After finishing the introduction to the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition (AD&D 2e) Player’s Handbook I’ve moved on to Chapter 1: Ability Scores. The first ability that the book discusses is strength and there is a curious comment when it comes to a character’s ability to perform their ‘max press:’
“. . . No human or humanoid creature without exceptional Strength can lift more than twice his body weight over his head. In 1987, the world record for lifting a weight overhead in a single move was 465 pounds. A heroic fighter with Strength 18/00 can lift up to 480 pounds the same way and he can hold it overhead for a longer time . . .”Cook, 20
As a player who tends to play brawny fighters a lot I found this particular paragraph important in my understanding of the game as it provides us with a couple of express limitations on our characters.
- No Character can lift more than twice their body weight above their head: In certain circumstances this can become incredibly important (for example, when trying to hold heavy beam overhead to allow the party to escape). So now we know that it is important to have our weight clearly defined for our characters – something we’ll discuss in depth later on I imagine.
- The maximum overhead lift is based on a real-world record + 15 pounds: But what is the real world exercise and what is the current record today?
There are a couple of possibilities that I can imagine as the standard that the TSR design team used that fit with the described exercise: Clean and Jerk, Snatch, and Military Press. Each of these exercises have an individual lift a weighted barbell overhead in varying styles of motion.
The Clean and Jerk is not so much a smooth movement, as a series of motions, but the weight is pressed overhead all the same. When attempting to find the record that TSR used I found one set in 1986 by Asen Zlatev with an impressive 496 lbs / 225 kg. He would subsequently be passed by current world record holder Leonid Taranenko in 1988 who would lift an impressive 586.5 lbs / 266 kg. The higher weight seems to eliminate the Clean and Jerk from the discussion.
This brings us to the Snatch which is a single movement into a press. The record for the Snatch in 1987 was set by Antonio Krastev several years earlier at 476 lbs / 216 kg. The impressiveness of this lift is hard to overstate as the current world record was set in 2017 by Lasha Talakhadze when he lifted 478.4 lbs / 217 kg – a single kilogram more than the recordholder. We’re closer to the weight cited in the Player’s Handbook but not quite there.
The final exercise I can think of is the Military Press which stopped being judged in competitions in 1972 due to the difficulty in judging it. At the time – and still recognized as the record, Vasily Alekseyev pressed 507 lbs / 230 kg. This is significantly higher than the number cited and so it seems that it too is not the correct one.
It appears that none of the exercises that I could think of were the one cited by the Player’s Handbook, but each of these overhead presses were significantly heavier. In fact, as I was researching the exercises, one of the things that I discovered is that in all of these overhead presses men and women routinely lifted more than double their body weight. In fact, due to the modern understanding of the human body and our better training regimens it’s not unusual to see people lifting as much as 2.4 x their body weight overhead.
So what conclusion can we draw from this?
First, we know that the 2 x body weight formula is an arbitrary one and not based on a true simulation of the real world. This, then, leads to the second thing: we don’t know what the current world max press would be in the exercise cited by the Player’s Handbook so it’s hard, if not outright impossible, to adjust it towards our modern standards; however we do know a formula to adjust the game maximum if anyone ever figures out the exercise used: world record + 15 lbs (6.8 kg)
Cook, David “Zeb,” et al. Player’s Handbook for the AD&D Game. USA: TSR Inc, 1996. pg 20 PRINT