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Monday, January 14, 2013

Strength Damage Bonus

I've come out against strength bonuses to damage and pretty much every other kind of ability score bonus, other than Charisma bonuses and the +/- 1 point maximum bonuses for Dex and Con. But if I were to have Strength damage bonuses...

Well, start with these three assumptions:

  1. Ability scores are relative, not absolute, and rated as 0 = half normal, 10 = average, 20 = double normal, The extremes (0 and 20) are never actually used, because those equal a score of 10 on a different scale.
  2. A giant has the strength of two men (because it does 2 dice damage, instead of 1 die.) Thus, Strength/10 roughly equates to dice of damage.
  3. 4 points of damage equals one die of damage (because the average damage for 1d6 is 3.5, which rounds to 4.) So, +2 damage = half a die of damage, and +3 damage is the same as an extra die of damage -1 point.

Since the scores from 9 to 12 are reserved for "normal" Strength, Strength 20 is only 8 ability points above normal. That's +1 damage per 2 ability points. That leads to the following damage scale for humans:

  • Strength 9-12: 1 die of damage
  • Strength 13-14: 1+1 damage
  • Strength 15-16: 1+2 damage (ogre damage)
  • Strength 17-19: 2-1 damage

The damage adjustment for low scores on any scale would be a flat -1 to any score below 9.


  1. You know, I started going down the road of 'no ability bonuses' a little while back, and a D&D-friend said that I had finally gone 'round the bend'. I'm curios, why do you want to do away with ability bonuses? What was your motivation?

    1. To begin with, I play OD&D, and the original books don't include them. So really the question is "why won't I add them?"

      Short reasons, which I may expand in a separate post:
      (1) I want to keep things manageable; the fewer potential sources for bonuses, the better.
      (2) Low bonuses maintains danger, even across many levels.
      (3) Shifts focus to what characters do instead of what's on the character sheet.
      (4) De-emphasizing ability scores removes player fears of rolling low or playing a "helpless" character.

  2. We're on the same page for sure. Tame ability bonuses are one of my favorite features of OD&D. Even better is the lack of negative modifiers - they are annoying to fuss with, and depressing for players to keep dealing with.

  3. I am curious: in which cases are ability scores relevant (if relevant at all) in your games? What is the purpose of rolling them if they provide no modifiers? What do they do?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. @Ynas

      For me, I would say they do two things.

      1. They serve as a way to divine aspects of character personality (the strong and dextrous fighter versus the strong and clever fighter, for example). Yes, you can do this by fiat also, but there is something very natural about asking the dice.

      2. I frequently use roll-under ability checks to resolve stunts or other nonstandard actions. Want to assist a fellow PC trying to jump a pit trap? Roll a dex check to see if you can grab their arm.

    3. 1. Ad hoc bonuses, particularly in contests. If two characters are wrestling, the one with the highest strength gets a +1. This has the side effect of making every score relevant (a Strength 11 character has an advantage over s Strength 10 character.)

      2. Some actions may be rated as impossible for a human of a given ability score, or as risky unless higher than that score.

      3. If a character does something mental, where both Intelligence and Wisdom could apply, which score is higher colors how I describe their success.

      Also, the XP modifiers still apply. And Dex/Con/Cha have bonuses even in the LBBs.

  4. In my current game I'm keeping the traditional damage bonus but I've dumped the AC adjustment from dexterity.
    There is a parry/dodge bonus but it's only applied by player decision not an always on feature of a high ability score.

    I feel the rules work better when they support a large spread of scores and encourage player tactics over dice rolls from months before.