XD&D Chapter 1: Abilities

Posted by Professor Obscure





XD&D tagWhile working on my redesign of Dungeons and Dragons I’ve come to many revelations. The most important seems to be that if I change one thing, it ripples through the whole rules set and can result in major changes elsewhere, and there will be MAJOR changes made purposefully also. So while I explain these changes one chapter at a time, and get your feedback, keep in mind that there are other changes coming down the road that will be impacted by the early changes and vice versa.


The six core ability scores have remained a part of Dungeons and Dragons since its creation. Nothing gets me more pumped about character creation than getting out those 3d6 (or 4d6 I guess) and rolling up my core abilities. What those numbers mean has changed greatly over the years, as have the they are generated. I grew up believing that rolling three six-sided dice to generate a number from 3-18 was the normal way of doing it, and only a generous dm or a more heroic edition of D&D allowed for the more common 4d6-drop the lowest way of doing things. After doing some research I discovered that 3d6 has not been the norm since 1977. The only official D&D products that advocate the basic 3d6 roll is original Dungeons and Dragons (OD&D) and the old “red box” basic rules. In 1st Edition AD&D 3d6 isn’t even a listed option! This blew my mind when I first read it.


There has always been a lot of discussion about first level characters and whether they should be a cut above the rest or just common men who rise to greatness. I personally find the common man beginnings more compelling. Many first level characters I’ve seen start off as the sons of great lords or destined for some great purpose. I almost never see a character who is the son of a farmer who scrapes together his few belongings and sells it all to become an adventurer. This ‘born a hero’ mentality is a result in part of the 4d6 attributes. If a player rolls really, really well on 3d6 I think then they really have ‘earned’ the tag ‘born a hero’


I think when an 18 Dexterity for a rogue is not exceptional but expected, there is a problem. I think with all of the bonuses and modifiers that are part of 3.x already, starting with average and potentially below average ability scores will make those few times you do get a high ability score seem all the more extraordinary and will go a long way to balancing some of the old of control numbers common in 3.x.



Generating Ability Scores:

Option 1: Roll 3d6 six times. Place scores as desired.

Option 2: Roll 3d6 seven times. Drop the lowest score. Place as desired.

Option 3: Roll 3d6 six times. Reroll the lowest score using 4d6. Place as desired.


How the scores are generated isn’t the only problem with the modern ability score. Back in First Edition and even more so in Second Edition there was this elegant relationship between the ability score and the roll of a d20. I knew right away what a 13 strength meant. It meant I needed to roll under a 13 on a d20 when I wanted to do strength-related tasks. Non-weapon proficiencies in Second Edition reinforced this even more. In modern editions of the game the ability score only tells you what your ability modifier is, and even then a 13 strength is just as good as a 12. The only place you actual ability SCORE seems to matter is telling you how high a level spell you can cast, and how much weight you can carry.


Now I really applaud the idea of the ability modifier. I think it makes things go much faster and much more simply, but I think something was really lost in robbing the ability score of any meaning. Certainly in Forth Edition the 3-18 ability score seems purely ornamental since you don’t even roll any dice to arrive at it. Why not just assign ability modifiers instead of ability scores?


Ability modifiers really are the core mechanic to d20 RPGs and I think if I tried to change them (their actual values) I might just as well write my on game from scratch, so I’m not going to fool with those. I will make every effort in later chapters to have the actual ability score play a role in calculations (skills, spells, etc), and I do feel comfortable making this up front change:


Table 1-1B Bonus Spells

Ability

Score

0

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

5th

6th

7th

8th

9th

1-9

Cannot cast spells tied to this ability score.

10

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

11

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

12

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

13

1

14

1

15

1

1

16

2

1

17

2

1

1

18

2

2

1

19

2

2

1

1

20

3

2

2

1

21

3

2

2

1

1

22

3

3

2

2

1

23

3

3

2

2

1

1

24

3

3

3

2

2

1

25

4

3

3

2

2

1

1

26

4

3

3

3

2

1

1

27

4

4

3

3

2

1

1

1

28

4

4

3

3

3

2

1

1

29

4

4

4

3

3

2

1

1

1

30

4

4

4

3

3

2

2

1

1

31+

5

4

4

4

3

2

2

1

1

1


This chart favors lower level spell rewards for high ability scores rather than improved access to higher level spells. There are a lot of changes coming to magic in general and how spells are cast. I think more opportunities to cast spells (especially if they are harder to pull off) is a good thing, rather than more access to higher level spells which by their natures are problematic.


This still does not go very far to improve the nature of ability modifiers. When a 19 strength is IDENTICAL in almost every way to an 18 strength, there is a problem. Perhaps a mechanic like:



Moment of Glory: When a character possesses an odd-numbered ability score, once per game session that character can use that ability as if it were one point higher for one round, effectively giving that character a +1 glory bonus in that ability for one round.


I’m not sold on this idea. If skills will be using the raw ability score and spell checks as well, there is still going to be favoritism for the even-numbered score. I welcome any ideas that would balance this out this problem without breaking the game as it stands too much. One of my back seat goals is to not have to rewrite every monster in the monster manual.


Other changes to this chapter will depend greatly on what future chapters (like skills) look like, but its safe to say that if a character’s charisma modifies his ability to use diplomacy it will continue to modify diplomacy, but maybe not in the same way. At every opportunity I’ll be trying to use the raw ability score rather than the modifier. Hopefully I’ll be bringing meaning back to the ability score so that a player with a character who has a 15 wisdom knows exactly what that means.

This entry was posted on Saturday, August 28, 2010 at Saturday, August 28, 2010 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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