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The Core Stats in Dungeons and Dragons (and What They Mean)

This article is number two in a series of Dungeons and Dragons basics I am writing for my own Dungeons and Dragons groups. If you are a new to the world of Dungeons and Dragons then welcome. If you are a veteran, then welcome to you to. Today we are going to discuss the core stats in Dungeons and Dragons and what they mean.


So, you’ve heard of Dungeons and Dragons. You’ve watched Critical Role or you’ve seen that one episode of Community. Maybe you have an interest in fantasy films or books, or maybe you are one of the *ahem* millions of people who find Dungeon Masters the coolest people on the planet.

However you discovered it, you have a rough idea of what the game is about. You play as a character – an Elf or Dwarf or a member of another high fantasy race. You use swords and sorcery to fight enemies and destroy foes – Goblins, Orcs, Trolls – maybe even a Dragon or two. What you now want to know though is how do players and Dungeon Masters bring the characters to life.

Well, dear reader, you have come to the right place. Today we are going to talk about the very basics of Dungeons and Dragons, and the six little stats that make a character what they are. These were recently lightly covered in my Dad’s article (An Introduction to Dungeons and Dragons (from a DM of 40+ Years)), however, today we are going to go into it in a bit more detail.

What are the Core Stats in Dungeons and Dragons?

You may or may not have been aware when choosing to read this article, there are six core stats (given a numerical value usually between 3-18 for Level 1 characters) in Dungeons and Dragons. We’ll try and explain these in a few ways, but for now let’s just look at what they physically are. The six stats are:

  • Strength
  • Dexterity
  • Constitution
  • Wisdom
  • Intelligence
  • Charisma

Each one of those stats helps determine something specific within the game. For instance:

  • Strength (STR) is how hard you hit something, how much you can carry, and how well you tend to do with strength based skill checks.
  • Dexterity (DEX) determines speed. It is how fast you are, as well as how successful you are with ranged attacks.
  • Constitution (CON) is around your actual fortitude as a player. It is the stat that has a direct effect on your hit points, as well as your resistance to poisoning, how fast you sober up, and the likes.
  • Wisdom (WIS) is knowing about the world around you as well as how perceptive you are. It determines what you naturally notice.
  • Intelligence (INT) is how smart you are. It’s that simple really – Intelligence is usually academic intelligence – so how much you know about things.
  • Charisma (CHA) is how good you are with people. It is how good you are at persuading people you are a good guy or how well you get on with NPCs.

Each stat is important in its own way, and for a balanced character you probably shouldn’t neglect one for the others. That being said, each class does have its specialisms. Barbarians are stronger, whilst Wizards are intelligent.

Each stat also gets an ability modifier. These are important, and will come into their own in a bit; however, the base ability modifiers are:

  • Ability of 2 or 3: -4
  • Ability of 4 or 5: -3
  • Ability of 6 or 7: -2
  • Ability of 8 or 9: -1
  • Ability of 10 or 11: +0
  • Ability of 12 or 13: +1
  • Ability of 14 or 15: +2
  • Ability of 16 or 17: +3
  • Ability of 18 or 19: +4

These are important in a moment, but for now, put them to the back of your mind. Just remember that those are known as the Ability Modifier.

The Various Different Proficiencies and Checks

Throughout a game of D&D there are several different kinds of checks the Dungeon Master may want you to take, aside from the normal combat checks, and those are usually taken with a D20. Each test will have a difficulty level that the DM will know (but usually won’t tell you) and you want to roll over that, adding on your ability modifier from the stat to increase or decrease your number.

The different tests you can make will determine on what the scenario is. They can comprise of (and in these examples I have put the primary statistic in brackets) –

  • Acrobatics (Dex)
  • Animal Handling (Wis)
  • Arcana (Int)
  • Athletics (Str)
  • Deception (Cha)
  • History (Int)
  • Insight (Wis)
  • Intimidation (Cha)
  • Investigation (Int)
  • Medicine (Wis)
  • Nature (Int)
  • Perception (Wis)
  • Performance (Cha)
  • Persuasion (Cha)
  • Religion (Int)
  • Sleight of Hand (Dex)
  • Stealth (Dex)
  • Survival (Wis)

What this means is you may be asked, for whatever reason, to roll a Survival check. If this is the case you roll a D20 and add on your Wisdom modifier, so you may roll a 14, as an example, +3 as a Widsom modifier because your Wisdom is 16. This would give you a Survival check of 17, which may or may not be enough to do whatever it is you need to do.

As another example, you may want to charm a person into giving you a bit of information. Thus, you may want to use the Intimidation ability (did I say “charm”?). Let’s say you have a Charisma of 12, giving you a +1 as your modifier. You roll a 10, giving you 11 including your +1 modifier. It turns out you needed a 13 to succeed on the check, so you didn’t make it…this time.

Proficiency

Now, before we go any further we are going to need to talk about proficiency. proficiency is how naturally good you are at something in Dungeons and Dragons. You get proficiency depending on what level and class you are, as well as certain proficiencies you get for backgrounds as well.

At Level 1, the Proficiency level is +2. This means that, whenever you take a check with something you are proficient in you get an additional +2. So, using the above example, you may actually be proficient in Intimidation. If you are then you get your roll of 10 (as mentioned previously), plus your +1 ability modifier, plus your +2 for proficiency. That would give you a 13, which is what you needed. Thus you are super awesome and happily intimidate away.

Characters tend to get three to five ability proficiencies depending on the class and background. They also get weapon proficiencies, which add on the chance to hit with a weapon. You can read more about this in my D&D article on how combat works.

The only place where proficiency acts differently is with armour. With armour being proficient doesn’t add to the Armour Class. Instead, being proficient with armour means you don’t suck wearing it. You can, in theory, put any kind of armour on anyone in D&D; however, you get serious disadvantages when wearing armour you are not proficient in. It’s seriously bad, and the list of how rubbish it will be is very long indeed. It disadvantages almost everything can can do in armour, including movement, attacking, casting, trying to be sneaky, and the likes. The list goes on.

Core Stats and Combat

So, now you understand the stats and proficiency, which ones are important for combat?

Well, there are two that are important. Those are Strength and Dexterity.

If you are making a melee attack then you add your Strength modifier to the D20 when determining whether an attack hit (to which you also add proficiency). After that, when rolling your damage dice (which vary per weapon), you add your Strength modifier again, only this time without the proficiency. This totals the damage you did for an attack.

With missile weapons (bows, crossbows, javalins etc.) you use Dexterity instead. So, to hit you will roll a D20 plus your Dexterity modifier, plus your proficiency. To do damage you will roll the damage dice plus your Dexterity modifier.

Where does Constitution come in?

So, when talking about the combat focused stats, I also always think of Constitution even though I probably shouldn’t. Constitution is not used in combat; however, it is vital when working out Hit Points.

When working out Hit Points in D&D, Constitution modifiers are incredibly important. Hit Points are allocated by class in D&D, and they are determined by a type of dice. So, in alphabetical order, those are:

  • Barbarian – D12
  • Bard – D8
  • Cleric – D8
  • Druid – D8
  • Fighter – D10
  • Monk – D8
  • Paladin – D10
  • Ranger – D10
  • Rogue – D8
  • Sorcerer – D6
  • Warlock – D8
  • Wizard – D6

Per level you roll one of those dice (so 1D12 for a Barbarian) and add on the Constitution modifier. This means that, if your Constitution is 16, and you get +3, then you get, as a Barbarian, 1D12+3.

Every level you will add that on again. So, our Barbarian at Level 1, you may roll a 2 and start with 5 HP (bad luck). The next level, at Level 2, you may roll a 10, giving you an additional 10+3 (or 13) to add on. This gives you 18 HP. Each level, you roll your classes hit dice and add that, plus your Constitution modifier, to your maximum hit point pool.

Core Stats and Magic

Magic works slightly different in D&D when it comes to stats, and that is because each class that uses Magic tends to use a different stat to cast it. So, for instance, a Cleric uses Wisdom, a Wizard uses Intelligence, and a Bard uses Charisma.

In all cases, when casting a spell, the relevant modifier gets added to the D20 you roll to successfully hit with the spell. It does not, however, get added to the spell damage afterwards. This is because spells are powered the way they are for a reason, and tweaking with that could unbalance the game. Thus, you use your ability modifier for casting but not for working out how much damage you have done.

Thinking about the Statistics

Now we have a very brief overview of how the statistics fit within Dungeons and Dragons you can see how they can be used when creating a character. If you want to play a Rogue then Dexterity may be important to you since you want to be able to sneak at things and shoot from a distance. A Fighter may want Strength and Constitution, whilst a Cleric may want Strength and Wisdom.

So, before we go onto house rules, I wanted to share a couple of awesome ways of thinking about the statistics. The first is a very famous tomato analogy that came from Reddit user u/tan620 –

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.

The source feed is here.

Dungeon Master Luke’s Preferred Rules

So, one thing you may come across when looking at stats, or may even be wondering, is how those core base stats are generated. Well, the truth is there are various different options, including rolling 3x D6 and going with that, to a points buying system that is actually described in the rules.

I personally prefer the approach of roll 4xD6 per stat, and remove the lowest. This gives a score that is between 3-18, but where the odds are slightly tweaked to give you an higher chance of getting a slightly above average character. When you roll 3 dice, the average score is 10. When you roll 4 and discard the lowest it is actually (and I haven’t worked out the precise odds on this, but am estimating) around 12.

It means all characters start off slightly better and thus slightly kinder on the players.

So, there we have it – a brief run down of the core stats in Dungeons and Dragons 5e. Hopefully you have found this useful. Obviously, this is just the very basics and there are nuances. If you are a seasoned player then please let me know your thoughts and if you believe I have missed anything glaringly obvious out. There are a few more of these articles to come, so bear with whilst I shore those up.

In the meantime, please let me know your thoughts in the comments below – and did you know we have Facebook now? Yeahhh…hello 21st Century!

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4 Comments »

  1. If you continue this series (and you should) I think you should definitely delve into the other proficiency tests and the importance of diversification of secondary character skills and maybe which ones you consider the most useful. When we started, we ensured we had a well rounded group (fighter, cleric, mage and archer of some form (minds gone blank on his class) but we didn’t diversify on the secondary skills enough and not having proficiency in things such as nature was really noticeable to start with. Thankfully our GM was quite flexible (especially as none of us bar the GM had played before) so allowed us to reshuffle these to give a broader coverage.

    Liked by 1 person

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