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We are playing Hoard of the Dragon Queen. The characters are level one. We have just reached the village. After we complete this section they will be level 2. In order to enrich their depth into this game and grow their back stories I am having each of them select an item to quest for. Their part is to tie the item into their back story and I will write the side quest for each of them. When they complete their quest for the item it will be either an amulet or a ring that grants them +1 to a stat (wisdom for example).

My question: Would it be game breaking (or too OP) if my Wizard got a ring that was +2 to hit only? How is that better or worse then +1 to int.? Is it fair to the other players who will get just a +1 weapon?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Changing a question's subject later is very frowned on. Please make sure the question's subject stays the same when making late edits. (I've reverted that change.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 19 '18 at 3:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Understood. \$\endgroup\$ – Night Owl Apr 19 '18 at 10:35
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Comparing +1 to a stat to +2 to hit

Naively, the +2 to hit has obvious impacts on all characters, in most cases. Situationally, the stat-bonus might be better, so let's break it how it effects a character.

Granting +1 to a stat has the following effects, if the stat is odd:

  • +1 on ability checks associated with that stat (skill, initiative, or otherwise)
  • +1 on hit rolls associated with that stat
  • +1 on damage rolls associated with that stat
  • +1 on saving throws associated with that stat
  • +1 prepared spell, for clerics, druids, paladins, and wizards (assuming a bump to their spellcasting stat)
  • adding 1' to high jumps (STR)[1]
  • +1 armor class, for some armors (DEX)
  • +2 to max HP, as you say they'll be level 2 (CON)
  • +1 minute breath-holding (CON)

No matter the parity of the stat granting a +1 will have the following effects:

  • Possibly opening up multiclassing opportunities (The "natural aptitude" language of the multiclassing rules makes the argument that preregs must be met by ability score distribution, racial modifiers, ASIs, and permanent magical increases (tomes, wishes, &c.) rather than by a magic item's temporary/ongoing boost.)
  • Increasing running long jumps by 1', standing long jumps (broad jumps) by 1/2' (STR)
  • adding 15# to carrying capacity (STR), 30# to push/drag capacity
  • may open up new available choices for armor (STR)

(Note: I have ignored certain high-level traits, such as Indomitable Might or Visions of the Past which do key off of scores; they're beyond the scope of OP's players.)

Generously, we might assume that a character has a 50% chance of benefiting from effects in the first list.[2] Multiclassing is a long-game issue, so I largely discount that impact. It's a rare table that tracks encumbrance[3], long jumps don't come up that often, and most characters are built out to already provide for their desired armor.

In short, the +1 stat increase likely provides little advantage in the short-term.[3.5]

+2 to hit is useful in almost every situation. True, some of your spellcasters may have good spells that focus on saves, rather than hit rolls. (That's good strategy, to have that choice when heading into combat!) But it's a rare character that can't benefit from a 10% increase[4] in the probability that they'll hit.

All-told, this is a matter of playstyle.

I don't think there's a definitive way to answer "is +2 to hit better than +1 on a chosen stat." It may be possible to answer "is +2 to hit better than +1 STR for an unarmored half-orc barbarian wielding a greatclub who wants to hold down the front line and always go after the opponent's biggest target?"

In laying out the impacts of each above, I hope I've given you the tools/information necessary to gauge for yourself.

Do you need to adjust CR?

CR in 5e is not nearly a precise-enough measure that you should look at this to be your adjustment. +1 on a stat, even +2 to hit, isn't that large a difference that it overwhelms the single largest factor in how hard an encounter is: how you, the GM, play it.

First, the encounters in the early parts of HotDQ are known to be a little challenging. For your party they may be slightly less-so. Fine.

Second, much of the challenge of any encounter stems from how the battlefield is set and how the monsters make use of the situation wisely. Or don't. You're in charge of this lever, and it exerts much more influence on the encounter than does a potential +1 to a modifier. After all, if your ranged attackers enjoy half cover (PHB p.196, "Cover") that more than offsets the stat-bump.

Third, you control when characters level. Do they gain experience at the end of an encounter? End of a session? At the end of a "section" or "chapter"? Do they level immediately (as PHB p.15 "Beyond 1st Level" suggests), or require a long rest (as Adventurer's League does), or require training/downtime (as my table does)?

Fourth, even if they "over-level", they won't stay that way for long. The upward curvature of the Character Advancement table during the first tier-and-a-half ensures that.


[1] Your question asks about +2 to hit vs. +1 INT, but in order to consider the benefit compared to your other players we should consider all of the stats, not just INT.

[2] Certainly most players would be less likely to benefit thusly, as they've arranged the stats they care about to be even. But perhaps these players aren't as meta-gamey, or they rolled stats, or they're setting up for a level 4 feat and anticipating a +1 to their favored stat. In any case, I think 50% likelihood of benefiting is a good upper bound.

[3] And that's a shame, in my book.

[3.5] By "short-term" I'm talking about a few levels' worth of play, likely a half-dozen sessions. On the other hand, a character that'd intended to bump CON by two with their first Ability Score Increase can now choose the Durable feat; the character that'd intended +2 to STR can now choose Heavy Armor Master. Or Observant. Or Resilient. These provide interesting and impactful bonuses, if delayed a bit from the acquisition of the amulet.

[4] There's a slight deviation from this at the low end: if your THACX is 3 or lower, the +2 to hit either only helps you 5% or not at all!

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That's not an easy question because a lot depends on whether your players can use what they got. Will they optimize or just play along?

If your players just play along and don't care for their characters too much, +2 to hit is better than +1 stat, simply because if you don't care, +1 stat is useless 50% of the time. A lot of the adventure relies on cantrips and their to-hit-rolls for mage damage. There aren't enough resting spots to throw fireballs around every corner. But I would not call it overpowered. If your players don't optimize, then I guess they are ok with the wizard doing marginally more damage than normal.

If your players do optimize their characters, it can go both ways. Although I don't think it's overpowered, you can probably build something nice around the improved chance to hit. But then, if your other players know how to optimize properly, they will actually use their +1 stat bonus and get something out of it.

As optimizing is an art form that is very dependent on the actual player, you cannot say how it will go. You could theory-craft, but that would only be a very broad statistic and you have a sample size of 1. That makes the statistic less useful.

Just giving all of them the same item would be the safest solution if you have a very nit picky and optimizing group. If you have a very relaxed group, the difference is probably negligible.

Last but not least be prepared that players will ask for the same. A ring with +2 to hit would indeed be overpowered for a warrior or ranger. What are you going to tell them why they cannot get the same ring? What will you do if the wizard just gives his ring away to one of them?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think your last question is the most important. In terms of general utility and value, +2 to hit is worth more. \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec Mar 26 '16 at 14:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ +many for the last paragraph, if I could. Good points. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 26 '16 at 14:37
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In the long term, a +2 to hit is better than a +1 to a stat, because stats hit a cap.

19 int and +1 to int, vs 20 int and +2 to hit, the difference is pretty large, much larger than the upgrade of a feat to a half feat, or a half feat to a stat bump.

The impact of static bonuses can be larger than it looks. If you hit half the time prior to a +2 to hit, and you dealt an average of 20 damage every round, after +2 to hit you deal 24 damage on average each round.

For a character that tries to hit things (not a healer or spellcaster), the bonus is competitive or better than the +1 to stat if your stat is odd, and obviously better if it is even.

Character who don't make attacks (save based spells, healers, etc) won't have that option, and will be comparatively disadvantaged in both the short and long term. Adding a +2 to spell DC item won't fix this: characters who mix attacks with saves will be half-crippled.

Now, the balance of almost any RPG isn't so fragile that a single such item won't break the game, so no big worry.

The 5e CR system is marginally better than picking random monsters and fudging based off your gut; it is so far from being a robust system that nothing on this scale is going to be distinguishable from noise. You'll have to compensate for larger issues than this produces.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think assuming a consistent 20 damage is a good illustration for OP's purposes. Remember, these characters are L1/L2. If you're making the point that +2 to hit will scale differently, over time, than +1 stat, that may be a good example to illustrate your point. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 26 '16 at 23:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I presume readers can divide. If their damage per round for their characters is 5, they can divide by 4. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Mar 27 '16 at 1:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Magic item bonuses to stats do not hit the cap. \$\endgroup\$ – aramis Mar 27 '16 at 1:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @aramis 21 does not give you anything (for most stats in most situations). \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Mar 27 '16 at 2:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a heads-up! The question has been updated to remove the bonus question about CR. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 12 '16 at 15:19
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You may want to compare what you want to offer your characters to what magic items they can get from the DMG tables p. 136-139.

Here we see that a weapon +1 (which is somewhat similar to the hit +2 enhancement) is offered for challenges 0-4 (table F first appears there) with an 11% chance to reach table F.

Similarly, the +1 in a statistic is nearly offered by a few Ioun stones (they really offer +2 and have a limit of 20 to that statistic). These appear on table H with a 2% chance only and it represents a challenge of 5-10 (p. 137).

Also the items come with a rarity label. The Ioun stones are Very Rare (For characters 11th or higher), whereas +1 weapons are just Uncommon (For characters 1st or higher).

So I think we can pretty safely say that a +1 or +2 to hit is much less than a +1 to a statistic.

Note that a +1 to a statistic may sound like not so strong because it may be that character has an even statistic at the moment, but when they reach level 4, they just need another +1 to get all the bonuses that a +2 offers and they can then use another +1 to yet another statistic...

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