D&D 5E The tyranny of small numbers

I see a lot of advice to new players about what is imperative. As an example, I have seen a 16 as an attack stat characterized as insufficient even at lower levels.

I have seen advice about the pointlessness of strength clerics because a 16 str is all that can be managed if you have a decent wisdom.

It got me thinking what about magic items? Are we telling people they must have a +1 sword or the character is doomed? Or what about people that roll slightly lower or fairly evenly distributed?

I think it’s a shame if people don’t try different things for the sake of a +1 or 2 no bonus early on. Similarly, I think the focus on SAD is overblown.

When I see people saying how bored they are with the same old EB warlock, I wonder “why do that?” There are lots of other ways to build one…if you can tolerate a slightly smaller bonus here or there.

There seems to me to be optimizing oneself to boredom in some cases.
 

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You that this is exactly why people were begging for floating ASI don't you? There was a whole thread about not having a 16 was not the end of the world. Well, we now have floating ASI now. Thanks to TCoE. (But since I will never use that book...)

And yes, not having a 16 can be very fun and interesting and will not change the contribution of a character to a party.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
It’s a well-known phenomenon that players will optimize the fun out of a game if they can. However, I don’t think this is the same thing. Numerical bonuses aren’t what make a character interesting or uninteresting. Having a 16 or 17 in my primary ability instead of 14 or 15 is going to have a significant impact on my gameplay experience because all of my attacks and all of my checks with that ability are going to be 5% less likely to succeed until at least 12th level (if the campaign even lasts that long, and if I don’t decide to get a feat at 4th or 8th level). Having a 14 or 16 in a secondary stat instead of a 12 or 13 is going to have a less significant impact on my gameplay experience because I’ll be rolling with that stat less often. But neither change is going to meaningfully affect how the character plays. I’ll be doing the same things in either case, just with different numbers. It’s features that make a character interesting, not stats.
 
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Statistics facilitate success. Success, in general, is more desirable than failure. Hence, players will seek things that increase their success.

Statistics are not equivalent to interest. Most players are pretty confident they can play a character that is interesting. Low stats, high stats, middling stats, none of those really matter for whether you play an interesting character. Interesting-ness is much more a function of the interaction between player and DM, regardless of system.

It seems to me the error here is thinking that people want those higher numbers because it will make their characters more interesting. This is false. People want the higher numbers because they wish to succeed as often as they can. Whether the character is interesting is a completely separate question.

It's deeply frustrating to deal with people constantly treating optimization in the most reductive, dismissive, non-discussable way possible. It'd be really nice if folks would (a) have a more open mind about the motives behind optimization, and (b) didn't assume that literally absolutely 100% of people who care about optimization EXCLUSIVELY care about it and don't give a crap about ANYTHING else.
 

Statistics facilitate success. Success, in general, is more desirable than failure. Hence, players will seek things that increase their success.

Statistics are not equivalent to interest. Most players are pretty confident they can play a character that is interesting. Low stats, high stats, middling stats, none of those really matter for whether you play an interesting character. Interesting-ness is much more a function of the interaction between player and DM, regardless of system.

It seems to me the error here is thinking that people want those higher numbers because it will make their characters more interesting. This is false. People want the higher numbers because they wish to succeed as often as they can. Whether the character is interesting is a completely separate question.

It's deeply frustrating to deal with people constantly treating optimization in the most reductive, dismissive, non-discussable way possible. It'd be really nice if folks would (a) have a more open mind about the motives behind optimization, and (b) didn't assume that literally absolutely 100% of people who care about optimization EXCLUSIVELY care about it and don't give a crap about ANYTHING else.
Well I was talking here about the difference between a 16 and 18 not the difference between a 10 and 20. I errantly thought that was clear. It was not so I clarify it here.

Additionally, variety and novelty matter like success.

I think you are reducing this point to black and white—-all one way or the other. I would not take a fighter without a reasonable attack bonus.

Likewise, there are people who get bored with the same few builds. Statistics can’t make it fun for them every time.

I feel bad for newbs who don’t know that shades of gray exist and are stuck with cookie cutter choices based on cookie cutter advice. There is a colorful world out there to explore.

Lastly, parties are not standard size. If the game can handle 4 character parties as well as 6 character parties, surely a 16 attack stat is within tolerance most of the time.
 

pukunui

Legend
I'm currently playing a human battle master fighter specialising in the heavy crossbow (based loosely on both Hannibal from the A-Team and Commander Vimes from Discworld - hence my current profile pic). I took the Piercer feat at 1st level, and at 4th level, I chose to take the Crossbow Expert feat despite only having a 16 in Dex. My reasoning was that the +2 from the Archery Fighting Style more than makes up for it, and bumping my Dex up to 18 wasn't going to improve my AC because he's wearing a breastplate which maxes out at +2 from Dex already.

He's still hitting more often than not. I may take Sharpshooter later on or maybe even another feat, but not feeling in any real rush to increase his stats at this point.
 

Too much reading or viewing of optimizing guide!
The game don’t require a starting 18, a 16 is ok, and sometime if you roll stats the best you may have to start with is a 14. Usually you won’t start with lower than that.
 
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You that this is exactly why people were begging for floating ASI don't you? There was a whole thread about not having a 16 was not the end of the world. Well, we now have floating ASI now. Thanks to TCoE. (But since I will never use that book...)

And yes, not having a 16 can be very fun and interesting and will not change the contribution of a character to a party.
I have grown to like most of Tasha’s fine. The floating ASI is not a part that I like. I won’t say much more about it since it’s been litigated to death. But I get it.

I have a dwarf blade pact warlock right now. I think at 4th he has a 12 dex and 16 in chr and strength.

He has been a blast. I will probably up his chr at 8th level.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
It’s a well-known phenomenon that players will optimize the fun out of a game if they can. However, I don’t think this is the same thing. Numerical bonuses aren’t what make a character interesting or uninteresting. Having a 16 or 17 in my primary ability instead of 14 or 15 is going to have a significant impact on my gameplay experience because all of my attacks and all of my checks with that ability are going to be 5% less likely to succeed until at least 12th level (if the campaign even lasts that long, and if I don’t decide to get a feat at 4th or 8th level). Having a 14 or 16 in a secondary stat instead of a 12 or 13 is going to have a less significant impact on my gameplay experience because I’ll be rolling with that stat less often. But neither change is going to meaningfully affect how the character plays. I’ll be doing the same things in either case, just with different numbers. It’s features that make a character interesting, not stats.
I'm of the opinion that low stats can indeed make a character more interesting to play. Limits breed creativity and low stats change the way you approach things. Also always starting with the same stat lineup can and does make characters more repetitive and less interesting. Instead of dealing with the implications that your chosen race doesn't give you "optimal" stats for your class and how that can make you choose differently in character building and in play, now everybody is in a comfort zone, so even race choice has become blander and even less relevant: the halfling barbarian now is basically the same as the halforc one except once or twice a day where their racial power actually gets to matter if ever.
 

I'm of the opinion that low stats can indeed make a character more interesting to play. Limits breed creativity and low stats change the way you approach things.
I see a lot of people make this claim. I don't find it bears out in practice.

Low stats produce, in the vast majority of cases, one of only two behaviors: either the player turtles up because they're afraid to take risks (because their stats tell them they'll succeed less), or the player acts with reckless abandon because their stats suck, so who cares what happens? I have not seen a single player in all my years of play who actually played a more interesting character specifically because their stats were low. I have seen several players choose to play interesting characters, and then as a result sometimes do certain things with their stats, voluntarily. Such things can in fact be very interesting. But they don't come from having a character with lower stats. That puts the cart before the horse.

Limitations only breed creativity when you can achieve the same results by alternate means. There is no alternate means to achieve the same success rates. 5e eliminated that as a possibility when it implemented "bounded accuracy" and removed things like "the DM's best friend" or whatever the old phrase was (+2/-2 as a situational modifier.)

Also always starting with the same stat lineup can and does make characters more repetitive and less interesting.
If your characters become less interesting purely because you use the same stat array, that tells me the problem is yours, not the stats'. Dungeon World puts everyone on the same stat array, and I've never seen a game with more interesting and varied characters (13th Age is equal, but that's only because of its One Unique Thing mechanic.)

Instead of dealing with the implications that your chosen race doesn't give you "optimal" stats for your class and how that can make you choose differently in character building and in play, now everybody is in a comfort zone, so even race choice has become blander and even less relevant: the halfling barbarian now is basically the same as the halforc one except once or twice a day where their racial power actually gets to matter if ever.
Perhaps we should make racial features that are actually interesting then, rather than flattening racial features down so far that they become near-meaningless?

It seems to me the issue here isn't the statistics. It's that all the other things don't matter. Maybe if we actually let them matter, stuff would be different?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I'm of the opinion that low stats can indeed make a character more interesting to play. Limits breed creativity and low stats change the way you approach things.
Limits breed creativity, yes, but having a 5% less chance of success at something is hardly a limit.
Also always starting with the same stat lineup can and does make characters more repetitive and less interesting.
I disagree. Again, slightly different bonuses isn’t an interesting difference. It’s just exactly the same stuff with very slightly different success probabilities.
Instead of dealing with the implications that your chosen race doesn't give you "optimal" stats for your class and how that can make you choose differently in character building and in play,
What implications? Being slightly less likely to hit with attacks and some checks? That’s barely an implication, let alone an interesting one.
now everybody is in a comfort zone, so even race choice has become blander and even less relevant: the halfling barbarian now is basically the same as the halforc one except once or twice a day where their racial power actually gets to matter if ever.
The halfling Barbarian has always been basically the same as the half orc one except once or twice a day where their racial power actually gets to matter. Being slightly less likely to hit their attacks and succeed on their strength checks isn’t an interesting difference.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
So, if you're a Fighter, right. At levels 1-5, you get to do one thing each turn. You have an attack bonus of 5. So you have a good chance to miss AC's above 17, which you will encounter (unless you're an archer). And if you miss, outside of your once every handful of fights (depending on short rest) Action Surge, that's it, sit down, you did nothing.

That kind of play is pretty dreadful, really, and I hate that it's so hard coded into the system. So yeah, I would like to have the best chance to hit, and the lowest chance to whiff and do nothing. What's wrong with that? I'm making a choice by doing that, by not getting cool Feats (if allowed) or shoring up other ability scores.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
Limits breed creativity, yes, but having a 5% less chance of success at something is hardly a limit.
5% is all that the systems gives us. Not my fault that getting anything under 8 is basically impossible. O wait, you meant the difference between 14 and 16? Both are high! But apparently the difference is so important that players and DMs claim a character with the former is somehow crippled and unplayable!

Perhaps we should make racial features that are actually interesting then, rather than flattening racial features down so far that they become near-meaningless?

It seems to me the issue here isn't the statistics. It's that all the other things don't matter. Maybe if we actually let them matter, stuff would be different?
With the current design trends I'd be surprised if race -sorry I meant lineage- wasn't but a pointless background detail in 6e.

Low stats produce, in the vast majority of cases, one of only two behaviors: either the player turtles up because they're afraid to take risks (because their stats tell them they'll succeed less), or the player acts with reckless abandon because their stats suck, so who cares what happens? I have not seen a single player in all my years of play who actually played a more interesting character specifically because their stats were low. I have seen several players choose to play interesting characters, and then as a result sometimes do certain things with their stats, voluntarily. Such things can in fact be very interesting. But they don't come from having a character with lower stats. That puts the cart before the horse.

Or you can instead play smartly and play to your strengths, finding alternative ways to achieve the same thing. It isn't as if a cha 8 sorcerer is going to solve everything by blasting... or a nimble barbarian is going to be able to rely on rage...
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
5% is all that the systems gives us. Not my fault that getting anything under 8 is basically impossible. O wait, you meant the difference between 14 and 16? Both are high! But apparently the difference is so important that players and DMs claim a character with the former is somehow crippled and unplayable!
Nobody claims a character with a 14 in their primary stat is unplayable. What they do claim (correctly) is that it will have a significant impact on their effectiveness at their class role. You make a lot of rolls that are modified by your primary ability over the course of 12 levels, compared to having a 16. A 5% lower chance of success on all of them is a significant impediment. It’s not an interesting difference, and it won’t meaningfully affect how the character plays. It just makes them consistently a bit worse at doing exactly the same things.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
Nobody claims a character with a 14 in their primary stat is unplayable.
I'm not saying you yourself claim this, but I've found people who treated me failing to max a key score with shock and then telling me it mean me not taking things seriously enough. The attitude does indeed exist. It has costed me games...
 



5% is all that the systems gives us. Not my fault that getting anything under 8 is basically impossible. O wait, you meant the difference between 14 and 16? Both are high! But apparently the difference is so important that players and DMs claim a character with the former is somehow crippled and unplayable!
It's not "unplayable," but that's because "unplayable" is a BS standard that should never even be considered.

Like, for real, I am getting sick and tired of people ever mentioning "unplayable" anything. If it were unplayable, it would be SO HORRIFIC, so ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE that no one would give it the time of day. Playability is the ABSOLUTE ROCK BOTTOM, the barest of bare minimums; if something were LEGITIMATELY unplayable, so unbelievably bad that it literally prevented a person from even attempting to play, it would not only not deserve the title of "game" but would be an immediate topic of psychological research for how it can achieve such a psychologically devastating result. I imagine it would in fact be of interest to people investigating psychological warfare.

Instead? 16 is good. 14 is mediocre. Less than 14 is gonna be noticeable (e.g. going from a 60% to a 50% hit rate doesn't sound like a lot, but it means you miss not quite one-fifth more often than you used to.) Most people want to do well, so most people want to have a good stat in the thing that has the biggest impact on what they can do. That's why there's so much emphasis on being SAD, for example; it's easy to get a 16 in the stat most important to you, and if you can do things to make that stat do more stuff, well then you don't have to worry about any of your other stats, so they can be as high or as low as the game permits, and you only care because you just like having them that way.

Again, this is exactly what I spoke of earlier. People hyperbolize to the extreme; they portray all optimizers as whiny, petulant jerks who wring their hands over the tiniest details and throw hissy fits about literally everything. It's incredibly frustrating and insulting. I really wish you, and others, would stop doing that, and instead actually have a respectful conversation. This thread is rapidly demonstrating that that isn't gonna happen today.

I do some optimization. Sometimes, that means pursuing high stats. Other times it doesn't. (I actually preferred taking slightly lower main stats as a Paladin in 4e, so I could have higher secondary stats. 4e offered enough mechanical depth that this was actually a choice, and not "would you like to be demonstrably inferior at what you're best at in order to maybe be decent at something else?") Sometimes it means answering a weird question, like, "Is it possible to have ALL the skills, and I mean ALL of them?" (With the addition of the Prodigy feat, the answer is now 'yes': half-elf Rogue 1/Knowledge Cleric 1/Lore Bard for the remainder, pick up Skilled and Prodigy.) Other times, it's just a question of what the possibilities are, like Zee Bashew's "The Diviner Who Knew Too Little," a character concept (hardly even a "build") based on the film The Man Who Knew Too Little, where the character's success is built on being a Diviner (Portent) and a halfling, ideally with the Lucky feat. Probability warps around the character, enabling implausible situations and humorous escapes, a delightful concept for roleplay opportunities.

With the current design trends I'd be surprised if race -sorry I meant lineage- wasn't but a pointless background detail in 6e.
Oh, almost certainly. It's extremely disappointing, but an almost inevitable result of the flattening policy behind 5e's design.

Or you can instead play smartly and play to your strengths, finding alternative ways to achieve the same thing. It isn't as if a cha 8 sorcerer is going to solve everything by blasting... or a nimble barbarian is going to be able to rely on rage...
What strengths, exactly, does an 8 Cha Sorcerer have? Certainly not any that a Sorcerer with better Charisma couldn't have. And if you're so set on a +1 or +2 difference not mattering, then why does having 14 Strength (or whatever) as a Sorcerer matter? You've already pooh-poohed the difference between 14 and 16 (or even 12 and 16). Why is that Strength 12-14 making such an impact then? It seems like you're trying to have it both ways.

A nimble Str 8 Barbarian is actively shooting herself in the foot, since Rage almost exclusively benefits people who use Strength. (You don't get Advantage on Dex attack rolls, and you don't get your Rage damage bonus on attacks made with Dex; the only benefit is the damage resistance.) There's a pretty big difference between "you can't solve everything with Rage," which is true for literally 100% of Barbarians, and "you've literally made it so you don't get 2/3 of the benefit of your class features."

Why not, instead of just asking people to pursue inferior performance, support stuff that rewards diversity? Give Sorcerers a reason to think Strength or Wisdom could actually be neat, instead of wasteful. (Like, I dunno, the way the Next Playtest Sorcerer was actually a super cool and thematic concept that rewarded diverse stats and playstyle changes instead of SADness and uniformity....just sayin'....)

I was flat out told that if I don't have a 14 in Constitution then I don't know how to play the game.
And I have likewise been told that caring at all about your stats, to any degree whatsoever, actively prevents you from roleplaying.

There are extremes on both sides here. It's not helpful to pretend otherwise. Maybe, instead of shooting at extreme strawmen, we could instead try to have a respectful conversation about different preferences and what can be done to ameliorate them?
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
I have had a few characters now that were a bit behind in their main stat in return for other things. Totally worth it. And highly effective.

Of course, they were also full-casters that weren't sorcerers. Char-op may not just be about a few stats.
 

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