Friday, April 9, 2010

[DND] PH3-izing Ability Scores

Inspired by @digitaldraco's question on Twitter,
Would it break any rules balance to give other races the same kind of ability score options that PH3 races get?
I thought about it, and I don't see how this would affect the rules at all.  If one were to start handing out additional +2 bonuses to third and fourth ability scores, sure, that would throw off the balance.  Just rearranging the bonus, though?  All I can see that "breaking" is the flavor of each race, which has nothing to do with the rules or game balance.

My second thought was that players might try to take advantage of this and create weird, illogical ability score combinations (like +2 CHA for Dwarves, when pre-4E Dwarves have historically taken a penalty to Charisma).  I figured splitting the stats into Physical (STR, CON, DEX) and Non-Physical (INT, WIS, CHA) and only exchanging between them (like giving Elves +2 WIS and the option of +2 DEX or +2 STR because they're both Physical stats) would make sense.  I compared the ability score options for the existing PH3 races, and they don't follow this pattern, so I guess we can scrap that idea.

I looked harder for a pattern in the PH3 races' optional ability scores, and I thought I found one.  Some races offer a choice between DEX and INT (Githzerai, Changeling).  Not consistent with my "Physical/Non-Physical" idea, but they do affect the Reflex defense and add to Armor Class.  Other races offer a choice between WIS and CHA (Shardmind).  So I figured, maybe they only offer ability score choices between those that key off the same defense?  Then along stomps the Minotaur and Wilden with more inconsistent options: CON or WIS and CON or DEX!

Based on this, I guess there is no real pattern or precedent for which ability scores can be interchangeable.

So then I began to wonder: which ability score options would be available to the PH and PH2 races?  Here's my opinion.

Players Handbook
  • Dragonborn: +2 CHA, +2 STR or CON (represents a more hardy variety of dragonborn folk)
  • Dwarf: +2 CON, +2 WIS or STR (for the more physically focused dwarves)
  • Eladrin: +2 INT, +2 DEX or WIS (to build a more scholarly eladrin)
  • Elf: +2 WIS, +2 DEX or STR (for the elves who are more athletic than acrobatic)
  • Half-Elf: +2 CHA, +2 CON or INT (to represent a more educated and worldly half-elf)
  • Halfling: +2 DEX, +2 CHA or INT (in case you want a more crafty and wiley halfling)
  • Tiefling: +2 CHA, +2 INT or CON (for the sturdier tieflings, like all those paladins in the WotC art)
Players Handbook 2
  • Deva: +2 WIS, +2 INT or CHA (for a deva with a stronger presence)
  • Gnome: +2 CHA, +2 INT or DEX (to build a more nimble gnome)
  • Goliath: +2 CON, +2 STR or WIS (for the more spiritually-minded goliaths)
  • Half-Orc: +2 DEX, +2 STR or CON (to reflect variable traits inherited from the orc parent)
  • Longtooth Shifter: +2 STR, +2 WIS or CHA (for a more influential shifter)
  • Razorclaw Shifter: +2 DEX, +2 WIS or CHA (for a more influential shifter)
Forgotten Realms and Eberron Players Guides
  • (Changelings already have an ability score option!)
  • Drow: +2 DEX, +2 CHA or INT (to build a more conniving or knowledgeable drow)
  • Genasi: +2 STR, +2 INT or CHA (to represent a more commanding genasi)
  • Kalashtar: +2 CHA, +2 WIS or INT (for a kalashtar trying to be more cerebral than spiritual)
  • Warforged: +2 CON, +2 STR or WIS (to reflect a warforged seeking meaning to his existence)
That's how I would do it.  Some of these combinations or rationalizations may not even make sense, or you might think they're flat out wrong.  How would you handle it differently?


  1. Great ideas and I totally agree with your concept. I don't agree with all of your specific picks for each race, but that's natural. With that many races put 10 D&D players together and there won't be more than one that ever agrees on all of those combos. Great work!

  2. Skimming this, I would say maybe that Warforged should get Str or Int as their second bonus. I mean, *robots* have to be pretty good at recalling facts, using logic, and so on, right? This also lends a good build for the Warforged Wizard or Artificer, which I think is totally consistent.

  3. Great post. I've often wondered why the ability scores were so fixed. It overly encourages certain race/class combos.

    Why not just let players pick +2 to one of their attributes and keep the other fixed? For example, Dragonborn can pick +2 CHA and +2 one other, or +2 STR and +2 one other. I've been kicking this idea around for a while, but I've not researched it enough to know if it's an awful idea or not.

  4. @Squach: I concur. I don't expect a lot of whole-hearted agreement with the choices I made. A lot of them were just shots in the dark and coin flips, to be honest, but I tried to choose logically, which is why I included an explanatory note with each one.

    @MRFB: That had crossed my mind when thinking about Warforged, but I see them more like alchemical or magical constructs than technological or electronic "robots". So the logic and recall aspects didn't hold up quite as well. I do agree that INT would be a better fit combat-wise, but I felt that STR already fills that purpose. I like WIS for the optional roleplay value.

    @icosahedron: That could work, too. It's all houseruling anyway, so why not? It only becomes dangerous if your players take advantage of it. If you, as a DM, worry about that sort of thing, my advice would be to watch out for powergamer players who try to cherry pick the best racial powers and ability score combos. If you know and trust your players to be fair, and want to give them more options, then I don't think there's really any reason you couldn't implement a houserule to let them choose their own bonuses.

    Thanks for the comments!