Five 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? Abilities define these qualities—a creature’s assets as well as weaknesses.
Each of a creature’s abilities has a value that defines the magnitude of that ability. An ability is not just a measure of innate capabilities, but also encompasses a creature’s training and competence in activities related to that ability.
An ability of 0 is the normal human average, but adventurers and many monsters are a cut above average in most abilities. An ability of 4 is the highest that a person usually reaches. Adventurers can have abilities as high as 5, and monsters and divine beings can have abilities as high as 10.
Typical Difficulty Classes
For every ability check, the GM 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.
An ability check tests a character’s or monster’s innate talent and training in an effort to overcome a challenge. The GM 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.
To make an ability check, roll a d20 and add the relevant ability. As with other rolls, apply bonuses and penalties, and compare the total to the DC. 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 GM.
Sometimes one character’s or monster’s efforts are directly opposed to another’s. This can occur when both of them 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 closed. 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 closed, a tie means that the door remains shut.
Using Each Ability
Every task that a character or monster might attempt in the game is covered by one of the six abilities. This section explains in more detail what those abilities mean and the ways they are used in the game.
Strength measures bodily power, athletic training, and the extent to which you can exert raw physical force.
Attack Rolls and Damage
You add your Strength to your attack roll and your damage roll when attacking with a melee weapon such as a mace, a battleaxe, or a javelin. You use melee weapons to make melee attacks in hand-to-hand combat, and some of them can be thrown to make a ranged attack.
Lifting and Carrying
Your Strength determines the amount of weight you can bear. The following terms define what you can lift or carry.
Carrying Capacity. Your carrying capacity is 70 + your Strength × 15. This is the weight (in kilograms) that you can carry, which is high enough that most characters don’t usually have to worry about it.
Push, Drag, or Lift. You can push, drag, or lift a weight up to twice your carrying capacity. While pushing or dragging weight in excess of your carrying capacity, your speed drops to 1.5 meters.
Size and Strength. Larger creatures can bear more weight, whereas Tiny creatures can carry less. For each size category above Medium, double the creature’s carrying capacity and the amount it can push, drag, or lift. For a Tiny creature, halve these weighs.
If you carry weight in excess of 20 + your Strength × 5, you are slowed 1.
If you carry weight in excess of 40 + your Strength × 10, up to your maximum carrying capacity, you are slowed 2 and you have disadvantage on ability checks and attack rolls that use Strength or Dexterity.
Dexterity measures agility, reflexes, and balance.
Attack Rolls and Damage
You add your Dexterity to your attack roll and your damage roll when attacking with a ranged weapon, such as a sling or a longbow. You can also add your Dexterity to your attack roll and your damage roll when attacking with a melee weapon that has the finesse property, such as a dagger or a rapier.
Depending on the armor you wear, you might add some or all of your Dexterity to your Defense.
At the beginning of every combat, you roll initiative by making a Dexterity check. Initiative determines the order of creatures’ turns in combat.
Constitution measures health, stamina, and vital force.
Your Constitution contributes to your health. Typically, you add your Constitution to each Health Die you roll for your health.
If your Constitution changes, your maximum health changes as well, as though you had the new Constitution from 1st level. For example, if you raise your Constitution when you reach 4th level and your Constitution increases from 1 to 2, you adjust your maximum health as though your Constitution had always been 2. So you add 3 health for your first three levels, and then roll your health for 4th level using your new Constitution. Or if you’re 7th level and some effect lowers your Constitution so as to reduce your Constitution by 1, your maximum health is reduced by 7.Other Constitution Checks
- Hold your breath
- March or labor for hours without rest
- Go without sleep
- Survive without food or water
- Quaff an entire stein of ale in one go
Intelligence measures mental acuity, accuracy of recall, and the ability to reason.
Alchemists use Intelligence as their ability for concoctions, which helps determine the saving throw DCs of spells they cast.
Mages, Occultists, Spellthief Rogues, and some Occultists and Suffused use Intelligence as their ability for spellcasting, which helps determine the saving throw DCs of spells they cast.
- Communicate with a creature without using words
- Estimate the value of a precious item
- Recall lore about a craft or trade
- Win a game of skill
- Decipher writing in an unfamiliar language or a message written in an incomplete or archaic form. If you succeed at your check, you understand the general content of about one page worth of writing. If you fail by 5 or more, you draw a false conclusion about the text.
Wisdom reflects how attuned you are to the world around you and represents perceptiveness and intuition.
Naturalists, Psionicists, and some Acolytes, Occultists, and Suffused use Wisdom as their spellcasting ability, which helps determine the saving throw DCs of spells they cast.
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.
Some Acolytes, Occultists, and Suffused use Charisma as their spellcasting ability, which helps determine the saving throw DCs of spells they cast.