Thursday, 23 April 2015

How Do You Rate?

A comparison was attested in our last session, and it bears expanding. When all the players rolled new characters, one who reads this blog faithfully but has not yet commented made the assertion, after rolling a ranger character, that his ability scores in real life are higher than those of this character. I think this is an unfair claim and bears examination in detail. I would like to counter that if ordinary humans were equal to the task of adventuring, they might spend their spare time actually doing adventurous things instead of role-playing about doing them.

Let me preface this by saying that I know this isn’t what RPGs are about. It’s just that don’t seem to realise what these scores really mean, or what a big difference a point or two makes in a scale of 3 to 18.

In rolling NPCs, I give medieval peasants 2d6 for each of their ability scores. I give my players the chance to create superior characters by rolling 4d6 and discarding the lowest roll. Being merely superior, however, seems to have left someone unsatisfied. I would like to question the veracity of the claim of further superiority of player over PC by inviting everyone to evaluate themselves. If you have reasons to believe your ability scores really would make the grade, let me hear them. As I know myself better than anyone, the following will be an exposition of the reasons why I personally would make a rather poor adventurer.

Strength. The Player’s Handbook gives numbers for ‘heaviest weight a character can pick up and lift over his head’ according to each STR score (p. 13). When I do the overhead barbell press I can normally do between 6 and 8 reps at 50kg. The equivalent ‘max. press’ of a STR of 12 listed in the handbook is close to the 72kg clean that VinceDelMonte has notoriously called, ‘good if you’re 15 years old…and a girl’. (This is not as obnoxious as it sounds. I visited the weightlifting club at a local high school the other day and watched little 15-year-old Japanese girls clean heavier than that and barely break a sweat.) I don’t normally go that heavy for fear of injuring my shoulder even more than it already is, so it’s hard to know how close my one-rep maximum is to that. The parameters from one point to the next in the rules for D&D, though, are wide. With a ‘Max Press’ somewhere between the given parameters of 115 lbs. and 140 lbs. but closer to the former than to the latter, I have a STR of 11. 

Intelligence. Since the time this conversation took place I have read that the creators of D&D envisioned INT as IQ divided by 10. By this measure I place slightly closer to 13 than 14. At the time of our conversation, it was suggested that we simply use the number of languages we ‘know’ as a quick-and-dirty means of determining intelligence. I would want to qualify that as rather how many a person can know if he’s interested in learning them—another player in our campaign has the same tested IQ I have and doesn’t speak any foreign languages at all—and that still doesn’t address the question of what it means to ‘know’ a language. I’ve had a passion for languages since childhood and an MA in linguistics, but I’ve forgotten almost everything I’ve studied. At the moment, I would guess that my command of Japanese, in terms of the combined four skills, is about 80% that of my native tongue. According to Duolingo I can read nearly 80% of all Italian text, but my listening isn’t quite that good, and I almost never get a chance to speak it. (Duolingo also says I can read more than 20% of all French text, but I can just about guarantee that this is an exaggeration.) I’ve been confidently conversant in Spanish and German, but not at the same time, and not anymore. Three is probably my limit for simultaneous fluent languages. My INT is 13.

Wisdom. Most of what we see in the official rules relates to priestly magic, so it’s hard to get an accurate grasp of what this stat means. The best concrete description is on page 17 of the Player’s Handbook: ‘enlightenment, judgment, guile, willpower, common sense, and intuition’. In all of that I would guess I’m about average for a man my age, since I’m about equal proportions of the time impressed and disappointed by demonstrations of these attributes in my peers. Looking at how my application of wisdom has fared, the only member of the ‘local elite’ that I could count on for any favours isn’t involved in politics anymore, but on the other hand I haven’t fathered any bastard children that I know of, and I’m not missing any limbs as a result of my own foolishness. I’ll somewhat nebulously award myself a WIS of 10 or 11.

Constitution. I’m not terrible on this regard, but I’m not particularly hardy either. I catch cold about twice per year on average, and feel blessed not to have been seriously ill in several years. I’m very strict about what goes into my body, I take a cold shower every morning, and I travel by bicycle whenever possible; all of this surely boosts my health, but doesn’t mean I can necessarily survive very long in a hostile environment or sustain that much abuse without injury. As certain Navy SEALs are fond of saying, ‘It’s not how hard you can hit, it’s how hard you can be hit’. I can’t be hit very hard.

In our house rules, hit points are half of a character’s constitution score, rounded up. Considering that the punch of a character with 18+ STR can cause up to 4 HP damage, and a well-placed punch by any number of blokes at the local gym would more than incapacitate me, I award myself a CON of 8.

Charisma. I have a faithful wife and a handful of good friends, and I count myself lucky for that; I don’t have any henchmen. When I meet people for the first time, the majority of them forget me immediately. Perhaps another 10-20% take kindly to me, and another 10-20% treat me with avoidance or ill-concealed antipathy. As a general rule, I’m not overly fond of human contact, especially in large doses (INTJ on the Myers-Briggs) and I always need time alone to recuperate after prolonged periods of contact, or any contact at all with a crowded place. This is why I far prefer the countryside to the city. I do fine with one-on-one contact, usually, but in my far more exaggeratedly introverted youth my first feeling on seeing someone new was the hope that they wouldn’t try to talk to me, and it probably showed in my demeanor. I would place my CHA score slightly below average, at 10. (It might even be lower, but I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt, because the players in our campaign consider even 10 to be a low roll for a PC).

Dexterity. Whether this is manual dexterity or a measure of reflexes, I rate worst of all on this score. I have a decent collection of musical instruments in my music studio at home, and I can even play some of them. In spite of 25 years of practice on the guitar, though, my chances of impressing someone with my amazing skills is pretty low. It has happened on occasion, but not more often than 5 on 1d20. I practise the flute every morning before work, and after several years I still can’t make my fingers go fast enough to play ‘The Rocky Road to Dublin’ half as fast as it’s meant to be played without making it sound dreadful. I stretch my entire body for about half an hour every day as well, and yet I’m not particularly flexible. If my life depended on picking pockets, I would be slain after the first attempt. Yesterday morning, on entering the kitchen to make breakfast I loudly knocked over an ashtray and sent ashes and cigarette butts all over counter, waking up my wife. This morning I stubbed my knee on the living room table. I give myself a DEX of 5.

Now, as I take care of my diet and lifestyle, and put quite a bit of effort into both mental and physical fitness, I probably have better stats in a few areas than the majority of lazy 21st-century suburbanites. But compared to the average pre-industrial fantasy adventurer, whose life and livelihood depends on doing dangerous things for wealth, power and glory, I just wouldn’t measure up.

I could be a mage. That’s all. I suspect the same holds true for most D&D players: Few are athletes or labourers; fewer still are acrobats or skilled purse-snatchers; and not many are professional actors or politicians. Most are geeks, which means that, like me, INT will be the stat they should bank on.

There are high-profile individuals who might qualify for some of the prestige classes, to be sure. Certain politicians, for example, who are particularly charismatic and physically fit as well as prudent and circumspect in their judgments—Vladimir Putin comes to mind—might possibly have chosen to be paladins. Thích Nht Hnh could have been a druid. Judge Holden of the Blood Meridian cast mentioned earlier gives indications of possibly having the requisites for a ranger, but John Glanton would not have been more than a mid-level fighter.

If you, the player, can indeed boast of stats that qualify you for one of the ‘special’ PC classes, then let me shake your hand and buy you a drink. You’re a better human being than I am. What a shame you missed your chance to join the Special Forces.

Could we generate me by rolling sets of 4d6 and discarding the lowest roll? Sure, but the player would grumble that he’d had pretty unlucky rolls, and rightly so. If you still want to claim your stats are superior to those of the adventurers we generate by this method, please comment and say so. Silence will be construed as concession.

Me, I’m just about ready to go. As soon as I finish remodeling my kitchen, I’ll be sure to add a spellbook to the shopping list. 


  1. I don't like to write on a blog because my words could be used against me. Please imagine I'm talking in a peaceful and respectful way.
    I think our characters in D&D should have awesome abilities, to some extent.
    I like to play characters who have descent abilities but also weak points.
    I like characters with two 18's and two 6's.
    If I try to be honest, with no modesty, I would think my scores IRL would be around
    15 for STR, 14 INT, 15 CHA, 15 CON. Below 10 for WIS and DEX. Therefore, any character under those stats won't be so appealing to me. Of course I'm being arrogant.
    I love playing with you as a DM. I'm always having a good time, and the other players too, but there is a part of me that is tired of playing NORMAL character. I'm looking for more "epicness". I want to play a hero, someone with awesome abilities and skills. I do understand why we start at level 1. Still, I wish our new characters start level 3 or 4. Why always starting from 0? Especially because we don't play so often. It would take more than a lifetime to reach level 8 at this rate. I'm a bit tired of having our party killed by 5 bandits. And it's not like we did something wrong in game.
    So, I'm not asking for anything, I don't want to re-roll the dice. I'm enjoying the game as it is anyway.

  2. You’re absolutely right, I’m going to hold that against you, but I let myself sleep in it in order to choose my words very carefully.

    That the PCs you roll should have awesome abilities is exactly what I’ve been yammering about for the past several hundred words. The abilities you’re asking for go way beyond ‘decent’ and into the realm of comic-book superhero. You still don’t seem to be grasping what a difference a point or two makes in these scales. I appreciate arrogance as much as the next guy, but what you’re demonstrating is akin to delusions of grandeur. NONE of the characters you’ve played yet have been ‘normal’. 'Normal' is something like STR5 INT11 WIS11 CON6 CHA11 DEX9.

    15 STR means you can lift 80kg over your head and carry it a short distance. Show me that next time we go to the gym.

    It’s possible that you have an IQ of 140 or so. You have high ability in arithmetic, and can converse in four languages. Good. But you in making decisions—and, dare I say, in formulating most of your opinions—you fail to grasp many of the nuances and consider many of the angles. So you might have an INT of 14 along with a WIS of 6. Maybe.

    But dude. 15 CHA? You piss off more people than I do. You're claiming a loyalty base of +3 and an adjustment to people’s initial reactions to you of +3, and that's just not how your history of human relations has played out. I don’t want to drag your business into the street—this is the world wide web, after all—so I’ll email you some concrete examples of how different your life would be if your charisma were that high.

    If your CON is 15, you’re right up there with the SEALs, and the best of them at that. You have 8 HP? If someone gave you a good stab with a short sword, you’d be able to keep fighting at full power? It would take a critical hit to actually kill you? Please don’t try to test that.

    Saying your DEX is ‘lower than 10’ is like saying Peter Dinklage is ‘under 6 feet tall’. You’re even less limber and agile than I am, and that’s saying something. On the gross point scale D&D offers, you might still be considered to have my score of 5. You might even be a 4. But if you were a 3 you'd be completely spastic.

    I’ve explained in detail before about why we start at level 1, but I’ll do it again as a blog post soon. As far as doing ‘epic’ things, well…I would like you to, also. That’s why I’m constantly dropping hints that would lead to bigger and better things. Why not put that 14 INT to use and start picking up on them instead of always doing the most obvious thing?

  3. I have to admit part of what makes the stats feel low is I'm always thinking it's out of a possible 20 which is, of course, wrong. My mathematical ability, as was observed in the previous session, is certainly nothing to write home about! Seeing it as a 3-18 instead of a 1-20 scale helps put things a little more in perspective at least in terms of accepting the numbers as they come.

    I'm with Nic in that I want to do extraordinary things with my character and wouldn't want to feel like I can die at any turn, unlucky or otherwise. That said, I do understand there's only so much a lvl 1 character is capable of. It's true we can't play very often but I think taking it easy is well enough. Maybe we just have to not get in too much trouble at first and then we'll progress more steadily. Safer, if slower, progress, as opposed to meteoric, if perilous, advancement.

    Just for kicks, I'd like to see if I can rate myself:
    STR Probably something fairly low. I don't currently do any exercise and I've never been much for physical endeavours so I'm inclined to give myself something along the lines of a 6-7.
    INT According to cheap, free, probably wildly inaccurate online tests I have an IQ of about 130. Assuming that's true and considering that I can speak 2 languages fluently and a third with some semblance of confidence I'm willing to dare giving myself something between a 12 and 14 though that is likely too high.
    CON This is gonna be a low score. This past year has not been a good one for my body and it really seems like I've caught some sort of cold at least once a month since I moved here. I'm going to go with a 5 or 6. (Matching my new character!)
    WIS Gonna take a 9 or 10 here. Up for debate, I guess?
    CHA I want to rate this the highest because, unless everybody is always lying to my face, most people I know seem to like me and many even tell me so. Since you brought up MBTI I'll share mine: ESFJ, a very common temperament but one I'm comfortable with. Extraverted and Feely! Go out on a limb and claim a 14 here. You tell me.
    DEX I am a klutz. 100%. I've also broken my right arm twice, both times falling after attempting something fairly mundane. Can't play any instruments but I do have a pretty good sense of rhythm and can dance alright. Let's call it a 6-7.

    I'll try to be more active on the blog from now on :)

  4. Thanks for joining the discussion. I'd like to make it an interesting trip for you all without probable death lurking at every turn. That is the part that takes planning, and the obsession has loosened its grip on me over the past month or so. I'll make some effort to work back into it.

    Your evaluation of yourself seems accurate. I haven't worked out precise concurrences for CON scores, except that I roll a d20 against every character's CON when the party is exposed to a pathogen. If you catch cold once per month, with a CON of 5 you'll have been exposed to the virus about four times per month. Is this accurate?

    WIS 10 or 11 is generally a safe bet; it's sometimes tempting to connect multiple bone breakages to lower wisdom, but it depends on the context. I don't know much at all about your life history. CHA 14 is high, but you've got on well with everyone I've seen you interact with so far. The thing is, my interaction with you has been in a limited context, and as an INTJ I'm naturally terrible at extrapolating how anyone's demeanor and actions are going to affect people in general. I'll have to refrain from judging you on that stat.

    1. re: exposure to viruses
      4 times a month might be conservative considering how many little kids coughing in my face I encounter at work. :(

    2. Actually, that was a blatant arithmetic error on my part, but I'm going to leave it there as a reminder to myself to be more conscientious.