[OSR] Prime requisites and XP bonuses

The recent discussions about magical items, XP, and the "Leprechaun" class have reminded me that, while I feel I have a good grasp on OSR-style play and design, there is one rule I simply don't understand.

In early versions of D&D (as well as the Leprechaun class being suggested), the character's ability scores do not give advantages, bonuses, or any other clear mechanical advantage. However, for the "prime requisite" of the class, if your stat is high enough, you earn a surplus (typically +10%) on XP gain. This means that an adventure netting 1000 XPs gives you 1100 XPs if your Strength (for instance, for a Fighter/Fighting-man) is 16 or higher, or something along those lines.

What's the purpose of this rule? I don't see what it encourages, supports, or helps formulate.

The only thing I can potentially see is that it acts as a "carrot" - a benefit offered to players who roll high stats in certain areas - to choose a class appropriate to your stats. For instance, a high Strength character should choose to be a Fighter.

What's your take? This one mystifies me quite a bit; I'd always be tempted to cut it out, as later versions of D&D did.

Comments

  • If you're strong, in the long run you're probably going to do a better job at hitting people with things than someone who is not so strong?

    Originally all weapons did the same damage, too. Mechanically it was rather abstract, even if slightly-later-but-still-quite-old games took over the collective consciousness with their attempts at more detailed mechanical simulations

    I think it's actually pretty neat, even if I prefer editions of the game that do have actual bonuses for stats. In a certain kind of play paradigm, leveling up faster is arguably going to be more beneficial than a constant small bonus to a certain task.
  • Oh, I understand that "leveling faster" is one way to say "hey, those high stats you rolled should do something for you".

    What does it do *for the game*, though? How does it help us play better, or incentivize desired behaviour?

    Aside from "choosing a class appropriate to your stats", I don't see much.
  • That rule is useless dross. The D&D rules chassis has some stuff in it that doesn't, despite earnest attempts, do anything useful. In practical play that bonus is going to matter once in a blue moon, if that.

    If you want to be cynical about it, the purpose of that rule is to paper over the fact that the Abilities scheme (itself a very experimental thing at the time) and the combat system come from different sources, and do not interact meaningfully in the game. In this cynical sense there's a certain elegance in how psychologically rewarding the bonus is: players enjoy having it so much that they apparently are not annoyed by how useless, arbitrary and superficial it is.

    (Yes, the exegesis of the significance of Abilities means that ditching them altogether is a legit design direction for D&D. Abilities are not nearly fundamental to the game.)

    If you wanted to make that rule do interesting things, my take would be to mess with the xp charts and add an achievement system of some sort that'd contribute to the xp bonus scheme. The goal would be to make it so that characters end up needing two things to realistically advance: they need to gain XP, and they need to hit enough achievements to accumulate a sufficient xp bonus multiplier to actually realize enough points for it to be meaningful. In such a game context where the xp bonuses from abilities were just one source of similar bonuses they'd blend in better. Even then I'd want to make those bonuses much higher - 100% rather than 10%, for instance.

    (In case the above's not clear, think of it in terms of pinball scoring schemes: you're making points when you slay monsters and grab treasure, sure, but the big scores are gonna be in getting those sweet, sweet score multipliers. So you hit x6 and x8 and x10, and no way is somebody who's ignoring the multiplier game going to reach your lofty heights. All sorts of interesting things you could do with this, stuff like what if killing a dragon gave you +100% to xp gain going forward? What if you lose your xp bonus when you die, except if your character dies in an alignment-mandated way, then you get to carry over your accumulated bonus to your next character?)
  • What's the purpose of this rule? I don't see what it encourages, supports, or helps formulate.

    The only thing I can potentially see is that it acts as a "carrot" - a benefit offered to players who roll high stats in certain areas - to choose a class appropriate to your stats. For instance, a high Strength character should choose to be a Fighter.

    What's your take? This one mystifies me quite a bit; I'd always be tempted to cut it out, as later versions of D&D did.
    I can surmise a few reasons for it.

    First, it creates a system that produces some meaning to an otherwise meaningless ability score array. As @Eero_Tuovinen notes, ability scores have no impact outside of cosmetics at the very start of D&D.

    Secondly, from a "realistic" point of view, one can reason that the man best suited to wielding a sword is fairly strong, so he ought to receive a bonus when playing the class most suited to wielding swords, and so he learns faster.

    Thirdly, one can also see it as softening the blow of character death. Rolling up a new character and he has a 10% bonus. He will regain the former character's glory just a touch faster (or he might not).

    Fourthly, it incentivizes character diversity. If one particular player has the proclivity toward playing wizards, and he rolls a character with a mediocre Intelligence but a high Strength, it encourages him to branch out.

    Fifthly, Gygax's design choices were often arcane and cobbled together, so you get a +10% bonus because He Hath Decreed It So.
  • Yeah, as Eero points out, it's a fairly questionable advantage in any case - there's a chance you'll level up slightly sooner under some limited circumstances, but you'll never, for instance, end up a level ahead of where you would be otherwise, so it's almost meaningless in the long run.

    If it's only for choosing classes, I can understand that, but I'm glad it's been jettisoned. There are better ways to achieve that (and ones that don't involve quite as much unnecessary math).
  • Those bonuses are weird!

    So in the pre-Greyhawk D&D system, abilities mattered. They were things like Brains, Leadership, Courage, Sex (rolled for building your family/dynasty), Health, Riding, Misc, pretty straight forward wargaming stats (see Tony Bath or MAR Barker books/articles on this) from the time period. You would roll against these as a save to do things.

    For some reason when D&D came about the abilities all became stuff like Str, Dex, as we know it. The XP bonus served to enforce the Gygaxian world view on how classes work. And a lesser extent a simplification of abilities.
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