XP bonuses for high attributes

D&D, up to and including AD&D, gave bonuses of 5-15% on “earned XP” to characters with high scores on their class’s prime requisites.
I really started D&D with AD&D 1st ed., and shortly afterward the Tom Modlvay red book version, and never really questioned why the were there until much later.  By high school, my gaming groups were just adjusting the XP requirements downward (which saved a lot of record keeping).  But why bother with this rule at all?
My sense is that it must derive from the OD&D booklets, where high scores don’t really have much other impact on the game mechanics, and that they stayed in out of inertia more than need.  It seems like double-dipping, since a high-Strength fighter is already better at hitting and dealing damage, for example, and giving him an XP bonus over the PC with more average stats seems a little much.  Thoughts?

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Published in: on October 8, 2010 at 6:00 am  Comments (7)  
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  1. I’ve dropped XP bonuses except when playing OD&D. Seems like double dipping for a fighter to be much better in melee AND level up faster.

  2. Never really understood the logic to the XP bonus for ability scores.

    It seems to make more sense that those with the lower ability scores would have to try harder and ‘work smarter’ – reversing the bonus so that the fighter with 9 strength gets the bonus also removes the ‘hopeless character problem’, as players might not mind a fighter without a to hit bonus if he’s going to level up 15% faster.

    Just a thought.

  3. Exactamundo! My houserules give xp bonuses for high INT or WIS but only if that is not your class’ prime ability – to give those scores something to do for non-spellcasters.

  4. The Rich get richer.

    That’s the way the world is set up, why wouldn’t a fantasy world be the same? Or are things supposed to be “fair”?

  5. I’m guessing the intention was to reinforce the pulp fantasy feel of the game. Conan was much, much stronger than the people around him (this eventually leads to 18/00 str, of course), but also much smarter, and he learned from his and other peoples’ mistakes better than anyone else. So the bonus reflects that these are people who might have started out small but were destined for great things–truly separate from the common herd. In simpler terms, heroes. They shine brighter and excel, while more normal types have to work harder for everything.

    Whether it makes sense for a given game or a given DM is another matter.

  6. Odd coincidence, I just stripped those out of my player digests yesterday. I did it to simplify things for new players and my own bookkeeping. Nice to hear others, are thinking along the same lines. Thought I was a heretic or something.

    Roger’s idea is interesting.

  7. Oh dear. Yes, perhaps this is another example of the game designers not being clear on the purpose of their game features.

    The extra xp was an inducement to “play to type”, ie high strength characters should play fighters, high intelligence characters should play wizards, and so on. This was part and parcel with the 3d6-in-order character creation method. Without the inducement, people might play whatever class they liked, without reference to their stats, since stats had little in-game effect. Instead of giving you bonuses for your stat, you got better at doing the things related to your class, at a faster rate. With the advent of the build-a-body approach to character creation, with everyone able to create a custom character rather than a random one, the purpose behind the xp bonuses is lost.

    The Wisdom bonus seems to be a recognition that those with higher Wis would recognize and benefit from the lessons learned at a faster pace. Was there not also an xp benefit for high Charisma?

    I can understand the temptation to dispense with xp bonuses… and perhaps those reasons are valid, given the changes made to character creation and stat bonuses.


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