Anything you want your character to do in D&D is affected by ability scores. Whether you’re a halfling bard who wants to charm a merchant, a dragonborn cleric who wants to heal an ally, or a changeling rogue who needs to impersonate a noble – your character’s stats and core ability scores influence how likely they are to succeed.
Even the best adventures have weak points. For example, they might be the best sneaky sneak who can get past even the most vigilant watcher, but they don’t know how to read. Getting the right mix of high and low core stats for your character creates the adventurer you want to play. Read on for everything you need to know about ability scores – how ability scores work in gameplay, any skills or actions each core stat affects, and the different ways you can generate your character’s ability scores! Let’s get into it!
- What are the core D&D abilities?
- What are Ability Scores used for?
- Ability Scores and Ability Modifiers
- Ability Scores and Skill Checks
- Strength (STR)
- Dexterity (DEX)
- Constitution (CON)
- Intelligence (INT)
- Wisdom (WIS)
- Charisma (CHA)
- Ability Scores and Combat
- Ability Scores and Melee Combat
- Ability Scores and Spellcasting Combat
- Saving Throws
- How to get Ability Scores for Your Character
- How to Assign Your Ability Scores
- Multiclassing and Ability Score Minimums
- Stat Bonuses by Race
- Before you go…
- You may also like these D&D articles
What are the core D&D abilities?
Core ability scores, or core stats, are the foundation of your character’s abilities. Any d20 roll you make in D&D is affected by them – for better or worse!
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There are six different core ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. They each cover a wide range of actions and abilities, but the shortlist below gives you a quick guide to each one.
Page 12, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition
- Strength – Natural athleticism, bodily power
- Dexterity – Physical agility, reflexes, balance, poise
- Constitution – Health, stamina, vital force
- Intelligence – Mental acuity, information recall, analytical skill
- Wisdom – Awareness, intuition, insight
- Charisma – Confidence, eloquence, leadership
A fun way to remember what each stat does is the tomato analogy.
Strength is being able to crush a tomato. Dexterity is being able to dodge a tomato. Constitution is being able to eat a bad tomato. Intelligence is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put a tomato in a fruit salad. Charisma is being able to sell a tomato-based fruit salad.DND Reddit User tan620
What are Ability Scores used for?
Ability scores affect pretty much every d20 roll you make in D&D. They are that important!
To make the best decision for your character’s stats, it helps to know what each core ability does, as well as how it’s used as you play. Ability scores are used for all the things below. Don’t worry if they are new to you, I explain each one simply as we go.
- Ability Modifiers – Each ability score gets turned into an ability modifier number to use with your dice rolls.
- Initiative – Who goes first and turn order.
- Melee Combat – Hitting your target, how much damage you do.
- Spellcasting – Hitting your target, what your target needs to roll to defend itself.
- Skill Checks – Whether your world actions succeed or fail e.g. climbing a wall, knowing what a magical item does, charming a local. Different actions are associated with different skills.
- Saving Throws – Rolls you make to resist spells, traps, etc. Also called saves. Rolls powered by your Dexterity, Wisdom, or Constitution are the most common.
- Passive Checks – Whether you notice something passively during your adventures without actively looking for it. Also used to save you rolling dice for repetitive tasks like checking for traps.
Ability Scores and Ability Modifiers
So you can use it in gameplay, an ability score gets turned into a number that you add to or subtract from your dice rolls. This number is called an ‘Ability Modifier’. The higher your ability score, the higher your ability modifier, and the more likely you are to succeed in what you want to do – hit a monster, jump over a wall, detect traps – whatever!
This table shows you which ability score becomes which ability modifier.
Ability Scores and Skill Checks
Want to walk over a tightrope to the next building and lower a ladder for your party using your acrobatics skill? Use your persuasion skill on the locals at the tavern to dish the dirt on the barkeep? See if your skill in arcana tells you what that glowing orb does?
For all of these actions, your DM will ask you to make a ‘Skill Check’. You roll a d20, add any bonuses and if your result is higher than the difficulty the DM sets, you succeed. Hooray!
The higher your main ability score, the more you can add to your Skill Check d20 roll. If your character is also trained in the Skill you’re using, you can add even more to your roll by adding your proficiency bonus. Your proficiency bonus increases as you level up. At level 1, it’s +2. For more info see my Proficiency Bonus guide.
Each Skill is associated with a different core ability. Acrobatics with Dexterity, Persuasion with Charisma, and Arcana with Intelligence, etc.
Skill Check = Roll a d20 + Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus
For example, I want my level 2 Monk to use a tightrope to cross between buildings and unlock a gate from the other side. My DM says, ‘Roll me an Acrobatics skill check’. I roll a d20. It lands on 12. I add on my Dexterity ability modifier of +3 and my proficiency bonus of +2 for Acrobatics. 12+3+2=17. A pretty decent score so a DM would likely say that it succeeds.
See how the ability modifier and proficiency bonus transformed my average roll of 12 into a good result of 17?
“Strength measures bodily power, athletic training, and the extent to which you can exert raw physical force.”Page 175, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition
Strength is what you’d expect it to be – how physically strong your character is.
Strong characters are powerful users of melee weapons and they can throw their weight around to shove and grapple creatures in combat.
During adventures, characters with high strength are great at lifting heavy things, dragging and pushing stuff, and carrying lots of equipment.
Classes that need high Strength
Barbarians, Fighters, and Paladins use Strength as their main stat for hitting with melee weapons like maces and warhammers and for calculating damage. So the higher their Strength score, the more likely they are to hit, and do decent damage!
Most melee weapon attacks are based on strength, so bear that in mind if you want a character that’s good at hand-to-hand.
Classes that are Proficient in Strength Saving Throws
Barbarian, Fighter, Monk, and Ranger all have proficiency in Strength Saving Throws.
Races that get a bonus to Strength
Mountain Dwarf (+2), Half-orc (+2), Dragonborn (+2), Human (+1)
Strength Check Examples
Your DM might ask you to make a Strength check for actions like these:
Page 175, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition
- Force open a stuck, locked, or barred door
- Break free of bonds
- Hang on to a wagon while being dragged behind it
- Tip over a statue
- Keep a boulder from rolling
You arrive at the point on the river where the bridge is supposed to be. It’s there, but it’s raised and the winch is on the other side of the river. Judging by the swirling water, the current looks pretty strong.
Athletics is the only Strength based skill in 5e. You use it whenever you climb, swim, or jump high or over long distances. You might not need to make an ability check for simple actions like swimming across a small river, but if there’s a very strong current in the river that makes it more difficult, then you might need to roll for it.
Other Strength Checks
Grappling and Shoving both need an Athletics skill check.
When you want to grab a creature or wrestle with it, you can use the Attack action to make a special melee attack, a grapple.Page 195, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition
This isn’t like a bear hug or rolling on the ground trying to pin them – it’s just keeping hold of the other creature. Your DM needs to roll higher than your Strength and Athletics skills combined for the creature to escape!
Shoving a Creature
Using the Attack action, you can make a special melee attack to shove a creature, either to knock it prone or push it away from you.Page 195, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition
Shoving doesn’t deal any damage to the creature you shove. But it’s super handy if you need a little breathing room!
Lifting, Carrying, and Encumbrance
Your character can carry 15 times their Strength score, which easily covers all their equipment, even if they’re a hoarder! They can drag, push, and lift 30 times their Strength score.
These numbers are so high that even a halfling with Strength 10 can lift 300 pounds – despite only weighing about 30 pounds!
Most ignore rules about encumbrance and carrying capacities except in cases of obvious silliness such as trying to carry around a horse!
“Deterity measures agility, reflexes, and balance. A Dexterity check can model any attempt to move nimbly, quickly, or quietly, or to keep from falling on tricky footing.”Page 176, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition
Dexterity covers dodging, avoiding area effects like fire, picking locks, gymnastics, and sneaking. It’s also used for attacking with finesse weapons such as daggers and rapiers, and ranged weapons like bows and slings.
Classes that need high Dexterity
Monks, Rangers, and Rogues benefit from a high Dexterity score.
Monks get a Dexterity bonus to armor because they’re completely unarmored. Think of it like dodging out of the way! Dexterity can power their unarmed strike and monk weapons.
Rangers use ranged weapons like bows which use Dexterity to hit monsters and calculate damage done.
Rogues use finesse weapons like daggers which can use Dexterity or Strength to hit monsters and calculate damage. If you’re playing a sneaky sneak classic rogue, then you’ll want the Stealth and Slight of Hand skills which use Dexterity.
Classes that are Proficient in Dexterity Saving Throws
Bards, Monks, Rangers, and Rogues all have proficiency with Dexterity Saving Throws.
Races that get a Dexterity Bonus
Elf (+2), Forest gnome (+1), Halfling (+2), Human (+1)
Dexterity Check Examples
Page 195, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition
- Control a heavily laden cart on a steep descent
- Steer a chariot around a tight turn
- Pick a lock
- Disable a trap
- Wriggle free of bonds
- Play a stringed instrument
- Craft a small or detailed object
Acrobatics, Slight of Hand, and Stealth are all skills based on Dexterity.
A merchant has been missing for several weeks. While investigating, you spot an open window above their storefront door. You could reach it by walking along the tightrope that connects the building to its neighbor.
Somersaulting off a wall, staying upright on a ship in stormy seas, and walking across an icy lake, would all fall (hah!) under the Acrobatics skill. Anything that requires agility and coordination, really. It’s also used to resist and escape from grapples, and land successfully after long jumping into difficult terrain (e.g. loose shale).
Sleight of Hand
The only way to gain access to the room at the back of the inn is by winning at cards. The other players are very, very good. But they have had a lot to drink and aren’t paying close attention.
Want to pick a pocket, palm a card, or plant a stolen ring in someone’s pocket? That’s what Sleight of Hand is all about. It typically rolls against another creature’s Passive Perception (their ability to notice things happening around them).
You hear the orcs snoring as you approach the camp. There are more here than you were expecting. A lot more. Fortunately, the guards are facing the other way, and the staff you need is right there in front of you, leaning against the side of the tent.
Sneaky sneaks everywhere need the stealth skill. Slinking into orc camps, merging with the shadows to avoid detection, sneaking up behind a creature – all come under stealth. Train in Stealth to hide, avoid being detected and sneak around.
Roll for Initiative
Your party is sneaking through a goblin camp during the day while the goblins are sleeping. Your clumsy wizard trips over a tent rope and falls headlong into a goblin tent, waking the entire camp. The goblins surround her. Your DM Says, “Roll for initiative”.
At the start of combat, you, the rest of your party, all monsters, and any non-player characters, all ‘roll for initiative’. Each character rolls a d20 and adds their Dexterity ability modifier and the results are put in order of highest to lowest. The highest number goes first.
If going early in combat is important for your character, a high Dexterity score will help! So will our top tips on boosting your initiative rolls in our full Initiative Guide!
Constitution measures health, stamina and vital force.Page 177, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition
Constitution checks are uncommon, and no skills apply to Constitution checks, because the endurance this ability represents is largely passive rather than involving a specific effort on the part of a character or monster. A Constitution check can model your attempt to push beyond normal limits, however.
Constitution is how tough your character is. It represents how many hits they can take, their general resilience, and their ability to resist poisons and stay conscious. Constitution also represents your character’s ability to keep going when things are taxing on the body, such as holding their breath, traveling long distances, and going without sleep.
Classes that need High Constitution
Everyone needs some points in Constitution because it determines your total Hit Points. It’s also used to resist some spells, abilities, and poison, and to check for exhaustion. If you’re playing a spellcaster, Constitution will help you to keep concentrating on a spell when taking damage.
A high Constitution score can be even more helpful for players who will be taking the most hits.
In my last campaign, I played a Barbarian who spent most of her time hitting creatures and being hit by them! Without a high Constitution score, and therefore a high Hit Point total, I would have been taken out of action more easily!
If your character will be mostly doing ranged attacks and/or dodging out of the way of creatures, in my opinion, a high Constitution score usually isn’t as essential.
Classes that are Proficient in Constitution Saving Throws
Barbarians, Fighters, and Sorcerers are proficient in Constitution Saving Throws.
Races that get a Constitution Bonus
Dwarf (+2), Stout halfing (+1), Rock Gnome (+1), Half-Orc (+1), Human (+1)
Constitution Check Examples
Constitution checks are rare, but your DM might ask for one if your character is challenging themselves beyond the normal limits.
Page 177, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition
- Hold your breath
- Walk or labor for hours without rest
- Go without sleep
- Survive without food or water
No skills are based on Constitution. But it does determine your character’s Hit Points (HP).
Hit Points are a useful guide to how many times your character can be hit, but that’s only part of it. HP also reflects their physical endurance, mental resilience, and will to live. You can see this play out when making Saving Throws to survive when your HP is 0, or making Consitution Saving Throws to maintain concentration on spells while being hit.
Hit Points by Class
Different classes start with a different number of Hit Points and gain different amounts as they level up. Over the course of a campaign, this can lead to huge variations between the max HP of classes!
Your starting HP is set by your character’s class + your Constitution ability modifier. Everytime you level up, you can either: roll to see how many extra Hit Points you add, or add the number from the handbook. Whichever you choose, add your Constitution modifier to the number to get the total HP to add.
You can see from the class Hit Points table below that Barbarians usually start with the highest HP and also gain the most points as they level up. Sorcerers and Wizards both start with the least and gain the least as they level.
|Level 1||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|
Intelligence measures mental acuity, accuracy of recall, and the ability to reason. An Intelligence check comes into play when you need to draw on logic, education, memory, or deductive reasoning.Page 177, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition
Intelligence measures your character’s ability to think, remember factoids, and apply logic. A character with a high Intelligence score is a font of trivia, good at puzzles and riddles, and is probably well educated.
Classes that need High Intelligence
Wizards draw their power for their spells from their study of magic, their Intelligence.
Having a high Intelligence score increases the likelihood a Wizard will hit their target with spells and makes their spells more difficult to resist.
Classes that are Proficient in Intelligence Saving Throws
Druids, Rogues, and Wizards are proficient in Intelligence Saving Throws.
Races that get an Intelligence Bonus
High Elf (+1), Gnome (+2), Tiefling (+1), Human (+1)
Intelligence Check Examples
Page 178, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition
- Communicate with a creature without using words
- Estimate the value of a precious item
- Pull together a disguise to pass as a city guard
- Forge a document
- Recall lore about a craft or trade
- Win a game of skill
Arcana, History, Investigation, Nature, and Religion are all skills based on Intelligence.
Deep in a cave, you find a glowing orb. As a student of Arcana, it’s clear to you there is some powerful magic at work here.
Arcana is your character’s working knowledge of magic. How magic works, identifying spells as they’re being cast, detecting and understanding magic items, interpreting magical symbols, knowledge of magical traditions and other planes of existence, and dealing with things like curses and illusions.
Your party enters a clearing surrounded by enormous old stones. You can just make out an ancient engraving on the side of the central stone.
History measures your knowledge of the past and ability to recall it. Recognizing the sigil of a long-gone dynasty, remembering who won a historic battle, and general historical trivia all come under the History skill.
Someone has ransacked the library at the mage’s college leaving quite a mess. The only existing copy of a book of necromancy has been taken. You need to find out who did this.
Arguably one of the most frequently used skills, Investigation is used for all manner of sleuthing activities such as looking for clues, making deductions, identifying types of illusions, and searching for information within documents. Some DMs may also use this skill to check for traps or look for hidden mechanisms.
You arrive at the beach cave while the tide is out. The glowing moss you need is deep inside the cave. Can you collect the moss and get out before the tide comes back in?
Nature measures your character’s knowledge of the natural world. Things like plants, animals, geography, terrain, weather, and natural cycles like tides and seasons fall under this umbrella.
Below the trapdoor in the tavern, you find a shrine adorned with candles, drawings, and jewelry – all bearing the same symbol.
Religion represents your character’s knowledge of gods, religious orders, as well as holy symbols, rites, prayers, lore, and even secret cults!
Wisdom reflects how attuned you are to the world around you and represents perceptiveness and intuition.
A wisdom check might reflect an effort to read body language, understand someone’s feelings, notice things about the environment or care for an injured person.Page 178, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition
Wisdom is a measure of your character’s insight, intuition, and general practical intelligence. A character that has high Wisdom will be in tune with the world and creatures around them. They’re often quite observant, clever, and sensible, with an uncanny ability to notice subtle details and choose the right path when the best path forward isn’t clear.
Classes that need High Wisdom
Clerics, Druids, and Monks all benefit from a high Wisdom score.
Clerics and Druids use Wisdom to power their spellcasting ability which increases the likelihood they will hit their target with spells and makes their spells more difficult to resist.
Monks are an unarmored class, so instead of getting their armor value from wearing chainmail shirts and the like, their armor class is calculated using their Wisdom (and Dexterity).
Rangers benefit from a moderate Wisdom score, especially if you’re playing a Ranger that uses lots of spells, because Wisdom powers their spellcasting ability.
Classes that get a Wisdom Bonus
Hill dwarf (+1), Wood Elf (+1), Human (+1)
Wisdom Skill Check Examples
- Use your intuition to decide what to do
- Detect if a skeleton is about to raise again
Animal Handling, Insight, Medicine, Perception, and Survival are all based on Wisdom.
You follow the sound of someone groaning to a moonlit clearing in the forest. A pack of small wild cats is arranged in a circle around where the noise is coming from. The feline matriarch hisses at you as you approach.
This is your go-to for interacting with animals of any kind. Calming a horse, training a dog, or earning the trust of a squirrel all fall under this skill.
“Help!” A disheveled halfling stumbles onto the path in front of you. His high-quality clothes are torn and he looks roughed up. “Bandits…please…they took my mother’s locket… the only thing I have left… not far…” He heads back into the trees. That’s weird. You don’t remember hearing any fighting.
Insight is how good your character is at reading creatures. How they are feeling, their true intentions, motives, anticipating what they might do next, and whether they are lying. Can your character pick up on the creature’s tells, subtle changes in their voice and body language?
The Insight Skill is an active skill check. So if you have a suspicion, you can actively roll to check for it.
Passive Insight is a passive skill check based on your Insight score. If a creature is trying to lie to you, they need to roll higher than 10 + your Insight modifier to succeed.
Thwack! The Bugbear’s morningstar hits your party’s cleric in the chest. They fall to the floor unconscious. Your only healer is down. Someone needs to help them… before it’s too late.
Medicine is your character’s basic, non-magical medical knowledge. You use it to stabilize characters with 0 HP and diagnose illnesses. It may not seem like much when there are spells that will heal you, but you never know when you might need it!
As you enter the ballroom, your host greets you with open arms. “Darlings! Welcome!” The room is full of partying nobles and loud with laughter. In spite of the joyous atmosphere, something doesn’t seem right.
The Perception skill helps your character notice things around them – a sneaky sneak trying to blend into the shadows of a street, the smell of recently extinguished candles in the air, hearing branches snap near your camp during night watch. You could roll also an active perception check to see if you can hear a private conversation through a wall, find a secret passageway through a bookcase, or check if the coast is clear before entering a room.
Perception represents anything your character could hear, see, smell, taste, touch, and otherwise detect with their senses.
A character with high Perception has a greater awareness of their surroundings and is more likely to spot things before other characters.
The Perception Skill is an active skill check. So if you want to focus on something, you can actively roll to see if you can detect anything.
There are also Passive Perception checks. Your DM may roll against your Passive Perception score to see if your character has noticed something that’s happening around them. We have a complete guide to Passive Perception here!
Storm clouds loom overhead as you walk alongside the river. It’s only a matter of time before the storm breaks and floods the valley.
Fancy a wilderness survival character? Then you need this skill.
Tracking, foraging, starting a fire, building a shelter, finding a suitable substitute for toilet paper, and generally living without creature comforts are all covered by the Survival skill. You might need to make a Survival skill check to plot a safe route through marshlands, find where wild horses graze, and avoid natural hazards like avalanches and landslides.
Charisma measures your ability to interact effectively with others. It includes such factors as confidence and eloquence, and it can represent a charming or commanding personality.Page 178, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition
A character with high Charisma is often charming, popular, or imposing. They fall naturally into leadership roles, make friends easily, and typically accomplish their goals through talk.
Classes that need high Charisma
Bards, Sorcerers, and Warlocks all power their spellcasting ability with Charisma. A high Charisma score makes it more likely their spells will hit and their spells are harder for creatures to resist.
Paladins also power their spellcasting ability with Charisma, so some points will be helpful. But as a melee class, they are less reliant on their spells than the casting classes are.
Races that get a Charisma Bonus
Half-Elf (+2), Drow (+1), Lightfoot Halfling (+1), Dragonborn (+1), Human (+1), Tiefling (+2)
Charisma Skill Check Examples
Page 179, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition
- Find the best person to talk to for news, rumors, and gossip
- Blend into a crowd to get the sense of key topics of conversation
Skills that use Charisma
Deception, Intimidation, Performance, and Persuasion all use Charisma.
There’s a guard outside the door to the secret cellar where the summoners meet. He eyes you suspiciously. It’s time to see if your disguise and backstory are enough to convince him you’ve just joined the order.
The Deception skill covers lying, distracting, and misleading other creatures. Pretending to be someone else to get past a guard, cheating at a game of Dragonchess, swindling a merchant, giving a fake alibi for your partner – would all come under Deception.
When you attempt to fool someone, your DM will decide whether the person you’re attempting to fool uses their Passive Insight, or if they have to roll to see if they detect your deception.
Whichever method is used, their Insight will need to be higher than your Charisma + Deception modifier to figure out what you’re up to!
As you head down the alley in the undesirable area of town, a gang of cloaked figures emerges from the shadows. The leader holds a dagger out in front of him. “Oi, giv us your coin. ”
Intimidation is exactly what it sounds like. It’s your character’s ability to get what they want using physical force, threats, and generally being hostile.
You might use this skill to get a captive to tell you where the treasure is, chase away ambushers, force a gatekeeper to let you pass, or convince a scribe to sign a release order.
While you may immediately think of a large character excelling at this skill, a small scheming character with a twisted smile who knows the weaknesses of their target can be just as effective.
Two orcs in uniform are guarding the stone bridge over the river. *yawn* “You want to pass, you pay the toll.” *sigh* “The days must feel very long working out here all day with nothing to do. You deserve some entertainment. How about a song instead?”
The best friend of Bards everywhere, the Performance skill covers any form of entertainment, such as singing, dancing, acting, storytelling, or playing music. The higher your Performance score, the more likely you are to put on a good show and enchant your audience!
You’d use Performance to entertain the locals at the tavern in exchange for free lodgings for the night, put on a short play for the town to raise money to buy supplies, and tell a story by the campfire to comfort a new companion.
You’ve reached the top of the mountain. You’re cold, night is drawing near, and a few flurries of snow have started to fall. The only building for miles around is a solitary cabin with lights shining from its windows. Maybe they’ll let you stay for the night.
Intimidation’s soft-spoken cousin, Persuasion allows your character to peacefully influence others through tact, rhetoric, and social grace. It’s handy for negotiations, making new friends, and talking your way out of sticky situations.
You’d use Persuasion to break up an argument in the town square, convince an apothecary that you’re a good person who won’t use their potion for bad things, or get a High Lord to agree to your plans.
Ability Scores and Combat
Ability scores affect combat in a few ways – initiative, hitting your target, and the damage you do.
Roll for Initiative
Before combat starts everyone, including creatures and characters controlled by the DM, rolls for initiative to decide who goes first, second, third and and so on.
Everyone rolls a d20 and adds their Dexterity modifier. The highest result goes first and the rest follow in descending order. For more on initiative and how to boost your modifer see my full Initiative Guide!
Ability Scores and Melee Combat
Rolling to Hit – Melee
Before you can damage a foe, you first need to make sure your attack hits! You can improve your chances to hit by having a high ability modifier in the ability your weapon uses, and having proficiency with that type of weapon.
Roll to hit = Roll a d20 + Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus
For melee attacks, the ability modifier you add to your roll depends on the type of weapon you’re using. Which type do you want your character to use?
- Heavy like hammers and greatswords, it’s Strength.
- Finesse like rapiers and shortswords, you can choose whether to use Dexterity or Strength.
- One you can throw using the ‘thrown’ property, it’s Strength.
- Ranged like bows, it’s Dexterity.
I’ve made quick reference tables for simple melee and ranged weapons and their ability modifiers below. If the weapon you want to use isn’t in these tables, it is a martial melee or martial ranged weapon so you’ll need a class that is trained to use it.
|Simple Melee||Finesse/Thrown||Ability Modifier|
|Dagger||Finesse, Thrown||Strength or Dexterity|
|Handaxe||Thrown||Strength or Dexterity|
|Javelin||Thrown||Strength or Dexterity|
|Light Hammer||Thrown||Strength or Dexterity|
|Spear||Thrown||Strength or Dexterity|
|Simple Ranged||Properties||Ability Modifier|
|Dart||Finesse, Thrown||Strength or Dexterity|
|Barbarian||Simple and martial weapons|
|Bard||Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords,|
|Druid||Clubs, daggers, darts, javelins, maces, quarterstaffs,|
scimitars, sickles, slings, spears
|Fighter||Simple and martial weapons|
|Monk||Simple weapons, shortswords|
|Paladin||Simple and martial weapons|
|Ranger||Simple and martial weapons|
|Rogue||Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords,|
|Sorcerer||Daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs, light crossbows|
|Wizard||Daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs, light crossbows|
For example, I want my level 1 Cleric to swing at a goblin with their Mace. I roll a d20. It lands on 12. I add on my Strength ability modifier of +3 and my proficiency bonus for proficiency with simple melee weapons of +2. 12+3+2=17. By adding the modifiers, my result of 17 is higher than the goblin’s Armor Class of 15, so my Mace hits. Whack!
Rolling for Damage – Melee
If your attack hits its target, awesome! You then get to roll to see how much damage your attack does!
For melee, you roll the weapon’s damage dice and add on the same ability modifier you did to hit. For example, if you hit with a greatsword, you would roll 2d6 and add your Strength modifier to give the total damage number.
Melee damage = Roll weapon’s damage dice + Ability Modifier used to hit
Note: You don’t add your proficiency bonus to damage. It’s only added to rolls to hit.
Ability Scores and Spellcasting Combat
Rolling to Hit with Spells
Some spells, like Magic Missile, hit automatically. But most will say make a “ranged spell attack” or a “melee spell attack.”
Rolling to hit with a spell = d20 + Spellcasting Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus
For spells, the Spellcasting Ability modifier you use depends on where your class gets their magical power from. For example, for a warlock it’s the deals they have made with their patrons using their Charisma.
Which ability modifier is used for the class you want to play? Make sure you have a decent score in that ability and read my full guide to Spellcasting Ability to learn how to boost that score!
|Class||Spellcasting Ability Modifier|
|Fighter (Eldritch Knight)||Intelligence|
|Monk (Way of the Four Elements)||Wisdom|
|Rogue (Arcane Trickster)||Intelligence|
For example, I want my level 3 Warlock to cast Eldritch Blast at an owlbear. I make a ranged spell attack and roll a d20. It lands on 11. I add on my Charisma ability modifier of +3 and my proficiency bonus of +2. 11+3+2=16. 16 is higher than the owlbear’s Armor Class of 13, so my spell hits. Crackle!
To save you from calculating this every time you roll to hit with a spell, your Spellcasting Ability Modifier + Your Proficiency Bonus gives you your Spell Attack Bonus which is added to every spell attack roll you make. I have an article all about Spell Attack Bonus and how to make your spells more likely to hit!
Spell Save DC
Usually, your roll to hit will be against your target’s Armor Class. But for some spells, your target might get the chance to resist your spell by rolling against it.
Your Spell Save DC represents how difficult it is for your targets to resist your spell. The higher your Spell Save DC, the harder it is for them to resist it. For some spells, this is what monsters need to roll against to see if your spell actually hits.
Your Spell Save DC = 8 + your Spellcasting Ability modifier + your Proficiency Bonus + any Special Modifiers
For more on Spell Save DC, see our article.
Rolling for Spell Damage
Your spell meets its mark! Nice. Let’s see how much damage it does.
Spell damage = Roll the damage dice from the spell’s description
For example, if my Eldritch Blast hit, I would roll 1d10 damage. That’s it.
Unfortunately, you don’t add any additional modifiers to spell damage.
Saving Throws are rolls you make to resist spells, poisons, traps, etc. They are also called saves.
Just like everything else your ability scores affect, the higher your score, the higher your ability modifier, and the more likely you are to succeed with your Saving Throw.
Saving Throw = Roll a d20 + Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus
Each class has proficiency in two Saving Throws, one common which is likely to come up quite frequently, and one uncommon which comes up less often.
- Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom are common saving throws.
- Strength, Intelligence, and Charisma are uncommon saving throws.
How to get Ability Scores for Your Character
Now that you know all the things your Ability Scores effect, it’s time for the fun bit! Actually getting and applying them to your character!
There are three main ways to create Ability Scores – Standard Array, Rolling Stats, and Point Buy. They all have their pros and cons and some are simpler to use than others.
Check which method your DM wants you to use to create your character before delving into it. Consider giving your DM a gift to get the method you want, but you didn’t hear that from me!
Standard Array is the easiest way to get ability scores, and is ideal for first-time players. With Standard Array, you have 6 pre-set numbers: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8. You then assign each number to an ability. Job done!
While straightforward, it does have drawbacks. Classes that benefit from multiple high ability scores are at a disadvantage. And you end up with one stat sitting at a paltry 8, giving you a negative modifier for that ability.
I created a full-length guide to D&D Standard Array, so you can know everything about the gold standard of ability scores too!
Also sometimes referred to as the 4d6 drop method, rolling stats is the traditional way to generate ability scores.
You roll 4 x d6, drop the lowest number, and add up the rest. For example, if I rolled 3, 5, 2, 4. I’d drop the 2, and add up 3+5+4=12.
You rinse and repeat five times, giving you six numbers. Then you assign your six numbers to the stats you want.
The pros to this method are that it forces you to be more creative with your randomly generated ability scores, and you can end up with some absolutely bonkers starting stats! But on the downside, your character can be saddled with some useless stats, too.
Luckily, I’ve got more tips in our Rolling Stats How-To Guide.
If you aren’t keen on the randomness of Rolling Stats, but you’re too much of a control freak for Standard Array, Point Buy might be the ability score generation method for you! You can fine-tune your character’s stats and it’s well-loved by experienced players because of it.
With Point Buy, all your ability scores start at 8. You’re given 27 points that you can use to purchase ability score increases from a table.
|Ability Score||Point Cost|
A major downside to this is that your highest possible score before applying racial bonuses is 15. But it can still provide a lot of interesting options for play. Our complete Point Buy Guide in 5e D&D covers it step by step with Pros and Cons.
Not sure which method to use? That’s okay! My article – Standard Array vs Point Buy vs Rolling will help you decide.
Bonus: The ‘Bingo’ Method
The Bingo Method is an extra option for generation ability scores. Check with your DM to see if they’re okay with this, but it’s pretty fun!
It starts with the Roll Stats method of rolling 4d6, dropping the lowest, and adding the lot together. But here’s where things get interesting. After you do that, write the six results out in a row. Then rinse and repeat five more times to generate five more rows of six results. You should now have a 6×6 table of ability scores.
Now, you draw a line along six numbers: a row, a column, or a diagonal. Those are your six scores. There are two ways of doing this method: either each player rolls their own table to generate scores from, or the whole party shares a table, each player taking a different row, column, or diagonal. It can be an interesting way to shake things up if you want to try something different!
How to Assign Your Ability Scores
What type of character do you want to play?
A high-born wizard who looks down on everyone but is so powerful they keep him in the party? A loud, jolly, larger-than-life cleric who wants to be everyone’s friend but drinks too much? A talented bard who believes they are already famous and signs autographs for everyone they meet?
Whoever you want to play, remember that the best characters have strengths and weaknesses.
What is a good starting ability score?
At level 1, 5e D&D tends to assume you’ll have a 16 or higher in the ability that’s most important for your class.
Generally, the maximum you’ll start with in any ability is 17 or 18. 14 is also pretty good, and is a solid score for Constitution.
TIP: Don’t neglect Constitution. Everybody needs Hit Points! And if you’re a front-line class like a barbarian or fighter, bump it up even higher if you can.
Some classes, like monks, benefit from high scores in multiple stats. But it’s difficult to get higher than 15 in more than one stat. When you have to choose, go for whatever you’ll use to attack to be your highest score.
Making your classes’ primary attack stat your highest score is a solid way to build a character, but it’s not the only way. You can mix things up for fun and interesting roleplay. How about a charismatic wizard who sucks at spellcasting but can talk their way out of any situation? Or a clumsy rouge with low dexterity who trips over their own feet and wakes up every goblin in the dungeon?
What is the maximum ability score?
Player character ability scores range from 1 – 20, and monsters 1 – 30. There are a few magical exceptions that can raise a character’s ability score above 20, but they are very rare.
Multiclassing and Ability Score Minimums
At level 2 you can multiclass and gain a level in another class. It’s very cool! BUT, you need to have minimum scores in the stats for your new class. Bear that in mind when setting your initial ability scores!
|Class||Ability Score Minimum|
|Fighter||Strength 13 or Dexterity 13|
|Monk||Dexterity 13 and Wisdom 13|
|Paladin||Strength 13 and Charisma 13|
|Ranger||Dexterity 13 and Wisdom 13|
Stat Bonuses by Race
If you really want a high stat in a specific ability, you might want the added extra points from race bonuses.
According to the D&D 5e Player’s Handbook, most races have +2 in one stat and +1 in another. The exceptions are:
- Mountain Dwarfs who have a +2 in Strength and a +2 in Constitution
- Humans who have +1 to all ability scores
- Half-Elf who have a +2 in Charisma and a +1 in any other two ability scores you choose
If you’re playing using Tasha’s Caldron of Everything character creation rules, you can choose which stat to give a +2 and which to give a +1, instead of using the ones set in the PHB.
|Elf (Dark / Drow)||+2||+1|
Before you go…
Now that you’ve got your ability scores all worked out, you need a fancy character sheet to put them on! See my favorites in Character Sheets – Custom, Online & Printable!
For more on character creation, you might enjoy my guide to D&D Alignments, or my article on character Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws, or check out my Hero Forge Custom Mini Review for visual character ideas.
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