

The big one is Initiative, which is a Dexterity ability check. There probably are other examples. But in every case, this is explicitly noted:

Initiative Checks

At the start of a battle, each combatant makes an initiative check. An initiative check is a Dexterity check.

(emphasis and emphasis mine)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Accepted this answer as it provides clear rules-based examples of the rolls being distinct. From my understanding this item is specifically addressed in Pathfinder and D&D 5, so I was hoping there would be a specific rules reference in this version of the system. That there is not be really doesn't surprise me, sadly. I wish my friends liked other games. Thanks for taking the time, everybody. \$\endgroup\$
    – dxapp
    Commented Oct 2, 2014 at 19:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dxapp I would be really surprised if D&D 5 explicitly addressed this, and I'm almost certain Pathfinder doesn't (except possibly in some obscure forum post that happened to be made by a developer), it's just kind of assumed that things that are named differently will be understood as different things. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 2, 2014 at 19:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can't find my reference for Pathfinder, and I don't have that rule book, so I can't back up my belief at this point. Nor, honestly, do I have an up-to-date version of D&D 5, but I was basing that belief off of this SE Post, which I came across earlier. It's possible that the references have change in the final document. \$\endgroup\$
    – dxapp
    Commented Oct 2, 2014 at 19:48
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan 5e explicitly addresses this because it leverages "X roll is an ability roll" rules in the core of the system. Because it does that, it also takes pains to point out where that's not true. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 2, 2014 at 19:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Fair, that makes sense. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 2, 2014 at 19:49

They are all distinct.

Basically, unless a game says that two different but similar things are the same for some purpose or other, they're not. Otherwise the rulebooks would be three thousand pages long, noting every possible fact and interaction explicitly.


Dexterity and Strength-based checks are affected by Armor Class Penalty.

Damage and attack rolls are not thusly affected.

That is because, despite being 'rolls', they are not skill checks.

Similarly, ability-checks do not (normally) cause damage, they are not attack rolls and they certainly are NOT damage rolls.

They may have similarities at a glance, but everything with a distinct name is distinct. And they are only subject to the rules about that thing.


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