View Full Version : Racial Ability Score Bonuses

08-02-2010, 01:19 AM
I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately, as it seems that it forces races into stereotypical roles, and penalizes characters who don't choose that path. Would the game benefit, in the diversity department, and potential role-playing aspect, if the ability score bonus was eliminated or if one or both bonuses were floating?

08-02-2010, 01:49 AM
You would definitely see more exploration of other races in their normally "not so optimized path".

08-02-2010, 07:24 AM
I like the idea that all the races have some attributes that are higher. It helps define them a bit more as a culture, since their abilities have them favoring certain activities or professions. It does limit you since you're giving up a lot of effectiveness if you attempt to use the race in classes that don't make use of its bonuses.

I suppose if you make them all even it would allow more class and race combinations, and therefore exploration into the different races. Though what would be the point of exploring them though? You'd just playing humans with different looks. You could still give them different attitudes and beliefs based on their culture; but there'd be very little that actually sets them apart.

Not that the rules need to enforce the role play, but its nice that it adds a few pieces here and there to help things along.

08-02-2010, 11:04 AM
Also, D&D's pretty much always been about archetypes - that is, broad sweeping characterizations rather than nuanced subtleties, with regards to mechanics. It's a legacy feature at this point.

Where 4E is different is the scope of the ability modifiers, and what they mean to game performance. That +2 isn't worth what it used to be, now that that's the *only* form of racial ability modifier; ditching negative racial stats was the biggest boon to playing against type.

(Course, racial powers and feats more than make up for it. You'd have a stronger case arguing those affect class pigeonholing more than ability score modifiers.)

08-02-2010, 11:45 AM
The racial abilities do have some bearing on which classes you should use, but I think the ability modifiers are a bigger incentive. If you line them up with the class you get a +1 to hit and damage on all of your powers. Its a small number, but getting that on every class feature probably will outweigh the bonuses from any other class features. In most cases anyway, no doubt there are a number of class/racial power combinations that far exceed the +1.

08-02-2010, 04:25 PM
I wasn't attempting to do away with archetypes, those are fine, and actually necessary if a player wants to define his character in opposition to that archetype. The majority of NPC's would fit into the racial archetype, but on a cultural level the altering of one racial ability score bonus could define a sub-culture. For instance, we all know that dwarves are strong and hardy, this could be a reflection of nature, i.e dwarves are just born that way. Alternately this could be a reflection of dwarven culture and the ideals that they hold dear, strength and constitution, built into the race from their propensity to spend sixteen hour days at the forge swinging hammers or digging tunnels. Lets say that 95% of all dwarfs fit into this stereotype, but that there are a few, who do not live up to these cultural values, and have replaced a core value with their own. For instance, a clan of dwarfs decided that all of this slaving away in the tunnels is for the mother loving rats. So they place a higher value on charisma in order to get other people to do their work for them. They retain the strength, because, well not everyone is so easily persuaded and needs a little physical encouragement. Pretty soon these dwarfs have turned into a mafia type organization. "Everyone knows to not to get involved with the Shadowhammer clan".

Changing two attributes would be something akin to taking that archetype and turning it on its head. Which can be interesting too. How about a wilderness dwelling dwarf clan that values wisdom and dexterity? But again if done to many times it negates the archetype.

On a larger level this could be used to define some interesting sub-cultures and give them the mechanical benefits to back it up. Maybe not kick the door wide open to making everyone just a simple variation on human (which it could be argued that is really all we are doing anyway), but it opens up some more options for your setting. Keep the archetypes but allow for some variation.

At the same time what about the individual? Not everyone lives up to the archetype of their race, through choice or just by chance of birth. What happens to these guys? Back to the dwarfs, this could simply be that all the dwarfs who didn't have a high con or str died in the mines, worked to death?

Do racial bonus' really reinforce the archetype? it is after all, possible to have a dwarf with a 10/12 str/con combo. Wouldn't have minimum requirements for stats have been a better way to go if they wanted to really impose those archetypes?

08-02-2010, 05:52 PM
On the archetype of "dwarves being resilient little buggers," their Dwarven Resilience trait (Second Wind as a minor action) portrays that better than a bland +2 Con, imo. Dwarves having both makes them double-tough: tactically different than all the other +2 Con races, as well as putting them ahead of races without the Con bonus. (Also, dwarves are a Con/Wis race, not a Str/Con one. That might change the examples a bit, might not.)

I think a big part of this is the intent of starting character stats: beginning 4E characters are a visible cut above the rest of the population, and I think the existing method does a good job of showing that, 'specially with the removal of negative stat modifiers. You aren't penalized anymore for having a lower non-prime ability, 'specially for a race that doesn't focus on it.

Add to this the character creation process in 4E is the first I can think of where ability generation comes *after* race and class selection; you're already a dwarf, for instance, so it's not like you're trying to qualify via ability scores.

I can't remember how oD&D/Basic handled abilities, since race and class were the same things for demihumans; I think AD&D's decoupling of race and class led to the static modifiers we see now, but I'm prolly remembering things wrong. It's been over a decade since I last played any TSR-edition D&D. In any case, the design intent isn't the same as it was, and the current use of ability modifiers reflects that.

08-02-2010, 09:35 PM
The ability modifiers don't enforce the archetypes, they just guide you to them. Sticking with the dwarves, they have bonuses to Con/Wis which are beneficial for fighters and clerics. It doesn't prevent you from being a Wizards and Sorcerers which use Intelligence and Charisma, it just means that other races like Tieflings will be more effective in those classes.

Like Sascha said, the lack of negative modifiers ensure that you are able to try any race/class combination you'd like. You just need to know that a different race with class might perform better. I think that fits beautifully with the culture set for the races. Dwarves have always favored mining and smithing, and never took much interest in magic and wizardry. As a result they have the ability to try it still, but lack the innate talent found in say Eladrins. So a dwarven wizard isn't unheard of, but odds are good he can't match the abilities of some other race as a Wizard.

08-05-2010, 09:38 AM
Also, with the frequency of ability bonuses (4,8,11, etc...) and the way the point-buy is balanced, you can have reasonable stats if you don't optimize with respect to race. Also, because of the way the game is, each stat has its bonuses for any class. By making a dwarf sorcerer, you are probably way more resilient than the halfling sorcerer.

As for offshoots from the norm (the mafia dwarf) I say alter it to fit your game. I remember for 3rd edition, gold dwarves from the forgotten realms setting were more charismatic, but clumsy, so they got a -2 to dex instead of cha. Also, they were from an aberration infested region, so they got bonuses to kill them instead of giants.

I always thought of gnomes as hardy tinkerers, so I allow my players to take a +2 to Con and int, instead of int and cha (if they choose).

You could even have it be race-universal, but regions dictate the bonuses. Desert folk have high constitutions and wis, but city folk have high int and cha (or something like that).

08-08-2010, 08:09 PM
I play a tiefling hybrid fighter/ranger in an online campaign, and I must say that I have lamented more than a few times his lack of optimized ability scores. I have become a bit of a min/maxer so it would be difficult for me to break out of the stereotypical roles that far. I think having ability scores based on regional or even background story would make me more likely to choose a race for the flavor instead of the bonuses.

09-27-2010, 02:41 PM
The theme of this conversation seems to be (imo) that the racial modifiers limit classes because they give certain races an advantage to others. This is very much a mechanical veiw of them and reflects a Min/Max attitude no matter how little of one may be there. I tend to look at it in this fashion:

[again sticking with the dwarf] The race in and of itself is fairly resilient and all that time spent in the crags and holes of the earth have made them a bit more prescient (they naturally pay attention). Instead of saying this makes them better fighters, lets look at how they would fight. Any species IRL tends to gravitate toward its strengths when it needs to defend itself. Higher con tends to mean better ability to take damage and keep hitting. To me this would make it far more plausible that a dwarf would be a fighter that forsworn mobility in order to gain either armor the ability to hit/damage or all of the above; the affected wisdom would tell me that they would tend to notice hazards and dangers a bit more readily; though the average Dexterity tells that only a very few specialized individuals would know how to disarm them. This would more reflect that dwarven trap springers would scout in front of the main host until they found a hazard or trap and then much like modern EOD would then armor up and detonate in place. The specialist that had the skills to disarm these devices would be few and far between relegated to specialized units or tasks. A Dwarven mage might lean more toward indiscriminate AOE spells than their human or elven cousins due to the ability to perceive which of their allies had more staying power than their enemies. Dwarven clerics might reserve healing longer than other races knowing that their brethren had a bit more staying power. etcetera.

This can be done with any race and any bonus its a matter of looking at the mechanical or physical property; the environment typical for the race; and a bit of the culture. Grant you my example is primarily militant in scope, and accounts for their activities while in their own society; leaving room for how a dwarf pc might relate to the rest of the party and the role play involved in that dwarf changing their tactics accordingly. Of course their is nothing saying that the forest dwarves; or mafia dwarves could not exist; I would prolly think of their evolutionary track to that though. If your wourlds creation story follows the all dwarves hail from the stone; but at some time the sub-race in question moved to the city how would that affect their stats.

You could also try making the Sub-race ideas into backgrounds combining the existent rules with the regional benefit.