Tuesday, June 01, 2010

a seventh stat

The introduction of a seventh stat (beyond Str, Int, etc.) in Terminal Space got me thinking of the general idea of stat expansion.  There's been a crapload of games that expanded the general range of stats to achieve finer distinctions, such as splitting Dex into Reaction Time and Agility or whatever.  What I like about Terminal Space's Tech Level stat is that it introduces something new, a new focus for characters and therefore the overall campaign.  Another great example of this is the Wizardry stat introduced in Tunnels & Trolls in the little tin box edition.  The Wiz stat solves the T&T conceptual problem where all wizards were built like Arnold Schwarzenegger because previously Strength was your spell point stat.  More interesting to me is that by having Intelligence split from natural magic ability (a la Chaosium's house system and Encounter Critical) you can have a spell-dude that has a lot of raw power but not a lot of smarts.

It seems to me that Comeliness, introduced in a Dragon article and later canonized in the original Unearthed Arcana, was pretty much a failure of a new stat.  The fact that it was basically split off from Charisma indicates to me that it was never needed to begin with.  Did anyone ever have a situation where they thought it was important to mechanically clarify that someone was an ugly charmer or a dull beauty?    I just couldn't get worked up about that.

Speaking of Unearthed Arcana, its pages also contained a percentage-based random social level chart, so that you could determine whether your PC was an upper-class twit or a no-good bum.  Had that chart taken the form of a Social stat rolled on 3d6, I think maybe people would have taken it more seriously.  The Honor mechanics in Oriental Adventures and HackMaster would feel more palatable to me if they worked on a 3d6 scale.  Even going up a down more often than the other six, contextualizing Honor as one seventh of the core PC abilities would better fix Honor as a Big Honking Deal.  As it stands, Honor all too easily melds into the background of secondary and tertiary stats on the charsheet.

So while the basic six stats look sufficient for most D&D-type purposes, Terminal Space makes it clear to me that introduce new basic character abilities can work.  The key seems to be sticking to a 3d6 scale like the others, not overlapping with existing abilities and, most importantly, only introduce a new stat if it says something interesting about your campaign.

One final aside: I don't like Luck stats very much.  The normal dice rolls are where Luck enters the PC's life.  Having an additional Luck stat seems like metaphysical double dipping.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. For the most part I agree with you, only I dislike Dexterity handling both manual dexterity and agility. Some people who are excellent with their hands can't move worth a darn, some dancers can't commit forgery or cut gemstones. So splitting Dex/Agility makes sense to me.

    Adapting Social Status or Honor as a 3D6 core stat sounds interesting.
    I might take that approach, down the road.

    You're right about Luck as a stat; you already roll dice. It's pretty darn superfluous.

  3. Another thing to think about is the dualistic philosophy that was hard-coded into D&D's stats and, from there, permeated most of the RPG industry. It divides characters into a physical half and a mental half.

    I've always thought it would be interesting to approach D&D using L5R-style stats to capture a distinctly different flavor and worldview.

    Or go for something really radically different. Maybe something astrological?

  4. WEG Star Wars has a Technical stat for fixing stuff, sciences, etc. X-plorers has a similar solution to by classifying tech skills under Agility (analogous to dexterity in D&D). I did a quick n' dirty conversion last week between the two systems in an first step to flesh out additional skill specializations for X-plorers.

    FWIW, I like how WEG and Marvel Superheroes deal with "luck" (somewhat similarly) allowing PCs to earn points they can spend towards a particular action. Kind of like operationalizing the notion of "one makes her/his own luck in life".

  5. Adam T3:28 AM

    Perception! It has always annoyed me that we're stuck using Int or Wis or something equally disassociated to determine whether a PC spots the hidden Goblin.

    With a new PER stat, you can have myopic wizards, which is all to the good.

    I've got some (2nd Ed) rules here:


  6. I am very fond of Perception as a stat. Some might of course say it is Player Skill that should be used, but I like the extra senses possible to include, which brings those to the forefront of both designers and players.

    I think the idea of Luck is best handled by "Bennies" or some kind of Fate Points, if you want to actually bring some player influence on the results of the dice.

  7. A Luck stat does allow you to have heroes like many of those in fiction, who have 'plot armour' rather than high skill, as well as those who never get a break.

  8. Im a big fan of the Hackmaster rules for honor. I haven't figured out how to handle it as a stat but its a goal

  9. I see a luck stat as luck in the traditional sense.

    Supernatural favour rather than random chance. High luck represents not how often random chance favours you (actual dice rolls) but how often some supernatural being or force fudges chance on your behalf.

    It is your "Destiny Score"

  10. The Honor mechanics in Oriental Adventures and HackMaster would feel more palatable to me if they worked on a 3d6 scale. Even going up a down more often than the other six, contextualizing Honor as one seventh of the core PC abilities would better fix Honor as a Big Honking Deal.

    IIRC the 'musketeers & swashbuckling' historical sourcebook (HR4) did something along these lines, with Social Standing ranging from 1-18. It was basically a second Cha stat, with reaction adjustment and henchies determined by status rather than personal magnetism.

    You could buy, achieve or toady your way up the social ladder, and lose status through poverty or dishonourable behaviour (cowardice, harming women, welching on debts, engaging in trade, etc).

    A fundamental problem with adding new stats/carving up existing ones: it's the slippery slope to (*shudder*) 2E's Skills and Powers.

  11. I'd also vote for Perception as a stat, but I'm also okay with the 3rd. Edition construct of having Wisdom fill that role. (Or replacing Wisdom with Perception, since by then it becomes a matter of semantics.)

    The main thing is, if you want to have noticing/not noticing things bear on your game, it's very helpful, and it's something every character should have, not just thieves.

    The only way I'd see Luck work as a stat is if you're playing a game that lacks saving throws of any other kind, and you want to avoid "Surprise, you're dead and there's nothing you can do about it." type situations.

  12. Tech Level as a stat makes me think of codifying "skills" as stats. In fact, you could replace the traditional stats with "skill stats" - i.e. Fighting (bonus to hit and damage), Dodging (bonus to AC), Sneaking (bonus to surprise), Trickery, etc.

  13. Hey, Jeff. Just as a quick aside, I checked his link and it looks like the "Game's Bug" guy in the first comment here is running a pirate site to download ROMs of current video games for various consoles. Also, he has listed your site in the "Partners" section of his site. Thought you might wanna know.

  14. Thanks for the tip, Alton.

  15. You ever worry that you're thinking too small?

    Not trying to troll anyone, just curious.

  16. I use the 3d6 roll (x10) for starting money as a social class stat.

    No, it doesn't scale exactly to the amount of money you would have, but I'm assuming that the start of life as an adventurer contains some lucky breaks for the poor and relatively hard knocks for the rich. ("Daddy kicked me out of the castle with only 170 gp pocket money!")

  17. If Terminal Space was a straight "space game" (like, say Traveller using the OD&D chassis) I'd dump intelligence completely in favor of Technology, keeping the total number of abilities at six. As is (a delightful pulpy mixture) it's not bad as a 7th.
    ; )

  18. Roger: good call!

    Dagda: No. I consider messing around with D&D to be at its finest when you do less engineering and more bricolage.

  19. Anonymous10:03 PM

    I've fooled around with a few stat modifications. For a while I tried Perception as the modifier both for search & listen rolls and also for missile attacks (because "Hawkeye" seems like a better nickname for an archer than "Nimblefingers").

    I never liked the idea that a bad Intelligence roll would encourage players to act like idiots, particularly in a game where the player's decisions matter more than what's on the character sheet; so I've been using a Knowledge score instead. It represents, broadly, the things the character know that the player might not, including extra languages. I allow knowledge checks to let the players see if their characters might know something about a new location or monster - but not all of this information is accurate!

    I also find i really like Strength to be more a rating of carrying capacity (and door-bustin'!) than fighting skill, so I've experimented with a Fighting ability.

    Lastly, I don't much like how in B/X, Wisdom just modifies saving throws, and got thinking that Luck would actually work okay for that; my new campaign is going to be mythic Greek in flavor, so I want something like Luck that represents divine favor, possibly unearned.

    Just my own thoughts, i guess.

  20. I suppose I'm just puzzled by how you can speaking so seriously about a small potential tweak to a sub-sub-subsystem of a game's mechanics. D&D's character statistics aren't some great work for the ages like Chess- they're pretty clunky, you can screw around with them alot before the experience changes noticeably.

  21. Anonymous6:06 AM

    Space:1889 (one of my favorite settings) used Social Standing as one of its 6 stats, like Traveller. All of them were 1d6 (or point buy, your choice). That always emphasized to us that it was a Big Honking Deal.

  22. Dagda: You ever visit chessvariants.org? People have been messing around with minor chess variants for a crapload longer.

  23. My response and take on social class as a stat can be found here. I threw it together for a Labyrinth Lord game I'm working on, but it should translate fairly well into other D&D-type systems.

  24. Yes, but in that case you're tinkering with the elements that serve as the vital organs of the experience. D&D doesn't create a powerful* experience by having six different ability scores instead of three, or by using the 'd20+X vs DC' core mechanic instead of a dice pool. It creates a powerful experience primarily thanks to the relationship between the mechanics and the story, and the only real way D&D's mechanics tie into the stories (besides alignment) is by representing your character's relative power and vulnerability. Adding a Morality stat like in White Wolf's games, or replacing the ability scores with stats out of He Is My Master- *those* would be changes which would have a noticeable effect on the actual game experience. A seventh ability score that functions roughly the same? In my eyes that's like...the question of whether to wear white socks tomorrow instead of light grey ones. You don't spend half an hour considering it, you make a decision and move on.

    *: interesting, fun, entertaining, compelling-any kind of positive/enriching impact.

  25. Bob: That's exactly the sort of thing I have in mind.

    Dagda: Importing mechanics from a White Wolf game or an RPG I've never heard of (especially one with such an obviously Forge-esque name) sounds... dubious. I think if I wanted those sorts of "powerful experiences" I would probably be playing those games.

  26. Dagda: Not trying to be a dick or anything, but I just don't think you "get" D&D, just like I don't get My Life With Master. No big whoop, really, but Jeff's post will only make sense if you can groove on the je na se qouis of D&D and it's mutations.