Out of all of the ways to calculate ability scores, the point buy system is the most complicated. With this system of character creation, the player has nearly unlimited options for building a character. They can make two stats huge, all stats even, and everything in between! As a player who has the chance to use point buy over rolling or standard array, the responsibility shifts to you, and so does the effort! However, once you get used to it, you have the potential to make really unique and amazing characters. So, start getting used to this system in our 5E Point Buy guide!
How Does Point Buy Work in 5E?
“Point Buy” is a system of purchasing attribute scores at character creation. Rather than allowing dice or a specific number to apply, the player has full ability to get whatever scores they prefer. In standard Point Buy, you have 27 points to spend. The cost of each ability are thus (starting at 8);
Point Buy Chart:
|Ability Score||Point Cost|
Remember that you have 6 ability scores, and they each share the same pool of 27 spendable points. However, that does mean you can get 2 abilities to 15, and still have 9 points to spend. You can even get 3 abilities to 15 if you’re crazy! That would be at the cost of… all of your other ability scores. Maybe that doesn’t matter to you, but think really hard about what your character might encounter in a dungeon.
Even so, three 15s is a rather popular build, as is three 14s and the rest at 10. You do need to spend all 27 points, so you might as well spend them as much as you want to, right? Of course, your ability score modifier is more important than your raw score. In some cases, you can “waste” an ability point when you end up with an uneven score. Your best possible outcome is to end up with two scores at 16: an ability with a raw score of 15 with a +1 racial bonus, and an ability with a raw score of 14 with a racial bonus of +2. This leaves you with two abilities with a +3 modifier.
What is the Max Point Buy in 5E?
Point buy is versatile, in that you get the opportunity to assign points to the ability of your choice. However, there are limits on how you spread these points around. The highest score you can assign to a single ability is 15. This does not take into account any ability score improvements based on your lineage or race.
Benefits of Point Buy
This system is so good if you like making unique builds! Because you don’t need to rely on dice rolls or any silly array of numbers, you can make whoever you want. Want to make a dude that’s just a pile of 12s? You can! You’d even have 3 points to spend to make one 12 into a 14, or three 12s and 13s. That’s a spread that you can’t guarantee on dice!
It is also the best way for a hardcore min-max build to spread it’s wings. Like I stated above, three 15s is pretty popular. That’s because you very, very rarely need more than 3 stats. A Forge Cleric, for example, needs Strength, Constitution, and Wisdom. Now, all three of those stats are as maxed out as they possibly could be! That’s huge, since that turns the cleric into an effective caster and brawler.
Or, you can find a middle ground. Two 15s is all something like a Rogue or Wizard needs, so they can balance stats out with something like a 12 in Constitution and a 10 in Wisdom. That’s relatively defensive, and shows how versatile this system can be.
Drawbacks to the Point Buy System
The biggest con is that this system almost requires a cheat sheet or a calculator to do. It is so incredibly complex. You need to be counting how many points you’re spending, how many points a skill costs, how many points have you already used… That can get a little bit confusing. Please consider one of the many D&D Point Calculators online to do the heavy lifting for you!
Of course, if your DM changes how many points you can afford, or how many points a 15 costs, then things get even worse. Make sure you understand what your DM plans on doing before you start your calculations.
If you don’t like min-maxing, then this system has an additional con. It really rewards characters that minmax. You get so many points to such high numbers that it’s ridiculous. A Warlock with 15 Charisma, 15 Constitution, and 15 Dexterity is going to outclass someone with three 12s and three 13s. That can be annoying, especially for a DM to balance. Consider whether or not your party plans on going all-in on this system before deciding to use Point Buy over the most static bonuses.
How to Use It Best
As I stated in Cons, the best way to use it is to max out your most important scores, the rolls you’re going to use the most. For example, a Barbarian will probably want 15s in Strength and Constitution. Then, they can spread the rest around a bit; maybe a 12 in Dexterity and a 10 in Wisdom. If they want more stats, you could have a 14 in Constitution and get better stats for your mental stats.
This recommendation is based almost entirely on how defensive you want to play. You can get 14s for your most important stats (normally a Casting Stat / Stabbing Stat, and Constitution), and then still have 13 points to spread to things that don’t matter as much. 15 is much, much more expensive than 14! But, if you want to have better Ability Score Improvements or Feats in the future, we highly recommend using at least one 15 (unless you want to play things safe). Here are some decent spreads that you may want to consider:
15, 15, 15, 8, 8, 8
15, 14, 14, 10, 10, 8
15, 12, 12, 12, 12, 10
14, 14, 14, 10, 10, 10
14, 14, 12, 12, 11, 10
These are not ordered by goodness; just some of the spreads I’ve used in the past! Try your best to get that +2 in an ability that you know you’re gonna roll a ton, and work from there!
Useful Point Buy Calculators
There are numerous point by combinations, and the math can get a little clunky. If you want some help in figuring it all out, there are a few handy point buy calculators out there. Two of the most popular options include:
- Chicken-Dinner.com. This point by calculator is my favorite. You can easily assign points without going over, and there is an option for selecting your race and applying those racial bonuses as part of the process.
- Omnicalculator.com. The 5e point buy calculator at Omnicalculator isn’t bad. In fact, it has all the functionality of Chicken Dinner. However, the user interface is a little more convoluted.
Alternatives to the Point Buy System
The point buy system is only one of the ways that players can determine their starting attributes. Depending on the preferences of the DM, you might also be able to build a character by either rolling for stats or using something known as the Standard Array.
Rolling for Stats
See our Rolling for Stats Guide
The traditional way to select your ability scores in D&D is by rolling a d20 or series of other dice. Of course, there are many different ways to accomplish this goal. Most DMs that roll for stats adopt a system that at least gives some kind of flexibility or adaptation. Otherwise, a horrible roll could result in absurdly bad ability scores.
The most common approach is to roll 4d6 for each ability and drop the lowest roll. This is known as Roll 4d6 drop 1, and it gives you some buffer for avoiding those terrible rolls. For example, if you roll an 6, a 5, a 4, and a 1, you can drop the 1 and take the total score of 15. It’s worth noting that this method will usually result in lower ability scores compared to point buy or standard array.
Another option that results in outcomes closer to standard array is a system known as 2d6+6. That means your lowest possible score is an 8, which is also the lowest score on standard array. This protects you from abysmal rolls while giving you a shot at a character that is on average slightly stronger than a standard array build.
See our Standard Array 5E Guide
The standard array method is arguably the most common approach to determining starting abilities in modern D&D. While rolling for stats was traditionally how it was done, many tables have since moved to standard array. Instead of using points to “buy” each ability score, you are given an array of six different scores. This array includes the numbers 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, and 8. You decide which number goes with which attribute, then you add any racial modifiers.
The big difference between standard array and point buy is that point buy includes a large number of potential ability score combinations. Standard array, on the other hand, only has six. This makes the process of assigning ability scores much faster compared to point buy. While there is less math involved, there is also less flexibility. However, when it comes to balance the outcome of these options are fairly close to the same.
What is better: point buy or standard array? That choice is entirely yours to make. Both approaches give you flexibility that allows you to maximize the most important ability score in your arsenal. The point buy system offers even more flexibility at the cost of complexity. In the end, they are both viable options.
That’s it for our Point Buy 5E Guide. Point Buy might seem like the best by far once you’re used to the game, but it’s a double-edged sword. It very much encourages a playstyle that turns a character into a dice-rolling robot, which can be bad for the campaign. While min-maxing is encouraged, please keep in mind your character’s backstory and maybe get some defensive stats, just in case. Your Eldritch Blast might hit hard, but it’ll hit your allies just as hard when you’re dominated! And don’t forget to check out our Starting Gold 5E guide when building your next character.
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