1E Fighter Exceptional Strength

Here’s the skinny in case it’s been a while:

In 1st and 2nd edition AD&D, if you’re a Fighter (but not a subclass like Paladin or Ranger), and you roll 18 Strength, you then roll d% to get an exceptional strength result from 01 to 00. Normally, an 18 STR has +1 to hit and +2 damage in melee, while a 19 STR gets +3 to hit and +7 damage. In between this huge gap the exceptional strength fills in with five categories, as follows:

STR Table

I’ve been watching a conversation on Dragonsfoot about this, and read a few old threads, and I kind of have a problem with EX-STR as presented.

First, I believe most Fighter players will end up with an EX-STR character; if the PC rolls up with a 16 STR the player will end up getting the PC killed off through “brave” play and get another crack at it. Another DFer suggested that when the player rolls up the character, with the +1 STR from the age modifier, anyone with 17 STR might play a human Fighter, while those with 16 might play a Half-Orc Fighter (another +1 coming from the racial modifier), because they’d be bumped up to 18 and trigger the EX-STR roll. Those with STR 15 or lower might play some other character. If they can arrange to suit, and don’t roll an 18, they might instead play a Ranger or Paladin if they qualify.

Essentially, EX-STR is a Fighter class ability, but only a minority of Fighters will have access to it. (Side note: I would exclude 0-level humans from rolling EX-STR. Gain a level, buddy, then we’ll talk)

However, I find that most players have a character they want to play before they roll. In a group of 12+ players everyone can just fill in various roles. But in a group of 4-6 players that doesn’t work as well.

So what I see happening at my table is a player who wants to play a Fighter rolls 13-15 STR and doesn’t get the EX-STR benefit, and it’s a bummer, because it’s this huge binary for Fighters; those with EX-STR are effective and those without fight like Clerics.

Matthew- at DF proposed using the EX-STR roll regardless of base STR. So it would be possible to have a 15/76 STR for example. For 1E that might look like this:


The EX-STR stats are additive to the base STR stats. For example, a Fighter with STR 17/33 would have +1 to hit and +2 damage; a Fighter with 9/00 would have +2 to hit and +4 damage. I like that this makes Fighters better at carrying heavy armor and treasure, and bashing down doors, and tearing stuff up – all typical Fighter activities. In this way Fighters are enabled to interact with the environment in certain ways more effectively and on a regular basis, an outcome similar to how Thieves work.

Another argument is that this essentially gives Fighters a higher effective STR; why not just bump up their STR score and delete EX-STR? Partly because 19 STR (from the 1E Deities & Demigods or the 2E PHB) gives +3 to hit and +7 damage; without the gradient given by EX-STR that 1 point has a huge impact that isn’t seen in any other stats. Someone who managed to start with an 18 STR then gaining a bonus from the Fighter class would be launched to a much higher power level.

If you look at the actual effect of EX-STR layered on, as above, the lower 50% of Fighters end up with the rough equivalent of +1 STR if they started at 15 (or bumped up to a point somewhere between 15 and 16, if lower than 14). The next 25% tranche of Fighters gain some significant bonuses, as if they were bumped up to a 17 from a STR of 8-14. Only 10% of Fighters get the truly delicious bonuses: very high ENC limits, reliable BB/LG and Open Door chances, and the ability to break open locked or Wizard Locked doors.

With this EX-ST layering, every Fighter has at least a small damage bonus and carries a little more. 50% of Fighters will have significant bonuses equivalent to a 17 STR. And that ignores the possibility that some of those will have rolled 16-18 natural STR (and as I mentioned most Fighters will get +1 STR from their age and Half Orcs get another +1).

Compare with a houserule that uses EX-STR and just gives Fighters +4 STR. Assume the player who decides to play a Fighter does so because he will benefit from the higher STR score, so his STR is at least 12. With a 13 he could play a Ranger, and with a 12 he could play a Paladin, and below 12 he probably would play some other class. Let’s also assume that the EX-STR categories are retained as lines on the table that you’d have to work through when applying the modifier (to avoid the crazy leap from 18 to 19). Let’s also assume the human maximum is 18/00 and extra bonus is wasted.

This means if he rolls 18 it becomes 18/91, a 17 becomes 18/76, a 16 becomes 18/51, a 15 becomes 18/01, a 14 becomes a plain 18, and a 13 becomes 17. A Human Fighter rolled up with 18 STR would come out as 18/00 with his initial age bonus, and a Half-Orc could achieve that with a natural 17 roll. On 3d6, the player has a 1.85% chance to be able to achieve an 18/00 (that is, rolling a 17-18 and making a race selection based on that).

By the book, you have to first achieve an 18 (meaning a player rolls 16-18), and then roll percentile dice with a “00” result. There’s just a 0.0462% chance of that happening. And the 91-99 and 00 entries feature power spikes larger than the previous ones. Reaching them should be more rare than the 3d6 curve allows.

One way to handle this would be to change your houserule to “Fighters gain +4 STR up to 18, but then must roll EX-STR on d%, with +5% per overflow STR bonus”. This preserves the rarity of high EX-STR values, while offering a greater range of rolled PCs the opportunity to access EX-STR. However, it all but guarantees a +1/+3 combat bonus. The layered EX-STR method guarantees +0/+1.

Why did I choose something as extreme as +4 STR for Fighters? Because if they can only roll as high as 18 on 3d6, they need to work through 5 more increases to get through the EX-STR categories to 18/00. That’s +4 from Fighter and +1 from the age bonus. Once you age up a little you’ll lose that 00 edge and drop to a (still amazing) 18/91. Or you could be a Half-Orc.

Here’s the shower thought that made me want to post: what if we take the 1E PHB at face value and assume that only stats from 3-18 exist? 19-25 aren’t on our radar. How else could we describe Ogres and Giants?

In 1E, Ogres are noted as getting +2 damage when using weapons, or +1/+2 for leader types. In 2E, they have damage modifiers based on the appropriate STR but it’s a half-measure because the attack bonus is built into their HD, but at least the Giants share the Ogre’s notation. In 3E everything has stats and they smoothed out the STR progression, which meant a Hill Giant had to have a 25 STR and a Titan had to have 43. But they still included an encumbrance kludge that ramped up carrying capacity at high STR so a Giant could actually walk itself around.

What if the 3-18 range existed as a variation within the creature type? Man-types like Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, Orcs, Hobgoblins etc. all have similar capacities, with variation introduced via ability score modifiers. But an Ogre or a horse just has a different baseline. You could roll 3d6 to find a horse’s STR and note if it were exceptional. Same with INT; the horse will still be Animal intelligence but you could gauge the comparative INT of two horses.

As a specific example, I could roll STR for an Ogre and if it came up 16-18 I’d add the appropriate modifiers in combat. If it came time to bust down a door, I’d need to account for the greater size and mass of the Ogre, because the Ogre will be better at breaking the door than a Human with equal STR. It certainly is larger, and wields a bigger weapon, dealing 1d10 damage instead of (say) 1d6 or 1d8. Like much in 1E, it’s a judgement call.

Using 3-18 as a scale relative to creature type rather than as a universal scale frees us from 19-25 stats. A Girdle of Giant Strength would, instead of setting STR to some total, grant a really nice bonus to STR related tasks and also grant boulder-throwing. A Strength spell would just work as written, capping at 18, with overflow improving EX-STR if the target is an eligible class. But it would be equally useful cast upon a Human or an Ogre.

Because most creatures will be average, it’s not even necessary to roll all of their ability scores. Maybe just for specific types, or set a high score to add difficulty to a monster that has separated itself from the pack through selection pressure.

One interesting question is why, if Gygax knew how STR scores 19-25 would work because they were in the Girdle of Giant Strength entry in the DMG (and we can assume it’s similar or identical to what was used in his campaign), why did the Monster Manual entries not explicitly use those STR scores? Did he feel it was better for an Ogre to deal 1-10 points of damage instead of 3-10? Or, in the same way that the Skeleton deals 1-6 damage regardless of weapon used, was this a holdover from the earlier edition which was never updated? In OD&D, Ogres deal 1d6+2 damage (that is, normal damage for an attack +2 points), and Giants deal 2d6, 2d6+1 or +2, or even 3d6 damage due to their huge size. The Ogre bonus damage meant it was way stronger than a max-STR Human.

It appears the progression from OD&D through 3E was a process of formalizing how STR worked, although there’s an excellent argument for monsters using different, simpler rules from PCs.

From the construction of the table, it also becomes clear that Strength is valuable in the game, so valuable that few people have any bonuses from it and those bonuses are small. However, attack and damage bonuses both affect damage output, and with that in mind a given score in STR approaches the value of the same score in DEX or CON. But you’re effectively one ability score point lower in the modifier output for STR when compared to DEX or CON. With STR being such a valuable score, a Fighter class ability related to STR is even more necessary for the expected operation of the character.

TL;DR: In a lower-power game true to something between OD&D and 1E, you could have all Fighters roll Exceptional Strength and layer it on their natural STR score. They get a minimum of +0/+1 in combat and extremely high STR is rare.

In a medium-power game you could give Fighters +4 to starting STR up to 18, then have them roll d% for Exceptional Strength, with +5% per point of bonus overflow. They get a minimum of +1/+3 in combat and extremely high STR is still rare, but more common. Fighters become attractive compared to Rangers and Paladins.

Or you could ignore the problem of players wanting to play a specific class. Have everyone roll stats. Anyone who wants to play a Fighter needs a 16 and write in Half-Orc, or needs a 17 and write in anything but Halfling, or else play a Ranger or Paladin. STR under 12 means you’re not playing any kind of warrior-type.

2 Responses to “1E Fighter Exceptional Strength”

  1. dicechucker Says:

    Was it true that only fighters got the exceptional strength in 1e, not Paladins or rangers? We certainly didn’t play that way back in the 1e era and I seem to recall–perhaps incorrectly–that there were numerous examples of hyper-strong paladins and rangers in various TSR publications such as Rogues Gallery. Elmo from Village of Hommlet was a ranger with exceptional strength…

    That said, tranche is a great word, thank you for introducing me to it.

    • 1d30 Says:

      Actually, I’m totally wrong in the above post. Where the books refer to “fighters” they’re almost always actually referring to what 2e would call the Warrior group, which includes the Fighter, Paladin, and Ranger classes. The mixup comes in when you read 1e literally without reading the 0e Greyhawk supplement where Fighter subclasses and exceptional strength were introduced. In the 0e thinking, a Fighter who had certain qualifications could be a Ranger or Paladin – they really just take up a short paragraph without getting the full class treatment. 1e is essentially a compilation of material from all the 0e supplements and some Dragon articles (sometimes without much of an editorial or balancing pass). Based on that I think the 1e subclasses should be treated as having all the powers, rights, responsibilities, and emoluments of the main class unless otherwise stated.

      For example, 1e Druids don’t get to turn because it says they don’t in the class description. But the Wisdom bonus spell section doesn’t specifically deny them bonus spells, it just says that “clerics” get bonus spells. If “fighters” get EX-STR, and “sweep” attacks against enemies of less than 1 HD, it follows that Druids should get those bonus spells. And if the DMG says M-Us do XYZ, then we should assume Illusionists do too, again unless otherwise stated.

      In terms of published use, there are Rangers and Paladins with EX-STR, and it worked that way in the Gold Box PC games.

      I wanted to leave the article up, even though my mind was changed, because it’s still worthwhile, and it’s nice to have reminders around that I can be wrong sometimes ;P

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