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Ability Score Improvement 5e & DnD Modifiers

Ability Score Improvement 5e & DnD Modifiers

You and your friends have just defeated a formidable foe. The adrenaline is coursing through you, and the final blow lands. Your DM says that the fight is over, and just as the session breaks up, they also say the magic words: “You guys level up!”

Ability Score Increases, or ASIs, are a normal part of leveling up in Dungeons & Dragons. Below, we’ll break down when ASIs happen, how they function, and what they can contribute to your growing character.

When Do ASIs Happen?

Your character doesn’t get an Ability Score Increase every time you take a level. They happen at pre-determined levels of each class. Some classes, like Rogues and Fighters, have more levels with ASIs, but most classes offer ASIs at levels 4, 8, 12, 16, and 19. Rogues get an additional ASI at level 10, and Fighters gain additional ASIs at levels 6 and 14.

It’s important to remember that ASIs are tied to leveling up your character’s class. This won’t come into play for many people, but if your character is multiclassed, it will delay your access to ASIs.

For example, if your character is a level 3 Rogue and level 1 Warlock, you are a level 4 character, but you would not have had access to an ASI when you became level 4. Instead, you’ll gain access if you take a fourth level in Rogue or reach level 4 in Warlock.

GameCows Tip: If you multiclass for non-story reasons, you should always see how much your other class will slow down access to ASIs, so you don’t fall behind your party.

How Do ASIs Work?

Ability Score Increases work as their name suggests; by increasing one or two of your Ability Scores. You have a choice with ASIs: increase two scores by +1 or a single score by +2. Once a particular Ability Score has reached a total of 20, you cannot increase it anymore. Keep in mind that only even Ability Scores affect your bonus to skills, weapon attacks, magical attacks, saving throws, and save DCs.

If you begin with a 16 Intelligence, your Intelligence bonus is +3. Using an ASI of +1 to boost your Intelligence to 17 won’t change your Intelligence bonus, but a +2 (boosting to 18 total) makes your Intelligence bonus +4. Most people use ASIs to increase a single score by +2 for that bonus.

However, there are plenty of ways to determine your initial Ability Scores, and it’s not uncommon for a player to have an odd number. If you begin with a 17 Intelligence, your bonus is +3, but you would only need to increase it to an 18 to achieve a +4 bonus.

Sometimes, it is more advantageous to spread your ASI among two Ability Scores that are odd numbers. If you don’t have two odd Ability Scores, some feats strike a balance by offering unique features and a +1 to a single Ability Score.

Now get out there and level up those characters!

If you need a refresher on how Ability Scores work, check out our Ability Scores Guide in DnD 5e below.

Ability Scores can seem a bit daunting when you first start with Dungeons and Dragons, but they are intuitive and easy to understand once you break them down. This guide will lead you through the Ability Scores and how they’re used.

What Is an Ability Score?

An Ability Score is the numerical manifestation of certain aspects of a character. There are three physical abilities, Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution, and three mental abilities, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. We go in-depth below on the six Ability Scores, but they exist to represent where your character’s natural and trained talents lie.

How Do Modifiers Work?

When people talk about modifiers, they are discussing the numerical bonus you receive from your Ability Scores. Although your scores range from 3 to 20, your modifiers measure the standard deviation from 10, the average. An utterly average person in 5e (not an adventurer, obviously) has a score of 10 for all six Ability Scores.

What Do I Use Ability Scores and DnD Modifiers For?

Your Ability Score and its corresponding modifier determine how good you are at different aspects of existence. These modifiers are added to various things like your attack rolls, spell attacks, ability checks, damage rolls with weapons or spells, spell save DCs, attack DCs, saving throws, and some class features.

Your Ability Scores are not used very often, but there are some mundane and magical items, as well as classes that have prerequisites based on an Ability Score. For example, you may begin as a Bard at first level regardless of your Charisma score, but if you want to multiclass at later levels, you must have a Charisma score of at least 13 to take levels as a Bard.

Ability Scores 5e

There are a total of six Ability Scores, and we break down what each of them represents and how they’re used in the game below.


Your Strength score measures your character’s physical power. A character’s Strength might be shown when they attempt to lift a heavy boulder, kick in a door, or grapple an opponent. Strength affects only one skill: Athletics.

You also typically add your Strength modifier to attack rolls and damage rolls when attacking with melee weapons or bare-handed. If your DM enforces carrying capacity rules, your Strength score also affects how much you can move around without being overburdened or encumbered. Your carrying capacity is 15 multiplied by your Strength score.

However, when it comes to temporary lifting or dragging, you can move weight up to twice your carrying capacity or 30 multiplied by your Strength score.


Dexterity is a measure of how agile or nimble a character is. Typical Dexterity checks might measure how well you keep your balance on a slippery road, how quickly you can duck out of the way of an incoming attack, or how quietly you can move through a silent hallway. Dexterity skills include Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth.

Your Dexterity also affects your Armor Class or AC. Your AC represents how well you can get out of the way or deflect blows. Different types of armor allow more or less movement, so characters with low Dexterity scores might opt for medium or heavy armor since it provides more protection. Characters with higher Dexterity scores will likely stick with light armor, or none, since heavier armor impedes their ability to stay sneaky.

Some weapons have the finesse or ranged tags, meaning that instead of adding your Strength modifier to the attack and damage rolls, you can add your Dexterity modifier instead. These weapons include rapiers, daggers, longbows, and short swords. In other cases, classes may have specific features that allow you to use your Dexterity modifier for bare-handed attacks, as Monks do.


Constitution measures your vitality and resistance to extreme conditions. Primarily, Constitution affects your hit points. You might need to make a Constitution check to see if you can keep holding your breath underwater or withstanding scorching temperatures in the desert.

There are no skill checks associated with your Constitution score. Still, many spellcasters make many Constitution saving throws because they dictate whether or not you can continue to concentrate on a spell after taking damage. The War Caster feat and the Eldritch Invocation Eldritch Mind both give you advantage on Constitution saving throws specifically made to maintain concentration on spells.


Many people confuse Wisdom and Intelligence because they initially seem to be about the same thing: how smart your character is. However, they measure two different types of ‘smart’: book smarts and street smarts.

Intelligence is your book smarts. Intelligence skills include Arcana, Investigation, Religion, Nature, and History since they rely on your ability to recall learned facts about a subject. Characters with an Intelligence of 7 or lower may be illiterate.


Wisdom is your street smarts. Wisdom skills include Animal Handling, Insight, Perception, Survival, and Medicine since they utilize your capability to intuit or get a feel for something. You can’t learn from a book how to find your way in a forest or get an animal to trust you. It happens on a more instinctual level.

Wisdom also dictates how much forethought you put into plans and your ability to tell if someone is lying to you. Characters with low Wisdom scores are likelier to be impulsive and not think things through.


Charisma represents the force of your character’s personality. It focuses on how well you can convince others to do things your way. Charisma skills include Intimidation, Persuasion, Deception, and Performance. Charisma is your primary Ability Score for social interactions, although Insight is technically a Wisdom skill.

How Do you Determine Ability Scores? 

When you fill in the very left column of your character sheet, you’ll notice spaces for ability scores and modifiers. You understand how modifiers work, but how do you calculate the ability scores? 

You can calculate ability scores in a few different ways. Check in with your DM before you start setting your scores. Each DM likes to put these scores in a specific way. You’ll usually use the Point Buy system, standard array, or roll for scores.

Rolling for scores is the traditional way that ability scores are determined. Typically, the player rolls a set of dice guided by the DM.

Allocating Rolls

Players roll six times, once for each ability, then choose which scores they want to apply to each stat. This application is the most common way to allocate rolls. Players have some control over how they want to play their characters. 

Rolling 3d6

To use this method, players roll 3d6s and add up the numbers on the dice. They repeat this until they have 6 ability scores. They then apply each score to their desired ability.

This method is more chaotic than some of the other methods. It is unforgiving if a player ends up rolling terribly. They have to distribute the points and hope for the best. 

Rolling 4d6

The 4d6 method is very similar to the rolling 3d6. However, rolling 4d6 is more forgiving than rolling 3d6. The player will roll 4d6 simultaneously, eliminate the lowest, and add up the other three. They will then apply that score to the ability of their choice. 

This method is excellent for new and old players. It allows the player to feel the thrill of rolling dice without worrying too much about having an underpowered character. It is doubtful that a player will roll four natural ones. 

Rolling 1d20

With this method, the player rolls a 1d20 six times and uses what comes up. Now, this method can be chaotic. Rolling under 8 for every ability and having a useless character is possible. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t be fun to play. 

This method is best for one-off games or more experienced players. It can be discouraging for new players to fail at almost every skill check. Those players with more role-playing experience could have a good time inventing all the ridiculous ways their character screws up. 

Rolling in Order

Players can use this method with any of the rolling techniques. With this method, players don’t choose where the numbers go. They start rolling for STR. They roll and accept the outcome for that stat. The player then moves on to DEX and continues until they finish with CHA.

The player doesn’t have as much control over their character. This method would be best for new players or players who don’t know what they want their character to be. Players can let their rolls dictate the type of character they create. 

Rolling for stats is very common. However, it is unpredictable. You might have an unbalanced character or a character with nothing higher than a 14 in any stat. Rolling for ability scores is great for DnD purists who love leaving decisions to the dice. 

Standard Array

In 5e, the standard array is 15, 14, 13,12, 10, and 8. Each player ranks each ability. They then assign each stat with a score based on that ranking.

For example, a Barbarian must be strong, so the 15 would generally put 15 or 14  into STR. On the other hand, they won’t need INT. They can assign INT the lowest score, 8. The standard array method allows for more uniformity in determining ability scores. 

The Standard Array method is simple and easy. It suits new players or players who prefer a more structured ability score system.  

Point Buy 

The Point Buy method in 5e allows players to calculate their scores using a pool of points. Players ”buy” ability score points and add them to their desired abilities. 

The traditional point buy system starts all stats at 8 points. Each player then has 27 points to distribute. Each time they use a point in a specific ability, the “cost” of the points changes. 

  • 8: 0pts
  • 9: 1pt
  • 10: 2pts
  • 11: 3pts
  • 12: 4pts
  • 13: 5pts
  • 14: 7pts
  • 15: 9pts

This method is excellent for players who love math. Point buy is more difficult to calculate. However, It is a good compromise from the chaos of dice rolling and the rigidity of the standard array. 

The point buy and standard array systems cap the ability scores at 15 to prevent level 1 characters from maxing out their abilities. In the beginning, no one is that amazing. Players will have opportunities to improve their ability scores.

Improving Ability Scores

There are several ways to improve ability scores throughout the campaign. Improvement happens in a few main ways: training, magic items, feats, 4th-level feature, and racial bonuses.  

Racial Stat Bonuses

Each race, or lineage, in 5e has different bonuses. These bonuses only apply to adventurers of that race. This structure allows players to create a character based on an archetype.

These archetypes reflect certain characters’ bonuses and abilities based on their upbringing and physical attributes. For example, Dwarves have a +2 to CON because they are tough and hardy.

Usually, each race has +2 to one ability score +1 to another. Humans are the exception. Humans get +1 in each ability because of their many variations. The Player’s Handbook provides a guide to bonuses for each race. Players will determine these bonuses during character creation. 

It is essential to clear all bonuses with the DM in case they have special rules or are using a variant of 5e. The DM will also know what archetypes are appropriate for their world and campaign. 

4th level feature

Every 4th level, characters get Ability Score Improvements (ASI). Players can choose to add to their ability scores. Each class gains this ability, and Rogues and Fighters get additional ASI.

The 4th level ASI happens when a character’s class level reaches a certain point. If a character is multiclass, they gain ability scores when each class gains 4 levels starting at level 4.

The player gets to buff their character about every 4 class levels, not character level. This buff can be in the form of an ability score increase or a feat. Certain feats will also improve ability scores. 

ASI associated with level keeps the game competitive. Players are not stuck with the scores they rolled or assigned initially. There are always ways to improve and grow. 

Ability Score Improvement

ASI is when players choose to add value to a specific ability. Players can add +2 to one score or +1 to two scores. Typically, ability scores max at 20. 

Ability modifiers change as a player adds value to an ability score. Modifiers increase at even intervals. Adding +1 to an ability score of 13 would change the modifier from +1 to +2. 

Players can add two points to ability scores with each ASI as they see fit. Adding value to ability scores is the simplest way to use ASI. If the DM uses the variant rule, players can also use ASI to choose a new feat.  

Feats that improve ability scores

Feats give players different advantages. Some feats give characters bonuses to ability scores. Depending on how the DM wants to play, players can choose feats at the beginning of the game and when they gain ASI. 

There are a lot of different feats. Some feats give players a +1 to an ability score and another bonus. Resilient feat allows a player to select a stat. The player then gains proficiency in a saving throw and a +1 that stat. 

The Tavern Brawler feat makes a character proficient in improvised weapons, use 1d4 for unarmed strikes, and gives a +1 to STR or CON. 

The Actor feat increases a character’s CHA +1 to a maximum of 20. This feat is for a character that excels at mimicry and dramatics. 

Many feats grant ability score improvement. These feats are a great way to customize characters and upgrade skills.

Magic Items that improve ability scores

Some magic items in 5e improve your ability scores. The DM determines when magic items become available in a campaign. DMs often ask players what kind of magic items they would like in a campaign, and if they’re lucky, the DM just might make them available. 

There are a few kinds of magic items that improve ability scores. Some items give a numerical increase. The Manual of Gainful Exercise boosts the reader’s STR score by +2. The book also increases a player’s maximum STR. So a player could read this book and increase their STR from 19 to 21. 

Other items increase your ability score while you wear them. The Headband of Intellect raises the wear’s INT score to 19. However, there is no bonus if the character already has an INT of 19 or higher. 

These items are rare, and their appearance in the game is up to the DM. 


DMs can choose to allow players to train to gain levels. Page 131 in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) discusses the idea of training for levels and downtime activities. DMs can design any downtime activity they would like for their campaign. Allowing players to take some downtime to train at certain levels would be a fun addition to a long-term campaign. 

The DMG doesn’t expressly state how to train abilities. There would have to be normal limits, but it could be a way to maintain interest in campaigns and characters between more significant plot points. Downtime activities and training are entirely open to DM interpretation.

Each 5e campaign is different. The DM creates the world and interprets the rules. The DMG, the Player’s Handbook, and other books provide guidelines for character creation. There are many ways to calculate ability scores and determine how a character will interact with the DM’s environment. 

What are Ability Checks?

Ability Checks can refer to one of two things: a straight Ability Check, meaning that you roll 1d20 and add your corresponding Ability Score’s modifier, or a skill check, meaning that you roll 1d20 and add your corresponding skill modifier.

The main difference between a skill check and a straight Ability Check is that your character will be proficient in some skills (or half-proficient if you’re a Bard), and you’ll add your proficiency bonus to your Ability Score modifier to reach your skill modifier. With a straight Ability Check, you never add your proficiency bonus.

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05/31/2023 11:00 am GMT

Ability Score Improvement 5e FAQs

Can Ability Scores go above 20?

Yes, in some circumstances, Ability Scores can go above 20 if the character receives a particular magical item that increases an ability score by points, such as the Manual of Gainful Exercise.

However, these items are scarce. A typical adventure doesn’t usually go beyond 18 for any given ability score. The standard maximum for a PC is 20.

Can you take a feat instead of ASI in 5e?

Yes, if you are playing with the optional feats rule. With this rule, players can choose a feat instead of an ASI.

Can you re-roll stats in DnD 5e?

Typically no, stats cannot be re-rolled. Some DMs allow for significant changes to characters within the first two sessions. However, no one can control what each player does. It is against the spirit of the game to roll over and over until reaching a desired score.

What is the best stat in DnD 5e?

DEX is the most commonly used stat. DEX affects initiative and armor class. It is common for characters to perform DEX checks and saving throws in various scenarios.

However, Each class has a stat that is best for them. If you are playing a martial class, try max STR or CON. However, a Druid planning to take Wild Shape would not need high STR or CON. Druids take on the CON, STR, and DEX of their selected beast. WIS is much more critical for a Druid.

Ability Scores 5e

Ability scores help form the backbone of a DnD character. However, each character is more than just the character sheet. All of the numbers and descriptions are there as a guide. The campaign starts with character creation, but characters expand their abilities. Characters experience challenges, and players grow. 

Each character has a unique personality. Consider the character’s past, motivations, and ideals as much as their ability scores. Work with your DM and trust their process. Don’t forget to have fun with whatever the dice may roll at you.