The latest Rule-of-Three from Wizards of the Coast sheds some light on what to look for in future playtest releases: the paladin will be a class that plays differently from the playtest dwarf cleric, DMs should stick to a few guidelines when handing out advantage and disadvantage, and then this for ability scores:
The current design has every race (except humans) gaining a bonus to one ability score, based on a subrace choice. Humans get a bonus to every ability score, plus an additional +1 bonus to a score of their choice. Of course, when we provide the character creation rules for the playtest, we’re going to be looking closely at the feedback we get on ability bonuses, so it’s all the more important that people get involved in the playtest and share their thoughts on the matter.
I’m going to wait and see what the racial benefits are when the character creation rules become available, but humans getting a bonus to every ability score, plus another +1 to a score of their choice seems out of place. So much so that it looks like it couldn’t possibly be correct. The one thing that might determine whether or not this makes sense is that nonhumans get “a bonus” of unspecified size. If it’s going to balance against humans getting bonuses to all six scores it’d better be a pretty hefty bonus.
I could maybe see humans being good at all ability scores. Humans represent the baseline of the ability score measuring stick, so they shouldn’t get any modifiers to their scores. However, human PCs represent the slightly above average baseline of the heroic ability score measuring stick, so they’re a point higher than mundane humans.
This does mean that a dwarf is one point less Intelligent, for instance, than his human companion. That’s kind of weird. To the trope set of Humans Are Average and Humans Are Special, will we soon add Humans Are Kind Of The Best At Everything?
This feels big, to me. On one hand, I suppose it finally allows humans to live up to their fantasy-trope reputation as being “potentially good at anything.” They are more well-rounded capable, while other humanoids have strong suits and aren’t as flexible. On the other hand, to me this feels like such a strong trait for humans that they likely wouldn’t get much else. If that’s the case, then humans get a powerful trait at the cost of it being kind of bland. I don’t really like that.
One last thing: Nonhumans get a plus to one score, based on subrace. That means if you compare a mountain dwarf and a hill dwarf, only one gets a Con bonus. If you compare a wood elf and a moon elf, only one gets a Dex bonus. That feels wrong initially, but who knows? Maybe 4e has prepared us for this with its system of “Plus +2 to X, +2 to your choice of Y and Z.”
Now in the next edition we might get 3 subraces, and they might each get some kind of plus to one of the three. You heard it here first: 5e will be the age of frail dwarves and clumsy elves. You can take that rampant speculation to the bank.