Friday, June 27, 2014

Let's Get Physical - Has Anyone Broken Down the Math of the Physical Attribute Bonuses in D&D?

Strength, Dexterity and Constitution - all are important to your character's survivability in combat in D&D - but which is most important?

High Strength makes you hit harder and more often.

High Dexterity makes you harder to hit, so you take damage less often. It also gives a bonus to hit (but not damage) with ranged weapons.

High Constitution enables you to take more damage before going down, potentially enabling you to deal damage for a longer time (and if you are a dwarf or a halfling it gives one heck of a bonus to poison and magic saves)

So, which is the best one to put your highest score at?

I have no idea. Traditionally, my fighter classed characters have always gone Strength, Constitution and then Dexterity in order if priority, but I have no idea if mathematically that is the most effective priority.

No, I'm not suggesting that we need to do a mathematical breakdown of most effective priority, but it certainly would be interesting (and beyond my mere mortal abilities).

Instead, I'm interested in discussing the order of prioritization for your fighting type class character's statistics. Most of us do have a default in mind when we arrange our stats. There is no right answer (although math might show us a more effective answer).

And no, this post has nothing to do with work and the current attempts of the powers that be to find the most effective (in time and money) methods for each process that my office does. Because reality and theory rarely intersect.

Penny wise and pound foolish comes to mind...


  1. You may be heading down a slippery slope.

  2. Strength, Constitution, Dexterity

    1. I agree with STR, CON, DEX in that order for fighters. The order would change for other classes.

  3. It all depends on the version of the game you play and character level. Going with BECM distribution I'd say strength is the way to go. A +2 to hit is like attacking as someone 2 or 3 levels higher, but it also lift damage. But as damage and hit chance are both increased it's even more signifigant.
    Let's say you have a 50% chance to his a target and are using a d6 damage causing weapon, your average likely damage will be 3.5x0.5 or 1.75pts.
    The +2 STR bonuses increases the likely damage to 5.5 x0.6 or 3.3, it has almost doubled likely damage vs a foe on can hit 50% of the time.
    If a foe could hit you 50% of the time and you have a 2 pt Ac bonus their likely damage goes from1.75 to 1.4 that's 20% less damage.
    20% less damage isn't very signifigant at low level against foes dishing out same damage as PCs can but when facing the big guns 20% less of 2d8, 3d6, and up starts to really matter.
    Con bonus is also very telling at low level but less and less signifigant as you gain levels.
    It all depends, do you want to kill targets in less strikes, be hit for telling damage less often or fight for one more round out of 4 or 5 rounds?

  4. My personal stat recommendations for AD&D or Basic are, in order from highest to lowest:

    FIGHTERS: STR, CON, DEX, CHA (leadership), WIS (possible save bonuses), INT (dump stat)

    MAGIC-USERS: INT, CHA (for hiring muscle to protect them), DEX (to avoid getting hit and to make missile attacks), CON (hit points), WIS (possible save bonuses), STR (dump stat - magic-users should never, ever melee IMO)

    THIEVES: DEX, STR (for backstabbing), CHA (for conning people and hiring muscle), CON (for hit points), WIS (possible save bonuses), INT (dump stat)

    CLERICS: WIS, STR (for smiting infidels), CON (hit points), CHA (for attracting followers), DEX (since few missile weapons are available), INT (dump stat - I guess everybody's stupid besides magic-users)

    Sub-classes may differ, depending on ability score requirements - e.g., paladins usually have to put their first or second highest score in Charisma.

    1. I had a basic D&D Magic-user with an 18 STR and he kicked butt, can't knock a dagger attack that does 4-7 points of damage. He had a better chance to hit than any of the fighters in the same party did at 1st level under those rules. High INT actually provides little benefit at all to a low level MU in BECM D&D.

    2. "High INT actually provides little benefit at all to a low level MU in BECM D&D."

      It lets you gain levels faster, due to the XP bonus. That should be your #1 priority with any class IMO. I should also mention I usually run AD&D, where INT is crucial to getting a good selection of MU spells.

      I honestly do think it's cool to do something unusual and contrary, like running a magic-user with a high Strength. However - realistically, and barring the use of house rules - a magic-user will never have good hit points, will never have a really good AC without very specific magic items, will never have a very good THAC0 compared to other classes (beyond the lowest levels), and will never be able to use really heavy melee weapons. It seems to me the time, money, and effort spent on making a magic-user a (very) marginal melee combatant is almost always better spent on spells and scrolls, gimmicks like flaming oil and holy water, or (as a last resort) missile weapons. But hey, whatever floats your boat. It's your game.

    3. A 10% exp bonus is offset by survivng to flee another day. The exp bonus is great up near 6th, 7th level and later when it means thousands of exp but it's pretty meaningless at low level.

    4. The 10% XP bonus is like free money. As a DM, I have more than once seen the 10% bonus determine whether a 1st or 2nd level PC gained a level or not. Leveling for a 1st level magic-user means more hit points and twice as many spells in the next adventure. Leveling for a 2nd level magic-user means more hit points, more spells, and potential access to invisibility or knock during the next adventure. Doing all you can to make that possible seems like a no-brainer to me.

    5. If you're dead, that free money is unspent. It depends how frequent death and near death is in the campaign in question.

  5. I have always been found of the high Dex built, as I like: Archers and not being hit. Not being hit always seems better to me than being able to such up more damage.

  6. I am in the midst of a 22 year debate on this topic.
    My system is - everyone but fighters, go for constitution. More hitpoints = good
    My buddy Al says for everyone go for Dex. Dex = hit less often.
    I think he's crazy and here is why-
    A.C. doesn't help vs. fireball, lightning bolt, etc. More hit points does. So even in fighters it is Str, Con, Dex

    1. As I outlined in a previous post, I believe front-line combatants (fighters and clerics) should prioritize CON over DEX. For characters who shouldn't be involved in melee in the first place (thieves and magic-users) it's DEX over CON. So I agree with both of you to some extent.

    2. First edition AD&D Player's Handbook, page 11: Defensive adjustment (due to dexterity) applies to saving throws against fireballs and lightning bolts (and other stuff that can be dodged). Just saying. So Al may be right if this is all you guys have been fighting over for 22 years... :-)

    3. But if you save you still take hits! Fewer, but non-zero.
      As we agree every 6 months or so - we're both right

  7. Charisma then Constitution. Henchmen and hit points.

    1. Not to mention the fact that, if your DM uses reaction rolls BTB, a higher Charisma will potentially let you avoid more fights entirely. Not fighting at all is clearly better than improved damage, AC, or hit points.

  8. Of course DEX should increase your chance to hit, rather than STR doing so, which is one of the flaws in D&D's combat/damage system. Being strong should have no effect whatsoever on whether you hit someone or not.

    1. It's not whether you hit them AT ALL, but whether you make it through their defenses and score an EFFECTIVE hit. Blows that "miss" often actually strike the target, but glance off armor or a shield. When trying to punch through plate armor or dragon scales with a melee weapon, strength is of paramount concern. A very agile melee attacker with little strength is going to score few effective hits on an armored individual, no matter how many times his weapon technically strikes the target. And even in cases where target AC is heavily modified by DEX rather than armor, strength is still significant because stronger people can swing the same weapon with greater velocity, and thus are more likely to catch a dodging individual. Gary knew what he was doing in this case.

    2. This just highlights more flaws in the D&D combat system where misses are hits, losing hit points isn't really an injury, more armor makes you harder to hit but we pretend it was a hit that did no damage, and other silly justifications for a poorly thought-out system. We should just admit it's not very good rather than pretend it does what it should.

    3. "...more armor makes you harder to hit but we pretend it was a hit that did no damage..."

      More armor DOESN'T make you "harder to hit". If anything, it slows you down and makes you EASIER to hit. More armor makes you harder to INJURE. That's what makes strength relevant to melee combat, rather than dexterity. It's really not that hard to understand how the various moving parts of the D&D combat system are supposed to interact, unless you're impenetrably dense or irredeemably prejudiced.

      "We should just admit it's not very good rather than pretend it does what it should."

      I'll think for myself, thanks.

    4. "We should just admit it's not very good rather than pretend it does what it should."

      If it doesn't meet your preferred level of abstraction, then obviously you should choose another option (RuneQuest/BRP is a pretty good choice that may meet your needs). However, it is an abstraction, like all game systems. It does what it does well enough for the purposes of an adventure game.

  9. When I was younger, in the 1990s, I prioritized Str and Con for fighters and used Charisma as a "dump stat" for all classes. We were playing a lot of BECMI and 2e back then.

    In the last decade, I've come to see that Charisma, regardless of class, may be among the most important attributes with Dexterity a close second.

    Managing large groups of retainers/hirelings/henchmen, increased effort to negotiate with intelligent opponents, preference for missile weapons, and generally avoiding melee have become key tactical approaches to surviving between levels 1 and 5 in most of the games.

    Further, more time spent running AD&D, rather than Classic/RC/BECMI, has led me to value high Prime Requisite scores over and above their value for the +10% XP bonus.

    But it also creates incentives to not bleed the other stats too low: make your magic-user too weak and he can't carry his spellbook or, if he does, he'll be one of the first eaten should the party have to hoof it out of a bad spot.

    In over 25 years of play I've never found the CON bonus to HP to make the difference between life and death for a character. I considered very important in my youth. I consider smart play much more important now.

  10. A couple extra HP don't mean much when you blow a save vs death or paralysis (and get eaten).
    Dex. Has an advantage in boosting AC as it decreases the chance of needing to make a save. Dex can also improve initiative, he who hits first may be he who hits last.
    But wait...
    CON can modify some saves that would otherwise take a character out...hmmmm. It's all a balancing act.

  11. High dex wins at our table. Better to hit with ranged weapons, better AC.

  12. I don't know that there is a mathematically "perfect" approach. It very much depends on your style and approach with the character.


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