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I've heard this on several questions including questions about ability scores, wizard spell books, and skill points. What exactly does this mean in regard to those things and in general?

If someone could explain it in a simple way for a new player that would be most appreciated!

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2 Answers 2

When something is considered retroactive, you are to treat it as if it was always the case, even though it wasn't.

For instance, if you gain enough of a permanent increase to Intelligence to raise your modifier from +4 to +5, you gain the skill points (and other benefits of Intelligence) for each previous level at which you didn't have that bonus, as well as for the current level, and at every level you gain after.

This has the effect of simplifying the working out of hit points, skill points, and other aspects of high-level character generation.

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Wait, also other benefits of Intelligence? Does that mean my wizard gets extra starting spells, since the number of starting spells depends on Int? –  mcv Apr 29 at 8:26
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@mcv It does mean that you gain extra languages known and starting entries in the spellbook, yes. Here is some official word, not necessarily to that effect but very close. –  Metool Apr 29 at 10:35

I suspect they're talking about changes that effect not only what you get for future levels but what you got previously.

Let's say I'm a 7th level character with a 13 CON. Then at 8th level, I put my ability increase into CON, raising it to 14. That raises my HP by +8 (since that raised my CON bonus from +1 to +2, it gives me +1 more HP / level). If this weren't retroactive, it would only apply to HP gained at future levels.

The same logic applies for skill points and spells known, received based on INT.

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