"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Why B/X Is My Favorite #2

2. Unified bonuses & penalties due to attributes

Come on... the stat bonuses in AD&D (1E and 2E) are ridiculous. And percentile strength? Who thought that up?

Now I have no problem with the OD&D and Holmes versions giving no real in game mechanical bonus or penalty for stats outside of those for experience points. Philotomy's OD&D Musings has a great discussion about OD&D's handling ability bonuses, and its philosophy of bonuses, in general.

Moldvay/Cook uses a unified set of attribute modifiers based on:
3: -3
4-5: -2
6-8: -1
9-12: no bonus
13-15: +1
16-17: +2
18: +3

Off the top of my head, I can see a handful of reasons why the way that attribute bonuses are handled in Moldvay/Cook is attractive:

1. Moderate mechanical bonuses for extraordinary attributes gives each character some uniqueness
2. It does a really good job of following the bell curve of 3d6
3. It is really simple to remember
4. It provides an in-game mechanic for each stat making sure there is no such thing as a "dump stat"
5. Fits in nicely with the attribute requirements of demi-humans to focus on the archetype

And while I can appreciate the unified attribute modifiers in later additions, there are two things I do not like about the way they handle them: they do not follow the bell curve and seeing a character with a strength of 22 is just plain jarring.


  1. When I ran 2nd edition, one of the first things I did was alter the attribute modifiers to be more like basic/expert. About the second thing I did was throw out percentile strength - and I think my groups were better off for not having players in them who tried to argue me into keeping it.

  2. I'm so glad you're doing this "Why B/X Is My Favorite" series. Mostly, that's because it's a good read and reminds me why this is my go-to D&D edition; but it's also great because now when people ask me "Why B/X?" I can simply point them to your blog. This potentially saves me tons of time. ;D

  3. I agree with all of this except: “It does a really good job of following the bell curve of 3d6

    For me, 3d6 already has enough of a curve to it. The second curve that the table introduces accentuates the 3d6 curve. I’d—theoretically—prefer the table be more linear so as to preserve the 3d6 curve.

    But in practice, that either means running afoul of point 1 (giving 18 a +4 or more) or something less interesting (13–16 = +1, 17 and 18 = +2).

    So, in the end I agree, but for different reasons.

    Of course, this ends up being the biggest reason that I choose to use nd6 vs. score ability checks.