Monday, November 9, 2009

My Problem with Ability Scores

In OD&D, all characters possess six ability scores: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma. Of these six, only the last three have any game mechanical benefit. The first three are all prime requisites, each one tied to one of the game's three classes: Strength for Fighters, Intelligence for Magic-Users, and Wisdom for Clerics. The only benefit these abilities provide is in the form of XP bonuses to members of the class that have that ability as a prime requisite. Thus, a Fighter with an Intelligence of 5 suffers no specific game mechanical penalties, although individual referees might choose to reflect the character's limited mental capacity in various ways. According to the rules, though, having an Intelligence of 5 means nothing unless the character is a Magic-User, in which case he suffers a penalty to earned XP.

Leaving all other issues aside, this system works well enough until Supplement I comes along. Supplement I gives us the Thief class, which uses Dexterity as its prime requisite. Unfortunately, the LBBs had already given Dexterity a game mechanical benefit -- missile accuracy -- meaning that Thieves with high Dexterity gained not only an XP bonus but also a bonus to hit with bows and slings (assuming they could use such weapons; OD&D is non-commital on this point). Furthermore, Supplement I itself gives most of the other abilities additional game mechanical benefits above and beyond being XP boosters for certain classes (Wisdom, oddly, is the exception). Consequently, Supplement I not only increases the importance of ability scores generally but also allows classes to "double dip" when it comes to prime requisites.

Let me say here that I actually like ability scores having some value beyond being XP boosters. I think in the case of the Fighter particularly, it's important that a character gain game mechanical benefits from having above average scores. At the same time, the double dipping aspect bugs me, which makes me think I ought to just ditch the idea of prime requisites and XP bonuses entirely. I haven't yet done that in my Dwimmermount campaign, partially because XP gains are glacial enough as it is that the small bonuses that high prime requisites give serve a useful purpose.

I won't deny that I find the way post-Supplement I OD&D handles ability scores and prime requisites to be infelicitous. Moreso than most mechanics, it feels very "half-baked," as if there were several different goals and intentions present, none of which quite dominates enough to bring some degree of rationality to the whole. Granted, I think over-arching rationality in mechanics is overrated, but I can't shake the feeling that the situation created by Supplement I is untenable and indeed unstable.

I find myself of two minds about the whole thing. Part of me just wants to leave well enough alone and not worry too much about the worrying tendencies I see in OD&D + Supplement I, which make high ability scores ever more important. Any problems that arise can be dealt with on an ad hoc basis and, truthfully, the issues haven't played any real role in my Dwimmermount campaign, so why worry? Another part of me, though, wants to try and tinker with it all so that it finally "makes sense." Yes, I realize that's a Quixotic endeavor for a lot of reasons and probably one that will yield worse results than just letting things be. Still, like many gamers, I'm a tinkerer by nature and seeing something like the mess that is OD&D ability scores, I can hardly resist the temptation to "fix" them.

Anyone else have similar feelings on the matter or am I the lone weirdo here?

36 comments:

  1. Ability scores. Man, it seems like they should do SOMETHING, right? I don't like the idea that they have any static benefit beyond the xp bonus, although I never was able to articulate it as well as you have with your "double-dipping" argument. Instead, I use a variation on the classic d20 vs. ability mechanic. If a character is trying something that I think should be difficult for a person with an average score, he rolls 3d6 vs. his ability and succeeds if he gets below his score. If I think it's particularly difficult, I have him roll 4d6 and so on until a nearly impossible feat is 6d6 vs ability. Anything more difficult than that is probably just straight up impossible.

    My guess is that this a little too close to a "universal mechanic" for your taste, but I find that it works well for my group.

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  2. I'm there. If you don't like the idea of XP benefits for high stats (and I do not like that at all; nor requirements for certain classes) then I think you're left with two rational decisions. Either make all the stats mean something or dump them. I think either is really fine.

    In my games, I've gone the first route. Every stat brings some benefit if exceptional; some problem if inferior. I think that C&C and descendants (including my own much-loved Spellcraft & Swordplay) work well here by making Saving Throws work off of stats. Even Charisma has some use this way.

    The pitfall is if stats overwhelm level. I think I've avoided that pretty well, but that's up for argument.

    OTOH, I really do think that you could just dump stats entirely if you keep the traditional Saving Throw system and the game would work fine. Better in some ways, since it would speed up CharGen (just pick a Race and Class and go!) and remove that annoying thing that some players have about "inferior" characters.

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  3. > ...which makes me think I ought to just ditch the idea of prime requisites and XP bonuses entirely.

    I'm fairly sure I'm far from alone in having ditched XP bonuses almost from the start: the whole idea of it being easier to do something meaning that you /automatically/ get rewarded more for succeeding is counter-intuitive to say the least (as opposed to, say, tying all XP bonuses into stats which are at least indicative of improved "ability to learn" from success).

    The temptation was, if anything, to give XP bonuses to characters with /poor/ stats to encourage RPing and reward success in overcoming adversity rather than the "darn, yet another unplayable character without at least one 18" mentality. ymmv ;)

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  4. I won't deny that I find the way post-Supplement I OD&D handles ability scores and prime requisites to be infelicitous. Moreso than most mechanics, it feels very "half-baked," as if there were several different goals and intentions present, none of which quite dominates enough to bring some degree of rationality to the whole.

    Absolutely agree. You're not the only weirdo. In fact I just blogged about Stats the other day, and noted a number of inconsistencies in their conception.

    My focus though was on whether stats represented some fixed limit on the PC's ability (a max Strength, a max Intelligence, or a maximum ability to lead men), or were an aptitude for a certain kind of activity (XP bonuses, to-hit modifiers). There's a bit of both.

    I also proposed some rationality, which naturally many people dislike because it involves change. But I like the results.

    http://thetombsofakrasia.blogspot.com/2009/11/character-stats-limit-or-aptitude.html

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  5. I'm with you about this, James, but perhaps not in exactly the same way. One of the things that makes all of this worse has been the way in which successive editions of the game have pushed the inflation of ability scores, justifying it by saying that the player-characters are supposedly "heroic" in nature.

    - OD&D - roll 3d6 in order
    - AD&D - roll 4d6 in some fashion and arrange
    - 2nd Ed. - (didn't play)
    - 3.14159 Ed - restructured both stat bonuses and kept the "roll a bunch of dice until you get what you want" school
    - 4th Ed - major advancement: no dice rolling at all. Major fail: who needs dice?

    (Okay, so it's a bit over the top, but you see where I'm going)

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  6. irbyz said...
    > ...which makes me think I ought to just ditch the idea of prime requisites and XP bonuses entirely.

    I'm fairly sure I'm far from alone in having ditched XP bonuses almost from the start: the whole idea of it being easier to do something meaning that you /automatically/ get rewarded more for succeeding is counter-intuitive to say the least (as opposed to, say, tying all XP bonuses into stats which are at least indicative of improved "ability to learn" from success).


    QFT

    You beat me to the exact same post. I had actually been thinking of posting this question to one of the old school forums to see if someone could persuade me why it is not counter-intuitive.

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  7. "According to the rules, though, having an Intelligence of 5 means nothing unless the character is a Magic-User, in which case he suffers a penalty to earned XP."

    Do you mean "means nothing", or "means nothing mechanically"? I don't think that they're the same thing.

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  8. 1.) If you're keeping the prime requisite bonuses as in OD&D, I think thieves should have a prime requisite of intelligence rather than dexterity. That makes as much sense as anything and prevents the double dip issue. Speaking for myself, I don't like adding the stat bonuses in Greyhawk to LBB D&D and think that if you want to use them you might as well just go whole hog and play AD&D.

    2.) If stats have bonuses and penalties that affect character survivability, then as irbyz said it makes a hell of a lot more game sense to give XP bonuses for LOW stats. Greater risk, greater reward.

    3.) Related to the above: The problem with stat bonuses has never been the bonuses themselves, but the disparity they create in randomly rolled characters. If one guy has a fighter with 18/75 Strength, even fighters with 16 or 17 Strength are going to carry his water. The Moldvay/Cook bonuses are a little fairer in this regard. That said, I don't necessarily mind playing AD&D as it is -- let's face it, most gamers in their 30s can slip it on like a glove.

    4.) I recently wrote this note to myself in some campaign materials, about ability scores in LBB D&D:
    "Ability scores are arbitrary rankings for decision making, not a scale. E.G., there is no answer to exactly how much more can a STR 18 guy lift than a STR 3 guy.
    Lack of bonus structure to ability scores means they may be rolled ad hoc for monsters/NPCs without a feeling of invalidating previous gameplay. ('If his Wisdom is that high he should have saved vs. that Charm spell', and things like that)"

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  9. Without the changes to the ability scores (in other words Supplement I, etc.), OD&D is a much simpler gamer...and by simpler, I mean "not very far removed from the Dungeon! board game."

    Attack and save rolls based solely on level. All weapons doing D6 damage. Armor worn being the sole defensive bonus in the game.

    All these things make for a very simple game. The characters actually lack "character" (that is, unless you instill your PC with a unique personality). You are simply a small pawn with which to explore the dungeon setting created by the DM.

    Creating more distinction between characters (with different ability scores, different classes, different race-class combos) was the beginning of creating real "character" in RPGs...at least for folks not inherently improv minded or severely imaginative. It helped to distinguish one PC from another.

    I'm not saying this was a good thing or a bad thing, but that's what it is...and once it started happening, and players apparently LIKED it, the RPG became more and more complex with regard to distinguishing "characters;" different weapon-damage types, proficiencies, non-weapon proficiencies, different cleric types, Character Options, skills, feats, etc. Supplement I was when D&D ceased being a "fantastic medieval wargame" and acquired that which would encourage "role-playing."

    Oh, by the way...you asked our opinion. When I've played OD&D I haven't used the supplements and I LIKE the simplicity. It makes it a different game. One where fighters can be fighters without the need for Central Casting to hire some 'roided action hero figure. That's hip.

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  10. Don't characters in OD&D get an additional language for each point of Intelligence above 10?

    I am also in the "make the stat mean something but remove the xp bonus" camp. I kinda like the Basic D&D steps of 13-15=+1, 16-17=+2, etc.

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  11. I think "double dipping" is a crazy thing to worry about. It's not like Thieves are unstoppable engines of destruction because they get that extra XP boost in addition to the improved chance to hit with an arrow or sling. If I were to address it, I'd do it by saying *any* stat that's higher than average grants an XP boost: it's just as good for leveling up to be a really charismatic Fighter as it is to be a really strong one.

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  12. Part of the problem is semantic, I think--they are called "ability" scores, after all, so it makes sense that they somehow measure how able your character is, in some domain or another.

    I also suspect that the relative unimportance of attributes in OD&D stems more from the game's miniatures wargaming roots than a conscious decision to leave their meanings open to interpretation; when you're looking at 50-100 units charging en masse, how "wise" any individual may be isn't likely to affect the outcome of your actions. As a result, you can look at the extended ("double-dipped") utility of attribute scores as a natural evolution from undifferentiated unit to full-fledged character. As such, it's a way of showing, in a significant, game-mechanical way, that your character is different from the other fighter or the next thief.

    (Although I have to admit, having the attributes have some kind of cosmetic significance without making a difference in combat/saving throws/thief skill rolls opens some interesting narrative possibilities--one fighter with a high DEX, say, dances his way through a fight, and his low-DEX accomplice stumbles to and fro, but always manages accidentally to put his blade right where it needs to go.)

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  13. Here's my case for 'double-dipping': a superb athlete not only enjoys the immediate benefits of his superiority on the field, but is likelier to accomplish more long-term in his sport. Ability bonuses reflect the former, and prime requisite bonuses the possibility of the latter.

    This does not take drive or commitment into account, but D&D doesn't have stats for those anyway.

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  14. Korgoth makes a very good point: In a role-playing game, things don’t need mechanics to matter. (Although I understand some people are uncomfortable with that.)

    One day I’m probably going to run a pseudo-proto-D&D, and one of the things missing will be ability scores. Mechanically, it might not be much different from Dungeon!, but that’s because the idea will be to deëmphasize mechanics.

    P.S. Just to point out another place where ability scores are cited: I believe oD&D “dual class” rules mention ability score requirements.

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  15. My big problem with D&D stats is that DEX covers so much, so that when you 'roll under your attribute' it's going to be DEX at least half the time. The problem is worse in Tunnels & Trolls, where rolling against attributes is a bigger part of the rules.

    I ran a Basic game online where everyone's prime attribute was WIS (except Elves used the lower of INT and WIS), and everyone except Elves got an extra bonus for high INT (extra spells for M-U's and Clerics, thief skills for everyone else). It seemed to make all the attributes mean something without making high scores essential.

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  16. An interesting idea would be if there were no attributes, and characters of the same class and level were distinguished by background profession/s instead.

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  17. Rolling under stats is one of those pitfalls I mentioned that undermines level too much.

    By contrast, in Spellcraft & Swordplay, a Saving Throw is static (11+ on 2d6) and while high stats can add to that, the main bonus is from class and level. Which is, I think, the right way to do it if you aren't going to drop the concept entirely.

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  18. FASERIP's comment just reminded me. Another gap I see is that there's no Courage or Luck stats, which makes it harder to model particular kinds of fictional hero (including the comically cowardly or unlucky ones).

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  19. In my 1st ed. games I tend to have many types of rolls be "roll stat or less on d20." I fell into that habit almost from the very start. I go lightly on skills, and use the stat roll for most task resolution.

    So a "5" intelligence for sure has some meaning, MU or not. Your a drooling idiot if you have a 5.

    I have mostly liked stats for two reasons: One, I grew up liking sports and was fairly athletic. How much we could lift in football, or our baseball stats, it all really mattered. So in my gaming, I was always interest in which character was stronger, faster, etc. even if they were a one point difference. May not make a lot of mechanical diff in the game, but whatever - it just somehow mattered to me.

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  20. I tried an attempt to drop the ability scores with Searchers of the Unknown (and now, all the sister-games, as they're a lot and some are real fun), and as ar as I can see, it works prety well without. Not exactly the same taste as D&D with Abilities, but it don't seems to be such an important part of the game.

    Maybe I should write a version with more attention do classes. D&D is a class-based game, so in some way, abilities are redundant : a fighter IS strong, a magic-user IS inteligent (or at least well-learned), so appart to do reverse examples (the feeble fighter and the stupid wizard), you don't really need it. Maybe just enforce the implicit abilities of the classes would be enough.

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  21. I'm fairly sure I'm far from alone in having ditched XP bonuses almost from the start: the whole idea of it being easier to do something meaning that you /automatically/ get rewarded more for succeeding is counter-intuitive to say the least (as opposed to, say, tying all XP bonuses into stats which are at least indicative of improved "ability to learn" from success).

    I think the idea is that the XP bonus is essentially a reward for playing to type. That's about the extent of the logic behind it, as far as I can tell. That is in keeping with D&D's nature as a game that emphasizes archetypes.

    Personally, I'm a little leery of doing away with ability scores altogether because players do, on the whole, value the differentiation that they provide. I'm also unhappy with the kind of ability inflation that came along.

    My most recent idea is to limit to four scores: strength, dexterity, wisdom, and charisma. Constitution is more or less subsumed into strength, and what was intelligence is, to some extent, merged with wisdom, and the rest is assumed to be whatever grey matter the player brings to the table. Bonuses range from -2 to +2, with the brackets being 3-4, 5-7, 8-13, 14-16, and 17-18. Strength provides a to hit bonus (but not damage bonus) and a one-time hit point adjustment (not per-level); dexterity applies to missile attacks; wisdom to charm/mind control; charisma to reactions and loyalty. Naturally, the DM could allow the adjustment to apply to other situations (such as forcing open doors) as judged suitable.

    I think this would make every ability would be useful to every class, but even a slate of low scores should still allow for a reasonably capable character, while still preserving a significant mechanical distinction between exceptionally good and bad rolls.

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  22. Completely agree with the original post. This is what I might refer to as "supplement bloat".

    If you have a mechanic for ability scores in the LBB (mostly XP adjustments), and you add some different rules in Supp-I, then I would feel obligated to remove the adjustments from the earlier book. Don't just add and add and add more stuff -- at some point it becomes unmanageable. If you add something, then there should be "due diligence" about what to take out at the same time. (Another example is demi-human modifers: see LBB vs. AD&D vs. 3E, etc.)

    Now as a separate issue, I also think that XP modifiers in LBB were not a great idea, and I think the changes in Supp-I are an admission that something different was needed. In my game (Original Edition Delta), XP modifiers are deleted, and we just use across-the-board mechanical modifiers of +1-per-3 points up-or-down.

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  23. One attempt to make stats more important/useful can be found in Hackmaster Basic. Its a much more detail intensive method than OD&D is suited but all the stats become useful for all classes. For example Intelligence is useful to fighters because it can improve thier attacks.

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  24. I agree with JB, above, in that removing the stats from the game simply removes the early definition of the character. You lose that important spark of identity. But overpowering them goes too far into "broken 17's". But there may be a way to correct this while actually strengthening the spark.

    Consider, instead of giving characters bonuses to primary actions based on stats (to hit, damage) which ends up in ability inflation, giving bonuses to utility actions. I don't quite recall how other versions do it, but by the time the Moldvay basic set came around, it had the odd addition to the bonuses for Strength that your strength influenced (along with your to-hit) your ability to open doors. That's a characterful addition! You can immediately picture your high strength character pushing open or holding a giant stone door... or your flimsy thief being unable to. But at the same time, door manipulation is hardly something you're bound to spend most of your time doing - while still being common enough that it can help when it appears. Your character now has a bonus, a spark of identity, and won't be wiped from existence because he rolled a 16.

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  25. Stumbled onto your blog while looking for something else and was immediately drawn to your retrospectives. As an "old" gamer, and by that I mean the same age as you, I have spent a long time in the RPG wilderness, relying on either computer variants or simply wargaming, and have only returned to the hobby that saw me through Middle and High School. So thanks for the helpful journey back through nostalgia.

    As for abilities, I always thought the XP bonus should be scrapped, since each character got enough bonuses from their prime requisite. Though I always thought the Cleric got screwed over and maybe the Magic Users INT bonus should read +X Spells and Languages, and thus give them not more spells to memorise at first level but at least more in their spell-book. Much the same as (I think) they added in Unearthed Acarna.

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  26. Second that with Hackmaster It has a lot of really good rules that fits quite well with OD&D or any other old school system. Looking forward to seeing what they do in Hackmaster Advance.

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  27. @Robert F, One day I’m probably going to run a pseudo-proto-D&D, and one of the things missing will be ability scores. Mechanically, it might not be much different from Dungeon!, but that’s because the idea will be to deëmphasize mechanics.

    I'd be really interested in seeing a system like that. Please let us know if you work something up. I have much love for Dungeon! and this sounds intriguing.

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  28. I hate stats in games in proportion to how closely they are tied into stat viability. One nice thing with OD&D was how you really only had one stat to worry about mechanically. I'm a fighter? I need a high strength, but the rest of this is really just flavor. Maybe I'm the big dumb fighter. Maybe I'm the charming swashbuckler. Maybe I'm hideously disfigured but surprisingly smart. Whatever I roll, I can work out a concept from it, and the mechanics won't get in the way of me playing it.

    Compare that to, oh, 3rd edition, where I suddenly have this huge pressure to have high strength, high con, at least fairly average int and dex for a lot of feats I'm going to need to work this concept, and by the end of the night I have to set all my stats up just so, making a very generic character. So yeah, generally I'm another vote in the bend bars good, ranged bonus bad camp on this one.

    Meanwhile, in my own games, I generally prefer to do away with the traditional attribute concept, instead using the local approximation to prioritize different groups of specific-application skills. In Glistening Chests for instance, if Endurance is your highest stat, you have enough points to toss around between enduring the elements, resisting poison, resisting spells, etc. that you can almost max everything out, but within the lower priorities, you still have wiggle room to be very good at a particular skill or two. Here we're getting into reinventing the wheel territory though, since applying such a system to OD&D complicates things entirely too much.

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  29. the first thing i do in od&d is add a Aspect/commliness puntuation and a sort of Lucky points :D

    basis are this, basis. If you don't fix anything that you think need to fix, problably we will play atm chess or something like that.

    joan (from catalonia, spain)

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  30. I'm from a different "Old School" :-) I think stats are a really important part of the game, and on my drifted ODND S&W campaign I've made all the six's really matter something, with bonuses like the Frank Mentzer Red box and the chance to increase of 1 point each stats each level (to a max of 18 or 20, depends on stat and race). This way characters starts with crappy 3d6 not arranged stats and "grow" while growing in level.
    This is because I'm stucked to the idea that fantasy characters ARE their attributes (the exceptional strenght and stamina of Conan, Grey Mouser's wit, Legolas dexterity just to name three). I don't think this will push (or at least in my campaign this DON'T push) players towards godlike stats, because we all know ODND is about "normal people" who becomes adventurers, but it adds all the flavour (and a little of game mechanics) that relevance to stats may add. What about the 17 strenght fighter? If he did not have any bonus, how can he brag to pulverize the swashbuckling high dex fighter fellow with a single hit?
    Just my 2c, and as always pls forget the grammar :P

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  31. Say what you want about OD&D, but it shows that it was treading new ground. They didn't think about symmetry or making sense.

    Personally I think the way C&C handle it is the only real good solution. The other way of course is to have the stats all give bonuses and work like they do in D&D4, effectively making the bonus the stat.

    While that is design that makes sense, I'm not sure it makes fun.

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  32. There is a big difference between the "body" and "mind&soul" stats.
    It is easy to use your own Int., Wis. and Cha. and transfer it to the PC you play.
    But it is not as easy to emulate body-stats.
    IMHO, for old school gaming you really do not need Stats for Int., Wis and Cha for a PC.
    But you surely need to define what pysical actions your PC is capable of.

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  33. My experience of the 10% bonus is that its impact is that a given character may be a level ahead for one tenth of the sessions played. Who knew? In short, it is not important. I generally prefer the B/X approach to attribute bonuses.

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  34. "I'm fairly sure I'm far from alone in having ditched XP bonuses almost from the start: the whole idea of it being easier to do something meaning that you /automatically/ get rewarded more for succeeding is counter-intuitive to say the least"

    I don't think that it is counter intuitive, talented people tend to develop a positive feedback loop with their chosen careers, so they usually learn faster and better.

    "Another gap I see is that there's no Courage or Luck stats, which makes it harder to model particular kinds of fictional hero"

    I think that theres a very lucky wizard in my campaign, and has no *gasp* luck stat. Yet he has survived defenestration, fires, being thrown by a hill giant, etc... (It is a really lucky character, as the player is actively trying to kill him)

    In my experience, character "modeling" is an ex post facto experience in D&D, it is weird to do it earlier, as the character is going to probably die sooner than later.

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  35. I have to admit that I rather quickly moved to an eight characteristic wheel: Strength, Endurance, Agility, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, Will, and Charisma to describe characters. Something that I still effectively use today.

    [If you list the attributes clockwise with Strength beginning at 9pm, moving up represented physical development, down represented mental development, left represented force, right represented finesse.]

    Characters could shift points on their characteristics, but the opposing characteristic would suffer. So Strength could be increased at the cost of Intelligence, Endurance/Wisdom, Agility/Will, Dexterity/Charisma, and vice versa.

    As a side note I must admit that I always disliked the Exceptional Strength rules, and much preferred a system where characteristics continued to increase beyond 18 in the prime requisites. I found it a bodge, and much preferred characters to be able to increase their characteristics beyond 18. One method of doing this was to roll 1d6 and add 5 to it for each "6" rolled when determining the ability scores of a prime requisite (rather than determining class from random characteristic rolls I found it much more appropriate to let the players choose their class and then modify the characteristic rolls appropriately; most classes had at least two prime requisites).

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  36. Dear W2,

    what was intelligence is, to some extent, merged with wisdom

    I couldn't disagree more with this approach. The distinction between intelligence and wisdom confused and bothered me a great deal for over a decade - until with experience and study I became slightly less foolish, enough to understand that distinction. Now it looks to me like one of the more profound foundational elements of the game.

    When Shakespeare had Puck say "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" he wasn't reserving his judgment for the less intelligent. The world is bursting at the seams with smart fools and dumb fools both. Smart fools are often the least likely to ever become wise, since they have the very best rationalizations with which to coddle their egos.

    In this light, I'd also note that later editions' efforts to equate wisdom with perception, willpower, and common sense shows the problems those writers had defining wisdom.

    Any fool can have great eyesight, hearing, or powers of attention. The wise don't perceive more but instead attend to different things, more important things.

    Likewise, fools often have the strongest, most indomitable wills - at least when you interfere with their vices rather than use them to get what you want. Although the wise have what sometimes appears to the foolish as willpower, at other times it appears to be indecisiveness or vacillation. This quality of the wise is a combination of unshakable humility and a sense of context and priorities that helps shrug off distractions and misdirections but that also compels them to struggle with decisions when important values are in conflict.

    Finally, the notion of equating common sense with wisdom fails a priori. There's nothing common about wisdom, and what passes for common sense is neither. The wise often appear foolish to the foolish.

    I do not claim wisdom for myself - that would be foolish - but I'm beginning to appreciate what it is, how important it is, and how universally misunderstood it is.

    And yet: there it is in D&D from the very beginning, standing apart from intelligence as it does, and placed in the most appropriate role. Anyone who would deal with the mighty, capricious gods needs all the wisdom one can find - at the very least to avoid dangerously plaguing the gods with one's excruciating, intolerable, mortal idiocy.

    Since gamers tend to be smarter than average, they especially need the object lesson of having wisdom denied to their intelligent characters as some kind of automatic perk. That belief, that wisdom can be had for free, as a side effect of being smart, is among the most cherished of foolish ideas among the smart. If we ever want to start the long, hard work toward becoming less foolish, we first need to stop thinking we can coast to wisdom on our brains; we need to have our noses rubbed in the falseness of this self-serving idea.

    Of all the unlikely paths to wisdom, who would have thought D&D - a game - would not only please us and reward us in so many ways but also irritatingly withhold this small flattery that smart gamers everywhere would like so very, very much - and thereby give us the slightest chance of grasping that being smart and being wise are two very, very different things, that wisdom might not come to us for free.

    Yours truly,
    Rick

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