Recently, I've been playing quite a bit of a variant on the Swords & Wizardy retroclone of O-D&D. What our group has noticed in general is that high and low scores rarely matter, and even when they do, the bonus they provide is marginal, a few extra hitpoints or a +1 to hit or AC. My question is this: What are the pros and cons of removing ability scores from O D&D? To me, mechanically they seem to have very little effect, but there's quite possibly a reason for keeping them I've overlooked.
Mechanically, you could easily remove individual scores from any edition of Dungeons & Dragons prior to 3e, simply by declaring that all characters have average ability scores of 10 or 12. (For 3rd edition or latter, you'll need to take the additional step of declaring what happens when characters get an ability score increase.)
Doing so makes for a substantially quicker character creation process, but it is not without a major drawback — you lose the descriptive fidelity that ability scores provide. Now you don't have any way for the game to recognize that Phil's character is "exceptionally strong", or that Abigail's PC is "quick as the wind."
And, at least according to the Swords & Wizardry ebook rules, you'd also wind up with a set of magic-users who couldn't cast any spells beyond 5th or 6th level, and who all had at best a 50% or 55% chance to learn a spell. (Although such would be simple enough to hand-wave away.)
It depends on which OD&D you mean. If you are playing with the Greyhawk supplement, which expanded the ability bonus values and added the Intelligence table for magic-users, or with Swords & Wizardry Complete, ability scores mean about as much as they do in AD&D, so there would be a visible effect.
If you are playing without the Greyhawk ability bonuses, ability scores mostly only affect experience points. Removing scores in S&W Whitebox would slow level advancement a tiny bit, or at least make faster advancement less likely. In "LBB only" OD&D, though, there are a couple places where the raw scores matter:
- Intelligence -10 = number of languages learnable.
- Constitution determines "surviving adversity" (system shock.)
- Charisma x10 = command control range in yards.
- Intelligence + Strength is used when trying to control a magic sword.
So, if you aren't using any of those four, it might be possible to ditch ability scores with no ill effect.