Monday, January 16, 2006

01. Attributes

artwork by drew baker; copyright aeg; used without permission of any kind; see for more

I'm not a fan of the Mental Attributes in DnD.

It is absurb to assume that they possess even half the weight of the Physical Attributes. Even in 100% political campaigns, there is no way to make these abilities useful (under the present design). Because no mechanic in the game forces an "opposed roll" of Charisma (or any other mental stat), its use in the game is almost superfluous. Since the Mental Attributes have no "direct" effect on the game, short of bonuses to skills that either... never get rolled... or shouldn't be skills at all (more on this later), they are essentially dump stats, unless your class specifically requires their use.

And since attributes should be useful in game play for ALL classes, essentially, these abilities do not hold the same value as the others. They aren't put to good use, they shouldn't cost the same, and they desperately need an overhaul.

Presently, Intelligence provides more skill points (that help few classes other than rogues and rangers), Wisdom grants a bonus to Will saves (and an AC bonus to monks), and Charisma does nothing (although some people argue that sorcerers use this stat... wait... listen for it... that's your arguement getting nailed to a plank of wood).

These stats could be removed from the game, and the game would change less than 1%.

If you don't believe me, try it.

Run an adventure without them and assume your spellcasters have a 15 for their spellcasting attribute.

[Str and Dex are used ALL the time. There's an entire chapter devoted to swinging swords and axes at your enemies! Even Constitution, as a rigid and focused as it is, sees more use in the game.]

The first step to balancing these attributes is to treat them as two entirely different stat pools. Depending on your method, they should be determined separately. If you roll stats, roll Physical ones first and place them among those three as you like. Repeat with the Mental ones. Notice, you have high stats and low stats in each grouping.


The same effect can be accomplished if you use the superior point-based system provided in the DMG.

Next, whenever a race gains a racial bonus to a physical stat, this means it suffers a racial penalty to ANOTHER physical stat. Not the half-assed mental attribute penalties that have been passed off as "balanced" in the past. Go through your race. See if the bonuses match up. Oh look, the dwarf doesn't. And that's on page 1.

This already is a huge fix, but it's only the beginning of making these stats more useful in DnD.

Next, each mental attribute receives a minor to major overhaul in its game function.

In my over-simplification of the stats, Intelligence represents reason and knowledge. It probably means a lot more on some level, but for the purposes of game play, that's all it can measure. However, since the player provides all the reason, problem-solving, and decision-making for his character, the Intelligence score is merely "math" that affects the numbers of the DnD resolution system (which is 99% combat-oriented).

Unless you want the PCs making a die roll for every situation and puzzle they face? Intelligence cannot replace the intellect of the player and therefore, if the PC can't figure it out, a die roll should not be used in its place.


Intelligence is no longer just a bonus to Knowledge skills (which will be changing in a later chapter) you never use or an increase in the number of points you can put into constantly-rolled Craft Skills. Intelligence, now, represents three additional vital additions to the game and one spellcasting bonus. [You will also see new skills in future chapters, but we're not there yet.]

Defense. Intelligent people tend to avoid getting hit with a weapon; even animals avoid getting cut open by predators whenever possible. Someone who is watching the battle, or who has a basic understanding of... sword cuts skin... is more likely to avoid getting hit than a barbarian who throws himself into the fray with abandon. So, it makes no sense that the rules do not somehow represent this.

In addition to a Dexterity bonus to a character's Armor Class, Intelligence as has its own impact -- although not in quite the same manner. Whenever a character selects Total Defense or Fighting Defensively as his combat action for the round, he adds his Intelligence bonus to his AC for that round. Spellcasters, that cast defensively, also increase their AC by their Intelligence bonus, but only by half (round down, minimum 1). Obviously, these are based on Intelligence bonuses, and PCs with an Intelligence below 12 gain no benefit.

Memory. Anytime a character is faced with something he has faced before, needs to recall something from a previous session, or wants to remember the orc word for stop, he is allowed a DC 15 Intelligence check to remember a detail that the player himself may have forgotten or not written down. Don't forget, your characters are living THEIR lives 24/7. Games are an escape from our everyday lives. We can't be expected to remember something that was said six sessions ago.

Tactics. During a battle, Intelligent people (generals) are more likely to find flaws in their enemies defenses. A character that spends a round studying his enemy or aiming a ranged weapon, gains a bonus to his next attack roll equal to his Intelligence modifier. This bonus is good for the first roll made against the opponent in the following round.

Arcane Spellcasting. Not every class can cast spells, but those that can should be able to use Intelligence to their beterment. Any roll made to defeat an enemy's spell resistance that has been "defeated" before, gains a bonus equal to the caster's Intelligence modifier. If I remember correctly, the beholder's left eye was were the acid arrow really made its mark.

Presently, Wisdom is nothing more than a bonus to Listen/Spot and Will saves. That's a weak representation of life-long learning, street smarts, and an overly perceptive mind. While it's true that Wisdom should increase Listen/Spot, it should also represent the "growth" of a character.

Where Intelligence is book smarts and applied logic, Wisdom is an understanding of the intangibles -- people, situations, and the incalcuable human factor. Every epic has the moment where the protagonist learns something; anything. Sometimes the knowledge comes from a mistake or a victory (Beowulf, Wis 11 or 12). But sometimes, the knowledge comes slowly and awaits the protagonist on his death bed (Wis 6) or while waiting in line for Star Wars III (Wis 3).

In addition to the effects on Perception (see later chapter), the character gains an XP bonus equal to 5% for each point of Wisdom bonus and suffers an XP penalty equal to -5% for each point of Wisdom penalty.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of the XP system in DnD. But, 3.x is a great advancement from the Byzantine point structure of prior editions. It's not perfect, but it's all we have. DMs that don't have a problem with PCs not all being the same level, can take full advantage of this idea. And while I don't like percentile XP increases either, this is an excellent use of Wisdom and finally makes it a stat worth putting points into for Fighters and Rogues. Imagine someone playing a wise Barbarian. C'mon. Imagine it.

For about 30 years, players have been making the 18 Charisma joke about being handsome/beautiful, missing the entire point of this attribute. Charisma does not represent looks, but presence, moxie (or lack thereof), and overall command. A high Charisma score can mean anything from good looks to a commanding voice to an aura of confidence. Charisma draws people in or pushes them away.

An ugly person can still have a high Charisma, because he is a powerful or determined leader. I'll bet Grima Wormtongue had a Charisma of 18 or more. Beautiful people usually have a Charisma of 10 once they open their mouths.

In DnD, there is no solid interpersonal system that matches the complexity of the combat system. If a 3rd party company has made one, I haven't seen it. But I intend to show in a later chapter how Charisma will become its own useful tool beyond a bonus to Gather Information checks.

I'm not sure of the full impact of this, but since Constitution only provides a bonus to Fort saves, and hit points, perhaps it could also represent how many hours a day you can work (real work) before requiring 8 hours of rest. Every encounter that involves combat, no matter how long, drains 1 hour from this total. A character with a Constitution score of 12 can march for 12 hours, set up camp, and collapse. A character with a Constitution score of 17 can march for 13 hours, forage for 1 hour, hunt for 1 hour, fight three orcs, and still have time to cook dinner for the party, while setting up his tent, grooming his horse, and setting out his clothes for tomorrow.

Characters with Constitution scores below 10, slow down the party considerably.


Smellyweasel said...

I like these ideas, in fact I use a few of them, like intellegence checks to remember something.

I really like the new XP point system in 3.x because of its simplicity and its logical sense, but this is also as I compare it to the previous versions. The one thing that I don't like about the new system, is that there isn't much variance among the players and their levels. That is why I really like your ideas for WIS effects on XP.

jim pinto said...

I'll be adding more information in time. The next post will be about game themes and GM advice.

Keep the comments coming.

Herb said...

So I'm being jonny-post-lately but still hmm. If I remember right (at least in the 3.0 PHB), Wisdom was the stat related to memory (A high int low wis being the absent-minded professor stereotype). That's what our group always used at any rate. However, int is logical. I will also note that the XPH's skill, Autohypnosis, which can be used for some memory purposes is again, Wis. Then again, that's all WotC.

Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed, when using memory related skills and abilities (most notably the Akashic class), is all Int based.

As far as Charisma goes, yes, it's a common misconception that CH is how pretty one is. I can be damn commanding because I've got a sword grafted into my left shoulder bone and scars everywhere, and a pretty damn loud voice. That's not pretty, still could be high CHA. WotC tried to make it more useful by tacking it onto saves for Paladins, and if I remember right, Deities & Demigods tried to attach charisma bonus to near everything. Nothing being said about the validity of any of these sources of course.

Of course, I'll have more to say in a couple months once we've done a couple cycles of Core-Mock, our reaction to our GM complaining casually that we do too much out of core. So they'll be characters using only PH concepts (and DMG for magic items obviously), but with completely misaligned stats. Imagine the Strong and Wise half-orc rogue, being LN (won't do any roguing without yelling for permission first, and he listens), and using a heavy weapon (good bye sneak attack!). He hits hard, and still gets a fair amount of skill points despite a low int. Not like int had any other use either, he's not gonna take Combat Expertise anyway.

Hell, you can have a +1 mod to int and just go for quickened, maximized burning hands. Quick AoE damage, and you can put more points into the ever-prized strength (ever note how a +2 strength means -2 to 2 mental stats?). So the wizard fights hard, and can cast on the side. No big deal. Skill points? He's not gonna counterspell, no point to spellcraft checks.

Dex also isn't that big a deal, it's a few more skills, AC (assuming your armor doesn't nerf that), and reflex saves. Oh right, and initiative. Though in hopes that goes out the window (or group initative is another cute idea). Anything is better than a direct stat derived intiative. At least D&D adds a roll, as opposed to Fallout PnP, where Perception (they're on the SPECIAL stat block) times 2 is your sequence. Sequence determines who goes first, no rolls asked. Sure you can take some perks and use that outdoorsman skill along with PE again to place yourself, but order is shearly stat based. It also depends, the chit system means you have to draw chits every round, instead of rolling once at the start of combat. A streamline method of chits might be more appealing though.

Well that's enough for now, I'm gonna run down to the Guildpact tourney here. Hope this isn't missed.

jim pinto said...

I will say this again for those who missed it.

Every attribute, needs to be equally useful to every class....

Otherwise it's not an attribute.

It's that simple. There's no reason for a Barbarian to have a single point of CHA. If he's doing the point system, he should drop this stat down as low as he can.

Same goes for fighters and rangers and monks.

If you want to remove CHA from the game (and you should want to remove it), you have my blessing, my permission, and my respect for being part of a movement to eliminate another tired trope from RPGs that remain out of simple nostalgia and not logic.

3rd Edition would have been a great game in 1992 when 2nd edition released, instead the game stagnating for a decade because throw-back, Neanderthal designers and players could not let go of things like proficiency slots, THAC0, and Monster HD+; all because people wanted to remain faithful, instead of moving forward. 2nd edition could only get worse with each supplement and did.

And so many games followed in that design, making CHA an attribute instead of a class feature. If CHA is important to Bards and Paladins, give them a bonus to Diplomacy checks. If a fighter wants to be Charismatic, he has to take a feat or put points in SOCIAL skills. What does being charming have to do with game mechanics that are 99% about combat?

If D&D were a different game, I wouldn’t be having this discussion. If you look at Vampire, you’ll see a 3 x 3 grid of physical attributes, mental, and social attributes. DnD is a 3, 2, 1 grid… where do you think the weight of the game lies? CHA is a dump stat, because the game made it a LIMP attribute, unworthy of your attention.


Either cut it from the game, or use the social system I’m going to present later.

But don't tell me it's an Attribute. It's not.

[And Wisdom isn't memory. Wisdom is a like having a trade, where Intelligence is book smarts.]