Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ability Scores & Checks

As regular readers (all 3 of you) of this blog have, I am, sure noted, this blog is a combination of two distinct projects: a work space for me to chat about sci-fantasy D&D gaming ideas and throw some of my own inspiration out there to share with the community, and an information source for my players so that they can keep up on the campaign when they are away as well as providing them with a "hard" source for house rules and other game specific data.

Since many of my players are new to D&D and gaming generally, one of the "services" I use the blog, along the blog's second line of effort, to provide general information about playing and enjoying D&D. Often this helps me tighten my "ethereal" ideas about play into defined house rules which we can enjoy at the table. Last session it came to me that many of my players do not really know what their ability scores are and what they are "used" for. This post is going to pull together data from a couple sources into a succinct, cogent article explaining the basics of ability scores while defining how we use saves in our game.

"...every character has six principal characteristics, the characteristic's abilities. These abilities are strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution, and charisma. The [typical] range of these abilities is between 3 and 18."
-Gary Gygax, AD&D Players Handbook

So basically in our game, we have 6 ability scores that range from 3-18 when a new character is generated. The scores are generated by rolling 3d6 six times and recording them in the order in which the abilities are recorded on the players's character sheet. After generation a player has a couple options. First, the un-adjusted scores are checked in order to ascertain what their ability score modifiers are (see below). If the totaled value of all six ability score modifiers is of negative value a player may re-roll all six of his ability scores; this character is "un-playable". A player may continue re-rolling her character's ability scores until she gets a set of ability scores which are "playable", i.e. having either zero or a positive value of all six ability score modifiers. The second option allows a player to swap any two scores. e.g. a player's character, at generation, has a strength of 7 (-1 ability score modifier) and a wisdom of 17 (+2 ability score modifier). She would like to play a fighter (a class which certainly benefits from having a higher strength). She elects to swap her lower strength score (7) with her higher wisdom score (17), making her character much stronger.

"The strength characteristic of....human or humanoid....player more than a simple evaluation of the musculature of the body. Strength is a composite rating of physical power, endurance, and stamina....10 or thereabouts [is] the norm for a[n] adult human male..."
-Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide

The strength ability score modifiers modify attack and damage rolls in melee combat and when throwing weapons. Strength sets the baseline score used when calculating a character's encumbrance value. A character's strength score is used when making checks and saves against constriction, entanglement, and transformation.

For sake of comparison, I have gathered data from the AD&D DMG and the 2e PHB re: "average" strength scores for different humanoid races and monsters in the D&D-iverse:

halflings: 8
kobolds: 9
humans, gnomes, & goblins:10
orcs: 12
hobgoblins: 15
gnolls: 16
bugbears: 17
ogres & trolls: 18
hill giants: 19
stone giants: 20
frost giants: 21
fire giants: 22
cloud giants: 23
storm giants: 24
titans: 25

"The intelligence rating roughly corresponds to our modern "IQ" scores. However, it assumes mnemonic, reasoning, and learning ability skills in additional areas outside the written word."
-Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide

The intelligence ability score is the key ability score when studying arcane magic. It determines how well a character can read. Character's with higher intelligence scores may also have more skill points to dispose of than other characters. A character's intelligence score is used when making checks and saves against devices, illusions, and magic (generic).

For sake of comparison, I have gathered date from the 2e Monster Manual re: "average" intelligence scores for different humanoid races and monsters in the D&D-iverse:

0: non-intelligent or not ratable
1: base animal intelligence
2-4: semi-intelligent
5-7: low intelligence
8-10: average (human) intelligence
11-12: very intelligent
13-14: high intelligence
15-16: exceptional intelligence
17-18: genius
19-20: supra-genius
21+: god-like intelligence

"For game purposes [the] wisdom ability subsumes the categories of willpower, judgement, wile, enlightenment, and intuitiveness. An example of the use of wisdom can be given by noting that while the [more] intelligent character will know that smoking is harmful to him, he may well lack the wisdom to stop..."
-Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide

The wisdom ability score is the key ability score when manipulating divine magic. A character's wisdom score is used when making checks and saves against mind control, being magically charmed, and fear.

"This character ability rating is a general heading under which falls the character's physique, health, resistance, and fitness. An individual who catches a cold if exposed to a slight draft has a constitution of 5 or less in all probability. Rasputin had an 18 constitution!"
-Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide

The constitution ability score modifiers modifies the amount of hit points which a character receives at each level. A character's constitution score is a character's amount of wounds. As a character suffers and recovers from damage to her wounds value, her constitution likewise suffers and improves. A character's constitution score is used when making checks and saves against toxins, disease, and death.

The dexterity rating includes the following physical characteristics: hand-eye coordination, agility, reflex speed, precision, balance, and actual speed of movement in running. It would not be unreasonable to to claim that a person with a low dexterity might well be quite agile, but have low reflex speed, poor precision, bad balance, and be slow of foot (but slippery in the grasp).
-Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide

The dexterity ability score modifiers modify attack  rolls in missile combat and when throwing weapons, a character's armor class, and a character's initiative value. A character's dexterity score is used when making checks and saves against traps, blasts, and area effects.

Many persons have the sad misconception that charisma is merely physical attractiveness. This error is obvious to any person who considers the subject with perceptiveness. Charisma is a combination of physical appearance, persuasiveness, and personal magnetism. True charisma becomes evident when one considers such historic examples of Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Adolph Hitler. Obviously, these individuals did not have an 18 score on physical beauty, so it is quite possible to assume that scores over 18 are possible, for any one of the named historical personalities would have had a higher charisma score-there can be no question that these individuals were 18's-if they would have had great attractiveness as well as commanding personal magnetism and superb persuasiveness.
-Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide

The charisma ability score modifiers modify social reactions and interactions and summoning attempts. A character's charisma determines how well a character interacts with and leads his hirelings and henchmen. A character's charisma score is used when making checks and saves against negative energy attacks and in cases where a character's "luck" comes into play.

So now that we know basically what all of the ability scores "do" the next step is to quantify their effects on play. The table below wraps up the basic modifiers which are applied to any rolls that might touch on a character's abilities, e.g. checks and saves. This table also includes score specific data regarding how well (i.e. if) a character can read and write and how her charisma effects interactions with hirelings and henchmen.

Ability   Roll            Read/             No. of         Base
 Score:  Mod:          Write:          Retainers:  Morale:
     3         -3       Broken Speech           1               4
   4-5        -2      Not Read/Write           2               5
   6-8        -1    Barely Read/Write        3               6
  9-12        0          Read/Write              4               7
 13-15     +1          Read/Write              5               8
 16-17     +2          Read/Write              6               9
 18-19*   +3          Read/Write              7              10
 20-21*   +4          Read/Write              7              10
 22-23*   +5          Read/Write              7              10
 24-25*   +6          Read/Write              7              10

When a character is required to make a "check" she simply rolls a d20; she needs a score equal to or lower than the ability score for which she is making a check. e.g. When trying to determine whether you can jump over a pit, I might require a character to make a strength check. If the character has a strength score of "12", then the player must roll a d20, getting a result of "12" or less in order to ensure success. A roll above "12" means failure. Critical successes and failures apply when making checks just like when rolling to hit in combat. The only difference being that the critical roll values are swapped: a "20" is a critical failure while a "1" is a critical success.

Making checks is a simple method of task resolution. I might use this as the basic mechanic for resolving skill and knowledge type tests in the near future when I do not have another applicable d6 based skill which is appropriate.

That wraps up this post. For my newer players, I hope this sheds a little more light on what is going on when we play.

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