Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Undoing Gender Limits in AD&D

AD&D, that oldie-but-goodie, is still widely played, by ourselves included.  It's a classic and lots of fun.  But it was written in an older time when the hobby itself was still mostly sort of a boy's club, and entrenched beliefs about gender persisted...

Now, a word on realism: Yes, men are generally stronger than women, we freely admit that (and Robyn does for sure).  But when we're talking about a game where ELVES shoot lightning bolts out of their FINGERTIPS, we've waved bye-bye to reality.

And in truth, there's considerable overlap, and AD&D overstates physical strength as a factor, especially in combat, where agility weighs heavily.  Anyway, a physically fit female with the right training can land a blow and deal substantial damage despite their maximum dead-lifting ability!

How important is it to impose upper limits on female performance in the name of realism when it only serves to discriminate against a sizable component of the hobby?  Especially when these limitations disadvantage them in a game that's supposed to be FUN.

And especially in a game that ignores other realities and with relative and careless abandon!    

In AD&D, human female fighters are limited to an 18/50 strength, which, admittedly, lies within the uppermost percentile.  So what's the harm here?  The vast majority of female characters won't even suffer from this limitation, and most probably won't roll 18 for any of their other attributes or abilities.

But imagine a female player who (understandably) wants a female character and rolls an 18/00 strength.  Now this is pure luck.  But isn't everyone entitled to the full benefit of their good fortune, especially in a GAME?  But having to scale back because you (and by proxy your female character) have the wrong gender?

That would suck and feel unfair...

And this, in a game where you can play an elf shooting magical lightning from your fingertips.  In a hobby where we cherry pick the realities we wish to impose or ignore totally, is this REALLY what players should insist upon enforcing as hard truth?

Furthermore, since 18/51+ DOES represent the absolute upper percentile of scores, it comes across as bending over backwards to maintain the status quo and make damned sure that male fighters remain ultimately stronger...   

And when you look at what an 18/51-00 strength really does, you observe substantial extra advantages.  Males immediately see something on the order of +5-15% to attacks and damage, with greater ability to carry weight, bend bars, and lift gates.  

These things translate into survival and advancement, and while characters might have scores all over the place and some will doubtless be better than others, the fact remains that a player can see their lucky high rolls LOST by their gender in a game where reality is otherwise mutable and changing.

So even back in the day, I ignored these rules and went with the following with respect to abilities:

(1) Non-humans retain their ability score modifiers, whether positive (bonuses) or negative.  Most are physically smaller than humans and have different psychologies to boot.

(2) Within each race, however, there's no separate maximum strength for males and females along these lines.

(3) In general, ability scores are seen as a RELATIVE measure and subjective beyond a certain point.  This is enough.   

Finally, and in keeping with (3), above, strength is really a measure of FEROCITY as much as sheer physical power, especially as this relates to close (melee) combat.    

Obviously, times have changed, but it's worth noting that some of us were doing this back in the day in the name of more FUN. 

Ultimately, all players will be human, and non-human characters enjoy special abilities to offset weaknesses.  But among these human participants, there should be an equal opportunity (if not equal results rolling dice) to achieve the highest levels of power in the game, and this in NO WAY upsets game balance or impacts play...


  1. I have always thought gender distinctions in ability scores were unnecessary and undesirable. I've always ignored them in any game that proposed them.

  2. Nobody plays AD&D by the book and nobody uses these rules. So it looks like you're just trying to pick a fight SJW style.
    But SJ is wrong and evil.

    1. No, just sharing our reasons for doing something, and we're sorry if you thought we were picking a fight...