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D&D 5E Ability Score Increases (I've changed my mind.)

MGibster

Legend
It's time for me to eat some crow. I've been against separating ability score increases from race in D&D for some time now. My main opposition to removing it was because I felt as though it made choosing what race to play matter even less than it matters now.* But my character died tonight during the inaugural session for our new campaign and it's time to roll up a new character. After discussing it a bit with my group, I decided to make a the nephew of our half-elf druid and I will be a Circle of the Spores druid. One of my goals of this campaign is to play things I've never played before and that includes races. I mostly make humans so in the spirit of newness I decided to make an elf. Elves get that great Dexterity bonus but I wanted a Wisdom bonus, dammit! I had the option to use the Tasha rules but I just made a regular elf and took my +2 Dexterity bonus.

But you know what? All those who argued that getting rid of ASI were right. It allows you to make the character you want to make and that's always a good thing. You win. I am a reformed man.

*I know some of you will tell me in your campaigns it makes a difference whether your character is an elf or dwarf. I believe you. But in my experience it usually doesn't matter much.
 

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le Redoutable

Explorer
It's time for me to eat some crow. I've been against separating ability score increases from race in D&D for some time now. My main opposition to removing it was because I felt as though it made choosing what race to play matter even less than it matters now.* But my character died tonight during the inaugural session for our new campaign and it's time to roll up a new character. After discussing it a bit with my group, I decided to make a the nephew of our half-elf druid and I will be a Circle of the Spores druid. One of my goals of this campaign is to play things I've never played before and that includes races. I mostly make humans so in the spirit of newness I decided to make an elf. Elves get that great Dexterity bonus but I wanted a Wisdom bonus, dammit! I had the option to use the Tasha rules but I just made a regular elf and took my +2 Dexterity bonus.

But you know what? All those who argued that getting rid of ASI were right. It allows you to make the character you want to make and that's always a good thing. You win. I am a reformed man.

*I know some of you will tell me in your campaigns it makes a difference whether your character is an elf or dwarf. I believe you. But in my experience it usually doesn't matter much.
did you try Baldur's Gate 2 with only Fighters bearing 18/76+ and 18 CON, then dual-classing them to either Mage, Cleric, or Thief ?
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
It allows you to make the character you want to make and that's always a good thing. You win. I am a reformed man.

possible to do creative campaigns like "everyone plays a halfling."
I don't have a strong opinion for or against the ability score bonuses tied to races, but I've always refused that specific argument. It was already possible to make these characters and creative campaigns. What people mean is "I couldn't do the character I had in mind and bear to not have an optimal spread of ability scores". I've always liked unusual combinations of races and classes, and they were always viable.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
It's time for me to eat some crow. I've been against separating ability score increases from race in D&D for some time now. My main opposition to removing it was because I felt as though it made choosing what race to play matter even less than it matters now.* But my character died tonight during the inaugural session for our new campaign and it's time to roll up a new character. After discussing it a bit with my group, I decided to make a the nephew of our half-elf druid and I will be a Circle of the Spores druid. One of my goals of this campaign is to play things I've never played before and that includes races. I mostly make humans so in the spirit of newness I decided to make an elf. Elves get that great Dexterity bonus but I wanted a Wisdom bonus, dammit! I had the option to use the Tasha rules but I just made a regular elf and took my +2 Dexterity bonus.

But you know what? All those who argued that getting rid of ASI were right. It allows you to make the character you want to make and that's always a good thing. You win. I am a reformed man.

*I know some of you will tell me in your campaigns it makes a difference whether your character is an elf or dwarf. I believe you. But in my experience it usually doesn't matter much.
Same here.

I was highly resistant to losing the race ability improvements, because I viewed these mechanics as important superhuman flavor, and the resulting mechanically favorable classes as cultural norms within the race.

However, discussions about reallife racism soured my views about D&D imitating fantasy racism, and related ethnocentric problematics. So I mainly jettisoned the abilities from the races for reallife reasons.

But now, I realize, the fluidity of race abilities allows me as a DM worldbuilder to build race flavors with much more nuance and precision. For example, if a race culture is known for both Druids and Wizards, no problem, use Wis score +2 or Int score +2, respectively.

I now think the power gamers who were pushing for any race-class build, were, in their way, right all along.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Same goes for official "cultures", like the elves generally training in longsword.

I find it less plausible that a culture would favor a weapon that requires Strength, when the members of the culture are terrible at Strength. Evolution, including cultural evolution, tends to favor the adaptive advantages of a trait.

So now, as a worldbuilder, I have a choice. Either many elves do have Str score +2, or I swap out the longsword for an other weapon or tool that makes more sense to me.

I wish, it was possible to officially swap a cultural weapon for a cantrip, that would help so much for magical cultures.

Characters from multiple races are now no problem. Use the stat of one as the base, and modify it to match more an other.

Tashas solves most of the problems that I have had with D&D races in the past.
 
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Yaarel

Mind Mage
If we're talking 5E, how are elves terrible at strength?
For me in the context of typical humans being all +1: the +2 feels "more than human" and the +0 feels "less than human".

Thus the lack of a bonus is "terrible".

Note, that I am going by the feel for what characterizes a race.

Also note, as mentioned above, I now disavow this kind of racist essentialism.

Now I would much rather focus on cultures, and which prominent institutions correlate with which D&D classes.

The nice thing about cultures, is cultures are complex. A race can have high Intelligence members correlating with one institution, while simultaneously, high Strength members correlating with an other institution.

And if a race starts looking too pidgeon-holed, add an institution that diversifies the race better.

And the institutions − and the classes and backgrounds that match it − can be specific. So, the flavor is interesting without ever feeling essentialist.

Where each background and class archetype is like a card in a deck, each culture is like a hand being dealt. The hand can evolve and adapt across region and history, by swapping in or out new cards.
 

If we're talking 5E, how are elves terrible at strength?
I think the point is that you might expect the racial asi to match up with the other race features. So it makes sense for a high elf (+2 dex) to be particular good at a bow and (+1 int) to be a bit proficient with magic, but the longsword proficiency is not reinforced elsewhere. Plus the description for them calls them "slender and graceful" which does not connote strength (unlike "short and stout" for dwarves)

But the real issue, imo, is racial asi don't do a lot of work in terms of emphasizing archetype. You can give your elf a +2 wis or str and you can still play a protypical elf because you'll have that figure in mind (in this case, the fact that they are a druid would probably help with a certain elf archetype).

I don't have a strong opinion for or against the ability score bonuses tied to races, but I've always refused that specific argument. It was already possible to make these characters and creative campaigns. What people mean is "I couldn't do the character I had in mind and bear to not have an optimal spread of ability scores". I've always liked unusual combinations of races and classes, and they were always viable.
I'm not an optimizer, but I don't see a problem with that way of thinking. I can get behind a game limiting class options by race, as in older editions, to try to maintain very clear archetypes. But if you open up the game to include a wider variety of character types, why soft gate those character types behind racial asi that incentivize, but don't demand, particular combinations.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
For me in the context of typical humans being all +1: the +2 feels "more than human" and the +0 feels "less than human".

Thus the lack of a bonus is "terrible".

Note, that I am going by the feel for what characterizes a race.
Except that 5E describes a 10 or an 11 as the human average. A +1 or +2 says nothing about your actual strength, it's not more or less than a human. Mechanically, what it does it increases the floor and ceiling of what is possible strength-wise.

The bonus itself in a vacuum doesn't reflect the end value. A half-orc that had a base value of 12 and ends with a 14 with his racial bonus still is less strong than an elf in which you put a 15 or 16 in strength. So, a bonus or not does not equal being terrible or being great at that ability score. My Dwarf Wizard with 16 int is well above most individuals in most settings.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Except that 5E describes a 10 or an 11 as the human average. A +1 or +2 says nothing about your actual strength, it's not more or less than a human. Mechanically, what it does it increases the floor and ceiling of what is possible strength-wise.

The bonus itself in a vacuum doesn't reflect the end value. A half-orc that had a base value of 12 and ends with a 14 with his racial bonus still is less strong than an elf in which you put a 15 or 16 in strength. So, a bonus or not does not equal being terrible or being great at that ability score. My Dwarf Wizard with 16 int is well above most individuals in most settings.
When using a mechanical bonus to actualize a flavorful trope during the game, the bonus becomes significant.

Conversely, the lack of a bonus becomes significant.

Personally, I loathe gaming designs whose mechanics contradict their flavor, and whose flavor contradicts their mechanics.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
When using a mechanical bonus to actualize a flavorful trope during the game, the bonus becomes significant.
The bonus is already significant by itself. I'm not arguing it doesn't have an effect. It does. You cannot, at level 1, make an elf as strong as the strongest half-orc. People are free not to enjoy that and find it silly. I'm not going to argue against that. But what I find silly is when people cover it by saying "it wasn't possible to make some creative combinations" and then it devolves into an argument about how having a dwarf wizard with 16 intelligence is unplayable and a +1 modifier is the different between an enjoyable game and one that is not.
Personally, I loathe gaming designs whose mechanics contradict their flavor, and whose flavor contradicts their mechanics.
I don't see how it contradicts it. My understanding is that it states something along the lines of "on average, an elf would be more dextrous than a dwarf", etc. Because the bonus says nothing about the actual score of your character. It might an unimaginative and slightly boring way to reinforce the flavor, but I don't see how it contradicts it.
Note, that I am going by the feel for what characterizes a race.
I don't feel like elves are characterized as being weak physically. I've always seen some variance of wise, highly knowledgeable and very dexterous with light blades, bows, etc. I feel like the bonuses in-game reflect that. Not that flat bonuses like that is necessarily the most elegant design there is. Also, do note that I specified 5E because I don't have much knowledge of the old-school editions of D&D, things might have been different then.

Don't get me strong, I fully agree with the discomfort that most people have with other ability scores, like intelligence, wisdom and charisma. I always thought that Strength, Dexterity and Constitution bonuses should be on a per race basis, and Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma should be based on Background or Culture.
 

le Redoutable

Explorer
When using a mechanical bonus to actualize a flavorful trope during the game, the bonus becomes significant.

Conversely, the lack of a bonus becomes significant.

Personally, I loathe gaming designs whose mechanics contradict their flavor, and whose flavor contradicts their mechanics.
oooh lamer Hey
 

cbwjm

Hero
I still like them, but prefer a path halfway between, something like the half elf for every race with a +2 to a single stat and then a +2 (or two +1s) placed where you choose. The variable stat should also be able to be replaced with a feat, just like an ASI.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
The bonus is already significant by itself. I'm not arguing it doesn't have an effect. It does. You cannot, at level 1, make an elf as strong as the strongest half-orc. People are free not to enjoy that and find it silly. I'm not going to argue against that. But what I find silly is when people cover it by saying "it wasn't possible to make some creative combinations" and then it devolves into an argument about how having a dwarf wizard with 16 intelligence is unplayable and a +1 modifier is the different between an enjoyable game and one that is not.

I don't see how it contradicts it. My understanding is that it states something along the lines of "on average, an elf would be more dextrous than a dwarf", etc. Because the bonus says nothing about the actual score of your character. It might an unimaginative and slightly boring way to reinforce the flavor, but I don't see how it contradicts it.

I don't feel like elves are characterized as being weak physically. I've always seen some variance of wise, highly knowledgeable and very dexterous with light blades, bows, etc. I feel like the bonuses in-game reflect that. Not that flat bonuses like that is necessarily the most elegant design there is. Also, do note that I specified 5E because I don't have much knowledge of the old-school editions of D&D, things might have been different then.

Don't get me strong, I fully agree with the discomfort that most people have with other ability scores, like intelligence, wisdom and charisma. I always thought that Strength, Dexterity and Constitution bonuses should be on a per race basis, and Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma should be based on Background or Culture.
Strength in the sense of how much weight one can lift, is a skill, called weighttraining. Strength is a cultural trait.

To push a gendered view that more men are stronger than more women, is more problematic than useful, fails to note that statistical outliers can be of any gender, and that ambient magic in a fantasy setting makes such views moot.

And what is true for genders is also for races. I would rather the game not essentialize races because of reallife reasons such as unjust literary memes that keep on recycling thru later products. The essentialism is problematic anyway.

The ability constraints cause mechanical interferences, and are more trouble than they are worth.

For example, as a player, it upsets me when an elf is a poor choice, or even a less good choice, for a Bard, Druid, or Wizard. These classes have precisely the tropes that I view the elf as exhibiting.

I dont care about power gaming, but I am highly aware of whether the mechanics are making a flavor happen during gameplay.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
Strength in the sense of how much weight one can lift, is a skill, called weighttraining. Strength is a cultural trait.
If we're talking about the human species? Absolutely is. But am I wrong to see the different races of D&D as different species? Gorillas are much stronger than chimpanzees. Jaguars are much faster than lions. There's biological difference. And I am concious that D&D muddled that very much when half-elves and half-orcs are introduced, because then it suggest that they're not entirely different species.
To push a gendered view that more men are stronger than more women, is more problematic than useful, fails to note that statistical outliers can be of any gender, and that ambient magic in a fantasy setting makes such views moot.
Except that I'm arguing the opposite. I'm saying that despite the bonuses, you can have statistical outliers of any combination. And wouldn't saying that elves are terrible at strength because they don't have a bonus equal to saying that women are just physically weak because on average men are stronger when, you yourself pointed that that there's plenty of women that, either because of genetics or lifestyle reasons are stronger than many men?

For example, as a player, it upsets me when an elf is a poor choice, or even a less good choice, for a Bard, Druid, or Wizard. These classes have precisely the tropes that I view the elf as exhibiting.
Except that elf is not a poor choice for all these classes. They fit these classes in many settings, they can be very charismatic, wise or intelligent. But once again, we're arguing about something being terrible at something because you're maximum starting modifier will be 1 less than optimal races, when, in the end, you can also reach the maximum limit of 20 if you want.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
If we're talking about the human species? Absolutely is. But am I wrong to see the different races of D&D as different species? Gorillas are much stronger than chimpanzees. Jaguars are much faster than lions. There's biological difference. And I am concious that D&D muddled that very much when half-elves and half-orcs are introduced, because then it suggest that they're not entirely different species.
(There are threads that argue about the reallife ethics of essentializing D&D races. Those threads are very long and very passionate. I dont think this thread is about that.)

Now, it is done deal. We have Tashas. Every DM and every player can now officially swap abilities and proficiencies to suit ones own personal needs.

I realize, that this freedom allows me to make the characters concepts that I want, more exactly, more easily, and more pleasantly.

I was wrong to champion race ability improvements.

The forumers who demanded ability flexibility to combine various races and classes, were right.
 

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