Four Ability Scores

Aldarc

Adventurer
Ability scores represent the people we play and we can imagine them to be as real as we want. It is very condescending to tell me I must do otherwise.
Do you play your friends or real people? My fundamental problem is that this dehumanizes people because real people are not characters. We do not have ability scores. Our health and abilities are far more complex than what the D&D ability scores can't even scratch the surface of representing. I personally find it dehumanizing to reduce people to fantasy game ability scores. This is why I kindly requested that you refrain from that because I find it harmful, demeaning, and dehumanizing.

As I said, if not, what do they represent to you?
Game abstractions that for some reason some gamers take even more seriously than the farcical MBTI, Enneagram, or Astrological Sign as if any of these things were somehow a meaningful metric of a person or character's abilities.

The quote about CON was right from the PHB: "health, stamina, vital force." It represents, in game terms, exactly what I said it does.

You can convince yourself that maybe a character's vital force is SO incredibly and awesomely amazing that their CON is 20 even though they weight 400 lbs, smoke all day long, eat nothing but candy, only walk to the kitchen and bathroom for their daily exercise, and so on. I'll stick with what the core 6 and the concept of ability scores actually mean according to the game, thanks.
I don't have to convince myself of anything here. I can make a chain-smoking, alcoholic, morbidly obese character with a 20 Constitution in D&D. Who knows? Maybe the reason why they may still be able to remain alive is precisely because they have a 20 Constitution. The game doesn't care. If Constitution was truly about health, then it seems silly that good health would be linked with the ability to endure sleeplessness or engaging in vast quantities of alcoholic drinking. Basically, when we see what Constitution represents for a check, a good Constitution is not necessarily linked with healthy tendencies and vitality but often with unhealthy bodily self-destructive tendencies. I don't really think that the ability scores are written in a wholly consistent manner in terms of what they actually represent and I don't think that we should pretend that they are.

Ultimately, the decision to add or remove ability scores from a system has less to do with whether a system works, than it is a reflection about what the designer really cares about in terms of verisimilitude and character conception.
Pretty much this. I agree. One reason, however, why I would consider reworking ability scores apart from the Six when making another game other D&D would entail how intuitive the ability scores are for new players. IME, despite the ubiquity of D&D's six ability scores, I have found that they are not as intuitive for new players to learn as some of us may feel. A lot of people come from video games. Some games may use Constitution to represent stats, but others will use terms like Vitality, Stamina, Toughness, which are typically more intuitive for people than "Constitution."

I think that it is also worth considering whether your presumption is true that the granularity lost must be displaced to elsewhere in the system. I get the point you are driving at that sometimes they are replaced with skills and the like, but I hardly think that is a universal. Because it seems to reinforce the idea that it's not worth any effort to deviate from the Six because what is lost MUST exist elsewhere in the system. IME with other systems that's not necessarily the case.

I value tradition. I consider traditions to be human experiments that survive the test of time. The ability to survive often includes accidentally accounting for factors that might still remain unknown or unrecognized.

At the same time, in the big picture, traditions tend to follow a bell curve, their initial innovation prospers because of some inherent benefit. But then as new needs or situations emerge, the tradition tends to decline
To be clear, I am primarily speaking from a position of cynicism about the ability to effect drastic change on a fairly conservative system rather than any personal preference.
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
You mention, "I have always thought that lower Con [of the elf] was do to their smaller body structure."

This thought suggests that Con has nothing to do with remaining healthy indefinitely, but rather more pertinently refers to Size.

In other words, Constitution measures toughness in combat: the ability to survive combat, the ability to take punches, even the ability to survive stab wounds.

Con isnt a measure of ‘health’ (including persistent health that makes longevity possibility). Rather, Constitution specifically measures combat toughness.

Here in combat, bigger tends to be better. The heavyweight has an advantage over the lightweight.

Bigger also applies to other factors. For example, small children are more vulnerable to snake bites than big adults. But the essence is, Constitution measures combat toughness.

Bigger also hits harder. A glance thru the Monster Manual shows a strong correlation between Strength scores and Constitution scores that are normally, moreorless the same score.

In D&D, Strength and Constitution are normally the same thing.

By making Weightlifting a separate skill. A Str-Con score will tend to have some advantage when lifting a weight. But a small creature can still be unusually strong by training in the skill, or even having a race trait that grants a bonus or an advantage to the Weightlifting skill.
You might as well get rid of STR and CON then and just use a Size as the ability score, because that seems like all you are really concerned with. Or maybe make it "Combat Prowess" and have actual strength or power represented by a skill such as "weight-lifting."

My thought about elves was only one aspect of what CON represents. Their smaller frame and thinner skeletal structure is a perfectly valid reason to justify why earlier editions gave elves a -1 CON. They likely have excellent health in other respects due to their diets, ability to relax via reverie (less stressed), and so on. Their frame, etc. is only one part of the whole and why the penalty would only be -1. Of course, in 5E this is not even an issue.

As far as STR and CON being the same thing in D&D, you are simply incorrect. While many creatures have a strong correlation, this is far from a fact. One character in our current game has a STR 10 and CON 16, hardly the same. Why? Because he is a sorcerer, wanted HP and better concentration checks. Why did he not invest in STR? Because he doesn't need to carry much, hit hard in melee combat, etc.

As others have astutely pointed out, even if you combine them, the factors you are separating out will have to be represented somehow. All you are doing is trading where and how they are implemented.
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
Do you play your friends or real people? My fundamental problem is that this dehumanizes people because real people are not characters. We do not have ability scores. Our health and abilities are far more complex than what the D&D ability scores can't even scratch the surface of representing. I personally find it dehumanizing to reduce people to fantasy game ability scores. This is why I kindly requested that you refrain from that because I find it harmful, demeaning, and dehumanizing.
While you feel it dehumanizes people, I find it a useful tool in comparison for characters I play. I quantify things all the time, and that includes people. So using them as an example of how our characters are represented by their ability scores is not harmful, demeaning, or dehumanizing. To say someone is obese, for example, is factual. To say someone has a low I.Q. is factual. To say someone cannot bench press 250 lbs. is factual.

If Constitution was truly about health, then it seems silly that good health would be linked with the ability to endure sleeplessness or engaging in vast quantities of alcoholic drinking. Basically, when we see what Constitution represents for a check, a good Constitution is not necessarily linked with healthy tendencies and vitality but often with unhealthy bodily self-destructive tendencies. I don't really think that the ability scores are written in a wholly consistent manner in terms of what they actually represent and I don't think that we should pretend that they are.
Really? A good CON is there to RESIST the "unhealthy bodily self-destructive tendencies" you discuss, that is why a check is required because you are trying to engage in your stamina (staying awake), health (enduring harmful substances such as alcohol, a type of poison), and vital force (taking damage, i.e. hit points).

I think the ability scores are consistent in terms of what they have represented in the editions and I have never, ever, had a problem explaining those terms to players in my games. I am not pretending they are, I know they are.

However, since you feel, think, believe otherwise, I see no further point in discussing the issue with you. Best of luck in your games.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
You might as well get rid of STR and CON then and just use a Size as the ability score.
Actually, two prominent designers of D&D 3e (Monte Cook and Bruce Cordell) did this. In their Cypher System, they combine Strength and Constitution into a single ability that they relate to size and call ‘Might’.

• Strength (Str-Con) ≈ Might
• Dexterity ≈ Speed

I like a salient contrast between two physical abilities.

For D&D, it is better to think of the Str-Con score as a prerequisite for size, rather than a determiner of size. This allows for rare monsters who ‘punch above their weightclass’.


Also, I feel the mental abilities merit a salient contrast.

• Intelligence (exploration skills)
• Charisma (social skills)



Really? A good CON is there to RESIST the "unhealthy bodily self-destructive tendencies" you discuss.

I think the ability scores are consistent in terms of what they have represented in the editions and I have never, ever, had a problem explaining those terms to players in my games. I am not pretending they are, I know they are.
Actually. In D&D 1e, WIS is there to RESIST ‘unhealthy bodily self-destructive tendencies’.

The perceptions about what each ability score means are inconsistent in each edition of D&D.

The ability scores remain nonsystematic and ambiguous, and each person tries to make up their own personal rationalizations to make sense of the D&D abilities as best as they can. And because they are ambiguous, different people project different meanings into them.



The real problem is. D&D is originally and primarily a combat game, so its ability scores are primarily combat statistics. Comparing these combat abilities to abstract things that rarely happen in the game, if ever, and that rarely are mechanically rolled for, if ever, confuses what the mechanics mean, and makes them impossible to balance with each other in the context of what actually does happen during a game.

Note, there are no broken bones in D&D. There is no normal penalty for taking damage, nor an enduring penalty after reaching 0 hit points, nor from receiving a critical hit. So, an ability score that would specifically relate to broken bones would be nonsensical, or at least less useful during gameplay. Likewise, there is no tar-lung from smoking cigarettes in D&D.

To have an ABILITY SCORE − the deepest most fundamental mechanic of the D&D gaming system − dedicated to something that rarely happens, is inelegant design.



The most important thing to do when deciding abilities, is identify what are the most frequent mechanical checks that actually happen during gameplay. Then afterward, see if it is possible to organize these mechanics into clusters that are about equally useful to each other, and that are saliently distinct from each other.
 
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Aldarc

Adventurer
While you feel it dehumanizes people, I find it a useful tool in comparison for characters I play. I quantify things all the time, and that includes people. So using them as an example of how our characters are represented by their ability scores is not harmful, demeaning, or dehumanizing. To say someone is obese, for example, is factual. To say someone has a low I.Q. is factual. To say someone cannot bench press 250 lbs. is factual.
However, to say that a real person probably has an 8 Intelligence is dehumanizing.

Really? A good CON is there to RESIST the "unhealthy bodily self-destructive tendencies" you discuss, that is why a check is required because you are trying to engage in your stamina (staying awake), health (enduring harmful substances such as alcohol, a type of poison), and vital force (taking damage, i.e. hit points).
Really? You are not resisting so much as you are engaging in these tendencies. I don't think that a healthy body is necessarily more able to resist. Many athletes who are much healthier than either of us can't afford to do these things. Prolonged sleeplessness is not linked to healthy bodies. Quite the opposite. But the ability to endure these things is not necessarily indicative of your health.

I think the ability scores are consistent in terms of what they have represented in the editions and I have never, ever, had a problem explaining those terms to players in my games. I am not pretending they are, I know they are.
Cool. Then let's play a game. Is "common sense" a part of Wisdom in 5e? Does Charisma include "personal attractiveness" in 5e?
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
However, to say that a real person probably has an 8 Intelligence is dehumanizing.

Really? You are not resisting so much as you are engaging in these tendencies. I don't think that a healthy body is necessarily more able to resist. Many athletes who are much healthier than either of us can't afford to do these things. Prolonged sleeplessness is not linked to healthy bodies. Quite the opposite. But the ability to endure these things is not necessarily indicative of your health.

Cool. Then let's play a game. Is "common sense" a part of Wisdom in 5e? Does Charisma include "personal attractiveness" in 5e?
However, since you feel, think, believe otherwise, I see no further point in discussing the issue with you. Best of luck in your games.
 

LuisCarlos17f

Explorer
A little child, or creature, could have got a low Str but high Con.

Another player could create a house rule to divide Dex into Agility (instant reactions) and Tech (eye-hand coordination, but pre-learnt actions, or need more time: handicraft, playing music, singing, dance, maneuvers/keys of martial arts).

And most of RPGs with atributtes don't use only for four, but maybe if they are created to be played by preteen children.

And some players would rather a high number of atributtes to feel their PCs are special because they have different atributtes.

* I don't want to imagine the controversy if there is a d20 Modern 2.0 with an optional module about changes in the abilities scores to add more.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
Actually. In AD&D, they were called saving throws and were not linked to ability scores.
Actually, I am citing the 1e DMG itself, when it explains what ‘wisdom’ means.

"Wisdom: For game purposes wisdom ability subsumes the categories of willpower, judgment, wile, enlightenment, and intuitiveness.

An example of the use of wisdom can be given by noting that while the intelligent character will know that smoking is harmful to him, he may well lack the wisdom to stop (this writer may well fall into this category)."



As mentioned, D&D abilities are completely nonsystematic, ad-hoc − and conflictive. The meanings (and uses) of the ability scores are inherently ambiguous, and change from edition to edition.

Notice also, in 1e, Wisdom has zero to do with ‘Perception’. Assigning Perception to Wisdom was a 3e invention that changed the ability scores. 3e could have (and should have) just as easily assigned Perception to Intelligence.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
Another player could create a house rule to divide Dex into Agility (instant reactions) and Tech (eye-hand coordination.
Here the main difference would be:

• Dexterity (Athletics) ≈ bodily agility, gross motor skills
• Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) ≈ manual dexterity, fine motor skills



And some players would rather a high number of atributtes to feel their PCs are special because they have different atributtes.
When D&D 1e was invented, there was no such thing as skills. (Only the ‘thief’ had these kinds of features.)

Now, we have skills.

Abilities are for a brief thumbnail sketch about the general aptitudes of a character.

Skills are for more specific attributes to make the character more special.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
As an aside, if using four ability scores, I am happy with the following arrays. Choose either.

• +3, +2, +1, +0
• +2, +2, +2, +2

The numbers are somewhat high because I prefer to avoid dealing with negative numbers.

Alternatively, for lower numbers.

• +2, +1, +0, −1
• +1, +1, +1, +1
 
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Aldarc

Adventurer
As an aside, if using four ability scores, I am happy with the following arrays. Choose either.

• +3, +2, +1, +0
• +2, +2, +2, +2

The numbers are somewhat high because I prefer to avoid dealing with negative numbers.
As per the recommendation of @Campbell in a thread on 4e-like games, I looked (briefly) into a game called "Unity," which really should have thought longer and harder about its brand name. It uses four ability scores: Might, Agility, Mind, and Presence. You start with your pick of an initial spread of abilities - that I can't recall off the top of my head - your pick of where to place a +1, +0, -1, and +2. Then your race provides an intial spread of abilities: Humans, for example, receive +1, +1, +1, +1 while another race may receive +2, +0, +1, +1. Exact details escape me, but it's something along those lines.

I am interested in seeing your considerations about ability scores.
When considering ability scores, Celebrim offered a poignant point that I will again raise here:
Ultimately, the decision to add or remove ability scores from a system has less to do with whether a system works, than it is a reflection about what the designer really cares about in terms of verisimilitude and character conception.
I would also add that it is additional a reflection about a designer cares about in terms of the system.

Cypher System uses three stat pools: Might, Speed, and Intellect. These stats, however, operate different than they do in D&D and other games with ability scores. Here, they represent the totality of a person's staying power, doubling as something akin to an HP system and ability/magic fuel. A melee attack ability may require that you expend 2 Might from your 17 Might pool total to perform the maneuver, but then require 3 Might total if you spend one level of Effort to lower the difficulty by 1 (or lower the TN required for a success on a d20 by 3). So the resource mini-game shifts to managing the stat pools and your abilities. Could Monte Cook Games have expanded the number of available stat pools to reflect other stats? Sure, but three stats keep the complexity down.

Blades in the Dark also uses an "ability score" system that I find intriguing. There are 12 actions that are divided between three attributes: Insight (Hunt, Survey, Study, Tinker); Prowess (Finesse, Prowl, Skirmish, Wreck); and Resolve (Attune, Command, Consort, Sway). The game entails a dice pool system. (Success on a 6; Complicated Success on a 4-5; and Failure on a 3-1.) The number of points you have in an action reflects the number of d6 dice you can roll to increase the odds of success. So as you progress your character or decide stats, you may want to invest deeper into an action for greater success.

BUT you use your Attributes (Insight, Prowess, Resolve) for resistance rolls to mitigate consequences of failure. How many dice do you get for your Attributes? That's determined by the breadth of actions you have invested within that attribute. If you have 1d6 in Finesse, 3d6 in Prowl, 0d6 in Skirmish, and 0d6 in Wreck, then you have 2d6 for your Prowess (essentially a combined Constitution/Dexterity saving throw) resistance rolls. But if you had 1d6 in Finesse, 1d6 in Prowl, 1d6 in Skirmish, and 1d6 in Wreck, you would have a 4d6 for your Prowess resistance rolls. So there is a tradeoff between your breadth of your attributes vs. the depth of your actions/skills.

Overall, it's a nice mix of ability scores, skills, and saving throws that are more thoughtfully integrated into a cohesive whole. But the emphasis in Blades in the Dark is not on d20 + Modifier action resolution. The emphasis is on dramatic conflict that arises from its action-based dice pool system. Attributes are present but they are not somehow imagined as the defining qualities of a character's natural talents in the way that ability scores in D&D are.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
Blades in the Dark also uses an "ability score" system that I find intriguing. There are 12 actions that are divided between three attributes:

• Insight (Hunt, Survey, Study, Tinker);
• Prowess (Finesse, Prowl, Skirmish, Wreck);
• and Resolve (Attune, Command, Consort, Sway).
This seems to me, relating to the foursome, as:

• Intelligence ≈ Insight
• Dexterity+Strength ≈ Prowess
• Charisma ≈ Resolve
 

Aldarc

Adventurer
This seems to me, relating to the foursome, as:

• Intelligence ≈ Insight
• Dexterity+Strength ≈ Prowess
• Charisma ≈ Resolve
When it comes to the Six Attributes, Insight approximates Intelligence/Wisdom; Prowess approximates Strength/Dexterity/Constitution; and Resolve approximates Charisma/Wisdom.

However, I tend to think of these attributes as approximating Mind, Body, and Spirit.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
When it comes to the Six Attributes, Insight approximates Intelligence/Wisdom; Prowess approximates Strength/Dexterity/Constitution; and Resolve approximates Charisma/Wisdom.

However, I tend to think of these attributes as approximating Mind, Body, and Spirit.
Insight (Study and Tinker) seems like Intelligence.
Insight (Hunt and Survey) seems specifically Perception.



The two gaming systems together, Cypher and Blades in the Dark, evidence the essential utility of the foursome.

Cypher
Physical:
• Strength (Strength-Constitution) ≈ Might
• Dexterity (Dexterity-Athletics) ≈ Speed
Mental: ≈ Intellect

Blades in the Dark
Physical: ≈ Prowess
Mental:
• Intelligence (Intelligence-Perception) ≈ Insight
• Charisma (Wisdom-Charisma) ≈ Resolve



Together, they articulate each of the foursome

Physical:
• Strength (Strength-Constitution)
• Dexterity (Dexterity-Athletics)
Mental:
• Intelligence (Intelligence-Perception)
• Charisma (Charisma-Wisdom)



@Aldarc

It seems like you prefer to think of the abilities as more like skills that one can learn, rather than as labels that reduce a human. That seems reasonable.
 
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Aldarc

Adventurer
Insight (Study and Tinker) seems like Intelligence.
Insight (Hunt and Survey) seems specifically Perception.
Perception was integrated into Wisdom, at least in Six Attribute thinking. In another Forged in the Dark game, Scum and Villainy, 'Doctor' is an Insight action. So Medicine, another action/skill associated with Wisdom, is placed into Insight.

The two gaming systems together, Cypher and Blades in the Dark, evidence the essential utility of the foursome.

Together, they articulate each of the foursome
My purpose was not for you to reinforce your idea that somehow the "foursome" you devised is perfect.

I mostly wanted to mention two systems with attributes that work outside of the way that they do with D&D, which tie in with a key point: attributes should be a meaningful and purposeful part of the game. They should be informative about how players interact with the world. I prefer that ability scores are intuitive for new players with bright lines between them that make it easy for GMs/players to adjudicate action resolutions.

It seems like you prefer to think of the abilities as more like skills that one can learn, rather than as labels that reduce a human. That seems reasonable.
(1) I'm not a general fan of dehumanizing real people by trying to quantify them by imaginary game stats. That has less to do with my opinion on ability score preferences and more to do with my attitudes towards how people should be treated and discussed.

(2) Regarding my preference, I address that above.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
Thinking about healing. It seems to have two main components.

The first component is clearly Intelligence. This is the training that modern doctors go thru, anatomy, pathology, and various technologies for remedies. The premodern healing was often the same, for example, learning obscure uses for obscure herbs for a bewildering variety of ailments. In other words, medical lore. Intelligence (medicine).

But healing has a spiritual component, feeling loved, community bonding, spiritual intentions, meditations, placebo effect, shamanism, alternative medicine, and so on. Charisma (faith healing).

In reallife, healing works most effectively when both factors are in play.

I wonder if there is a way for the D&D game to mechanically distinguish these two different kinds of healing. Perhaps, Intelligence (medicine) is more crisis oriented that treats specific harms. Meanwhile Charisma (faith healing) focuses more on general wellbeing of the immune system, healing rates, and robust resilience to harms.

Ideally, the healer is both intelligent (knows what they are talking about) and charismatic (inspires confidence and encourages belonging). Such would be the ideal for many shamanic traditions, for example.
 
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