Ability Scores Explained Simply
In a game of fifth edition D&D, a creature’s Ability Scores are the most pertinent numbers on their character sheet or in their stat block! These six numbers represent the various physical and mental capabilities of a living (or undead) creature, and inform the effectiveness of all their actions and defenses. Understanding them is key!
If you need some help understanding what each ability score governs on your character sheet, or need a quick reference to show people at your table as they’re creating characters, this article has you covered.
Also provided are some tomatoes to grossly simplify the function of each ability score, for extremely easy reference! And, as an added bonus, we will point out classes that should consider placing an emphasis on the listed Ability Score.
Strength represents a creature’s raw physical power! It’s not only a creature’s might, but their ability to put their muscles to effective use. High Strength scores usually accompany larger, bulkier creatures accustomed to strenuous muscular activity. Raising your Strength score improves:
- Your accuracy and damage when wielding melee/thrown weapons
- Your ability to carry/lift/drag objects
- Your general athleticism (Athletics skill)
- Your jumping height/distance
- Your resistance to being physically manipulated (Strength saving throws)
You should prioritize your Strength if you want your character to:
- Wield the deadliest melee weapons in the game
- Not be pushed around or knocked prone by enemies
- Be able to smash obstacles in their path
- Jump high/far
- Physically overpower opponents
- Carry lots of gear and move large objects
- Hit stuff. Hard!
Strength controls how many tomatoes a character can carry at a time.
A high Strength score is not beneficial for every character, but Barbarians, Fighters, and Paladins make great use of it!
Dexterity covers a creature’s fine motor skills, balance, and control over their body. Dextrous characters are often lithe, agile, and quick. As this Ability Score increases, so does:
- Your accuracy and damage with ranged weapons
- Your accuracy and damage with lightweight, quick melee weapons (Finesse)
- Your ability to avoid damage (Armor Class, Dexterity saving throws)
- Your ability to contort and control your body (Acrobatics skill)
- Your ability to act subtly and move quietly (Stealth and Sleight of Hand skills)
- Your reaction time (Initiative)
- Your ability to perform delicate tasks (lock picking, disarming traps, etc)
You should prioritize your Dexterity your character wants to:
- Wield ranged or Finesse weapons (daggers, rapiers, scimitars, etc)
- Be more likely to avoid taking damage
- Act quickly in dangerous situations
- Sneak around without being caught
- Pick locks, pick pockets, and generally do thief-y things
Dexterity determines how many tomatoes a character can juggle at a time.
Dexterity is a very useful ability score that every class benefits from utilizing, but Rogues and Monks benefit from it especially.
A creature’s Constitution expresses a creature’s health and hardiness. Having a high Constitution is accompanied by robust builds and stalwart vigor, as well as an effective immune system. Your Constitution Score governs:
- Your Hit Points (HP)
- Your ability to withstand poisons, diseases, and the like (Constitution saving throws)
- Your ability to take damage without breaking composure (concentration on spells)
Boost your Constitution if you’d like your character to:
- Be able to take plenty of damage
- Be less likely to suffer the effects of natural and magical maladies
- Concentrate on spells in spite of being hurt
- Outdrink other members of the party
Constitution reflects how many tomatoes a character can eat before they get sick.
All characters’ Hit Points are affected by their Constitution, but tanky classes like Barbarians, Paladins, and Fighters can really flex a large HP pool.
A creature’s knowledge about the world around them is represented by its Intelligence. Anything that can be learned or memorized through study, education, or careful scrutiny is covered by this Ability Score. Raising your Intelligence also increases:
- Your memorized knowledge about the world and its inhabitants (Arcana, History, Nature, and Religion skills)
- Your ability to locate and interpret clues (Investigation skill)
- Your ability to effectively cast complex arcane formulae (Spellcasting for Wizards)
- Your ability to ward off psychic assaults (Intelligence saving throws)
Emphasize a character’s Intelligence if you want them to:
- Be educated, and likely to be informed on a variety of subjects
- Be an effective sleuth
- Possess the capacity to pontificate profusely, presenting as perfectly pompous or pretentious
Intelligence tells one that a tomato is technically not a vegetable, but a fruit!
Intelligence is mainly used as the Ability Score that makes the Dungeon Master tell you about their world and story, but is much more important to Wizards, who use it to determine the effectiveness of their spells.
Creatures use their Wisdom Ability Score not only to take in new information about their surroundings, but also to apply their knowledge in ways that are immediately useful. If they are wise, characters often have keen senses, and know exactly what to do in desperate situations. Having a high Wisdom raises:
- Your situational awareness (Perception skill)
- Your ability to practically apply knowledge (Medicine and Survival skills)
- Your ability to interact with animals (Animal Handling skill)
- Your ability to read people and situations (Insight skill)
- Your strength of will (Wisdom saving throws)
- Your connection to divine or natural power, and your ability to wield it (Spellcasting for Clerics, Druids, and Rangers)
Prioritize your character’s Wisdom if you see your character:
- Perceiving danger before it happens
- Possessing an unbreakable will
- Being able to see through lies
- Knowing what to do in an emergency situation
- Making furry friends wherever they go
Wisdom tells us that tomatoes would not make a good ingredient in a fruit salad.
Since nobody likes being mind-controlled, Wisdom is always important! Druids, Clerics, and Monks are all able to effectively weaponize their Wisdom Ability Scores with their class features, making this a very important stat for them.
Charisma is a creature’s ability to force the world to bend to their will through force of personality. Charismatic characters can be charming or frightening, but always are captivating and impressive! Charisma affects:
- Your ability to make others do what you want (Persuade and Intimidate skills)
- Your ability to entertain and distract others (Performance skill)
- Your ability to impersonate another individual (Performance skill)
- Your ability to convincingly lie (Deception skill)
- Your power to manifest magic through willpower (Spellcasting for Bards, Paladins, Sorcerers, and Warlocks)
- Your ability to resist possession (Charisma saving throws)
Your character’s highest Ability Score should be Charisma if you’d prefer them to:
- Thrive in social situations
- Be able to convince others of facts that are untrue
- Cast magic based off emotion rather than devotion or understanding
- Manipulate others to your whims
- Be fun at parties
Charisma is your ability to sell others on the idea of your new tomato-based fruit salad.
High Charisma scores benefit Bards, Sorcerers, and Warlocks especially, since their magic is fueled by their willpower.
Here’s hoping these simplified ability Score breakdowns helped you, or at least amused you! How do you simplify them when you’re explaining the game? Are there facets we missed? Let us know by commenting below!