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Besides the psychological effect of the stat raising item being almost but not quite perfect, is there a situation where 19 in an attribute is different from it being set to 18?

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There are occasional benefits of 19 over 18

Interestingly, the only examples I've found involve Strength, but other stackers found some more; here are the benefits:

  1. The long jump

19 Strength gives a slightly longer long jump than 18 Strength:

When you make a long jump, you cover a number of feet up to your Strength score if you move at least 10 feet on foot immediately before the jump. When you make a standing long jump, you can leap only half that distance.

  1. Carrying capacity

19 Strength will let you carry a little but more than 18 Strength:

Your carrying capacity is your Strength score multiplied by 15. This is the weight (in pounds) that you can carry, which is high enough that most characters don't usually have to worry about it.

  1. Strength drain (or other ability score draining features)

19 Strength essentially gives you one more strength that can be drained before dropping to the lower Strength modifier. The shadow has this ability, for example:

...and the target's Strength score is reduced by 1d4. The target dies if this reduces its Strength to 0. Otherwise, the reduction lasts until the target finishes a short or long rest.

  1. Astral Plane movement (credit to Peter Chaplin's answer)

19 Intelligence provides faster movement in the Astral Plane than 18 Intelligence:

A traveler in the Astral Plane can move by simply thinking about moving, but distance has little meaning. In combat, though, a creature's walking speed (in feet) is equal to 3 x its Intelligence score.

  1. Optional Speed Factor initiative (credit to Kirt noQA4mewhilemodsstrike in the comments)

While there is no magic item that sets Dexterity to 19, I figured I'd add this in for completeness

Break any ties by having the combatant with the highest Dexterity act first.


As you figured, the main reason for the 19 rather than the 18 is to demonstrate the not-quite maxed out nature of the ability score.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Speed Factor optional Initiative rules in the DMG use absolute Dex score to resolve ties. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 13:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ You should cover more specifically the benefits of having 19 intelligence. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 13:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JoJoYawson The question did request "et al", not just the Headband of Intellect. I didn't remember Astral Plane movement, but +1 to Peter Chaplan's answer for sure. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 13:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ A 19 Intelligence will make someone immune to the worst part of an intellect devourer's devour intellect ability, whereas an 18 could still be affected \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 14:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.E.D. Yes, but in 5e none are 19 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 3:14
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You're safer from Intellect Devourers

Intellect Devourers (MM, p. 191) have an action that requires you to roll 3d6, and if the total equals or exceeds your INT score, you drop to zero INT and are stunned until that effect is removed.
Having 19 intelligence means that this cannot effect you, regardless of the roll. Of course, even if you "only" had 18 INT, you'd still have to fail a DC12 INT saving throw AND roll the highest possible result of 3d6.
Thus, the one point probably won't really ever make a difference in practice.

See answers from other SE members for other benefits, especially concerning other stats than INT. My answer focuses exclusively on intelligence, since that's the example given in your question. As mentioned by David Coffron, STR is by far the stat for which score differences that don't increase your modifier matter the most.

Other creatures with effects that reduce INT

  • Dyrrn (Eberron: Rising from the Last War, p. 287) has a lair action that reduces INT

Oh well, maybe "creatures" was a bit optimistic, because apparently that's it. Or at least I can't find anything else on D&D Beyond.


Side note about naturally uneven scores: while not relevant to your answer, since you're only asking about the difference between 18/19 score as granted by the respective magic items, it's worth mentioning that the difference between 12 and 13 in a score (other than CON) is much more impactful (provided you have it naturally, without a magic item), as that is the score threshold that you need to reach for multi-classing into other classes. See PHB, page 163.

Having a naturally uneven score also allows you to level up your modifier for that score by grabbing a feat that increases the score by 1, on top of granting some other benefit. This is especially useful if you can get your primary ability score to 17, as that means you can get to 20 with an ASI and a feat (which may be more helpful than putting another point in some secondary score), instead of 2 ASIs when starting at 16.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In this case, having 19 INT from the headband does not mean you can take a +1 INT feat and go to 20. Any ability score increases would affect your original score, and the headband would set you to 19 again, unless you are now over 19. \$\endgroup\$
    – Toddleson
    Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 21:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Toddleson I'll admit the paragraph is a bit convoluted, but the entire last section is referring to naturally uneven ability scores, so you're arguing about something that I wasn't saying in the first place. I'll edit to make it clearer that the last paragraph is still referring to naturally uneven scores. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 22:17
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Movement in the Astral Plane

There may be other cases, but the only one I know of is that a creature's movement speed (while in combat) on the Astral Plane is 3 times it's Intelligence score - so this would give you a 57ft movement instead of only 54.

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These magic items have been around forever.

They started out with items like "Gauntlets of Ogre Power", that set your strength to the exact strength of an Ogre from the Monster Compendium. That is why the strength is 19 and not some arbitrary other number.

Later, items where added that did the same mechanically for each stat, but they did not have the fancy, specific names any more and were more generic.

In earlier editions, stats did not only do something every other level. They had a different progression curve and 19 over 18 was a big improvement.

In D&D 5 it might seem strange. Why 19 when it doesn't do a lot that 18 wouldn't do? Well, because of it's history. Gauntlets of Ogre Power give you the strength of an Ogre, and Ogres aren't min/maxed by character builders. They just exist as the designers wanted them to.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It must have been on the minds of the designers when they were writing 5e as well. Every monster in an official 5e book that has the word "Ogre" in its name has exactly 19 strength, aside from "Young Ogre" and "Half-Ogre" \$\endgroup\$
    – Toddleson
    Commented Jul 25, 2023 at 21:52

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