Dungeons & Dragons: Abilities Overview

Dungeons & Dragons: Abilities Overview

Greetings my friends! Karthas here, and today I have a new guide for all my new players. So far we’ve talked about classes, races, and alignments. Today we will talk about abilities! In 5th Edition there are six abilities and they play a big part in how you do things and interact with the world in Dungeons & Dragons. For a new player it can be difficult to understand what abilities even mean or what they represent. But have no fear! I will be giving an overview of each ability, what they do, and why they are important. Let’s take a look!

What Are Abilities?

Abilities in Dungeons & Dragons are the bare bones of how you interact with the world in Dungeons & Dragons. They are not skills, which typically represent a sphere of knowledge or expertise. They are simpler than that, representing the core of who your character is. There are 6 Abilities in Dungeons & Dragons: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. All Abilities are important to some capacity, but the reality is, no one can be good at everything. So you will typically have to choose which you want higher, and which you want lower. This means you will need to rely on your party to make up for your weaknesses and you theirs.

The way abilities are determined in Dungeons & Dragons is when you create your character. There are a few ways to get these values: the buy system, rolling, or the static scores. The buy system gives the player 27 points that they can choose to place in any Ability, with each ability starting at 8. Once they have used their 27 points, those are their final Abilities scores. The rolling system, which involves the player rolling 4 D6 dice. They take the 3 highest values and drop the lowest value. For example if you roll a 5, 2, 6, & 3, you would drop the 2 and take the sum of the remaining values, in this case you’d have 14. Finally you have the static scores which allows the player to take the following values: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, & 8. They can place these scores in whichever ability they see fit.

It is important to note that certain races get bonuses to certain ability scores. For example a Mountain Dwarf would get a +2 to Constitution & a +2 to Strength, whereas a Wood Elf gets a +2 to Dexterity & a +1 to Wisdom. For more information on the races check out my race guide.


“Strength measures bodily power, athletic training, and the extent to which you can exert raw physical force” Player’s Handbook P.175

Strength is a pretty easy ability to understand. It represents how strong your character is. It has 1 skill associated with it, Athletics. Although it only has 1 skill and is an easy concept to understand, it can be a very important when it comes to combat or anything that requires you to move, push, pull, or break something. Most weapons in 5e are Strength based, which means when you attack & do damage with it you add your Strength modifier to your roll. So if you want to hit more often & do more damage you want to have a good Strength modifier.

Sometimes you will need to make a Strength check. The Player’s Handbook lists a few examples of what would require a Strength check:

  • Force open a stuck, locked, or barred door
  • Break free of bonds
  • Push through a tunnel that is too small
  • Hang on to a wagon while being dragged behind it
  • Tip over a statue
  • Keep a boulder from rolling

You should invest in Strength if you want to be in melee combat a lot. Being able to hit more often & deal more damage to your enemies with melee weapons will help you stay alive and allows you to not be pushed around easily


“Dexterity measures agility, reflexes, and balance” Player’s Handbook P.176



Dexterity is the ability that allows your character to be nimble, quick, or stealthy. It has 3 skills associated with it: Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth. Additionally Dexterity can play into your attack and damage roll. In Dungeons & Dragons there are some weapons called “finesse” weapons. These allow you to use your Dexterity modifier instead of your Strength modifier, and these include some melee weapons. Ranged weapons such as a Longbow or Crossbow use Dexterity, but so can melee weapons. A few examples being a Rapier, Shortsword, Dagger, and Quarterstaff. Additionally your Dexterity can play into your Armor Class, which determines what an enemy has to roll to hit you, and your initiative, which helps you act quickly in combat.

Sometimes you will need to make a Dexterity check. The Player’s Handbook lists a few examples of what would require a Dexterity check:

  • Control a heavily laden cart on a steep descent
  • Steer a chariot around a tight turn
  • Pick a lock
  • Disable a trap
  • Securely tie up a prisoner
  • Wriggle free of bonds
  • Play a stringed instrument
  • Craft a small or detailed object

You should invest in Dexterity is you want to play a nimble melee combatant, a skilled marksman, or someone who is quick to act. Dexterity is a powerful Ability that plays into some important aspects of your character. In some builds, you can completely forgo Strength and focus solely on Dexterity, should you choose


“Constitution measures health, stamina, and vital force” Player’s Handbook P.177


Constitution really only plays into a few aspects of your character, the biggest one being your Hit Points. Each class has something called a Hit Die. Typically melee classes like a Barbarian will have a bigger Hit Die (D12) than a non-melee class like a Wizard (D6). Whenever the character is leveling up, they can roll the Hit Die to increase their Hit Points and add their Constitution modifier to the roll. Or when they are healing after a short or long rest, they roll Hit Die to determine how much health they get back and add their Constitution modifier. While it mainly plays into health, it is still important. If you don’t want to die really easily, you’ll want to have a good amount of Hit Points.

Constitution checks are rare but they still occur. The Player’s Handbook gives a few examples:

  • Holding your breath
  • Marching or laboring for hours without rest
  • Going without sleep
  • Surviving without food or water
  • Quaff an entire stein of ale in one go

You should invest in Constitution if you plan on being in melee combat, or if you don’t want to be really fragile. At the end of the day, no Hit Points means no playing, so you have to find a good balance for your build.


“Intelligence measures mental acuity, accuracy or recall, and the ability to reason” Player’s Handbook P.177

Intelligence is the ability that measures a characters book knowledge, reasoning power, and memory. It can used for casting spells as well as certain skills. It has 5 skills associated with it: Arcana, History, Investigation, Nature, and Religion. Intelligence is very important to Wizards who use it as their primary spell-casting ability. Whereas a Fighter may add their Strength to melee attacks & damage, a Wizard will add their Intelligence to attacks & damage made with their spells, or will determine the saving throw that a spell forces an opponent to make. Additionally Intelligence factors into the number of spells slots a Wizard has. But Wizards are not the only casters that use Intelligence for spells, the Fighter subclass, Eldritch Knight, and the Rogue subclass, Arcane Trickster, both use Intelligence for spells as well.

You may have to make an Intelligence check is you are:

  • Communicating with a creature without using words
  • Estimating the value of a precious gem
  • Pulling together a disguise to pass as a city guard
  • Forging a document
  • Recalling lore about a craft or trade
  • Winning a game of skill

You should invest in Intelligence if you are want your character to be good at recalling facts and bits of information. And you should definitely invest in Intelligence if you want to play a Wizard, an Eldritch Knight, or an Arcane Trickster.


“Wisdom reflects how attuned you are to the world around you and represents perceptiveness and intuition” Player’s Handbook P.178

Wisdom can be described as “worldly knowledge” or “street smarts”. In social situations it factors into how well you can read others, as well as helping you to determine if something seems off or just out of place. There are 5 skills tied to it: Animal Handling, Insight, Medicine, Perception, and Survival. Clerics, Druids, and Rangers use Wisdom for their spells, and this makes sense because these classes are concerned with the world around them, including people. Perception is an extremely helpful skill in D&D as it is kind of the default check a DM will have you make to determine something when entering a room. So throwing some points in Wisdom is never a bad idea.

You may have to make a Wisdom check if you are:

  • Trying to get a gut feeling about what course of action to follow
  • Trying to discern whether a seemingly dead or living creature is undead

You should invest in Wisdom if you want to have a character that is highly attuned to the world around them and is able to determine if something is out of place, or if someone is not be truthful. Also if you are a Cleric, Druid, or Ranger, you will want to invest in Wisdom to ensure you have a good selection of spells and they can hit hard.


“Charisma measures your ability to interact effectively with others. It includes such factors as confidence and eloquence, and it can represent a charming or commanding personality” Player’s Handbook P.178

Charisma is the social interaction ability. Whether you want to lie, convince someone, or even distract people, it is very helpful in social settings. It has 4 skills tied to it: Deception, Intimidation, Performance, and Persuasion. While these skills may not seem as helpful as Acrobatics or Stealth, you’ll be surprised at how they help you out in the long run. Engaging in social interaction can help your party get some information that they would not otherwise have access to, or even lie yourself into a place you need to be. In addition to being helpful in social situations, some classes use Charisma for their spell casting. These include Bards, Paladins, Sorcerers, and Warlocks. So if you care playing of one these classes you will want to be sure you invest in Charisma.

You may have to make a Charisma check if you are:

  • Trying to find the best person to talk to for news, rumors, or gossip
  • Blend into a crowd to get the sense of key topics of conversation

Be sure to invest in charisma if you want your character to be good at interacting with NPCs as well as getting something they want. Whether that is by lying, convincing or intimidating. And you you’ll defiantly want to invest in Charisma if you plan on playing a Bard, Paladin, Sorcerer, or Warlock.

Final Thoughts

Abilities are the bones of your character, this means you need to have a good understanding of which abilities to invest in and which you want shy away from. They each bring something to the table, so it really depends on what kind of character you are hoping to create.

Well that wraps it up on the abilities overview. For my next post I hope to talk about each of the individual skills and how they can impact your character. I hope you have found this guide helpful!

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