The Evolution of Role-Playing Games
The Ability Scores
On a personal note I spent about a
week in March scouring this house for gaming materials. Each was
entered into a spreadsheet and its location in the house noted. Unless
out of place items come up here and there the total is 423
books and boxed sets (Once I find or replace that missing AD&D
DMG) This is physical items only, and does not count my PDF
collection. Something I should catalog as well.
As promised in the previous article we shall examine the evolution of the numbers called "Ability Scores". First defined in the D&D system these scores, be they beloved or hated are the defining numbers of your PC. Be they rolled, bought with points or determined by a fixed grid, every game has them, three, four, six, or more. These numbers are the start of every PC.
D&D has six. One of the few things that has not changed throughout the long evolution of the D&D game are the Stats; Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma. Definitions have changed and the red headed step child Comeliness has come and gone, but the six remain stalwart soldiers of character development. We will look at the development of acquiring the stats. And how they are used. More varied than you might think.
Zero Edition introduced
ability scores. Men and Magic instructs the
to roll the three six sided dice (the XdX nomenclature was yet to be
invented.) There is no indication of the order in which these must
be written down by the player, merely that they should write them
down. As a result DMs had various requirements, requiring them be
written in the order given in the book, allowing the player to write
them down as they pleased, or even allowing the player to roll the
dice. Greyhawk did not change this. However, when I
my first demonstration of the game in 1976 by TSR I rolled my own
dice. It had at least changed de facto if not de
Basic D&D: While I myself did not use this I did find the copy of the Blue Book that was floating around the house and can reference it. It actually has less in the way of explanation than the Greyhawk supplement. A step backwards. I don't have later editions of the D&D books or the final Rules Cylopedia, so I can't judge if they did a better job later, but I hope so. Based on the quality of the Blue Book it looks primed to fail frankly. "Here Eric Holmes, write this thing to frustrate people and get them to buy AD&D". It really looks that way.
1st Edition: The
player is told that the rolling methods are in the DMG and the DM
will tell you which one to use. A common theme with AD&D is info
hiding. Rules the player should have are in the hands of the
only. Gygax thought that if the players knew the rules the game
would somehow suffer. It editorialized that the character should
have at least two stats over 15. Exactly why? We'll see.
I don't know many people that got
passed method one. The others were either so much fail or too much
work. At least more than one method was available. The hard nosed
3d6 in order take it and shut up, is never seen.
above methods go out of their way to give you a chance to roll a good
set of stats. So the next time some Fat Beard tells you how hard he
had it having to roll that way, and he liked it,
tell him his
DM was an ass. This Fat Beard said so.
In 1985 the Unearthed Arcana introduced a new stat, Comeliness, that had specifically to do with beauty and grace. Charisma was now "Leadership and influence" only where previously it has served as a catchall for both. Rather than a chart you get a page of how one should react within certain numerical ranges. But again, your race determined how beautiful you could be. Curiously it described a range from -16 to 30. No other stat had near that range. I assume you still rolled 3d6. The book does not inform.
Edition AD&D didn't
change much. The rolling methods are now in the Players' manual not
the DMG, a couple of extra methods are given including the hard nosed
3d6 in order, those listed above and a kind of random point buy. They
now list stats up to 25. Percentile based extraordinary strength is
still present, but only for fighters. Comeliness
didn't make the cut.
Options: Skills and Powers:
Again in my case the road not traveled. However it needs to be
mentioned. One of the options offered was a split stat. Each of the
six abilities scores could be split into two. Dexterity
example became Accuracy and Balance.
doubled the score rolled and split it between the two sub stats. They
could be adjusted as long as the two sub stats were within 4
points of each other.
everything. The one thing it didn't change is the 4d6 drop the
lowest for rolling ability scores. That is the only method given in
the Player's Handbook, and the DMG covers nothing that is in the
player's handbook. Over the years it has proven the most popular.
3.5 Edition D&D changes a good deal of rule balance among classes feats and spells, but altered the ability scores not at all.
D&D (so called) Forry as I call it steers the player
away from the dice. they
recommend what is called the "standard array", that is
before racial adjustments everyone has the same stats. Second
offered is the same method used in the RPGA to assure everyone is
equally mediocre. Only reluctantly is the old classic of 4d6 even
presented. With a clear, "it's here, but you don't want to use
Over the last 37 years the classic 3-18 range has gone from virtually meaningless to an integral part of the game mechanic. The methods of getting the ability scores have run from the 3d6 take what you get, to point buy systems to standard arrays. (Which I detest). Only one, the classic 4d6 drop lowest has really endured. In the end the whole point of the ability score has been to anchor the game definition of your character. To define how well you can do anything you want to do. It should never be seen as a limitation, but only as what it is, an ability. Something to enable your entry into the world of the game.
Next time I'll look at the races within the game. Comments, suggestions or instructions on where to go can be sent to comments below. The writer reserves the right to not go where told to.
Evolution of the Character Race
Garry Stahl: 2010
unless other Copyrights apply. All rights reserved, re-print only with
Your Comments Welcome.