Saturday, July 29, 2017

So You Rolled a 3: Strength

What does a STR of 3 mean in old school games?

Well, first let's talk about AD&D 1st Edition.  At the break point of 1E, the Strength stat was for the first time assigned a value.

Chart Copyright 2000-2002 by Stephen Nispel
We can see that the STR 3 guy can lift an astonishing 10 pounds over his head!  And he has a 0% chance of bending steel bars or lifting a portcullis (clearly two especially important actions in 1st Edition.)  In later editions and up until the present day, we have imagined that a STR of 3 correlates to the weakest of the weaklings across the spectrum of people everywhere.  

But in old school play, this simply is not so!  A Strength score of 3 has no exact weight correlation.  A STR of 3 can certainly mean someone who is a complete weakling, but it doesn't make sense that a veteran adventurer would be too feeble to carry his own gear, does it?  No, it does not.  Instead, a STR of 3 just means your man is very weak compared to other adventurers - perhaps he would have little chance of winning an arm wrestling contest.  Certainly he would have little chance to bend iron bars or break down a door with his bare hands, among other feats of strength.  

But a STR 3 character is strong enough to carry his gear, wear his armor, and swing a weapon (just perhaps not as forcefully as Conan might do).  As far as other strength-related tasks, he would likely fail most of the time.  That's all it means.

So therefore what can we say about your man when you roll a 3?  Perhaps he is a child.  Perhaps he is very old.  Perhaps he is as strong as a normal person but so grand that it takes all his might just to propel himself around on his two tree-trunk legs!  And this will get me in trouble to say in this day and age, but perhaps he is actually a she* instead?  If you really want to get kooky, maybe you say your man only has one arm or his legs do not work.  He's unable to perform a wide range of feats of strength because of this drawback.

Do not despair when you roll a 3 for Strength.  Let it inform you about your man.  You will be all the more heroic for overcoming such a limitation.

*There ought to be no mechanical difference between male and female characters, so you are free to play a woman with an 18 STR.  However in the real world almost all women are less strong than almost all men.  It's just a fact of biology.


  1. Before I fully embraced old school play, I came up with a mechanism for calculating what you could carry based on your strength. You had a grid of a certain amount of squares (based on your strength) and then you had to fit your items on it - a sword was two squares, a suit of mail was ten squares or whatever, etc. I put my guinea pig players - ten year olds- through psychological trauma, bravely trying to fit their dearly purchased items on their own personal grid. I thought it was for realism, but it increased the time for character preparation by 30 minutes.

    1. One thing children love is geometry torture.

  2. One way that I like to think of attribute ratings -and I realize that this won't work for everyone- is as a measure of how efficiently the character uses his or her given attribute. Someone may look perfectly 'average' with a stack of 3s for everything, but will simply underperfrom on them all.

    And since my games don't take place in the real world, I consider an 18 STR to mean "stronger than a 17", no matter what your character's plumbing. It's just easier that way.