How Does Standard Array Work in 5E D&D?

When it comes to character creation in Dungeons and Dragons, one of the first and most important steps is to determine what ability scores you are going to have. Your Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma will help determine your character’s talents and shortcomings when it comes to skills, spellcasting, combat, and resilience.

There are many methods available for determining these key statistics, but for beginning parties or Dungeon Masters (DMs) who want to enforce a consistent power level for all players in the party, it is common to use what is known as a standard array for determining these 6 scores.

But why is that? How does a standard array work? Both good questions, and an excellent place to start exploring the pros and cons of creating a character this way.

What is Standard Array?

A standard array is the easiest method for assigning a character’s ability scores, as it provides preset numbers (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, and 8) that players can individually assign to each ability score in whatever way works best for the player and character.

No dice or extra steps required when using a standard array for your ability scores. Just quick, straightforward stat assignment.

There’s definitely something to be said for anything that makes the 300+ pages of the Player’s Handbook simpler and easier to navigate. However, standard array is not without flaws, so throughout the rest of the article, I am going to explain both the pros and cons of standard array, then showcase other options you have for getting your character’s stats.

How To Use Standard Array

  1. The standard array of ability scores is 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, and 8.
  2. Assign each number to one of your stats. Place the highest score with the most important stat for your build. For example, a fighter likely wants a high Strength while a rogue would likely want high Dexterity.
  3. Add racial benefits to the appropriate scores.
  4. Determine your ability modifiers for each score. (Table Below)
  5. Fill out your total hit points using your Constitution modifier. (Your total will vary based on the hit die for your class)

Ability Modifier Table

Basic Rules

Pros of Standard Array

There are two main draws behind standard array that encourage gaming groups to use this method instead of some of the other available options for generating ability scores.

1. Beginner Friendly

The first reason is that standard array is very beginner friendly. Because you already have the numbers selected for you, all you have to do is select where you put them. The Player’s Handbook even tells you which stats are most important for your class!

2. A Balanced Party

The second draw is that standard array will give your party’s ability scores an equal starting point at character creation. Characters will begin with the same high and low scores, limiting variance to each character’s race and whether they take ability score improvements instead of feats as they level.

Other ability score generation methods can (and often do) result in one player receiving very low stats while another has very high stats due to the higher level of variance, which can result in an imbalanced power level among party members before going on your first adventure.

While this often doesn’t matter to more experienced parties, this is extremely helpful for beginner DMs who are learning how to run a 5E game. Standard array usually removes the need for a DM to make campaign adjustments to help weaker players or nerf stronger ones, allowing them to spend more time on worldbuilding and making other session preparations.

Cons of Standard Array

Despite the positives standard array has going for it, there are also some negatives that make it unattractive for many players.

1. Rolling Stats is Fun

The first drawback of standard array is that most people really enjoy rolling for their own stats. After many years and editions of D&D campaigns, I prefer rolling for stats because it helps me to more personally connect to my character, which in turn makes it easier to invest in the upcoming campaign and immerse myself in the storytelling.

Also, rolling dice is just fun. We all have our lucky dice, so rolling stats by tossing them in a dice tray or across the table is a great opportunity for us to show them off. Even in cases where you roll really badly, I’ve always found rolling for stats starts the character creation journey off on the right foot by presenting the challenge of designing a character that works with what you get.

And if your roll is truly atrocious, you can always ask your DM for a reroll.

2. Smaller Average Potential

Another big reason that some people dislike using standard arrays for determining stats is that on average you are likely going to have a weaker character than if you use any of the other ability score creation options.

For example, when it comes to rolling stats with the Official Method, you will come out with an average of 12.24 for your stats, making it mathematically better than standard array, which has an average of 12. A quarter point per stat doesn’t seem like much, but that’s most of a +1 ability modifier when added across 6 stats, which is a big deal.

3. Lower Ability Stat Variance

A set of unusual stats can really let you lean into specific strengths or flaws of a character. While the 20 Strength/3 Intelligence barbarian who can barely form sentences is a classic example, I’ve seen low Charisma used to play up narcissism, low Wisdom display a character’s naivete/lack of street smarts, or low Strength provide an excuse to play a child adventurer.

On the flip side, a character with high Intelligence might be an annoying know-it-all with a font of useless trivia, a character with a high Constitution could be using that as a way to avoid dealing with an addiction they’re hiding from the party, and a high Dexterity character might be a bit of a daredevil since they’re used to getting out of the messes they stumble into.

These can add a lot of flavor to a character, especially when used to defy a common expectation of your class – or you yourself.

For example, a fighter with 18 Strength, 10 Dexterity, 18 Constitution, 7 Intelligence, 5 Wisdom, and 16 Charisma can be very fun and challenging to play if you’re used to being the group’s puzzle solver – an experience you’d never get without a crazy or weird stat block like this.

Other Stat Creation Options

While standard array is the easiest option when it comes to getting the stats for your character, there are 5 other great options that I have used over the years to create my characters or help a party create theirs.

Point Buy System

The point buy system is the only other option that I will talk about here that will lead to all of a party’s characters being balanced. Your character’s stats all start at 8, and then you use points to upgrade them. At the start, you are given 27 points that you can use in any way you want. The chart below explains how many points it costs to buy a specific score.

Ability Score Total (Modifier)Point Costs
8 (-1)0
9 (-1)1
10 (0)2
11 (0)3
12 (+1)4
13 (+1)5
14 (+2)7
15 (+2)9

If you don’t know what an ability score’s modifier does or means, this is the number that you will be using when it comes to determining your character’s aptitude for skills, armor class, saving throws, weapon attacks, and just about everything else.

Each class in 5E will encourage you to prioritize specific stats to make the most use of its inherent strengths, but while it’s tempting to snag 2 15s, you’ll only be left with 9 points for your other 4 stats if you go this route.

Generally, if I have to go the point buy route, I’ll take 5 13s and a 10, then select human as my race so I’ll have 5 ability scores with a +2 modifier (humans receive a +1 bonus to all ability scores).

Not especially exciting, but this will ensure I get the most out of my points, am above average in most areas, and am able to get my most important stat to 20 by 12th level. You won’t get many feats this way, but you could always build a fighter or rogue if you want extra chances at them, or settle for a 16 or 18 in your primary stat, which is still plenty good.

Official Method

This is the official method from both Wizards of the Coast and the Player’s Handbook (though the specifics for point buy and standard array are also found on page 13 of the latter), and this is also the option that on average is going to give you characters with the highest stats.

For this method, you take four different 6-sided dice (the cubes/normal dice), roll all four of them at the same time, then remove the lowest one. Add the remaining three dice together, write the number down, then repeat this process five additional times. For example, if you roll 2, 2, 1, and 6, you get rid of the 1 and end with a total of 10 (2+2+6).

Once you have your six numbers, assign them to your ability scores as desired, then proceed with the rest of character creation as normal.

Heroic Variant

This is an offshoot of the official method we’ve used at our D&D tables for over 15 years. You’ll roll four 6-sided dice as normal, but are allowed to reroll any 1s that come up before dropping the lowest die. You also roll 7 ability scores instead of 6, then drop the lowest ability score before assigning your stats.

Characters are noticeably more powerful using this way of generating ability scores, making it better suited for epic or particularly challenging campaigns where the player characters (PCs) are supposed to be seen as heroes of the realm from the story’s earliest stages. You get to feel more powerful, but in exchange the DM gets to put you in more difficult scenarios.

Dark Sun Method

When using this method to create ability scores, you will roll four 4-sided dice (the pyramid-shaped ones), add the rolls together, then add an additional 4 to determine the stat total. For example, if you roll a 4, 4, 3, and 1, this adds up to 12, and then adding 4 to that number gives a total of 16. Repeat 5 more times, then assign your stats as you wish.

It is worth noting that Dark Sun’s style of ability score generation was originally created for the 2nd edition back in 1991, so it is a bit of a double-edged sword when it comes to using it for 5th edition.

On the one hand, I love that it helps you avoid having stat totals like 3 or 4 since the minimum you can get is 8. On the other, the fact that this can result in players starting with ability scores of 20, the maximum you’re allowed without using magic items, can make players significantly more powerful than even our homebrewed heroic stat rolling variant.

Especially since a 20 can occur before taking racial stat modifiers into account.

Still a great method for players nowadays if they’re in a high power campaign, but also a potential problem for the DM if they aren’t prepared to spend time developing challenging combat encounters or puzzles that require more than a skill check to outwit.

Hardcore Approach

The hardcore version of ability score generation is similar to the official method. Starting with your Strength, roll three 6-sided dice, add them together, and assign the total to that score. Do the same with Dexterity, then Constitution, and so on down the line until all 6 stats are assigned.

Since you always assign your scores in the same order using this method, this will strip away a lot of agency the other methods offer when it comes to character creation, often meaning you won’t be able to build a viable character for the class you want, assuming you have the stats to build a viable one at all.

As a DM, you can make this a little easier on your players by letting them roll three or four blocks of stats, then allowing them to pick the one they like, but even then, there’s no guarantee that this will make things easier.

Between this rigid stat assignment and the extreme level of ability score variance, the hardcore method is very poorly suited for a traditional campaign. It is, however, incredibly well suited for specific types of one-shots or high mortality campaigns, as it speeds up character creation, creates unique challenges for players to overcome, and uniquely increases difficulty.

That said, if you do decide to use the hardcore approach for these types of 5E games, you must set the expectations for your session or campaign up front. You don’t want a player to invest hours into a backstory only to have them roll a character whose highest stat is 10, then be frustrated when the character predictably dies during the first serious battle.

Is DnD’s 5E Standard Array Right For Your Party?

For DMs who want to make character creation easier for players without taking away their ability to make decisions, standard array is a simple, elegant solution for creating ability scores that has the added benefit of fostering party balance.

If you like higher powered campaigns or the greater variance that comes with rolling dice for ability scores, the use of standard array is likely to be unwelcome, as its rigid selection of stats is only able to facilitate a very predictable selection of beginning character designs.

It’s also worth remembering that the right method for generating ability scores is also going to vary from party to party and campaign to campaign. Don’t be afraid to try something a little different as a DM or as a player – you might be surprised by what the experience teaches you by journey’s end.

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