determining ability score

The ability score guidance in HotFL is greatly improved from the Player’s Handbook.

The PHB method

The Player’s Handbook non-advice is like some cruel test designed to cull the weak from the herd. Method 1 of PHB ability score generation is to take the “standard array”, 16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, which is just an awful arrangement of abilities. Method 2 is a point buy. Along with the point buy rules is a chart of no less than FIFTEEN sample point-buys, arranged approximately in order from worst to best. For example, the first point buy array is 14, 13, 13, 13, 13, 13, which is an array that should come with a cyanide pill.

In my opinion, since most classes require a strong primary and a decent secondary ability, the only decent arrangements are either a) 18 in your primary attribute and 14 in your secondary or b) 16 each in your primary and secondary. Of the 15 PHB examples, there are 3 such arrangements, buried in slots #9, #10, and #14.

The HotFL Method

Heroes of the Fallen Lands presents only three possible attribute arrays. If you want more options, you are referred to the Rules Compendium. The pleasant surprise is that of the three arrays, two of them are actually decent. And they come with analysis!

Array 1, Balanced Scores, is 16, 14, 14, 11, 10, 10. Marginally better than the Standard Array, which is mercifully absent, but still not great. The analysis claims that this array “gives you strong offense and defense, with no weaknesses to cover.” I suppose it will be nice to have your worst defense be pretty solid, but compared to the other two arrays, you’re giving up either +1 to all attack and damage rolls or +1 to all class-specific pushes, pulls, heals, damage bonuses, temporary hit points, and other secondary-stat miscellany.

Array 2, Specialist Scores, is 18, 14, 11, 10, 10, 8. It’s probably the best possible point-buy array, because the attack roll is such a crucial roll. The book says, “This provides you with very strong offense, but you take a hit in one defense in consequence.”

Array 3, Dual Specialist Scores, is 16, 16, 12, 11, 11, 8. I might not have taken those two 11s, but your three lowest scores don’t matter much anyway. This is probably my favorite array: “Specialist Scores” might be more effective, but having a high secondary attribute is so much fun! When you hit, you get to apply all your silly class-based effects. The book agrees: this array “gives you strong offense and defense, and you get the most out of class features and powers that rely on a secondary ability score.”

My conclusion: with the limited options and advice in HotFL, it’s much harder to accidentally make an ineffective character. Still possible, of course: your 18-Charisma fighter, Hrothgar the Handsome, is still going to disappoint you. But how can you stay mad at Hrothgar? He’s so handsome!

Still, what’s with those two 11s? They’re really set up for the long haul, not giving you a bonus until level 11 and not opening up feats until level 21! In my view you’re either going to take an extra 12 or bump up to a 13 to qualify for a feat (or squeeze an extra hit point by putting it into Con).

More Essentials thoughts…


7 Responses to “determining ability score”

  1. Noumenon says:

    Who is Rory, I would like to know?

  2. Greg Gray says:

    Hi Paul, This advice comes at the perfect time for me. I’ve never played an rpg before and neither have the 3 kids and one adult I’m designing a 4 session mini-campaign for. For fun (as well as simplicity) I’m designing the characters as 3 halflings and a half-orc and I’d been wondering if it was ok to reduce some of the abilities below 10 – for the sake of fun role playing – but without ruining the playability. So following reading your post I’ll reduce the halflings to strength 8 and the half-orc to Intelligence 8. Hopefully this will provide some fun “problems” for the kids to overcome. Thanks for the post. Greg

  3. paul paul says:

    Below-average Intelligence is super-fun to roleplay – everyone has fun playing a “Hulk Smash” character every once in a while. I also enjoy playing 8 wisdom: I can cause trouble by doing things that I know are a bad idea. Very low and high Charisma are also fun role-playing-wise.

    As long as you’re not playing a fighter or something, low strength doesn’t hurt you too much except when you’re, say, making a basic attack or trying to leap over a chasm. So make sure to include lots of chasms! And make sure the half-orc has a rope.

  4. Rory Rory says:

    The only non primary or secondary stat that really hurts to have at 8 is Con, since it means you have less HP and healing surges and so tend to go down a lot more quickly. Also, it’s not super fun to roleplay. “Yay, I’m sickly and cough a lot!”

    Though at least one character from fantasy literature, Elric, made it pretty cool!

  5. Don’t be afraid of being odd! My favorite array is 17/15/13/10/10/8. This doesn’t give you that magical 18 to start, but you get it at level 4 — when the started-at-18 character gets a meaningless bump.

    Overall. for almost half of the levels in the game, you’re down one + on the primary ability, and equal on the others. But you’re either equal or +1 on the secondary stat, and you get a “free” +1 on a tertiary stat throughout the game.

    That 3rd stat lets you get feats like Expanded Spellbook or Student of Moil, or maybe multiclass interestingly, or play up an off-class racial quirk.

    Or, 17/14/14/10/10/8, if you want to be more well-rounded. Or 17/15/11/10/10/10, if that 8 is really paining you.

  6. paul paul says:


    Also, I think that 17/16 costs the same as 18/14, point-buy-wise, and the two builds trade off being better than one another.

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