THE ABILITY SCORES
by Andrew Trauger
Strength…Dexterity…Constitution…Intelligence…Wisdom…Charisma. Anyone who plays D&D is intimately familiar with these words. They determine the makeup of a character, and often determine his fate. “Six sets of 4d6, drop the low” means create a new PC, and nearly every other aspect stems from those six rolls. They are very important, then, but do we really understand them? Oh yes, we know what “strength” is—one’s muscular build. But what does a score of 17 mean? Or a 6? Character generation gives scores that range from the nigh impossible 3 (you’d actually have to roll four 1s) to the coveted 18, with the human average for all scores being 10-11. And yet, because of one’s race and age, or through further development and magical enhancement, these scores can go beyond (or below) the human norms. So, what does it mean to possess a strength of 24?
Think first of normal people, not those who are obviously superior or inferior. Think of yourself, your family, friends, or co-workers. And remember that the vast majority of humanity will be in the 10-11 range. If you consider yourself of average intelligence, then you probably have a 10 or 11 INT. That miserable geek in class who aced every test and made a perfect score on the SAT probably has a 16 INT, and possibly higher.
Because 3-18 represents the range of normalcy for humans, we must assume that if anyone is above or below normal, they will have scores outside this range. Note that this is not the same as being above or below average. “Normal” represents the entire range of human existence, whereas “average” represents only the broad peak in the bell curve. Probably the best way to explain the numbers is to compare real-life examples. Benchmarks must be set at both the high end and low end so that everything may fall somewhere in between.
STRENGTH – Who on earth has the highest STR score? Watch the “World’s Strongest Man” competition on ESPN sometime. Those guys are definitely the strongest in the world, but are they sporting only an 18 STR? No way! These guys are not normal! Let us assume for benchmarking purposes that the world’s strongest man—the guy who won the competition—has a 20 Strength. By the charts in the PH, he would be capable of lifting 400 lb over his head, picking 800 lb off the ground, and pushing 2,000 lb across the ground. This certainly seems to fit what some of those competitors are capable of and might even be a bit generous. Of course, even with steroids and other strength enhancing drugs, they cannot attain the power available through fantasy magic. So…if the world’s strongest man has only a 20 STR, that would put bodybuilders and Olympic weightlifters at a 19-20, and the strongest workers in the most physically demanding jobs at an 18. Arnold Schwarzenegger at his prime probably had a 20 Strength, but has since lost some. Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?
On the other end of the spectrum, very weak people—frail old women and small children—have 3 or 4 Strength scores. To possess a score below this is to be an invalid, and a STR of zero means you lie atrophied and wasted, too weak to move at all, but not actually paralyzed. Because Strength is the only ability score with quantitative measurements, it establishes the range of abnormal for humans. And it works nicely that the world’s strongest man is only 2 points above “normal,” for the abnormally weak have strengths only one or two points below “normal.”
DEXTERITY – The highest DEX score probably belongs to the world’s greatest athletes. They’re the quickest, most agile, most graceful, and most capable of amazing feats of coordination. Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, Sugar Ray Leonard, Pete Sampras, Scott Hamilton, Pélé, Mary Lou Retton. These names are only examples of those who might possess a 20 Dexterity (staying consistent with the measurable benchmark establish with Strength). We might also include in that list dancers like Michael Jackson, drummers like Neal Pert, and Chinese contortionists. And yet, dexterity is also a measure of precision coordination, and so we might say that those who traverse Niagara Falls on a tightrope, the world’s best sharpshooters and archers, or reigning sleight-of-hand magicians also have high DEX scores.
And those whose DEX score is a 3 or 4 are lumbering brutes, complete klutzes, or just painfully slow. Below that, they are vegetative, and a score of zero means they are paralyzed.
CONSTITUTION – Constitution measures one’s health and resistant qualities, as well as one’s ability to push himself beyond exhaustion. We might think of people who have rarely, if ever, succumbed to any kind of ailment, never get sick, and live beyond 100. George Burns, Mother Theresa, Queen Elizabeth. We’ve heard stories of the old man who treated himself on his 90th birthday to 90 laps in an Olympic-sized pool. Or, we might consider the winners of any marathon, whether running, biking or cross-country skiing, guys like Lance Armstrong. Rock and mountain climbers. Explorers of the North and South Poles. These people brave the elements, push themselves beyond normal human capacity, and come out the other side looking no worse for the wear. They have a 20 CON score, and set the standard for the rest of us.
Conversely, those with a 3 or 4 CON are the ones who have chronic illnesses like diabetes, who catch pneumonia every year, who bleed profusely when injured, or who break bones easily. Below that, we’re looking at AIDS, leukemia, brittle bones, etc., and at zero CON a person is dead.
INTELLIGENCE – Without too much trouble, we can easily establish the upper echelon for brilliance…Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, and Leonardo da Vinci. These guys certainly possessed the highest of human intellects, and their kind doesn’t come around very often. That puts most scholarly types in the 17-18 range of INT. Intelligence measures not only one’s ability to reason out a solution or invent a better mousetrap, but it also measures one’s ability simply to learn, store and retrieve facts. Consider the autistic; they are sometimes touted as brilliant while lacking the ability to communicate their intelligence to anyone else. Bobby Fisher…Rainman…A Beautiful Mind. Some people make a perfect score on the SAT (a sign of high intelligence) but cannot reason their way out of a box (a sign of lacking skills in logic). The mind is terribly complex, and no one score can adequately judge its capabilities, but certain people have so excelled at their mental power, that they certainly set the standard for the rest of us.
On the other end, those who have a 3 or 4 INT are most assuredly stupid, whether completely bereft of any information, or totally unable to connect the dots. The retarded are the easiest examples to draw here, but consider also the person who somehow (and unfortunately) graduates high school without knowing how to read (or think, or add, or etc.). Below this, a person’s brain begins literally to turn off, approaching more and more a lack of neural activity. The one with a zero INT score is completely comatose, and would be considered dead if not for his beating heart.
WISDOM – Not to be confused at all with Intelligence, Wisdom measures a person’s comprehension skills, astute perceptions of his world, and his intuition. King Solomon was the wisest man, followed perhaps by philosophers like Aristotle or Socrates. Today, it might be difficult to find a truly wise person, for the skills required to develop one’s wisdom are often not exercised. We have a world of fools, in other words. But, we might look to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Dr. Greg Bahnsen, or Dr. Robert Dabney for more modern examples wise men, men with a Wisdom score of 20. These are the sages and philosophers who look through to the heart of an issue and debate it to its conclusion. They see past the superficial trappings that so many of us get caught up in, accurately perceiving the first causes or prophetically speaking to the eventual effects of current actions. Within the upper range of human wisdom (16-18), we might find our own pastors, councilors, coaches and teachers…or even our parents—people who discard the flaky and nail us with insightful observations about ourselves.
At the lower end, at a 3 or 4 WIS score, we find the dolts, the complete idiots and the fools. These are the people who cannot discern that smoking crack will kill you, who have perpetual “foot-in-mouth” disease, or who think that riding in a shopping cart down a steep hill into a traffic-laden freeway is fun. They are continually winning the Darwin Award or making shows like “Jackass.” Below a 3 are the truly reckless and insane, and at a zero WIS score, we find those lost in a dazed stupor, the totally irrational or blank.
CHARISMA – Without going into a debate about the effects of one’s Comeliness upon one’s Charisma or vice versa—much could be said about that—Charisma is a measure of how well one knows himself, his self-confidence, as well as his personal magnetism. It’s his ability to affect other’s perceptions of himself either through strong assertiveness and leadership or through charm and persuasion. Some fine examples both good and bad of the highest human Charisma (the 20) would include many of the world’s leaders, like Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, and George Washington on one hand, and Adolf Hitler, Nero Caesar and Bill Clinton on the other. These men were able to amass the public with their powerful personal magnetism, whether through leadership or charm. Consider also many of our movie stars, or British royalty, and the way they command crowds of thronging fans. There’s a lot to say for wealth and fame, but most of these winsome people purposefully pour on the charm.
At the other extreme, around the lowly 3 or 4 Charisma, we have those stubborn crankshafts of bitterness that seethe at everyone who steps before their scorching eyes. We might also find the true “geeks” of society, people that have holed themselves up in a reclusive closet of isolation, withdrawn into their own very little world. When they do step outside their seclusion, the result is usually frightfully pathetic in its social ineptitude. Whether they have an axe to grind with the whole world, or they simple just don’t have a clue how to act, these people are truly loathsome. Below this, they become total louts and churls.
At a zero CHA, one loses consciousness. This isn’t exactly a natural progression, but it is specifically called for in D&D, so we’ll assume it to be true. (How’s that for an explanation?)
What follows are some examples of these scores applied to some famous people. You may not agree with these scores, but keep in mind that is hardly possible to reduce a person to six numbers. As D&D is a game foremost and not a psychiatric evaluation, simplicity is paramount. Consider these iconic examples to be at their peak, and then imagine what they might’ve been like with a little magical enhancement…!
Arnold Schwarzenegger – STR 20; DEX 10; CON 15; INT 10; WIS 12; CHA 13
Michael Jordan – STR 16; DEX 20; CON 16; INT 13; WIS 14; CHA 17
Mike Tyson – STR 18; DEX 16; CON 20; INT 8; WIS 6; CHA 14
Dr. Albert Einstein – STR 10; DEX 10; CON 10; INT 20; WIS 16; CHA 16
Dr. Robert Dabney – STR 10; DEX 12; CON 10; INT 16; WIS 20; CHA 12
Adolf Hitler – STR 14; DEX 11; CON 9; INT 15; WIS 14; CHA 20