Baldur’s Gate III Prep: 5th Edition D&D – Abilities & The D20

With the announcement of Baldur’s Gate III at E3 this year, we were given the opportunity to interview Swen Vincke, the head of Larian Studios. During that interview it was revealed that Baldur’s Gate III would be based on the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, which was implemented in 2014, and is the latest version of the pen and paper RPG.

Though many gamers have played other games based on D&D before, no video game to date has used the 5th Edition rule set. While you won’t need to know much about D&D in order to play Baldur’s Gate III, you will make fundamentally better characters if you understand some of 5th Edition’s core concepts. In this article I will attempt to educate you on some basics, so that you can create more efficient character’s upon the game’s release. The next article is about Proficiency, Skills and Advantage, you can check out more in the DnD Guide section.

Baldur’s Gate III Prep: 5th Edition D&D – Abilities & The D20

Dungeons & Dragons uses a system that involves the rolling of a twenty-sided die called a D20 to resolve encounters and scenarios in the game world. When playing Baldur’s Gate III this will obviously be done behind the scenes by the game’s software, but players will be able to see the results of their “dice rolls” in the bottom corner of the screen. What’s really great about table top gaming on PC or Console, is that the game does all the mathematics for you, eliminating the need to remember every single thing that affects your encounter. However if you do not understand how Abilities work, you may find yourself having a tough time, so let’s begin there.


The D20 is used frequently in 5th Edition D&D, but is not the only die used.

Ability Score & Ability Modifier

In Dungeons & Dragons Attributes are called “Abilities“. This means that Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma are all referred to as Abilities within the game’s mechanics and context. This can be quite confusing at first, because just about every other Role Playing Game out there uses the term “Abilities” to delineate the Skills of a character, or some other Active or Passive function they possess. Attributes or Stats is usually what we’d refer to these as, but in D&D they are called Abilities.


Ability Score is the number that represents each Ability (Stat) of your character, and Ability Modifier is the bonus (or penalty) you gain from your Ability Score of each Ability. To determine an Ability Modifier subtract 10 from the Ability Score and then divide the result by 2 (rounded down). For instance, if you have 21 Strength then your Ability Score for Strength is 21, and your Ability Modifier for Strength is +5. If you have 6 Dexterity then your Ability Score is 6 and your Ability Modifier is -2.  Both your Ability Scores and Ability Modifiers will dictate how successful your character is at various things through out the game.

Ability Score & Ability Modifier

  • 1 = -5
  • 2-3 = -4
  • 4-5 = -3
  • 6-7 = -2
  • 8-9 = -1
  • 10-11 = +0
  • 12-13 = +1
  • 14-15 = +2
  • 16-17 = +3
  • 18-19 = +4
  • 20-21 = +5
  • 22-23 = +6
  • 24-25 = +7
  • 26-27 = +8
  • 28-29 = +9
  • 30 = +10

What Does Your Ability Modifier Affect?

The reason I began with Ability Score and Ability Modifier, is that the D20 is usually rolled in three different instances: Ability Checks, Attack Rolls and Saving Throws. All three of these will use your Ability Modifiers when determining their outcomes, so it’s wise to know how they are calculated. Please note that I have not added “Proficiency” or other factors in order to keep things as simple as possible.

Ability Checks

Ability Checks are rolled when performing actions within the game world, testing a characters “Abilities”, and often appear in dialogue. Ability Checks are accompanied by something called a Difficulty Class (DC), and that is the number you must roll with the D20 in order to “pass” the Ability Check. Baldur’s Gate III will determine the Difficulty Class of everything in the game, and you will need to have characters that have decent Ability Modifiers in order to pass them. Below is a list of the DC of each of these general categories, in case the game simply says “Hard” when you go to pick a lock, instead of specifying exactly what you must roll:

Task Difficulty DC

  • Very Easy = 5
  • Easy = 10
  • Medium = 15
  • Hard = 20
  • Very Hard = 25
  • Nearly Impossible = 30

You can see you only need to roll a 5 on the D20 to succeed in a Very Easy DC, while Nearly Impossible is 30. In order to even hit 30 you would need to have a very high Ability Modifier, other bonuses, and almost a perfect 20 roll on the die. To further illustrate how this works, let’s do an example of something likely to be in the game:

You and your party come to a door you cannot open, and it has a Strength Check DC of 15. Your Fighter has 18 Strength, giving him an Ability Modifier of +4, so you decide to use him to try to force it open. That character would then roll the D20 and add +4 to his roll, and if it was 15 or higher he would free the door. However, if he should fail his roll nothing or something bad may happen. For instance, perhaps the door becomes jammed and now it is impossible to open, even if you tried to pick the lock with your Rogue. This will all be calculated by the game, and you will see it on the bottom of the screen, but that is the mechanics of it.

Attack Rolls

The second thing Ability Modifier is used for is Attack Rolls, which is when a character is attacking another character. When attacking, players will roll the D20 and if their roll is equal to or higher than the target’s Armor Class (AC), they will connect with their Weapon. Melee Weapons use the Strength Modifier to add to their roll, and Ranged Weapons use Dexterity Modifier. There are some exceptions, such as Melee Weapons that have the Finesse property, allowing them to use Dexterity instead of Strength, but I won’t go into these here.

Additionally, your Ability Modifier is then added to your Damage Roll if you successfully connected with your attack (Damage Rolls are calculated by rolling the die or dice of the Weapon used, and then adding Ability Modifier). This means not only are you more likely to hit with a Weapon if you have high Strength or Dexterity, but you will do more Damage if you do. This makes these two Abilities particularly important to martial characters.

Your Rogue is attacking an enemy Orc that has an AC of 13. She is using a Longbow and has a Dexterity Modifier of +3. She rolls the D20 and gets an 11, and then adds +3, giving her a total of 14. This means she was successful in hitting the Orc with her arrow. She then rolls a D8 (which is the die that the Longbow uses for Damage) and gets a 4. She adds the +3 DEX Modifier, for a total of 7 Damage.

Saving Throws

Saving Throws are used to calculate the defense of a character vs. many effects or spells in the game. Each of these has its own DC, which the character must make a “saving throw” of the die against in order to protect them self. These spells and effects will target one of the 6 Abilities of the character, and they will use that specific Ability Modifier when rolling. Just like Ability Checks and Attack Rolls, you must hit the target number or higher in order to succeed.

If you are making a spell casting character such as a Wizard or Sorcerer, you want to have the highest DC you can on your spells, as this helps prevent enemies from successfully rolling a “Saving Throw”, and increases your effectiveness. Each Class has its own Ability that is used to calculate this, and this is called its Spellcasting Ability Modifier. For instance, Clerics use Wisdom to determine their Spell DC, and Wizards use Intelligence for theirs. The DC to resist one of your Spells is equal to 8 + Spellcasting Ability Modifier.

Your Druid uses the spell Call Lightning around a bunch of Goblins. His Wisdom is 23, so he has a Spellcasting Ability Modifier of +6. This means the DC of this Spell is 14 (8+6), and any Goblin who doesn’t roll at least 14 (after all their Modifiers) will take 3D10 damage (the sum of 3 rolls of a D10 die), and any who does will take half that amount.

Knowing these things about Abilities, Ability Scores & Modifiers, as well as DC and AC should help you make more informed decisions when character building.

This was the first of several articles on the basics of 5th Edition D&D, basics that will apply to Baldur’s Gate III and prepare you for what’s to come hopefully next year. The purpose of this article was to try to explain fundamental mechanics that BG3 players could benefit from knowing, helping them to make better decisions about their character development. In the next article I will be covering Proficiency, Skills and Advantage/Disadvantage and how they factor into the above calculations, so stay tuned for that! For more you can visit the DnD Guide section.


Senior Editor at Fextralife. I enjoy gaming, playing and watching sports, cooking yummy food, watching a good movie and hanging out with Fex.

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