D&D Stats in Simple Language

I’ve heard a lot of interpretations of ability scores. The most common of these is “Charisma correlates strongly to good looks”, which is incorrect and tends to irritate players of low-Charisma characters, but anytime there’s something the stats don’t cover explicitly (like weight and build), we try to draw conclusions about them based on the hard numbers we have. The problem is that this still leave a lot to interpretation. What’s the actual strength difference between a person who can lift 80 pounds and a person who can lift 100 pounds? How tough is a bard with Constitution of 14, really? What does it mean for my character when I roll poorly and have to drive the 3-Charisma barbarian?

I put together this list a few years ago to try to put this in simple language. Below are some quick descriptions of every stat, from 1 (a modifier of -5, or as low as a character can get without being undead or a construct) to 25 (a modifier of +7, or as high as a PHB character can get without magic):

  • Strength
    • 1 (–5): Morbidly weak, has significant trouble lifting own limbs
    • 2-3 (–4): Needs help to stand, can be knocked over by strong breezes
    • 4-5 (–3): Knocked off balance by swinging something dense
    • 6-7 (–2): Difficulty pushing an object of their weight
    • 8-9 (–1): Has trouble even lifting heavy objects
    • 10-11 (0): Can literally pull their own weight
    • 12-13 (1): Carries heavy objects for short distances
    • 14-15 (2): Visibly toned, throws small objects for long distances
    • 16-17 (3): Carries heavy objects with one arm
    • 18-19 (4): Can break objects like wood with bare hands
    • 20-21 (5): Able to out-wrestle a work animal or catch a falling person
    • 22-23 (6): Can pull very heavy objects at appreciable speeds
    • 24-25 (7): Pinnacle of brawn, able to out-lift several people
  • Dexterity
    • 1 (–5): Barely mobile, probably significantly paralyzed
    • 2-3 (–4): Incapable of moving without noticeable effort or pain
    • 4-5 (–3): Visible paralysis or physical difficulty
    • 6-7 (–2): Significant klutz or very slow to react
    • 8-9 (–1): Somewhat slow, occasionally trips over own feet
    • 10-11 (0): Capable of usually catching a small tossed object
    • 12-13 (1): Able to often hit large targets
    • 14-15 (2): Can catch or dodge a medium-speed surprise projectile
    • 16-17 (3): Able to often hit small targets
    • 18-19 (4): Light on feet, able to often hit small moving targets
    • 20-21 (5): Graceful, able to flow from one action into another easily
    • 22-23 (6): Very graceful, capable of dodging a number of thrown objects
    • 24-25 (7): Moves like water, reacting to all situations with almost no effort
  • Constitution
    • 1 (–5): Minimal immune system, body reacts violently to anything foreign
    • 2-3 (–4): Frail, suffers frequent broken bones
    • 4-5 (–3): Bruises very easily, knocked out by a light punch
    • 6-7 (–2): Unusually prone to disease and infection
    • 8-9 (–1): Easily winded, incapable of a full day’s hard labor
    • 10-11 (0): Occasionally contracts mild sicknesses
    • 12-13 (1): Can take a few hits before being knocked unconscious
    • 14-15 (2): Able to labor for twelve hours most days
    • 16-17 (3): Easily shrugs off most illnesses
    • 18-19 (4): Able to stay awake for days on end
    • 20-21 (5): Very difficult to wear down, almost never feels fatigue
    • 22-23 (6): Never gets sick, even to the most virulent diseases
    • 24-25 (7): Tireless paragon of physical endurance
  • Intelligence
    • 1 (–5): Animalistic, no longer capable of logic or reason
    • 2-3 (–4): Barely able to function, very limited speech and knowledge
    • 4-5 (–3): Often resorts to charades to express thoughts
    • 6-7 (–2): Often misuses and mispronounces words
    • 8-9 (–1): Has trouble following trains of thought, forgets most unimportant things
    • 10-11 (0): Knows what they need to know to get by
    • 12-13 (1): Knows a bit more than is necessary, fairly logical
    • 14-15 (2): Able to do math or solve logic puzzles mentally with reasonable accuracy
    • 16-17 (3): Fairly intelligent, able to understand new tasks quickly
    • 18-19 (4): Very intelligent, may invent new processes or uses for knowledge
    • 20-21 (5): Highly knowledgeable, probably the smartest person many people know
    • 22-23 (6): Able to make Holmesian leaps of logic
    • 24-25 (7): Famous as a sage and genius
  • Wisdom
    • 1 (–5): Seemingly incapable of thought, barely aware
    • 2-3 (–4): Rarely notices important or prominent items, people, or occurrences
    • 4-5 (–3): Seemingly incapable of forethought
    • 6-7 (–2): Often fails to exert common sense
    • 8-9 (–1): Forgets or opts not to consider options before taking action
    • 10-11 (0): Makes reasoned decisions most of the time
    • 12-13 (1): Able to tell when a person is upset
    • 14-15 (2): Can get hunches about a situation that doesn’t feel right
    • 16-17 (3): Reads people and situations fairly well
    • 18-19 (4): Often used as a source of wisdom or decider of actions
    • 20-21 (5): Reads people and situations very well, almost unconsciously
    • 22-23 (6): Can tell minute differences among many situations
    • 24-25 (7): Nearly prescient, able to reason far beyond logic
  • Charisma
    • 1 (–5): Barely conscious, probably acts heavily autistic
    • 2-3 (–4): Minimal independent thought, relies heavily on others to think instead
    • 4-5 (–3): Has trouble thinking of others as people
    • 6-7 (–2): Terribly reticent, uninteresting, or rude
    • 8-9 (–1): Something of a bore or makes people mildly uncomfortable
    • 10-11 (0): Capable of polite conversation
    • 12-13 (1): Mildly interesting, knows what to say to the right people
    • 14-15 (2): Interesting, knows what to say to most people
    • 16-17 (3): Popular, receives greetings and conversations on the street
    • 18-19 (4): Immediately likeable by many people, subject of favorable talk
    • 20-21 (5): Life of the party, able to keep people entertained for hours
    • 22-23 (6): Immediately likeable by almost everybody
    • 24-25 (7): Renowned for wit, personality, and/or looks

This really isn’t valid for 4th-Edition though. For one thing, the minimum you can get is 4th is a score of 3, and the minimum the system wants you to have is 8 since it discouraging rolling for stats at all. On top of that, the maximum is 30, and I’m not entirely sure where you can go from the capstones above. Stats also (always) scale with level and there are no magical ways to modify them, so it feel more like the ability scores are shoved to the back end of the character sheet, used in other calculations but meaningless for an actual description of a character.

Edit: Given the popularity of this post, it’s been retroactively extended with additional analysis in two parts:
What Measure is an 18?
The Definition of Charisma

This entry was posted in D&D 3.5, D&D 3rd Edition, DMing, Gaming Systems, Pathfinder. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to D&D Stats in Simple Language

  1. Daniel says:

    Not sure how often you check these, but just wanted to thank you for this list. I’ve been looking for something like this since I started playing P&P games.

    Is this just your personal interpretation and/or elaboration of descriptions provided in PHBs? Or adapted from another work?

    • MssngrDeath says:

      I made it up, using brain thinking. I don’t expect that it’s a perfect definitive list, and I know a few players and DMs who would rather think of low-Charisma characters as simply ugly but otherwise entirely playable.

      • Dimir says:

        Most of the time Charisma is how good with people someone is. considering revising the lower levels of this to reflect inaptitude of basic sociatal standards, such as “Please” and “Thank you,” however, this guide is highly accurate on all other accounts.

    • Stormbow says:

      This is actually not a good representation as it doesn’t take into account what previous editions of D&D have told us, what Dragon magazine has explained, and is very much this author’s personal opinion on the subject without admitting to such.

      • Stormbow says:

        The author gives almost all baseball players an 18-19 DEX. That alone should be a huge red flag to anyone that knows anything at all about baseball…

        • MssngrDeath says:

          You may be interested in the follow-up “In Defense of D&D Stats in Simple Language: What Measure is an 18?”, where I explicitly say that this is not relevant to other versions of D&D and explain why. There’s a link to it at the end of this post.

          I think it’s wisest to not get into a discussion on the canonicity of Dragon magazine.

          Assuming we have the same definitions of “often”, “small”, and “moving”, I’m not surprised that professional baseball players have high stats. Their job is to be at peak physical ability specifically in the context of hitting and throwing small, fast-moving objects. An ordinary person who has no training, experience, or equipment would need a Dex of 18 or 19 to compete with them. Ability scores are not the only thing that goes into a character.

  2. Amy says:

    I thought it would be funny to put my group’s stats in. This is how the people of Faerun see them;
    Derrik – Derrik is a slightly shorter than most dwarf with wavy black hair, pale skin, and brown eyes. He’s a bit on the skinny side, and could manage to put on a couple pounds. However, what weight Derrik has, is tied into his muscles, as he is visibly toned. He would be a bit most of a lady-killer if he wasn’t quite so clumsy, and was better with polite conversation (And the need to constantly be nude). He tends to have an average amount of common sense, though he can read people and situations better than most.
    Aemon – Aemon is a normal human. He’s fairly average, though with a set of love handles. His stunning blue-green eyes, and warm brown hair makes up for this. His stunning smile tends to pull people into conversations with him, and makes women give him a second look. Occasionally, he makes a good decision… not where women are involved, though! He seems to turn into putty around them! Which is kind of surprising, because he’s a decently well-read guy. I saw him in a bar fight once, and he was barely holding his own… until he tripped on his shoelace.
    Lara – Lara is a very pretty red-headed pixie. For being so tiny and frail, I was surprised how fast she was when someone threw a rock at her! She was panting pretty hard after that short zip, but she didn’t seem very angry. She realized that it was just a few kids playing and they didn’t mean to hurt her. So she just gave them a lecture on how to be more aware of their surroundings next time.
    Xzilliana – For being a half-orc, her gray skin, black hair, and light blue eyes make her quite stunning. People seem willing to talk to her when they won’t talk to other orcs. She seems like a salt of the earth kind of girl, and likes to talk about simpler things. She was just getting over a cold when I met her, so I was surprised when she was able to catch a runaway pig with just one arm!

  3. Bret says:

    If these are true… I, and many people I know, have a stat buy in the 75-100 range. If this is the classification you use for stats, your world is very heavily skewed towards power. We definitely use the much older and much less “power creeped” stat explanations of third edition and earlier.

    • Ash says:

      No..yours is skewed..I have been using the 1-3 edition for over 20 years and these descriptions are correct, you aren’t supposed to even have a stat over 20 when creating a new Chr.also depending on the race, you shouldn’t even have a stat above 10. Only with experience can you get to 100 unless you are cheating or creating new chrs at a much higher level.

  4. JudgeX says:

    Great list… coming from an older D&D tradition, I tend to think of scores greater than 18 as where they start becoming super human… but still, a very great list that jives quite well with post 2nd edition rules :).

  5. Goglutin says:

    I do not agree with this description.

    Of course this depend of the edition but still… humans stats should range from to 3 to 20 for starting characters (depending editions). But they are HEROES. A normal human is between 8 to 12 for most of his stats. 5 (or less) is for a deficient and 17 (or more) for a prodigy.

    I see it so that a base of 9-11 is average for a human but it goes exponential whether you go up or down… 16 STRENGTH is like my brother who is able to lift 100 pounds of a bench 10 times without being too much tired (he’s not a super human but he’s trained and, you’d be better avoid a punch from him) while having 4 charisma is having literally no manners enough so that everyone avoids you (burping and farting loudly in public as an example)!

  6. Scarsh says:

    I like this description. I’m still a bit of a n00b at D&D, and have never DM’ed before, (in fact, I’m pretty sure I suck at D&D lingo), but I’m trying to make my own campaign, and this is going to help a lot, especially since I’m adding my own new race, the Shadelings, and have only 1st edition reference guides, like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual 2 and Faerie Mound of Dragonkind. The way Shadelings are initially, they would be like this, from an outside perspective –
    I was sitting in the local tavern one evening, writing my weekly report for the construction of a new house and I saw a small hooded figure sitting at a table in the corner, eating alone. I shrugged her off as a simple Halfling, or maybe a Dwarf. I returned to my task, and after a fair while, reached for my coin purse to pay for my meal, and noticed it was missing. I looked around the room to see who would have taken it. I noticed the hooded person grinning, still in the corner, and she held up my money and waved it lightly. I walked over to her and told her angrily that theft would not be tolerated, and she replied with “I don’t care. Go bother someone else, and avoid this particular Shadeling from now on. Oh, and watch your back,”. She then proceeded to kick my leg. Then, as angry as I was, I swung my fist at her, but she seemed to disappear, in nothing more than a blur. I heard the sound of leather being cut, and my trousers fell to the ground, my belt cut. I turned around and saw her running through the door.

  7. Jeff says:

    This is nice, and it was obviously a lot of work, but hate to say I think you are underestimating the stats.

    Mind you that I’m primarily familiar with D&D 1st edition, AD&D, and passingly only with third edition. That said, a bit of historical reference can be a benefit. D&D (original) limited every stat to a range of 3-18 (human). AD&D introduced stats from 19 – 25, but only for supernatural beings and giants.

    In the original AD&D monster manual, a vampire was listed as having a strength of 18/97. That puts things in perspective. Per the D&D and AD&D manuals, a strength of 17 and above had a chance to bend steel bars (such as in a jail cell). Stats of 19 and above were reserved fro supernatural beings (gods, demigods, devils, demons and deities) or for giants (a hill giant was a 19 strength). Stats above 18 could be applied to player characters (or NPCs) only via magic items.

    With that information, you can estimate that a stat score of 18 would be at the extraordinary end of human ability. Stephen Hawking and Einstein would each have a 17 or 18 intelligence. Circus performers such as those that did the high wire acts and flying acts, as well as professional athletes (basketball, baseball, hockey, shooting sports) would have dexterity in the 15 – 18 range, with most falling at 15 – 17. Gandhi would probably have a 16 or 17 charisma (not 18, because his looks at least could have been improved and you have to leave room for that). Gandhi would probably come in at 17 or 18 for wisdom. The guys that compete pulling trucks, or doing olympic level weightlifting, would be in the 17 – 18 range for strength.

    Using that rational, an example of people with over 18 for stats would have to be pulled from fiction. Wolverine (from the X men) would have a constitution around 23 – 24 (heals from almost any injury instantly, but still ages). Superman would probably have a 24 or 25 strength. The Flash a dexterity of 24 – or 25. Sheldon, from TVs “Big Bang Theory”, would be an example of someone with a 18 – 19 intelligence and a wisdom in the range of 4 – 6.

  8. Thomas says:

    Using your descriptors I have determined what my character scores would be if I were a DnD character.
    Str: 10
    Dex: 11
    Con: 10
    Int: 15
    Wis: 17
    Cha: 17

    Which is surprising and amusing because I tend to play Fighters.

    • Xavier Spade says:

      If you were beginning your adventure at first or second level, I’d recommend multi-classing Druid/Sorcerer.
      The Cleric’s heavy armor proficiency couldn’t be put to use with your strength (no offense intended).
      I regret that multi-classing causes one to miss the high-level spells; but think of all that volume and variety you’d have to cast from without having to seek out libraries and universities.
      A cleric that eschews armor would also work, but I really like the synergy vibe coming off the Druid/Sorcerer.
      All in great fun.
      Here’s to never being too old for D & D.

  9. Big D says:

    I like what you’ve done.

    My only observation/Criticism would be that you are underselling high stats.
    An 18 strength, for example, is the pinnacle of human achievement, a paragon of muscle and power. This would be more like an Olympic power lifter, not someone who can break objects like wood with their bare hands. This holds true all the way up to 3.5, but I never played 4th ed. so I don’t know how stats compare in that edition.

  10. thevultureGM says:

    I really like the descriptions as a primer, a starting point for what the numbers mean in real life terms. My only question is this: isn’t Charisma also a measure of the characters force of will? A person with a low charisma score should be more meek and easily pushed around in interpersonal interactions, even when the player doesn’t have their character act that way. I won’t force my players to play a certain way, but NPC’s respect or contempt is based upon how they carry themselves.

  11. WarlockMasterDM says:

    Based on this my stats would be as follows: Strength – 12, Dexterity – 18, Constitution – 12, Intelligence – 17, Wisdom – 19, & Charisma – 6. Sorta ironic that my favorite class in D&D 3.5 & 5th edition would be my worst stat in real life but that’s why we play the game is to play something that we normally couldn’t do in real life.

    Just wish there was an updated chart for D&D 5th edition.

  12. Xavier Spade says:

    Thank you so much for posting this for People to look at.
    It’s so true about the top 3 attributes decreasing with age, while (hopefully for anyone willing to learn) the bottom 3 attributes increase.

    In real life my attributes used to would have made for an awesome heavily-armored FIGHTER, with LOTS of skill points… or an extremely strong WIZARD, with lots of hit-points…
    Now, I’m putting all my levels into wizard for sure, and am starting to get more in touch with nature.

  13. Crim Crysari says:

    I slightly disagree with the low Intelligence options, One of my players rolled a 5 on his Cleric and decided to dictate that onto his Intelligence. However, since he also had 16 Charisma we decided that he was quite eloquent and well spoken. To roleplay his incredibly low Intellect he instead acted and sounded quite smart, however the things he were saying were some of the most baffling thoughts possible. Mainly correlating the religious explanations to most subjects, especially spells. Him and our Wizard ended up having some of the most hilarious conversations as he mocked and insulted the 18 Intelligence Wizard for his “stupid” explanations and nonsensical “science”.

    Examples – Wizard “Water is nothing more than tiny air joined together” Cleric “You must be a complete moron, Water is made from God’s crying in the sky because of heathens such as yourself spouting nonsense.”

  14. Alexis The Dragon says:

    Think some of these are kind of dumb.

    For strength each level should be one step higher, like 1 needs help standing and so on.

    Also I don’t think really low attributes should mean you can’t do certain things, just you are really incompetent in them

    Dexterity saying u have pain when u move is low constitution really, not dexterity, you should said something like they have extremely bad centre of balance.

    and 25 is described by the rules as Dragon/Godly Avatar strength, by that level of strength you can knock down pure metal doors, HARD, right off their hinges and a like 10 feet back.

  15. Tolemac says:

    MssngrDeath, you wrote, “The most common of these is “Charisma correlates strongly to good looks”, which is incorrect and tends to irritate players of low-Charisma characters, …”
    I agree completely and this is why the original rules had Comeliness along with Charisma.

  16. Pingback: RPG Stats in Pictures – Strength – Pawns And Pints

  17. Karasu Kuro says:

    I am trying to come up with a simpler RPG system, drawing from many sources of inspiration, and found myself trying to comprise a list exactly like this. I was wondering, if you do not mind terribly, if I may use this list almost verbatim? I have no problem giving credit.

  18. cbo says:

    I have the same request as Karasu Kuro before me. I’m working on a utility for an upcoming campaign we’ll be starting sometime in the spring and would like to include a variation of your above ideas. Do you have any terms or conditions for usage?

    Thanks for the blog. Good luck on NaNo!

  19. Coolman says:

    I am
    S 19
    C 7
    D 15
    I 13
    W 13
    C 16

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