The Ability Scores (and the related Skills) are essential for understanding DnD 5e. In fact, at the moment you find yourself in front of a spitfire dragon, an axe-armed gnome or in an attempt to untie yourself from braided ropes, the success of your character or not depends on the combination of two elements: score of the dice pulled and your ability score.
TABLE OF CONTENT:
- Ability scores and modifiers
- How do modifiers work?
- What are the related skills and abilities?
- Combat Mechanics: Attack Rolls and Damage
- Special Strength Checks: Grappling and Shoving
- Capacity for Lifting and Carrying
- Variant Rule: Encumbrance
- DEXTERITY [DEX]: Agility, Reflexes, and Balance
- Types of Dexterity Checks
- Additional Dexterity Checks
- Dexterity in Combat
- Protective Measures: Dexterity and defence
- Combat Initiative
- Stealth and Awareness: Hiding and Passive Perception
- Examples and Strategies: Roll for Initiative
- CONSTITUTION [CON] – Health and resilience
- Constitution Checks: When and How to Use Them
- Understanding Hit Points and Their Connection to Constitution
- Classes and Constitution: Who Needs it Most
- The Role of Constitution in Skills and Saving Throws
- Understanding Intelligence: The Basics
- The Role of Intelligence Checks
- Intelligence in Spellcasting
- Classes and Intelligence: Who Benefits Most
- Understanding Wisdom Checks
- Specific Types of Wisdom Checks
- Additional Uses of Wisdom Checks
- Spellcasting Classes Relying on Wisdom
- Supplemental Information
- CHARISMA – Social Skills and Spellcasting
- Understanding Charisma: A Guide to Social Skills
- Charisma in Spellcasting
What is an ability score in DnD 5e? The ability score indicates how your character is good at that specific ability. Is a character muscle-bound and insightful? Brilliant and charming? Nimble and hardy? Ability scores define these qualities–a creature’s assets and weaknesses. The game’s three main rolls- the ability check, the saving throw, and the attack roll- rely on the six ability scores.
But what are these abilities?
Six abilities provide a quick description of every creature’s physical and mental characteristics:
- Strength, which measures physical power
- Dexterity, which measures agility
- Constitution measures endurance to fatigue and the effect of toxic/dangerous substances.
- Intelligence, which measures the ability of your character in reasoning and memory
- Wisdom, which measures the performance of your character in perception, insight, and survival
- Charisma, which measures the strength of the personality.
Ability scores and modifiers
Each of a creature’s ability has a score, a number that defines the magnitude of that capability. An ability score isn’t just a measure of ingrain capabilities but also encompasses a creature’s training and ability in activities related to that ability.
An ability score is not only a measure of a creature’s innate competence; it also expresses experience and expertise gained when doing things related to that ability.
How do modifiers work?
The basic rule behind the use of these rolls is the following:
- Roll a d20
- Add an ability modifier derived from one of the six ability scores
- Compare the total to a target number.
To determine a creature’s ability score modifier without referring to the designated table in the Player’s Handbook, the suggested method is to take the creature’s ability score, subtract 10 from it, and then divide the result by 2.
Typically, a score of 10 or 11 is considered the average for humans. However, adventurers and many monsters usually have abilities that are above average. While a score of 18 is the peak that most humans can attain, unique individuals known as “Comers” can achieve scores up to 20. Deities and extraordinarily powerful monsters may have ability scores reaching as high as 30.
Every ability score comes with an associated modifier, which ranges from -5 (corresponding to an ability score of 1) up to 10 (corresponding to an ability score of 30). These modifiers are essential for gameplay as they are added to dice rolls for tasks related to their respective abilities. The Ability Scores and Modifiers table in the Player’s Handbook provides a detailed breakdown for these modifiers across the full scope of possible ability scores, from the lowest at 1 to the highest at 30.
It’s worth noting that these ability score modifiers play a crucial role in various game mechanics, such as combat, skill checks, and saving throws. Therefore, understanding how to calculate and apply these modifiers is key to mastering the game’s system.
What are the related skills and abilities?
Some many skills and abilities implement the ability checks. To calculate the different skill bonuses of a character, you have to consider the character’s proficiency bonus. If a character is proficient in a certain skill, you will add to the bonus that comes from the Ability also the proficiency bonus.
Here is a list of each ability and their related skills:
- Strenght → Athletics
- Dexterity → Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, Stealth
- Intelligence → Arcana, History, Investigation, Nature, Religion
- Wisdom → Animal Handling, Insight, Medicine, Perception, Survival
- Charisma → Deception, Intimidation, Performance, Persuasion
STRENGHT – Checks and Applications
A Strength check can simulate any attempt to lift, push, pull, or break an object, move your body through a confined space, or exert raw physical power.
The Athletics skill measures your proficiency in strength-based tasks such as climbing, jumping, or swimming. Activities covered by this skill include:
- Climbing challenging terrains like slippery cliffs, evading dangers while ascending a wall, or gripping onto a surface while facing disruption.
- Making extraordinary jumps or executing special maneuvers during a jump.
- Battling to swim or remain buoyant in perilous waters, stormy waves, or dense seaweed, or dealing with another creature’s attempts to submerge you or obstruct your swimming.
Other Uses of Strength Checks
Besides standard applications, a Game Master may request a Strength check for other actions, including:
- Forcing open a jammed, locked, or barred door.
- Escaping restraints.
- Navigating through a tight tunnel.
- Clinging to a moving wagon.
- Toppling a statue.
- Preventing a boulder from moving.
Combat Mechanics: Attack Rolls and Damage
You add your Strength modifier to both your attack and damage rolls when using a melee weapon, like a mace, battleax, or javelin. Melee weapons are used for hand-to-hand combat; some can be thrown to execute a ranged attack.
Special Strength Checks: Grappling and Shoving
Both Grappling and Shoving actions require an Athletics skill check for execution.
When you aim to seize or tangle with another creature, you can employ the Attack action to initiate a unique melee attack known as a grapple.
This isn’t equivalent to bear hugging or ground wrestling to pin the creature; it’s merely maintaining your grip on it. For the creature to break free, your Dungeon Master (DM) has to roll a number higher than the sum of your Strength and Athletics skills.
Mechanics of Shoving a Creature
Utilizing the Attack action, you can execute a distinct melee attack designed to topple the creature or thrust it away from you.
Although shoving a creature does not inflict any damage, it proves extremely useful when you need some space to breathe.
Capacity for Lifting and Carrying
Your Strength score governs how much weight you can handle.
Your carrying capacity is calculated as 15 times your Strength score. This gives you the amount of weight (in pounds) you can transport without issue.
Pushing, Dragging, or Lifting
You can push, drag, or lift up to twice your carrying capacity or 30 times your Strength score. When handling weight beyond your carrying capacity, your movement speed decreases to 5 feet.
The Relevance of creature’s size
This rule pertains more to creatures than to characters: Larger creatures can handle more weight, while Tiny creatures can handle less. The carrying capacity and limits for pushing, dragging, or lifting are doubled for each size category above Medium. For Tiny creatures, these amounts are halved.
Variant Rule: Encumbrance
The standard rules for lifting and carrying are designed to be straightforward. However, if you seek more complex rules, consider the following variant:
- Carrying more than 5 times your Strength score encumbers you, reducing your speed by 10 feet.
- Carrying more than 10 times your Strength score, up to your maximum carrying capacity, heavily encumbers you. This results in a 20-foot speed reduction and gives you disadvantage on ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws that rely on Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution.
DEXTERITY [DEX]: Agility, Reflexes, and Balance
Dexterity is an attribute that gauges your quickness, reaction time, and equilibrium.
Types of Dexterity Checks
Dexterity checks could be called for when you’re attempting to move gracefully or swiftly, evade detection, or maintain your balance on unstable ground. Skills like Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth are specialized applications of Dexterity checks.
Acrobatics – “Be a gymnast”
For instance, you might need to make a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check if you’re trying to walk across a narrow ledge without falling, or if you aim to perform gymnastic maneuvers such as cartwheels or backflips. It’s also useful for breaking free from grapples or landing safely after diving into complex terrain, like a pile of boulders.
Sleight of Hand – “Attention Pick-pockets!”
In situations where you’re trying to perform covert actions like sneaking a key into your pocket or swapping one item for another without notice, you’ll perform a Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check. This could be against someone’s Passive Perception to see if they notice your action, especially when trying to win at a game of chance where the odds are against you.
Stealth – “how to be sneaky”
Stealth comes into play when you want to move about undetected. For example, avoiding security cameras while infiltrating a highly-guarded facility or sneaking past a sleeping dragon to steal its treasure would require a Dexterity (Stealth) check.
Additional Dexterity Checks
The GM might also ask for Dexterity checks for activities such as:
- Navigating a runaway wagon downhill
- Steering a boat through a narrow passageway
- Disabling a security system
- Safely binding a captive
- Escaping from restraints
- Skillfully playing a violin
- Creating a detailed miniature sculpture
Dexterity in Combat
Your Dexterity modifier is added to both your attack and damage rolls when using a ranged weapon like a crossbow or a finesse melee weapon such as a stiletto.
Protective Measures: Dexterity and defence
Your Dexterity modifier also impacts your Armor Class, affecting your ability to dodge attacks.
When combat starts, an initiative roll determines the order of actions, and this is a Dexterity check. Those with higher Dexterity scores will generally act earlier in combat sequences.
Stealth and Awareness: Hiding and Passive Perception
When attempting to hide, you’ll make a Dexterity (Stealth) check, which is then compared against the Wisdom (Perception) of any creature that might notice you. Even creatures not actively looking for you may detect you through their Passive Perception, which is calculated as 10 + the creature’s Wisdom modifier, with any relevant bonuses or penalties applied.
For example, if a level-one adventurer with a +2 Wisdom modifier and a proficiency in Perception has a Passive Perception of 14.
Examples and Strategies: Roll for Initiative
If your group attempts to sneak through a napping ogre’s lair and a party member accidentally stumbles, causing a commotion, your DM might call for an “initiative roll.” A higher Dexterity can give you the advantage of acting before the ogre wakes up fully.
A higher Dexterity can give you the advantage of acting before the ogre wakes up fully. This is crucial because going first can mean the difference between successfully retreating to a safe distance or finding yourself in a dangerous face-off with an alerted enemy. Initiative rolls are determined by rolling a 20-sided die (d20) and adding your Dexterity modifier to it. The characters, including enemies, are then arranged in a descending order based on their initiative scores to determine the sequence of turns in combat.
Having a high Dexterity score is beneficial for characters who prioritize quick actions in combat. It allows them to set the battlefield to their advantage, whether by taking cover, setting traps, or even launching the first strike. Some strategies for boosting your initiative even further might include equipping items with a bonus to Dexterity or taking specific abilities or feats that improve your initiative rolls.
So, in essence, a higher Dexterity not only aids in skill checks like Stealth or Acrobatics but also serves a pivotal role in combat scenarios by often letting you act before your opponents can.
With that said, it’s important to note that certain races receive special bonuses: these include Half-Elf (+2), Drow (+1), Lightfoot Halfling (+1), Dragonborn (+1), Human (+1), and Tiefling (+2).
CONSTITUTION [CON] – Health and resilience
Constitution gauges your health, stamina, and innate resilience. It’s an indicator of your toughness, the ability to withstand physical or magical damage, resist poisons, and remain conscious. It also represents your ability to continue strenuous activities, such as holding your breath or traveling for long periods without rest.
Constitution Checks: When and How to Use Them
Constitution checks are fairly rare and unlike other checks, no specific skills are linked to them. This is because Constitution usually reflects a passive endurance rather than a conscious effort. However, when you try to exceed your normal physical capabilities, that’s when a Constitution check becomes relevant.
Examples of Situations Calling for Constitution Checks
While these checks are infrequent, the Game Master may ask for one in circumstances like:
- Trying to swim a long distance without pausing for rest
- Attempting to stay conscious despite extreme heat or cold
- Enduring prolonged exposure to toxic fumes
- Completing a marathon without stopping
- Resisting the immediate effects of a paralyzing venom
Understanding Hit Points and Their Connection to Constitution
Your Constitution modifier plays a key role in determining your hit points. For each Hit Die you roll to figure out your hit points, you add your Constitution modifier. Importantly, if your Constitution modifier changes for some reason, your maximum hit points will also adjust retroactively as if the new modifier had been in effect from level 1.
Classes and Constitution: Who Needs it Most
Every character benefits from a good Constitution score since it affects total Hit Points and resistance to certain spells, abilities, and toxins. However, front-line combatants like Barbarians or Fighters have a more pressing need for a high Constitution score to sustain multiple hits.
Proficiency in Constitution Saving Throws
Some classes, namely Barbarians, Fighters, and Sorcerers, are proficient in Constitution saving throws.
Races with Constitution Bonuses
Certain races receive a natural bonus to their Constitution, including Dwarves (+2), Stout Halflings (+1), Rock Gnomes (+1), Half-Orcs (+1), and Humans (+1).
The Role of Constitution in Skills and Saving Throws
Though no skills are directly tied to Constitution, it affects your hit points (HP) and your ability to resist the effects of physical and magical strain. For example, if you are a spellcaster, a high Constitution helps you maintain focus on a spell even when you’re under attack.
Variations in Hit Points by Class
Different character classes start with varied hit points and gain diverse amounts as they level up. Your initial hit points are determined by your class plus your Constitution modifier. Whenever you level up, you have the choice to roll for additional hit points or take a preset number from the class guide—either way, you add your Constitution modifier to this number.
For instance, Barbarians typically start with the highest HP and continue to gain the most as they advance, while Sorcerers and Wizards usually have the lowest starting and progressing hit points.
|Class||1st Level||Higher Levels|
|Barbarian||12 + CON modifier||1d12 (or 7) + CON modifier|
|Bard||8 + CON modifier||1d8 (or 5) + CON modifier|
|Cleric||8 + CON modifier||1d8 (or 5) + CON modifier|
|Druid||8 + CON modifier||1d8 (or 5) + CON modifier|
|Fighter||10 + CON modifier||1d10 (or 6) + CON modifier|
|Monk||8 + CON modifier||1d8 (or 5) + CON modifier|
|Paladin||10 + CON modifier||1d10 (or 6) + CON modifier|
|Ranger||10 + CON modifier||1d10 (or 6) + CON modifier|
|Rogue||8 + CON modifier||1d8 (or 5) + CON modifier|
|Sorcerer||6 + CON modifier||1d6 (or 4) + CON modifier|
|Warlock||8 + CON modifier||1d8 (or 5) + CON modifier|
|Wizard||6 + CON modifier||1d6 (or 4) + CON modifier|
Understanding Intelligence: The Basics
Intelligence is a measure of your mental sharpness, memory recall, and logical reasoning. A character with a high Intelligence score is not just a walking encyclopedia but also adept at solving puzzles, riddles, and likely has a good educational background.
The Role of Intelligence Checks
When a situation requires logical analysis, knowledge, or deductive skills, Intelligence checks come into play. Specific skills like Arcana, History, Investigation, Nature, and Religion are various avenues through which Intelligence checks are made.
Types of Intelligence Checks and Their Uses
- Arcana: An Intelligence (Arcana) check helps you recall knowledge about magical elements like spells, enchanted objects, mystical symbols, magical practices, and different planes and their inhabitants. For instance, you may use an Arcana check to identify the enchantment on a newly discovered wand.
- History: Intelligence (History) checks are for recalling information about past events, significant figures, lost empires, old conflicts, and more. For example, recognizing an ancient banner in a ruin might require a History check.
- Investigation: When you’re examining clues to make logical deductions, you use Intelligence (Investigation). This could involve identifying the origin of a mysterious scar on a victim or pinpointing structural weaknesses in a crumbling wall. You may also use it to sift through old manuscripts for a key piece of information.
- Nature: Intelligence (Nature) checks pertain to your knowledge about the natural environment, such as identifying rare herbs, understanding geological formations, or predicting weather patterns. For example, you could use a Nature check to ascertain whether a particular berry is safe to eat.
- Religion: This involves recalling lore about divinities, religious rituals, holy symbols, and even secret cults. For instance, identifying a lesser-known deity’s statue in an abandoned temple may require a Religion check.
Additional Intelligence Check Scenarios
Apart from the standard skill checks, your Game Master may call for an Intelligence check for:
- Conveying a message to an animal without speaking
- Appraising the worth of an ancient artifact
- Assembling a makeshift outfit to impersonate a merchant
- Creating a counterfeit royal seal
- Remembering the customs of a particular guild
- Mastering a game of tactical complexity
Intelligence in Spellcasting
For Wizards, Intelligence is the governing attribute for spellcasting, affecting the saving throw difficulties for the spells they cast.
Classes and Intelligence: Who Benefits Most
Wizards are highly dependent on Intelligence for their spell effectiveness. A high Intelligence score increases the Wizard’s spell accuracy and makes their spells harder to resist.
Proficiency in Intelligence Saving Throws
Druids, Rogues, and Wizards have proficiency in Intelligence saving throws.
Races with Intelligence Bonuses
Some races naturally have an Intelligence advantage, such as High Elves (+1), Gnomes (+2), Tieflings (+1), and Humans (+1).
Understanding Wisdom Checks
Wisdom serves as a gauge of your awareness of your surroundings, perceptiveness, and intuition. It may involve skills like comprehending people’s emotions, reading body language, or observing environmental details.
Specific Types of Wisdom Checks
A Wisdom (Animal Handling) check is required for tasks such as soothing a nervous pet, preventing your riding animal from panicking, or understanding an animal’s behavior. For example, you may need to make such a check to manage a restless horse during a thunderstorm.
When you need to gauge someone’s real motives or detect deceit, you’ll undertake a Wisdom (Insight) check. This could include detecting lies or forecasting a person’s actions based on their mannerisms. If, for instance, a merchant seems unusually eager to make a sale, an Insight check could help you figure out why.
The Wisdom (Medicine) check allows you to diagnose illnesses or stabilize an unconscious ally. For instance, you may use this check to identify an obscure disease affecting a member of your party.
A Wisdom (Perception) check helps you to notice hidden details in your environment, such as concealed traps or distant noises. You might use it to spot a hidden trapdoor in a room or hear the distant growl of a lurking creature.
For tasks like tracking animals, navigating tough terrains, or predicting weather changes, a Wisdom (Survival) check is necessary. An example could be using Survival to locate a source of fresh water in a desert landscape.
Additional Uses of Wisdom Checks
The Game Master (GM) may also require a Wisdom check for:
- Intuitively determining the best course of action in a dilemma
- Identifying if a lifeless creature is actually undead
Spellcasting Classes Relying on Wisdom
Clerics, druids, and rangers utilize Wisdom to enhance their spellcasting capabilities. This affects the difficulty for others to resist their spells.
Classes Benefitting from High Wisdom Scores
Apart from clerics and druids, monks also gain advantages from high Wisdom levels. Monks use Wisdom to calculate their armor class, as they often don’t wear armor. Rangers also benefit, especially those that rely heavily on spellcasting.
Races Receiving Wisdom Bonuses
Hill dwarfs, wood elves, and humans gain bonus points to their Wisdom scores.
Other Skills Based on Wisdom
Skills like Insight, Medicine, and Perception are inherently tied to your Wisdom score. High levels of Wisdom also grant you the capability to make more informed decisions based on your intuition and awareness of your environment.
Further Skill Details and Usage
- Insight checks can be both active and passive. A creature lying to you needs to outscore 10 plus your Insight modifier.
- Perception is an active skill but can also be checked passively by the GM. A highly perceptive character is more attuned to their surroundings.
- Survival skills cover a broad range of wilderness survival activities, from finding edible plants to avoiding environmental hazards.
Examples for Skill Checks
- Utilize your inner sense to choose a path at a crossroad.
- Discern if a collapsed figure on the ground is truly unconscious or faking it.
CHARISMA – Social Skills and Spellcasting
Understanding Charisma: A Guide to Social Skills
Charisma gauges your ability to communicate and connect effectively with others, encompassing self-assurance and articulate speech. It can manifest as either a charming or authoritative presence.
Types of Charisma Checks
You may need to make a Charisma check in various circumstances, such as attempting to influence or entertain others, navigating complex social landscapes, or making a compelling story. Skills like Deception, Intimidation, Performance, and Persuasion are specialized forms of Charisma checks.
A Charisma (Deception) check assesses your ability to obscure the truth, either through words or actions believably. This can range from creating confusion through vagueness to outright lying. Typical situations include:
- Manipulating a guard with slick talk
- scamming a merchant
- gambling successfully
- using a disguise
- mitigating someone’s doubts with false comfort
- Maintaining a poker face while lying blatantly.
If you try to sway someone using explicit threats or physical force, the Game Master (GM) may require a Charisma (Intimidation) check from you. For instance, extracting information from a captive, deterring street gang members from an altercation, or using a broken bottle to make an arrogant advisor rethink their stance.
Your Charisma (Performance) check measures how effectively you can captivate an audience through various artistic expressions like music, dance, acting, or storytelling.
When you aim to positively influence individuals or groups through diplomatic means or proper etiquette, the GM may call for a Charisma (Persuasion) check. Examples include persuading a chamberlain to grant an audience with the king, brokering peace among warring factions, or rallying a crowd of villagers.
Additional Charisma-Related Checks
The GM might also ask for a Charisma check for endeavors such as:
- Identifying the most informative person for acquiring news or gossip
- Merging into a crowd to gauge prevalent discussion topics
Charisma in Spellcasting
For characters like Bards, Paladins, Sorcerers, and Warlocks, Charisma serves as the Spellcasting ability. This is crucial for determining the saving throw DCs for the spells they execute.
Additionally, while Paladins utilize Charisma to fuel their spellcasting capabilities, it’s worth noting that they are not as dependent on their spells as specialized casting classes, given their melee orientation.
This is a guide that explains how the Ability Scores in DnD 5e works