Ability Scores, AD&D 2e, D&D 3.5e, D&D 3e, Dungeons & Dragons, Learn the Game

Why did D&D 3e Ditch Exceptional Strength?

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.

Works Cited:

Gross, Dave. “The Wyrm’s Turn.” Dragon Magazine Issue #263, September, 1999. pg. 7


6 thoughts on “Why did D&D 3e Ditch Exceptional Strength?”

    1. Dude, I’m so with you on this one. I totally get where the Wizards design team was going with this, and clearly they had their hand on the pulse of the hobby, but I’m still wondering if it wasn’t the wrong decision in the long run.


  1. I’ve sometimes wondered why they added exceptional strength in the first place to AD&D. Was it to give fighters another edge over the other classes? Or was it added because players kept having 18 strength fighters and they would try to bolster that strength higher, and so Gygax (or whomever) developed a little subsystem so characters couldn’t reach 19 strength, and it simply became exceptional strength?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not really sure, to be perfectly honest. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Gygax didn’t like magic very much in the game and tended to favor fighters over magic users so it wouldn’t surprise me if this wasn’t a way for him to drive people towards fighters.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “I’ve sometimes wondered why they added exceptional strength in the first place to AD&D. Was it to give fighters another edge over the other classes?”

    I’d need to dig around to find my sources, but yes, that was the idea.Looking at the table, it makes sense, as the increase in associated tasks improves a lot. Notice also how the racial ability requirements (page 20 of the Player’s Handbook, before the 1996 reprint), caps beginning ability scores at 18.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.