Hexed Press

A blog about roleplaying games, mostly but not entirely fantasy, hex crawls, sandboxes, game theory, and those games by TSR and Wizards of the Coast.

Rethinking the Original Attributes

Rethinking the Original Attributes

TLDR Can we find some more useful and roleplayable attributes than Intelligence and Wisdom?

Going back to the Original Roleplaying Game, the primary use for the Intelligence attribute was for arcane spellcasting, followed by language knowledge, followed by… that’s it. Wisdom’s only use was for divine spellcasting. Later editions added other mechanics that hooked into both measures but the core functionality is pretty thin outside of roleplaying considerations.

The Idiot or the Genius

I’m going to be honest. I cringe whenever I hear a player base his performance of his character on their wisdom, intelligence, or lack thereof. It’s either an oaf or a braniac. And I get it. It’s hard to find some nuance between shades of meaning in some abstracted measure of a non-physical chracteristic. How do you pretend to be someone smarter or wiser than you actually are? Or someone who may be slightly less smart or wise? Pretty hard. Much easier to fall into whichever one of the obvious extremes lays closer to that number on the sheet.

That’s not to say, if that’s what someone wants to play, that they shouldn’t. If a player wants to play one of the guys from Dumb & Dumber, more power to them, but they don’t need two different attributes in their pocket for justification. So, what to do instead?

Faith And Arcana

We still need a way to measure a character’s connection to arcane and divine powers so why not just have attributes that model exactly that? Faith represents the strength of a character’s connection to divine authority. Arcana represents a character’s arcane power potential.

These changes do a couple of things. First, they uncouple two characteristics that were otherwise inseperable. Now, a cleric might be holy but rash or a wizard might be magically strong but stupid. Also, a character could conceivably gain or loss divine or arcane power without necessarily becomes more or less wise or more or less smart. Second, by now directly measuring these forces, they can be meaningful not just for wizards and clerics but any character. What if faith had an impact on how effective divine healing was? Or low arcana affected the power of a spell or spell-like effect or the abilities of magical equipment?

There’s also an added dimension for roleplaying, both for the character’s player and the GM, or at least the rise of a few new archetypes, perhaps the god-loved/hated wanderer or the magically cursed adventurer. Hey, at least we’ll get a short break from yet another Mongo.

What Do We Lose?

The earliest editions, were by their nature, bare bones as far as interconnected systems that linked back into attribute scores. Depending on how you feel about such things, this was either a system feature or a something to be corrected. Later editions did, in fact, correct it and, depending on what ruleset we’re talking about, there could be more or less intertwining features that were threaded into and out of the attribute scores. The ones that come immediately to mind are skills and saves.

While, again, depending on the ruleset, these might be tied to attributes, it might be useful to look at them in terms of class levels instead. If we consider a class as a character’s active profession, then it makes sense that working in that profession (for which a character is literally and figuratively earning “experience”) would practice some skills related to that profession. It becomes an easy matter to divvy up the skills between the different classes (with however much or little granularity you require) and use a character’s class levels to determine a proficiency score.

The same is true for saves. As written in the original books, it was class levels that determined saves, rather than attributes. There’s no reason it could not be again, either wholly or in part, depending on the nature of the save.

As for languages, it’s a simple matter to either just roll a die to determine the number known or use some other logical reasoning. Besides, how many times in a campaign does a wizard actually find a use of most of the languages that he knows? If the wizard is dying to know the elemental language of water, just let him.

Let me know on Twitter if you find this article useful (or not) or if you have any suggestions or ideas.

Where applicable, the content of is article is subject to the Open Game License.