We’re looking at something a little different from our usual spell analysis today, and we are instead going to be discussing what is known as the Standard Array. The Standard Array is a set of numbers representing ability scores and provides an alternative way to generate a character for D&D 5th Edition.
Standard Array 5e
The Standard Array, as it is now widely referred to, can be found on page 13 of the Player’s Handbook. However, it isn’t given a heading, and neither is it highlighted or called the Standard Array. The text is as follows, with the relevant section highlighted for convenience:
You generate your character’s six ability scores randomly. Roll four 6-sided dice and record the total of the highest three dice on a piece of scratch paper. Do this five more times so that you have six numbers. If you want to save time or don’t like the idea of randomly determining ability scores, you can use the following scores instead: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8.
As you can see from the start of the above paragraph, the established official and classic way of generating your ability scores comes from rolling and trusting in the mercy of the dice gods. Perhaps you don’t trust such fickle beings with the fate of your character, or perhaps you are simply a fan of consistency. Either way, the Standard Array presents another officially endorsed option to create your character.
How to use the Standard Array
While I won’t be going super in-depth on character creation here, it’s still important to understand what the Standard Array is useful for and how best to use it yourself.
So, the numbers – 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8 – can be assigned to the six ability scores – Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma – however, you choose. They do not have to be in order and generally should be assigned to the ability scores most important to your class and subclass.
Arranging the Standard Array for a Wizard will probably look something like this:
Strength – 8, Dexterity – 14, Constitution – 13, Intelligence – 15, Wisdom – 12, Charisma – 10
Whereas the Standard Array for a Barbarian is more likely to look like this:
Strength – 15, Dexterity – 13, Constitution – 14, Intelligence – 8, Wisdom – 12, Charisma – 10
The important thing to note when assigning any ability scores is the increase that your race provides. If you are using the standard rules in the Player’s Handbook, most racial increases add +2 to one ability score and +1 to another ability score, such as how a Half-orc gains +2 to Strength and +1 to Constitution.
Looking at the Standard Array, this would allow a character that selects a race with ability scores complimentary to their class to expect to start with two 16’s (15 +1 and 14 +2) for nice and high but balanced ability scores. You can instead opt for a 17 and a 15 (15+2 and 14+1), with the goal to raise them to an 18 and a 16 when they reach level 4 and get your first Ability Score Improvement.
Alternatively, suppose you are using the Customizing Your Origin rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything (found on page 7). In that case, your racial ability score increases can be placed anywhere, rather than the default assigned ability scores. This means that the Half-orc from above might instead have a +2 to Intelligence and a +1 to Constitution, which would be much better if the player was trying to create a wizard character and wanted complimentary ability scores.
Why the Standard Array is Important?
Other than to avoid bad luck on your dice orsave time, there are some other reasons why the Standard Array is important and not mentioned in the Player’s Handbook itself.
The first is equality. Let’s say, for example, you are creating a character with the DM and the other players. When it comes to everyone rolling their stats, one of the other players rolls exceptionally above average rolls, while your rolls are below average or neutral at best.
This is, of course, bad luck, but it can have a long-term effect on your enjoyment of the game, which reaches far beyond these initial bad rolls. While the high-rolling player might be picking fancy feats that make their character more interesting, versatile, or powerful, you are still struggling to keep up just by putting your Ability Score Improvements into your core stats.
This sort of result can ruin games over the long term, so if the DM decides that everyone has to use the Standard Array, it means that everyone in the group will be at the same level of power – no-one shines too brightly, and no-one is left behind.
The second is optimization and theory-crafting. It’s no secret that D&D sits firmly inside the range of nerdy hobbies, and many leverages this passion and engagement inside the game and beyond it. When a player wants to figure out the usefulness of a certain feature, it’s fairly likely that another interested player has already calculated, graphed, and plotted out the mathematical effectiveness of such an option.
The Standard Array (along with the Point Buy system, but that’s a topic for another article) provide a consistent baseline for all this math by allowing them to make assumptions, like that every class will have at least a 16 in their primary ability score at 1st level, which is useful in predicting the average to hit chance and damage per round of something like the Great Weapon Master or Sharpshooter feats when taken over the lifetime of a character.
Beyond the Standard Array
As well as existing as an alternative to the other options of generating ability scores, such as the standard rolling or the Point Buy system, the Standard Array can serve as a leaping off point for creative DMs.
I myself prefer my players to feel a little more heroic when making their characters, so I use a modified version of the Standard Array: 17, 15, 13, 12, 10, 8.
I’ve also seen DM’s use a mixture of rolling and using a standardized array for all players, where one player rolls stats in the traditional way, then everyone else uses the same stats rolled but with the freedom to put them wherever they wish – keeping the randomness of rolling but avoiding internal balance issues in the party.