In Dungeons & Dragons (DND), player characters face difficult and dangerous situations. The outcome of these encounters is determined by various attributes and dice rolls.
One of these attributes is called DC.
What does DC mean in DND?
In Dungeons & Dragons, DC stands for Difficulty Class. DC is a number that represents the difficulty of a task or action. DC can be very easy, easy, medium, hard, very hard, and nearly impossible. Players roll dice against DC to determine success or failure for ability checks and saving throws.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about what DC means in DND.
What Does DC Mean in DND? (Official Definition)
The official meaning of DC in DND is difficulty class.
However, some people also refer to DC as a difficulty check or even a dice check.
According to the official Player’s Handbook difficulty class (DC) is “the target number for an ability check or saving throw.”
Therefore, DC is directly linked to a character’s:
- Success or failure
- Spellcasting power
- Decision making
As you can see, DC is an essential element in the moment-by-moment player experience of a Dungeons & Dragons adventure.
Types of DC in D&D
There are several different types of DC in D&D.
At least, several variations of how DC is used in DND. It’s good to know the different applications of DC so that you don’t get confused in the middle of a game.
Types of DC in D&D:
- Ability Check DC
- Saving Throw DC
- Spell DC
- Set DC
- Homebrew DC
- Group DC
What Is Ability Check DC?
Ability Check DC, or Task DC, is a number that represents how difficult it is for a character to accomplish a task.
The higher the number, the more difficult the task.
The Player’s Handbook explains:
The DM calls for an ability check when a character or monster attempts an action (other than an attack) that has a chance of failure. When the outcome is uncertain, the dice determine the results.
For example, lifting a heavy object might have a DC of 10, while jumping a low fence might have a DC of 5.
Ultimately, whether or not a character succeeds at their task comes down to a dice roll.
The lower the DC, the better their chances of success.
However, even with a high DC, there is always a chance of success.
That’s part of what makes D&D so exciting—you never quite know what’s going to happen.
What Is Saving Throw DC?
There are times when a character must make a saving throw in order to avoid suffering some sort of negative effect.
For example, a character might have to make a saving throw in order to resist being poisoned or paralyzed.
The difficulty of the save is represented by the Saving Throw DC (or simply “DC”).
The higher the DC, the harder it is for the character to avoid negative consequences.
Making a successful save usually results in the character avoiding or lessening the effect in question.
Failure usually leads to negative outcomes, such as taking damage or being affected by a debilitating condition.
Thus, it is almost always in a character’s best interest to make a saving throw against a DC.
What Is Spell DC?
A Spell Save DC is when a character must make a saving throw in order to avoid the effects of a magical spell.
For example, if a character is caught in the area of effect of a Fireball spell, they would need to make a successful saving throw in order to avoid taking damage.
The higher the Spell Save DC, the more difficult it is for a character to succeed on the save.
Magical characters, such as wizards, also get their own Spell DC.
A wizard’s Spell DC is calculated by adding their proficiency bonus and spellcasting ability.
Here is the basic way Spell DC is calculated:
8 + spellcasting ability modifier + proficiency bonus = Spell DC
Some additional notes:
- The spellcasting ability modifier is determined by class (As an example, for Wizards, it is Intelligence)
- The proficiency bonus is based on character level (The higher the level, the higher the bonus)
The higher a character’s magic DC, the harder it is for their targets to avoid the effects of their spells.
Another way to look at Spell DC is to think of it as a saving throw for spells.
What Is Set DC?
In Dungeons and Dragons, the Difficulty Class (DC) of a task is usually determined by the Dungeon Master (DM), based on the circumstances.
However, in some published modules and DND One-Shots, the DC is set in advance.
This is known as Set or Passive DC.
For example, the DC of picking a certain lock in a published DND One-Shot might be 10, regardless of the character’s proficiency or how much time they have to spend picking the lock.
While Set DC can be helpful for simplifying gameplay, it can also be frustrating for players who feel like they can’t affect the outcome of a task.
What Is Homebrew DC?
Homebrew DC (also called Active DC) is when the Dungeon Master improvises Difficulty Class for a given task.
Most of the time, the DM has considerable latitude in setting DCs for various tasks.
Homebrew DCs can be useful in situations where the existing rules do not provide clear guidelines for what the DC should be, or where the DM wants to tailor the challenge to the specific circumstances of the game.
Let’s look at an example.
If a party needs to scale a wall to escape a castle, the DM might give a baseline DC of 15.
However, if the party is injured or lugging a Dragon’s Den of loot, the DC might shoot up to 20. If it’s raining and slippery, the DC for climbing the wall might go up to 25.
Personally, I think Homebrew DC is a valuable tool for creating custom challenges and encounters.
What Is Group DC?
Have you ever been in a situation where the entire player group needs to make an ability check or saving throw?
If so, then you’ve experienced what’s called Group DC.
Group DC can be tricky because everyone in the group needs to be successful in order for the task to be completed.
Perhaps the group is trying to perform the same task, such as crossing a river or disarming a trap.
In these situations, it’s important to communicate and collaborate.
One person might excel at swimming, while another might be better at finding weak spots in the riverbed.
What Is Contested DC?
Sometimes a task is made more difficult by hostile forces.
In these cases, it’s said that the DC is contested. You could also call these, “contested skill checks.”
This means that the enemy is actively trying to prevent the player from succeeding at doing something.
For example, your character attempts to scramble up a wall while an enemy tries to hold them.
As a result, to succeed, the player will need to roll higher than both the DC for the task and the enemy’s ability check roll.
What Does a DC Number Mean in DND?
In DND, a Difficulty Class is based on a specific scale with six standard options.
Here is a D&D DC Chart with all six options:
Keep in mind that a DM can make a DC any number.
In other words, a Difficulty Class does not need to always fall neatly into one of the six given options.
If the circumstances call for it, a DM can make DC a 3, 7, 13, or 22.
What Does DC 5 Mean in DND?
A DC of 5 is very easy and usually means that the task is well within the player’s capabilities.
For example, a character with a Strength score of 16 would have no problem lifting a heavy object with a DC of 5.
Why? Because a strength score of 16 gives the character an ability modifier of +3.
That means all the player character needs to do is roll a 2 or higher on a D20.
If the player rolls a 2, they add their +3 modifier to the total, giving them 5.
An ability score roll of 5 meets the DC of 5, so the character easily lifts the heavy object.
Similarly, a character with a Dexterity score of 15 would have no trouble avoiding a trap with a DC of 5.
In general, characters have an 80% or greater chance of success against DC 5.
If a player fails a task with a DC of 5, it is because they made a mistake or were extremely unlucky.
What Does DC 10 Mean in DND?
A DC of 10 means that a task or saving throw is easy.
Just like a very easy DC, an easy DC is usually not a problem for most player characters. Strong characters will almost always be able to lift, move, or hold heavy objects with a DC of 10.
Characters with high intelligence should be able to solve riddles or avoid most spells with DC 10.
Putting it in terms of a percentage, most player characters have a 55% or greater chance of success against DC 10.
What Does DC 15 Mean in D&D?
When we get to DC 15, tasks and saving throws become somewhat difficult.
The official D&D books call a DC of 15 a medium level of difficulty. Essentially, that means characters are more likely to fail ability checks or saving throws.
All other things being equal, there is a 30% chance of success or failure against DC 15.
What Does DC 20 Mean in D&D?
Simply put, a DC of 20 in Dungeons and Dragons means the task is difficult.
Players have a 5% to 30% chance of succeeding depending on their ability modifiers. The Dungeon Master may also impose disadvantages on the roll if they feel the task is particularly challenging.
Tasks with DC 20 might include:
- Escaping tight restraints made of thick, knotted rope or metal.
- Jumping across a wide chasm
- Swimming in heavy armor
What Does DC 25 Mean in DND?
DC 25 means a task is very difficult.
Most player characters have a -20% to 5% chance of succeeding based on ability modifiers. As you can tell, the odds are not in your favor.
I wouldn’t risk failure on a very difficult task unless there is no other way.
Or, if the consequences of failure are trivial.
As a Dungeon Master, I wouldn’t usually force my group of players to attempt very difficult tasks that were tied directly to the success of the adventure.
An exception might be for high-level characters with lots of magical items and special abilities.
What Does DC 30 Mean in D&D?
DC 30 means that the task is nearly impossible—even for powerful characters.
At worst, characters have a -45% chance of success. At best, they possess a -20% chance.
That’s not good at all.
Only the highest-level, tank characters should attempt DC 30 tasks and saves.
How Does DC Work In DND?
In Dungeons & Dragons, the Difficulty Class (DC) is a measure of how difficult it is to perform a particular task or overcome a particular obstacle.
The Player’s Handbook describes how DC works for ability checks and saving throws.
How Does DC Work for Ability Checks?
Here is how DC works for ability checks, according to the Player’s Handbook:
For every ability check, the DM decides which of the six abilities is relevant to the task at hand and the difficulty of the task, represented by a Difficulty Class…To make an ability check, roll a D20 and add the relevant ability modifier. As with other D20 rolls, apply bonuses and penalties, and compare the total to the DC.
Here are the six DC-related abilities:
The DC system is used for everything from climbing walls to picking locks, and it’s one of the things that makes Dungeons & Dragons such an interesting and challenging game.
For example, a character might need to make a DC 10 Strength check to lift a heavy object or make a DC 15 Wisdom check to spot a hidden trap.
When a player makes an ability check, they:
- Roll a D20 dice (20-sided die)
- Add their relevant ability modifier (Example, +3 for a Wisdom score of 17)
- Compare the total (D20 roll + ability modifier) to the Difficulty Class.
Therefore, if a Wizard with a Wisdom score of 17 rolled a 14 on a D20, they would detect the hidden trap (DC 15).
Their Wisdom gives them a +3 bonus, making the total of their dice roll 17.
Since 17 equals 15 or higher, the Wizard successfully spots the trap.
How Does DC Work for Saving Throws?
Now, let’s look at how DC works for saving throws.
Again, it’s helpful to go right to the source (Player’s Handbook):
The Difficulty Class for a saving throw is determined by the effect that causes it. For example, the DC for a saving throw allowed by a spell is determined by the caster’s spellcasting ability and proficiency bonus. The result of a successful or failed saving throw is also detailed in the effect that allows the save. Usually, a successful save means that a creature suffers no harm, or reduced harm, from an effect.
Characters might also need to make saving throws when responding to sudden changes in the environment.
- Rocking of ship
To make a saving throw, a character will:
- Roll a D20 (twenty-sided die)
- Add their relevant ability modifier (For example, Dexterity to stand on unstable ground)
- Compare the total (D20 roll + ability modifier) to the DC.
If a thief with a Dexterity of 18 (+ 4 modifier) rolls a 10 against DC 15, the thief fails the saving throw.
That’s because 10 (dice roll) plus 4 (Dexterity modifier) is only 14.
To succeed, the thief needed to total 15 or higher.
What Affects DC in Dungeons and Dragons?
There are three main factors that typically affect how DC is calculated: complexity, distance, and time.
Complexity is how many different actions are required to complete the task. Or the level of complexity of the actions.
Distance is how far the character must move or travel. Time is how long the character has to complete the task.
For example, a character might need to jump over a fence that is five feet tall and 20 feet wide.
If they have plenty of time to prepare and don’t need to worry about being seen, then the Task DC might be 15.
However, if they only have a few seconds to prepare and a horde of zombies is chasing them, then the Task DC might be 20.
It’s also true that player characters determine the ultimate outcome.
A character’s dice roll, ability score, modifiers, and other bonuses will directly impact a DC ability check or saving throw.
Do You Have to Beat DC?
No, you do not need to beat the difficulty score to make a successful saving throw or ability check.
All you need to do is meet or exceed the difficulty class.
Here’s a practical example from one of my recent campaigns.
An elven thief, Dyrayh, wanted to slip through a crowd to quickly escape DND guards. Since I calculated the task to be moderate difficulty, the DC she needed to beat was 15.
She rolled a D20, which landed on 13.
Adding in her Dexterity modifier of +2, her total ability check roll came to 15.
Her roll of 15 equaled the DC of 15, so she succeeded in threading through the crowd—much to the dismay of the guards in their bulky armor.
D&D DC Examples
I thought it might be helpful to see a few DC examples from my last adventure.
To make things easier, I divided the examples into three lists: Easy, Moderate, and Difficult. While there are other difficulties, I find myself using these three categories the most.
Easy DC Examples:
- Scaling a low wall or fence
- Swimming through still water
- Lifting a light object
- Break a weak object
Moderate/Middle DC Examples:
- Climbing a wall
- A short jump to reach something (like a branch or the lip of a building)
- Lifting a heavy object
- Breaking free from restraints
Difficult DC Examples:
- Scaling a slippery wall
- Making a long jump between rooftops
- Lifting a very heavy object
- Breaking down a thick door
D&D DC Calculator
There is currently no automated tool to make DC calculations in DND (Maybe I’ll create one).
Until one is created, here are two tables to serve as general D&D DC Calculators:
|DC Calculator Category||DC +/- Calculator|
|Base DC||Very Easy 5, Easy 10, Moderate 15, Difficult 20, Very Difficult 25, Nearly Impossible 30|
|Difficult terrain||+ 2-5|
|Weakened Character||+ 5-10|
|Total||[Calculate Your Total]|
Difficult terrain can include slippery or unstable surfaces. It can also mean that a crowd became more crowded.
Characters can also be weakened by illness, injury, exhaustion, or magic.
The more severe the weakness, the more you bump up the Difficulty Class.
Here is a good video that explains how to set DC in DND:
Next, here is a table with a “cheat sheet” for making DC checks:
|D&D DC Checks||D&D DC Calculations|
|Spell DC/Spell Save DC||8 + proficiency bonus + ability modifier|
|Dexterity DC Check||D20 roll + Dexterity modifier|
|Strength DC Check||D20 roll + Strength modifier|
|Wisdom DC Check||D20 roll + Wisdom modifier|
|Intelligence DC Check||D20 roll + Intelligence modifier|
|Charisma DC Check||D20 roll + Charisma modifier|
|Constitution DC Check||D20 roll + Constitution modifier|
Is AC the Same as DC?
No, AC is not the same as DC.
Whether you’re a seasoned veteran of role-playing games or a complete beginner, it’s important to understand the difference between AC and DC.
Here are the differences:
- AC stands for Armor Class, and it’s the target number you need to roll to make a successful attack/hit on an enemy.
- DC, on the other hand, stands for Difficulty Class. It’s used for ability check and saving throw dice rolls.
In a way, you could say that AC is DC applied to combat.
However, the two terms aren’t interchangeable, and it’s important to know the difference between them.
What’s the Highest DC in D&D?
The Highest DC in D&D is 30.
A DC 30 is a nearly impossible task. The only harder task is one that IS impossible, making it a useless metric in the game.
After all, a nearly impossible task is still possible.
Final thoughts: What Does DC Mean in DND?
A quick summary is that DC is Difficulty Class, which is a numerical code for how easy or hard something is to do in Dungeons and Dragons.
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