An ability score is a numeric representation of one of a character or creature's physical or mental attributes.
Since the original Dungeons & Dragons rules, the six ability scores used in D&D have been strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. The standard order in which they are listed on the character sheet varies between editions of the rules. Some optional rulebooks have added other ability scores, including comeliness, honor, and sanity.
- 1 Rules
- 2 History
- 3 Statistics
- 4 External links
- 5 References
In every edition of the Dungeons & Dragons rules, each player character in Dungeons & Dragons is created with six ability scores (strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma). In Original Dungeons & Dragons (1974), each ability score is generated by adding the rolls of three six-sided dice (3d6), giving a number between 3 and 18, giving a bell-curve of results tending toward average scores, with results of 10 and 11 most common.
Later editions of D&D use varying ability score generation methods, often more favorable to the player, but retain the traditional starting range of 3-18. For example, the standard in D&D 3rd edition is 4d6 drop lowest: roll four six sided dice, discard the highest, and total the remaining three; and player may arrange them as desired. Alternatives to rolling include a fixed array, and a point buy system. Many editions also have rules for variants which may be used at DM's discretion.
From Dungeons & Dragons third edition (2000) onward, all monsters also have ability scores.
Using ability scores
Prior to Dungeons & Dragons third edition, there was no core mechanic for rolling dice against ability scores to determine outcome of actions. A commonly used rule was to roll a twenty-sided die and aim to roll equal to or under the appropriate ability score.
Since D&D third edition, which introduced the "d20 system", all ability checks and skill checks are performed by rolling a d20 and adding a modifier based on the relevant ability score. In D&D 3rd, 4th, and 5th edition, the ability score modifier is equal to the ability score minus ten, then divided by two, rounded down. This results in the traditional average score of 10-11 giving a bonus of +0, while the bonus or penalty of exceptional ability scores is dampened.
While the main six ability scores have remained constant throughout Dungeons & Dragons to date, the exact ability scores varied considerably during initial playtesting.
Possibly the oldest surviving character sheet is that of Wizard Gaylord, dating back to Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign in 1972. In a section on the back of the sheet, player Pete Gaylord placed a heading "Personality", along with various named statistics with numbers ranging from 3 to 14. The statistics appearing in this sheet are Brains, Looks, Credibility, Sex, Health, Strength, Courage, Horsemanship, Woodsmanship, Leadership, Flying, Seamanship, and Cunning. The ability scores appear to have changed over time, suggesting that stat increases could occur.
In the Dalluhn Manuscript, a rare playtest copy of the D&D rules dated to 1973, a sample character named Mythrandir is listed with the ability scores Intelligence, Cunning, Strength, Health, Apperance [sic], and Ego. Cunning is used for clerics, while the rules state that Ego is optional and can be ignored.
Original Dungeons & Dragons
In the original D&D ruleset, according to Men & Magic (1974), ability scores were rolled on 3d6, in order, by the referee (DM). A player was therefore expected to choose their character class based on what ability scores they rolled, rather than to fill a party role.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition
3d6 is given as an option, but four other methods are recommended instead: Method I (4d6 drop lowest, arrange as desired); Method II (3d6, rolled 12 times, take the best 6); Method III (3d6 six times for each ability, keep the highest); and Method IV (12 sets of 3d6 in order, select the best set). The rules are given in the Dungeon Masters Guide (1e) (1979), p.11.
Oriental Adventures (1e) (1985), p.10 and Unearthed Arcana (1e) (1985), p.5-7 introduced comeliness, a seventh ability score which reflects one's appearance, and is based on a "beauty" statistic used by writer Francois Marcela-Froideval. It was later referenced in some AD&D 1st edition sourcebooks.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition
Six methods are given. The default is Method I (3d6 in order). Alternatives at DM's discretion are Method II (3d6 twice for each score and pick the highest); Method III (3d6, arrange as desired); Method IV (3d6 twelve times, pick the best 6); Method V (4d6 drop lowest); and Method VI (point buy: start with 8 in each score, roll seven dice, add each to ability scores as desired to a maximum of 18). Rules are now given in the Player's Handbook (2e) (1989), p.13 or Player's Handbook (2e revised) (1995), p.18-19.
The "comeliness" statistic was deprecated, but a few sporadic references still appeared in magazines and RPGA material.
Player's Option: Skills & Powers (1995) introduced the concept of "subability scores", which split the primary ability scores into two secondary statistics:
- Strength was split into "stamina" and "muscle".
- Dexterity was split into "aim" and "balance".
- Constitution was split into "health" and "fitness".
- Intelligence was split into "reason" and "knowledge".
- Wisdom was split into "intuition" and "willpower".
- Charisma was split into "leadership" and "appearance".
Dungeons & Dragons third edition
Standardly, 4d6 drop lowest, and any character with ability score modifiers of +0 or less, or no ability score above a 13, may reroll completely. Defined in the Player's Handbook (3.0) (2000), p.7-8. Eight variants given in the Dungeon Master's Guide (3.0) (2000), p.19-20 and Dungeon Master's Guide (3.5) (2003), p.169-170 are available at DM's discretion. These are Standard Point Buy (start with each score at 8 and spend points based on a table where higher stats cost more points), Nonstandard Point Buy (same, but with more or less points); Elite Array (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8, arrange as desired); The Floating Reroll (4d6 drop lowest, rerolling the lowest die once only, arrange as desired); Organic Characters (4d6 drop lowest in order, reroll any one, switch any two); Customized Average Characters (3d6, arrange as desired, reroll if no score of 12 or higher or modifiers total -3 or lower); Random Average Characters (3d6 in order, reroll if no score of 12 or higher or modifiers total -3 or lower); and High-Powered Characters (5d6 six times, discard lowest two, arrange as desired, reroll if no score of 15 or higher or modifiers total below +2).
Dungeons & Dragons fourth edition
Players may choose between three standard methods: Standard Array (16, 14, 13, 12 ,11, 10, arrange as desired); Customizing Scores (a point-buy system); and Rolling Scores (4d6 drop lowest, arrange as desired, and DM may reroll or adjust if total modifiers are below +4 or above +8). Appears in the Player's Handbook (4e) (2008), and is notably more powerful than 3.5.
Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition
Standard method is either 4d6 drop lowest, arrange as desired, or an array (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8), as player's choice. A variant at DM's option is a point-buy system; the points buy systems are different between 3e, 4e, and 5e. The rules appear in Player's Handbook (5e) (2014), p.13.
The Dungeon Master's Guide (5e) (2014) presents two optional ability scores: sanity and honor. Honor previously appeared in Oriental Adventures (1e) (1985) and Unearthed Arcana (3e) (2004), although it was not considered an ability score. Sanity previously appeared in Unearthed Arcana (3e) (2004), where it was considered to be like an attribute functioning like an ability score, but with unique mechanics.
The following table shows the percentage chance of rolling any given ability score using different methods.
|Score||3d6||4d6 drop lowest||5d6 drop 2 lowest|
- 4d6 drop lowest at AnyDice
- A History of D&D in 12 treasures, 6m 48s.
- A Playtesting Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (1973). Playing at the World blog, Sept 10, 2012.
- Player's Option: Skills & Powers (1995), p.12-21.