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I’m going to take you down the same rabbit hole my mind entered while gradually waking up one recent morning. Most (if not all) gamers have encountered those online quizzes that tell you what D&D class you are in real life. I’ve always been of the mindset that I’m probably best characterized as a monk. I’ve trained a lot in the martial arts, starting when I was 14 (almost four decades ago), and every online alignment test has pegged me as lawful good or lawful neutral (very heavy on law). All of that checks out, which is unsurprising considering I’m answering the questions about myself (which means my biases must creep in). I feel like I might be a bad monk because I wouldn’t consider my Wisdom score my maximum, but that’s my skill set. Of course, you have to suspend some disbelief here either way. We’re translating classes into a real world that doesn’t enjoy the effects of magic.
But even considering that translation, what concerned me the most is that, while my knowledge of that hobby continues to improve, my body can’t keep up. I’m old, and that’s no small matter. Everything is always injured. Usually, it’s just a strain or something like that, but at times I’ve had to take weeks off to recover, even having had my first surgery ever at age 51 a couple years ago.
Aging in 1e
All of that got me thinking about how much I like the aging rules from page 13 of the 1e DMG, but not the aging rules from page 12. On the one hand, I like the idea that characters’ ability scores change as they age. It’s yet another tool that promotes immersion in the game world, and anyone who’s read this blog knows how much I prefer that play style. On the other hand, I don’t like that age is determined randomly. These two positions create a tension. Players can game the system, setting, for example, a cleric as age, mature, to boost Strength and Wisdom by 1 with no downside. In fact, other than a magic user or illusionist who’d likely go with middle aged, what character wouldn’t benefit from that?
If the DM has draconian character creation guidelines (e.g., 3d6 assigned in order, or even slightly better ones), the characters are sometimes going to have some terrible scores, and if the scores can’t be assigned out of order, perhaps scores that prohibit playing the class the player wants to play. In such a situation, gaming the system may make an unplayable character playable, so it’s not a bad thing after all. However, in my game world, the characters will roll 4d6 dropping the lowest, and assigning in whatever order they want, so the danger of overpowered characters is greater.
Because I don’t want their ages rolled randomly, I’ll probably require that the scores as rolled stay as they are, but perhaps create my own schedule of ability score changes due to aging. I’ve noticed that imbalance in minor things like this often go unnoticed by game designers, resulting in design elements with either a benefit or a drawback, but not both (c.f., the 4e Invoker’s own powers always harming itself without any extra harm delivered to its target). No matter what I do, I’ll keep this 1e DMG rule on page 13: “The only ability which may exceed 18 due to age effects (unless age restricts this) is wisdom.”
A few days after writing this post, MerricB tweeted something relevant:
I don’t have any problem with optimism, but this is a game system, so gains in Wisdom should be accompanied by losses elsewhere, even if they make just as little sense as a rule.
If you’ve had a different experience from what I suggest here, please share your thoughts.
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