Monday, September 29, 2008

Dump Stats: Why?

Depending on your version of D&D...

Strength affects plenty of in-game situations. Combat effectiveness is a big on. Carrying capacity (*if* your game is using encumbrance; many don't), chances of opening doors (how many referees actually require people to roll this to open any old dungeon door?). Strength is very important no matter what class your character is.

Dexterity is another fun one. Adjustments to missile combat, initiative modifiers, armor class modifiers, these are all huge things for a character. Very important no matter who you are, and if you're a thief, hooboy!.

Constitution directly affects hit points. Again, another universally vital stat.

And... that's it. Really, most D&D campaigns can just leave it there. Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma are useless in many games.

A defining feature of traditional gaming is challenging the player, not the character. You don't roll to solve a riddle... you the player have to tell the referee at the table the answer. You don't make a Diplomacy roll, you the player have to role-play the situation and convince the referee with a compelling argument. So we have...

Intelligence. If you're not a magic-user, what use does this have? Hell, in some versions of D&D, the difference between an Int 9 magic-user and an Int 18 magic-user is zippo. In AD&D, there are the intelligence effects on learning spells, but impose those and you'll quickly be thought of as a dick who's hamstringing an already weak (at the beginning of a campaign, anyway) class. Intelligence gives some languages, yeah... but... so? If a referee wants you to talk to that orc, that orc will be able to talk to you, right?

Wisdom. If you're a cleric (and only some versions), this is vitally important. If you're not... well, again, referees who utilize charm and other spells that take control of a character away from a player is generally frowned upon, so that saving throw adjustment just might never be used. And the adjudication of illusions is a 35 year old calamity that people can't seem to agree upon. So... wisdom... *fart*

Charisma. It has no class abilities tied to it whatsoever (unless you are a paladin, and even then it's a checklist item... yes/no and no more), and if you don't use henchmen, what good is it? Who uses reaction rolls anymore? If you're a referee and the player gives some eloquent speech to convince an NPC of something... ignoring the speech and making a roll based only on the character's charisma might be seen as a dick move. But if you base it at all on the player's persuasiveness and effort, what good is the stat? And if is it based on charisma, why would more than one person in the party need a high charisma (besides "what if the party splits up?")?

So what to do? I want Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma to have equal mechanical importance as Strength, Intelligence, and Dexterity. Or if that isn't possible, at least make it so players will be very happy to have a high score in one of these stats and unhappy to have a low score. "Aw darn, my 18 strength and constitution fighter has a 5 Intelligence... shucks!" Yeah, real heartbroken. But you try finding a player who won't be upset that his 18 intelligence magic-user only has a 5 dexterity or constitution (he might be a little more OK with a 5 strength up until the situation is really bad and he needs to defend himself).

So... what to do about this? I have some ideas for Charisma which I'll be laying out there shortly (but even these aren't perfect and doesn't much prevent the "only one guy needs the high score to gain the benefits/prevent the penalties for the party), but I'm stuck on what to do about Intelligence and Wisdom to make them mechanically important to everyone without infringing on the ability of the players to fully role-play based on their own ability.

Help me out.


  1. I often find when I’m stumped on something like this to go straight to the basics. Webster’s defines the two qualities thusly:

    Intelligence - The act or state of knowing; the exercise of the understanding; the capacity to know or understand; readiness of comprehension; the intellect, as a gift or an endowment.

    Wisdom - The quality of being wise; knowledge, and the capacity to make due use of it; knowledge of the best ends and the best means; discernment and judgment; discretion; sagacity; skill; dexterity.

    What I take from that seemingly elementary approach is both attributes could greatly improve/hamper advancement. Intelligence serves well as a general knowledge base for languages and Magic Spells, but one could also see it as a means of measuring level advancement; imposing restrictions on those with lower scores (humans in particular) and breaking beyond for those with higher scores, particularly for the traditionally limited (such as demi-humans). Intelligence might offer bonuses to saves versus psionics and illusions; or even add bonuses to thieves concerning detecting and disarming traps. Wisdom could offer saves versus magic in general; and while prime requisites have traditionally been the source of experience bonuses, one might consider Wisdom as the attribute which enables a character to best utilize his experience. This could translate to game terms either as an additional xp modifier - or the only xp modifier.

    Just a few suggestions off the top of my head ... for what they're worth.


  2. So... wisdom... *fart*

    I totally agree with that sentiment. But I do use reaction rolls and henchmen loyalty, so Charisma is a keeper in my book.

  3. My tendency has been to try and think of ways to reduce the mechanical importance of strength, dexterity, and constitution, as I'm trying to slide away from a mind-set that demands high scores, but JM's suggestions seem interesting.
    The downside, and why I shy away from it, is that adding these mechanical advantages has the potential to overcomplicate the game terribly.

  4. Using essentially OD&D with a few bits from Greyhawk (door opening by strength, spell learning rules) and a house rule or two (+1 damage for 15+ strength, -1 AC for 15+ dexterity if wearing leather or no armor), I find "dump stat" is less of an issue since no stat is all that important. People have dumped into Charisma (I allow players to exchange ONE pair of rolls, otherwise stats are rolled 3d6 in order).

    I think making each stat more important risks the problem where a player is unhappy if a character has ANY below average scores.


  5. Beyond their obvious uses, such as how NPCs interact with them, ability to use certain items, number of skills learned, and saving throws; its up to the DM to use these traits.

    I always focused on them and rewarded them. If your character has a low charisma, your character description must say why. This gets played in. If you have a low intelligence, in what ways?

    A master RP'er won't answer a riddle if their character couldn't have solved it. Though their character might hint at it by stumbling throw allowing other characters to guess.

    I always gave RP bonuses for such things at the ends of sessions. Use all the traits as a part of your world and how the players interact with it. Demand that people know their characters and RP them to the core.

    How often do you see a good movie, or read a good book, where the characters find success at every turn, despite themselves?

  6. Charisma idea -- The Basic D&D Charisma bonuses could be used in some way to allow a PC to extend their to hit or AC bonuses to their henchmen during combat. High Intelligence could confer some kind of "save vs. surprise" or increased ability to escape pursuit on an individual basis, etc. High Wisdom already confers Save bonuses vs. certain Spells, which could be broadened to any spell whatever, on the justification that it represents divine favor to some extent.

  7. I let the wisdom modifier apply to all saving throws, and I use reaction rolls.

    Intelligence I’d me happy to get rid of. Wisdom too really. I can go either way on Charisma.

    Rather than make Int, Wis, and Cha more important, maybe you should have your players generate Str, Dex, and Con scores separately from Int, Wis, and Cha. Kind of a compromise between not being able to arrange to taste and being able to dump an unfortunate roll.