Inspired by this question regarding the Star card from the Deck of Many Things and an Ioun Stone:

The Star card reads:

Increase one of your ability scores by 2. The score can exceed 20 but can't exceed 24.

However, this does not say that it increases your cap/max for that ability score. So assuming your ability started at 20, does this mean that, RAW, it would increase to 22, and then immediately revert back to a score of twenty because your cap is still just 20? Alternatively, perhaps the Star card increases your cap as a whole to 24?


2 Answers 2


Yes, the Star card can permanently increase your ability scores beyond the normal limit of 20.

The Player's Handbook, on page 15 in the section about applying ability score improvements, states the following rule:

Some of these features allow you to increase your ability scores, either increasing two scores by 1 each or increasing one score by 2. You can't increase an ability score above 20.

Note that, specifically, this does not say "you cannot have an ability score above 20"; it states that you cannot use ability score improvements to increase an ability score above 20 - the rule only has importance at the moment you are altering your stats.

Following standard "specific beats general" interpretation, the Star card offers you an ability score improvement which specifically clarifies that it can, in fact, raise your ability score above 20, up to 24. Having applied the benefit of the card, if your ability score is now 20 or higher, you can't improve it further with a normal ability score increase, as that's subject to the general rule that you can't increase the score above 20. But there's no rule that states that, if you have legally increased your score past 20 by some means, it has to go back down again. It's not really so much a "cap" as a threshold - it's difficult to cross but you're not forced back if you do it.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 it doesn't need to for its own effect, and isn't intended to raise the natural limit that applies to ability score improvements from other sources. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    May 13, 2018 at 19:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Carcer Do you have a reference saying that it isn't intended to raise the natural limit? When I read the effect it says "Increase one of your Ability Scores by 2." That is one effect of the card, the sentence ends. Then the effect says "The score can exceed 20 but can't exceed 24." a second effect completely independent of the first. I see nothing that indicates that the second effect ever goes away. If that was the intent they would have just made the cap 22 since that is the highest the 2 point increase would get a naturally developed character. \$\endgroup\$
    – Duck
    May 14, 2018 at 2:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Luke I understand that there are other items that can raise stats. The point I was trying to make is that if the cap increase was intended to be tied to the stat increase their values would match. My argument is simply that the second sentence of the effect is an effect that stands on its own regardless of what happens to the two points that the first sentence grants. \$\endgroup\$
    – Duck
    May 14, 2018 at 6:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Duck I don't believe those sentences are meant to be parsed separately in that way, I think the second is a clarifier of the first and they're not two separate effects. You should post your interpretation as an answer if you disagree. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    May 14, 2018 at 6:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 if you were to do it in that order, I think that, rules as written, the Tome/Manual won't change your ability score. It will change your natural maximum - so if you found another tome (or waited a hundred years) and used it again, it would be effective the second time, since it would then be raising your cap from 22 to 24 - but you'd get no immediate benefit from the first use. I do think this is kind of dumb and I'd probably house-rule that the Star card has the same effect as the Tome of raising your natural maximum (but not above 24) if I were actually adjudicating it in my game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    May 14, 2018 at 16:57

Here is how I read the effect of the star card.

Say you have a base stat that you have raised to 20 naturally. I am not going to consider other methods right now because I don't want to delve into precedent of magical effects and their interactions. I just want to address what I perceive the effects of the star card to be.

Increase one of your Ability Scores by 2. The score can exceed 20 but can't exceed 24.

There are two statements being made here. First: Increase one of your Ability Scores by 2. This statement is very straight forward you increase an ability score by two.

Ok, so how does this interact with the rule in the PHB that says...

You can't increase an ability score above 20.

This is handled by the second sentence in the effect. The score can exceed 20 but can't exceed 24. By that effect your score now is able to be raised to 22.

The fact that this effect is broken into two sentences that individually have a stand alone effect tells me that the effects are in fact independent of each other. If the stat increase was directly tied to the stat cap increase I believe there would have been one major difference. The effects would have been joined by a conjunction for example the text of the Ioun Stone of Leadership states:

Your Charisma Score increases by 2, to a maximum of 20.

This basically says the stone functions exactly like an ASI with regards to Charisma.

Similarly, the Book of Exalted Deeds says:

Wisdom score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

This means the book will work similar to the rules for ASI's except it can increase wisdom by 2 up to 24 instead of 20.

Finally, all of the Tomes of X use the phrase:

Your X score increases by 2, as does your maximum for that score.

This is in my opinion the most powerful maximum increasing item type, since it does not limit the maximum possible attainable maximum. So in theory a character that hits 20 and has an ability that makes them long lived they could keep using it every 100 years until the hit the 30 hard cap as indicated here by JC https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/973771989499310080

The star card specifically phrases it differently. It has two independent clauses that address two different aspects of your character. The argument can be made that it is not intended to be read this way because of this tweet by JC https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/991012429466251270

It is a strong argument and I imagine it would be up to individual DM's to arbitrate which way to read this but I still see the individual sentences having related but independent effects.

As to what would happen if you draw multiple star cards it is simple.

  • Draw 1: Both effects take place score goes up to 22

  • Draw 2: First effect takes place raises score to 24 second effect is irrelevant since Draw 1 already raised max to 24.

  • Draw 3: Nothing happens score is already maxed at 24.

  • \$\begingroup\$ For clarification on your drawing multiple star cards, does your take of Draw 2 imply the second effect initially raised the max to 24? I ask for clarification because I drew a star card, raising Charisma up to 22, and my DM says at my next ASI I could raise it to 24 if I wanted. \$\endgroup\$
    – RallozarX
    Nov 18, 2019 at 19:56

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