How to Play D&D Episode 3 - Ability Scores


Whether you want to backflip off the table away from an orc's axe, or fire your crossbow through the eye socket of that skeleton coming towards you, there are two constant elements that dictate almost everything you do in dungeons and dragons, and those are the d20, which we talked about in episode 1, and your ability scores.


Your ability scores are used in almost every roll you can be called upon to make in D&D, and today we're going to talk about what exactly they are.




Ability scores in 5th edition are broken down into 6 different statistics, which are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.



Strength represents how physically strong you are. This is used to determine things like how much damage you do with many close combat weapons, or how much you can lift and carry.



Next is dexterity, which represents your characters reflexes and fine motor skills. Dexterity is used when you fight with most ranged weapons or when you need to do something particularly delicate like picking a lock, or sneaking into the enemy camp.



Constitution is a representation of your heartiness - how tough you are. Your hit points are affected by your constitution and a better constitution means you'll have an easier time resisting poisons or diseases.


Those three make up your physical stats, but just as in the real world, you are not only your body, but also your mind, feelings, and emotions. So in D&D, you have 3 mental stats as well.



First up is intelligence. This is book learning and conventional smarts. You would use intelligence to see if you knew a piece of history, or to see if you can figure out the clues at a crime scene.



Next up we have wisdom, which is how wise you are, and represents a more subconscious gut feeling a lot of the time. It also represents how attuned to the world around you you are.



And finally we have charisma, which is your charm, wit, and how personable you are. If you need to talk to people to get the job done, chances are you'll be using your charisma to do it.




When you create your character, you will assign a number to each of these abilities and that will impact almost everything you do from then on.


But don't worry, even if you have a low score in an ability, there are still plenty of ways for you to succeed at tasks, and besides, weaknesses can be really fun to roleplay.


The values for your ability scores can range between 1 and 20, but usually your ability scores will be chosen from a standard array of numbers which are 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8.

You determine the values for these abilities at character creation, and they can increase as you get more powerful, so long as they don't go over 20.


We'll cover the specifics of all of that in future episodes, but for now we just need to assign some numbers to our ability scores. 




Once you've got the values of your ability scores, we need to work out our ability modifiers.


As I mentioned in episode 1, any time you want to do something in D&D that has a chance of failure, you roll a twenty sided dice and apply your modifiers.


One of these modifiers is your ability score modifier. If the task you are trying to accomplish incorporates one of your abilities, you add the modifier for that ability to the result of the d20 roll.


Your ability score modifier is determined by your base ability score, and to calculate your modifier without using the table on page 13 of the PHB, just take your ability score, subtract 10 from the score, and divide the result by 2 rounding down.


So, for example, if you're strength was 13, and you increased it to 14, your modifier would change from a +1 to a +2.




You'll use this modifier whenever your character is called on to perform a task using one of their base abilities. This is called an Ability check.


When making an ability check, your DM will decide which of your abilities is the most relevant to the task and set the difficulty class, or DC, to determine the number you need to overcome to succeed.


A good example is trying to kick down a door using your raw, brute strength. You would roll a d20 and add your strength modifier. If you beat the DC set by the DM you would kick the door open.




Sometimes, two or more characters will be directly opposed against one another, and in these situations, your DM might call for an ability contest.


In an ability contest, both participants roll a d20 and add the ability modifier specified by the DM, with the person scoring the highest wining.


A classic example of this is an arm wrestle, where both participants add their strength modifier to their d20 roll to determine the winner, but you can use contests in all sorts of creative ways.


A footrace might be a dexterity contest, and eating contest would rely on constitution, a spelling bee on intelligence, or rap battle on Charisma.




Another way you'll use your ability scores is with passive checks, which represent a baseline level of competence in your abilities.


A passive check doesn't require any dice to be rolled, and represent the things your character would do without any active thought and effort.


Passive checks are really useful for your dungeon master to secretly determine if you succeed at something without asking you to roll any dice and ruin the surprise.


To determine the total for a character's passive check, you take 10 + all modifiers that normally apply, such as the ability modifiers, or the proficiency modifiers we talked about in episode 1.


If there was a hidden threat in the dungeon you were exploring, your DM might use your passive perception, which is based on your wisdom modifier, to determine whether you see the threat without actively looking for it.




Finally, there may be times where you want to help your fellow characters achieve something, and to do this, rather than multiple characters rolling dice, the person with the highest ability modifier makes an ability check with advantage to represent their friends helping them .


If your group was trying to hold the door to stop a swarm of skeletons from over running you, the strongest of you would make the ability check, but they would get advantage because at least one other person is helping them.


The last big area of the game that is impacted by your ability scores is the skills system, which we are going to talk about in the next episode, so be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with every new episode in the series.