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
- “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.