My philosophy on ability scores: I want EVERY ability score to be important for EVERY character. Every player should rue a low score and be pleased with a high score. There should be no dump stats.
Let’s take the six ability scores using B/X rules.
Strength – bonus to hit, damage, open doors. Even a magic-user could benefit from higher strength – they can’t always escape mêlée especially at lower levels. I intend to apply the strength bonus/penalty to the encumbrance allowance – see my DM screen, and look for a future post on this topic. Every character should wish to carry more treasure.
Intelligence – language bonus. Umm… Ok for everyone but I wouldn’t lose sleep over this one even if my intelligence were 8.
Wisdom – Saving throw vs magic – in a world of magic, helpful for everyone.
Dexterity – Missile to hit, AC, personal initiative – good for everyone.
Constitution – HP bonus – need I say more?
Charisma – reaction rolls, retainers – everyone wants to be beautiful, everyone wants to be liked. Clearly understood by player and DM, used easily and often. (Comeliness – an unnecessary distraction in my opinion. Whether a character is beautiful or just likeable/inspirational is something the DM and player can decide, usually early in the character’s career.)
Intelligence seems the least useful of all the ability scores.
There are certain ways to get around this.
Firstly in OD&D, Holmes and AD&D intelligence affects the chance a magic user has of knowing each spell. Much as wisdom gives a bonus to number of cleric spells that can be cast / day in AD&D, and even a chance of spell failure, how non-Vancian is that! Apart from 18+percentile strength in AD&D these class benefits only apply to the spell casting classes.
But I want EVERY ability score to be important for EVERY character.
Abstraction and the Roll vs Ability Score
The abstraction of strength, dexterity and constitution (hit points) mechanically works very successfully in D&D, a combat orientated game. It has its flaws, but less than many other systems.
When a certain test of physical ability is proposed by a player many DMs apply a roll vs ability to determine this outcome. And this works pretty well for the three physical ability scores, particularly strength and dexterity.
Charisma, has it’s own reaction roll tables but from an abstract perspective is very easy to adjudicate by a DM even without dice rolls. A DM doesn’t need a dice roll to conclude that a higher a charisma character will get a better reaction from NPC’s compared to a lower charisma character.
Intelligence and wisdom are more problematic. Although some more recent systems solve puzzles and tricks with a dice roll – old school players quietly ask – where’s the fun in that? The trouble is though it is possible to roll play someone less intelligent or less wise, it’s much harder to roll play someone wiser and more intelligent than yourself. Hence the reason dice rolls are often employed.
Wisdom gives a bonus vs magic in B/X. In Mentzer and Cyclopedia it gives save vs spells and AD&D it’s save vs magical attacks (more on this later). What I want to address is assigning each ability score to benefit a certain saving thow much as suggested in the Cyclopedia optional rules. Strength vs paralysis and turn to stone. Intelligence vs mind attacks (which is actually what wisdom does in AD&D). Wisdom vs spells. Dexterity vs wands and dragon breath. Constitution vs poison (but not death ray for some reason). Charisma vs nothing but at least you die pretty.
Linking each ability score to a saving throw is alright, but cumbersome, and not really going to stop intelligence being a dump stat. And surely resisting dominating mind magic is wisdom (will) not intelligence.
I want to try and propose better… Coming soon Intelligence Score (Part 2)