Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Meditating on Ability Bonuses

Awhile ago, I wrote a post about Charisma and Wisdom. In it I challenged the basic assumptions of both ability scores in an attempt to return to the symmetry of Prime Requisites vs. Combat Abilities found in OD&D with later versions of the game that include the Thief as a core class. While thought provoking, I am not sure I was entirely successful.

Recently, James over at Grognardia also wrote about Charisma in a very similar vein to what I was trying to get at in my own, earlier, post. This prompted a brief discussion of ability scores and bonuses that ended up admitting that while the balance found in OD&D is intellectually awesome, in practice it is hard to image a fighter with an 18 Strength not getting some kind of combat bonus since that is how we have played the game for 30+ years.

Yesterday, Jeff of Jeff's Gameblog posted this little gem. At first, I dismissed it out of hand because it made no real sense to me — why would a dumb fighter advance faster than a smart one? Why would a weak MU do any better than a strong one? It then hit me: a dumb fighter would rely more on his fighting ability than would a smarter fighter; a weak MU would rely more on their arcane magic than would a stronger MU.

Imagine for a moment a MU had to move a couch. With a STR of 10+ that couch is going to be lifted/dragged to where it needs to be. With a STR of 8 or less (especially 3!) it is more likely that a spell like Floating Disc is going to be cast in order to move that couch. Who is more likely to be more skilled, faster over time: the MU who uses arcane magic for everything or the one who can rely on other skills to do everyday mundane things? I am beginning to see that it is very plausible to argue the MU with a 3 STR would.

Using my previous re-tooling of Charisma and Wisdom, here are my own initial thoughts about XP bonuses:
Low Strength = Magic-User bonus
Low Dexterity = Cleric Bonus
Low Constitution = Thief Bonus
Low Intelligence = Fighter/Dwarf
Low Awareness = Halfling
Low Charisma = Elf
Here are my explanations:

  • Magic Users — see above.
  • Clerics are more likely to solve problems face-to-face therefore discouraging missile combat as a way to solve problems.
  • Thieves that have lower hit points are much more likely to solve problems by avoiding combat and being sneaky.
  • Fighters and Dwarves that are intelligent (able to form strategy and planning) are less likely to rely on their sword/axe arm.
  • Halflings (Hobbits) are naturally inclined to live happily in their own little bubble without much awareness of the outside world. Those who are aware just aren't natural hobbits.
  • Elves, being long-lived and the one race inclined to being two classes at once, represent the impulse to do everything sans divine help. The less in tune with God, the more likely the elf will succeed doing what elves do. This also gives elves a nice, sinister spin.

This all got me thinking about the inherent symmetry of OD&D vs. combat bonuses built into Prime Requisites and how I can have my cake and eat it, too. With XP bonuses divorced from Prime Requisites, it is possible to give every ability score a combat bonus/penalty.

Using my previous re-tooling of Charisma and Wisdom, here are my initial thoughts:
Strength = to hit bonus melee
Dexterity = to hit bonus ranged
Constitution = hit points bonus
Intelligence = henchmen number & loyalty
Awareness = damage bonus
Charisma = armor class bonus
The first three are pretty standard and therefore don't need much explanation. The last three, however, break the mold.

  • Intelligence — This requires a bit of reverse engineering. If a fighter is more fighter-like by relying on their sword, than the opposite of that would be a fighter who relies on planning — leading a number of henchmen. In addition, which class is most likely to take advantage of henchmen — the Magic-User!
  • Awareness — This represents the ability to be aware of weaknesses in an opponent's defenses.
  • Charisma — Someone who has divine protection is going to be harder to hit.

It should be noted, that there are some editions of D&D where certain combat bonuses are only available to fighters. There are a couple of ways to simulate this. The first is to have additional bonuses associated with Prime Requisites that are only available to the given class. Here are some initial thoughts (some of which already duplicate some existing rules):
Strength = Fighters and Dwarves get a bonus to encumbrance (they are trained to move in armor). If that doesn't float your boat, how about DR when armor is worn?
Dexterity = Elves get a bonus to saving throws involving balance (death/breath)
Constitution = Halflings get a bonus to saving throws involving durability (poison/spells)
Intelligence = Magic-Users get to know more spells/get bonus spells
Awareness = Thieves get bonuses to Thief Skills
Charisma = Clerics gets bonus spells
Secondly, rather than getting all the the various combat bonuses, characters would only get the bonus associated with their class plus one other of their choice (thus giving classes a bit of diversity).



  1. Interesting and thought-provoking. I especially like the idea of making bonuses class specific. One of the big failings of 3E was that each ability score did so much that many players I knew wanted at least a +1 bonus in every stat, even the ones their class didn't 'need.'

    This system adds something different and useful to each ability score, but limits the need for bonuses and gives an incentive for penalties. And that I like.

  2. I like very much how the bonuses for low stats work in practice, and the justification has a certain kind of beautiful sideways logic.

    Not so sold on the other stats justifications ... I remember Runequest used Intelligence for a minor bonus to attack and you could probably use Awareness for some benefit to surprise or defense.

  3. @Roger
    Intelligence = damage bonus (translating as strategy)
    Awareness = surprise bonus (seeing the other guy first)

    Yes. I can see where that can work. My only quibble is what to do with henchmen & their loyalty?

  4. Wow... I think my brain just popped!


  5. @Roger
    There is one problem I see with Intelligence = damage bonus. It means fighters who have an XP bonus are going to do less damage than fighters who are supposedly less apt at using a sword. It therefore creates conceptual dissonance.

  6. I don't know what bonus progression you use, but the other option is to have the bonus progression be quicker for prime stats and slower for non prime stats. I was kicking around making every class have 2 stats they are good at and let the player pick a 3rd for variety.