My last post talked about ability scores as they have been preserved in records from Dave Arneson's old games. I want to talk a bit about a couple of other early games, and how between them, they suggest a framework for a variant that I like on the old warhorse of OD&D's six ability scores. My goal is to make them useful as in-game tools, while keeping in tact OD&D's reluctance to turn high stats into mega-bonuses.
Luck has a fairly good pedigree otherwise, including in Dungeon Crawl Classics. One of the reasons I like the idea of Luck is as a resource of last resort. It makes it clear, from the character sheet, that the player can always just throw his or her fate at the feet of the dice gods and give just about anything a try. It might not work, but what the hell. (And when it doesn't work, spectacular failure is the order of the day.)
The others I've written about before. Agility, from the CalTech Warlock rules (another score used in DCC, mind), takes on the AC modification of Dexterity. This is a personal pet peeve; hand-eye coordination does not help you dodge. I think Dexterity and Agility being split also nicely prevents Dexterity from being a super-powerful score like it is in most versions of D&D.
Wisdom, I have no use for. It's not an accident that so many games that otherwise swipe the D&D ability scores tend to chuck Wisdom overboard first. Tunnels & Trolls replaces it with Luck, Runequest with Power, Empire of the Petal Throne with Psychic Ability. In OD&D and Holmes, it has no use other than being a prime requisite for Clerics. So feh. Make Charisma the prime stat for Clerics, and throw out Wisdom. The "divine favor" aspect of Charisma makes more sense for a Cleric anyway.
The stat that replaces Wisdom is Ego. The reason to have an Ego score is simple: it determines your interaction with magical swords. If you look in the First Fantasy Campaign, Arneson has them compare with both Ego and Brains (Intelligence). It also allows you to have "willpower" type rolls based on Ego. Cunning is a good alternative, but I can see more cases of Ego coming up in a game.
My preference for Strength has always been for modest damage bonuses. In a 1d6-based damage system, +1 for Strength of 15 or more is a pretty powerful thing. (18 Str should give +2, making the Strength spell actually meaningful in Holmes D&D.) So in canonical order: Strength, Intelligence, Constitution, Dexterity, Charisma, Agility, Ego, Luck.
One reason I like this array so much better is it gives you a solid roll-under system. You can use either 3d6 (which advantages high scores) or 1d20 (advantage to lower scores) as a generic task resolution system, akin to T&T's saving rolls. I prefer 1d20, because adjusting with bonuses or penalties jacks up a 3d6 roll. This also begs for a system of improving ability scores; given a basis of 3d6 in order, even increasing 1 stat point per level only increases the average stat by 1 for every 8 levels.
Ability scores have always seemed to me like the D&D sacred cow most in need of a good barbecue. I think this alternate array fixes several issues I have with the game and makes an overall better array for adjudicating in-game actions with a quick die roll. Please address all thoughts to the comment box below.