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Ability Score Improvement 5e & DnD Modifiers

Last Updated on January 16, 2023

You and your friends have just defeated a formidable foe. The adrenaline is coursing through you, and the final blow lands. Your DM says that the fight is over, and just as the session breaks up, they also say the magic words: “You guys level up!”

Ability Score Increases, or ASIs, are a normal part of leveling up in Dungeons & Dragons. Below, we’ll break down when ASIs happen, how they function, and what they can contribute to your growing character.

When Do ASIs Happen?

Your character doesn’t get an Ability Score Increase every time you take a level. They happen at pre-determined levels of each class. Some classes, like Rogues and Fighters, have more levels with ASIs, but most classes offer ASIs at levels 4, 8, 12, 16, and 19. Rogues get an additional ASI at level 10, and Fighters gain additional ASIs at levels 6 and 14.

It’s important to remember that ASIs are tied to leveling up your character’s class. This won’t come into play for many people, but if your character is multiclassed, it will delay your access to ASIs.

For example, if your character is a level 3 Rogue and level 1 Warlock, you are a level 4 character, but you would not have had access to an ASI when you became level 4. Instead, you’ll gain access if you take a fourth level in Rogue or reach level 4 in Warlock.

GameCows Tip: If you multiclass for non-story reasons, you should always see how much your other class will slow down access to ASIs, so you don’t fall behind your party.

How Do ASIs Work?

Ability Score Increases work as their name suggests; by increasing one or two of your Ability Scores. You have a choice with ASIs: increase two scores by +1 or a single score by +2. Once a particular Ability Score has reached a total of 20, you cannot increase it anymore. Keep in mind that only even Ability Scores affect your bonus to skills, weapon attacks, magical attacks, saving throws, and save DCs.

If you begin with a 16 Intelligence, your Intelligence bonus is +3. Using an ASI of +1 to boost your Intelligence to 17 won’t change your Intelligence bonus, but a +2 (boosting to 18 total) makes your Intelligence bonus +4. Most people use ASIs to increase a single score by +2 for that bonus.

However, there are plenty of ways to determine your initial Ability Scores, and it’s not uncommon for a player to have an odd number. If you begin with a 17 Intelligence, your bonus is +3, but you would only need to increase it to an 18 to achieve a +4 bonus.

Sometimes, it is more advantageous to spread your ASI among two Ability Scores that are odd numbers. If you don’t have two odd Ability Scores, some feats strike a balance by offering unique features and a +1 to a single Ability Score.

Now get out there and level up those characters!

If you need a refresher on how Ability Scores work, check out our Ability Scores Guide in DnD 5e below.

Ability Scores can seem a bit daunting when you first start with Dungeons and Dragons, but they are intuitive and easy to understand once you break them down. This guide will lead you through the Ability Scores and how they’re used.

What Is an Ability Score?

An Ability Score is the numerical manifestation of certain aspects of a character. There are three physical abilities, Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution, and three mental abilities, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. We go in-depth below on the six Ability Scores, but they exist to represent where your character’s natural and trained talents lie.

How Do Modifiers Work?

When people talk about modifiers, they are discussing the numerical bonus you receive from your Ability Scores. Although your scores range from 3 to 20, your modifiers measure the standard deviation from 10, the average. An utterly average person in 5e (not an adventurer, obviously) has a score of 10 for all six Ability Scores.

What Do I Use Ability Scores and DnD Modifiers For?

Your Ability Score and its corresponding modifier determine how good you are at different aspects of existence. These modifiers are added to various things like your attack rolls, spell attacks, ability checks, damage rolls with weapons or spells, spell save DCs, attack DCs, saving throws, and some class features.

Your Ability Scores are not used very often, but there are some mundane and magical items, as well as classes that have prerequisites based on an Ability Score. For example, you may begin as a Bard at first level regardless of your Charisma score, but if you want to multiclass at later levels, you must have a Charisma score of at least 13 to take levels as a Bard.

Ability Scores 5e

There are a total of six Ability Scores, and we break down what each of them represents and how they’re used in the game below.


Your Strength score measures your character’s physical power. A character’s Strength might be shown when they attempt to lift a heavy boulder, kick in a door, or grapple an opponent. Strength affects only one skill: Athletics.

You also typically add your Strength modifier to attack rolls and damage rolls when attacking with melee weapons or bare-handed. If your DM enforces carrying capacity rules, your Strength score also affects how much you can move around without being overburdened or encumbered. Your carrying capacity is 15 multiplied by your Strength score.

However, when it comes to temporary lifting or dragging, you can move weight up to twice your carrying capacity or 30 multiplied by your Strength score.


Dexterity is a measure of how agile or nimble a character is. Typical Dexterity checks might measure how well you keep your balance on a slippery road, how quickly you can duck out of the way of an incoming attack, or how quietly you can move through a silent hallway. Dexterity skills include Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth.

Your Dexterity also affects your Armor Class or AC. Your AC represents how well you can get out of the way or deflect blows. Different types of armor allow more or less movement, so characters with low Dexterity scores might opt for medium or heavy armor since it provides more protection. Characters with higher Dexterity scores will likely stick with light armor, or none, since heavier armor impedes their ability to stay sneaky.

Some weapons have the finesse or ranged tags, meaning that instead of adding your Strength modifier to the attack and damage rolls, you can add your Dexterity modifier instead. These weapons include rapiers, daggers, longbows, and short swords. In other cases, classes may have specific features that allow you to use your Dexterity modifier for bare-handed attacks, as Monks do.


Constitution measures your vitality and resistance to extreme conditions. Primarily, Constitution affects your hit points. You might need to make a Constitution check to see if you can keep holding your breath underwater or withstanding scorching temperatures in the desert.

There are no skill checks associated with your Constitution score. Still, many spellcasters make many Constitution saving throws because they dictate whether or not you can continue to concentrate on a spell after taking damage. The War Caster feat and the Eldritch Invocation Eldritch Mind both give you advantage on Constitution saving throws specifically made to maintain concentration on spells.


Many people confuse Wisdom and Intelligence because they initially seem to be about the same thing: how smart your character is. However, they measure two different types of ‘smart’: book smarts and street smarts.

Intelligence is your book smarts. Intelligence skills include Arcana, Investigation, Religion, Nature, and History since they rely on your ability to recall learned facts about a subject. Characters with an Intelligence of 7 or lower may be illiterate.


Wisdom is your street smarts. Wisdom skills include Animal Handling, Insight, Perception, Survival, and Medicine since they utilize your capability to intuit or get a feel for something. You can’t learn from a book how to find your way in a forest or get an animal to trust you. It happens on a more instinctual level.

Wisdom also dictates how much forethought you put into plans and your ability to tell if someone is lying to you. Characters with low Wisdom scores are likelier to be impulsive and not think things through.


Charisma represents the force of your character’s personality. It focuses on how well you can convince others to do things your way. Charisma skills include Intimidation, Persuasion, Deception, and Performance. Charisma is your primary Ability Score for social interactions, although Insight is technically a Wisdom skill.

What are Ability Checks?

Ability Checks can refer to one of two things: a straight Ability Check, meaning that you roll 1d20 and add your corresponding Ability Score’s modifier, or a skill check, meaning that you roll 1d20 and add your corresponding skill modifier.

The main difference between a skill check and a straight Ability Check is that your character will be proficient in some skills (or half-proficient if you’re a Bard), and you’ll add your proficiency bonus to your Ability Score modifier to reach your skill modifier. With a straight Ability Check, you never add your proficiency bonus.

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01/30/2023 09:04 am GMT
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D&D Player’s Handbook
$49.95 $26.10

Buy on Amazon Buy at Noble Knight
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/30/2023 09:04 am GMT