Wednesday, 19 December 2012

On Abillity Scores (1)

On the forums at Dragonsfoot I argued that a D&D character with an ability score of 3 was simply at the low end of ‘normal’. The corollary of this is that scores of 18 do not represent superhuman capabilities. Others took a much more stretched view of the 3d6 ability score curve, arguing, for example, that INT 3 represented an intellectual disability and INT 18 genius.

Scores of 3 and 18 turn up on 1 in every 216 rolls of 3d6. If everyone rolls 3d6 in order, that’s at least one genius in every village (and one villager that is superhumanly wise, superhumanly dextrous, etc.). So INT 18 is not the equivalent to Einstein, but to the guy with the [capacity to get a] first class degree in Physics.

But perhaps everyone in the village is not rolling 3d6 in order, and so 18s are not as common as 1 in 216 in the general population. In fact, I agree. We roll 3d6 to determine the ability scores of adventurers. In fact, I do not think most NPCs in D&D [should] have ability scores. If 3d6 is the way that we generate the ability scores of adventurers, an ability score of 3 is the ability score of a viable adventurer. An adventurer with a negative modifier when resolving actions related to that ability, but an adventurer all the same. But whatever a score of 3 represents, it does not represent a disability – ability score generation is not a roll on a critical hit chart; not even Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is that cruel and grim.     


  1. An older edition of the Player's Handbook states that 18 INT indeed represents "genius". But don't take my word for it; I'm not a fan of the bath of measurements that is D&D.

  2. I'm willing to accept that 18 INT does equal genius, if 3d6 is the way of deriving ability scores for PCs only. In fact, I argue that in D&D and derivatives, NPCs do not have (as in, *should not have*) ability scores. If it is 3d6 in order for everyone AND 18 INT equals genius, then there are either a lot of genius level intellects out there or the bar for genius level intellect is much lower.

    But, if 3d6 in order is ability score generation only for PCs, then scores of 3 should not equal disability, but simply bottom end of the scale for a prospective adventurer.

    These thoughts all sprang from a discussion on DF, in which I argued that a character with 3 INT was not intellectually disabled, and went on to argue that given that modern industrial societies have near 100% literacy, a character who represents only the least talented of 216 (of the general population or of adventuring PCs) might well be literate, and given this that a 3 INT magic user wasn't out of the question.

    Geoffrey McKinney (of Carcosa), though, had a much better solution to the 3 INT magic-user, suggesting that magical writing had more in common with asemic writing than cod-arcane latin. Expelliamus!

    And at the end, of course, I'm pretty certain that if I pulled my AD&D1e books off the shelf that they would say something daft!

  3. I agree 3 is not a disability for any score, though I'm sure many min-maxers *feel* it is. The designers probably wanted some clumsy characters to make for more interesting role-playing.