What is Dexterity?
In DnD, Dexterity measures a character’s nimbleness, their agility, and their fine motor skills. A dexterous character is able to avoid attacks in combat, evade area effects like dragon’s breath and explosions, move stealthily, perform feats of acrobatics, pick locks, and both light, nimble melee weapons like daggers and rapiers as well as ranged weapons like bows and crossbows more effectively.
Dexterity is most important for characters who fight using light weapons like daggers, finesse weapons like rapiers, and ranged weapons like bows. Bards, Monks, Rangers, Rogues, Fighters, Paladins, and Warlocks frequently have high Dexterity.
Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth are all tied to Dexterity.
Acrobatics measures a character’s ability to perform impressive acts of nimbless which typically require coordinating your entire body, such as staying upright on a slippery or icy surface, walking across a tight rope, or performing stunts like somersaults.
Acrobatics can also be used to escape grapples. If you perform a long jump (see Movement, later in this guide) and land in difficult terrain, you can attempt a DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to avoid falling prone when you land.
Sleight of Hand
Sleight of Hand covers acts of manual trickery such as picking pockets, planting objects on a person unnoticed, and things which today might be described as “Up-Close Magic”.
When you make a Sleight of Hand check, you typically roll against another creature’s Passive Perception score, and you avoid notice if you succeed.
Stealth, as you might expect from the name, covers a character’s ability to hide themselves or objects, to move about unnoticed, and to be generally stealthy.
When you make a Stealth check, you typically roll against another creature’s Passive Perception score, and you avoid notice if you succeed. If the creature is actively looking for you, you roll a contest: the creature rolls Wisdom (Perception) against your Dexterity (Stealth).
Keep in mind that Dungeons and Dragons is not a video game (at least not the version of Dungeons and Dragons which I’m trying to teach you). You can’t simply crouch down, roll a die, and declare yourself hidden. Unless magic is involved, you typically need to hide behind things to avoid being seen.
Dexterity in Combat
Dexterity has many important uses in combat.
By default, your character’s armor class is 10 + Dex modifier, but this calculation can be modified by things like armor and some class features. More on this later in this article series.
Dexterity saving throws are very common, typically protecting the creature from area damage effects like fireballs, breath weapons, or explosions. It’s also common for these effects to deal half damage on a successful saving throw.
Dexterity is used for attack rolls and damage with ranged weapons, such as crossbows and darts. It is also used for attack rolls and damage for melee weapons with the Finesse property, such as daggers and rapiers.
We’ll discuss attacks and damage later in this article series.