Saturday, October 1, 2011

Why Can't Xylarthen be a Fighter II?

The three original books of Dungeons and Dragons, including Men & Magic were published in 1974.  The first supplement, Greyhawk came out in 1975 and introduced a number of rules clarifications and additions, many of which would make it into Advanced Dungeons and Dragons a few years later.  Among other things, tables were introduced for Strength, Intelligence and Constitution that provided explicit bonuses for high ability scores and explicit penalties for low ones.  Here is the table for Strength:

The To Hit and Damage bonuses were only for fighters.  Indeed, fighters with 18+ Strength could make a further roll with percentile dice for even greater bonuses:

Gygax writes:

Fighters of exceptional strength are now far more formidable opponents, and those of extraordinary strength even more terrible in that they can hit more easily, do more damage, lug large amounts of loot around without encumbrance, bend iron bars and perform other feats of strength with ease.

It's worth noting that the tables say nothing about how Strength might help one "bend iron bars".  This would have to wait until the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook was published three years later.

But I want to go back to my original question.  Consider our friend Xylarthen with a Strength of 6. The new tables would seem to offer more reason why "there was no real chance for him to become a fighter." Now, in addition to his 10% penalty on earned experience, he will have a -1 penalty on To Hit rolls, may carry 50 fewer gold pieces and will be glaringly ineffective (50% worse than the average man) at bashing open heavy dungeon doors.

But at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'm going to ask again, are those things so bad?  Do the penalties significantly increase the chances that Xylarthen will, say, fail to make it to 2nd level?  Is the character just "hopeless" in terms of mere survival?  Or is there something else going on here?


  1. I see no reason why Xylarthen with a Strength of 6 couldn't be a fighter. -1 isn't that big a deal and not being the guy in a party who kicks doors open all the time might be healthy.

    Xylarthen might have to earn those exp by being clever and not leaning on numbers as an advantage.

  2. I agree. I like your point about how not being good at opening doors might actually increase survivability. I hadn't thought of that. In a certain perverse way that same principle might even apply a little to attack bonuses--there's more pressure on you to be at the front of the line.

  3. In my groups, the player has been generally more important that the character.

    The most valuable resource in combat is a turn. (In the conventional sense of “turn” rather than the D&D unit of time. Maybe “action” would be the more appropriate jargon.) A eight character party is superior to a four character party because they can do twice as many things in a round. (Though, luck and wits might still allow the four to be victorious against the eight.)

    And out of combat, in my groups, the decisions the players make mean more than any number on the character sheets. And when I’ve played in games where that hasn’t been true, I’ve enjoyed it less.

    One big reason is that those decisions are about playing to the party’s strengths.

    The other thing here is the beginnings of the “The fighter is underpowered!” trend. Which bugs me for two reasons. (1) I’ve never really found that to be an issue. (2) The solution should be to keep the fighter as the dead simple baseline and address the issue elsewhere.