Monday, July 15, 2013

The Beautiful People Will Outlive Us All

Your level 11 cleric wishes her stats were this cool looking.
So a lot of times something comes up at the table that isn't covered under the normal rules for killing or searching or hiring or looting or saving and I want to have some gradient between simply Yes or No, and a nice ability roll solves that problem by introducing chance in the mix, so I use the old equal-to-or-under-ability-score-roll, with modifiers as they come in the game and situational adjustments made on the fly, normal boring stuff.

What isn't really codified is the "head-canon" (I apologize for the term) I use when someone comes up with something that doesn't cleanly fall into Hit It, Use It, Tough It Out, Think About It, Believe It, or Talk To It. Sometimes I want a few at-a-glance guides to let me know how the various PCs measure up in literal terms. Anyway, I've seen games out there with just a ton of stats, and while I can see the intent in that kind of micromanagement it slows down character creation and makes it easy to goof up what you want. They're also games that usually have point-buy, which I eschew when running my D&D game. But in looking at the default ability scores and how they're usually talked about in many of the official game products and talked about online and in person in terms of practical use, it seems that the classic six abilities model a wider swath of categories of ability scores. I categorize these as...

Strength- Plain old physical exertion, foot pounds of pressure, OHOTMU lifting and pressing, self explanatory.
Stamina- Endurance, and how long and frequently you can put in the level of physical exertion dungeon crawling demands.
Stature- Can just be how big of a dude you are but just as likely refers to the totality of the fitness of your physique, in a fight Club carved-from-wood kind of way. I guess it could also measure how cool people think your scars are.
Dexterity- The ability to manipulate your body in order to deftly manipulate objects, such as bows, slings, locks, and ropes.
Dodge- The lithe sidestepping and avoidance of the brunt of dangers which confers your Armor Class bonus.
Discipline- The hard work (or kung fu) that reflects your training and perseverance, be you Marine sharpshooter or Shaolin disciple.
Constitution- This is often modeled as an increasing pool of health or, in some monsters, sheer scale, but more often is described in the primary texts as simply a facility at dealing with injury; rookies have a harder time walking off shrapnel than grizzled veterans, sort of thing. Also applies to certain illnesses and such, along similar thinking.
Comeliness- A lot of folk build this into Charisma but to me being good looking and being attractive are two different things, not necessarily related, and I might as well put it here as anywhere.
Chi- Your literal life-force, the midichlorian energy possessed by all matter. Luminous beings are etc etc, this is what level drain affects.
Intellect- Learning and knowledge, problem solving, vocabulary, and impulse control.
Insight- Not just how to read those around you but, just as importantly, knowing when you can't and that you're missing something.
Intuition- Memory and forethought meet at instinct and reflex, and allow one to predict the outcome of an theory.
Wisdom- Governs your faith and inner strength and how tuned in you are to the world and forces around you.
Wariness- How cautious you are and your sense of self preservation.
Willpower- Your mental health and general togetherness of your shit, and resistance to other, outside shit.
Charisma- How personable and persuasive and people-y you are; how good your management skills are.
Craft- Your ability at expressing yourself creatively through art or enterprise.
Cool- Your ability to maintain your composure and charm in the face of adversity, remaining clear-headed.

A few things are obvious looking at this:
  • It's a facile system that isn't very simulationy but is very gameable.
  • It's a system where some of these sub-abilities overlap, but I'm fine with that, because there should never be just one solution to a problem even mechanically; even the monster entry for Medusa suggests a few different ways to take her out apart from the one everyone is going to do.
  • Some of these abilities are categorized where they are not because it's the 100% best match but because they start with the right letter, which is as designed, so these rulings can be made at a glance. 
  • It has some unintended confluences like the one in the title of this post which are hilarious.
Now, do make my players write all that shit down? No, they don't need to track all that separately and it would slow down the "What are you guys doing?" to "I am now playing D&D and maybe enjoying myself" journey. Do I have a DM  screen with this chart of sub-abilities on it, or a set list of Comeliness DCs? No, because that would be boring and puts me and the players in a box before the situation even comes up.

Again, this line of thinking only exists to help with some on-the-spot rulings, and so far it does. With aplomb. It's also particularly useful when someone comes to me with a kind of character, be it normal class or some new race, that they want to play, because I can point out how that manner of character works well within the existing framework of classes/races and abilities. If they're adamant or they want something that works and feels deliberately differently, I can also use this line of thinking as a guide to constructing something new and cool, or use it to determine how someone else's hacked-together class or race will fit into my game.

And while I'm on the subject of ability scores, let me say something barely related on the subject of checks, something my players have by now picked up on. If you say something like "I want to roll a diplomacy check to talk to him" or "I want to make an Intelligence check to talk to him" then whatever check you're making gets a -2 penalty. At my table the player's job is to tell the GM what they want to do and how they want to do it narratively, as in "I want to get past the door by sneaking disguised as a hedge" or "I want to bluff my way past the door disguised as the President" or "ME BASH WAY THROUGH DOOR DISGUISED AS WALL OF AXE AND DEATH." When they do this, it becomes my job as the GM to say that they succeed, and how well they succeed, or fail, and how badly they fail, or to set any conditions for any variables such as a roll or any accompanying difficulty modifiers for all points in between, or in other words to set the Mechanical How (good name for Feng Shui character?) in those instances where the result isn't blindingly obvious. Players don't get to do my job by deciding THAT a check is required to determine success or failure, much less WHAT check will determine success or failure, and presuming to do so comes with a penalty. It's only a 2 point penalty though because I'm an a-hole but I'm not a huge a-hole.

Now saying "I make a Wisdom check" and rolling before I can get the words out to stop you or set conditions, or rolling and saying "OK that roll I just made was a Wisdom check," is a -10, because all I hear when you do that is you playing the game by yourself, which is a little disrespectful to the other players and kind of also disrespectful to whomever is running, because you're basically going "NEXT!" to whatever situation or problem has been presented to you.