May 28, 2009

Godlike Abilities

I was comparing the ability modifiers in Swords & Wizardry to that in the Rules Cyclopedia. I think it is interesting the power creep from original edition to the Moldvay edition. Even Swords & Wizardry has it from the "white box" edition to the core rules edition. One of the surprises to me was just how stingy AD&D was between 7 and 14, which S&W white box also is.

AD&D modifiers are all over the place, so I just averaged them.
Moldvay-Cyclopedia: all editions of "basic" D&D after the Holmes edition have the same modifiers (including Red box, Elmore cover red box, Cyclopedia, and Classic)

Personally I really like the spread in the Moldvay edition, and the Rules Cyclopedia has long been one of my favorite RPG books. I've found myself rereading the Cyclopedia after Swords & Wizardry sucked me back into "old school" gaming. I didn't recall it rambling so much - kind of like the 1st edition DMG except without all the personality of Gygaxian prose. And as it has often been commented, the layout and art are not exactly inspiring. Still, it has a magic quality to it. Probably because it is the only official D&D book ever published that can truly be called "complete".

So what was the point of this excercise? I'm not sure I'm sold on the ability adjustments as presented in S&W, they're just a bit too conservative, and I'm thinking of just using the Moldvay edition in that respect.

Another reason, when I first got the Deities and Demigods book in high school it was mind-blowingly cool that it expanded the ability stats table up to 25. Yeah, we just looked at that book as the "really high level monster book". Of course this kind of "monty haul" gaming is frowned upon these days, but I don't care what anyone thinks, we were having fun! Isn't that really the point?

I was curious how the Moldvay/Cyclopedia ability spread would look expanded in the way the original Deities and Demigods did. Also, Gods, Demi-Gods, and Heroes has a tradition going back to original edition. I'm looking through my copy right now. It's funny how the introduction claims it is the "last D&D supplement"...

I haven't seen a table like this done for basic D&D, and thought it'd be fun. I took a few liberties, and ironed a couple of spots, but this is basically it:

* a character gains at least 1 hp per level
** a character normally has 2 languages: common and his native, below 9 intelligence he has only 1 language, below 6 intelligence he cannot speak any language

Normal Human limit is 3-18, only immortals may have ability scores higher than 18
Demi-God: only Demi-gods may have ability scores 21 or higher.
Lesser God: only Lesser God s may have ability scores 24 or higher.
Greater God: only Greater Gods may have ability scores 27 or higher.
Paragon: 30 is the quintessence of an ability. For example, Thor is the paragon of Strength. There is no one stronger.


  1. Nice stuff.
    One of the most interesting things about 3rd edition is the way it attempted to make every creature play by the same basic rules. So every monster had the standard 6 ability scores, etc. Which bears on your expanded table because it naturally means there are lots of monsters with Strengths over 18 out there! This is also a big weakness of 3rd, because it means the monster stats are very involved and time-consuming to adjust.

  2. 3rd had its flaws but at least it was trying to be true to D&D. I tried playing 4th and it just feels like a completely different game. I wonder if that is part of the reason I'm so taken with S&W.

  3. 3rd was simultaneously more cautious and conservative about messing about with core D&D concepts, while more ambitious about standardizing the “physics” behind the world and making everything consistent. 4th is a substantially different game. I really like them both. 4th is definitely more limited, but it does what it does very well. I’ve read a couple of people liken 3rd to 1E, and 4th to Classic D&D, in that 1 & 3 aim to be more comprehensive and Simulationist, whereas Classic D&D & 4th are more unabashedly Gamist and more narrowly focused. I’ve also tried out Labyrinth Lord recently, and enjoyed it in a similar manner to 4th. It gives less combat crunch but that opens up more time for exploration. They’re all good games. They just do different things.

  4. Hi, first post here.

    Don't know if you know or care ;) but Mutant Future (the Labyrinth Lord version of Gamma World) has an expanded Ability Score range, where Str gains +'s to hit only on even scores, but adds to damage on the odds.

    --A Str 19 is +3 to penetrate armour, but +4 on damage; a 23 is +5 to hit, and +6 to damage, etc.

    I think that helps keep things a bit more under control than a pure mirrored advancement on both Hit and Damage.

    YMMV, of course. :)