Posted by: Opinicus | April 14, 2010

Strength vs Everything else

So… You wonder what character to make.  Do you want to be the charming bard? The dexterous rogue? The cunning mage? Or the wise cleric.  The question you should ask yourself is this: what do you really want to see in this game?

If you are looking for pure roleplaying, then anything is up for grabs. If you want to destroy the campaign, then I might suggest a mage/druid/cleric/sorcerer, as their spells can bend reality to your will, but there are so many builds you can find for them that I feel it’s almost like cheating.  Why fight the boss when he’s only a save away from becoming your lawn ornament (or groveling servant).   But lets say you want a more traditional hack and slash character, what stat should you invest in?

Since this is about the physical combat aspect of D&D (3.5 to be exact) I will focus this discussion on the three physical stats, Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution.

Let’s start with Dex.   Dex, gives bonus to AC, ranged attacks, and finesse attacks.  thus obviously this is a great stat for ranged characters and guys that want a good AC while wearing light armor. But I ask you, is this the best you could be doing?

Now of course, I am ignoring all the roleplaying of this build.  If you want to play a finesse fighter, go for it and have fun. This, on the other hand, is about game play, how well will your character survive against an enemy, strict number crunching.

Let’s say you have 2 stats, 20 and 12, +5 and +1 respectively.  on one side, you have a fighter with 20 dex and 12 str, on the other, you have 20 str and 12 dex.  If they fought, I would bet on the 20 str fighter.  Let’s break it down.  The 12 str fighter (and let’s say he has weapon finesse as it’ll be no contest without it) has a +5 to hit and +1 to damage, assuming no magic items, he has an AC of 18 with Studded leather, chain shirt, or 19 with full plate ( the best damn armor out there, save a mithril version of it).  The 20 str fighter will have +5 to hit and +5 to damage (assuming a 1 handed weapon). Already you see a big difference in combat capability.  The two fighters will hit each other just as often, but the burly one will deal significantly more damage (and will also be using a non finesse weapon and thus do more variable damage as well, 1d6 rapier vs 1d8 longsword).

So, let’s take it to the extreme. how about a 30 str fighter vs a 30 Dex fighter.  The 30 dex fighter will have an AC of 20 (assuming padded, mithril chain shirt, or no armor as armor check is a bitch at that high dex). he will have a +10 to hit (as he’s not a ‘tard and has taken weapon finesse, unless his str is also ridiculous, but that is outside the parameters of this model).  The 30 str fighter will have an AC of 19 (full plate and +1 dex) or even just an 18 with no dex.  Not much lower than the straight dex fighter. (though the dex fighter can always get mithril full plate and get an AC of 21, but then he’s not taking advantage of his dex at all really, but hey, you go for the best you can get). The str fighter will have a +10 to hit and +10 to damage (+15 if 2 handing).  this is MUCH, MUCH better than the other fighter’s +10 hit and +1 damage.  Now, the dex fighter will be hitting about 15% more often, but he’ll need about 2 hits to equal the damage of one of the str fighter’s hits.

The big thing with this is that AC in D&D 3.5 does not scale well at all.  Sans magical equipment, a 20th lv fighter is almost as easy to hit as a 1st lv fighter, only difference is a few feats that’ll raise the AC up by a few points such as dodge or shield specialization.  Armor gives a cap on the maximum benefit you can gain on dex, while there is no maximum on on str, in fact, if you use a 2 handed weapon, the more str you have, the more return you get (due to 1.5x str mod to damage).

As your str gets higher and higher, all the other stats start falling to the sidelines compared to it.  Con gives HP, but only 1 per lv. while nice for surviving, the higher lvs of D&D are less to do with how much Hp you have, but how much Hp you can shave off the enemies and how fast you can do this (and with a really high Str, it’s less like shaving and more like chopping).  Dex can allow you to dodge attack often, but eventually the fact that BAB rises faster than your stats starts to show.

Int/Wis/Cha, great for casters and skill monkeys, soon becomes useless in a fight. Yes, the spells of the caster aren’t going to be resisted due to a save of spell lv + a bajillion (completely scientific term I assure you). But if they failed their save due to them having to make a DC 23 save vs a DC 16 save, it’s still up to the dice.  Most GM’s don’t want the boss to die in one round because he rolled a poorly timed 1. Secondly, even if the DC was a 16 or a 58340, a failed save is still a failed save, there is no extra damage due to how much they failed their save by.  If it was a 10d6 fireball, they still take only 10d6 (unless they have imp. evasion, in which case they take 5d6).  However, there is no save vs the damage you do from str.  Each modifier bonus you get correlates to a very real and tangible increase in hit percentage and damage output.

The mage can deal out massive damage every round, until he runs out of spells. The high str character can do it indefinitely, well, I guess until he runs out of Hp.  The key word here was the hight Str Character.  High str isn’t a domain for only the fighters and barbarians, everyone can enjoy it!

The rogue can say “screw weapon finesse!” save a feat and hit just as (if not more) often and deal significantly more damage.  Yes he has to sacrifice some AC and reflex save for it, but really, at the mid+ lvs, does your AC from Dex really matter? No, they’re hitting you every round anyways and your good save was Ref anyways.

The Monk gains the joy of actually hitting his enemies and doing damage that can actually mean something, as opposed to flurry of misses and dealing a pathetic amount of damage.  Of course, at later lvs the flurry of misses becomes some actual hits, but that doesn’t stop the sad amount of damage you’re doing.  AC? well, a monk’s AC is already in the shitter, no point in trying to boost it up a few points with dex, just focus on dropping your enemies faster then they can drop you (or focus on grapple and they won’t even be able to hit you back due to the broken rules for grapple).

A ranged character will actually benefit more from Dex, but only almost. As they don’t use Str for hitting, Str just lost about 1/3 of it’s glory.  I say a third because damage usually wins out over to hit, but it’s still close.  The ranges character will initially want to focus on Dex, lots of to hit.  But soon, he’s going to see, yes, he can hit with his 3 attacks (BAB+6 and rapid shot), but he’s doing 3d8+6 (+2 str bow or something else that adds damage to ranged), while the barbarian is doing  with 2 attacks (that hit almost as often) 4d6+20 (without powerattack, assuming 20 str, +4 for rage= +7 mod, greatsword, 1.5 str= +10 from str alone, oh, and power attack is a 1:2 basis) Not a barbarian? then it is 4d6+14, again with out power attack.  9-30 vs 18-38, which do you prefer?  Now you could also change out the ranged combat flaws with a really high str and an expensive str-composite bow, or just use thrown weapons like a javelin. There is also the Brutal throw feat where you use your Str mod for to hit with a thrown weapon, and there we go, massive damage.  But besides that, ranged combat usually does much less damage than melee.

Clerics can also benefit from the high str, in fact, mid lv clerics can possibly benefit from it more than anyone else, as they can buff themselves.  I once played a cleric, 1/2 orc, 20 str, 16 wis.  Everyone saw cleric and thought, “Healer! YAY!”  First combat, someone asked for healing and I told him to drink a potion (the exact phrase was “Drink a pot noob! Strength Cleric is for Tank LOL!” a reference to “Alamo’s guide to playing a Druid”…errr…”Durid”).  I had buffed myself with Righteous might and Divine power, which stack mind you.  My Str was 34 (+8 RM, +6 DP), I was using a glaive for reach and my BAB was equal to my lv (fighter’s BAB pretty much) I was large and had DR.  I was doing more damage per hit (with power attack) than the rest of the party (+18 from str alone, and about another +10 from power attack for 5).  2d6+28 (power attack is the greatest feat) Again, I ask, who needs healing from me when the bad guys are all broken at our feet?

Another thing about a ridiculous Str is how well it meshes with power attack.  You have so many bonuses to hit from str, that you stop seeing your BAB as extra to hit, and more like Extra damage.

I guess the gist of this article is less of how awesome str is as a stat, but how the game of D&D is geared around how fast can you dish out the pain.  The fact that your AC raises so damn slowly compared to you To-Hit that trying to avoid getting hit is less effective than just killing all your enemies before they can hit you too much, and if you’re not a caster, Str is the way to go.



  1. Of course Righteous Might and Divine Power stack, they’re synonyms!

  2. Good article, though I’ll point out this advice is largely confined to 2E and 3.5, while Str is much less important in 4E.

    In fact, as excellent a stat as Strength is in 3.5, getting an 18/00 Str in 2E was like winning the goddamn lottery =P

    • I remember rolling up a character, getting an 18/00, and not caring that my next highest stat was a 12, but then, in 2E, it didn’t really matter because the stats scaled weirdly, like having a Dex of 7-14 was pretty much the same, or was that Con?

      And besides, I don’t play 4E.

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