2e AD&D was my first rpg experience as a kid. Back then, I thought D&D was supposed to be realistic, or verisimilitudinous, if you like. (Thank you, dictionary.com!) So naturally I was happy when ability boosts by level appeared in 3e. After all, our talents do grow as we learn and overcome adversity, so it only makes sense for characters to get ability boosts as they gain levels. What doesn’t kill ya makes ya stronger, right?
Well, since then I’ve realized that verisimilitude is a rare anomaly in D&D. This game’s just not realistic, nor will it ever be, so I’ve stopped thinking about it. What I think about now is balance. Monster-PC balance, PC-PC balance, the whole nine yards. And what I’ve realized is that AD&D did ability boosts right, by not having any.
Ability boosts make your good stats better, but they make your bad stats even worse, relatively speaking. Why’s this a problem? Well, when your bad stat comes into conflict with some monster’s good stat, you’re in an auto-lose situation. For example, if you play an epic 4e PC, you have at least one defense that’s so low that all the DM needs is a 2 to hit you. (Unless you pay your feat taxes, of course.) And that hit often comes with a nasty effect like stunning or domination.
A balanced game just can’t take the stress of increasing ability scores. Or at least, ability scores that don’t all increase together. Boosting all your scores by 1 every few levels is manageable, but it’d be simpler to take a note from AD&D and just drop them entirely.
So here’s to Toni DeTerlizzi, Planescape and no more ability boosts!