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Whilst homebrewing some variations of existing monsters, I noticed something unusual: Some monsters have odd (i.e., not divisible by two) ability scores.

Odd ability scores matter for player characters because PCs level up, but monsters don't level up. Why then do they have odd ability scores? Is this something I ought to consider when creating or changing a monster?

More technically: if a monster has an odd ability score X, how will that monster be mechanically different (if at all) from an identical monster with ability score X-1?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Designer intent questions are off topic, so I’ve voted to close. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 1, 2021 at 21:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Better? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 1, 2021 at 21:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ By uneven do you mean an odd number (1,3,5,7,9 etc.)? The way the designers do skills is by taking the skills base ability score and adding the proficiency bonus (see DMG page 274 for monster proficiency bonuses), or sometimes double the proficiency bonus. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 1, 2021 at 21:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TheDragonOfFlame Yes \$\endgroup\$ Oct 1, 2021 at 22:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RBarryYoung Ah ok. I'm not a native speaker. In that case, I just mean odd numbers. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 5, 2021 at 15:45

2 Answers 2

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Strength affects carrying capacity, jumping and the ability to wear armour

A monster's Strength score is the most obvious case where odd ability scores might matter, since it has a couple of derived effects that depend on the raw score rather than the modifiers. Carrying capacity is determined by multiplying the Strength score by 15, so individual points matter.

A monster's jump distance is also calculated using it's strength score - players and monsters can 'long jump' a distance in feet that's equal to their strength score, or half as much without a run up.

If a monster is of the kind that might wear armour, some heavy armours have a minimum Strength requirement of 13 or 15 to avoid being slowed down by the armour.

Spells and creature abilities may specifically refer to raw ability scores

More generally, however, sometimes there are other rules or game features which key specifically off of raw ability scores and there could be a difference between the modifier-equivalent odd and even values. For instance, the Intellect Devourer has a perceptive ability that only works on creatures with an Intelligence score of 3 or higher:

Detect Sentience. The intellect devourer can sense the presence and location of any creature within 300 feet of it that has an Intelligence of 3 or higher [...]

An Int 2 creature and an Int 3 creature have the same Intelligence modifier of -4, but the latter would be detected by an Intellect Devourer and the former would not.

Similarly, creatures with sufficiently low ability scores (typically intelligence) are immune to the effects of certain spells. For example, the spell Feeblemind has no effect on creatures with an intelligence of 3 or lower.

The Bag of Beans

It's not likely to come up, but the magic item Bag of Beans has a 10% chance to generate 1d4+3 eggs which, when eaten, increase the consumer's lowest ability score by one (subject to their surviving a DC20 CON save against 10d6 force damage). I'm not aware of any other magic item that can increase an ability score by one.

DM Fiat

Fifth edition is an edition which makes lots of room for DMs to adjust the game as they please. A DM could readily create an item, boon, spell or suchlike which increased a monster's ability score by one.

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Ability Scores are a narrative reality

5e does not make a distinction between 'flavour text' and 'mechanical effect' (see this answer).

Ability scores are an abstraction of ability, such that a goblin with an intelligence of 9 is more intelligent than a goblin with an intelligence of 8. For this reason, many DMs use ability scores as a guideline for how to run monsters, and may well be influenced by single-unit differences between monster scores.

Ability scores are also a hangover from older editions of Dungeons and Dragons. Fifth edition could run very smoothly on ability score modifiers alone.

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