[AD&D and me] Strength through Charisma!

Posted on September 21, 2011


(previous posts in this series: one, two, three)

Today we cover pages 9-13 of the 1978 AD&D Player’s Handbook: Strength through Charisma!

We’re fully into “Creating the Player Character” now, and after a brief detour into An Explanation of the Usages of the Term ‘Level’ (Summary: there’s character level and spell level and monster level and dungeon level, and yeah that seems confusing, and we thought about changing terms, but you all seem to be used to it so we’re keeping it) we move right on to Character Abilities.

The text just says that the Dungeon Master will tell you how to numerically determine your abilities, and then launches into descriptions of each ability and some corresponding tables. So let’s hit the interesting stuff, huh?


Strength is a measure of muscle, endurance, and stamina combined.

Strength is the best ability because, seriously people, it determines how many gold pieces you can carry. What I mean to say is, the Weight Allowance for your character is tied to strength, and for some reason the WA isn’t given in something realistic like pounds or something abstract like a load score, but in gold pieces. Fuckin’ A, this game tells you what it’s about right in the STRENGTH TABLE II. It doesn’t matter how many pounds you can carry out of the dungeon, kid; alls we want to know is can you stuff a gold piece in every crevice and still hobble your way to the surface?


Intelligence is quite similar to what is currently known as intelligence quotient, but it also includes mnemonic ability, reasoning, and learning ability outside those measured by the written word.

Despite the fact that I can’t understand the last clause in that sentence, Intelligence is the best ability because the smarter you are, the more languages you know. Sure, killing a goblin or a kobold is fun, but anyone can do that. You can talk to them. You can listen at the door and understand what the Orc King is planning.

The real reason languages are cool, though, is because their inclusion in the rules implies that there’s something deeper going on in AD&D than “kill, loot, repeat”, or at least that there can be. It seems to be almost an afterthought in the rules, but c’mon, you can learn how to talk to moles and squirrels. As much as the game is about being challenged by monsters and traps and dungeon environments, it’s also about taking the little throwaway tools it gives you like languages and seeing how you can leverage them–to overcome the challenges? To explore a world where you can discuss the weather with a badger? All of the above, please.


Wisdom is a composite term for the character’s enlightenment, judgement, (sp) wile, will power, and (to a certain extent) intuitiveness.

Wisdom is totally the best ability because…it helps you defend against attacks aimed at YOUR MIND! Yeah–no one’s seeing through that. Wisdom just isn’t that interesting. It helps with saving throws against certain mental attacks, yes, and if you’re a Cleric it helps you not fail at spells. It doesn’t make you better at casting spells, or let you cast more of them, it just keeps you from not failing at the whole reason for being a Cleric.

This is stretching it, maybe, but re-read the Wisdom description. Enlightenment? That is goddamn ambitious. Gary Gygax wrote a game that lets you describe how enlightened and wise your character is. Even if it doesn’t really feel that way in play, because Wisdom is only really important for not failing at being a Cleric, it’s still kind of a grand idea. Wisdom is the best ability because who would have even thought of talking about enlightenment in a game before they read this?


Dexterity encompasses a number of physical attributes including hand-eye coordination, agility, reflexes, precision, balance, and speed of movement.

Dexterity is only the best if you’re a Thief or Assassin, but then it’s the BEST, no joke. If you have proclivities toward thieving and/or assassination, plus a high Dex, look at the cool shit you unlock that no one else even gets to touch, let alone fail at:

  • Picking Pockets
  • Opening Locks
  • Locating/Removing Traps
  • Moving Silently
  • Hiding in Shadows

Your character doesn’t have “skills” in AD&D. They have a random hodge-podge of perks and, in the case of the Magic-User & Cleric, spells. The DEXTERITY TABLE II, however, has hardcore niche protection, and what would down the line become a full-fledged skill system. Dexterity makes me want to play a Thief–the down-and-dirty capable character.


Constitution is a term which encompasses the character’s physique, fitness, health, and resistance.

Constitution is the best ability because it totally surprised me with its cool factor. “Resistance”? “Fitness”? Duh. Blah. Boring. But what’s this? System Shock Survival? You have to test whether or not you immediately die when you’re petrified, polymorphed, or magically aged? Suddenly I want to put a few more points into li’l ol’ Constitution and up that SSS chance.

More than that, your initial Constitution score is also the maximum number of times your character can be resurrected from the dead! If you want your character to last, if you want to play that epic game to rival Lord of the Rings, well, you need some more CON, sis.


Charisma is the measure of the character’s combined physical attractiveness, persuasiveness, and personal magnetism.

I left Charisma as last because it’s last in the book, but really, let’s speak some truth: Charisma is the best. I don’t know how this ever became the stat everyone ignored, because in the book it rocks. Why? One word: Henchmen.

The higher your Charisma, the more positively people will react to you, the more henchmen you can have, and the more loyal they’ll be (apparently they have a loyalty score but that’s not detailed in this section). Who doesn’t want henchmen? Retainers, groupies, lackeys, thugs, personal guard, a small army–the possibilities! This opens the game up in a whole new direction. Now I’m not just thinking about what I’m doing, or what my party is doing. I’m thinking, “What does my dude do with a group of henchmen?”

See you later

I am continually surprised by this book. We haven’t even gotten to races or classes yet, and we have this bewildering breadth of what you do with your abilities (I didn’t even cover everything, just the stuff I thought was interesting and not obvious). The systems and sub-systems are right out front, and again, the way everything’s organized (or isn’t) makes it all the more arcane. We’ll delve deeper into what characters are all about in the future!

Posted in: Old-school, Readings, rpg