DMG Variants

Skills with different abilities.

Sometimes a check involves a character’s training (skill ranks) plus an innate talent (ability) not usually associated with that training. A skill check always includes skill ranks plus an ability modifier, but you can use a different ability modifier from normal if the character is in a situation where the normal key ability does not apply.

For example: • A character is underwater and tries to maneuver by pulling himself along some improvised handholds. Since his body has natural buoyancy (meaning he doesn’t need to pull as hard to lift himself), the DM rules that the player should make a Climb check keyed to Dexterity rather than to Strength. • A character is trying to pick the best horse from several that a merchant is selling. Normally this would be an Appraise check, but familiarity with horses ought to count for something. The DM lets the player use the character’s ranks in Ride instead of ranks in Appraise and applies the character’s Wisdom modifier (as normal for an Appraise check). • A character needs to use main force to restrain a panicked horse. Normally this would call for a Strength check, but a character skilled at handling animals ought to be able to use his knowledge to restrain the horse more easily. The DM lets the player add the character’s ranks in Handle Animal (but not his Charisma modifier) to the Strength check. • A character has created a masterwork dagger as a gift for a visiting noble. He attempts to inscribe it with intricate designs. The DM rules that this is a Dexterity check to which the character’s ranks in Craft (weaponsmithing) apply. • A character is trying to climb a ladder to the bottom of a very deep chute. Normally, the DM would call for a Constitution check to see if the character can keep going, but he can also allow the player to add the character’s ranks in Climb to the roll.


When a character casts a summon monster or summon nature’s ally spell, she gets a typical, random creature of the kind she chooses. As a variant in your campaign, you can rule that each spellcaster gets specific, individual creatures rather than just some random one. This variant lets players feel more ownership over the creatures that their characters summon, but it entails some special problems, so don’t allow it without considering it carefully. Specific Creatures: Whenever a spellcaster summons a single creature of a given kind, it’s always the same creature. A player can roll the ability scores and hit points for each creature that his character can summon. His specific creatures may be above or below average. Allow the player to take average statistics instead of rolling if he wants to avoid the risk of getting stuck with bad dice rolls. (There’s no “hopeless creature reroll” for bad ability scores in this case.) The player can also name each creature and define its distinguishing characteristics. Multiple Creatures: Whenever a spellcaster summons more creatures, the first one is always the same, and each successive creature is likewise always the same. Thus, if Mialee can summon up to three celestial eagles named Kulik, Skitky, and Kliss, then she always gets Kulik when she summons one celestial eagle, Kulik and Skitky when she summons two, and all three when she summons three. The player can roll ability scores and hit points for all three. The summoner gets the same creatures no matter which version of spell she uses. Mialee gets Kulik with summon monster II and she gets Kulik plus possibly Skitky and Kliss with summon monster III. Summoning Limits: Getting the same intelligent summoned creature over and over again gives a summoner certain advantages. She can, for instance, send a creature to scout out an area for the duration of the spell and then summon it up again to get a report. If the creature is killed (and thus sent back to its home) or dispelled, however, that individual creature is not available to be summoned for 24 hours. The summoner summons one fewer creature of that kind because the unavailable creature still takes up its normal “slot.” Thus, if Kulik is killed and later that day Mialee summons two celestial eagles, she only gets Skitky (instead of Kulik and Skitky). If a creature that a character summons is actually, truly killed (not just “killed” while summoned), it is no longer available, and the summoner gets one less creature of that kind than normal. On attaining a new level, however, the summoner may replace the slain creature (see below). Replacing creatures: Each time a summoner gains a level in a spellcasting class, she can drop out one of her creatures and roll up a new one to fill its “slot.” For example, at 5th level, Mialee can summon Kulik, Skitky, and Kliss with summon monster III. When she reaches 6th level, she can drop any one of her summonable creatures and replace it with a new one. If Kulik has low ability scores or if it has permanently died, she can drop it in favor of a new, randomly rolled creature, which then occupies her “first celestial eagle” slot. Improving Creatures: Summoners can improve their creatures. Typically, they do so by giving them magic items or other special objects. The trick is, a summoned creature can’t take things back home with it. When a summoned creature disappears, it leaves all the things that it gained while on the Material Plane. Mialee can’t just summon up Kulik and give it a cloak of resistance. She has to go to its plane or bring it actually onto the Material Plane before she can give it anything it can keep. The way to get a creature to actually come to the Material Plane is to use a lesser planar ally, planar ally, greater planar ally, lesser planar binding, planar binding, greater planar binding, or gate spell, since these are all calling spells and actually bring the creature to the caster.

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DMG Variants

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