The reason I say that is because the actual stat score is meaningless. Only the bonus matters. What is a Strength of 16, in-game? It’s a +3 to dice rolls. What is a Strength of 17, in-game? It’s a +3 to dice rolls. Functionally, on the tabletop, there is zero difference between them. There’s literally zero value for me, as a player, in knowing whether my +3 comes from a 16 or a 17 during play. So why the distinction?
Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to streamline things a little, declutter the character sheet, and just assign each stat a plus-bonus. Cut out the 3-18 base score altogether and adjust the game to … well, not really to do anything, since the game already runs on plus-bonus, not stat score.
The only justification for the 3-18 stat scores in the current system, as I can see them, are the following:
1) The 3-18 stat score is traditional. True, but not convincing. If tradition were the sole arbiter of the new rules, we’d have THAC0 back in D&D Next.
2) The core method for creating a character is the 3d6 system, which generates numbers from 3-18. True, but easily worked around. If you want to preserve die-rolled character generation, make a chart for character creation — if you roll a 16 or 17, your starting stat bonus is +3; moving forward, the +3 is all that matters. Use the rolled scores for generation, but then remove them from the equation thereafter.
3) Eliminating stat scores would change the way race, class, and level bonuses to stats work. True, but so what? Stat increases are only ever good if they increase the bonus anyway. It sucks to put your Fighter’s stat bonus into a Strength 16, because you’re really wasting the bonus, from a gameplay perspective, if you increase that Strength to 17. It’s like you didn’t even get a bonus that level.
What’s wrong with saying “At 1st level, the fighter may increase their STR, DEX, or CON bonus by 1. No stat bonus may be increased beyond +5.” Now, if my fighter’s raw stat is Strength +3, I get to increase it to +4 and have a meaningful bump. Does this mean that characters will increase slightly in power, in that they will get stat bumps more routinely than in the current system? Yes. But so long as the game is designed with that in mind, it’s not a game-breaker.
Keeping stat scores isn’t a deal-breaker for me — not even close — but I find myself oddly passionate about this idea. Stat scores have become almost entirely irrelevant to the D&D Next ruleset. Why not take that last, most efficient step, and get rid of them completely?
[Author's note: I'm sure I'm not the first one to ever suggest this. I think one of the D&D Next con Q&As might have even mentioned something like it at one point. If you know of anyone else who's put together arguments in favor of such a change, please share a link in the comments.]