Saturday, May 5, 2012

Beyond This Point Be Dragons Ability Scores

I’ve been asked if I would provide some additional info about BEYOND THIS POINT BE DRAGONS and how it relates to Dave Arneson, and as long as people are interested, I don’t mind, doing so from time to time, but can’t devote a huge amount of time to it.  However, this post is a note I had prepared a while back.

What the first print calls “ability scores” are referred to as either personality traits or character traits in BTPBD.  On page 4 of BTPBD section “Before Setting out for Fame and Fortune” they appear in the following order:

Ego (or Loyalty)

Of particular interest for our purposes are these three:
                Health -  Health instead of Constitution is the term            
                Arneson uses in Adventures in Fantasy

                Appearance –  Appearance instead of Charisma is the
               term originally used in early Blackmoor according to
                original player Greg Svenson.

                Ego (or loyalty) – In 1st print D&D, loyalty is a measure
               used for hirelings and the only surviving application of
               Ego is in the magic swords section.  Ego as a trait stands
               out in particular for its repeated use as a character trait in
               the First Fantasy Campaign (FFC80: 14, 45, 47, 59) and is
               also a key aspect of Arneson’s magic swords creation
               rules in the FFC,  just as in 1st print.  Blackmoor fans will
               also readily recognize that the opposite of Ego, the Id was
               used to represent a famouse cult and monster in the
               setting.  The use of the Ego trait in BTPBD is
               characteristically Arneson. 

Missing completely from the BTPBD is Dexterity.   The term itself rings of Gygaxian turn of phrase  along with Charisma and Constitution, so it is not too surprising that BTPBD doesn’t use them.  Since we know that “ability scores” were invented early in Blackmoor play and are basic to the game, we can be sure they were either among the 16-20 pages of notes Arneson sent Gygax (manuscript A) or explained in early discussions between the two.  It seems likely that the addition of Dexterity and the use of Charisma and Constitution wasn’t adopted until Gygax wrote manuscript C or later, rather than being a deliberate change in BTPBD.     

Nevertheless it is curious that there is no Dexterity substitute like agility, for example.  Thus either the manuscript Arneson was working from did not have “Dexterity” (a further hint he was working off the earlier Manuscript B) or he chose to remove it for unobvious reasons.

We know from Svenson and others that a primary function of the “Character Traits” in pre D&D Blackmoor, was as saving throw categories.  As such, Dexterity is a conspicuous absence, because it is Dexterity – dodging skill basically - that one would use in many combat and magic attack situations.  It is the roll one would use to see whether a character might just have jumped, twisted, ducked in the nick of time as that bit of evil came at them.  Right?

Perhaps  - and this is just a guess - a reason BTPBD doesn’t include Dexterity is that there are already 6 “Dexterity” categories in the form of specific saving throws – Death Ray, Poison, Stone, Dragon Breath, Spells. 


  1. Hm. I'm not sure I agree with your supposition here. I mean, it is a possibility that the lack of a "Dexterous" trait is related to the existence of the 6 saves, but then, that's a bit of a stretch, logically, to lump all six traits together as avatars of a "Dodge skill". I'm not convinced at all by this interpretation.

    Are there actual definition of the personality traits included in the BTPTBD manuscript? I would be interesting to see if, for instance, the Health trait could not have only covered "stamina/constitution", but also your reaction time/vitality.

    1. Yeah, it's just a guess, so you may be right. To answer your question "Health: The measure of how well a person stands up under the strain of events (such as being turned to stone or changed into a toad), as well as the ability to take physical punishment."

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