Sunday, 2 January 2011

An ability score of 3 is unplayable (Argument 1a)

In response to the comments from my previous post, I want to repeat the clarification I made there. I do not doubt there are ability scores of 3 in a campaign world. My belief is that were they to be role-played appropriately as per the detrimental effect of that ability score - it would be no fun as a player and not allow adventuring as the game rules are intended. For this reason an ability score of 3, and in my opinion also of 4 and 5, are not legitimate choices for PCs; they exist only for NPCs or temporary magical effects for PCs. In character creation, were a PC to have an ability score of 3, then the correct action of the DM is to choose a method to increase that score (raise it to 6, ask PC to re-roll entire character, re-roll that ability only, create characters using 3d6 reroll all 1s, etc).

Argument 1a 
I was going to launch into statistics for Argument 2 but first, as an interlude, I give you Argument 1a: the spell Feeblemind. To understand the spell I need to repeat this table from my previous post.

IQ Range
Borderline deficiency
below 20

AD&D, 5th level MU spell but the explanation is on page 62 Players Handbook, under Druid Spell 6th Level, where it says the spell ‘causes the victim’s brain to become like a moronic child.' Sadly no further explanation is given, and I can’t find any other explanation, not even in the DMG spell explanation section (DMG 41-47). So whether the victim can cast spells or not, isn’t clear. I always assumed they couldn’t, why else would the spell be ‘solely for employment against those persons or creatures who use magic spells.’ But using the table above and assuming Gygax had this in mind, it was the 1970s, a Moron is IQ 50-69. Now on PH page 10 looking at the Intelligence table it says that an intelligence of 9 is the ‘Minimum Intelligence for a paladin or magic-user character.’ So, that would imply in typical AD&D confusion (all those words so little clarity) that spell casting or advancing as a magic-user, would be impossible while the spell is in effect.

B/X Cooke Expert X16 describes the 5th level MU spell Feeblemind as making, ‘a magic user or elf unable to think or cast spells becoming a helpless idiot.” Clear on the not casting spells but an idiot is IQ <20. Interestingly Mentzer Expert doesn’t have the spell but it appears in Allston Cyclopedia as a 5th level MU spell, so I assume it reappeared as an extra 5th level spell in Mentzer Companion (my copy is behind a loft hatch, but I think it’s a fair assumption). Allston, page 52 says, Feeblemind, makes the victim, ‘helpless, unable to cast spells or think clearly (as if the victim has an Intelligence score of 2).’ Pretty clear here it's effect as linked directly to an Intelligence score. And definitely supporting the general belief that IQ divided by 10 = Intelligence Score.

From my Argument 1, an Intelligence Score of 3, has to be seen as unplayable, as it's one very minor step up from helplessness.

Reroll, readd, redo - An ability score of 3 is unplayable


  1. For Labyrinth Lord, Feeblemind causes the victim to become, 'a mental invalid. The affected creature is unable to speak, cast spells, understand language, or communicate coherently.'

    So no attempt to tie to an IQ score either directly or indirectly.

  2. Ahoy Mr. Priest:

    I think it's safe to assume that the AD&D version does prevent the target from casting spells, since it "is solely for employment against those persons or creatures who use spells", which as you say is classic rambling DMG verbiage for "only works on spellcasters". It's an odd disconnect that the AD&D version works on divine spellcasters as well as arcane ones (or casters of both, according to that odd little table in the PHB), since the brain-scrambling effect of the spell sounds like it works on the Vancian mechanic of arcane magic. All the more so, since INT has no effect on Cleric and Druid spell casting according to Int Table 1 in PHB, except that at 5 or lower one can only be a fighter (implying that the minimum Cleric INT is 6; i.e., by your table, ~50% of Morons could become Clerics -- not an unrealistic number these days).

    Perhaps the Cook Expert version of the spell attempts to remedy this arcane/divine inconsistency by limiting it to arcane magic-users and elves? Hmm.

    The other thing about the PHB is that at 5 or lower you can only be a fighter, which in a backhanded way would seem to allow for an imbecilic or idiotic PC, just not a spell-casting one.

    Ultimately I think you're right about 3 being unplayable. Having glanced at the "STR 3 = ability to lift 30 lb" part of the PHB I'm looking forward to your take on what that means for game play as well.

    Rock on!

  3. Well argued, I look forward to more along this line!