Racial Ability Improvement

One of the things I like about my Revised Character Advancement rules is that they allow (require, in a sense) that a character grow in a way that suits his racial archetype. Orcs are usually tough and violent, elves are quick and graceful, and so on. It also allows me to have racial abilities become available at a time they would not be unbalancing for a PC to have them — a drow’s spell-like abilities might be too powerful for a first-level character, but suitable for a fifth-level character. In the RAW, these could be part of the +2 level adjustment that is currently inflicted on drow PCs (Spell Resistance is obviously another part).

By making these racial treats accessible by feats at appropriate levels, the need for level adjustment is reduced. A common rule of thumb is that three decent-chosen feats are about equivalent to one level. If a drow’s spell resistance accounts for half of the +2 level adjustment, it seems pretty simple to conclude that making the SR available at the cost of three feats would be about in line.

  • Spell Resistance (gives SR equal to HD)
  • Improved Spell Resistance (increases racial SR by 5)
  • Greater Spell Resistance (increases racial SR by another 5, to 10+HD… RAW, drow have SR 11+HD, so I’m prepared to consider this ‘close enough’)

In addition to racial traits such as spell-like abilities and spell resistance, another cause for level adjustment is ‘unbalanced ability scores’, ability score racial modifiers that either are not matched by penalties, or a large ability score modifier (whether matched or not — +6 to Str is usually more valuable and less balanced than three +2 modifiers).

However, this is again usually most evident at low level. At mid to high levels it is often easy to have +4 to +10 to an ability score (between racial modifier, ability buffs, inherent bonuses and so on — at high level you should *expect* a wizard to have an Intelligence score of 28 or 29).

So, what I’m considering, especially since characters will be getting racial feats fairly regularly, is allowing feats that improve ability scores for ‘racial abilities’, in addition to the normal ability score bump gained every fourth level. These stack, but have a maximum value equal to one-quarter the character’s HD. A fourth-level character would have +1 to any one ability score from his HD, and could have a +1 to another racial ability score (one associated with his race) from a feat, but could not have +2 to a single ability score. At eighth level he could, either from putting both level bumps into it, or two feats, or one of each.

‘Racial ability scores’ are drawn from those the race normally gets a bonus for, plus perhaps one or two more if they suit the race, but never an ability the race takes a racial penalty on. For instance, elves get a +2 bonus to Dexterity and take a -2 penalty to Constitution. They would be able to use feats to improve their Dexterity, would absolutely not be able to use feats to improve their Constitution (they have a racial penalty — but could use their normal level bumps to improve it), and depending on campaign or race may be able to use feats to improve Intelligence, Wisdom (perception), or Charisma (force of personality). Dwarves normally get a bonus to Constitution and penalty to Dexterity; they could use feats to improve Constitution and perhaps Strength (and maybe Intelligence — they are archetypically skilled craftsmen), would not be able to use them to improve Dexterity.

Of course, the normal level bumps can still be used to increase ‘nonracial abilities’, and there is nothing requiring a character to take these feats.

As with other racial feats, this can help lead to characters who better exemplify their race — dwarves are tougher (and maybe stronger or smarter), elves are more graceful (and maybe more perceptive or have greater presence), orcs can be tougher and stronger (but no smarter or charming), and so on. It can allow for ‘larger racial bonuses’ (instead of granting a +6 bonus at first level and applying a level adjustment, give a +2 bonus and the character takes Improved Strength with his racial feats as he levels, ‘growing into’ his strength). It does not particularly throw off maximum ability score calculations because it is capped to the same amount as the normal level bumps. It gives a little more ability to grow into classes that like multiple ability scores, if such a class fits the racial archetype better (an elf might skimp on Dexterity early on and buy it up as he increases level — and use his level bumps on Wisdom or Constitution).

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