Prime stats & XP bonus

Now that the players in my campaign crawl closer to second level I started pondering about a certain rule:
Why do characters with high “prime” stats get more XP?

For one because it’s sort of a historical thing. From an “in world” description it represents that smart wizards, wise clerics and strong warriors advance more easily.

Game-wise abilities scores in OD&D didn’t have a huge game impact. Int/wisdom didn’t increase your casting power. Dex didn’t help thieves sneak better or climb walls better. Str did help fighters, but not in any way it didn’t help any other class who swung a weapon.

The exp bonus was a way for your prime stat to matter. A 16 int magic user was “better” than a 12 int one, but not in some way that really made you need a high int to play the class.

I believe ACKS breaks from this a little in that a high int gives you more variety in the spells you can know, but not cast. But it still stays true that a high int or wis doesn’t let you cast more spells.

Personally I think newer editions of D&D put far too much emphasis on ability scores. It creates a game where you pretty much need to max your prime stats for power reasons and every wizard, cleric, fighter and thief begins to look the same. In OD&D I can play a 13 dex thief and not be gimped. I’ll advance at a slower rate than an 18 dex one, but many classes advanced at different rates and it’s just not a big deal. Eventually you’ll reach cap, just a little slower than that agile kid over there, so it all works out in the end anyway.

For me ACKS totally got this one right.

Hey! That’s some fascinating insight! I’ve always wondered about that myself, somewhere in the back of my mind. It didn’t seem fair that you got a “double benefit”.

But now I get it. Instead of your high DEX 1st level rogue being twice as good as my average DEX 1st level rogue, now your high DEX 2nd level thief is twice as good as my average DEX 1st level thief.

Basically, doing it that way keeps “level” relevant. It’s like proto-ECLs!

(“Effective Character Level”, from 3.5, if you’ll recall.)

It’s kind of inverse ECL, where you get extra levels for being awesome.

On the other hand, twice as good is a pretty heavy overstatement (probably; Dex is one case of a stat everyone loves). You’re getting at most 10% more XP, which certainly adds up but really only means you’re levelling in 91% of the time it takes the other guy. Likewise, level in ACKS isn’t as big a deal as in 3.x, I find; the best thing about being a 2nd level thief compared to a 1st level thief is that you have twice as many HP. The only other things you get are +1 to your skills and ability to hire L1 henchmen. Other than that, not much difference.

(Well, yes. I was exaggerating the effectiveness to get the point across.)