One D&D: Decoupling Races from Abilities

Dwarves are better at Wisdom, making them better at spotting danger and solid clerics. Halflings are better at Charisma, making them better sorcerers.

In the first One D&D playtest doc, races possessed no ability score bonuses or penalties. At the end of the day, I like it and hate it for the exact same reason. But before I begin, let me just say again that the term “race” needs to go away. It is an imprecise term that is problematic for some players. There is no good reason to keep it. Change “race” to something else.

Back to races not having ability score bonuses or penalties. At the end of the day, not having these two tied together means more character options. If you want to play a gnome wrestler, you can. Want I play an orc wizard, you bet. Bard dwarf specializing in dance? You got it. More character options are generally a good thing.

Here’s the downside: characters start to feel the same, fast. That gnome is as strong as a human. An elf is as strong as a human. That orc is as smart as an elf or a human or a dwarf, or tiefling, and so on. At that point, you might as well drop a bunch of “racial abilities” in a bunch of pages and let people make up their own. And that is more or less what happened with the half races.

Races should have an impact. We all get how races give us normal vision or darkvision. The same is true with some other abilities. But that should include some ability score bumps. Racial ability score bonuses help reinforce the flavor of the race.

My proposal: races should receive a single static bonus (except humans which get to choose theirs), and backgrounds should have a single bonus. This means the net result is still two bonuses while helping to reinforce the identity of the various races.

See all of JBE’s 5e products at DriveThruRPG today.

EDIT: I’m currently playing in a 1e game and forgot that 5e lacks racial penalties. I changed the article to remove any mention of racial penalties.

2 thoughts on “One D&D: Decoupling Races from Abilities

  1. I would rather have “build your own”: I’m tired of every member of every race having the same stats.

  2. In 13th Age, each race gives you a bonus to one of two ability scores (you pick which one) and each class gives you a bonus to one of two ability scores (you pick). You may not pick the same score both times.

    This keeps some of the archetypal qualities (or would it be quantities, since they’re numbers?) without locking you into a particular set. Mostly; if elves pick from (Int, Dex) and rogues pick from (Int, Dex), elven rogues will tend to look pretty consistent… but that’s an edge case I’m willing to accept. And I’d be prepared to expand the selection to three scores to pick from.

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