July 26, 2017

Ability Scores: You're Doing Them Wrong

*An editorial by the Thumb*

Comments from the Thumb: This article expresses my own personal opinion and doesn’t necessarily represent an official explanation of ability scores or the opinions of the other Digits.

Let’s talk about ability scores. We all know them. Strengh, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. The first three are pretty self-explanatory, so we’ll skip those for now. It’s the last three, the so-called mental ability scores, that I see people time and time again getting into a tizzy over. Today we’re gonna talk about what exactly each of these scores means and settle the confusion once and for all. If you’ve been around the block a few times, you may’ve seen other articles, threads, or videos explaining what I’m about to tell you. If not, read on!


We’ll start with Intelligence. This one’s pretty straightforward. Your Intelligence score is a measure of how smart you are. You use Intelligence to think and reason. Creatures need a certain level of intelligence to be sapient (usually at least INT 5) and anything below that denotes a creature with a more primitive mind (such as an animal), all the way down to INT 1, which denotes a creature whose mind is dominated by instinct and little else (oozes are a great example of this).
     You might use Intelligence to recall (or deduce) a piece of information about a particular subject (like history or arcana), or to determine the wisdom (I know, confusing names) of a course of action. You might also use it to provide clues to a riddle or puzzle that you, as a player, can’t figure out. Essentially, everything that involves critical thinking uses Intelligence.
     Intelligence is also the casting ability for spellcasters that rely on magical formulae and practice to learn spells, such as wizards. A wizard has no special skill set aside from being particularly smart and well-read in the area of magic, and when they prepare spells they memorize a certain number from their spellbook. The smarter a wizard is, the more they can memorize. Some casters that use Intelligence, such as the eldritch knight, choose to permanently memorize a smaller list of spells instead of carrying a spellbook.


Next comes Wisdom, an oft-confused ability score. First thing you need to know: Wisdom is a stupid name for this ability score. I’ve often heard people use this simplified (and incorrect) explanation: Intelligence covers higher thinking and Wisdom covers pretty much everything else except social skills, which are covered by Charisma. I think this misconception stems from D&D 3.5’s saving throws. In 3.5, there were only three saving throws, each tied to an ability score. They were Fortitude (tied to Constitution), Reflex (tied to Dexterity), and Will (tied to Wisdom). Will saves were required from almost every mind-affecting spell in the book. The name implies that you make the save with, yes, a force of will. This is (in my own opinion, anyway) blatantly wrong, and I’ll explain why when we get to Charisma.
     Simply put, Wisdom governs your perception. Not just your senses, but your intuition, your instinct, your general awareness of the world as it truly is. You use Wisdom to notice things in your environment like hidden traps or a particular person in a crowd, but you also use it to tell when people are lying or see patterns in seemingly random events, among other things. When a spell calls for a Wisdom saving throw, it’s not asking you to use your pure willpower to overcome the spell. It’s asking whether you notice the spell being cast on you. If you succeed on a wisdom spell against, let’s say, charm person, you aren’t throwing off the shackles of magic. You’re realizing, “Oh, I don’t actually like that guy, I must have been charmed!”
     Wisdom is the casting ability for spellcasters like clerics, druids, and rangers, and the ability monks use to channel ki. They cast with Wisdom because their magic comes from their awareness, their connection with their god or with nature or with whatever makes monks magic. A Wisdom caster’s magic is bestowed upon them by that source. The more in-tune they are with it, the stronger their magic is. This is also why clerics and druids get access to all spells on their list, rather than keeping a spellbook. Preparing spells for them is basically praying for the knowledge of their casting to be bestowed upon them for the day. As far as I can tell, monks literally use the Force, but if you know much Star Wars lore, you’ll recognize that that requires Wisdom as well.


Now onto Charisma, the most misunderstood of the ability scores. Most casual players will tell you that Charisma is the measure of your personality and ability to interact with others. Well, yes and no. While it is true that Charisma governs your people skills, it’s so much more than that. Because hey, 3.5? It’s actually Charisma that governs your willpower. That’s right, Charisma is a measure of how mentally strong you are and how independent and confident your personality is. A more fitting name would be Stubbornness but I can see why Charisma has a better ring to it. Charisma is the single most varied ability score, because it can affect everything from how good you are at entertaining an audience to how good you are at lying to how scary (or friendly) you are. But beyond all that interaction stuff is the way Charisma interacts with magic, which is the primary reason for this entire theory. When a spell calls for a Charisma saving throw, this is where you are using your mental fortitude to throw off some debilitating effect. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many spells or abilities that call for Charisma saves, and many spells that should do this instead call for Wisdom saves for some reason.
     Charisma is the casting ability for spellcasters like bards, paladins, sorcerers, and warlocks. But if you go with the layman’s definition, that makes no sense. How can being likeable or persuasive help you cast spells? Once again, Charisma is incredibly varied in how it works. A bard learns to use their performance skills to influence the weave of magic, literally singing, dancing, or playing their spells to life. A paladin uses their sense of purpose, their conviction in the tenets that they live by, to fuel magic bestowed upon them by some divine power. That’s why if a paladin breaks one of their oaths, they lose their powers. A sorcerer is born with an innate ability to use magic, and can use it by simply willing it to happen. A warlock makes a bargain with a powerful entity from whom they get magic, and similar to a sorcerer, they will the magic to happen.

Wrapping It All Up

Now comes the part where I tell you why you should care. Understanding the nuances of ability scores can strengthen your roleplaying and make you a better player and DM. As a player, being able to play your character true to their stats makes the immersion that much stronger and avoids DM/player disputes. As a DM, you are prepared if a situation involving these ability scores comes up that isn’t covered in the rules. Understanding the intent of the rules that are there goes a long way in allowing you to make a ruling on the issue.
     Of course, that’s the beauty of tabletop games. Ultimately, what the players can and can’t do is the DM’s decision, and your interpretation of the rules is essentially law.

Well, as long as you’re the DM.

July 24, 2017

Sanctified Hunter

Martial Archetype
Notes from the Palm: A little bit late for the release of the new Netflix series, this is for all those people who want to play one of the Castlevania series many Belmonts in 5e, but who just don't want to be paladin. Remember folks, not all who hunt monsters are holy; oftentimes, they aren't even nice. 

Sanctified Hunter

Undead, fiends, and other beasts that stalk the night have terrorized mankind for thousands of years. While the destruction of such beasts is usually left to clerics, paladins, and other holy men, there are a rare breed that refuse to lay down and allow the creatures of the night to walk over them. Less like knightly orders than families, Sanctified Hunters pass down from one generation to another the tricks and techniques for destroying their evil foes.

July 21, 2017

Body Snatcher

Roguish Archetype
Notes from the Nails: we've had a tomb raiding rogue in the Waste Update, but how about something a little more... gothic?

Body Snatcher

Creeping around in darkened graveyards, making their living by desecrating the resting places of the fallen, the body snatchers are a singularly unsavory bunch. Their grubby clothes, perpetually covered with soil and muck, mirror their dirty fighting styles: these rogues pick on the weakest of targets and are more than willing to stoop to any number of cheap tricks to gain an advantage - sometimes even making their own corpses when fresh ones are not available elsewhere. Despite this, their clients know that there is no one more reliable when it comes to clandestine excavation and exploration, and are therefore willing to hand over handsome sums to these filthy criminals.

July 18, 2017

How to Playtest New Classes

We recently got an excellent question on Patreon that we'd like to answer for everyone:

I had a quick question for you guys. How do you go about playtesting your custom classes? I'm creating my own currently, and I would like to know a good way to test it's mettle.
- Alexander Garcia

There's two or three levels of testing. All of them are important, but not all of them are strictly "play" testing.

July 17, 2017

Oath of Freedom

Sacred Oath
Notes from the Nails: because not all paladins are lawful!

Oath of Freedom

Most paladins place great emphasis on duty, honesty, order and justice, believing that an orderly approach to life is the best way to keep their tenets and accomplish their objectives. The Paladins of Freedom, however, reject this approach. Instead, they stress that personal liberty is the most important thing an individual can have – so important that they actively reject all laws that do not originate from the gods themselves.

Tenets of Freedom
All paladins who swear this oath respect the following ideals:
     None Shall Bind Me. The laws of men are artificial, arbitrary, and prone to abuse. I will not submit to any laws that do not align with the will of the gods.
     I Will Fell Tyrants. Those who seek to impose cruel laws or tyrannical rules rob the people of their freedom and must be actively and vigorously opposed.
     If Others Are Not Free, I Am Not Free. Freedom is meaningless if it is only available to a privileged few. It is essential that enslaved and oppressed peoples everywhere be freed.

July 14, 2017

Familiars – Under the Sea

Notes from the Nails: use the porcupine fish twice, you say? No, I'd never do such a thing.

Extended Familiars

By tradition, familiars take the forms of beasts, but we have decided to break away from that to offer some stat blocks based on non-beast creature types. At the end of the day, a familiar is an extraplanar spirit in the shape of a beast, so why not let them take the shapes of constructs, undead or fey?

Under the Sea

Those of you who follow us on Patreon may have noticed that the High Seas Update has opened up a strong lead in the October poll. The race is not over yet, but the mere thought that we might be writing a nautical setting book has inspired me to stat up a collection of aquatic familiars. The perfect complement for one of our merfolk!