In Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition, a character's ability score is never rarely used. We only use it at character creation, to calculate the ability modifier. So, why bother having BOTH the ability score and the ability modifier? I feel the game would be easier to learn if we only had the modifiers in the character sheet (and called that the score). I know that some editions use the Constitution score, but that's an exception that feels tacked on.

I assume the designers are much more talented and wiser than me. So, why do we need separate ability scores and ability modifiers?

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    \$\begingroup\$ And are you asking "what's an ability score good for rather than the mod?" or are you asking for developer statements as to why they haven't scrapped scores? \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 23:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1: You question makes an incorrect assertion, "ability scores are used for nothing", rather than a question, "what are ability scores used for?". It comes off as more hostile than I think you intend. If you flipped the question around to ask what ability scores are used for, with a note that if they did nothing then they should be scrapped, this question would be much better. \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 1:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ For what it's worth I read this more as being perplexed than hostile. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 1:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I rewrote the question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 8:17

1 Answer 1


Your starting assertion is wrong. Ability scores actually are used for a number of things in Third Edition that are not entirely trivial to replace with modifiers. In very rough order of importance:

  • Ability damage from poisons and such-like would be twice as dangerous if it simply attacked modifiers at the same rate, and given the usually small dice involved already, that would make it difficult to arrange reasonable spreads even by halving — what does filth fever's 1d3 Dex and Con turn into?
  • Odd scores are necessary for casting spells of odd-numbered levels — using modifiers means spells become accessible either two levels at a time, or only at twice the ability they previously were, which starts to affect NPCs significantly (requiring a score of 28/modifier of +9 to cast 9ths, for example) as well as partial casters (requiring Rangers to have a Wis score of 18/modifier of +4 by 14th level to cast 4ths)
  • Gaining an ability modifier bonus only every eight levels would be rather irritating (with a mere two and a half before epic, which means only two choices); gaining every six levels or some such thing would require a bit of balance re-checking, and still more so if you kept it at every four levels
  • Carrying capacity is keyed directly off of Str score, not modifier, so switching would lose a bit of resolution
  • In Pathfinder, as you note, Con is used for the range of HP from dying to dead; doubling the modifier instead and adding ten is slightly less elegant and has a bit less resolution
  • There are some miscellaneous places, like feat prerequisites, that technically use odd ability scores even though modifiers would be scarcely different

In essence, then, you're trying to remove backwards-compatible rules that were put there to handle a multitude of special cases that some games really rely on — your group may not use disease or poison or carrying capacity or minimum spell level scores or care about exact prerequisites or the timing of ability bumps, but the system as a whole is designed with those in mind. And dropping that would impact things that some gamers really do care about.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't feel that small balance concerns are an issue, things like ability damage, feat prerequisites, carrying capacity, HP to die. They already overhauled a lot of it on the passage from 2nd edition to 3rd edition. In 5th edition, we gain 2 ability score points every 4 levels, instead of just 1 (although, they are also capped at 20). I hadn't though of spell levels, though. That's a non-trivial balance concern, because it would affect magical items, and secondary casting classes (paladin, ranger, ...). I'd scrap that rule altogether, but that's beyond the scope of this discussion. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 8:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DonkeyMaster Keep in mind that this page isn't a discussion, though, since RPG.se isn't a discussion forum. If you were hoping to start a discussion on alternative design ideas, you will want to continue on a discussion forum rather than a “Q? A! [done]” type of site like this is. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 17:06

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