Ask Angry: The Suckiest Ability Scores Ever!

Do you have a question that ONLY The Angry GM is smart enough and sexy enough to answer? E-mail the question to Put ‘Ask Angry’ in the subject and tell me how the f$&% to credit you. 

The Mildly Disgruntled Newbie DM Asks:

Intelligence and Charisma. You hate them, I also hate them and want to get some ideas on how to fix them. How can you quantify them impartially or adjust them for contextual inflation? And how can they actually make sense in the way of manipulating magic? How can the shittiest rogue to ever exist (one of my players who antagonized a baron to the point that the baron personally and quite purposefully broke the rogue’s legs) have a Charisma score of 17? And no he’s not hiding great charm and wit, he’s just a dumb f$%&. Should there be an arbitrary “magic” stat?

So the question is, what would the Angry GM do in a perfect and utterly hypothetical Angry RPG to combat the problems posed by INT and CHA? (no need to answer all of the sentences ending with question-marks, only this last one.)

I like that you specified that I don’t have to answer all of the questions, only the last one. I wish you had STARTED with that line though so that I wouldn’t have had to read all the excess crap. It’s not like the question NEEDS a whole lot of context. But I’m going to address that first paragraph anyway. Why? Because I like to rip things apart.

First of all, mental stats problematic in role-playing games because the whole point of a role-playing game is for the player to make choices and solve problems. A character’s Intelligence is almost never used and one ever wants to use it. No one wants to be told “your character is too dumb to figure that out.” No one wants to be told “your character is too smart to make that choice.” And no one wants to have the answer to a puzzle handed to them. If you’re going to run a puzzle, you run it because your players like solving puzzles. “Roll die to get answer,” is not a puzzle. Don’t f$&%ing bother. And the “get a hint” roll doesn’t change anything. F$&% that noise.

All Intelligence does is start fights about how you are allowed to play your character. And I say let people play their character as smart or as dumb as they want. If someone really wants to sit at the table and fail to solve a puzzle because they don’t think their character is smart enough, that’s their own stupid problem, but no GM should be mandating that bulls$&%. Nor should the alternative be mandated.

Here’s the deal: you can’t play a character smarter than you are. You absolutely cannot. Because you can’t come up with ideas and connections you can’t come up with. Unless the GM is going to just give you answers for die rolls. And in that case, you can’t play a character smarter than the GM. I don’t want to hear any arguments. You’re wrong. You can’t pretend to be smarter because your brain is literally incapable of being smarter than it is. And ultimately, YOU’RE making the choices for your character.

Now, Charisma sucks for different reasons. Well, actually, it sucks for some different reasons and some similar reasons. And your example is a perfect example. “How can Rogue who insults and degrades people and acts like an a$&hole have a Charisma of 17?” And I have a lot of answers.

First of all, just like Strength, Charisma represents a raw ability to do something. But if you don’t apply it the right way, it won’t do you any good. Someone can have a Strength score of 18, but if they don’t bother trying to kick down a door, it doesn’t do them any good. Or if they choose to try to bust down a steel door by slapping it, that Strength 18 isn’t going to help. Charisma is not a magical aura. It’s the ability to project your will onto others. To make people listen and pay attention. To be hard to ignore.

Second of all, just like Strength, you can use Charisma to be an a$&hole. I can punch and bully people very effectively with a Strength of 18. And I can be a major a$&hole very effectively with a Charisma of 18. The ability to make people listen and pay attention means that if I choose to be an a$&hole, people are REALLY going to hate me. Having a high Charisma doesn’t mean people like you. It just means you can get reactions from people. And HATE is a reaction too.

And, honestly, if people USED IT like that, Charisma wouldn’t be as much a problem. But they don’t. Here’s where it all falls down.

When I use my Strength to break open a door, I only have to say “I break down the door” and roll a die. But when I’m interacting with someone, most GMs expect – nay, demand – that you describe exactly what you are saying and how you are saying it. And that’s kind of unfair. If you want to rely on Charisma the way you rely on Strength, then all they should have to say is “I want to persuade the king to see my side.” Maybe adding “I’ll use the evidence we found” in the same way the muscle-head would say “I’ll use my crowbar.”

And that’s only the beginning of the problems.

See, the other problem is that Charisma has become the “Interaction skill.” No matter what I’m doing – whether I’m performing a dance, engaging in intellectual debate, trying to con someone, or whatever – it always comes back to Charisma. Now, it is fair that “force of personality” is a determining factor in interactions, it’s a problem that it’s the exclusive determining factor. A gymnast doesn’t have to be commanding to be impressive. If he’s got an audience, they are already watching and it’s going to be technical proficiency plus physical prowess that wow the crowd. Likewise, in an intellectual debate between two experts, social niceties are rarely as important as knowing your stuff. And, when you get down to it, you can question how Charisma is really different from willpower if they are both just force of personality. Why is Intimidation NEVER based on Strength? Or a really good deception never based on Intelligence?

Now, you can make lots of arguments for using Charisma or some other ability in these sorts of tests, which just proves Charisma is kind of arbitrary anyway. The only reason it’s ever Charisma is because two people are talking. It’s a catchall for “interaction.” And that means, no matter what approach you take to interaction, it’s always Charisma.

When the party faces a locked door, they can finesse it open with lockpicks and Dexterity. They can smash it open with Strength. Hell, they can even magic it open with Willpower or whatever. But when they encounter a guard, whether they lie, threaten, persuade, seduce, con, bluster, or confuse, it’s ALWAYS Charisma. And that limits who can be effective. That’s a problem. And that’s the best argument for why Charisma sucks. It creates a bad gameplay experience.

A hypothetical Angry RPG would not have Charisma. It’d just be gone. If it were D&D, for example, Interactions would use Strength or Dexterity or Intelligence or Wisdom and have the social skills like Persuasion, Deception, Intimidation as bonuses just like any other check. Threatening to kill someone? Roll Strength + Intimidation skill. Whatever. Easy. Charisma is just f$&%ing redundant anyway.

As far as “how likeable someone is?” Well, that will depend entirely on the choices the players make about their characters. If you make a$&hole choices, the world will treat you like an a$&hole. End of story.

The hypothetical Angry RPG also would not have Intelligence. It adds literally nothing to the game and gets in the way of letting people just play their f$&%ing characters and make choices.

Of course, that just leads to further questions. Like: “if you don’t have Intelligence, how do you resolve intellectual debate interactions?” And the answer is: well, I’d design the system not to need those stats. For example, D&D doesn’t have “reflexes” or “beauty” as stats. It resolves those questions in other ways. Reflexes becomes Initiative, which is a Dexterity check. Beauty is just never used as a determining factor for anything.

As for how to resolve magic? Well, that’s a dumb question. You can resolve magic however you want. It depends on how you describe it. Why IS magic based on Intelligence? But sometimes Wisdom? But sometimes Charisma? Because the system decided it was. You could argue all magic is based on Force of Will and therefore call it all Wisdom. Or Charisma. Hell, you could argue all magic is based on using your body as a conduit for mana and therefore, the determining factor is Constitution. Or have physical and mental spells be Constitution and Wisdom respectively. There’s no reason it HAS to be Intelligence. It only has to be Intelligence because D&D decided magic is like physics. If magic were like Bending from the Avatar: Korra the Airbender or whatever the f$&%ing it’s called, magic would be Dexterity based, wouldn’t it?

Or you COULD have a separate stat for JUST magic.

As for how you can fix this in D&D? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! You can’t. Seriously. You MIGHT be able to get rid of Charisma as I described above, but D&D has this weird thing where the Ability Score is always based on the Skill, not the task. My assumption would be that tasks can combine Ability Scores and Skills any which way you want so MY Intimidation could be Strength and YOUR Intimidation could be Wisdom. And then you could just give the Charisma spellcasters a different casting stat. Sorcerers might use Wisdom. Bards might use Intelligence. Warlocks might use Constitution. Or whatever. Who the f$&% knows?

But to fix both Intelligence AND Charisma in D&D might be pushing the system too damned hard. I don’t know. You can try it. I wouldn’t. Honestly, I’d either learn to live with Intelligence and Charisma, play a different game, or keep pushing me with these hypothetical questions until I finally have a nervous breakdown and actually just write a goddamned RPG.

37 thoughts on “Ask Angry: The Suckiest Ability Scores Ever!

  1. Good article. I’ve been toying with “what if I made my own system” for a while, and Charisma was definitely on the chopping block.

    I’d be curious to hear more about this:

    Of course, that just leads to further questions. Like: “if you don’t have Intelligence, how do you resolve intellectual debate interactions?” And the answer is: well, I’d design the system not to need those stats. – See more at:

    I’d also be curious to hear why you didn’t extend this logic to Wisdom.

      • In some ways (perception-related), Wisdom is used more like a physical stat for your senses. I can’t see anything but dexterity (and even then, only very tenuously) taking over for Wisdom on this.
        Other than that, there’s always been a big “what even is wisdom, anyways?” problem with players.

    • On the one hand a nervous breakdown… on the other, an ANGRY RPG…. I say we wait awhile and then push for it, just it case he snaps irrevocably. 😉

  2. Along with Dexterity, Intelligence and Charisma are my favorite stats. Both: “And no one wants to have the answer to a puzzle handed to them.” and “And the “get a hint” roll doesn’t change anything.” are misinformed statements. Personally, I like when I can use my INT score to get a hint toward solving a puzzle, or outright allowing my character to solve it without my interaction. I’ve also run puzzles for players who like puzzles but struggled with the solution and used INT successes to gather enough hints that they were then able to solve them.

    I somewhat agree with you on the Charisma topic though. It certainly shouldn’t be a catchall. I like the stat because if I’m playing a smooth-talking, dapper bard he should be able to succeed in a persuasion situation regardless of whether I fumble my speech when speaking out loud.

    It seems your problem with the non-physical stats is more in their usage than their existence though. I can certainly agree with that stance, but not with the idea that INT/WIS/CHA shouldn’t exist. It’s not like the player of an 18STR fighter can do anything beyond breaking his hand when trying to actually punch through a door.

    I guess it really comes down to the question of how you think an RPG should be played. My line of thought is along the lines of Bioware’s CRPGs. If your stats dictate that you’re “smarter than the average person in the world” you get additional dialog options, while if you raise your physical scores you are better in combat.

      • Actually, it’s 4th gear…

        Anyway, the reason for that is because all of the characters I play focus on those scores. Just like some would prefer stuffing the ballot box for STR because they like fighters, I prefer to play Bards, Wizards, and Rogues–in that order, which just so happens to correspond to my ability score preferences.

    • I think you could work hints into your game that your players could discover without relying on an int roll. If your players need hints to solve the puzzle then you should give them hints, otherwise you all just sit there blankly staring into the abyss unable to continue because the players lack what they need to solve the puzzle. (This includes the players rolling bad and not hitting the arbitrary number determined by the GM).

    • I’ve got to agree here with Alio, I actually do like being able to model the character’s capabilities, versus the player’s. I feel like using the player’s capabilities is akin to playing the simulator vs the situation.

      I’ve seen the use of players’ physical attributes happen before to settle arguments. It was… OK, it was actually pretty cool, because the DM and half the players were in the same Muay Thai classes, but in any other situation it would be preposterous.

      I should be able to abstractly describe what my character is trying to accomplish, and how they’re trying to accomplish it–c’mon, Angry, this is Adjudicating Actions.

      “I intend to cross the ravine by jumping over it” is sufficient for physical actions. I shouldn’t need to specify if that I’m using the Kick or the Double-Arm takeoff technique… I shouldn’t even have to know those are techniques for it! My character should figure it out, if they’re sufficiently physically capable. It’s more interesting if I can describe it better, but that shouldn’t hold me back. I should be able to rely on my character’s actual abilities.

      Similarly, “I’ll get past the guard by using my feminine wiles” should be sufficient. I shouldn’t need to describe my character’s feminine wiles–though again, I’m not denying that can make for an amusing evening! I should be able to rely on my character’s actual abilities, not mine. And if those abilities are paltry compared to mine, I shouldn’t get to rely on the player’s “stats” to make up for my character’s dump stat. That’s basically cheating.

      I do agree that they get misused. Oh boy-howdy, do nonphysical stats get hellaciously misused! (Of course, physical stats and skills do too… the next time someone decides they’ll take a medium machinegun to storm a building when given virtually any other option, I’m going to gouge their eyes out with an operating rod). But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

      I wouldn’t have a problem with a dumb player who has a smart character using the ideas of a smarter player who happens to have a dumb character. And I don’t have a problem with giving/getting answers, clues, and ideas from a roll. It doesn’t ruin the fun for me, probably because I find one or two puzzles a night to be plenty enough of that kind of nonsense.

      Of course, I’m welcome to run my game any wrong way I want, and I guess not letting my players outplay their characters is that way.

      PS: 2nd gear, for the power and excitement, or 6th gear, for the fuel economy.

  3. The D&D 5e PHB has a section on page 175 called “Varient: Skills with Different Abilities” that states some of the points you mentioned. It even talks about using Strength for an Intimidation check as an example. Even though it’s listed as a variant rule, I’ve always used it when DMing this edition, as it opens things up for better adjudication. You can call for a Dexterity (Performance) check that the gymnast/acrobat would go for. Your Charisma score need not apply for all the traditionally based Charisma skills.

    • In other words, 5th edition finally caught on to what the World of Darkness games have been doing for over 20 years.

      • I want to say 1st or 2nd Ed had this, but honestly… Gamers have been using alternate attributes for this since I started playing. It may have just been something we all assumed due to being, you know, logical.

      • Bingo.

        We always played that the stat+skill rolls were all about what you were narratively attempting — the “Approach” in Angry GM parlance. If you were trying to stand behind your friend and act as the intimidating muscle, then that would be intimidation + CHA. If you were trying to get in their face and make lurid promises regarding breaking some bones, then Intimidation + STR. Tying a skill to a stat, and vice versa, just undermines allowing players to narratively express what they’re trying to do in mechanical terms.

    • I like Investigation + Charisma to simulate the lost “Gather Information” skill from previous editions.

    • what i dislike about this is the fact i buy a role play system so i don’t have to ask these questions. i expect the product in the shop to be complete and answerer every question.

      sadly dnd just rehashes the same rules every edition,

      i might as well run a magical tea party if i am making up all the rules, not to say that’s a bad thing if people having fun, but if you sell a comprehensive play system. you don’t just say “oh yea, just do what you want its OK”

  4. Someone already beat you to the “There’s no ‘charisma’, so just use whatever stat you think is appropriate for your social stuff” trick – the Iron Kingdoms RPG does it, and frankly, it sucks.

    There are LOTS of checks – Command? Seduction? Bribery? (Yes, IK has a separate skill for Bribery. Why? I have no idea.) Haggle? Negotiation? That don’t key logically off of any of the stats the game has. And frankly, using strength for intimidation is kindof dumb too – does having high strength even necessarily mean that your character is physically big or intimidating? Jean Claude van Damme is pretty strong, but I don’t think he’s especially intimidating. 😛 Sure, he could DO something intimidating, like shatter a brick with his head, but at that point, you have to wonder why you’re not applying the same sort of logic you suggest for “whether someone likes you” and just asking the player “What do you do that’s intimidating?” and say screw the stat roll entirely. And even if you do call for a roll, why are you calling for an ‘intimidation’ roll there instead of a ‘martial arts’ roll? Or does being intimidating and strong automatically include skill in breaking bricks with your head? Same thing applies if you want to, I dunno, “intimidate with dexterity” by shooting the cigarette out of someone’s mouth or something. Why is ‘intimidate’ even involved at that point?

    And all the other skills fall apart similarly. What stat do you use for seduction? Intelligence? dexterity? ;P What about Command, which is supposed to be ‘inspiring’ or something. Even Haggle seems sortof lame when connected with int, because frankly, there’s a pretty big difference between knowing what something is worth and being able to persuade someone to buy it for twice that. Sure, Perform is often easy to explain with dex (unless you’re singing, in which case it should probably be some sort of Constitution style attribute. 😛 ) but IK doesn’t even have that skill.

    I thought you answered the “Charisma question” quite aptly in the first few paragraphs, where you explain how Charisma should be used – the fact that people use it wrong doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with charisma, it means people are doing dumb stuff again. Trying to distribute “social” type skills to other attributes just opens up a whole messy can of worms that doesn’t really improve the situation.

    • No no no. You can’t do that. You can’t point out at a specific execution and say “see, that execution didn’t work either, so the idea sucks.” Just because Iron Kingdoms couldn’t do it well doesn’t mean someone else can’t. Iron Kingdoms is a clumsy RPG built out of an ultra-crunchy war game. Don’t judge me by their standard.

      • 7th sea also decouples skills (knacks) from ability scores (traits), although they do have an overabundance of knacks, which is counter productive for this.
        But imagine if you had a running skills–pair it with endurance for long distance, with dexterity for dodging through a crowd, or strength for sprinting.
        In the end most skills would default to a particular stat, though. I’ll stop here–I’m rambling, and I know who owns that schtick.

      • I’m not actually judging you by their standard, and you’re right, it’s a clunky game. But there are a lot of cases where there isn’t a clear stat/skill mapping without a charisma stat, and/or the clear stat/skill mapping doesn’t actually make sense, such as the aforementioned “Intimidate always uses strength” issue.

        The crux of it really is that just BEING stronger doesn’t make you more intimidating, and using strength for things that are intimidating tends to seem like you should be rolling other skills.

  5. I’ve always thought of all the scores as aggregate numbers. Str isn’t just an innate ability, its a combination of natural ability, conditioning, and training. Int is a combination of innate ability, and time spent hitting the books. You may have come from a noble house and supplemented moderate mental acuity with years of study, or perhaps you were born a genius but have had to plow fields your whole life.

    • AD&D offered a variant stat block set that treated stats exactly as you described so the idea has been around (officially) for a long time. I ran a few games using the broken apart stat blocks, it added complexity to an already overly complex system without much (if any) benefit. I am of the mind that the only way to make a point based system “realistic” for stats and skills would be to eschew mental and social stats entirely and replace them with dozens upon dozens of skills. That would be a disaster too, very few want to play in a system that is that granular.

  6. It’s a commonality, it seems, that Charisma is often associated with beauty or being handsome. True enough, good looking people often have a much easier time with “…the ability to project your will onto others. To make people listen and pay attention,” and “To be hard to ignore.” The fact that my Spanish teacher this semester is a smoke show may have either a positive (or negative) affect on my GPA. Regardless, it’s accurate to say that I definitely pay more attention now than I did in previous Spanish classes. That being said, I seem to constantly have to explain to players that a person can be average looking, or even below average, and still be a great public speaker, be menacing and terrifying, or have a knack for getting people to do what they want.

    I do like the point that “you can’t play a character smarter than you are.” I’ll have to point that out to the obnoxious wizard in the Saturday game.

    In the Saturday game, I play a “barbarian,” country boy of sorts, who happens to be noble – the son of a wealthy cattle baron. He has a low intelligence and charisma, but still tends to be able to charm the magistrates with his connections to his father, his “yezzirs” and “no ma’ams” and relative country boy charm.

    Like you said, stats shouldn’t limit role playing. Let the players do what they want. It’s a !@#$ game anyway!

    • Yeah, 1st edition tried to account for this by adding a 7th optional stat, Comeliness. This represented physical attractiveness, while Charisma was to represent force of personality or personal magnetism. Like most things in 1st edition, it was a mechanical mess.

      2nd edition gave it another stab in the Players Option supplements: each of six attributes was split into two–which was only feasible because 2nd edition was still a mechanical mess and each attribute gave you a bunch of weird modifiers instead of a flat plus or minus X. So Charisma was split into Leadership and Appearance. This didn’t make things any less of a mess.

      It’s no wonder with 3e and onward, they just gave up on trying to make Charisma “work”.

  7. I think your description of the misuse and abuse of charisma and intelligence are apt.

    However, I think when you are describing problems with the stats when they are applied properly, you are breaking your own rules. You are right when you say that players make choices, but you are only partly right when you say they “solve problems”. Players state intentions; DM’s adjudicate results.

    An intelligent player can come up with a clever thing to attempt, or an eloquent player might come up with a brilliant thing to say. That might earn a bonus to the die roll, but IMO it is still entirely appropriate to adjudicate a character’s attempt to know something or persuade someone with a die roll. A player stating an intention for his character to attempt to hit a creature with a sword is no different than a player stating an intention for his character to attempt to persuade an NPC. It is the character ability that determines the odds of successfully executing the attempted action.

    So a smart player can play a low-intelligence with a sort of animal cunning that informs the actions the PC attempts, but it is the PC’s abilities that determine whether it can do the math for the puzzle lock. And I disagree that you can’t play someone smarter than you are; a player doesn’t need to be strong in math to manage a puzzle-lock, any more than he needs to know martial arts to use “flurry of blows”. Assuming it is even a problem; just try to find a gamer who thinks he has below-average intelligence.

    For that matter, from what I have seen of most message boards, if character charisma is based on player charisma, none of them should even be bothering to try to persuade the king.

    The exception is puzzles that rely solely on player ability (and the DM’s often dubious ability to create logical and solveable puzzles). That style of DMing predates the addition of skill checks to the game, along with the necessary pixel bitching that goes with a system that does not include Perception checks. It has a place, but that place is not in a system that includes skill checks. Skill checks obviate the necessity of that style of play.

    I agree that Charisma has rather more universal application than it ought, and that, for instance, you should get your Diplomacy bonus to an intelligence check for an intelligent argument, or apply your Intimidate bonus to a strength check if you are flexing your muscles or breaking things, to an constitution check if you try to show you are impervious to pain, to an intelligence check if you are demonstrating that you have figured out their plans and are two steps ahead of them. But there are also situations where none of those will apply, and you need a stat representing social skills or animal magnetism. Ditto for intelligence; sometimes nothing else will do.

    No, I think the solution is to do something I think you have discussed in other articles; divorce stats from skills.

  8. I think the Intelligence stat is fine as it is, as long as people stop doing “roll an Intelligence check” bull. I don’t know about 4th or 5th edition cause I haven’t played them, but 3rd edition had them tied to skill points and how many languages you knew, which in a gamey logic made sense. Unless you also decide to completely overhaul the skill system, which in all honesty needs it, keeping the Intelligence stat is fine.

    Charisma is pretty useless though.

  9. This reminds me of spells like Magic Jar in D&D 3rd edition. The caster could take over another creature, keeping their own mental ability scores, but using the physical ability scores of the target creature. That’s a good guideline for a role playing game, you can play a nimble, strong warrior, but he’s only as smart as you are, and his voice is your voice, and he has whatever charm you have.
    On the other hand, fantasy roleplaying games assume that the characters have a lot of knowledge of the world that the players don’t have. The fact that your wizard character knows how to cast magic spells already shows that he does know more than the player. It’s not a huge stretch to allow rules for him to make a ‘smartness check’ to overcome a challenge.

    ‘No one wants to be told “your character is too dumb to figure that out.” No one wants to be told “your character is too smart to make that choice.”’

    I think what is far more pertinent is that nobody wants to be told “you are too dumb to figure this out.” All the more reason to separate the player’s wit, will, and charm from those of the character.

  10. I hate INT and CHA in their d&d forms, but I don’t think they’re all that terrible of stats if used right. I actually use Charisma as willpower, because willpower has nothing to do with perception and more to do with commanding anyway. As for Intelligence, I actually use it as a benchmark for wit and scholarship; measuring how smart people basically equates to who’s a dumbfuck and who isn’t, and people who think they know everything are just another type of dumbfuck. So I use intelligence for a character’s ability to learn a language and decipher text. I actually have characters roll most deception using their intelligence, because it’s more appropriate (I use charisma for poker face though).

    Also, as far as breaking down doors, you should ask how they’re doing it. Are they ramming into it? Are they using a crowbar? Are they taking a barstool to bash it open? Just because there’s an action written on there doesn’t mean you shouldn’t figure out what’s actually happening it’s still a roleplaying game, and there can still be consequences based on choices; it could be easier, harder, get you hurt, or get you trouble.

  11. So, I’m just going to mention that the storyteller system used by White Wolf does, kind of, do that. For all of its flaws, it also decoupled attributes and abilities so that, for instance, you might use Dex+Perform to dance technically well, Manipulation+Perform to seduce via dance, or just use Perception+Dance to notice that someone is doing the dance wrong.

    Now, I’m not saying that the storyteller system is good, because it has flaws and ranges where it all falls apart and there is the constant question of when to use charisma to project your force of will versus manipulation to manipulate someone and no one ever seems to want to use appearance, even though you could use appearance+dance to make it look good.

    But it does allow you to use a skill with whatever the relevant stat is. Even if the vast majority of GMs just go with Cha+intimidate because that’s how core D&D does it, and D&D has managed to take over everything, even in other systems.

    • I’m a much bigger fan of how “Chronicles of Darkness” or whatever they’re calling it these days handled it.

      They divided the stats into physical, social, and mental on one axis, just like WoD, and the other axis is power, finesse, and resistance. So you have presence as social power – how many people notice you when you walk in – and manipulation as social finesse – how many people still like you when you leave. Composure is social resistance, and is used to keep your cool and defend against mundane and magical emotional manipulation.

  12. You can solve the Intelligence problem by explicitly redefining it as “Knowledge”. It has nothing to do with reasoning ability, it’s just a generalized and abstract representation of the depth and breadth of your knowledge. Wizards, whose magic comes from study, use it. Nearly every Intelligence skill in most d20-based editions (and every one except the basically redundant “Investigation” skill in 5E) is a knowledge skill.

    If I could kill any remaining sacred cow in D&D, I would replace the mental stats with Knowledge, Awareness, and either Personality or Willpower (I go back and forth). Wizards would use Knowledge, Druids and Rangers would use Awarweness (in tune with the world), “spontaneous casters” would use Willpower. Clerics and Paladins would have their spellcasting normalized to a notional stat reflecting the expected ability score for a single class caster of their class level. Because why do the gods who grant this power all prize the same characteristic? Why wouldn’t brutish, nasty, short-sighted gods have brutish, nasty, short-sighted servitors?

  13. I think the problem with charisma and some of its skills can be highlighted if you think of it as an NPC stat. We use STR in a grapple, for instance, to show a NPC is too strong to break away from. But what happens when a NPC makes a persausion roll against a PC. Will the PC be persauded with no rhyme or reason? How does this play out?

    This is not something that I would ever do, it just helps to think about it in this way. I doubt there is an elegant solution to the problem without a major rework of the system. I just usually do what feels right in the situation.

  14. Inti is rather more useful in settings in a time period beyond d&d, for example working out how well a character can use a computer or adjust comms to account for interference (which the player likely know too little about)

    I also find int is good for working out if a character makes a leap of logic, for example I might telegraph a foe ‘ s weakness to a high int character if none of the players catch on

  15. As a GM, I tend to use INT, CHR, and to a lesser extent, WIS, as a fallback when role-play doesn’t provide or reveal necessary information. For example: Recently, my players were looking at a hole in the ground. Into this hole was a rope ladder that was staked into the ground, ground which they knew was soggy. They learned that there were goblins in the cave some thirty feet below.

    I gave them plenty of clues, but no character specifically said, “I look at/examine the rope/stakes/ground.” So for the characters who were just standing there, not doing anything else, I had them make an intelligence roll. I didn’t say why. First couple times they missed the roll, so nothing more was said. A couple characters climbed down and the battle ensued. The two dragonborn characters remained topside guarding and arguing with a couple NPCs, and never went down.

    Eventually, one of them made the intelligence roll (again, I only called for it when the character wasn’t actively doing anything else), and I revealed to him that because of the soggy ground and the nature of the stakes, the rope ladder probably had a relatively low weight limit before the stakes would dislodge.

    It’s a case where the clues were all there, but no one was actively examining them. But, it was important enough because no one likes falling thirty feet into a dark cave with goblins waiting at the bottom. Or, for that matter, the characters who were in the cave already would be trapped.

    I agree that these mental stats are ambiguous and often difficult to play, but it doesn’t make them impossible. One character in the party has an INT of 6 and a WIS of 17. We’ve had numerous conversations about how to play this character and still be fun. Forrest Gump comes to mind. In that vein, we’ve determined that in his early training (he’s a monk, of all things) he’s remembered all the pithy cliche’s taught by his master and will repeat them at the most inappropriate times.

    • You know what would be better than taking manual control of someone else’s character and forcing them to do something that they’d obviously do, but that you weren’t explicitly told they did? Just assuming that the PCs and players aren’t idiots and that they actually look around.

      The fact of the matter is that there’s no way the PCs are covering their eyes to avoid looking at the stakes. They can see the things. If it’s obvious from looking at them that they’re weak, then just tell the players that they’re weak.

      If the players didn’t notice that the stakes were a point of interest, then that’s not roleplay failing. Detailed descriptions of mundane tasks like “looking at something I’m looking at” or “walking, left foot then right foot then left foot and if I don’t describe this the GM is gonna say I tripped so right foot then left…” is not even roleplay.
      That’s you as a GM narrating the scene poorly and failing to convey the basic information in front of the PCs.

      • I disagree. As the GM, I describe the scene and provide all the information. However, I don’t give them the conclusions to what these things mean. I don’t believe in spoon feeding the players. They are smart people and even though they missed that particular clue, they did figure out most everything else in that encounter.

        Angry mentioned elsewhere that it’s sometimes nice to have an NPC around to do this kind of thing. In this case, the NPCs were specifically causing a distraction, because one of them was trying to get the players to go down into the hole and trap them in by pulling the stakes. Telling the players outright that the stakes were weak would have given away too much information. The NPC figured this out (he made his roll) but withheld the information. What’s funny is the DC was only set at 10, and the three characters who attempted the roll still missed.

        The point is that this example is this was an opportunity to use an otherwise mostly useless stat. Even though I’m GMing a D&D 5e group right now, it’s not my favorite game. I think it is better than its predecessors because it simplifies a lot of the complexity and, for the most part, unifies the mechanics into a single boolean die roll check.

        There are plenty of other systems that implement the “core stat” process a lot more sensibly. A lot suffer from the legacy design that D&D created back in the early 70s, and as such, still have stats, skills, abilities, or whatnot that make no or little sense in the context of the RPG. Some have done better building mechanics around these stats than others. In my perfect game, there would be no such thing as a “dump stat.” All stats have importance, and if one is deficient, it creates a meaningful and noticeable handicap during game play.

        • Rolling Int checks to tell the players what they should do if they don’t think of it themselves is far more like spoon feeding than “narrating the scene” is. If the challenge of your encounter would have been screwed over by proper narration, and the center of the challenge was screwing the players over unless they explicitly tell you “I look at what I’m looking at,” then that’s a “Gotcha!” style screwjob.

          It’s not a clever new opportunity to bring use to undervalued stats. It’s something we all thought of decades ago and decided was terrible.

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