Sunday, August 29, 2010

Stat checks are useless

Let's just call them build checks and be done with it. They make sense from a game perspective, but the 3E/3.5E point buy rules make them useless as stat checks.

Let's say I have a puzzle. I want an intelligent character to be able to figure out this puzzle in-game without the the player needing to resort to player knowledge instead of character knowledge. Also, I don't want a level 1 wizard to be able to do it. Even lowly hedge wizards are going to have 14/15 intelligence; however a sorcerer never will. Other than wizard, only a rogue has a realistic chance as they may have put some points into intelligence to get more skills. So you either have to make the check so low anyone can succeed, or so high only specific classes/builds can. Has anyone in history ever made a 15 intelligence fighter, or paladin?

Did you know adult dragons start at 23 strength (adult black and brass)? That's right, your fighter is stronger than an adult dragon! That should be impossible.

Similarly, why are 1st level neophyte clerics wiser than grizzled epic rogues who have 20+ levels of experience to draw on? Maybe classes should get a wisdom bonus as they advance in levels.

Anyway I do see a way around it. Limit character abilities to an unmodified 16 to 18 pre-epic. That way people would throw some points into alternate stats. Then we'd occasionally see a smart paladin.


  1. Hi Kamal,

    Congrats on the release! I somehow missed that post, but noticed it when I came to this one.

    As for stat checks, I think (to a degree) you are correct in that they are there to help ascertain if a player is up to the job. However, when it comes to puzzle type checks, I have adopted a "way of thinking" to help explain the difference between the class and stats. See this post:

    And don't forget that atthe end of the day, this is simply a very straightforward way of interpreting a situation with fantasy elements. For example, while the stat about strength could be interpreted literally and the fighter be stronger than the dragon, I look at it slightly differently, and that it represents an ability for a creature to make "best use of" its attributes. In other words, a fighter with a higher strength than a dragon, simply knows how best to use the strength he or she has over what the dragon has, even if the dragon (in a logical sense) is more muscular. That's why the benefits the PC gets for a "higher" strength outweigh the "lower" benefits of the dragon.

    Just the way I look at it. ;)


  2. Not release, completion :-)

    No more new areas, quests etc. Just polishing what's already there. In fact I put out a large polish update today, bringing the first module up to snuff graphically since my skills are a lot better now, adding a few more conversation options purely for flavor, etc. I also went through two other modules as well with today's update.

    Anyway, reading your blog post it seems to just talk about presenting the puzzle to the player and not the pc. I suppose you could give more time to a high int pc. But building puzzles for the player is not what I really want to do. You can chalk it up to my general dislike of puzzles I guess.

  3. Very Interesting points...

    I can see how certain attributes could be improved: Strength and Wisdom could obviously go up with experience / training... Dexterity could certainly be improved upon to a point (though it seems some people are just naturally more agile, while others are naturally clumsy and no amount of practice will change that)... But how in the world does someone improve their constitution? Vitamins? A more well-balanced diet? Ingesting small amounts of poison to build up a tolerance a la Princess Bride?

    Charisma is perhaps the most problematic ability because it combines physical attractiveness with personality- two things that aren't necessarily correlated in real life... What if I want to have a beautiful character who is extremely nasty or a charming character who is deformed?

    How does being handsome / pretty help me turn undead or cast sorceror spells? And while you can pretty yourself up, there are limits.....

    Or how is it possible to boost your intelligence? Sure someone can improve their critical thinking skills, but how do you boost your memory? Ginko Biloba? lol, I guess some of these things are just conventions that you have to accept and not think about too much...

    As for restricting ability scores, it's an interesting idea the problem is all characters would end up basically being "well rounded" and you lose a lot of ability to customize your character to your style...

    I agree though that achieving Dragon level str should be impossible... Dragons, Giants, and other gigantic powerful creatures should all be inhumanly strong!

  4. Davey D: Not all characters would wind up well rounded. A player might still want to throw a bunch of their point buy into their primary stat at creation, like they do now, to have an easier time at low levels. Keep in mind you trade 3-4 points to get one more point in a stat after you get to 14 (iirc). So this player would just hit the pre-epic cap early. A character who planned to get to the pre-epic cap around the time they reached epic would have a lot more points to spend on non-primary stats during creation.

    The result would be that the first player would have a 17 in the primary stat and only be able to afford an 8 in something else at level 1. While a "balanced" character would have 15 primary and 14 secondary.

    At an 18 ability score cap, our first player reaches ability cap at level 4. At level 8-20 they throw the rest into the secondary stat, raising it to 12 by the time they hit level 20. Our secondary reaches the 18 point cap at level 12, and throws the level 16 and level 20 stat boost into the secondary, bringing it up to 16.

    The result would be two level 20 characters, one with 18/12, and the other with 18/16. The first traded ultimate ability score power for greater low level power. So the first player has had an easier time at lower levels, but the second catches him and passes him later on.

  5. Hi Kamal,

    Complete ... sorry, my bad. :)

    Yes, I like puzzles for players. ;) However, I recognise that there are many players who do not like them and is why I also include a method for a player to bypass "doing" the puzzle for themselves at the cost of another item ... something I call the Life Essence ... something I will go into more detail in a later post.

    From reading other comments, I do think there is a danger trying to rationalise some of the gaming mechanics. After all, it is only a fantasy game with a system that is simply trying to give a means to play the game. Look at anything in any detail too much and it all starts to look wrong. I suffer from this myself and am always trying to tell myself not to worry about it and just enjoy the game. :) I remember having a half hour debate (or maybe longer) about how Darkness spell worked! We had all sorts of theories being put forward between us as we each tried to explain why a certain action could or could not be done within the Darkness.