Character creation is one of the most exciting parts of an early Dungeons & Dragons campaign; before you even sit down to roll your first initiative, you need to create a character you’re excited to play. There are lots of considerations: race, class, and abilities among them. While most people roll to determine their skills and abilities, there’s actually another way to do it, called “point buy.”
I’ll be completely honest: I had never heard of point buy until I started researching the process of becoming a DM. While point buy isn’t something you need to do as a DM, it’s something you should be aware of to decide if you want your players to set up their characters that way. Point buy is definitely not a conventional form of character creation, but it is an option – and one both DMs and players should know about.
Below you’ll find an in-depth guide to D&D point buy and how it works – as well as why DMs might choose to do it, and the other alternatives for character creation. If you have any questions, you can ask in the comments or over in the D&D Community on Facebook.
What is Point Buy?
In D&D, “point buy” is a method of assigning ability scores to your character during character creation. Here’s how it works:
- Each ability score (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma) starts at a base score of 8.
- You have a pool of points to spend to increase your ability scores. The number of points you have to spend depends on the specific rules of the campaign or your DM’s discretion.
- To increase an ability score, you must spend points according to the following chart:
- Score of 8 costs 0 points
- Score of 9 costs 1 point
- Score of 10 costs 2 points
- Score of 11 costs 3 points
- Score of 12 costs 4 points
- Score of 13 costs 5 points
- Score of 14 costs 7 points
- Score of 15 costs 9 points
And there are two extra notes:
- You can’t decrease an ability score below 8 using point buy.
- Your total ability score points spent cannot exceed the maximum points allowed.
Once you have spent all your points, your character’s ability scores are set, and you can move on to the next step of character creation.
The number of points a player gets in point buy varies depending on the specific rules of the campaign or your DM’s discretion. However, the most commonly used point buy system in D&D 5e provides 27 points to spend on ability scores. This is considered a balanced amount of points to create characters with a mix of strengths and weaknesses without any ability score exceeding 15 before racial bonuses are applied.
You should of course check with your DM to determine how many points you have, if you are using point buy.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Point Buy
To be honest, point buy is an unconventional system of character creation… so why would any DM choose to do it? Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of the point buy system – then I’ll cover the alternatives (including the most common one).
- Control: Point buy gives you more control over character creation, allowing you to create a character with specific strengths and weaknesses that fit your desired playstyle and backstory.
- Balance: Point buy can help to create balanced characters within the party, ensuring that no one player is significantly stronger or weaker than the others.
- Fairness: Point buy can be considered a fairer method of character creation than rolling for ability scores, as it ensures that all players have the same number of points to spend and an equal chance to create a character with strong abilities.
- Predictability: Point buy can provide a more predictable outcome than rolling for ability scores, which can sometimes result in wildly varying ability scores.
- Limited Creativity: Point buy can restrict your creativity by limiting your options for creating unique or unconventional characters.
- Tedium: Point buy can be a more time-consuming process than rolling for ability scores, as everyone has to calculate and allocate their points carefully.
- Lack of Randomness: Point buy removes the element of chance from character creation, which can take away some of the excitement and unpredictability of the game.
- Inflexibility: Point buy can be less flexible than rolling for ability scores, as you have to stick to the specific point allocation system used by your DM, which may not suit all players’ preferences.
Overall, the advantages and disadvantages of point buy depend on you and your DM’s personal preferences and the specific needs of each campaign. Some players prefer the control and fairness of point buy, while others prefer the excitement and unpredictability of rolling for ability scores. Ultimately, it’s up to the DM and the players to decide which method best suits their needs.
Alternatives to Point Buy
There are several alternatives to point buy in D&D for determining ability scores during character creation. Here are some of the most common:
- Rolling for ability scores: This method involves rolling dice to generate ability scores randomly. Players usually roll 4d6 and drop the lowest die, then assign the resulting numbers to their ability scores. (I also learned to play D&D by re-rolling any 1s when using this method.) This method can be exciting and unpredictable but can also result in characters with wildly varying ability scores.
- Standard Array: This method involves using a pre-determined set of ability scores, such as 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, and 8. Players can assign these scores to their ability scores as they see fit, allowing for some customization while ensuring that all players have an equal starting point.
- Variations of Standard Array: Some DMs may use variations of the standard array, such as starting with all ability scores at 10 and adding points from there, or starting with a lower set of ability scores and giving players a few extra points to spend.
- Hybrid methods: Some DMs may use a combination of different methods, such as rolling for ability scores but allowing players to re-roll if their total ability score modifiers are below a certain threshold, or allowing players to re-arrange a pre-determined set of ability scores.
Each of these methods has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s really just up to your DM to decide and let you and the rest of your party know.
Other Things to Keep in Mind About Point Buy
Here are a few additional things to keep in mind when using point buy in D&D:
- Racial bonuses: After assigning ability scores using point buy, players can apply racial bonuses to their ability scores based on their character’s race. For example, a half-elf gets a +2 bonus to Charisma and can add this to their Charisma score after assigning their ability scores using point buy.
- Background bonuses: Some backgrounds in D&D provide additional bonuses to ability scores. If a player chooses a background that provides such a bonus, they can add it to their ability scores after using point buy.
- Limits on scores: Even with point buy, ability scores cannot exceed 15 before racial bonuses are applied. This means that players cannot assign all of their points to a single ability score to make it very high.
- Minimum scores: In some cases, your DM may require players to assign a minimum score to certain abilities. For example, A DM might require that all characters have a minimum Strength score of 8. Be sure to check with your DM about any minimum score requirements.
- Re-specing: Once ability scores are assigned, they cannot be changed without your DM’s permission. Some DMs may allow players to respec their ability scores if they find that their character isn’t working out as they had hoped, but others may require players to stick with their initial allocation.
By keeping these additional factors in mind, players can create characters using point buy that fit their desired playstyle and complement their chosen race and background.
Now you know all about D&D point buy for character creation. Have any other questions about how point buy works in D&D? Let me know in the comments below!