Now you too can watch the shenanigans going on at the Vatican on YouTube.
* The following IRC discussion is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach *
McClaud: Now you too can see Two Cardinals and a Cup.
Nekomatic: … That’s horrible.
Halcyon: … …
McClaud: it’s the new way to determine who the new pope is
Halcyon: O_o…two cardinals crap in a cup and whoever willingly eats it becomes the pope?
Anyway, I want to slip out of my normal role as Global Intertubez Discussion Guy and talk about what bugs me lately about RPGs. So bear with me, and realize this is my personal opinion and style which may not be particularly your cup of tea.
Out of six basic attributes normally used in RPGs thanks to the d20/D&D model, three of them are really arbitrary and hard to role-play if you are not really that intimate with them to start with. I’m talking about Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. Yes, the ones that a lot of people who min/max in RPGs often refer to as “dump stats.” I understand that these attributes are extremely odd in the manner that – unlike the other three (STRenght, CONstitution, DEXterity) – they are not easy to visualize and verbalize.
With STR, CON and DEX, these attributes mostly dictate things like Hit Points, bonus damage, encumberance, resistances, saves, etc. These rarely push a skill check like the others. When you want to push a huge boulder out of the way, saying something like, “I push on the large boulder trying to move it,” is easy. The DM calculates the odds, we roll vs our STR, and success or failure is assessed.
Now, with something like Charisma (CHA), it’s tougher. How does the player convey his attempt to woo the princess using his CHA and how does the DM react to it? Some players are really bad at role-playing social encounters, and that’s understood. The odds are, if players are horrible at social encounters, then DMs tend to avoid putting players in those situations. And the game actually loses a lot when that happens. I mean, rolling to see if you woo the princess by just saying, “I woo the princess” then roll vs CHA, it loses something in the translation and becomes just a game mechanic (much like a boardgame). Same goes for INT or WIS when encounters call on players to act smarter or wiser than they really are.
So how should a DM make these stats have worth, other than something that boosts spell, skill and reaction tests? So they don’t become the least attended attributes or dump stats?
In my games, my solution is to redefine what decades of role-playing has set in stone. The old definition of Charisma, as seen in most Player Handbooks and by most gaming groups, is the smooth-talk ability and beauty of the character. My definition is that aside from those obvious features, Charisma is a personal aura. Thus, a character with a CHA of 16 isn’t necessarily sexy or beautiful outwardly, but NPCs feel something outstanding about the PC. Whether they fear the PC or feel safe around the PC is situational, but something clicks in the NPC that makes them more amiable or pliable to the PC. Think of Snow White’s evil mother – she’s super beautiful, but everyone reacts poorly to her. She probably has a CHA of 7 despite her outward beauty.
INT works in a similar fashion. The player may be exceptionally quick-thinking and smart, but his character may not have a high INT. So how does one role-play or treat the low INT? Simple – the DM encourages the player to act less intelligent in-character. Or more intelligent, if the player is not as smart as his character is. It’s perfectly okay if you have no idea where to look for a clue, but your character has an INT of 18, to say, “I’ve read about this before,” and turn to the DM for a hint (or a bonus). I give XP rewards to people who have vastly different INT scores than their characters and attempt to role-play appropriately. Sometimes, the clever player catches on and starts knowing how to ham it up (“I know what it says, and it says,” turning to the DM to finish the sentence).
WIS is a little harder, perhaps the hardest. Wisdom – as defined – is the culimination of experience. Since XP is how we represent growth in an RPG, then why do we have Wisdom? In reality, Wisdom is just a placeholder for personal will. It should be renamed as Will. We use WIS to determine saves and faith-related stats (for clerics and such). It’s really all about the willpower and instinct. So people with low WIS are not really dumb as much as they just don’t know how to react from the gut about the situation. When attacked by magic or trying to resist strong urges, they often can’t. They just don’t have the will to do so. Confidence really should be key in using WIS in social situations. Low WIS = less internal confidence. Characters with low WIS tend to sound less wise and confident than those with high WIS. And tend to be less willful as well.
How do I deal with the dump stat gamers? Well, I’d like to see someone who dumped one of the three go into a store or forge and expect to buy something like someone with the average in those attributes. Here’s a more realistic expectation with me (using a score of 7 or less on each stat):
CHA of 7 or less
The shopkeeper senses something off about the character and doesn’t want to deal with them. If forced to deal with them, the shopkeeper doesn’t listen to bartering. He wants the character out of his store without taking a loss. So this character should be ready to face hostility and a firm price on items.
INT of 7 or less
That same shopkeeper listens to the character and realizes he’s got someone who doesn’t know the value of the money in his/her purse. So the shopkeeper starts the price high, and uses logic to confuse the character into accepting that high price. Even if he just sold a shoe in front of the character for less, he spins a tale about needing more money from the next guy. The player with a character with INT of 7 or less better be ready to pay more and be confused more.
WIS of 7 or less
The shopkeeper watches the character and realizes that he’s got someone he can sneak things by or cajole into buying. He shows his wares of less quality disguised by a magic trick to the character. When the character avoids buying stuff, he begins telling a tale of woe or trying to get the character’s emotions swayed. While the less intelligent characters are dupes, the less WIS ones are saps. Players with characters with WIS of 7 or lower better realize that they don’t have the will to resist tempting offers or emotional baggage. Most of all, they are not really sure if a story is possible or not.
Yes, I’m a hard-ass when it comes to being a DM, but my rewards are always telling a better story and having to rely less on a character sheet and more on yourself.
You run the character – the character does not run you.
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