D&D New Player Guides

D&D Rookie Camp #2: Ability Scores and Skills

Alright, rookie, you’ve been introduced to the character sheet and have been given a rundown as to what everything is on it. Now, it’s time to take a deeper look into each section and show you how all of it ties together to make your first character.

We’re going to be focusing on Ability Scores and Skills today, as these numbers define what your character can do throughout your game. We’ll check out the methods of coming up with your scores and how they determine your Skill modifiers.

Methods to Calculate Ability Scores

There are traditionally three ways Ability Scores are assigned: standard array, point buy, and manually rolling for them. Your DM will determine which method is used because every player will have to use the same method to make sure there is no disparity between characters.

Standard Array: For this method, you will have six scores to assign to your abilities. It’ll give you two good scores (15, 14), two above average scores (13, 12), an average score (10), and a below average score (8). With this method your character will be more well rounded and have a low Ability Score (typically called a “dump stat,” as you dump your worst score into it) to give your character some flaws which you can use in role-playing.

Point Buy: With this method, you get to customize your scores a little more. All of your base stats start at eight, and you are given 27 points to spend to raise the scores. However, each higher score costs more points. For instance, to raise a score from eight to nine, you spend one point. But, if you want to raise that eight to a 12, it costs you four points. In order to get that eight to a 15, it’s going to cost you nine points. This tends to make your characters either very good at a few things and really bad at everything else, or just above average in everything.

Manually Rolling: This is the most exciting way to generate numbers for Ability Scores. Your DM will have you roll 4d6 and remove the lowest die. You will do this six times and plug in the scores where you want. This method creates generally higher scores across the board compared to the other two methods, but there is a chance to roll really, really low. If you have a benevolent DM, they may give you a mulligan on your lowest roll, or tell you that that any roll under an eight needs to be rolled again.

Now that you have your Ability Scores, you can determine your Ability modifiers. The scale starts at a base of 10-11, where the modifier is zero. Every even number, going either above or below 10, the modifier goes up or down by one. For instance, going from 11 to 12 adds a +1 as your modifier, but going down to an eight adds a -1 as your modifier.

Once you have these scores, write them into the boxes on your character sheet. It’s your preference whether to write your base score or your modifier in the big part of the box. For me, it’s easier to put the modifier so you can just glance at it and know what to add to your checks.

Skills and Saving Throws

Now that you have your Ability Scores and modifiers, you can start filling in your Skills. Each skill is listed alphabetically with an abbreviated Ability Score in parentheses to tell you what ability pertains to that skill. For this step, you simply write in the corresponding modifier next to the Skill.

For your Saving Throws, the same logic applies. Write in your modifiers next to each ability’s corresponding Saving Throw.

Proficiency and Bonus Ability Scores

When you choose your race, class and background, you’ll see that each gives you certain bonuses to your Ability Scores that naturally tie in with your choices. Races generally add bonuses to your Ability Scores and your class and background determine your Proficiencies.

When you choose a race, add the racial bonus to your base Ability Score and adjust the modifier accordingly. Remember to adjust your Skills and Saving Throw modifiers as well.

Your class and background will determine what Skills you’re proficient in. Fill in the bubble next to the Skills and Saving Throws your class and background detail and add your Proficiency Bonus to each.

Now you know how to calculate your Ability Scores and properly determine your modifiers, bonuses and Proficiencies. Our next installment will handle Armor Class, Hit Points and Death Saves.

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