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It might be to force the lock off or smash the chest entirely. I wasn't sure if you can use a Saving throw to open it (In this case a Strength check) or if you have to use skill modifiers in checks (Athletics).

I'm confused because if you a Proficient in strength, the modifier is added to the "Saving Throw". I don't think Athletics is appropriate for this check.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Understanding, now, that Strength can be used for a check where athletics does not apply, does this mean you cannot add your proficiency bonus to that? It makes sense as it would be the penalty for applying your general ability towards a task with a lot of scope. \$\endgroup\$ – Raxs Slayer Feb 7 '16 at 12:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ability checks without an applicable skill represent things that training and experience don't help with. You can train to be better at running, climbing and jumping -- that's Athletics, and the advantage you get from training is your proficiency bonus. But the only way to get better at lifting, pushing, pulling and breaking things by brute force is to get stronger (thus improving your Strength modifier). \$\endgroup\$ – Marq Feb 7 '16 at 12:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: What is the difference between Ability Checks and Saving Throws? And: When do you add the proficiency bonus? \$\endgroup\$ – Marq Feb 7 '16 at 12:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ [Related] How do I determine whether an item should break when its container is smashed open? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 20 '16 at 1:47
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A Strength check is appropriate.

Strength Checks, PHB, p. 175

A Strength check can model any attempt to lift, push, pull, or break something ...

Ability checks are not saving throws, and proficiency with an ability's saving throws is independent of any bonuses to ability checks. There is no such thing as being "proficient in Strength"; there is proficiency with Strength saving throws, and there is proficiency with the (strength-based) Athletics skill.

Some class features may add part of the proficiency bonus to some unskilled ability checks -- see the Bard's Jack of All Trades feature (PHB, p. 54) and the Champion fighter archetype's Remarkable Athlete feature (PHP, p. 72). Both of these would apply to breaking the lock on a chest.

Generally speaking, saving throws are used to avoid or mitigate the effects of a spell, attack, or hazard. Characters usually don't initiate actions that succeed or fail on the basis of their own saving throw.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "Force open a stuck, locked, or barred door" is listed at the top of page 176 in the "other uses for strength checks" as well. \$\endgroup\$ – MrLemon Feb 7 '16 at 11:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Okay, so what you are saying is that you can use an Abilities or Skills to perform checks, so does that mean if you undertake a broad Strength check you do not add your proficiency bonus to that check? \$\endgroup\$ – Raxs Slayer Feb 7 '16 at 12:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ You do not add your proficiency bonus to regular Strength checks. If you are making a Strength (Athletics) check, and you have proficiency with Athletics, then you add your proficiency bonus to the check. Having proficiency with Strength saving throws doesn't make any difference to any Strength ability checks. \$\endgroup\$ – Marq Feb 7 '16 at 12:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ It may be worth adding that some class features may add part of your proficiency bonus to unskilled ability checks (notably the Bard's Jack of All Trades and the Fighter's Remarkable Athlete). \$\endgroup\$ – MrNattious Feb 8 '16 at 19:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think your last sentence needs some work: characters often do initiate actions (cough spells cough) that succeed or fail on the basis of a saving throw. But this isn't one of those situations. Perhaps replace the last sentence with a contrasting example? Just a thought.... \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Feb 9 '16 at 15:08

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