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Chapter 4: Variant Rules

Ability Scores Variants

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 182
The default method of generating ability scores in the Core Rulebook can help you learn your character’s story along the way, while the alternative method, rolling scores, is a nod to tradition. But other ways to generate ability scores might better suit the story you want to tell.

Gradual Ability Boosts

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 182
In this variant, a character gains ability boosts more gradually as they level up, rather than receiving four ability boosts at 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th levels. Each character gains one ability boost when they reach each of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th levels. These are collectively a single set of ability boosts, so a character can’t boost the same ability score more than once per set; players can put a dot next to each boosted ability score or otherwise mark it to keep track. PCs also receive an ability boost at 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th level (a second set); at 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th level (a third set); and at 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th level (the fourth and final set).

This spreads out the ability boosts, and using them earlier means a character can increase their most important ability modifiers at a lower level. This makes characters slightly more powerful on average, but it makes levels 5, 10, 15, and 20 less important since characters usually choose the least important ability boost of the set at those levels.

Point Buy

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 182
This alternative ability score generation method replaces ability boosts and flaws with a number of Ability Points. Players determine their ability scores by investing Ability Points into each score, as seen in Table 4–1: Cost for an Ability Score. These give players more customization in their ability scores and can allow a player to really prioritize their favorite ones, but the system is significantly more complicated to use.

Table 4-1: Cost for an Ability Score

Total Ability Points SpentAbility Score
-28
-19
010
111
212
313
514
715
1016
1317
1718

Step 1: Decrease Starting Scores

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 182
All of a character’s ability scores start at 10. If the PC’s ancestry has ability flaws, decrease those ability scores to 8. A player can also voluntarily lower any ability score to below 10 to gain more Ability Points to use in Step 2. They gain 1 Ability Point for lowering an ability score to 9, or 2 Ability Points for lowering a score to 8.

Step 2: Spend Points

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 182
Now that each player has set their minimum scores, they’ll spend Ability Points to increase their ability scores. Ability Points come in two categories: dedicated and flexible. Dedicated Ability Points can be spent only on specified ability scores, but flexible Ability Points can be used to increase any scores. These Ability Points replace all the ability boosts a character would normally get.

The total number of Ability Points spent determines the character’s starting ability score, as shown on Table 4–1: Cost for an Ability Score. The maximum score a player can buy at character creation is 18. Raising a score costs 2 points more than the listed value if the score started at an 8 after Step 1, or 1 point more if the score started at a 9. Any Ability Points not spent during character creation are lost.
  • Dedicated Ability Points: A character gets 2 dedicated Ability Points for each ability score their ancestry gives predetermined ability boosts to. Human characters, or those with another ancestry that grants two free ability boosts, get 2 more flexible Ability Points instead. Each character also gets 2 dedicated Ability Points for one of their background’s choices of predetermined ability scores, and 2 dedicated Ability Points for their class’s key ability score.
  • Flexible Ability Points: Each character gets 15 flexible Ability Points, plus any gained for voluntarily lowering ability scores below 10 in Step 1.

Increasing Scores at Higher Levels

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 182
When a character levels up, they gain Ability Points at each level, as shown on Table 4–2: Ability Points Gained. Unlike the Ability Points from character creation, a player can save these to buy a more expensive increase, and they can increase ability scores to a maximum of 22. When a player is ready to increase one or more ability scores, they spend the number of Ability Points listed on Table 4–3: Raising an Ability Score and increase the ability score accordingly. A player can increase a score more than once at a given time, but they must pay for each increase individually, such as going from 14 to 16 by spending 2 points to increase from 14 to 15, and then 3 points to increase from 15 to 16. For most games, it’s best to increase scores when leveling up, between game sessions, or during downtime.

Apex items work as described in the Core Rulebook. They can increase an ability score to a maximum of 24.

Table 4-2: Ability Points Gained

LevelAbility Points Gained
1Starting points
22
32
42
52
63
73
83
93
103
114
124
134
144
154
165
175
185
195
205

Table 4-3: Raising an Ability Score

Current Ability ScoreCost to Raise by 1
81
91
101
111
121
132
142
153
163
174
185
196
207
218

Example

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 183
Merisiel is an elven rogue with the criminal background. She starts with 10 in all ability scores and reduces her Constitution to 8 for being an elf. She decides to voluntarily lower her Strength and Intelligence to 8 each, gaining 4 flexible Ability Points. She has now set her minimum scores: Str 8, Dex 10, Con 8, Int 8, Wis 10, and Cha 10.

In Step 2, she starts by determining how many points she has to spend. She gains 2 dedicated Ability Points in Intelligence and Dexterity for being an elf, 2 in Dexterity for being a criminal, and 2 more in Dexterity for being a rogue. She also has 19 flexible points to spend: 15 plus 4 for the two ability scores she voluntarily lowered to 8.

Merisiel purchases an 18 in Dexterity, which costs her the 6 dedicated Ability Points plus 11 flexible Ability Points. Spending her 2 dedicated Ability Points in Intelligence brings her to a 10, which she’s happy with. She now has 8 flexible Ability Points left. She’s worried she’ll be too frail with a Constitution score of only 8, so she spends 4 flexible Ability Points to increase it to 12, leaving her with 4 Ability Points left over. Finally, she raises Wisdom and Charisma each to 12 because it’s inexpensive but still grants her bonuses; this uses all her Ability Points, leaving her with Str 8, Dex 18, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 12.

When she reaches 2nd level, she gains 2 Ability Points. She decides to save these until 3rd level, when she gains 2 more. She then spends 3 of her 4 Ability Points to raise her Constitution from 12 to 14. She then saves up for more Dexterity, gaining 2 Ability Points each at 4th and 5th levels, then 3 each at 6th and 7th levels. She spends all 11 Ability Points at 7th level to gain a 20 in Dexterity! Unless it helps her to have an odd score (for example, to satisfy a feat prerequisite), it’s usually best to wait until she has enough Ability Points that increasing a score will increase her modifier—just in case she changes her mind.

Alternative Scores

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 183
The classic ability scores aren’t of equal value in the rules. Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom tend to be more important unless a character requires a particular ability score from among the other three for a specific purpose. If you’d prefer ability scores to all be of roughly equivalent value in character building, this variant creates six ability scores that are in much closer balance with each other. Make the following changes.
  • Strength does everything that both Strength and Constitution do in the Core Rulebook, and Constitution is gone. A character uses their Strength for melee weapon and unarmed attack rolls, damage rolls, Athletics, Hit Points, Fortitude saves, and so on.
  • Dexterity splits into two ability scores. The first, still called Dexterity, represents manual dexterity and applies to ranged weapon and unarmed attack rolls, attack and damage rolls with finesse attacks (if better than Strength), and Thievery checks. Agility, which represents footwork, applies to Armor Class, Reflex saves, Acrobatics checks, and Stealth checks.
  • Charisma applies to Will saves instead of Wisdom.
  • Wisdom is otherwise unchanged.
  • Intelligence is unchanged.
You’ll need a small number of gameplay tweaks. Anklets of alacrity become an Agility apex item, both the belt of giant strength and belt of regeneration become Strength apex items, and so on. The rogue’s thief racket is obsolete, so you might allow rogues to choose a different racket but still gain Thievery. For anything else that references an ability score, such as feats with a Dexterity prerequisite, decide with you group whether Dexterity or Agility makes more sense as the prerequisite. For instance, Agility would make sense for Feather Step since that feat involves footwork. Prewritten NPCs and monsters can just use their Dexterity modifier when their Agility modifier is necessary.