How to improve the Ability Score system?


I've always been a home-brewer when it came to D&D and I've toyed with several house rules to alter D&D core rules to my tastes.

However, there is something that has always been that itch in my back that I can't reach to scratch.
And it's the Ability Score system, more precisely something about the Ability Scores system.

It's nothing game-breaking, and the system as it is has worked well for me since I started playing 3ed.
But it has a slight "flaw" that has always bugged me, and I've tried to improved it many times with no satisfactory success. 


Odd numbers are completely useless!


You raise an Ability from 14 to 15, or from 12 to 13, and get... nothing! Absolutely nothing!

The very best you could get from an odd Ability Score was meeting some pre-requisite for a feat, such as Dodge or Two-Weapon Fighting.
But that's hardly satisfatory for a player gaining an Ability Point or spending their points at character creation.

It feels more like "oh well, I have to waste an Ability point here and put this 15 on Dex instead of 14 just to get Two-Weapon Fighting"... where raising an Ability Score should be something like "Wow! Great! I had 14 Dex and now I have 15!!!!!!!! Hell yeah!"

The unified Score/Modifier system of 3ed was a great improvement from the random modifiers from AD&D, no doubt, but it still left half of the possible Ability values practicaly useless.

And it seems 5ed is maintaining the exact same system, which as I said is not bad, but I'd love to see some improvement.
When first I read that 5ed would be more "Ability Score-focused" I hoped they had finally found a solution to that, or that Ability Scores would now perhaps work entirely different when adjusting rolls, or maybe a mix of AD&D and 3ed; but it seems the 3ed system remains intact here.


Has anyone ever toyed with house rules to work around that?
Come up with a system that could make every Ability point really count?


If so, please share with us. And who knows? Perhaps it could even lend the developers of 5ed some fresh ideas.


-------

Here's what I've already tried (and none of that pleased me):

* Every point gives +1/-1
So a 15 would give you +5, where an 11 would give +1 and a 9 -1.
It removes the dead weight in ability scores, but...
The problem here is obvious. If basic Scores go up to 18, you could easily have a +8 which would be way too much.

* So make 15 the new 18
The "human top" number would be 15 (+5 is more reasonable than +8 already) instead of 18.
Otherwise it works like the system above. Every point gives +1/-1.
Monster abilities would have to be adjusted as well. Say, a giant's Str of 36 would have to be scale to a 23 or 25.
The problem here, to me, is that 18 has always been a magic number in D&D since time immemorial! And as an D&D player/DM of long time, losing the magical 18 as the high point of reference would simply make the game not feel like D&D somehow.

* Divide bonuses between odd and even numbers.
Say for example, Str confers a bonus to DMG at values 11, 13, 15, etc.
And a bonus to TH at values 12, 14, 16, 18, etc.
It keeps the balance of numerical values already in the game, but it's a "meh" solution at best, not really worthy the trouble of adapting the rules just for that.

* AD&D 2nd edition's Proficiency system made full use of Ability Scores.
Each point you had in an Ability counted for the Proficiency check, but it was too simple and limited a system (and kinda weird as it was a roll-under system).
I've thought about mixing that up with some general 3ed rules but also came up with nothing satisfactory.




So has anyone else felt that itch and strugled with coming up with a solution?

I said BAH to the d20 role for everything.  BAH!

I still keep d100 in my game.  I give 5% bonus per Ability above 12.

I like my homebrew.

"The Apollo moon landing is off topic for this thread and this forum. Let's get back on topic." Crazy Monkey

Whenever possible, I use the AD&D-style ability score checks in place of the ability modifier checks.  It really helps to highlight the difference between a 6 and a 16.

Of course, I use them in the obvious way: (d20 + ability score) vs DC, where DC ranges from 10 to 25.

The metagame is not the game.

community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758...

so we dont have 2 topics on same subject.


Have ability scores not apply to attack rolls. Then +1 per point above 10 works.

Have attack rolls and AC determined by a combatants skill (class and level). Ability scores still apply to damage rolls though.
Seems this gets discussed frequently.  I am in the camp that prefers getting rid of odd scores.  Too many characters start with all even scores (or as many as possible) since most players aren't certain how long a campaign will last and want to survive until they reach higher levels.

3rd edition generally had mostly even ability scores for characters since players generally only raised 1 score across multiple levels.

I agree that 15 could easily be the max score.  Just change the point buy system and change the bonus to ability scores to be +1 to 2 scores at 8th level and 16th level.

I don't like ability bonuses for races and classes since they dilute the opportunity to play unconventional combinations.  Not every high elf needs to be an intelligent wizard and not every halfling needs to b e a dextrous rogue.  Why offer a half dozen classes, races, and ability scores if you end up with 6 possible stereotypes that are encouraged through bonuses and penalties.
Odd numbers are not completely useless. Higher numbers give the developers more leeway when giving out bonuses to ability scores. There, I found a use
My two copper.
Make Ability Scores matter when it comes to certain mechanics.

Easy as pie.

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

Or just remove ability score bonuses altogether as they serve very little purpose and cause more harm than good.

unforutnately ability scores seem to be 'core' and untouchable in DDN.  They really form an achilles heel for a lot of desing mechanics, in my opinion.  I think another problem with them, thematically, is that strong, smart, fast, handsome and durable.  We aren't used to high fantasy heroes having 'weaknesses' in the sense of ability scores.  We are used to them having weaknesses from a skill perspective. 


It will be interesting to see how this develops.  I wish they had taken the chance very early in these playtests to toy around with completely different ability systems. 

The problem isn't with ability scores, but with the Universal Ability Modifier which constrains design around a single number that they hope to keep between -1 and +5.  If they dissolved the UAM, and let different scores contribute appropriately to +hit and +damage and +skills, then we wouldn't be in this mess.

The metagame is not the game.

Ability Modifiers is not the problem.

The problem is that nothing uses Ability Scores.

Currently the only Score that matters is Strength as jump distance and carrying capacity is based on Strength Score.

If there were important analogues for the other Scores then this would not be a problem.

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

Replace them with a -5 to +5 range.
Replace them with a -5 to +5 range.




+10.

I've also toyed with the idea of having two modifiers.

For example, one as it is now: +1 for 12, +2 for 14, and so on--which could be used for TH, AC and such.
And a second 1 for 1: +1 for 11, +5 for 15 and so on--to be used with skills and other non-combat checks.

That second modifier could just as well be changed to simply using the Ability Score itself and adding +10 to the DC of related checks.

However... this system has a problem.
One modifier is twice the other, but the d20 roll does not scale the same way.

All works well, apparently, between two player characters or monsters with the same range of Ability Scores (~10 to 18).
However, when you put creatures with high scores into play, it causes an issue.
Because the d20 always ranges from 1 to 20 no matter how high or low the modifiers.

Suppose a player has an Ability Score of 16 (mods +3 and +6 respectivelly), and a monster one of 30 (+10 and +20).

That would be a difference of +7 on one modifier and +14 on the other.
If the player were to engage in combat with the monster, that represents a 35% difference on d20 checks considering the 16-30 gap of their Abilities.
However, if the player were to depend on a skill check that would represent a 70% increase in difficulty.

If those scores were, as an example, Str for the player and Dex for the monster, it would be 35% harder on the d20 roll to hit that monster.
If those scores were, however, say, Dex for the player and Wis for the monster, it would be 70% harder to try and hide from that monster, making the task nearly impossible.



So there's that... the problem with having two modifiers scaling differently, even though they look to be scaling harmoniously, one being the double of the other.

If there's a difference between the Scores of two characters (or monsters)--16 to 30 in the example--, then that difference should be reflected equally on any d20 Check, and not make things harder/easier for some rolls than for others.


If the difference broadens even more (imagine the Ability Scores of a 3ed dragons, with 40+ on some of them) than that problem is aggravated even more. 

You didn't see that "flaw" in AD&D 2nd edition where you had such system because AD&D Proficiencies were of less use than skills are today, monsters never used them... and Ability Scores only went up to 25 even for the toughest monsters, and the Scores followed no logical progression (raising one from 20 to 21 was a much bigger step than from 15 to 16).
So you never actually had so high Ability Scores.

The only real way to make the current system work and have odd numbers matter is really to reduce the 3-18 range to a lower -14 (15 being the old 20 maximum).

The price, however, is removing something quite iconic of D&D from the game.

If that doesn't bother you, than it is a great option for a house-rule.
You would have, even, very little trouble adjusting existing monsters. If a monster had a +7 adustment on Str (meaning a Str score of 24) then it should still have on the new system a modifier of +7 (meaning he now has Str 17).
You could even use the damage already calculated on its sheet without having to recalculate the Str basic score.


But I doubt developers from the official game would ever remove that -18 turning point, it being too "classic" in D&D.
Eliminating the 3-18 ability score array will never happen to D&D.  It is, at worst, an additional 12 characters on your charactr sheet. 
Or just remove ability score bonuses altogether as they serve very little purpose and cause more harm than good.


Explain this to me. I, personally, see ability scores as describing the fundamental differences between people, and it does that pretty well. In fact, every RPG I've ever played uses ability scores, if for nothing else, for this fact alone. 

I'm not downing your idea, I'm more curious. If we take ability scores out, how do we know who is strong? who is smart? who is tough? etc.

Edit: I derped and missed the word "Bonuses". 
My two copper.
Or just remove ability score bonuses altogether as they serve very little purpose and cause more harm than good.


Explain this to me. I, personally, see ability scores as describing the fundamental differences between people, and it does that pretty well. In fact, every RPG I've ever played uses ability scores, if for nothing else, for this fact alone. 

I'm not downing your idea, I'm more curious. If we take ability scores out, how do we know who is strong? who is smart? who is tough? etc. 


He might mean just the bonuses.  Some RPGs use the ability score itself as the modifier.  This is less practical with D&D's 3-18 range, but I have seen it with RPGs like BtVS where the range is 1-6 for humans.

There are a great many problems that can be circumvented by players and DMs having a mature discussion about what the game is going to be like before they ever sit down together to play.

 

The answer really does lie in more options, not in confining and segregating certain options.

 

You really shouldn't speak for others.  You can't hear what someone else is saying when you try to put your words in their mouth.

 

Fencing & Swashbuckling as Armor.

D20 Modern Toon PC Race.

Mecha Pilot's Skill Challenge Emporium.

 

Save the breasts.

Or just remove ability score bonuses altogether as they serve very little purpose and cause more harm than good.


Explain this to me. I, personally, see ability scores as describing the fundamental differences between people, and it does that pretty well. In fact, every RPG I've ever played uses ability scores, if for nothing else, for this fact alone. 

I'm not downing your idea, I'm more curious. If we take ability scores out, how do we know who is strong? who is smart? who is tough? etc. 


He might mean just the bonuses.  Some RPGs use the ability score itself as the modifier.  This is less practical with D&D's 3-18 range, but I have seen it with RPGs like BtVS where the range is 1-6 for humans.


Aaaah derp. I read the statement several times and somehow skipped the word bonuses every time. Don't mind me, carry on
My two copper.
I still think the best method is to use Ability Score for some formulas

Strength
Carrying Capacity: Strength Score * 10 in pounds
Long Jump distance: Strength Score in feet

Dexterity
Disengage distance: Dexterity Score in feet

Constitution
Number of hours marched before checks: Constitution Score in hours

Intelligence
Maximum languages known: Intelligence Score/3 languages

Wisdom
Errr... Base Sanity points = Level*5 + Wisdom Score

Charisma
Total HD of followers: Charisma Score + 2*level Hit Dice

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

Charisma
Total HD of followers: Charisma Score + 2*level Hit Dice

we really need to go back to PT1's HP system.

Charisma
Total HD of followers: Charisma Score + 2*level Hit Dice

we really need to go back to PT1's HP system.




nah. It was too high.

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!


I still think the best method is to use Ability Score for some formulas 



I think I can get behind this idea. Having the *Ability Score* matter in addition to the modifier may make odd scores matter more.



Dexterity
Disengage distance: Dexterity Score in feet



I think this would needlessly complicate things in combat.
However they can make the Running Distance something like (Dexterity Score*10) ft.
That would make running contests a bit less static as well.


Constitution
Number of hours marched before checks: Constitution Score in hours



Also: Constitution Score = Starting Hit Points 
(So that every CON score increase can add at least one Hit Point) 


Wisdom
Errr... Base Sanity points = Level*5 + Wisdom Score


THAT would be AWESOME!! Cool

Additionallly they could make the Ability Score for INT, WIS, CHA the base of a Spell Saving Throw DC.  
I like these ideas for keeping ability scores relevant and not just their bonuses.

I think ability bonuses are too high. I suggest taking them down to a max of +5.
max ability score 25
ability score - 10 / 3 = ability modifier


Perhaps instead of having a static bonus for such and such score, you could choose 1 item from a list of appropriate "rewards" for each point of increase.
STR-attack,carrying capacity, damage
DEX-AC,Speed,ranged attack bonuses
CON-HP per level, various resistances
INT-languages, ?
WIS-Enchantment resistance, ?
CHA- Max # of Followers, ?

Edit: Maybe be able to buy a feat related to that stat, regardless of its actual score. Being dextrous in the case of TWF doesn't imply being dextrous at everything.
Since dice rolls are categorized in D&D Next as [1. Checks 2. Attacks 3. Saves], how about redistributing dice rolls onto ability scores? Maybe odd scores should give modifiers to ability checks and saves, while even scores give modifiers to attack rolls.

10 (no bonus)
11 (+1 to checks and saves)
12 (+1 to checks and saves, +1 to attacks)
13 (+2 to checks and saves, +1 to attacks)
14 (+2 to checks and saves, +2 to attacks)
15 (+3 to checks and saves, +2 to attacks)
16 (+3 to checks and saves, +3 to attacks)
17 (+4 to checks and saves, +3 to attacks)
18 (+4 to checks and saves, +4 to attacks)
As much as it could help, spiltting scores into 2 modifiers is just trouble.

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!


Here's an idea.
Not a perfect solution but it is something...


10 +0
11 +0
12 +1
13 +1
14 +2
15 +2
16 +3
17 +3
18 +4
19 +4
20 +5
21 +6
22 +7
23 +8
24 +9
25 +10



Now you must have noticed that as far as up to a Score of 20 the Mods are the same as they are today. Then after that each point gives an extra +1.

I'll explain why that.
The idea is to use the Modifier for Attack and Save rolls, while Checks (for skills and such) are made with the Score itself of the ability, kinda like it was on AD&D 2ed.
This way you keep the present balance of things when it comes to To Hit, AC, Saves and other combat-related things, but you have now an use for odd numbers on Checks.


So why change the progression after Ability Score 20?
As I've demonstrated on a previous post, if we kept going with the modifier as it is now and use the whole Score for checks, for creatures with high Scores (say, 25, 30 or more) things would get out of hand because the difference in Scores from an average character would reflect a much greater advantage for Check rolls than for rolls based on the modifier, making Contested skill rolls and such a problem to balance.

But by normalizing the progression beyond 20 that difference is kept under control. You would still have a slight difference, for Checks of abilities over 20 would have +5 factored in than their equivalent modifier rolls, but that is a 25% difference only on a d20, ever, no matter how higher above 20 the score is. It's acceptable, I think.

As I said, not a perfect, pristine solution, but it's something.


So why 20 as the turning point?
Well 20 is supposed to be the maximum a player character can reach, so all rules involving character creation and advancement fall under the same pattern.
Beyond 20 we're in the province of monsters and such, so that's a good point to shift the table towards another progression.

Of course, present monsters with abilities higher than 20 should have their Scores adjusted to the new reality, or they'd suddenly become much more challenging.


Magical Bonuses such as Bull's Strength
Magical bonuses can still raise your Ability temporarily over 20, but since it's magic and it's not permanent I think it's OK.
Those who have their basic scores at 20 or near it would have a slight advanted when receiving such "buff" because they would be reaching the "better" progression for a few ability points, but if reaching the human maximum (18 or 20 in this case) in your game is something exceptional, that not every character achieves, and when one does, it comes with a steep price of forfeiting other abilities, then it would be even interesting to have that small reward with magical buffs for those who actually did it.



I would go even farther and keep the human maximum at 18.
To me 18 feels like a magic, classic number in D&D, and having it as the peak of humam raw ability feels much more interesting than going for 20.

Besides, Ability Scores should represent a characters raw potential, not military training, magical training or anything of the sort (those latter fall into class/feats/level categories).
So a character should be able to begin with their racial maximum raw potential, either by luck of dice or by sacrificing other Abilities to allocate a lot of points in one so as to have an 18.



I'm liking where this is heading now... but the brewing, of course, never stops.
Have ability scores not apply to attack rolls. Then +1 per point above 10 works. Have attack rolls and AC determined by a combatants skill (class and level). Ability scores still apply to damage rolls though.




I don''t have a problem with a training bonus to AC, but it should be droped if the creature is unaware of the attack.  I think AC is one stat that should be very hard to improve.    There is really only so much training can aford you and there should be a limit on how often it works each round.  


I've always been in favour of halving attack bonuses but you could just allow full bonus on ability checks & damage and then grant level-based bonuses (maybe to fill some of those dead slots) which players can allocate against one aspect of their various stats.  You could place a stat minimum (being the odd stat) before any aspect can be raised.

So if your dexterity is 12 you would get +1 on ability checks and damage but no bonus to saves, AC or attack rolls. You could choose to add a point to your dexterity so if your dexterity goes up to 13 then, at the appropriate level, you could choose whether to spend your point to increase your AC bonus, attack rolls, OR dexterity saving throws to +1 as well.

On the plus side, this addresses some of the complaints put forward by players who see insufficient level based improvments to attack rolls and AC and since you maximum benefit would still be capped based on your stats the maximum bonuses would not expand the bounded accuracy system any more than they do now.  With a cap of 20 attacks, saves, and AC bonuses would cap out at +4 as well (since you can't reach 21 to increase them to +5).

On the minus side, it would make character sheets very messy.
Strength should not add a benefit to hit. 

Dexterity should not add a benefit to damage.

Dexterity should not be used for initiative, AC, and to hit.  Separate them.

Here is my suggestion:

Strength - Bonus to damage for both melee and ranged attacks (it should scale with damage as well)

Dexterity - Bonus to hit with both melee and ranged attacks

Constitution - Bonus to hit points 

Wisdom - Bonus to initiative (awareness of opponent) and maybe AC as well.

Intelligence - Bonus to hit with spells

Charisma - Bonus to damage with spells (it should scale with damage as well)

Armor Class  - Determined by armor, level, class, and perhaps wisdom