As noted in this question in many cases a party is going to be able to reasonably gain advantage on a check due to simply working together.

However what happens when the party also gets some extra knowledge that should grant them advantage, such as seeing someone go into a room and disappearing without using the only door being a hint towards a secret passage. There is no "double advantage" as far as I understand it. Furthermore what if instead of highly suspecting a secret door (they could have teleported or turned invisible) they informed ahead of time that a room had a secret door somewhere in the ceiling? Now they have even more specific knowledge, are presumably assisting one another, and by my knowledge of RAW they still only get advantage?

Noted in this example situation you might just rule that it is so highly weighted in their favor that they just find the door, but this could apply to hundreds of different situations and even here part of the problem could be something like a powerful protective spell of some sort that doesn't allow for automatic success.

Obviously a GM can and should make on the fly adjustments for these situations, but does 5e have any specific RAW instructions for these situations?


4 Answers 4


Rules explicitly as written:

  • Attack Rolls grant or revoke cover
  • Ability Checks Pick a different (better) ability or (proficient instead of non-proficient) skill, set an easier/harder DC.
  • Saving Rolls grant cover.

Remember: cover grants +2 to +5 AC.

Remember: many ability check DCs are really just someone else's passive score, so you can advantage/disadvantage the other guy, too, and shift the DC by 5, and be explicitly within the rules.

Reading between the lines

A circumstance bonus of ±5 or less is in line with the VERY few bonuses listed in the rules. Namely, Cover (+0/+2/+5 AC and Dex saves), Concealment (+2 to +5 AC) and advantage/disadvantage on passive ability scores (+5/-5).

Applying conditions may be equivalent. If the advantage to hit is overwhelming, then declare that the target is "effectively prone." If the disadvantage to hit is overwhelming, declare an automatic miss on anything but a 20. If the disadvantage to save is overwhelming, give advantage on the DC needed (it's essentially a Passive Ability Check at -2) for a +5 to the DC. If the advantage to save is overwhelming, put disadvantage on the save DC, reducing it by 5...

  • Just say "You succeed" rather than worry about rolling with overwhelming advantage.

Going afield

Feature based...

It's possible to do a number of things that not explicitly in the rules, but are well in line with the assorted class features and spells.

  • Granting a single bonus die to the check total - in the same manner as the Bard feature Bardic Inspiration.
  • Increasing an attribute by 2 for some reason - to a maximum of Attribute 20 - in line with a couple spells. Effectively a +1.
  • Allowing a reroll on a failure, in line with Luck.

Invoking Optional Rules

Invoking optional rules on a single use basis can be a good option.

Technically, this includes switching to a better attribute and proficient skill, but is easier when the option to use skills with any attribute is used.

Invoke the rolled proficiency - this is generally a +0.5 bonus worth... but always leave this one to the player's decision.

New Methodology

Allow rolling 3d20 keeping the best 1. This does the least damage to bounded accuracy.

Allow standard inspiration to be used as bardic inspiration.

Have a pixie bard or the shade of a bard cast a boon upon the PC... for bardic inspiration of some die size.

Grant a bonus to damage.

Roll 1d20 & 1d24 or 1d20 & 1d30 instead of 2d20 when using "über-advantage". (Breaks bounded accuracy. Badly)

Advisoriam - Memento Morti (Advisories: Remember Death)

If you go beyond the standard bounds, things often get to the point where one should not bother to roll.

If you disadvantage the targets AC, and advantage the attack roll, you have almost ensured a hit... and bend the bounds of bounded accuracy a good bit.

If you allow a 3d20k1 for "über advantage", you just shoved the chances of crit from advatage's 39/400 (9.75%) to 1141/8000 (14.26%), but still allow for mandatory failure (1/8000). And at 4d20k1, 29679/160,000 (18.55%). But what you don't do is break bounded accuracy.

At a certain point, it's fine to just "say yes" or "say no" rather than bother with the roll.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I chose this answer not because I felt the other answers were substantially worse, given miniman's comment in the first answer it could have easily been accepted had a reference been included, but because of the requested reference to RAW. \$\endgroup\$
    – Patrick
    Mar 30, 2015 at 10:57

Story can influence the check beyond advantage

As a GM you are the one setting the DC that the players need to meet to find the hidden door (in your example). Maybe thats a DC 20 normally, but their having literally seen which wall/bookcase was used should help them to focus their search, thus rather than trying every object in a room they have a focal point and the DC can be lowered.

GM Advice: Checks should be made only when time matters or if the players are just guessing at possibilities.

If I was GMing your example and the party told me they knew where the hidden door was (and it matched where I had put it) I would simply allow the party to "Take 20" to look for the door, spending 20 minutes and guaranteeing a d20 result for the check to find the door. Take 20 isn't a guarantee of success (the DC could still be higher than 20 + their skill level), but in most cases they will succeed. Taking 20 is done to avoid long dice rolls during which nothing happens and the end result is still that the PCs find the door. The time not to use Take 20 is when their is imminent danger/threat bearing down on the PCs or there is a time requirement for their actions in which case every die roll is now weighed down with powerful influence over the state of the game/narrative.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Great point on lowering DCs! \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Mar 27, 2015 at 15:57
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Lowering DCs is essentially the same as just giving a static bonus with the caveat that it has a more behind the scenes "GM" focus than a player focus. The question remains from a RAW standpoint since static bonuses are discouraged, are dynamic DC's mentioned/permitted/encouraged? \$\endgroup\$
    – Patrick
    Mar 27, 2015 at 16:31
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @Patrick Considering it is highly promoted that DM's create DC's based on the difficulty of a task, it is completely within the realm of the DM's power from a RAW standpoint to determine that the difficulty is lower. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aviose
    Mar 27, 2015 at 17:45
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Patrick There are a number of cases in the adventures published so far where circumstances cause the DC to be lowered exactly as described in this answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Mar 28, 2015 at 1:26

You have options in a case like this.

I'm going to present 4 of them with a reasonable pro and con for each of them. You will need to select the right one for your circumstance/game or choose to implement something else (Though they are kind of broad, so you'll likely land one one of these).

  • Grant proficiency on the check. This ranges from a +2 to a +6 bonus depending on the level of your PCs, so it's a nice solid bonus that scales. This is great in a case where it's a skill that will be used over and over again, where advantage is already present, or where it's not obvious that advantage is a good choice. The con here is that if it's an existing skill (I highly recommend doing this for checks that don't use an existing skill, but have a solid narrative explanation for why a PC knows this), it can overshadow someone who has taken proficiency in this.

  • Grant Expertise. This doubles proficiency in something your already proficient in. Again, this is a possible thing that scales and provides a hefty bonus. It's drawback is it overshadows existing class features for bards and rogues and makes them less useful.

  • Grant half of proficiency. This is often used as a catch all (Bard's jack of all trades feature). And granting it does reduce the impact of the bard class overall. however, it's a great smaller bonus for a situation.

  • Grant a set static bonus. This is something that 5e does try to avoid in general (Because basically all bonuses and penalties stack). However, in specific circumstances, it can be a good idea to implement this instead of basing your choice on proficiency.

So in general, use the proficiency system if you find yourself needing to grant a bonus in addition to or instead of advantage. This provides a nice solid bonus. Proficiency and half proficiency don't stack with proficiency but expertise does, which provides a very nice range of options for how to go about implementing a bonus system beyond normal advantage by using constructs already in existence in the system. Again, if you find a situation where this does not work for you, then a static bonus (remember that every +1 increases the odds of success by 5%, so figure out how likely you want your occurance to be and grant) would work in a pinch.

  • \$\begingroup\$ These are all good options, and as a GM I have no objection to on the fly adjustments for the right circumstances, but I am more interested in knowing if there are and RAW examples specifically. Even if just implied through flavor text. \$\endgroup\$
    – Patrick
    Mar 27, 2015 at 16:34
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @patrick, the raw is basically circumstantial proficiency, but generally raw only uses adv for this. Point of adv was yo roll up all circ bonuses \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Mar 27, 2015 at 16:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ do you happen to know the specific book or even better book section? \$\endgroup\$
    – Patrick
    Mar 27, 2015 at 16:38
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @pat I'll poke around see if I can find a quote \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Mar 27, 2015 at 16:38

So, coming from 3.5 myself, I'm also a very Rules as Written kind of guy. And 5th Edition does this, in a very round about way, but follow me for a second and you'll see how circumstantial bonuses are TOTALLY a part of 5th just as much as they were in 3.5 and PF (sorry for that run on sentence).

  1. p. 5 of the DMG states, "The Player's Handbook contains the main rules you need to play the game."

  2. p. 7 of the PHB lists Step 2 of The D20 section as, "2. Apply circumstantial bonuses and penalties." And goes on to say, "A class feature, a spell, a particular circumstance, or some other effect might give a bonus or penalty to the check."

  3. p. 5 of the DMG previously mentions, "The rules don't account for every possible situation that might arise during a typical D&D session." It then states an example of a character throwing a flaming brazier at an enemy and goes on to say, "How you determine the outcome of this action is up to you."

Taking all 3 points into account, the responsibility falls on you to make the call. If you're like me and familiar with the 3.5 and PF rule set, and it's up to us as the DM to figure it out, there's nothing that says you can't use a previous editions rules. So +2/-2, +4/-4, and so on, away!

It makes 5th as much like 3.5, PF or 4th as you and your group want. So knock yourself and have fun with your circumstantial mods. :D

TL;DR—You're over thinking it. If you want to add a circumstantial mod to the roll, then do it. Who cares?


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .