Let’s put the thorny issue of magic behind us for a little while, and reconsider some of our greatest hits of the past. The original post on ability scores was three months ago. I’m not going to rehash the discussions we had at the time. You can always go back and read them if wish. Suffice to say that no firm conclusion was reached on the matter: a situation I hope to rectify with this post. The problem over ability scores was twofold:
- How to work out the ‘point buy’ for ability scores.
- How we should handle racial modifiers to ability scores.
The second point spawned its own poll on the subject. I shall take this second point first, and unveil what I consider to be the final rules on this matter (at least before we start play testing). I’ll also spend a little time justifying this decision, just so you know I’m not being deliberately arbitrary.
Racial Modifiers to Ability Scores
At character generation, all characters receive +2 to one prescribed ability score (as determined by their race), and +2 to one other ability score of the player’s choice. Some races, such as humans, allow players to assign a +2 bonus to any two ability scores. But these races are the exception rather than the rule. For the core races we are looking at for the first release of HD&D, the ability score modifiers are as follows:
- Dragonborn: +2 Str, +2 to any other ability score
- Dwarf: +2 Con, +2 to any other ability score
- Elf: +2 Dex,+2 to any other ability score
- Genasi: +2 Int, +2 to any other ability score
- Genbassi: +2 to any two ability scores
- Gnome: +2 Int, +2 to any other ability score
- Half-elf: +2 Cha, +2 to any other ability score
- Half-orc: +2 Str, +2 to any other ability score
- Halfling: +2 Dex, +2 to any other ability score
- Human: +2 to any two ability scores
- Tiefling: +2 Cha, +2 to any other ability score
Why have I chosen to do it this way, when the results of the poll suggested a system of two prescribed ability score modifiers for each race? Well, two reasons actually. Firstly, I think that it is difficult to find two ability scores that a stereotypical member of a particular PC race should excel at. We all know that dwarves are tough (high Con), elves are graceful (high Dex) and half-orcs are strong (high Str). All of us would probably agree with that. However, if we were to suggest where we thought the second +2 should go on (e.g.) a half-orc we’d all come back with different answers. Do they have good instincts (+2 Wis)? Do they have high endurance (+2 Con)? Are they fast as 4e suggests (+2 Dex)? By only prescribing one ability score, it’s much easier to determine where the +2 should go. As for the other +2, that is left entirely at the discretion of the player.
Which brings me neatly to my second point. Player choice is crucial. The system should not force you to play a particular combination of race and class, simply because of the game mechanics. If you want to play a dwarf it should be because you want to play a dwarf, not because of the dwarf’s racial modifiers to his ability scores. I am desperate to avoid falling into the same trap as fourth edition. By giving all races +2 to two prescribed ability scores, and making all classes largely dependent on two ability scores, the 4e designers married up race and class too closely.
If you want to be a optimum ranger in fourth edition you have to play an elf. If you want to be an optimum sorcerer you’ll play a dragonborn. All players want to build their character as well as they can. It’s human nature. If you do play against type (say, you’re a multiclassed eladrin warlock/cleric) then the system actively penalises your character. This is not the case in HD&D. Because the player always gets to choose where to apply one of his +2 racial modifiers, all choices are optimal choices. Add to this that the key powers and abilities of each class will run off one ability score and not two, and I think you have a pretty robust package. Under HD&D you’ll see dwarven swordmages, gnoll paladins and dragonborn clerics.
I think this is for the best. I don’t think that doing this lessens the individuality of any one race, or stops that race from being unique. So what if this particular dwarven warlock has +2 to Charisma? That doesn’t stop the rest of his race being gruff and dour; but it does stop the PC dwarf from being inherently worse that his companions. In any event we are talking about player characters here, they are not just another member of their race: they are exceptional. They might not start out any more powerful than the dwarf next door, but they are unusual. They have have the capacity to grow, and to gain great power and notoriety as they advance in levels.
The HD&D Point Buy
In HD&D everyone starts with a score of 10 in each of their six ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. They then receive a pool of 20 points they can use to increase those scores. The cost of increasing ability scores varies depending on the value of the score:
- 10: 0
- 11: +1
- 12: +2
- 13: +3
- 14: +5
- 15: +7
- 16: +9
The figures in the table are not cumulative. It costs nine points to raise an attribute from 10 to 16.
If you want to have an attribute lower than 10 you can have one. You can choose to reduce an attribute below 10. For every 2 points you reduce an attribute below 10, you get 1 point back to spend on your ability scores. So if a character with 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10 in his starting scores has 20 points to apply; a character with 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 4 would have 23 points to apply.
No score can be increased above 16 or below 4 during this process. Racial modifiers to ability scores are added afterwards, so it is still possible to start with an 18. However, you can only start with an 18 in an ability score where you also receive a racial modifier.
The maths behind the fourth edition point buy is still at the heart of this system. The default 4e ability score array of 16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10 is still possible with this arrangement. However, I hope that my method offers a greater flexibility. It is possible to have two 16s (and therefore potentially two 18s) without creating a character who is ridiculously bad at anything. An array of 16, 16, 11, 11, 10, 10 for example. However, a character with three 16s would be very unlikely. The array 16, 16, 16, 6, 6, 4 would probably be too much for many people to stomach.
Because the maximum stat you can obtian through the point buy is 16, this stops the 4e situation where a player does his utmost to give his character an ability score of 20 at first level. I really don’t want starting PCs to have stats that high if I can avoid it. Also because defences will be calculated using the third edition rubriks (i.e. only one ability score ever modifies any one defence) it becomes far harder to hide poor stats. If the swashbuckler feels he has no choice but to put his “4” in Wisdom, you can be sure that decision is going to come back and bite him at some point in the future.
Anyway – I’m pretty convinced that this will work. It balances the need to give all player characters an equal footing in their ability scores, with the diversity I require from the system. The mechanic of lowering an ability by 2 to increase another ability by 1, is an old chestnut from character generation in second edition. It’s nice to see it back.