Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Revising B/X Ability Scores (Part 2)

[continued from here]

So here's what I've currently got for revised ability scores.

Wait, wait, wait...just before I start, let me clarify something. While the title of this post is "revising B/X ability scores," I'm not really talking about house ruling B/X or writing a clone that's the equivalent of Labyrinth Lord that "mixes it up."

What I'm posting about is a new(ish) project of mine, a fantasy heartbreaker that is more basic in scope than Five Ancient Kingdoms. A smaller volume, a smaller scale with a (hopefully) easier ruleset that anyone with a handful of weird-sided dice can pick up and play sans difficulty.

In such a game...a game which has a specific objective...scale is extremely important. What does an 18 strength represent? Andre the Giant? Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson? Someone smaller?

[Johnson is 6'5", 260+ pounds and a lot of muscle. Andre was 7'4" and over 500 pounds. In the USA, only 3% of adult males (and 0% of adult females) are taller than 6'3"]

Does strength represent actual physical muscle? Or simply the application of strength? In 5E "Basic Rules" Strength measures "natural athleticism and bodily power" but the former would seem to overlap on 5E's definition of Dexterity ("physical agility, reflexes, balance, poise" all of which goes into the variety of skills needed to develop athleticism in sports). Is it a measure of size? Fitness?

In my game, Strength "measures your character's brawn, hardiness, and physical stature."

Gwen Christie is 6'3". And strong.
That's pretty reasonable. It gives the DM an easy method of describing an NPC to the players: "the guy looks pretty strong." Of course, tying it to actual muscle size has gender-related implications...but that's probably its own post (we'll see). It's definitely not "athleticism" except in the "physical strength" portion of the athletic equation...but feats of athleticism are not tied to ability scores in this game the way they are in other "roll under attribute" systems.

[why not? Well, I'm kind of moving away from the idea of "ability checks," for a couple-three different reasons. A) they're kind of a "lazy skill" system, B) they use a mechanic different from every other D20 mechanic in the game (where one is trying to roll high), but mainly C) they often penalize players who are trying to be creative/think outside the box (i.e. trying to do something for which there are no systems) by giving them an excellent chance of failure, based on their ability scores. In addition, they tend to weigh heavily towards certain ability scores (intelligence, dexterity, strength) and totally exclude others (wisdom, constitution, charisma). So right now, the mechanic of "rolling under an ability score" is kind of on my shit-list]

Now, it might seem like I'm spending an inordinate amount of time on the strength score. Well, strength is an interesting score and one sees it in a whole shit-ton of RPGs. It's present in my new FHB, too...and it's only one of two ability scores that make the cut from the D&D game. My six ability scores boil down to the following (in alphabetical order):


[I won't bore you with the descriptions of each]

I should note that Charisma is actually a late addition. I had limited the total stats to five because (originally) this was supposed to be far less wargame, and as such had little need for a stat that reflects the number of henchmen and morale in battle. Aside from a reaction bonus, that's pretty much all Charisma is used for in the basic delving game...and I'm not going to make a bunch of "charisma powered" feats and class abilities to suddenly make the stat pertinent in a skirmish-scale game focused on a small number of heroes (*cough* wotc *cough*).

Remember from my last post on the subject, I was talking about weighing ALL the ability scores so that players would be interested in all of them, regardless of class. Strength (just to blather a bit more on the STR score) may be useful to all characters in B/X because of its bonus to attack rolls and damage and kicking in doors, but wizards are hardly going to want to get into melee (and probably don't want to be the first ones through a stuck door, either).


ANYway...what changed my mind was remembering something from OD&D about hirelings of "unusual" nature, specifically monsters and the concept of followers over henchmen. Just checking out Ye Old Volume 1 ("Men & Magic"), scattered throughout several pages we find:

"Finally, the charisma [sic] will aid a character in attracting various monsters to his service."

"Monsters can be lured into service if they are of the same basic alignment as the player character..."

"Morale dice can cause a man or intelligent monster to attempt to surrender or become subdued. When this happens an offer of service can be made..."

"Loyalty of Non-Player Characters (including Monsters)..."

Couple all that with an interesting post over at Thought Crime Games and I started thinking, hmmm, maybe there should be other ways to overcome bad guys besides killing the shit out of them...like maybe converting them away from evil and over to your cause? Because like I said before, the characters in the new game are (default) "heroic good guys" on a mission. And it's not just an S&D mission.

[um...that's "search & destroy" for those who don't know]

More on the kind of mission later.

So, without further ado, here's how my revamped abilities work:

Agility: +1 to defense (think "ascending AC") per point over 12 when wearing no armor; characters receive half bonus when wearing light armor. Exceptional agility (15-18) gives a +1 bonus to attack rolls and reaction saves.

Charisma: +1 bonus to maximum followers per point over 12. Exceptional charisma (15-18) gives a +1 bonus to reaction checks.

Learning: 1 spell known per point over 12. Characters with exceptional learning (15-18) are literate and receive a +1 bonus when casting spells.

Spirit: +1 point of grit per point over 12 (a new resource that triggers some special effects). Characters with exceptional spirit (15-18) add +1 hit point per level and receive a +1 bonus to save versus magic.

Strength: +1 point to maximum weapon damage, per point over 12, when wielding a melee weapon with two hands; characters receive half bonus when using a melee weapon with one hand. Exceptional strength (15-18) gives +1 hit point per level and a +1 bonus to saves versus poison.

Wit: +1 additional "useful item" per point over 12 (character's otherwise have equipment limited by class). Characters with exceptional wit (15-18) receive a +1 bonus to detection rolls and surprise checks.

All ability scores in the game are determined by rolling 2D6+6 to achieve a range of 8-18. Female characters (not female players) only roll 2D6+3 for strength (they're smaller), but receive three extra points to distribute among their other abilities (they've learned to compensate in different ways). No score may be increased above 18.

[yes, non-gender neutral game mechanics]

Once ability scores have been determined, a player may freely swap any two scores to create a character more closely matching the player's concept.

All right, that should be enough to chew on for the moment.

[quick side note: my internet connection was down for almost a week. That last Seahawk post? I wrote and scheduled that back in February. This is the reason for my delay in getting this up. Hopefully, my posting should continue unhindered for the foreseeable future]


  1. 2d6+3 for female character strength could still leave some with really low (5-7) scores. For gender dimorphic strength scores (which I think is fine for some tables/campaigns, but not others) maybe leaving the female character strength roll be 2d6+6, but any points above 15 are to be transferred by the player to a different ability? End result is that makes are stronger on average, but females are slightly better at all of the other ability scores when the adventurer population is looked at overall.

    1. @ The Duke:

      I'm not terribly worried about low scores (since low scores "don't do anything" ...only scores higher than 12 have a mechanical effect). I'm just trying to lower the average...specifically, from 13 to 10. Note that 10 is still "average human strength" (in a range of 3-18).

      Having said that, your idea has merit. If fighters want to dish out more damage (and what fighter doesn't?), then folks would be less inclined to play a female fighter if their strength was "only average." But I really wanted to give the *3 point bonus* ...I think it makes sense in light of what I'm trying to model (there are many examples of female warriors within fiction, but most are relying on something besides brute strength to 'get the job done').

      Another thing I could do would be: roll 2D6+3 for strength, get your 3 extra points, but add them ANYWHERE (including strength), so long as STR doesn't go over 15.

  2. "In addition, they tend to weigh heavily towards certain ability scores (intelligence, dexterity, strength) and totally exclude others (wisdom, constitution, charisma)."

    Pretty interesting when you consider which scores are prime requisites in OD&D

    Ability checks don't have to use the roll-under system. 3e had ability checks, and they were just skill checks without ranks. One shouldn't limit themselves to just using a straight check, either. Going back to 3e, it recommended modifiers according to how a task was approached, though many people failed to utilize this feature. An equivalent approach would be to assign a chance of success (assuming the outcome's uncertain) and allow a relevant ability score to modify that chance. A strength of 18, for example, might give you a +15% to climbing checks

    1. @ ProfOats:

      In some games, I like a "roll under" mechanic...my BX supers game (still in pre-pre-production) uses this with graded successes depending on how much one rolls under the ability score. I just don't like it for this game.

      What I am NOT a fan of (and something you find in 3E, 5E, and presumably 4E) is the arbitrary difficulty ratings of "easy," "hard," "nearly impossible," etc. that gets set by DM fiat. Plate mail is tough to hit and has a fixed D20 target number, but jumping a cliff or picking a lock gets "eyeballed" based on what the DM wants. I'd prefer just saying "automatic, impossible, or 50-50." But that's me.

      Hmm...maybe I need to write a post on roll under mechanics.

  3. A few thoughts:
    1 - I would leave the gender differentiation out. What purpose does it serve and what does it add? That strikes me as needless realism.
    2 - Is there a particular reason that you differentiate between one handed and two handed weapons for the strength bonus? It doesn't seem terribly realistic and traditionally it meant that two handed weapons were favored over one handed.
    3 - for Agility, I assume you receive no bonus if wearing heavy armor?
    4 - for Learning, could the bonus number of spells and the bonus to spell rolls be a little over-powered? Obviously I don't know what you have in mind for spells but traditionally extra spells and more powerful spells from one attribute tends to make that attribute overly valuable.

    Just some thoughts although I am really interested to see what the full package looks like.

  4. @ Monk:

    1) Hmm..."needless" realism. Is there such a thing as "needed" realism?

    The mechanic models something I want to model. Certainly folks don't have to use it, and can simply have all characters - regardless of gender - roll 2D6+3 for all ability scores.

    2) I'm not sure I understand this question.

    3) That's right.

    4) Maybe?

    : )

    1. Regarding the concept of "needed" realism: I'd argue that there is. I'd rather players not dwell too much on the rules, but I still want them to make informed decisions. So long as it doesn't reduce playability, I love to reward real-world knowledge that the players might possess. More importantly, except in certain exceptional cases*, I don't want to punish that same knowledge in favor of rules mastery

      *Disease would be an example of an exceptional case. In a fantasy world, miasma theory might prove true, rather than germ theory

    2. To be a little clearer:
      "Needless" vs "Needed" realism aside, why differentiate between genders? I'm curious to know why you want to. To me it seems unnecessary.
      With regards to Strength, why do single handed weapons only receive 1/2 the strength bonus?

  5. @ Monk:

    Full strength bonus is received when using a weapon with two hands (provided the weapon is appropriate for two-handed use). Half the bonus is received when using a weapon one-handed. You can put more oomph into a weapon (inflicting more damage) when using two hands.

    Um...I guess I still don't know if that is answering your question.

    In a game where a weapon's nominal "max damage" is six, the ability to inflict additional damage based on strength tops out at 12. Consider 6 the maximum damage needed to kill a normal (non-heroic, non-trained) human being. A maximum of 6 points of "over-kill" damage is possible for an incredibly strong human using their full might.

    It's kind of like saying, "hey, you get double your (B/X) strength bonus in damage when using a weapon with 2-hands," except that this is incremental (a STR 16 gives you +4, but a STR 17 gives you +5...see?).