How do DnD stats work?

Posted by Annabelle Collins on

Stats in DnD represent your characters base abilities. There are three stats to represent your physical abilities; Strength, Dexterity and Constitution, and three stats to represent your mental abilities; Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. For each of those six stats, your character has an ability score, usually between 6-20. Your ability score determines what number (modifier) you add to your rolls based on that stat.

For example, if your character has a Charisma ability score of 14, they will have a +2 modifier for charisma based checks. So when making a persuasion check you would roll a D20 and add 2 to whatever you rolled.


Here is a handy Ability Scores and Modifiers table

DND Ability score modifier table 

It can go up to 26 in extreme cases but 9 times out of 10 you will never see this in your own games.

An ability score of 10 is about what the average human is capable of. Most people we know would have an intelligence score of about ten, but I’m sure we’ve all met a few people with intelligence scores of 7 or 13 in our lives!


So what do DnD stats mean?


There is an excellent way of explaining DnD stats based on tomatoes that you sometimes see. This is my interpretation of it:

Explaining DnD stats in terms of tomatoes


So then how do DnD Skills work?


“Skills” are how DnD breaks down your individual stats into more specific talents your character may have.

Let's look at which ability scores affect which skills. I'll continue with our tomato based analogy to explain skills for DnD.


DnD skills explained as a graphic 

These are all the stats you are given on your character sheet but there is space to add more if it is helpful. For example, you might need to record your skill at controlling land vehicles. If you were a rogue, you might want to note down your skill with Thieves Tools.


What does Proficiency Bonus mean?


We’re all good at different things and our DnD characters are the same. If your character is particularly good at a certain skill you can mark them as “proficient” in it. This means that when you make a check using that skill, you not only add the modifier from the stat which that skill uses, you also add your proficiency bonus.
The longer you have been an adventurer the higher your proficiency bonus is. You’ve spent more time practicing and so gotten better!

You can choose what skills your character is proficient in based on what race, class or background you have.

For example, a level 1 fighter gets to choose two skills from; Acrobatics, Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, and Survival.
A level 1 wizard chooses two skills from; Arcana, History, Insight, Investigation, Medicine, and Religion.


Wizard and fighter 5e

Stats are a really good way to begin fleshing out your character and getting to know what they are good at and what they struggle with. Maybe a character with a low strength score really doesn’t enjoy being made to run, perhaps a character with a high wisdom score makes a hobby of people-watching.

Numbers on your sheet can quickly become personality traits or roleplay cues.


What does half proficiency and expertise mean?


Lastly, it is worth mentioning that for some races and classes, it is possible to have half proficiencies or double proficiency in a skill (called expertise). Not every character will have this but it comes up often enough that it’s worth knowing.

An example here could be Bards and Rogues.
Bards with the Jack of All Trades feature are able to add half their proficiency bonus to any skill they are not proficient in.
At level 1, Rogues are able to choose two skills that they wish to have expertise in. For these skills they can add twice their proficiency bonus to their ability check.


The Final Takeaway


Woof! It can seem complicated and overwhelming at first but it gets easier!

The key takeaway is that Ability Scores represent how balanced your character is across their general physical and mental abilities. A Skill Bonus represents how good they are at more specific skills.




I make magnetic modular dnd dungeon tiles to make epic snap-together battlemaps for all your TTRPG needs!

Annabelle Collins, Chief Artificer of Modular Realms and inventor of the auto-snapping magnetic system. She loves playing DnD games with her friends and crafting DnD Scenery


Hi! I'm Annabelle! I'm the author of this blog and a huge nerd!

I also make magnetic, double-sided, modular dungeon tiles!

My DnD terrain contains secret spinning magnets so that each piece snaps instantly to every other. They even come in a box disguised as a spellbook to store away on your bookshelf!

They're really cool, you should totally check them out here!

Modular Realms magnetic dnd terrain, basically a banner with a dungeon tileset I do laid out as different battlemaps and shown with the book box packaging 


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  • Awesome! Thanks ^ ^ Glad you found it helpful! :D

    Annabelle on
  • Really loved all the tomato based analogies, was looking for some explanation of D&D’s system for building my own for the gayme I’m making and I found what I was looking for, thank you so much!

    Sammy on
  • Amazing post! You must really like tomatoes 🤣
    I learnt a few things I was confused about like proficiencies so thank you!

    Hayden on

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