Monday, August 2, 2021

Bonuses for Low Ability Scores

Over ten years ago, James over at Grognardia posited the idea that high ability scores ought to have drawbacks and low ability scores should have advantages. I have long agreed with the concept, but have always thrown up my hands once I try and figure out mechanics. As I was leafing through some notepads looking for some ideas for my series on Scripture and the Megadungeon, I ran across one of my abortive attempts at re-thinking ability scores. As a rough idea, I think it has promise.

I made a list of twelve combat stats, which theoretically allows each ability score to positively/negatively affect two — one for a high ability and one for a low ability. Here is the list of twelve:

  • Armor Class 
  • Damage Melee 
  • Damage Missile 
  • Extra Spells 
  • Hit Points 
  • Save vs Death/Poison 
  • Save vs Paralysis/Petrify 
  • Save vs Spells/Rods/Staves 
  • Save vs Wands 
  • Surprise 
  • “to hit” Melee 
  • “to hit” Missile

I did not include Save vs Breath because dragons should be scary for everyone.

Now for the hard part — deciding which ability should affect each stat. I will go through each ability score and give my reasons why I chose the stat that should be affected.

STR: High = Damage Melee; Low = Surprise

Traditionally, a high STR has resulted in extra melee damage, so I don’t have to explain that. I reasoned that a low STR would result in being perceived as less of a threat, therefore someone who is more likely to be overlooked. A literary example of this would be hobbits. No one really took them seriously, yet they continuously surprised people.

INT: High = Damage Missile; Low = Save vs. Wands

I decided to give INT the nod on Damage Missile due to the reasoning and calculations necessary to find weak spots in an opponent’s armor. Justifying a Save bonus for a low INT score is more sketchy. My thoughts are that it has to do with our perception of magic, especially magic that emulates technology as a wand could. The less we understand technology, the less useful it is, the more ineffective it becomes. I realize that this is counter intuitive, but it is all I have for now.

WIS: High = Save vs Spells; Low = “to hit” Melee

Wisdom has traditionally given a bonus to Saves vs Spells, so no real need to explain. I justify the bonus “to hit” in Melee because someone with a lower WIS might take more dangerous opportunities to attack than someone who is wiser.

DEX: High = “to hit” Missile; Low = Save vs. Paralysis/Petrify

DEX has been associated with Missile combat for a long time, no need to explain; however, like INT above, I am on sketchy ground with Save vs. Paraylsis/Petrify. My thinking is that someone who is clumsy is closer to a condition of paralysis or petrification than someone with a high DEX.

CON: High = Hit Points; Low = Extra Spells

High CON has always been associated with hp, so no explanation necessary. I justify the low CON with extra spells in a narrative way, especially in context of arcane magic. The spell caster with a low CON has sacrificed health for more spell casting ability.

CHA: High = AC; Low = Save vs Death/Poison

My justification for both of these has do to with a more theological understanding of the word charisma which has its origin in the Greek word for gift with the implication that the gift is from God. In this case a high CHA, this results in a kind of continuous protection from God. The low CHA results in a bonus to Save vs Death/Poison as a sign that God occasionally reaches out to protect, with the implication that a success results in more time for the person to repent/get closer to God.

This whole set-up ignores all of the non-combat related bonuses normally associated with high abilities scores, such as Encumbrance, Languages, Reactions, etc. Coming up with a list of twelve would have required including Thief Skiils and/or XP bonuses. I wasn’t quite ready to do that. For now, I am happy to see these continue to be associated with the abilities they always have been. 

Any thoughts? Other ideas?