This comes up to me in the context of the 3.x/PF/d20 Fly skill, even when I simply read about it: Can you intentionally fail a Fly skill check, or any other skill check for that matter, if you, or your character for that matter, decides that the effects of failing the check are what is desired in the situation?


Take a a shapeshifted Draconian cruising at high altitude, with a few friends on his back who have some means of breathing air supply, whether it be mundane or magical. Now lets say that the air supply goes kablooie, similar to a decompression or all-packs-trip in an airliner. For the sake of the folks on his back -- if not himself, depending on if dragon forms need supplemental air to fly at such high altitudes, the Draconian has to lose altitude, and fast. Considering that by RAW, a Fly check failure leaves yourself falling, would saying "I initiate a rapid descent" be enough to treat the next Fly check as an intentional failure, or would you have to roll a 'reverse' Fly check, where failing the check gives you the desired outcome of a rapid descent, and succeeding leaves you stuck at altitude?

P.S. I added the rules-as-written tag because a RAW answer is highly desired here, albeit not mandatory. I can already mostly figure it out from a simulationist standpoint, but that answer involves going in-depth into airline flying and non-normal procedures.


10 Answers 10


Note: I endorse Simanos's answer—especially as it covers flying, which is unreasonably and enormously complicated. However, as the question asks for a answer, this seemed relevant.

A creature can't intentionally fail a skill check, but a creature can try not to succeed on a skill check

I know that sounds like I'm splitting hairs, and, to a degree, I am, but choosing to fail isn't really a thing. When a creature has a choice whether to make a skill check, a creature can either make the skill check normally or not make the check. It takes a designer to step in and offer a third option: A creature can opt to give less than its all when making a skill check.

Sometimes a creature won't have the option to give less than its all—most skill checks made as reactions function in such a manner (for example, an attentive guard's Perception skill made in reaction to a ninja's Stealth skill check or a wary police detective's Sense Motive skill check made in reaction to a suspect's Bluff skill check). A creature can make the check more difficult for itself—perhaps by deliberately penalizing its Listen, Spot, or Perception skill checks with a cell phone, earplugs, a blindfold, or cologne, or deliberately penalizing its Sense Motive skill check by chugging booze and smoking hallucinogens—, but such measures are usually undertaken well before the check-that's-a-reaction is made and not something the creature can do in response to having to make—that is, in response to being forced by the game system to make—the skill check.

On the other hand, a skill check a creature can choose to make isn't failed by not making it. Instead, the skill check's result is unknown because the task remains untried. For example, if the GM says, "To reach the top of Mount Doom-doom-doom ('We're thrice doomed!'), Egaad the Unsturdy must make 279 successful Climb skill checks (DC 134)," Egaad's player can (and probably should) say, "That's stupid, and Egaad's not doing that," and Egaad'll suffer the consequences—if any—for his choice. That's not failing 279 Climb skill checks (which, if it were, would suck and be weird); instead, that's just not making a ridiculous number of Climb skill checks.

But between those extremes, at least one of the game's designers allows more granularity than just the bog standard of roll, take 10, and take 20. In the Dragon #311 Dungeoncraft column "Dungeon Adventure, Part III: The Inhabitants," Monte Cook includes this sidebar:

Taking 0

…An NPC guard makes a Listen check because he's on duty, alert, and expecting trouble, but what about NPCs who are not alert? What about a room full of bandits playing cards? Surely they don't deserve the same kind of Listen check as the alert guard.

To simulate this, you can assume that all guards take 10 on their Listen checks and that other inhabitants who are not actively being "alert" take 0. "Taking 0" is just like taking 10. You assume that the character taking 0 got a 0 result on the die because he wasn't even trying. However, when the DC is low, or when skill bonuses are high, taking 0 can still result in a lot of success. It allows you [the DM] to determine at which point someone who isn't paying any attention might still hear something (or Spot something).

You can do something similar with sleeping characters, but instead of taking 0, they take −10. (97)

Emphasis mine. (For context, Monte Cook is one of the authors of Dungeons and Dragons, Third Edition—specifically, he gets the primary writing credit for the Dungeon Master's Guide (2000)—, and that's the game upon which the Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 revision is based and that's the game upon which Pathfinder is based.)

So while this sidebar concerns itself primarily with on- and off-duty guards making Listen checks, the idea of taking 0 ("Meh") or even taking −10 ("I can do this in my sleep!") is endorsed by one of the game's designers. And, by extension, a generous GM could rule that a creature could take even less than −10, instead taking −20 ("I could do this dead!") or even taking −30 ("I could do this if I never existed!" …or something). By the same token, a GM can rule that a creature deliberately opting to make a skill check by rolling the die can further opt not to try and suffer a −10 penalty (or worse) on the check.

Thus a creature that chooses to make a skill check at all can't intentionally and absolutely fail the skill check, but the GM may allow the creature making such a check to put forth so so little effort that a result of less than the necessary DC is nearly guaranteed, which, in the end, will look to outsiders a whole lot like intentional failure.


From http://www.d20pfsrd.com/skills/fly

You generally need only make a Fly check when you are attempting a complex maneuver. Without making a check, a flying creature can remain flying at the end of its turn so long as it moves a distance greater than half its speed. It can also turn up to 45 degrees by sacrificing 5 feet of movement, can rise at half speed at an angle of 45 degrees, and can descend at any angle at normal speed.

Assuming the above scenario, you don't have to fail a fly check, and can fly straight down based on the RAW rules. You don't need to fail a fly to descend at your fly speed. You would free fall approximately 30ft per second per second (~9.8m/s^2), and ~540ft in the first round (twice that in all subsequent rounds), so if your fly speed is higher than 135 feet (runx4)flying straight down might be faster than falling. You could probably also take a double move or a run if you're not going to take an action other than flying during a round.

Yes. You can intentionally fail a check.

As to the answer whether or not you want to fail a skill check intentionally is concerned, Yes. You can do so. But it isn't necessary for you to roll a check in the first place because descending at your fly speed isn't a complex maneuver.


Can you intentionally fail a Fly skill check, or any other skill check for that matter, if you, or your character for that matter, decides that the effects of failing the check are what is desired in the situation?

The other answers cover the Fly situations, and I agree that there you can intentionally fail, with the caveat that it's actually a failure: you can't crash on a target, say.

However, in general there definitely are situations for which I would require a roll, and not allow an intentional failure. For example:

  • Listen – you either hear something or you don't. Even if it's something you don't want to hear, like bardic music or geas. (Assuming it happens without warning, otherwise you can e.g. cover ears.)
  • Bluff – if you want to get caught in a bluff you need to either try to bluff or fake getting caught (requiring another bluff), otherwise the other party will know something fishy is going on.
  • Maybe some knowledge checks – you'd have to bluff to claim you don't know something if you get asked about it.
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would also add to the list at the bottom: Anything where the rules are assuming that trying to succeed is an inherent part of the action being resolved. As DM I would also reserve that for situations where hitpoints gained or lost are decided by the roll (partly because transactions involving hitpoints make a lot of assumptions about what the hitpoints represent, partly because some game effects allow you to trade off against being hit or damage taken - more of a 4E thing, but still open to some abuse in other versions). \$\endgroup\$ Oct 10, 2014 at 14:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Instead of mandating a Listen roll, wouldn't it make more sense to call that a Reflex save? You generally use saving throws when you want to avoid something, rather than accomplish something. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jim Dagg
    Oct 10, 2014 at 17:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you either "hear something or you don't", then how is there skill involved? If something is considered a "skill", it seems to follow that there's some effort involved in doing it. So if it takes effort to do something, you should be able to not put in enough effort in order to not do it. Or, perhaps, listen might be like bluff. You have to make an effort to NOT hear something. \$\endgroup\$
    – DLeh
    Oct 10, 2014 at 20:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ That second example seems like it should be Sense Motive, not Bluff - intentionally failing to trick someone is easy enough, but intentionally letting yourself get fooled is harder. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 10, 2014 at 23:33

There are pretty logical answers to the context of this question in the actual rules:

D&D 3.5: Minimum Forward Speed

If a flying creature fails to maintain its minimum forward speed, it must land at the end of its movement. If it is too high above the ground to land, it falls straight down, descending 150 feet in the first round of falling. If this distance brings it to the ground, it takes falling damage. If the fall doesn’t bring the creature to the ground, it must spend its next turn recovering from the stall. It must succeed on a DC 20 Reflex save to recover. Otherwise it falls another 300 feet. If it hits the ground, it takes falling damage. Otherwise, it has another chance to recover on its next turn.

A flying creature can fly down at twice its normal flying speed.

What these two rules mean is that you can OBVIOUSLY choose to fall down, but recovering from the fall requires a DC 20 Reflex save. They assume that the flier doesn't really fall as fast as a normal human due to wings and air resistance (I would also houserule that falling damage is halved for fliers). They also assume that you reach terminal velocity in 6 seconds which is pretty accurate for humans too. So 150 feet the first round and 300 all the next ones. A non-flier creature like a human falls at about 4 times that speed according to D&D 3.5 FAQ page 112 (600/1200). Which is similar to real world physics:

Based on wind resistance, for example, the terminal velocity of a skydiver in a belly-to-earth (i.e., face down) free-fall position is about 195 km/h (122 mph or 54 m/s). This velocity is the asymptotic limiting value of the acceleration process, because the effective forces on the body balance each other more and more closely as the terminal velocity is approached. In this example, a speed of 50% of terminal velocity is reached after only about 3 seconds, while it takes 8 seconds to reach 90%, 15 seconds to reach 99% and so on.

Higher speeds can be attained if the skydiver pulls in his or her limbs (see also freeflying). In this case, the terminal velocity increases to about 320 km/h (200 mph or 90 m/s), which is almost the terminal velocity of the Peregrine Falcon diving down on its prey. The same terminal velocity is reached for a typical .30-06 bullet dropping downwards—when it is returning to earth having been fired upwards, or dropped from a tower—according to a 1920 U.S. Army Ordnance study. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terminal_velocity#Examples

If you instead choose to fly down you can easily double move at twice your speed and (assuming at least average maneuverability) go straight down at 4x your fly speed in a round (with no checks even). It wouldn't be a bad houserule to do some check (like DC 15 Reflex) to fall/go down even faster. Don't be a mean DM. A creature can use the run action while flying, provided it flies in a straight line. So maybe even x8 your fly speed is allowable (run is x4, fly down is twice your speed), unless you used a spell to fly which usually say no run allowed.

The PATHFINDER rules on flying are not very good and the FAQ answer is slightly illogical. They also lack a rule for recovering from a plummet to the ground scenario (I assume they were only thinking of low level flight so you reach the ground in a single round). This is what I'd rule you'd have to make a fly check about! To recover! I'd allow a flying mount to dive after a free falling character per Falcon diving at higher speed than a human in belly-to-earth position. Though catching him might also require a check, I'd consider myself a bit of a mean DM if I required 2 checks to save a PC from death. Maybe if he could survive the fall but be badly injured, I'd ask for 2 checks. Maybe not.

Remember, in both cases and using a Cubic Grid ("imaginary" cubes instead of squares), it is easier to consider your speed as constant instead of halved or doubled, and to assume it costs 1 more cube of your move allowance for the round per cube you went upwards and -0.5 for each downwards movement. For example, if you have fly at 60 speed, your move action is 12 cubes. You can go 24 cubes directly down (cost 0.5), or 6 cubes directly up (cost 2). You could go diagonally upwards at 45 degrees for 2.5 cubes cost each step and diagonally downwards for only 1 cost. Or any combination your maneuverability and speed allows (I would let fractions left over to be added to next move action or double move).

In general there's no need to fail a skill check

I think the above was your main concern, but if you care about failing any skill check in general then consider the context of each scenario there too. All they have to do to fail a check is to do nothing (ride, balance, climb, etc) or do shoddy, hasty work (craft, knowledge, spot, etc). Of course if they have to cover up this fact they may have to bluff, but it shouldn't be too hard. The questions you have to ask is what is the creature trying to accomplish and why is he trying to accomplish it by failing a skill check. In most cases it's a non-issue. However in some cases it can be an issue. For example a PC is captured and he has to roll a Knowledge check to see if he knows something important that the enemies can "torture" out of him (magically probably). You can't intentionally fail that check in my opinion. But these corner cases are pretty limited.

I found extra official info that agrees with my answer: Link

Deliberately Freefalling: A flying creature can simply stop flying and allow itself to drop like a stone. Exiting a freefall requires a full-round action (during which the creature falls 500 or 1,000 feet). A creature with Perfect maneuverability exits a freefall automatically, less maneuverable creatures require a Reflex save (DC 20). If the check fails, the creature stalls (even if it does not have a minimum forward speed), though during its next turn it can attempt to recover from the stall after falling 300 feet.

A creature with average, poor, or clumsy maneuverability suffers 3d6 points of nonlethal damage when it exits a freefall (or when it stalls from a failed attempt to leave freefall) due to the stress on its body. A freefalling creature with a fly speed can automatically recover from a freefall if it receives a feather fall spell, but only after falling 60 feet; the creature suffers no damage from the recovery.

Fast Freefalls: A creature with a fly speed can propel itself downward as a move action, adding up to twice its flying speed to the distance it freefalls. A creature with Perfect maneuverability can make a fast freefall automatically, while less maneuverable creatures require a Reflex save (DC 15). If the save fails, the creature stalls. On a successful check the creature fast freefalls for a full round.

Catching: As a full-round action, a flyer can catch a freefalling creature or object, or a stalling creature, provided that the falling creature or object is at least one size category smaller than the creature attempting the catch.

To make the catch, the creature must make a successful melee touch attack to grab the falling creature or object (a creature can voluntarily forego any Dexterity bonus to AC if desired). If the grab succeeds, the catching creature must make a Reflex save (DC 25) to keep flying. If the save fails by 4 or less, the catcher drops the falling creature or object. If the save fails by 5 or more, the catcher drops the falling creature or object and stalls if it has a minimum forward speed. If the catcher does not have a minimum forward speed, it falls 1d4x10 feet.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 great answer. The d&d 3.5 flying rules are a mess, but in this case they actually provide a somewhat reasonable outcome. \$\endgroup\$
    – mbocek
    May 28, 2015 at 17:08

Yes. (ish)

As Sandwich points out, Fly (and skills in general) generally only need to be used when there is some possibility of failure or difficulties. Falling from a height would not usually be considered such. It becomes rolling dice for the sake of rolling dice.

Interestingly enough however, this interpretation is not completely borne out in the RAW. Both PF and 3.5 simply state "When your character uses a skill, ...", with no actual conditions for when this is/is not the case. While most could probably figure this out from the simple examples of skills in use given, it would not be completely out of the question to read it as requiring a roll whenever some task that would fall under the skill umbrella is done.

Even if interpreted this way however, it is still likely that the DC for falling from midair would be well into the negatives, seeing as it is usually something (most) creatures would actively have to avoid. As Frazz notes in the comments above however, a rapid descent is a slightly more difficult manoeuvre that may actually require a successful check.



In almost every game or circumstance, it would seem pretty odd if you couldn't do something and intentionally fail.

There are surely some exceptions, perhaps such as psychic or magic attempts with certain rules or logical commitments needed.

If you want to fail but look like you were trying, that might require (a note to the GM, if you want to fool the other players, too, and) a skill check (perhaps against Acting skill) to not be obvious about it.

In the flying example, flying rules may make a distinction between controlled descent, diving, and uncontrolled falling. Failing may result in uncontrolled falling and/or a roll on some sort of accident result table, which might also be triggered by saying you intentionally fail to fly. But in real life, many fliers can skillfully dive not only more safely, but also faster, than by "failing to fly".


I don't see why you would need to make a skill check in the first place--just fold your wings.

Personally, I would require a skill check to pull out of the plummet, though, unless you can shed your speed by some other means (say, feather fall.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ How high would you set the DC for the skill check to pull out of the plummet? Is there any actual rules for this check in Pathfinder? \$\endgroup\$
    – Simanos
    Nov 18, 2014 at 20:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree... the tough part is not beginning a freefall. @Simanos I would rule something depending on the carrying weight and speed (for how long did he freefall? just how many friends is he hauling?). \$\endgroup\$
    – Roflo
    Aug 2, 2016 at 15:31


This is what makes roleplaying interesting, and is an option in every roleplaying game. A game that forces the player's choice is not a roleplaying game.

As far as I know, there is no rule against this in 3.x/d20.


I'll leave a quote I heard a couple years back on the subject of rules for roleplaying:

In poker, there are no rules for bluffing.


Surely this is a matter of: player states desired aim, DM assigned target number and appropriate skill, roll to determine success or failure,

In most cases you dont deliberately fail a check you just succeed at a different one.

Your bard wants to sing so badly to drive customers from a Tavern .. actually that surprisingly difficult to do well :)


From a strictly RAW POV, with a DM out to get you, possibly, but you can avoid it. As ltab notes:

Both PF and 3.5 simply state "When your character uses a skill, ...", with no actual conditions for when this is/is not the case.

By this logic, if you make a fly check, you might have to roll and proceed using that result. But there are ways around this: can you take 10? In this case probably not, but in general, do so. Ideally, taking 10 causes a failure, at worst it avoids the dreaded possibility of a Nat 20. If not, modifiers may help. Trying to get armor check penalties by donning armor midair should give a nice negative bonus.

You could argue that having the knowledge of doing a skill implies that you have learned how not to do the skill. Otherwise, how would you know what not to do? Using this logic, you could argue that one could "roll fly to freefall" for example. This actually makes a lot of sense if you extend it. Attempting to offend someone should require a successful diplomacy check, else your insults might be taken in jest.

Finally, you could just not make a fly check, which would satisfy even the most hardnosed of rule lawyers. If you can choose not to try (as Hassassin notes, some skill checks are involuntary, like listen, spot, knowledges, etc.), nothing obligates you to actually make the check in the first place.


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