One of the things that I’ve been interested in since I began learning Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition (AD&D 2e) was the idea of exceptional strength that AD&D used throughout both first and second edition. It often seemed like the sort of thing that really made sense to me as it allowed for a powerful character to differentiate themselves from other powerful characters without become godlike with inflated ability scores. Why then did it go away with publication of Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition (D&D 3e)?
I found the answer in an old issue of Dragon Magazine:
. . . You’ve been so patient and attentive, you deserve at least a little secret. Here’s one we know will please a lot of players: Exceptional Strength is history.
One of the most common suggestion from “Forum” readers was to ditch the percentile range between Strength scores of 18 and 19, and the design team obviously agreed.
“Exceptional Strength scores made sense in 1975, when there was no such thing as a 19 Strength,” says Johnathan [Tweet]. “Once scores above 18 became part of the game, exceptional Strength became an anachronism.”Gross, 7
After having played D&D 3e for the better part of the last fifteen years I’m beginning to think that getting rid of Exceptional Strength wasn’t so much the right decision as it was a symptom of the problems that would come to plague D&D 3e; and that a better solution would have been to eliminate Strength scores over 18 altogether from the game. By doing so it would have made Exceptional Strength valuable again and would have helped combat the ability score inflation that D&D 3e would introduce and that would stay with the game for years to come.
Gross, Dave. “The Wyrm’s Turn.” Dragon Magazine Issue #263, September, 1999. pg. 7