Hexagram Ability Scores

Image from Wikipedia

Following my recent general discussion about ability scores and their role in tabletop RPGs, here are the actual Hexagram rules. Let me know if I have left out anything important that you think belongs in a section about ability scores.

Ability scores help define characters by quantifying strengths and weaknesses. They affect the game directly in two ways. Each ability score provides a small bonus or penalty. For example, an exceptional dexterity (greater than 12) grants a bonus of +1 to missile weapon attacks (or -1 for a score below 8). Additionally, the referee may call for ability checks to resolve some situations. To succeed at an ability check, you must roll less than or equal to the score in question on a d20.

Ability checks may be used to impartially resolve outcomes that are not covered by other, more specific rules. Ability checks are also used to determine how long something takes under trying conditions even if it is assumed that the action will be ultimately successful. In rare cases, bonuses or penalties may be levied on the check due to situation. Because of the large variance of the d20 roll, treating abilities as five points lower or higher when adjusting difficulty is suggested, but the unmodified score should be applicable for most situations where an ability check is useful.

Character path need not be determined by ability scores. For example, it may seem like a character with an average or low dexterity is unsuited for the path of guile. However, a character that focuses on using antediluvian technology may be better served by a high intelligence! A warrior who aspires to lead soldiers rather than stand on the front line with sword and shield may be better served by a high charisma!

Further, ability scores do not have enough mechanical weight within the Hexagram system to determine success. They should more correctly be looked upon as a tool to tell you something about your character as an individual, with minor system effects to keep the abilities salient without being overwhelming. Your wits and creativity as a player are far more important than your character’s ability scores. Feel free to try counterintuitive ability score / path combinations; such may lead to idiosyncratic and memorable characters.

Ability Scores
Ability Modifies
Strength melee weapon damage
Dexterity ranged attacks
Constitution hit points per hit die
Intelligence using antediluvian technology
Wisdom saving throw versus magic
Charisma social reaction

All modifiers are a penalty of 1 if the score is less than 8 or a bonus of 1 if the score is more than 12.

Strength is physical power. It allows you to hit harder and so modifies melee damage rolls. Potential strength checks include:

  • Shifting a heavy statue
  • Forcing your way out of a grab
  • Winning a tug-of-war 

Dexterity is agility, quickness, and reflexes. It helps with aim and so modifies ranged attacks. Potential dexterity checks include:

  • Catching a falling vase
  • Remaining standing on ice
  • Slipping out of a grab or restraint

Constitution is endurance, stamina, and toughness. It modifies hit points per hit die. Potential constitution checks include:

  • Resisting the effects of a toxic swamp
  • Holding breath
  • Recovering from an affliction

Intelligence is reason, cognition, and analytical skill. A strong intellect helps with manipulating ancient technology. Potential intelligence checks include:

  • Recognizing an ancient script
  • Identifying the basic purpose of an antediluvian machine
  • Repairing a simple mundane machine

Wisdom is intuition, willpower, and magical acuity, and thus modifies the magic saving throw. Possible wisdom checks include:

  • Throwing off a minor curse
  • Engaging in psychic combat given a psychic link
  • Noting the presence of hedge magic

Charisma is leadership and force of personality. A high charisma inspires devotion and trust, and thus modifies the social reaction roll. Possible charisma checks include:

  • Having a lie believed
  • Staring down a thug
  • Calming a panicked prisoner


Time-based tasks may require more than one successful ability check to complete. For example, pushing a heavy box through a door while under attack by enemy archers. The longer it takes, the more shots the archers will be able to get off. Some such tasks may allow multiple characters to contribute, at the cost of being unable to take other actions at the same time (such as return fire).

Ability checks may be opposed. For example, to resolve arm-wrestling, two characters might each make a strength check and compare the degree of success (that is, the number by which the check was made or failed by). Best of three is recommended to resolve such head-to-head conflicts.

It’s not always necessary, however, to determine everything by checks, especially if nothing interesting is at stake. The above arm-wrestling example could just as easily be resolved by comparing strength scores directly.


Ability checks are never used to resolve a potentially fatal situation. Instead, saving throws are used in such cases. It is important to use saving throws because they improve with level and thus reward extensive play. Several of the example ability checks above may seem like they are resolving life or death situations (like the holding of breath), but what they are really doing is postponing the necessity of a saving throw. Ability checks will often buy time, one of the most valuable resources to adventurers.


Ability checks are never used for gathering situational information. All obvious features are communicated directly by the referee. Locating hidden features, however, requires further explicit character action. For example, if there is a room with a map concealed beneath a rug, the referee will only describe the rug. If characters do not look under the rug, they will not find the map. Players may also opt to perform an abstract search, at the cost of spending time (this often has potentially deleterious consequences, such as encountering enemy patrols, and so is wise to avoid when possible). See “searching” in the adventuring procedures section, and note that characters on the path of guile gain bonuses to such abstract searching (though time must still be spent).

One thought on “Hexagram Ability Scores

  1. Howard Andrew Jones

    I’ve enjoyed leafing through your blog today — there are lots of great ideas here, and I’ll definitely be ordering Wonder & Wickedness.

    I’ve seen similar arguments about perception, and while I agree that “all obvious features are communicated directly by the referee” that too easily dismisses some of the other issues that an additional Perception stat might solve. Most importantly to me, who prefers to emulate old sword-and-sorcery stories in his gaming, the existing stats don’t allow you create to create character modeled off of the Gray Mouser, or Conan, who both have a sixth sense about danger. It’s about impossible to sneak up on Conan or to surprise the Mouser. Conan wakes up instantly alert, and his senses are razor keen and intuitive — he and the Mouser are very hard to surprise. Yet until later in life I can’t imagine Conan having a particularly high Wisdom score. I could see Mouser as wiser than his years, but still his intuition/perception seems more in the 17 or 18 range and his Wisdom around 15 or so at best.

    One way to emulate what happens in the stories is to tack on feats or skills, but I’m attracted to OSR because I want simplicity and am tired of rules and exceptions. I’m even leaning further from creating new character classes. I’m thinking more and more of leaning on the stats, and the more I think about Wisdom the less and less I like its use as a catch-all — intuition AND willpower AND mental acuity AND, one presumes, actual wisdom and learning? I would argue instead in favor of a seven stat, Perception (or intuition) and I might even suggest Willpower as an eighth, although I haven’t given that one as much thought.


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