Chad Perrin: SOB

25 January 2009

New Attributes, (Mostly) Old Rules

Filed under: Geek,RPG — Tags: , , , — apotheon @ 01:11

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

I’ve taken issue with the way attributes are handled in D&D for a very long time — both the names of the attributes and the way game effects are based on them. I don’t like the fact that half-orcs are, on average, mentally retarded (with a -2 Intelligence); I don’t like the fact that being likable grants you more power as a sorcerer; I don’t like the fact that people essentially have to be more learned to be better at hiding in shadows; I don’t like the fact that the ability to make out details of someone approaching from a distance is based on whether you’re wise; I don’t like the fact that being attractive is essentially a prerequisite for being any good at scaring the crap out of someone.

New Attributes

For the most part, this is solved by doing nothing more drastic to the game system than changing the names of the attributes. As a result, I’m going to start using a new set of attributes in my games:

  • ST: Strength (same as always)
  • DX: Dexterity (same as always)
  • CN: Constitution (same as always)
  • SC: Scholarship (formerly Intelligence)
  • IN: Intuition (formerly Wisdom)
  • PR: Presence (formerly Charisma)

The Scholarship attribute is not native Intelligence, nor is it a character’s current level of education. Rather, it is the character’s affinity for academic knowledge and educational study.

The Intuition attribute is the cunning, common sense reasoning, awareness, and mystical connectedness of the character. There’s a nice differentiation between Intuition and the concept of wisdom that we encounter in everyday life, too, that was not well represented with the attribute known as Wisdom.

The Presence attribute is a character’s force of personality and ability to impose his or her will on others through manipulation, intimidation, cajoling, and other nonphysical and nonmagical means of influencing others’ decisions and emotions. This also helps remind people that the physical attractiveness of a character is not necessarily identical to a given attribute — a character may be both beautiful and uncharismatic, and neither necessarily has a strong relationship to the Presence attribute itself.

New Rules

You might think these changes would require a whole bunch of new rules to make things work out smoothly. I’ve listed and explained all the rules changes I think are required to make this work well.

Skill Points:

This does increase the problem of connecting the Scholarship/Intelligence attribute with one’s skill point total in OGL/d20 games (i.e., D&D and Pathfinder), however. As such, when determining skill point totals, I’ll just let a player use the higher of SC and IN to determine skill points. As such, a Cleric who would have gotten two skill points per level with an Intelligence of 10 and Wisdom of 17, instead gets five skill points per level with a Scholarship of 10 and Intuition of 17. If you’re going to use this modified list of attributes, I recommend you do the same. It helps if you remember that a character with a higher Intuition is more likely to have a greater focus on experiential and innate talent based skills, whereas a character with a higher Scholarship is more likely to have a greater focus on academic skills (book learnin’). In cases where a character has more academic skills than talent-based skills, despite having a higher Intuition than Scholarship, I’m willing to just let it go with giving the PC the benefit of the doubt on points so that I don’t penalize a player for having attributes that best suit the character concept (I tend to prefer point-buy systems over dice-rolling for attribute determination).

That’s it. No, really — after thinking about it and discussing it with my SigO, I don’t think there are any other cases of basic game rules that need to be adjusted at all to fit with this change in the attributes’ names and concepts.

18 Comments

  1. I like it. It’s always annoyed me that my bad-decision-making fighter has to ALSO suck at surviving in nature, just because he has -1 Wis. Even though, according to his backstory, he grew up in the wilderness.

    I love Iron Heroes’ skill system for the most part, and here’s one thing you might like from it: Your Intimidate bonus is based on the highest of your Str, Con (I think) and Cha. Makes sense to me. I don’t see why other skills couldn’t function similarly.

    Comment by Swordgleam — 25 January 2009 @ 11:47

  2. You’re right — I do like that about Iron Heroes (I’ve played a little Iron Heroes in the past). I’ve actually been leaning toward just picking the appropriate attribute to apply to a skill based on circumstances and the specific action taken, anyway. I’m not sure when that idea first occurred to me, but it might have been around ’92 or so in the early days of Vampire: the Masquerade.

    Welcome to SOB, by the way, and thanks for commenting.

    Comment by apotheon — 25 January 2009 @ 12:42

  3. I think that Charisma means more than just being good looking, that is just a connotation you have placed on the word. I view Charisma as your force of personality, you can have a high Charisma but still look like Quasimodo. In fact, in Merriam-Webster’s definition, there is no mention of physical beauty:

    1 : a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (as a political leader) 2 : a special magnetic charm or appeal

    Nor does Dictionary.com:

    a spiritual power or personal quality that gives an individual influence or authority over large numbers of people.

    I think that we sometimes take issues with particular facets of games because we bring our own perspective to the table, which may or may not be fact or shared by others at the table.

    I do, however, agree with you about how ability scores affect skill ranks and the default key abilities assigned to some skills.

    Comment by Mad Brew — 25 January 2009 @ 09:12

  4. I think that Charisma means more than just being good looking

    Yes, it does.

    that is just a connotation you have placed on the word.

    No, I have not.

    What I said was “This also helps remind people that the physical attractiveness of a character is not necessarily identical to a given attribute”. In other words, you interpreted my statement of the relationship between the CHA attribute and physical attractiveness as the exact opposite of what I actually said — and ignored the fact that I was talking about how other people view that relationship. It’s not that I think charisma is only physical beauty, but that other people often think physical beauty is entirely determined by the Charisma attribute.

    My point was that changing the name from Charisma to Presence may serve to undermine that connotative assumption so that people won’t just automatically assume a character with an 18 CHA attribute must be beautiful.

    The entirety of your argument, I’m afraid, misses my point completely.

    In fact, I’d like to divorce the force of personality attribute almost completely from any sense of physical beauty. I think that force of personality — i.e., presence — should perhaps affect how one’s beauty is perceived, but should not determine a quantitative measure of that beauty. For instance, one’s physical beauty might range anywhere from 3 to 18 if you want to make it another attribute, and the most effect one’s force of personality attribute should have on that is to apply the attribute modifier (e.g., +2 for a 16 CHA or PR) to the beauty attribute to produce a final perceived beauty.

    Comment by apotheon — 25 January 2009 @ 10:31

  5. At the very beginning you speak in first person about it:

    I don’t like the fact that being attractive is essentially a prerequisite for being any good at scaring the crap out of someone.”

    This would lead readers to believe that you attribute the same relationships to the word charisma as other people do. I’m not here to start a flame, but I think my “argument” is sound given the information provided.

    Switching gears, should things be renamed or restructured for the sole purpose to accommodate the ignorant? I think designing for the lowest common denominator only breed mediocrity in the product.

    Comment by Mad Brew — 26 January 2009 @ 09:36

  6. At the very beginning you speak in first person about it:

    “I don’t like the fact that being attractive is essentially a prerequisite for being any good at scaring the crap out of someone.”

    What makes you think that attractiveness is always physical?

    This would lead readers to believe that you attribute the same relationships to the word charisma as other people do.

    That’s only true if they do the same thing you accuse me of doing: reading meaning into terms that isn’t actually included in the definitions of those terms.

    Switching gears, should things be renamed or restructured for the sole purpose to accommodate the ignorant?

    No, they shouldn’t. That’s why I also listed other reasons for the changes.

    Comment by apotheon — 26 January 2009 @ 11:38

  7. [laughing out loud] Touche.

    Comment by Mad Brew — 27 January 2009 @ 02:17

  8. […] for “scene” in those games. When I’ve felt compelled to change terminology, such as I described in New Attributes, (Mostly) Old Rules, it has been as an accompaniment to altering what the rules whose terms have been changed actually […]

    Pingback by Chad Perrin: SOB » What is the importance of RPG terminology? — 22 February 2009 @ 06:53

  9. […] for “scene” in those games. When I’ve felt compelled to change terminology, such as I described in New Attributes, (Mostly) Old Rules, it has been as an accompaniment to altering what the rules whose terms have been changed actually […]

    Pingback by Chad Perrin: SOB » What is the importance of RPG terminology? — 22 February 2009 @ 06:53

  10. I very much like the name (and definition) changes for the six good-old attributes of the D&D rooster. Especially with ditching Charisma and ditching that vague force of personality thing (I much rather have your take on it.) I think I’ll be applying those in the near future if I bring myself to do something related to D&D (which will probably be designing arcade type encounters for my friends to play through in 4th Ed.)

    As a side dish, I’ll give you the list of physical and mental attributes found in the friendly Theatrix: the Core Rules

    Strength Stamina Coordination Intellect Intuition Presence

    Notice any similarities? =) Fred.

    PS: It’s been a long time, I hope I can catch up rather quickly. Cheers to you Chad!

    Comment by the_blunderbuss — 24 February 2009 @ 07:29

  11. I very much like the name (and definition) changes for the six good-old attributes of the D&D rooster.

    Thanks!

    ditching that vague force of personality thing

    Um, I’d love to claim credit for that, but I actually used the words “force of personality” to describe “Presence” above.

    Notice any similarities?

    Yes, I most certainly do.

    PS: It’s been a long time, I hope I can catch up rather quickly. Cheers to you Chad!

    And to you. I hope you enjoy what you read. If you want to focus primarily on the RPG stuff here, I recommend clicking on the RPG category link, either at the top of any of the RPG category entries here at SOB, or in the right-hand column list of categories. You’ve probably already figured that out, but I wanted to make it explicit in case you find all my rambling about politics and programming and so on boring.

    Comment by apotheon — 24 February 2009 @ 11:56

  12. You’ve probably already figured that out, but I wanted to make it explicit in case you find all my rambling about politics and programming and so on boring.

    Actually, barring some things that seem obscure to me, I rather enjoy your writing style so I tend to look at the rest of your articles after I’m done with the RPG section. Actually if you don’t mind me borrowing the programmer in you for a second, would you know any good resource for someone (me) wanting to get a basic grasp on PHP (I don’t think that it’s your area of expertise but you might know something.) If you do and you want to drop me a line I’d appreciate it.

    Enough with the Off-Topicness I say!

    On a different note I’m rather fond of not having a strict skill-attribute relationship. That is, that you could benefit from different attributes depending on the particular use you’re making of the skill. This sounds fairly coherent (in my opinion) but at the same time could be problematic to implement since usually a lot of things go on at the same time in even mildly complex tasks (think about a doctor during a surgery, should we check with intelligence to account for his analysis of the situation, coordination to make sure he is graceful enough for the task, stamina to make sure his composure doesn’t break to the pressure… and so on.) Do you have any hands-on experience on this?

    Fred.

    Comment by the_blunderbuss — 24 February 2009 @ 02:48

  13. Actually if you don’t mind me borrowing the programmer in you for a second, would you know any good resource for someone (me) wanting to get a basic grasp on PHP (I don’t think that it’s your area of expertise but you might know something.)

    Interestingly enough, I’ve actually written a very basic level PHP tutorial myself. It is barely enough to get one started making the simplest of dynamic Websites using PHP, and it targets people who already know some basics of programming (in other languages than PHP), but for people who fit that description I think it’s a pretty quick and easy start on learning PHP on one’s own.

    I mostly learned the PHP I know by deconstructing other people’s code, so I’m afraid I don’t know of a great tutorial approach to learning it. If you have any specific questions (about the tutorial or PHP programming), feel free to hit me up via my contact page (since I don’t think you have an email address for me yet). I’m kind of rusty these days, since most of what I do with PHP now is avoid it if possible. I can probably provide some more advice on how/where to learn PHP than what I’ve already said, but any more advice would have to depend on some idea of your specific motivations and circumstances, so I think personal communication via IMs or email would be appropriate if you want more of my advice on the matter.

    Do you have any hands-on experience on this?

    Do you mean with games that do that sort of thing? I’ve played a lot of White Wolf first and second edition World of Darkness games, and they use a system where there’s no direct relationship between skills (including Talents, Skills, and Knowledges, in the parlance of that game line) and attributes. That system worked exceedingly well with an ad-hoc mix-and-match approach to pairing skills with attributes. There was basically a whole chapter in the first edition Vampire: the Masquerade game that provided “official” attribute/skill pairings for specific tasks, but the game book’s content was carefully written to ensure players knew these could be altered to suit the needs of special circumstances or the play style of a particular group (or just because people don’t remember the “official” pairing and want to keep the action moving), and that many circumstances would just have to be covered on the fly. In the groups with whom I’ve played WoD games, we never had any problems with the flexibility of that system — no decision paralysis, for instance.

    I found that this led to a certain amount of bending the application of the rules to suit the specific capabilities of characters using various skills, but that this wasn’t a problem. Rather, it well suited the simulation of the tendency of real people, in real life, doing the same things in slightly different ways to fit their own skillsets, preferences, and innate talents. One might imagine that two different people might take entirely different approaches to punching someone (for instance), where one relies on speed and precision to strike and damage an opponent because that is where that person’s strongest abilities lie, and the other might rely more on physical power and ferocity to strike and damage an opponent because that is where that person’s strongest abilities lie. In fact, this lent a lot more “flavor” to the way things played out in game sessions than the D&D (and GURPS and so on) approach of rigid, predefined relationships between specific skills and specific attributes. These, among others, are some of the reasons I want to decouple skills and attributes in the Apotheosis RPG (working title). I talked a little bit (and only a little bit) about Apotheosis RPG and what I plan to do with its design in How do you feel about energy resistance? about a week ago.

    I hope that answers your question as you intended it.

    Comment by apotheon — 24 February 2009 @ 04:38

  14. Do you mean with games that do that sort of thing? I’ve played a lot of White Wolf first and second edition World of Darkness games, and they use a system where there’s no direct relationship between skills (including Talents, Skills, and Knowledges, in the parlance of that game line) and attributes.

    For having played (and owned) World of Darkness games for about 2 years I was being pretty thick headed =P. I guess I was thinking more in the framework of a game like D&D (or what I understand is the certain mainstream of D&D) where concepts like ‘fairness’ (whatever the heck that might be) is an important element of play (I believe due to the nature of play that is based on challenging the players to an intellectual game where they might win or loose.)

    To be honest I don’t think that there would be any sort of paralysis when faced with these kind of mechanics. Disagreements are bound to happen in any environment where people have to interact but I’ve relied on talking and compromising on my games (then again my style might be different) rather than going “by the book” or emphasizing any notion of fairness (barring being fair to the players that want to have an entertaining afternoon/evening/whatever…)

    Fred.

    PS: I will certainly contact you (been reading some things about programming… I’ll pester you if I can think of any particular question) when I have a clearer idea of what exactly is what I need. Thank you for the offer.

    Comment by the_blunderbuss — 24 February 2009 @ 06:09

  15. Actually, I think “fairness” is as much an important factor in the old White Wolf WoD games as in D&D and the like. The difference is that “fair” gets differently defined because the core focus of the game is redefined, thus altering the goals and motivations that produce a perspective on what “fair” means.

    Thank you for the offer.

    No problem.

    Comment by apotheon — 24 February 2009 @ 06:25

  16. Actually, I think “fairness” is as much an important factor in the old White Wolf WoD games as in D&D and the like.

    I think I understand what you’re going for, and it’s probably what I was thinking about (I think) when I wrote this…

    barring being fair to the players that want to have an entertaining afternoon/evening/whatever…

    Each game sets a formal group or role boundaries and expectations. These define both who we ‘are’ within the context of the game (based on roles definitions) and what we might do (which in the case of roleplaying games translates to “how we might interact” with one another -through a collective space of shared fiction or not-.) Of course each group is the sole embodiment of any such rules (which are more or less known and usually don’t take verbal form.)

    If we accept such statements, there is always a fleeting zone of compromise that constitutes fair behaviour and fair assumptions within a gameplay environment. In such regards, fairness is a prerequisite for good (good=enjoyable) gameplay.

    Then again, I might be completely off. Care to elaborate?

    Fred.

    PS: Are we getting too off topic? Should we move this to some place else (different article, private discussion)?

    Comment by the_blunderbuss — 25 February 2009 @ 05:18

  17. On a different note I’m rather fond of not having a strict skill-attribute relationship.
    I think that there are two goals one might want tight coupling of attributes and skills for: (1) arithmetic-heavy rules system such that associating skills and attributes in play would be slow or (2) carefully balanced attributes (for some meaning of balance)

    Other than those, no reason to not allow dynamic combination of skills and attributes. IMO.

    Comment by Tommi — 25 February 2009 @ 08:13

  18. (…)or (2) carefully balanced attributes (for some meaning of balance)

    This was what I was going for when I talked about fairness on that comment. The idea that somehow you can’t make one attribute more powerful than another because it will then lower the value and usefulness of the other attributes. For those who have read the game, think about the usual discussions about the Strength attribute in Amber Diceless Roleplaying to get a feel for what I was trying to go for.

    Still the talk about fairness dug up some interesting thoughts I guess, we’ll see where this can lead us.

    Fred.

    Comment by the_blunderbuss — 25 February 2009 @ 08:44

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