Monday, April 25, 2011

unfocused thoughts on Wisdom

The Wisdom stat is bugging me this morning.  The elimination of the Cleric from my Holmes Basic powered campaign has left Wisdom with no explicit mechanical function, i.e. a high Wisdom score does jack squat for a PC.  I'm not prepared to bring back the cleric class, so I thought I'd write down a few tentative ideas on how to address this situation.  Let me know what you think.
  • Eliminate the stat - simple, painless, but seems like a bit of a cop out.
  • Replace it - I like Basic Role Playing's extra stats (Education, Magical Power and Size) as well as Tunnels & Trolls's Luck (I guess BRP uses that, too) and Empire of the Petal Thrones's Psychic Ability.  Heck, I could see just outright using my 3-18 EPT adaptation instead of Holmes for all 6 stats.
  • Give Wis something to do - My first thought is that a high Wisdom gives you some sort meta-game of do-over ability.  Like anyone with a Wis of 14+ can take back one stupid/deadly blunder per session.  But then what does a low Wis do?  Another idea would be to tie Wisdom more directly into religion somehow.  Maybe use Wisdom when dealing with angelic or demonic beings in the same way that Charisma is used when roll reactions from normal creatures.
  • Make a Wis-powered class - A non-kung-fu Monk class would really help bring in some additional medieval flavor.  But what the heck do they do?  I don't want to just re-invent the cleric and the magic-user is already the class of the learned.


  1. Why is wisdom the stat for clerics, anyway? Shouldn't it be charisma?

    I can see a strong case being made for wisdom being the secondary stat across the board. Everyone needs the ability to make good decisions. On the other hand, this is hard to model in a rpg, since the decisions are made by the player.

    One weird option: include a bad idea roll. Once per game, a player may ask the DM if something is a bad idea, and gets to roll. If the roll succeeds, the DM answers honestly. Wisdom could modify this roll.

    Not sure how I feel about that, but thought I'd throw it out there as an option...

  2. Anonymous9:27 AM

    I really like your third option. Maybe call it "Faith" like Fantasy Wargaming and tie it to one's awareness of the supernatural, so it could adjust reaction rolls and maybe also affect things like saves vs. magic or noticing magical influences?

    Or I'd scrap Wis for Social Class for a semi-historical setting. Class was & is really important in the 'real world'.

  3. Or just make up some sanity rules, like those in Call of Cthulhu? Sanity points would be Wisx5? I had the same problem with my hombrew d20, when I've ditched cleric class. Then I've done this

  4. Is this for Surfeit of Lampreys? In that case, instead of monks, how about Friars? Historical friars were monks who were expected to wander through the community, helping those in need, though of course most of them were just after their own greed and ambition. Just like adventurers!

    They would get no armor and very limited weapons. Instead of spells they would get herbal lore and combat medic abilities (bandaging and cleaning wounds), and probably some knowledge of poisons. Furthermore they would have the ability to read and write pretty much any language (especially Latin), and maybe even use scrolls.

  5. Anonymous10:13 AM

    Combine with an idea of your own: Monks in the old world mystical tradition. With Apron and Tabor light against the forces of Chaos.

    - Settembrini

  6. Back in the day, we used to treat Wisdom as providing common sense; DMs would warn PCs with high Wisdom whether they were about to do something that seemed unwise. Nothing so formal as a save, just friendly advice. Nothing special was done for low Wis characters, since players seemed to have no trouble doing foolish things all on their own.

  7. Why not Willpower, like in Mutant Future? I know that willpower kind of got subsumed into Charisma in 3E, but if you ignore that, you can now go with Willpower as the "Personality Charisma" and the Charisma stat as "Comeliness/Beauty" stat...

    As for Clerics needing high Willpower, that would come from two things:

    Lawful/Good clerics need high Willpower to resist temptations. Spell Failure for these clerics mean that they fell to some temptation, and so lsot the spell because of a sin.

    Chaotic/Evil clerics need high Willpower to keep from being overwhelmed by their dealings with gods and entities of Chaos and Evil... those with low Willpower are literally possessed and lose their soul, while those who are strong enough can maintain their identity and continue to gain power. Spell failure for these guys means Bad Things happen to them...

    Non-clerics need high Willpower to resist spells (which is, after all, what the bonus from Wisdom is for). It's literally them shaking off the changed reality of the spell, like a dog shakes off water. Can also be used then to represent their ability to keep going at long tasks, keep quiet while ants are biting them while hiding from the bad guys, etc.

    Renaming Wisdom as Willpower eliminates the whole "Wise enough to come out the the rain" thing, without throwing out a still very useful stat that has nothing to do with raw intellect or appearance...

  8. Anonymous10:51 AM

    I like replacing Wisdom with Perception or Willpower (or both.) I think it's telling that if you look back through the various versions of D&D, right back to the original booklets, Wisdom is not really explained except to say it is required for Clerics. Other abilities are given explanations, but not Wisdom. It really seems to be there just for Clerics to get bonus XP or whatever... Personally, if I think of wisdom in a middle-ages type setting I think of what D&D would call Intelligence, as in "wise old wizard." I think Wis is a problem stat in D&D, that no one is willing to take out because it's always been there, even though it is not a good choice for an ability score.

  9. You could change Wisdom to Perception and have it modify surprise and hear noise.

  10. I personally have wisdom modify initiative and food gathering rolls. In my view Wisdom represents an understanding of the world around you, and your place in it, which is why I keep it wisdom rather then changing it to perception like Anon suggested.

  11. You could take a cue from S&W and have it provide an xp bonus.

  12. We ditched WIS and incorporated the mental things it represents into INT and the personality/willpower things into CHA.

    Then we took the new intelligence and re-named it 'wisdom' because it sounds way cooler.

  13. When you got rid of the cleric, what did you do with the whole cleric medic thing? Did that move over to magic users, or do people heal faster, or ...

  14. When you got rid of the cleric, what did you do with the whole cleric medic thing? Did that move over to magic users, or do people heal faster, or ...

    The MU list includes all the known cleric spells. Also, I have a 1st level MU spell called Turn Undead that works as a one-off version of the cleric power.

  15. I interpret Wisdom in much the same way as Joshua. It's what I think of as Good Sense: danger sense, moral sense, and common sense all rolled into one, which is why it's the stat for clerics. It's the ability to know instinctively when something's wrong, as opposed to the ability to figure stuff out (Intelligence.) Wisdom can substitute for Intelligence in situations where it makes sense.

  16. Anonymous3:16 PM

    Wizardry had Piety as a stat, used for Clerics or whatever they had, and I always just assumed that it was a stand-in for Wisdom.

    I think it's important to keep force of personality as a separate stat from Charisma. I want to be able to have a character who has an attractive personality but who is not necessarily the best at resisting torture or arguing with people. To me, Charisma is mental agility. It's kind of like that Arcanum computer game.

    Strength = Physical Power
    Dexterity = Physical Agility
    Constitution = Physical Durability
    Beauty = Physical Attractiveness

    Intelligence = Mental Power
    Wisdom = Mental Agility
    Willpower = Mental Durability
    Charisma = Mental Attractiveness

    I'm pretty sure that's not exactly right, from the game, but it's close enough. I know you probably don't want eight stats (I sure wouldn't!) but there are some you can cull immediately if you don't care about symmetry. Beauty is the easy victim, and we can combine Willpower into something else ...

    Again I'd hate to see Willpower attach to Charisma. It might make some sense to attach it to Intelligence, but Wisdom is so ill-defined it might be worthwhile to put it there.

    Which is where D&D 2E puts it, with the "magical defense save modifier" for extreme Wisdom.

  17. Class option: The Mystic

    Basically, treat the Mystic roughly as a thief with different weapons and different skills. The Mystic's skill could include some quasi-magical things such as Speak with Animals as well as Herbalism and the like.

    I think this is stronger than a Monk/Friar type. Such characters could be Mystics... but Mystics could also be crazy hermits and such.

  18. I've written extensively on Wisdom, and ability scores in gernaral which may of may not be of interest.


    where I justify using Wisdom for all saving throws.

    I also have created an Intuition roll, to guide players who have characters with wisdom greater their own!

  19. I like JP's wisdom ideas. Without adding a class to have wisdom as a prime stat, using it is a general saving throw modifier seems like a good idea to me. (I used to do the same thing as Joshua & Talysman - drop more telling information to players with characters with high WIS, last chances before doing something someone wiser might wish they hadn't)

  20. I like WIS as a non-book smarts knowledge. Thogrod the Barbarian, with a INT of 5 and a WIS of 14 doesn't know what the Purple Sigil on the Door of Bad JuJu means, but he knows it's bad news. Holmes ability scores don't need to have an exact mechanical ability either IMO.

  21. Wisdom always seemed like a stat they didn't really know what to do with. It has aspects of Perception, ties to the divine, and strength of will(which I've always seen as better for the Cha stat, but I seem to be in a minority there).

  22. Engines & Empires uses the Wisdom modifier for saving throws. Kind of makes sense in that a wise person is more likely to avoid danger as a precaution.

  23. Here's my current very-rough-draft list of "miscellaneous stuff that Wisdom is good for" in Homebrew '82:

    * Detect lies, or sense untrustworthiness, in an NPC

    * Find traps / find secret doors / find concealed items (certainly more appropriate than DEX!)

    * Predict weather

    * Resist charisma-based "attacks" from others (charm, bluff, intimidation)

    * Resist effects of torture (flip side of previous item)

    * "Save" versus fright or surprise (though I'm not sure yet how to unpack that with respect to surprise at the start of melee)

    * "Save" versus being driven insane when witnessing unspeakable horrors

    The above isn't enough to base a whole new class on, of course -- I've still got clerics, and they use their WIS to help in miracle-making...

  24. I totally vote for replacing it with a psychic ability stat. But if you don't want psychic abilities, cut it does extra anything really help your game? Hell, I just got rid of (thief) skill rolls and my game was improved about 85%.

    : )

  25. Knowing you, you just want something quick and slick. I'll save my rant about mental ability stats being a Gordian Knot for another day.

    How about this...

    Rename Wisdom as Luck. Players can spend one point to re-roll any one die (loss is permanent). No going back in time, it has to be within a few seconds of the original roll. Can be paired with the d30 rule. Maybe even allow the players to re-roll a die the DM rolled, like an enemy attack or damage roll.


    Rename it Piety. It goes up and down based upon the goodly and nefarious acts of the character. Weren't you planning on tracking sinfulness somehow? When a character dies they go to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory based upon this score.


    Rename it Divine Favor, and it does both :-)

  26. My thoughts are similar-ish to Stuarts on the Mystic class option.

    You've ditched Clerics and moved the spell list over to MUs, so there's no need for Wisdom to be tied to any spellcasting. MUs are learned peeps so there's no need for an 'educated' link. So..

    My brain immediately jumped to the concept of 'Wise Woman'. Sort of a Hedge Magician from Ars Magica - someone who has no magic, but knows a heck of a lot about the natural world. They know herbalism, elements of alchemy (soap making for example), some stuff latter edition Druids or Rangers would know.

    I think there's a lot to be said for the Wisdom stat. I have a tendency to use it as a bit of a dump stat and then play up the reckless foolhardiness of those characters. Thinking is the enemy of Action ;-)

  27. I personally love using wisdom. My players and I both enjoy the whole Int vs Wis concept. That book smarts aren't the same as street smarts. That you could be the meanest math crunching fiend, spell-slinging guru, yet walk right into a trap because you had your head in the clouds. Or having a character who couldn't read and write, but is a master survivalist in the wilderness.

    And as the DM I use it all the time. Character gets outrageously drunk the night before and wakes up with a foggy memory, where did he put his favourite items? Wis roll
    Notice that pickpocket that is grabbing your sack of coins, Wis roll
    How did Gandalf decide which path to take in the mines of moria? totally a wisdom roll if you ask me

  28. If you make a christian monk class, you've already got a strong archetype ahead of you - Friar Tuck. The monk class wouldbe learned, yes, but chiefly about religious topics... which of course stems from one's understanding or insight into the holy books (i.e. one's wisdom). You could keep the cleric's fighting ability, toss in some-bardish stuff to represent a monk's inspiring command of the scriptures, and let them use a wisdom based reaction table. Even a quiet and uncommanding priest will be well-respected if he appears wise and knowing.

  29. Anonymous12:19 PM

    This is a questino I have been wrestling with as I too have dumped the Cleric thinking it an oddity and too specific when compared to 'fighting-man' and 'magic-user'.

    I like the class trio in Tunnels & Trolls. I also like the Luck stat but it is so tied to the T&T system you would need to cut D&D implementation of such a stat from whole cloth.


  30. I can't resist pointing to my recent link to an article that illustrates why INT and WIS maybe shouldn't be collapsed together. Sorry, low WIS.

    I say it's willpower - interpreted broadly as your ability to keep the world in your own grasp. So if there's no POW stat I use it for resisting magic/illusions/psionics, for morale, for concentration and patience, as a save against stupidity (so the dreaded words "save vs. wisdom" tell the player they're doing something ridiculous ...and having said they were going to do it, if they fail they have to follow through) and for intuition, as others have commented. I might also allow it as a basis for lying and speechifying convincingly (at a player's request, instead of CHA, thinking about fast talk vs. oratory in CoC). In games where kenning (druids) and cunning (assassins) are in play, that's all WIS, too. Overall I'd much rather ditch CON as separate from STR.

    I don't use it as discerning judgment or codified experience of the world because frankly if you had an abundance of that you probably wouldn't be risking your neck for personal profit down a dungeon. class is a tough call. In my games I usually have a clear idea about what class the PCs are in the setup, because it's such a pervasive thing (unless you're Lost in an air crash or psychically projected to Barsoom or what have you). Now I've lived for a while in the US and understand the Credit Rating skill in CoC, it strikes me as horribly misplaced.

  31. Go back to what Wisdom means - knowledge. Int lets you work things out; Wis means you already know. Treat it like an education ability score (EDU) if you like. Clerics, of course, are traditionally well educated and must learn a lot about their religion at least.

    Wisdom is to intelligence what strength is to dexterity.

  32. What I had always found interesting about the Dragon Quest series was that Wisdom, the primary stat for spell casters, did not effect the potency of spells cast. Instead if affected how quickly you would learn a spell. So a character that was lucky enough to receive good wisdom increases (Stat increases were randomized) or was fed some wisdom seeds could learn a powerful spell earlier than a counterpart. An interesting idea but you wanted a use for wisdom besides spellcasting so here is what I propose.

    Rename Wisdom to Faith or Piety or Righteousness. This ability has two major effects.

    The first is a saving throw bonus against any sort of mind influencing or arresting effect. This includes spells like sleep and charm/hold person, or a Medusa's gaze but does nothing for the likes of lightning bolt or dragon breath.

    The second effect is an armor of faith. Something along the lines of "The lord is my strength and my shield" While unarmored they gain an AC bonus equal to their Piety modifier. (Useful for Friars as you can imagine) It also doubles as a damage bonus to any devilish creature, dragons (St. George) and you my as well throw heathens on that list for any would be Rolands.

    It should fit the feudal English campaign setting pretty well. You could also allow someone with a higher more righteous stat to threaten a fiery afterlife punishment. It worked pretty well in Pillars of the Earth!