Thursday, January 24, 2013

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Option Skill and Powers

If there were ever a contest for "longest and unwieldy title", the 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Option: Skills & Powers might be a contender. This tome was released in the summer of 1995-- six years after the core rule books of 2E were first released. That length of time is a nice reminder of the longevity 2E enjoyed and, also, of the vast quantity of material that was produced for that particular edition of the game.

The main take away I perceive of this unusual supplement, is an alternate way of expressing experience and character building. Indeed, there is something almost GURPs like in the presentation of character building. The main unit of power is called a "Character Point".

Characters in the Dungeons and Dragons game have never been balanced. Balance is an elusive unobtainable goal that changes based upon situation and game play. But that is not to say that having some sort of descriptor of relative power is not extremely useful.

With Google Plus Hangout games, when a game master is gracious enough to open up his game to different systems, the call will go out, "Bring your level 3-5 character and join in". The term level definitely has some intrinsic meaning of the inherent power possessed by the character.

But at level 1, in the 1E AD&D game, a drow fighter/magic-user using the Unearthed Arcana is quite a bit more powerful than a single class human magic-user. A drow can dual wield, gets +2 to all saves against magic, can see in the dark, can move silently, has an innate ability to cast a couple of spells, is innately better at detecting secret doors, and so on. And since the drow is both a fighter and a magic-user, the ability to wear platemail, dual wield swords, and cast spells is available.

Surely the drow is more powerful in a quantifiable way than the lowly human single class magic-user? And there are other instances of power creep into the game. There are quite a few game master's who will not allow Unearthed Arcana classes like the Barbarian and the Cavalier into their games due to power differences.

But what if the drow could be described in a language that conveyed its power to that same game master? If that beginning drow fighter/magic-user was somewhat equivalent to a level 3 fighter, why would a game master object to including him in on the fun?

Player's Option: Skills and Powers attempts to address that issue by introducing Character Points. The drow in question would cost 45 points. And a human would have unspent points that he could apply to skills, raising ability scores, or purchasing new race related abilities that are described in this tome.

Unfortunately for "Character Points", the majority of the community speaks the language of "levels". There is an intrinsic understanding of what it means. And with that in mind, it is worth taking a look at how Pathfinder has decided to handle race powers. Pathfinder Reference Document Race Builder.

The idea that Pathfinder utilizes is to use "Race Points" to build up all the special abilities a particular race might possess. And then to translate that total into additional levels when comparing the player to challenges.

Stay tuned when I delve deeper into the many details outlined in Player's Option: Skills and Powers


  1. In fairness, a cavalier cannot multi-class. This does not weaken your point much, though, since a drow fighter/m-u presents similar issues.

    1. You are correct. Changed the text to say fighter instead of cavalier. Many thanks.