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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Experience Bonus for High Ability Scores - Shouldn't it Be the Other Way Around?

I was stuck on overtime yesterday afternoon, and probably will be the rest of the week. It's what happens when work needs to get done and the overtime budget was underspent the past 11 1/2 months.

In any case, as it tends to do, my mind started to wander. That often happens after the 11th hour when sitting at a desk signing off on electronic worksheets. The wandering went something like this:

High ability scores already give player characters a bonus, especially in AD&D and later versions / clones of D&D. This bonus is to the chance to hit, to damage, lowering the chance to be hit, more hit points, more languages, better chance to know spells and the ability to know more spells, cast more spells, improve NPC morale, more potential henchmen, open up those stuck doors, bend those bars... I'm sure I missed a few.

With all those potential bonuses, do we really need to add expo to the mix? They do things better naturally but it doesn't mean they learn faster. Maybe, just maybe, the weaker fighter has to learn faster just to make up for his physical deficits.

Maybe those high scores should be an expo penalty and the low ones should be bonuses.

Just a thought...

42 comments:

  1. When the exp bonus for high attributes was first part of the rules. there was little other explicit reason within the rules to have a high ability score.
    Lo. score charactersget a penalty penalty when there arre alsonegative modifiers is a double whammy against a character that looks unfair but does it make sense to have infrior character gain levels faster becasue they have a superior player that can keep the character from. getting killed ?

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    1. I really have to stop using my phone to type much...

      Low score characters getting a penalty when there are also negative modifiers to scored is a doubly whammy against a character that looks unfair but does it make sense to have an inferior character gain levels faster because they have a superior player that can keep the character from getting killed?

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    2. Experience bonuses were another example of odd, unnecessary Gygaxian design. We love his game, but often scratch our heads at the logic for many of his rules.

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    3. Not really. I, and a lot of others, think they make a lot of sense. The only odd part's that they were kept after the introduction of certain other modifiers that should've been replacements. I'd want Strength to either give a bonus for my attacks or make me progress faster as a fighter, but doing both would be double dipping

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  2. That JD said, and the very topic was discussed in online fora and rec.games.frp.dnd late in the 2e era. Wizards did the right thing and banished the XP bonus for high attributes from the game.

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    1. "Wizards did the right thing..."

      No. Not even once.

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    2. Keep in mind, without Wizards and the OGL, there wouldn't be a multitude of OSR resources on the internet.

      Wizards created the OGL. The OGL created the OSR. Let that sink in for a moment.

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  3. S&W White Box explicitly states that you should not award the exp bonus if you already use the +1/+2/+3 range for the ability bonuses. If think that is the way to go. I played Moldvay/Mentzer (Cook was never translated into french) for years and don't remember ever using the exp bonus. But on second thought, it could easily be made an optional penalty for bad RP ("You've got 16 STR? Fine, but you better act really fighterish, or you lose 10% XP !)

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  4. I have concluded no one should get bonus experience for high or low scores. Why? You rolled great or lousy, how does that affect experience your character earns? High scores give plenty of bonus already.

    I also don't do experience for killing or getting treasure. That just encourages the "murder hobo" style of gaming. I just give experience points out for, y'know, EXPERIENCE, playing your character and having a good time and entertaining the rest of the table.

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  5. Having low scores is supposed to suck. If you rolled low scores, prepare to suffer in every way for it. I don't see any reason to "balance" the bonuses from high scores with an XP "handout" or "subsidy" for low scores, other than catering to the "everybody gets a trophy" mentality.

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    1. You will suffer and die for your low scores! The Shadow has spoken!

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    2. Heh, maybe. I personally favor traps and puzzles and dealing with NPCs over combat, so ability scores aren't that important in my game. But I'm definitely not REWARDING low scores.

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    3. "Having low scores is supposed to suck."

      Agreed. I believe this is more an attempt to curb ability score inflation, though I'm not sure one has to take that approach. The real problem is how a given edition, and the culture surrounding that edition, treats ability scores. For example, the advice that one should have at least two 15's or that adventurers should have above average scores can lead to inflation

      Personal anecdote: I got into D&D shortly before 3E came out, and that was largely the edition I grew up with. I was largely isolated from the greater gaming community and the people I played with had an old school background. I never felt like penalties were unplayable. In fact, we preferred having one or two penalties because it made our characters feel more alive — they had both strengths and flaws! The rulebooks and common practice taught me that 4d6 was normal and 3d6 was "hardcore", but the stats we generated with the former method always felt a little too high and we'd often bump them down (only use we ever got outta the point-buy section). The only problem we had with penalties were if you had too many, say four, or with scores under 6. It wasn't even the mechanical adjustments so much as our perception of what such a character was like (glass bones, mental retardation, etc.). Those characters seemed like they should stay home in bed, but even a perfectly average man could take up the call to adventure

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    4. Just told my brother about this discussion. He mentioned how, in his friends' 5E game, someone was playing an orc who acted stupid and spoke in broken English. My brother pointed out to them that an intelligence of 10 is actually average, not stupid. Apparently they all thought anything below 14 was bad

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  6. No player is going to play a character with a prime attribute low enough to get a penalty unless they are a new player that the DM leads down this particular rabbit hole. According to ability score generation method, the bonus can easily just become the standard. If the generation method is 3d6 in order and a character was actually rolled that gave a penalty for every class prime attribute, I simply say screw it I'm not playing it. XP bonus/penalty goes in the category that seemed like a good idea at the time but now with 40 years of hindsight it is really unquestionably a poor mechanic.

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    1. P.S. This is why by the time of AD&D EGG (it took him only few years of hindsight) realized how silly the XP penalty really was and required minimum ability scores for classes and a XP bonus only for exceptional scores (16 or higher). These scores were more likely because the recommended first method is 4d6, arrange to order, drop lowest die. (1e DMG, p.11)

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    2. Bullshit. Maybe in your games. Don't speak for all players.

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    3. I didn't mean to speak for all players. I really should have said most instead. My primary statement is really only stating the reasoning of why the XP bonus/penalty fell out of favor from its origins in 0e and began to lessen starting with 1e. (still existed in D&D B/X, but since prime attribute could be increased at the expense of other scores, the penalty didn't often come into play). It's a bonus that players like but most can take it leave it. What is BS is the penalty, which likely most under 0e would never take because a chosen class would have a prime attribute at average or above.

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  7. Another way to think of the bonus is that someone with natural talent to start with, when compared to someone with less natural talent, will be able to gain the same level of proficiency with less work. Even though he's getting more XP, it's not so much that the high-strength fighter (i.e. greater natural talent) is getting more experience, but rather that he is achieving the next level of proficiency with less practical experience. So the 10% bonus means a fighter with better-than-average natural ability effectively hits level 2 at 1819 earned XP, rather than at the 2000 XP required of a normal fighter.

    In other words, to hit the next level of proficiency:
    The above-average guy does it with 90% practical experience + 10% natural talent;
    The average guy does it with 100% practical experience + 0% natural talent;
    The below-average guy does it with 100% practical experience -10% natural deficiency +10% extra effort to compensate.

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    1. Yes, this is exactly the way to think of it. In AD&D, there is no below-average guy in their prime attribute, everyone else uses the baseline XP progression with the exceptional getting a bonus. Instead, lower scores limited class and race choices (i.e only a magic-user with a strength of 5 or lower).

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  8. Charisma only should get bonuses for XP, just like Runequest. People like the person and want to teach them stuff.

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    1. Or Wisdom (you notice things better), or Intelligence (you connect the observation to learning more easily). One could make arguments for STR and DEX as well in terms of how D&D treats each. I'm at a bit of a loss on CON, though. :-)

      I like the idea that higher stats mean you advance faster, and that's the bonus right there. That being said, I'm always happy to have the multiplier in the D&D games I play.

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    2. Or Wisdom (you notice things better), or Intelligence (you connect the observation to learning more easily). One could make arguments for STR and DEX as well in terms of how D&D treats each. I'm at a bit of a loss on CON, though. :-)

      I like the idea that higher stats mean you advance faster, and that's the bonus right there. That being said, I'm always happy to have the multiplier in the D&D games I play.

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    3. If I remember correctly, playtesting versions of 3E had only Wisdom granting experience modifiers. Nice way to simulate the cleric's faster progression

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  9. In a tangential way, this proposal reminds me of Dungeon World's mechanic where you earn XP for failed rolls. Learning from struggle!

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    1. Mapped to its logical conclusion, the worst failures would end up being the highest level characters. An absurdity but still, DW is pretty great. :)

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  10. Dungeon World sounds interesting. What is it?

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  11. The way I look at it, there are two main arguments for the extra XP award for high ability scores: 1) I believe that someone with a higher natural ability /will/ be able to make better use of the same encounter, and 2) the players like it.

    Point one has been elaborated on already, above. Point two elaboration: It's a bonus. Players like bonuses. And at 10%, it's not a game-breaking bonus. I didn't always use the 10% XP bonus (I cut my teeth on 3.0/3.5e), but when I heard about it, the player inside of me really liked the idea. So I added it to my games, and I've never had any complaints about it.

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  12. I've had this thought for a while. Those who are naturally talented often take longer to learn because in their ease they think they don't have to work or pickup bad habits.

    I've had this as a house rule I've wanted to use for a while.

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  13. IMHO, your ability scores represent your natural affinity towards certain tasks. Your level represents your training in those tasks. So look at it this way. If a guy with an 18 STR trains an hour per day lifting weights, he's gonna improve is lifting faster than if a guy with a 10 STR trains an hour per day because he has more natural talent. Lets say Michael Phelps has an 18 in his swam stat. Lets say I have a 10. If he and I both train the same amount he's going to get better faster because he has more natural ability. It always make perfect sense to me. A person with a high INT (IQ) is going to learn faster from the same amount of time spent studying than a person with a low INT. A person with high CHA is going to become better as sales faster than a person with low CHA, etc.

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    1. If you train every time he trains in all the same ways, one day you'll be the same beast. You'll be pushing for the same record for speed.

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    2. If you train every day in the same routine and frequency, one day you'll be the same beast, competing to break each others new record. Consider that. Stars rise and fall, up and comers take the belt, and every commoner can become a hero.

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  14. Sure, it could. It depends:

    - Are you looking for something simulationist, that says people better suited for a job learn faster?

    Or

    - Are you looking for something gamist, which says you get a bonus for playing on hard mode?

    If it's the former, high stats get a bonus. The latter, low stats.

    Both are valid choices, really, but end up with different curves. I'd bet, given the utility of high stats in most systems and the paucity of XP bonuses, most people will go for high stats over bonus points given the latter approach.

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  15. EXP bonus for high ability scores is literally the worst idea in the PHB. Along with racial level limits we never used it once.

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  16. I'd rather have XP bonuses for high attributes than minimum attribute score requirements to qualify for certain classes. I think every class should allow for the possibility that there are those who are ill-suited for the class they chose or were born into, and there are some with handicaps to overcome (such as XP penalties), which make their achievements even more impressive. I currently play with a maximum attribute modifier of +/- 1, so the XP modifier on top of that isn't unbalanced.

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  17. "Experience Bonus for High Ability Scores - Shouldn't it Be the Other Way Around?"

    I've read and re-read this post and comments several times over the last day or so, and the title seems to be leading my mind in a completely different direction. I realize the intent and the history of the experience bonus thing, but how ol'Tenkar worded this makes my wheels grind with a different output...

    What if Experience granted a bonus to Ability Scores?

    I cut my teeth on CRPG's with the classic game Wizardry. One of the things I've carried over from game to game over the years is the idea that Ability Scores could progress as the character leveled up. I still use that with my slightly-seasoned Basic Fantasy RPG game I run on RPOL.net. Until Level 9, characters have a chance at each level up to increase an Ability score.

    So back to the question above, and the twist on Erik's question - As characters gain experience, shouldn't that be reflected in their abilities? A fighter gets stronger through training and combat, a cleric gains wisdom by drawing ever closer to his God, a wizard's intelligence blossoms with the ongoing accumulation of knowledge, and the thief's dextrous fingers get lighter with practice...

    I've seen several different ways of doing this going way back, but I think it makes more sense in some ways than the other way around, although as Chris C. and others have said above, perspective on this makes a difference.

    Anyway, I had to bring that up because it's how I've always GM'd this kind of thing, by improving the Attributes themselves up to about level 9, as well as granting experience bonuses in some games. I think a lot of it depends on the "feel" you're going for. I tend to have characters in my games advance quickly and be heroic/larger-than-life. But these ideas could also apply for a lower-level campaign such as E6 and the like.

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    1. What you're talking about is pretty much standard in modern D&D. You get stat bumps at regular intervals to model exactly what you're describing. However, I disagree with it.

      As I understand stats, they represent your raw capability, not your current skill level. People do not necessarily get more intelligent by studying for example. The potential is already there, and represented by the stat score. To each one of your examples, I think what you're looking for is already happening.

      I'll list them.

      "A fighter gets stronger through training and combat". This need not be represented in a stat bump because it's already represented in his rapidly increasing to hit bonus. It isn't so much that his fighter training make him more naturally strong. It's that it makes him better at using his strength to be a better fighter.

      "a cleric gains wisdom by drawing ever closer to his God". The closeness of a cleric to their god is nicely represented by the number of spells granted to the cleric by said god. As the cleric gets closer (raises in level) the god will grant more spells.

      "wizard's intelligence blossoms with the ongoing accumulation of knowledge". The wizards intelligence doesn't bloom from leveling but rather the number and complexity/power of spells he can cast increases.

      "and the thief's dextrous fingers get lighter with practice". This is nicely represented in the thief skill table. While the dex stat may stay the same, functionally, it has increased since with each level the thief gets better at his trade. His fingers didn't get smaller and more narrow, but they became more skillful.

      Leveling up grants bonuses to the class functions to represent training, which are then modified by our inherent traits/ability scores that represent who we are. Think of a climber. He has a fixed height and reach (ability score). Yet, with training (leveling up), he can overcome that limitation with skill. His height/reach limitations still impact his overall abilities, but his training (level) begins to have more and more impact on his final capability.

      Add to this the fact that all classes gain HP with each level, showing they've become better at their respective trades, such that they can continue to do them in the face of physical assault.

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    2. How about strength? You definitely get stronger through effort. Same for dexterity. You run every day and you'll make that mile faster. Intelligence could be represented by knowledge, things you've learned in whatever forum. The color wheel, a song, how to make love well, etc. While wisdom grows through application of knowledge, experience, and generally with age. If we get in the ring every day and fight, we'll get used to taking hits and not dropping from the first hit to the jaw, or getting watery eyes from a shot to the nose. If you eat spicy food you gain a tolerance. Thus your constitution rises. How tough you are. Eat a bowl of nails. Going out and getting over social anxiety, gaining confidence through acceptance or whatever inner strength you pull from, learning to dance, sing, or play an instrument, are all signs of a charismatic person. Getting better at these things is obviously raising how you would be rated on your own charisma.

      There are arguments to both sides.

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  18. Because of this discussion, I've eliminated XP bonuses for high stats in Heroic Age. Simplification goes forward!

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  19. I'm not as familiar with more modern versions of D&D and Pathfinder, but after a little research, yes, I see that at certain levels a stat bump is built in. I think that probably has to do with the maths of the game and "balance" and all that?

    Anyway, the mechanic I've been using is that the chars may bump one Ability +1 at each level up (player's choice, max usually at 18)... -OR- they may tempt Fate by attempting to roll equal or under any 2 Ability Scores. If they are successful, they may add 1 point each to those abilities you tested. If they fail, they gain no advancement points that level at all.

    It's mostly for fun and nostalgia for me as I remember playing The Bard's Tale back in the day and looking forward to my characters getting a possible bump at level-up.

    Getting to what mbeacom said, I do not disagree with what you've said, but I might point out that Ability score adavancement could very well be justified.

    If, as mbeacom pointed out, Abilities represent your raw capability, then it seems totally plausible that as a character gains experience that his raw capability could increase. Skill level is a different thing, although in Old School it's usually tied to Abilities.

    Using the ongoing examples:

    A fighter's raw strength is increased as he prances around the countryside in armor and swings his weapon, building muscles and straining those he didn't even know he had when he began his quest. His training with others might give him more endurance (CON) by increasing his lung capacity.

    The thief's balance increases as he risks his neck walking across narrow ledges and jumping for unseen hand-holds when climbing. His muscle-memory improves with each lock he picks or document he forges until he doesn't need to think about it anymore due to repetition.

    The cleric is able to draw on the horrors and miracles he's witnessed during his travels and apply that new found Wisdom to the tasks at hand. An increase in experience is especially applicable to Wisdom, they go hand in hand.

    The wizard's brain becomes denser as neural pathways are increased due to the incredible amounts of information he's been able to cram into his skull. His mind expands as he is able to connect abstract concepts and focus them, shutting out the world around him and giving himself over to his magic.

    So again, I don't disagree, it's just a different perspective. More powerful spells, or experience with certain kinds of locks, or learning a new weapon's subtleties are all gained through experience, as reflected by things like HP, Attack Bonuses, etc. but I would strongly argue that a characters raw capability could and should increase as they venture around in the wide world. Not for a game balancing effect, or as part of a numbers game, but to reflect growth, physical, mental, and spiritual growth that's come from being hammered by the forge of the Gods.

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    1. As far as I can tell, 3e's stat boosting was a reflection of the 2e game culture and an attempt to curb inflationary rolling methods. There was this idea that one needed high scores to reach high levels, or at least to fully utilize them, and that higher leveled characters should have greater scores. The Complete Thief's Handbook, for instance, includes an alternative method of generating Dex scores for NPC thieves (1d10 + 8, I believe) that gave a bonus at 4th and 8th level. By boosting stats later, there's less need to have high scores at the beginning of the game. Without them, your 15 Int magic-user might never cast 9th-level spells unless they get ahold of some magic items or Wish spells (which were becoming rarer at the time)

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