The Iconic Six Abilities in D&D that describe your characters physical and mental characteristics are:
Strength: A Measure of Physical Power
Dexterity: Measuring Agility
Constitution: Measuring Endurance
Intelligence: Measuring Reasoning and Memory
Wisdom: Measuring Perception and Insight
Charisma: Measuring Force of Personality
These traits are integral to how your character can interact with the world. They impact everything from social interactions, to how well you can physically traverse the environment, and how well you perform in combat.
Ability Scores and Modifiers
For this section though let’s look at the modifiers:
Those modifiers get added or subtracted from your rolls when you make a check against that ability.
Let’s say your Dexterity score on your character is 14. Looking at the chart, you see 14 is a +2 modifier. Now when the DM asks you to make a Dexterity saving throw for example, you would roll a d20 and add the +2 modifier for Dexterity that your character has.
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.
– Players Handbook
So essentially, advantage is really nice to get. There are a lot of different ways to achieve advantage on something, but for now it’s just good to understand what it does.
Disadvantage would be the opposite, you try to avoid it, but you want the enemy to be disadvantaged if possible.
We have a guide to Proficiency Bonuses that goes into this topic, well worth checking out.
Essentially the proficiency bonus is based on your level. It starts at +2 and scales up from there. Here is a table for you:
|Experience Points||Level||Proficiency Bonus|
Proficiency bonuses are applied to actions using something or doing something you are proficient in. For example hitting something with a sword if you are proficient with swords. Picking a lock if you are proficient with thieves tools.
Ability checks are a test of one of your abilities: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma.
Usually this is a number you have to hit with a d20 roll, plus or minus any modifiers. For example a Dexterity check of 12 to avoid falling down a slippery slope.
If the number is not specified, we have a chart to give you a starting point:
Using Each Ability
You may also see checks based on something other than the 6 abilities, but they are just sub-categories as follows:
- Sleight of Hand
- Animal Handling
You can see here that if you’re asked for a Perception Check, it’s essentially your Wisdom and any associated modifiers or proficiencies.
A saving throw–also called a save–represents an attempt to resist a spell, a trap, a poison, a disease, or a similar threat. You don’t normally decide to make a saving throw; you are forced to make one because your character or monster is at risk of harm. – Players Handbook
So if you need to make a Dex save, you simply roll a d20 and add any modifiers or proficiencies to your roll.
Saving throws can also be affected by Advantage and Disadvantage. Wizards get advantage on Intelligence saves for example. Fighters for Strength, and so on, outlined here:
Barbarian: STRENGTH, CONSTITUTION
Bard: DEXTERITY, CHARISMA
Cleric: WISDOM, CHARISMA
Druid: INTELLIGENCE, WISDOM
Fighter: STRENGTH, CONSTITUTION
Monk: STRENGTH, DEXTERITY
Paladin: WISDOM, CHARISMA
Ranger: STRENGTH, DEXTERITY
Rogue: DEXTERITY, INTELLIGENCE
Sorcerer: CONSTITUTION, CHARISMA
Warlock: WISDOM, CHARISMA
Wizard: INTELLIGENCE, WISDOM
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Rich is an avid D&D player and DM. He has been playing since the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st and 2nd editions. He has run campaigns of various editions with family and friends for over 20 years. Playing DnD 5th Edition in person at local game stores and online with VTT’s over the past 10 years has provided a consistent connection to how the game has grown. He strongly believes in understanding the source material, but catering the games to your individual players. Feel free to ask anything in the comments or drop him an email: [email protected].