When I began playing Dungeons & Dragons v3.5 Edition (D&D 3.5e) one of the first things that I learned was that my ability scores weren’t locked. In fact, there were scheduled intervals when I could add a point to my scores. The D&D 3.5e Player’s Handbook states the following:
Over time, the ability scores your character starts with can change. Ability scores can increase with no limit. Points at which ability changes occur include the following . . . Add 1 point to any score upon attaining 4th level and at every fourth level your character attains thereafter . . .Tweet, 10
This is in direct contrast to the established understanding of how ability scores functioned in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition (AD&D 2e). In AD&D 2e once your scores were established they were largely set, or as the AD&D 2e Player’s Handbook put it:
. . . The shaded ability scores [scores existing on both the low and high range where players cannot normally attain the result – Charlie] can be obtained only be extraordinary means, whether by good fortune (finding a magical book that raises a score) or ill fortune (an attack by a creature that lowers a score) . . .Cook, 19
Having not ever experienced the limitations on ability scores I can’t imagine how exciting it must have been to suddenly have a character with the potential to be as strong as a Titan; but I am beginning to understand some of the criticisms that dogged D&D 3.5e during the early years of its existence. One of the criticisms that I heard repeatedly from the Second Edition players in my area was that D&D 3.5e was a game for “munchkins,” players who attempted to become so powerful that nothing in the game could threaten them.
As a player of D&D 3.5e I never understood the criticism because as I became more powerful, so too, did the monsters; but I can now see that if I had always been limited to a certain score that seeing a player with a 24 Strength score would have felt like I was looking at someone who was cheating.
This brings up an important question: did we lose something intrinsic to the game when we stopped limiting the ability score’s advancement and allowed players to become as powerful as their imaginations allowed?
The standard argument I have seen from other D&D 3.5e players is that the game did not lose anything with the unleashing of ability scores. As players advanced, so too did the monsters; but hard earned experience would argue the reverse.
As a Game Master I noticed a significant issue in how D&D 3.5e worked when the game entered into the last phase of play, epic or high level play. At that point the game essentially stopped being challenging for the players. Their characters had grown so powerful, so godlike and physically robust that there weren’t very many things that offered a challenge sufficient enough that they couldn’t take it in a few, short rounds of play. I wonder if this would have changed had the ability scores not advanced to such ludicrous heights?
I find myself asking a lot of similar questions as I’m learning AD&D 2e.
Cook, David “Zeb,” et al. Player’s Handbook for the AD&D Game. USA: TSR Inc, 1996. pg 19 PRINT
Tweet, Jonathan, et al. Player’s Handbook Core Rulebook I v3.5. USA: Wizards of the Coast, 2003. pg 10. PRINT