[RPG] In D&D 3.5, are Ability Checks, Attack Rolls, and Damage Rolls mechanically distinct


I've seen answers to this question for Pathfinder and D&D 5, but I cannot seem to locate any explicit statements for D&D 3.5. Essentially, I'm looking for a reference that explains whether or not Ability Checks, Attack Rolls, and Damage Rolls are mechanically distinct, or if Attack Rolls and/or Damage Rolls are a special subset of Ability Checks.

I've read through various versions of the SRD and searched through my pdf of the Dungeon Master's Guide, and come up empty. My instinct is that they are separate and distinct, but since Ability modifiers do affect Attack and Damage rolls, the opposite argument is difficult to counter.

Can someone help?

Best Answer

Your examples are distinct

Damage rolls, in particular, are completely different from any other check, since they do not use a d20, but rather anywhere from 1d2 to 2d6 (and that’s just for player-race-sized options!) plus various “damage bonuses” that vary from weapon to weapon (non-composite projectile weapons get none, light weapons get half-Strength, one-handed weapons get Strength, two-handed weapons get half-again-Strength, composite projectile weapons get a fixed number, and exceptions and special cases exist for each) and from class to class (rogues might add Sneak Attack damage, rangers may add Favored Enemy bonuses, etc).

But attack rolls are also distinct from any ability checks, whether that be Strength or Dexterity. For one thing, they use Base Attack Bonus and auto-succeed on a nat-20 and auto-fail on a nat-1, and have critical threats and critical hits, and all kinds of other things that apply “attack bonuses,” and ability checks do none of these things.

Skills too, for all they represent almost the same thing as ability checks, just with training added, are not technically ability checks. Bonuses to ability checks wouldn’t apply to skill checks (which is why almost every single bonus to ability checks is actually explicitly a bonus to ability checks and to skill checks using that ability).

Some rolls are subsets or specific types of other types

The big one is Initiative, which is a Dexterity ability check. There probably are other examples. But in every case, this is explicitly noted:

Initiative Checks

At the start of a battle, each combatant makes an initiative check. An initiative check is a Dexterity check.

(emphasis and emphasis mine)