Understanding Baldur’s Gate 3 Combat: Character Ability Scores

Baldur’s Gate 3 combat can be challenging. Especially if you never played Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). This article series looks to teach you combat from the ground up. In the last article, you learned about the components of a combat round. This article is all about character ability scores.

Understanding Ability Scores

Character ability scores are one of the most important aspects in D&D. These numbers determine your damage and your hit points. They determine whether you convince a soldier to stand with you in combat or whether your spell successfully mind controls an enemy. Ability scores are like the Matrix: you may not see them, but they affect everything.

Baldur’s Gate 3 (BG3) is no exception. Characters ability scores are used with each roll of the dice. This happens for manual rolls or when the game makes rolls for you in the background. Your ability score can improve your roll or make it worse.

Being based on D&D, BG3 uses the same six core abilities: strength, dexterity, constitution, wisdom, intelligence, and charisma.

A listing of attribute points shown in during the character creation screen in Baldur's Gate 3.

Each class makes use of one core ability and then makes use a secondary ability. A fighter uses strength as their primary ability, but they also use constitution and dexterity. Each class also has a “dump” stat. For instance, fighters don’t need wisdom so it’s a good ability to ignore.

Ability Score Numbers

In traditional D&D, starting ability scores range from 3 to 18 with a max cap of 20. In the first few editions of D&D, players rolled three six-sided dice and assigned them from the top down. This made for some wild albeit disposable characters.

Eventually ability score generation evolved to rolling four six-sided dice and dropping the lowest number. There is also something known as the standard array that provides a series of standard numbers for you to use in the ability of your choice. The standard array is: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8.

BG3 uses point-buy which creates well rounded characters. Personally, I prefer to roll my ability scores, but I do understand BG3’s balanced approach.

The actual ability score number is not important. Rather, it represents a modifier. Here is the breakdown from the Player’s Handbook:

A list of attribute points matched with the appropriate modifier.

Just plug in your ability score into this chart, and you get your modifier. You add (or subtract) this modifier to every roll that uses that ability.

Using Modifiers

Abilities are everywhere in BG3. When you try to persuade Shadowheart to give you the relic, you add your charisma modifier to the persuasion roll. Modifiers are also critical in combat. The higher your modifier, the easier it is to hit an enemy.

For example if you are attacking a goblin with a sword, BG3 rolls a twenty sided die for you in the background. If you have a strength of 17, BG3 adds +3 to that roll. Now, If your strength was 20, it adds +5 to the roll. If you jokingly assigned 8 to your fighter’s strength, then BG3 subtracts -1 from the roll.

Goblins have an armor class of 15. This means you need to roll a 15 or higher on a twenty sided die without any modifiers. When you roll to attack, you add your strength modifier and something known as a proficiency modifier. (I’ll be covering proficiency modifiers in the next article). At first level with a strength of 17 with a starting proficiency modifier of 2, you’ll be adding +5 to each attack roll. That’s a 50% chance to hit. If you took the meme build and set you strength to 8, your chance to hit would drop to 30%. Yikes.

In the table top version of D&D, players track their modifier in a large box while recording the actual ability score in a smaller box. This makes it easy to “look up” the modifier when rolling.

A D&D character sheet, showing the modifiers in big squares with the ability score written in smaller squares.
A character sheet tracking both modifier and ability score.

You’ll notice that ability scores stop at 30. While you can obtain magic items that boost your ability score above 20, the highest level modifiers are mostly used by legendary monsters such as dragons.

Ability Types

Here is a breakdown of the six core abilities.

Strength. This is used to hit things. Whenever you make a melee attack, you use the strength ability. It also determines how much you can carry and how far you can jump. Strength is also used for pushing enemies.

Strength based classes: fighters, paladins, and barbarians.

An image of a knight confused at the sight of D&D character sheet.

Dexterity. Dexterity is often used when attacking with a bow or similar long ranged non-magical attack. It is also used for all thief related skills such as picking locks or disarming traps. Monks make special use of dexterity for their hand to hand attacks. It’s also used to determine your armor class in some situations.

Dexterity based classes: monk, rogue, and ranger.

Constitution. Constitution is all about health. Each time you level up, you receive hit points based on your class with your constitution modifier added to it. Constitution is also critical for spell casters. There are many concentration based spells like Spirit Guardians or Hypnotic Pattern. If the caster takes damage, they must make a concentration save based on the amount of damage taken. Your constitution modifier is added to the save so you always want your casters to have a good constitution.

Constitution based classes: None.

Intelligence. This is often used for “nerdy” skills like history or arcana. Needless to say, it’s the prime ability for wizards. Also, some of the “scariest” monsters force you to make intelligence saves. For example, a mind flayer can use Mind Blast that can stun you for a turn. It often does this to use the Extract Brain action that can insta-kill you. A high intelligence modifier helps you survive this attack.

Intelligence based classes: wizard

An image of a wizard confused at the sight of D&D character sheet.

Wisdom. Whereas intelligence is about book knowledge, wisdom is about human nature. This is used with insight, perception and survival. Clerics, druids, and rangers makes use of wisdom for their spell casting.

Wisdom based classes: cleric and druid.

Charisma. Charisma is the core roleplay ability. It allows you to talk yourself into and out of situations. Needless to say, a high charisma will get your far in BG3. It also is used as the basis for magic by sorcerers, paladins, and warlocks.

Charisma based classes: bard, sorcerer, and warlock.

Secondary Abilities

The prior section should have provided a nice overview of your ability priority. You may have also identified secondary abilities.

For example, the paladin uses strength as the basis of their melee attacks. The paladin also uses charisma to cast spells on opponents. Those spells use charisma for their ability to hit and make saves against. If you dig even deeper, you’ll discover these spells are often concentration based. This means, constitution is another good ability.

Yet, you may not use your spells and instead, use divine smite instead. In that case, you can forgo charisma as your secondary. It’s really up to you and your play style, but it does require you know a little about the class. Thankfully, there’s a great resource over here.

Subclasses can also influence your secondary ability. A fighter may choose to focus on strength and constitution, but should you play with an Eldritch Knight (a wizard fighter), then intelligence should be your secondary.

Optimizing Your Character

Some of you may be raising an eyebrow at the thought of character optimization otherwise known as min-maxing. People generally don’t like min-maxing because it emphasizes mechanics over story-telling at the expense of new players.

A man wearing cats like a beard. The caption reads: "MIN-MAXING: I'd wear a beard made out of cats if it gave me another +2 to hit. Which, incidentally, I'm doing.

BG3 is a very different beast from the D&D’s tabletop version. In a typical table top session, the DM is not actively trying to kill you. A good DM creates hard encounters and tries to balance those encounters to make it fun and exciting. Sometimes characters die, but that’s part of the fun.

BG3 does not pull its punches, especially at harder difficulty levels. The game will not hesitate to stun-lock you multiple turns in row, then insta-kill you. It will not flinch from casting hold person on your character, then critical hit you twice in row, before using action surge to do it again. It uses tactics in such a way that will make you rage. Yet, when you overcome a difficult encounter, it’s a great feeling (save scumming, be damned).

In summation, BG3 loves to play in the mud so it’s your job to put aside your feelings of min-maxing, and prepare to get dirty.

What’s Next?

I hope this helped you. In the next article, you’ll learn how your proficiency bonus and skills come into play. After which, you’ll take a deep dive in the magic system. So there’s a lot more coming down the road.

Do you have a favorite stat? Did this article illuminate any of the game systems? If so, leave me comment below and keep checking back for more Baldur’s Gate 3 articles.

By Brian Moakley

Brian Douglas Moakley is a writer and technologist who lives amongst the quiet hills in New England. When not reading tales of high adventure, he is often telling such stories to all who will listen.

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