Thursday, December 09, 2010

a simple thought experiment

Begin by reflecting upon the function of the 3-18 stats in your favorite version.  Then write down six new stat names that fit the function of the stats but perhaps change the tenor of them.  Let's look at the standard arrangement:


Now imagine if we kept all the mechanics as written, but instead used these labels:


Suddenly it seems more likely that a well-informed idiot could be a magic-user or that a foolish but holy-minded person could be a cleric.  And changing Charisma to Beauty clearly makes that stat veer off in one direction.  Renaming Charisma as Leadership would give it a totally different trajectory, and calling it Social Standing would lead to a whole 'nother interpretation.

And what if we renamed Strength to Brutishness?  It still does the same stuff but suddenly a high Str score doesn't seem like the greatest thing in the world.  Instead it highlights what one actually uses that score for: manual labor and violence.

EDIT TO ADD: JD over at Aeons & Auguries wrote on this same topic last year.


  1. ReaperWolf10:39 AM

    Alternate words for 'Charisma':


  2. I was thinking

    STR = Muscle
    DEX = Finesse
    CON = Endurance
    INT = Education
    WIS = Sense
    CHA = Persuasion

  3. Interesting. I was thinking of throwing out all the "subjective" ability scores like INT, WIS, and CHR that substitute for player's skills for something like this. (That last who-ha about social interaction mechanics that surfaced on a number of blogs made me want to dump them all together.)

  4. I think I would go for Social Standing as it implies something that probably should hold true for all the stratified societies that D&D worlds tend to emulate: those of better station hold more juice.

  5. Isn't this one of the classic ways that "fantasy heartbreakers" use to establish what makes "thier D&D" different than others?

    There's no reason not to extend this synonym experiment to other game terms, like this batch from the 1st Edition DMG
    Spell Level=Circle
    Character Level=Rank
    Monster Level=Order
    Dungeon Level=Level/Layer

    Here's my current view:
    Charisma= Leadership
    Starting Gold= Social Rank
    Hit Points= Endurance
    Saving Throw= Luck

  6. Anonymous10:57 AM

    Very interesting experiment on several levels.

  7. Isn't this one of the classic ways that "fantasy heartbreakers" use to establish what makes "their D&D" different than others?

    Sure. I don't see the point of your observation, though. I'm not trying to sell you a book and even if I were I wouldn't fall into the trap of thinking my crappy houseruled D&D is better than anyone else's crappy houseruled D&D.

    There's no reason not to extend this synonym experiment to other game terms

    Well now that you bring it up the other day I was wondering if it would help my campaign to relabel the fighter class as Knights and magic-users as Warlocks.

  8. My only comment would be that intelligence and education aren't always synonymous (though I get what you're saying for this exercise).

    Education seems more like the knowledge you've accumulated than an ability, while intelligence is more your capacity for learning and your ability to apply it.

  9. I played with this idea a while back in my blogand it's a bit of fun and a little revealing in The power of words.

    STR- Stature
    INT- Lore
    WIS- Piety
    DEX- luck
    CON- Vigor
    CHA- Ego

    So a D&D character of the scores
    STR-17 INT- 6 WIS- 14 Dex-14 CON-11 and CHA 13

    is very strong, pretty dim but wiser then average, nimble, average health and a little more influencial then others.

    change that to
    STA-17 LOR- 6 PTY- 14 LUK-14 VIG-11 and EGO 13

    and we get a rather large guy, who doesn't know much (could be young), has a strong connection to his faith, is luckier then average, pretty average energy and drive but is just a little better at exerting his will on others then the average man.

  10. Dang-nabbit, this is what comes from hanging around those hoity-toity English grad-student types! Mark my words: this will all end in tears. ;)

  11. My own heartbreaker uses Might, Kenning, Faith, Health, Nimbleness, and Wyrd. I specifically picked words present in Anglo-Saxon languages, reserving terms derived from Latin and Greek for supernatural content whenever possible.

  12. Interesting experiment--I've been looking at the six stats and kicking around either adding a stat or revising them, and your post kinda just clicked for me right now. Renaming the stats is a great idea, and really brings out the flavor of the particular setting involved without going ahead and re-inventing the wheel all over again. Makes coversions super quick & easy as well...though the implications of what the numbers correlate to could shift drastically...which I'm seeing as a definite positive virtue. Very cool.

  13. Or, to tie the scores explicitly to the classes, have scores like Fighting, Thievery, Wizardry and Piety, etc.

  14. Well now that you bring it up the other day I was wondering if it would help my campaign to relabel the fighter class as Knights and magic-users as Warlocks.

    Class names are usually the first thing I change if i want to evoke a different flavor. Armor is usually second due to the number of Ancient Mediterranean games I've run.

  15. Being in a perpetual state of homebrewing systems without ever actually completing one, I’ve probably thought about ability score names more than anyone should. I have a hard time doing this experiment because of that. Instead I’ll just spout random thoughts about the topic.

    I think Constitution and Charisma are near perfect names. All the alternatives tend to seem too specific unless you want a bunch of ability scores.

    Intelligence and Wisdom are my least favorites. I’ve never really been comfortable with them. So, I guess I have the opposite reaction than above; I prefer more specific alternatives: Education, Piety, and Will Power. I’d probably be happier with those.

    Dexterity I’ve often felt gets overloaded. I like the idea of splitting it between Dexterity and Agility like RM does. (The distinction can be thought of as precise vs. gross or upper-body vs. lower body. I seems intuitable to me, though I imagine to others it is like the distinction between Intelligence and Wisdom is to me.)

    I also like the idea of adding a Quickness or Reflexes or Reaction Speed as that seems very different from Dexterity to me.

    Strength I am often for merging with other scores. Strength + Constitution = Brawn. Or Strength + Constitution + Dexterity = Physical.

    I recall one edition of D&D actually stating that stamina falls under the purview of Strength rather than Constitution, which makes some sense to me.

  16. Kingdom of Loathing might be useful for this. :)

  17. I keep STRENGTH,
    Dexterity --> Agility
    Constitution --> Tenacity
    Intelligence --> Reason
    Wisdom --> Intuition
    Charisma --> Persuasion

    Players should not panic (or whine) if their initial scores are not as high as desired, these scores will increase with game play. No matter which technique used for character generation, eventually a player is going to come up with low ability score (s) – this should not be a buzz kill, but an opportunity to add personality to the generated character. PCs usually start at second level; therefore, the presence of a low ability score justifies a character pursuing the unsteady life of an adventurer after a modest level of success at his previous profession.

    Low STRENGTH does not have to imply the character is a weakling, but could reflect a prior shoulder or back injury.

    Low AGILITY is not necessarily a lack of coordination, but could represent myopia, vertigo or a knee injury.

    Low TENACITY could represent a respiratory disease such as asthma or would simulate the lack of emotional fortitude from either phobia or post traumatic stress disorder.

    Low REASON does not have to imply that a character is a simpleton; it may merely represent illiteracy or overzealous superstition.

    Low INTUITION could signify a character struggling with the familiar problems of addiction (alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.) and is not necessarily a lack of insight or perception.

    Low PERSUASION does not have to imply that a character is ugly or deformed; it could represent lack of etiquette or an overbearing ego (think of Dr. Cox on the TV show, ‘Scrubs’).

    We usually start PCs at second level; therefore, a low ability score represents a prior injury or departure from discretion. This justifies a competent individual leaving a stable trade or profession for the uncertainty and risk of adventuring.

  18. @Jay: It's true that intelligence and education are not the same. That's all the more reason to change the name to Education, as far as I'm concerned. Because what your character knows when you begin play may be one thing, but the intelligence with which you play the character is something else entirely.

    @Robert Fisher: Dexterity does indeed wind up overloaded in many games. I myself am running a variant on whitebox/0e, and came to realize that by the book, Dexterity is strictly dexterity. Agility is totally un-quantified. I'm cool with that.

    @Jeff: I experimented with something like this in a Greek-flavored campaign, and wound up changing what each ability represents. The process taught me a lot about how the scores work, and helped me work out the houserules on my current campaign. When one of my newer players was looking over what each score gave him, trying to decide where to dump his worst roll, he made an anguished noise and said, "There's no dump stat!" I was pleased.

  19. @Scott- Holla! I would love to have to make a Moxie check in game.

    That reminds me... Paranoia has both Moxie and Chutzpah as stats.

  20. John Morrow12:20 AM

    Adapted from OPIGS:

    STR - Hammer
    DEX - Coruba
    CON - Beef
    INT - Brains
    WIS - Luck
    CHA - Face


    Explanation of "Coruba":

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. Roughness (STR)
    Swiftness (DEX)
    Insightfulness (WIS)
    Knowledgeableness (Int)
    Sturdiness (Cos)
    Friendliness (Cha)

    edit: I forgot Charisma...

  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. I actually had something a little different worked up for the retro-clone of D&D I'm working on.

    I kept the stats, but I wanted you to describe your high or low stat. I provided two sample sets of descriptors, one for extraordinarily low stats, and one for exceptionally high ones. (i.e., ones that would get either a bonus or a penalty for being high enough).

    These descriptors would be anything from "Strong as an Ox" for high Strength to "Capricious" for low Wisdom. I even discussed combinations that you could do for high and low stats. And it didn't matter what the numbers were...this mattered for the narrative part. This was also a way to distinguish between two characters with an identical stat.

    Edit: Poor word choice

  25. Strength = Boom
    Intelligence = Prickle
    Wisdom = Orange
    Dexterity = Sweet
    Constitution = Pungent

    This scheme dumps Charisma as not all that useful. Or, conversely, Orange could be a mixture of Wisdom and Charisma.

    Or something.

  26. That's the main concept of a game I am working on. There are three basic attributes everybody have, but you have to give them a name fitting your concept and the results. If you want an additional attribute (there is no limit!), you roll it again (there is an equal chance of getting a negative or a positive result) and then name it. The standard attributes are Strength, Agility and Mind. Mind could be anything related to your behaviour, your attitude or whatever. A low Mind score might be "Greedy Fool", a high one could be "Master of Balance" or "Fast thinking" or "Mr. Charming" or whatever.
    It's really cool, and the players love it. It's the same with the skills. Fighting can be "Dirty Tricks" or "Fencing like Flynn" or "Thogor bashes!" or whatever, Magic can be "Perilious Sorcery", "Runeweaving" or anything you like.
    I'll translate it one of these days. :)

  27. In my online game ( the stat names themselves are quite 'standard', but each score will have a description. For example this is one of the pre-generated characters:

    Stamina: 6 (sickly)
    Charisma: 20 (mesmerising)
    Duelling: 1 (clumsy)
    Brawling: 1 (puny)
    Seafaring: 8 (fair)
    Magic: 10 (fair)
    Heroism: 20 (bold)
    Scouting: 1 (gets lost in the back yard)
    Roguery: 8 (fair)
    Luck: 20 (blessed)
    Healing: 15 (great)
    Streetwise: 20 (cunning as a shithouse rat)

  28. Well, it would have to be Gygaxian.

    Physicality, Knowledge*, Cognisance, Alacrity, Strength, and Courage*.

    In the modern sense, perhaps more of a Body, Mind, Will, Reflexes, Fortitude, and Control?

    Maybe Size, Wit, Sight, Grace, Stamina, and Mettle. Hmm, that's not bad.

  29. GREAT thought-experiment, could be fun to play with. Here are mine:

    STR: Muscle
    DEX: Balance
    CON: Toughness
    INT: Education
    WIS: Intuition*
    CHA: Persuasion

    8 I got this idea from the Jovial Priest:

  30. P.S. Though I should add that I agree with R. Fisher that "Constitution and Charisma are near perfect names."