HD&D: Ability Scores

I know I said this post was going to be about Character Races, but I thought that we really should discuss Ability Scores before we go any further. My first question is: what do you want to call them? Ability Scores? Attributes? Stats? I use all three interchangably, but if we’re going to do this properly we better pick one term and stick to it.

Anyway – my overall intention is that stats are less important in HD&D than they are in either third or fourth edition. Although it looked as though fourth edition lessened the importance of stats (by allowing characters to choose which attribute modifies their defences), stats are actually more important.

In fourth edition, all classes need to have one excellent and two good stats. That is the foundation on which all powers are built on. That means that 4e pushes you into choosing a specific races – for the ability score bonuses – and then pushes you to arrange your stats in a particular order.

I want to get away from this metagame approach to attributes. Yes, you want to have high stats in areas where you excel, but the system shouldn’t force you to do that just to be moderately effective.

Note on Races

The following assumes that every race in HD&D gives you a +2 bonus to two attributes. You may not agree with that, but assume it’s true for the duration of this post. We’ll discuss racial modifiers at length in the next post!

Calculating Attributes

The first point, that I will not be moved on, is that we are definitely not rolling ability scores. What the designers of third edition didn’t seem to appreciate (or if they did, it wasn’t reflected in the finished rules) is that attributes really, really matter in D&D. A character with average or poor stats is always going to be overshadowed by the lucky bugger who rolled three 18s. Point-buy stops that sort of thing from happening.

The question is: what sort of point buy do we use?

Fourth edition is as good a place as any to start. They have a number of suggested arrays for your attributes, the most common of which is 16, 14, 13, 12, 11 and 10. If you don’t want to use any of the pre-generated attribute arrays you can make your own with their point-buy system:

You start with six stats: 10, 10, 10, 10, 10 and 8. Then you have 22 points to spend on stats. The costs of raising a stat from 10 are as follows: 11 (1 point), 12 (2 points), 13 (3 points), 14 (5 points), 15 (7 points), 16 (9 points), 17 (12 points) and 18 (16 points). To improve the 8 you must first increase it to 10, which costs 2 points.

There is an automated tool to produce ability scores in this method, but you need to subscribe to the D&D Insider to access it.

The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game published by Paizo Publishing has a slightly different idea. In this system, all your attributes start at 10, and you have a number of points to buy your stats. Unlike the D&D model you can choose to lower stats to get more points. You cannot lower a stat below 7. The cost of each stat is as follows:

7 (-4 points), 8 (-2 points), 9 (-1 point), 11 (+1 point), 12 (+2 points), 13 (+3 points), 14 (+5 points), 15 (+7 points), 16 (+10 points), 17 (+13 points) and 18 (+17). Subtly different from the WotC version.

The number of points you get depends on the needs of the campaign. This can be anything from 10 to 25 depending on how powerful the GM wants his players to be.

I like the idea of you starting with 10s in all your attributes and then modifying them accordingly with a point buy system. I also like the idea of being able to lower your attibutes below 10. But I don’t want a system where players think they are obligued to have two cripplingly low attributes, just so they can be godlike in other areas.

A want most characters to have a stat no higher than 18 including racial modifiers. So the point buy system should encourage you to buy a stat at no higher than 16. However, I want it to be difficult to get a character to have two 16s, without reducing the other attributes down to 10.

I think my ideal system would allow a character to have a respectable collection of stats (the WotC standard of 16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10 is good). An 18 should only be possible to the extreme detriment of your stats. After all if you buy an 18, it means you are starting with a stat of 20 once you have added in the racial modifiers. That sort of thing is not to be encourage, but I can see the justification for some PCs.

Here’s my proposal for point buy. Have a play it with it and tell me what you think:

The Proposed HD&D Point Buy

You start with 10 in every attribute and have 20 points to spend, using the costs on the table below. Under this method it costs 20 points to get an array of 16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10 (which is what I was aiming for). There is also the scope to reduce your attributes below 10 if you want. Reducing an attribute gives you extra points to spend.

No attribute can be reduced to less than 6, or increased to more than 18.


6 -5
7 -3
8 -2
9 -1
10 0
11 +1
12 +2
13 +3
14 +5
15 +7
16 +9
17 +12
18 +16

So what do you think? Do me a favour and create some ability arrays from these rules. Try to recreate old PCs from second or third edition. Does it work? Is it broken? Abuse this as much as you can and tell me the results.

It is my hope that having a stat of 18 will be seen as less advantageous than spreading those points around all your stats. It is my hope that 16 should be seen as optimal. Low stats will still hurt you more than high stats will benefit you, so beware!

Ability Score Advancement

I intend to use the rules for ability score advancement laid down in fourth edition. That is, you gain a +1 to two stats of your choice at levels 4, 8, 14, 18, 24 and 28; and +1 to all stats at levels 11 and 21.

Ageing does not affect your stats per se. You don’t take a dip in your physical stats when you hit middle age. Presumably there would be diseases or poisons that could permanently reduce your attributes, but on the whole these  would be things that affect your character outside combat. I want to get away from a player deliberately ageing their PC wizard just to get the stat bonuses.

There will be no magic items, spells or outside influences that damage your character by reducing ability scores. That is just too fiddly to work out on the fly during a combat. Equally, there will be nothing that can raise your attibutes either.


Next, we really are going to discuss character races.

11 thoughts on “HD&D: Ability Scores

  1. My thoughts..

    From what I’ve read so far, a fighter type only needs the Strength stat up high, given constitution no longer gives bonuses to hit points.

    So a (Human) Fighter could be:
    Str 20 (18 + 2 racial) (16 points) fighter! smash!
    Dex 16 (9 points)
    Con 12 (10 + 2 racial)
    Int 10 (Not really needed by a fighter)
    Wis 10 (Not really needed either)
    Cha 6 (-5 points) (Not needed by a fighter)

    For a Human Rogue or Ranger, Swap the Str and Dex

    Essentially, an array of 20,16,12,10,10,6 with the stats moved about to best suit the character

  2. I’m happy with using a point system myself. Looking at yours I would spend 20 points raising 4 attributes to 14. Then allocating 2 of those to my racial bonus attributes leaving me with a 10, 10, 14, 14, 16 and 16 spread. I would be tempted to use this system with every character generated unless as part of my character idea I wanted one stat lower, for instance a weakling wizard or a particularly thick dwarf (a personal fave of mine).
    A weakness with this is that it would tend to pigeon hole certain races to certain classes again, with only the human being truely vesitile.

  3. I’d use Ability Scores as your official term. I think this will work well and fairly although I’m a little sad to leave behind the randomness. Elias’ Wisdom 4 and Raza’s Charisma 5 were pretty crucial to their early characters and would no longer be an option. Overcoming a potentially crippling score is always fun (but only if you’ve rolled it randomly – deliberately picking a low score in order to get high stats in other areas is, I agree, reprehensible).

  4. A free ability score calculator for 4E:

    If you are wanting less high scores (that is, 20’s and 18’s to be rare), I would not offer any “bonus” for dropping a stat to 6. That is, if you are allowing players to drop it that low, only give them -4. Or perhaps, -3 (-2 for dropping to 7.)

    The only real reason people want to drop stats in this point buy system is to get the high scores you seem to not want. And as it’s already possible to get a high score, dropping to 6 allows two high scores. Doubled with the “choose highest mod” for defences, these ‘dump stats’ can be hidden away, and not actually be a problem. Eg: 20 / 6 / 20 / 6 / 10 / 8. Not great stats to look at, but you could probably find a class that would benefit from it (with the 20’s ‘hiding’ the 6’s). And, with the human, those 20’s could be anywhere. A less drastic measure would be: 18 / 6 / 18 / 6 / 18 / 13.

    I’d suggest keep to the starting scores of 5x 10 and 8, and not allow any drops below that. Or, allow them for characteristic purposes, but don’t award any more points.


  5. On the ‘fun’ of playing to random stats – one thing you can always do is roll out the stats, then buy what you rolled with the points. If you rolled great, you just have to pick and choose which stats you keep, if you rolled poorly, you have the opportunity of beefing up a little. But, in general, you can still play to the random stats, whilst keeping balanced with the other players.


  6. James & Graham:

    It’s noteworthy that the pair of you would approach this point by in such completely different ways. James would prefer a character who is largely competent across the board, while Graham obviously likes all his eggs in one musclebound basket.

    My first reaction was “No! Graham’s character is far too powerful!” but on reflection, I’m not sure that it is. Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma can be important to Fighters. There will be plenty of feats or perhaps talents that might require those attributes at 13. Graham’s fighter won’t be able to bluff or feint or use the HD&D equivalent of Combat Expertise. His Will defence is also through the floor, and he’s as blind as a bat and as deaf as a post.

    Basically, by going for the extreme build Graham’s fighter turns its back on a number of different options. It will still have plenty of options on its chosen path, but it will be… highly focused, shall we say.

    On the other hand, James is a far more consistant and rounded sort of a character. But he may punch with quite the same force, but he’ll be more versatile.

  7. Daniel & hvg3:

    I could reduce the amount of points you get for choosing a low stat, and have no lower limit. So you could get a stat as low as 3 or as high as 18 depending on your wishes. But you could never get more than an extra 3 points for reducing a stat below 10.

    Something like: 9, 8 7 (-1); 6, 5 (-2); 4, 3 (-3). Would that work better? Low stats penalise you more than high stats help, so that would perhaps be in keeping.

    Roll stats as a guide and then use the point buy on top? That sounds quite interesting – particular for players who want the dice to determine the sort of character they are going to play.

  8. Neil says:

    If the attributes give a linear bonus, i.e. +1, +2, +3 etc. why does the cost increase logarithmically? Also going from odd to even is more advantageous than going from even to odd, this should be reflected.

    You seem to be talking in foreign there, sir. If you mean why does it cost so much more to get a stat with a +4 bonus than a +3 bonus, it’s for several reasons. Firstly, the higher the bonus the greater the effect it has on your character (in a good way). Secondly, high ability scores are rare. Thirdly, it’s to discourage anyone from getting stats that high.

    Odd scores are, however, still useful. While the bonus only accrues at the even numbers, the odd numbers are used for other things. Any talent or feat or class that requires an ability score as a prerequiste will ask for an odd number – notably 13 or 15 (but sometimes 17 or 19 depending on the feat in question). So, it’s not useless. It’s also one step closer to getting to an even number, of course.

  9. Odd scores are also easy to knock up to the even stat when level 4 comes around! :) Plus, everything gets a +1 at level 11, so all those odd scores you had at creation will switch, too.

    iourn – that could work better. Not sure that I can see a low stats penalising me more than high stats help, as shown by the whole “take highest of two” for defences. If you make stats that have no direct effect on your character, and their pair is high, you can seem to get away with it quite well :)


  10. No, maybe low stats don’t penalise you more than good stats help. Maybe that was just a fiction to make GMs better cope with the mental anguish of the 2nd edition D&D fighter: Str 18/00, Dex 18, Con 18, Int 3, Wis 3, Cha 3. Oh, heady days.

    I think I would probably want to discourage PCs that look like Graham’s fighter too much. Lowering the points you get back from low stats is a way to do that. I’m not sure the mathematical solution I outlined above is necessarily the best, though.

  11. just a note…the point buy system worked better in 4e because class abilities were more balanced…depending on how HDnD develops, point buy system may need a tweaking….imho

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