Using Ability Scores

Six abilities provide a quick description of every creature’s physical and mental characteristics:

  • Strength, measuring physical power.
  • Dexterity, measuring agility.
  • Constitution, measuring endurance.
  • Intelligence, measuring reasoning and memory.
  • Wisdom, measuring perception and insight.
  • Charisma, measuring force of personality.

Is a character muscle-bound and insightful? Brilliant and charming? Nimble and hardy? Ability scores define these qualities-a creature’s assets as well as weaknesses.

The three main rolls of the game-the ability check, the saving throw, and the attack roll-rely on the six ability scores. The book’s introduction describes the basic rule behind these rolls: roll a d20, add an ability modifier derived from one of the six ability scores, and compare the total to a target number.

D&D Ability Score Descriptions


Strength Description Table

Attribute ScoreAttribute Description
1 (–5) Morbidly weak, has significant trouble lifting own limbs
2-3 (–4) Needs help to stand, can be knocked over by strong breezes
4-5 (–3) Visibly weak. Might be knocked off balance by swinging something dense
6-7 (–2) Difficulty pushing an object of their weight
8-9 (–1) Has trouble lifting heavy objects for a longer time
10-11 (0) Lifts heavy objects for a short time. Can perform simple physical labor for a few hours without break
12-13 (1) Carries heavy objects and throws small objects for medium distances. Can perform physical labor for half a day without break
14-15 (2) Visibly toned. Carries heavy objects with one arm for longer distances. Doesn’t get too exhausted by physical labor
16-17 (3) Muscular. Can break objects like wood with bare hands and raw strength. Can perform heavy physical labor for several hours without break
18-19 (4) Heavily muscular. Able to out-wrestle a work animal or catch a falling person. Performs the work of multiple people in physical labor
20 (5) Pinnacle of brawn, able to out-lift several people in combined effort.


Dexterity Description Table

Attribute ScoreAttribute Description
1 (–5) Barely mobile, probably significantly paralyzed
2-3 (–4) Incapable of moving without noticeable effort or pain
4-5 (–3) Visible paralysis or physical difficulty
6-7 (–2) Significant klutz or very slow to react
8-9 (–1) Somewhat slow, occasionally trips over own feet
10-11 (0) Capable of usually catching a small, tossed object
12-13 (1) Able to often hit large targets.
14-15 (2) Able to often hit small targets. Can catch or dodge a medium-speed surprise projectile
16-17 (3) Light on feet, able to often hit small moving targets
18-19 (4) Graceful, able to flow from one action into another easily. Capable of dodging a small number of thrown objects
20 (5) Moves like water, reacting to all situations with almost no effort. Capable of dodging many thrown objects


Constitution Description Table

Attribute ScoreAttribute Description
1 (–5) Minimal immune system, body reacts violently to anything foreign
2-3 (–4) Frail, suffers frequent broken bones
4-5 (–3) Bruises very easily, knocked out by a light punch
6-7 (–2) Unusually prone to disease and infection
8-9 (–1) Easily winded, incapable of a full day’s hard labor
10-11 (0) Occasionally contracts mild sicknesses
12-13 (1) Can take a few hits before being knocked unconscious
14-15 (2) Easily shrugs off most illnesses. Able to labor for twelve hours most days
16-17 (3) Able to stay awake for days on end
18-19 (4) Very difficult to wear down, almost never feels fatigue
20 (5) Tireless paragon of physical endurance. Almost never gets sick, even to the most virulent diseases


Intelligence Description Table

Attribute ScoreAttribute Description
1 (–5) Animalistic, no longer capable of logic or reason. Behavior is reduced to simple reactions to immediate stimuli
2-3 (–4) Rather animalistic. Acts on instinct but can still resort to simple planning and tactics
4-5 (–3) Very limited speech and knowledge. Often resorts to charades to express thoughts
6-7 (–2) Has trouble following trains of thought, forgets most unimportant things
8-9 (–1) Misuses and mispronounces words. May be forgetful
10-11 (0) Knows what they need to know to get by
12-13 (1) Knows a bit more than is necessary, logical
14-15 (2) Fairly intelligent, able to understand new tasks quickly. Able to do math or solve logic puzzles mentally with reasonable accuracy
16-17 (3) Very intelligent, may invent new processes or uses for knowledge
18-19 (4) Highly knowledgeable, probably the smartest person many people know
20 (5) Famous as a sage and genius. Able to make Holmesian leaps of logic


Wisdom Description Table

Attribute ScoreAttribute Description
1 (–5) Seemingly incapable of thought, barely aware
2-3 (–4) Rarely notices important or prominent items, people, or occurrences
4-5 (–3) Seemingly incapable of forethought
6-7 (–2) Often fails to exert common sense
8-9 (–1) Forgets or opts not to consider options before acting
10-11 (0) Makes reasoned decisions most of the time
12-13 (1) Able to tell when a person is upset
14-15 (2) Reads people and situations well. Can get hunches about a situation that doesn’t feel right
16-17 (3) Often used as a source of wisdom or decider of actions
18-19 (4) Reads people and situations very well, almost unconsciously
20 (5) Nearly prescient, able to reason far beyond logic


Charisma Description Table

Attribute ScoreAttribute Description
1 (–5) Barely conscious, probably acts very alien. May have a presence which repels other people.
2-3 (–4) Minimal independent thought, relies heavily on others to think instead
4-5 (–3) Has trouble thinking of others as people and how to interact with them
6-7 (–2) Terribly reticent, uninteresting, or rude
8-9 (–1) Something of a bore, makes people mildly uncomfortable or simply clumsy in conversation
10-11 (0) Capable of polite conversation
12-13 (1) Mildly interesting. Knows what to say to the right people
14-15 (2) Often popular or infamous. Knows what to say to most people and is very confident in debate
16-17 (3) Quickly likeable, respected or feared by many people. May be very eloquent. Good at getting their will when talking to people
18-19 (4) Quickly likeable, respected or feared by almost everybody. Can entertain people easily or knows how to effectively convince them of their own beliefs and arguments
20 (5) Renowned for wit, personality, and/or looks. May be a natural born leader

This chapter focuses on how to use ability checks and saving throws, covering the fundamental activities that creatures attempt in the game. Rules for attack rolls appear in chapter 9 of the Player’s Handbook.

Advantage and Disadvantage

Sometimes a special ability or spell tells you that you have advantage or disadvantage on an ability check, a saving throw, or an attack roll. When that happens, you roll a second d20 when you make the roll. Use the higher of the two rolls if you have advantage and use the lower roll if you have disadvantage.

For example:

If you have disadvantage and roll a 17 and a 5, you use the 5. If you instead have advantage and roll those numbers, you use the 17.

If multiple situations affect a roll and each one grants advantage or imposes disadvantage on it, you don’t roll more than one additional d20. If two favorable situations grant advantage, for example, you still roll only one additional d20.

If circumstances cause a roll to have both advantage and disadvantage, you are considered to have neither of them, nor you roll one d20. This is true even if multi pie circumstances impose disadvantage and only one grants advantage or vice versa. In such a situation, you have neither advantage nor disadvantage.

When you have advantage or disadvantage and something in the game, such as the halfling’s Lucky trait, lets you reroll the d20, you can reroll only one of the dice. You choose which one.

For example:

If a halfling has advantage on an ability check and rolls a 1 and a 13, the halfling could use the Lucky trait to reroll the 1.

You usually gain advantage or disadvantage using special abilities, actions, or spells. Inspiration (see chapter 4 of the Player’s Handbook) can also give a character advantage on checks related to the character’s personality, ideals, or bonds. The DM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result.

Proficiency Bonus

Characters have a proficiency bonus determined by level, as detailed in chapter 1 of the Player’s Handbook. Monsters also have this bonus, which is incorporated in their stat blocks. The bonus is used in the rules on ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls.

Your proficiency bonus can’t be added to a single die roll or other number more than once.

For example:

If two different rules say you can add your proficiency bonus to a Wisdom saving throw, you nevertheless add the bonus only once when you make the save.

Occasionally, your proficiency bonus might be multiplied or divided (doubled or halved, for example) before you apply it. For example, the rogue’s Expertise feature doubles the proficiency bonus for certain ability checks. If a circumstance suggests that your proficiency bonus applies more than once to the same roll, you still add it only once and multiply or divide it only once.

By the same token, if a feature or effect allows you to multiply your proficiency bonus when making an ability check that wouldn’t normally benefit from your proficiency bonus, you still don’t add the bonus to the check. For that check your proficiency bonus is 0, given the fact that multiplying 0 by any number is still 0. For instance, if you lack proficiency in the History skill, you gain no benefit from a feature that lets you double your proficiency bonus when you make Intelligence (History) checks.

In general, you don’t multiply your proficiency bonus for attack rolls or saving throws. If a feature or effect allows you to do so, these same rules apply.

Ability Checks

An ability check tests a character’s or monster’s innate talent and training to overcome a challenge. The DM calls for an ability check when a character or monster attempts an action (other than an attack) that has a chance of failure. When the outcome is uncertain, the dice determine the results.

For every ability check, the DM decides which of the six abilities is relevant to the task at hand and the difficulty of the task, represented by a Difficulty Class. The more difficult a task, the higher its DC. The Typical Difficulty Classes table shows the most common DCs.

Typical Difficulty Class Table

Task DifficultyDC
Very Easy5
Very Hard25
Nearly Impossible30

To make an ability check, roll a d20 and add the relevant ability modifier. As with other d20 rolls, apply bonuses and penalties, and compare the total to the De. If the total equals or exceeds the DC, the ability check is a success – the creature overcomes the challenge at hand. Otherwise, it’s a failure, which means the character or monster makes no progress toward the objective or makes progress combined with a setback determined by the DM.


Sometimes one character’s or monster’s efforts are directly opposed to another’s. This can occur when both are trying to do the same thing and only one can succeed, such as attempting to snatch up a magic ring that has fallen on the floor. This situation also applies when one of them is trying to prevent the other one from accomplishing a goal-for example, when a monster tries to force open a door that an adventurer is holding dosed. In situations like these, the outcome is determined by a special form of ability check, called a contest.

Both participants in a contest make ability checks appropriate to their efforts. They apply all appropriate bonuses and penalties, but instead of comparing the total to a DC, they compare the totals of their two checks. The participant with the higher check total wins the contest. That character or monster either succeeds at the action or prevents the other one from succeeding.

If the contest results in a tie, the situation remains the same as it was before the contest. Thus, one contestant might win the contest by default. If two characters tie in a contest to snatch a ring off the floor, neither character grabs it. In a contest between a monster trying to open a door and an adventurer trying to keep the door dosed, a tie means that the door remains shut.


Each ability covers a broad range of capabilities, including skills that a character or a monster can be proficient in. A skill represents a specific aspect of an ability score, and an individual’s proficiency in a skill demonstrates a focus on that aspect. (A character’s starting skill proficiencies are determined at character creation, and a monster’s skill proficiencies appear in the monster’s stat block.)

For example:

A Dexterity check might reflect a character’s attempt to pull off an acrobatic stunt, to palm an object, or to stay hidden. Each of these aspects of Dexterity has an associated skill: Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth, respectively. So, a character who has proficiency in the Stealth skill is particularly good at Dexterity checks related to sneaking and hiding.

Skills and Attributes

The skills related to each ability score are shown in the following list. (No skills are related to Constitution.) See an ability’s description in the later sections of this chapter for examples of how to use a skill associated with an ability.

  • Strength: 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

Tools, Kits, and Attributes

There are also many different tools and kits that also use different attributes for their proficiency.  In some cases, there is a choice for which attribute might be used for a tool or kit.

  • Strength: Mason’s Tools, Smith’s Tools
  • Dexterity: Calligrapher’s Tools, Carpenter’s Tools, Cobbler’s Tools, Cook’s Utensils, Disguise Kit, Forgery Kit, Harvester’s Kit, Jeweler’s Tools, Leatherworker’s Tools, Luck Gaming Sets, Potter’s Tools, Thieves’ Tools, Tinker’s Tools, Weaver’s Tools, Woodcarver’s Tools
  • Constitution: Poisoner’s Kit
  • Intelligence: Alchemy Kit, Brewer’s Tools, Cartographer’s Tools, Cook’s Utensils, Herbalism Kit, Navigator’s Tools, Poisoner’s Kit, Strategic Gaming Sets
  • Wisdom: Glassblower’s Tools, Navigator’s Tools, Vehicle (Land), Vehicle (Water)
  • Charisma: Musical Instruments, Painter’s Tools

Sometimes, the DM might ask for an ability check using a specific skill – for example, “Make a Wisdom (Perception) check.” At other times, a player might ask the DM if proficiency in a particular skill applies to a check. In either case, proficiency in a skill means an individual can add his or her proficiency bonus to ability checks that involve that skill. Without proficiency in the skill, the individual makes a normal ability check.

For example:

If a character attempts to climb up a dangerous cliff, the Dungeon Master might ask for a Strength (Athletics) check. If the character is proficient in Athletics; the character’s proficiency bonus is added to the Strength check. If the character lacks that proficiency, he, or she just makes a Strength check.

Passive Checks

A passive check is a special kind of ability check that doesn’t involve any die rolls. Such a check can represent the average result for a task done repeatedly, such as searching for secret doors repeatedly. or can be used when the DM wants lo secretly determine whether the characters succeed at something without rolling dice, such as noticing a hidden monster.

Here’s how to determine a character’s total for a passive check:

  • 10 + all modifiers that normally apply to the check.

If the character has advantage on the check, add 5. For disadvantage, subtract 5. The game refers to a passive check total as a score.

For example:

If a 1st-levei character has a Wisdom of 15 and proficiency in Perception. he or she has a passive Wisdom (Perception) score of 14.

The rules on hiding in the “Dexterity” section below rely on passive checks, as do the exploration rules in chapter 8 in the Player’s Handbook.

Working Together

Sometimes two or more characters team up to attempt a task. The character who’s leading the effort – or the one with the highest ability modifier-can make an ability check with advantage, reflecting the help provided by the other characters. In combat, this requires the Help action (see chapter 9 in the Player’s Handbook).

A character can only provide help if the task is one that he or she could attempt alone. For example,, trying to open a lock requires proficiency with Thieves’ Tools, so a character who lacks that proficiency can’t help another character in that task. Moreover, a character can help only when two or more individuals working together would be productive. Some tasks, such as threading a needle. are no easier with help.

Group Checks

When several individuals are trying to accomplish something as a group, the DM might ask for a group ability check. In such a situation, the characters who are skilled in a particular task help cover those who aren’t.

To make a group ability check. everyone in the group makes the ability check. If at least half the group succeeds, the whole group succeeds. Otherwise, the group fails. Group checks don’t come up very often. and they’re most useful when all the characters succeed or fail as a group.

For example:

When adventurers are navigating a swamp, the DM might call for a group Wisdom (Survival) check to see if the characters can avoid the quicksand, sinkholes, and other natural hazards of the environment. If at least half the group succeeds, the successful characters can guide their companions out of danger. Otherwise, the group stumbles into one of these hazards.


When you try to hide, make a Dexterity (Stealth) check. Until you are discovered, or you stop hiding, that check’s total is contested by the Wisdom (Perception) check of any creature that actively searches for signs of your presence.

You can’t hide from a creature that can see you. and if you make noise (such as shouting a warning or knocking over a vase), you give away your position. An invisible creature can’t be seen, 50 it can always try to hide. Signs of its passage might still be noticed, however, and it still must stay quiet.

In combat, most creatures stay alert for signs of danger, so if you come out of hiding and approach a creature, it usually sees you. However, under certain circumstances, the Dungeon Master might allow you to stay hidden as you approach a creature that is distracted, allowing you to gain advantage on an attack before you are seen.

Passive Perception. When you hide, there’s a chance someone will notice you even if they aren’t searching. To determine whether such a creature notices you, the DM compares your Dexterity (Stealth) check with that creature’s passive Wisdom (Perception) score, which equals 10 + the creature’s Wisdom modifier, as well as any other bonuses or penalties. If the creature has advantage, add 5. For disadvantage, subtract 5.

For example:

If a 1st level character (with a proficiency bonus of +2) has a Wisdom of 15 (a +2 modifier) and proficiency in Perception, he or she has a passive Wisdom (Perception) of 14.

What Can You See? One of the main factors in determining whether you can find a hidden creature or object is how well you can see in an area, which might be lightly or heavily obscured, as explained in chapter 8 in the Player’s Handbook.