© Wizards of the Coast by Benjamin Ee

ASIs (Ability Score Improvements) – D&D 5e: When and how to take them

One of the great parts of leveling up your D&D character is watching their capabilities grow over time.

Long-running campaigns can have characters start as humble adventurers and grow into the heroes they were destined to be. Seeing these heroes grow and develop over time makes for a rewarding and fulfilling story. 

However, the mechanics for how your character improves will depend on what kind of class you play. A fighter is going to progress differently than a wizard. There is one mechanic that all classes in D&D 5e overall, though: the ASI. 

What is an ASI?

ASI is an abbreviation for Ability Score Improvement. This is a class feature that all classes in D&D 5e get to some extent.

This class feature allows you to improve the ability scores that you generate when you make a character. By improving these scores, you can improve your ability score modifiers, the number that you add to various d20 rolls during play. 

If you play with the optional rules, ASIs are also how you gain feats. If you check out the rules for feats on pg. 165 of the Player’s Handbook, you’ll see that you can gain a feat in place of boosting your ability scores with an ASI.

While you won’t get the same numerical benefits of a normal ASI, your character can gain abilities and talents they otherwise might never get when you take a feat. 

Ability score improvements represent your character’s growth over their time as an adventurer. While you as the player receive these boosts on the character sheet in one big burst, these numbers are actually built over the course of play.

A level four fighter doesn’t suddenly gain two points of strength, they built up their muscles over the last four levels of adventurers to get to that point. You’re just now seeing that represented as the player!

How ASIs Improve Your Ability Scores

There are multiple ways that an ASI can improve your character. If you follow the rules in the Player’s Handbook, there are three ways ASIs boost your character:

  • Boost One Ability Score By Two: This option lets you increase a stat to a new modifier immediately, to a max of 20. This is great for boosting your class’s primary ability score. 
  • Boost Two Ability Scores By One: If you have two odd ability scores, this option lets you round those two stats to an even number and max of 20, increasing the modifier of those stats. 
  • Obtain A Feat: Rather than gaining a numerical bonus, you gain a feat instead. Some feats give a +1 bonus to an ability score, so this is good for rounding out an odd score, too!

Choosing what you want to do with your ASI will depend on what you want your character to get better at. There’s nothing wrong with just boosting your ability scores and never touching feats.

D&D 5e, thanks to its design, highly rewards boosting a modifier by one! But, that means you miss out on adding interesting options to your character they might not get normally. 

Ultimately, you’ll have to figure out what your priorities for your character are, and select an ASI option based on those priorities. 

When Does My Character Get an ASI?

Unlike previous editions of D&D, ability score improvements don’t happen automatically at set levels.

Instead, you have to review your class’s section or table and see when your class awards the Ability Score Improvement feature. Those levels listed in the feature or table are when you would gain an ASI.

If you read some of the various classes, you’ll see that not all classes gain the same number of ability score improvements over their careers. There are a few exceptions to the general trend.

Most classes will receive five ASIs over their 20 levels, but the fighter and rogue are exceptions to this rule. 

A fighter will gain seven ASIs instead of the usual seven. These extra ASIs occur at levels six and fourteen. Fighters are meant to represent the strong, resilient martial characters of the D&D world.

With no magic or mysticism to back them up, they rely on their resolve and strength of body to survive the hardships of the D&D worlds. These extra ASIs give them more tools or stats to do exactly that. 

Rogues have a similar design reason for their extra ASI at level 10. Rogues are the sneakier martial characters, using subterfuge and stealth instead of brawn to survive.

The extra ASi at level 10 gives the rogue a slightly numerical advantage over the other classes, at the cost of not using spells. Rogues have other ways to mitigate damage, which is why they don’t get as many ASIs as a fighter. 

ASIs and Multiclassing

If you play at a table with multiclassing, make sure you follow your class tables when splitting levels between your classes. You only gain an ASI when your class levels tell you, not your character level. Many D&D newbies and veterans alike get mixed up on this, 

For example, while a level four fighter would have gained their first ASI, a fighter 3/rogue 1 would still be waiting on their first ASI. Even though both characters are at a total level of four, only the first character has gained access to the Ability Score Improvement class feature from the fourth level of fighter. 

ASI Guide for the Classes

No two characters are going to take the same path through their adventures. For your character, you should feel free to place your ASIs where you want them, rather than what someone else tells you. 

However, there are general guidelines you can follow if you need some help. These guidelines change based on what class you’re playing. So, let’s take a look at how ASI assignments will change based on class. 

Barbarian

For the strong brutes of the D&D world, you’d think Strength would be their primary focus. While that won’t hurt your barbarian, most barbarians are okay to put their ASIs elsewhere.

As a feature, Reckless Attack can make up for a lower Strength score thanks to guaranteeing advantage on attack rolls each turn you want it. Instead, some barbarians might want to boost their Constitution to stay up longer and give their foes more hit points to try and chunk through!

If you’d rather take a feat, Great Weapon Master and Shield Master are iconic choices for damage and defense. Sentinel can keep a foe focused on you even if they’d rather be elsewhere, letting you take advantage of your massive hit point pool.

Resilient for Wisdom saves is a solid choice too since barbarians don’t get proficiency in this common saving throw. 

Bard

These magical musicians rely heavily on their Charisma to function in the party. Their spells, Inspiration class feature, and social skills all key off this stat.

Dexterity is important for survivability since bards only get up to light armor proficiency normally. Constitution is great for more hit points and getting a higher saving throw for the concentration checks you’ll have to make sometimes for your spells. 

For feats, bards will favor options that improve their defenses and concentration. Tough and Moderately Armored make great choices for a bard to get more hit points and AC, freeing up further ASIs for other feats or boosts.

War Caster and Resilient (Constitution) both boost your ability to make concentration checks, making them good to consider as well. 

Cleric

For most clerics, Wisdom is the main stat they are looking to boost. Thanks to Wisdom being the spell that affects their spellcasting’s potency, it’s an easy pick for most clerics.

Strength and Constitution see some pickup from more melee-focused clerics, such as the War and Life domains. For clerics that get heavy armor proficiency, having enough Strength to wear plate armor is a great way to keep their defense up. 

Most clerics don’t want much for feats outside of ways to boost their concentration on spells. War Caster and Resilient (Constitution) are easy ways to get a boost to those saves. War Caster also has the benefit for melee clerics to where they can cast spells despite having both a weapon and a shield drawn. 

Druid

Despite being very different from clerics in theme and flavor, druids tend to want the same things with their ASIs. Wisdom is their primary ability score since it relates to their spellcasting, making it an easy choice to boost with an ASI. Constitution helps with their hit points and concentration checks, just like other spellcasters. 

Outside of the usual feat choices like War Caster and Resilient (Constitution), Ritual Caster is an interesting choice for druids, too. They qualify for it automatically by being a Wisdom caster.

Also, the druid spell list is somewhat lacking in solid rituals, so picking up this feat can give a druid more rituals they can use out of combat and expand on their versatility.

The wizard list is a great choice for this feat since it has so many unique rituals. 

Fighter

Fighters, being a variable class, will have to choose from a few ability scores to boost over their adventuring career. They use either Strength or Dexterity for their weapon attack, so boosting one of those scores with your ASIs will help you fight against monsters.

Constitution helps you stay alive, so boosting that with one of your extra ASIs is a good choice, too. Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma see some use from different fighter subclasses, you choosing to boost one of those scores could be helpful, too. 

Feats for fighters are just as variable. If you want damage, Great Weapon Master and Sharpshooter work well for those fighting styles.

Shield Master, Tough, and Sentinel will see usage from the frontline builds, while support feats like Inspiring Leader, Ritual Caster, or Magic Initiate will add options to your fighter they wouldn’t get from their class features. 

Monk

Because they only get five ASIs, monks will feel starved for ability score boosts. Monks need Dexterity for their attacks and Wisdom for their ki saving throw, which is critical for features like Stunning Strike to work.

If you can find a way to work in a boost for Constitution, that will help you stay alive as a frontline skirmisher. 

Feats are tough to work onto a monk because of their small number of ASIs. Mobile is a strong contender as a feat since it lets you get a free Disengage effect.

That could let a monk run in, attempt a Stunning Strike or Flurry of Blows, and then duck out without being hit with an opportunity attack. 

Paladin

As the stalwart knight and radiant protector, paladins will find they have to pick between three ability scores to increase.

Strength will see the most use from paladins that want to deliver attacks and smites reliably, while Charisma will bolster their spells and support abilities like Aura of Protection. Constitution is important as well since many paladins occupy a frontline role in their parties. 

Many of the feats that work well for melee fighters work well for paladins, too. Great Weapon Master, Polearm Master, Sentinel, or Shield Master could see use on a paladin, depending on what kind of weapon you want to carry.

Inspiring Leader is archetypal for paladins, who usually act as the social face of the party. 

Ranger

The wilderness experts of the martial classes work much like paladins, where they will find themselves split between a few different ability scores. Rangers will have to choose between Strength or Dexterity for their attack stat, Wisdom for their spellcasting, and Constitution for their hit points.

Rangers can afford a little less Constitution if they use a bow or crossbow, or less Wisdom if they select spells that don’t rely on a saving throw. 

Feats are pretty straightforward. Sharpshooter and Crossbow Expert make the archery rangers even better at a distance. Other feats, like Dual Wielder or Great Weapon Master, improve the damage of the melee rangers. 

Rogue

Despite getting an extra ASI, rogues don’t want much in the way of ability score boosts. Since rogues are encouraged to use a finesse or ranged weapon with Sneak Attack, Dexterity is the go-to ability score to boost. The Stealth skill also keys off Dexterity, which is a common proficiency for rogues. 

Feats for rogues will depend on what kind of weapon they want to use. Sharpshooter and Crossbow Expert are good for ranged rogues, while Mobile can help a melee rogue slip into and out of a skirmish. Skulker is good for rogues looking to get the drop on opponents, as well. 

Sorcerer

Sorcerers, similar to bards, will want to focus on their Charisa to make sure that their spells are as effective as possible. Spellcasting is the bread and butter of all sorcerers, so making sure that they stick is important to many sorcerers.

Otherwise, Constitution and Dexterity boosts will offer the Sorcerer some hit points and AC to stay in combat longer. 

Since Sorcerers have proficiency in Constitution saving throws, War Caster and Lucky are the only feats that can help a sorcerer keep concentration. As a Charisma-based caster, they can also benefit from feats like Actor and Inspiring Leader, using those feats to confuse enemies or bolster allies. 

Warlock

Since Warlocks use Charisma for their spellcasting, they will look to bolster that ability score with their ASIs first. Eldritch Blast gets good with a capped Charisma score thanks to the Agonizing Blast invocation.

Also, since Warlocks get so few spell slots, many warlocks will focus on concentration spells to make their spells count for as much as possible. That means Constitution boosts will help them keep those spells up more often. 

Speaking of concentration, War Caster and Resilient (Constitution) are common picks for warlocks as feats. If you’d rather prevent damage, to begin with, then Moderately Armored can take advantage of a warlock’s light armor proficiency to go up a tier in armor and get their AC up much higher. 

Wizard

Last, but not least, the apex of the arcane casters relies on Intelligence for their spellcasting.

Much like the other spellcasters, wizards will want their spellcasting to be as effective as possible, meaning that most wizards will cap this ability score as quickly as they can. Constitution and Dexterity are good for wizards for the same reasons they work for the other casters, too. 

For wizards, feats like War Caster and Resilient (Constitution) help improve concentration, but there are other feats that wizards like to pick up to drive home their intellect.

Keen Mind, Skilled, and Observant will see use on wizards that want to be the perceptive know-it-all. 

Summary

Ability score improvements are the way your character boosts their ability scores throughout a campaign.

These improvements can help you increase your primary ability score, round out some odd scores from character creation, or give you new options to use with feats.

No matter which option you pick, your character is going to improve in ways that make them more powerful and exciting to play. 

Choosing what to use your ability score improvements on will depend on your class and what you want to do with your character. To keep everything straight, a lot of players will try to jot down a rough idea of what they want to focus on with their ASIs.

That way, when the time comes to pick one out, you won’t have to figure it out while everyone else is moving on with their adventures!