Should personality or mental stats exist?


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MGibster

Legend
This isn't just a problem with social skill/attribute capability; it comes up with any set of rolls where there's a single-point-of-failure in an event (i.e. where one person's misstep can create a failure state or at least pull down the success chance of the group as a whole seriously). It's the same reason in a lot of games you'll see people strongly avoid attempting stealth procedures with people who are bad at it.
Oh, boy! I was thinking of stealth rolls before I finished reading your first sentence. I try to take a page from video games like the Metal Gear series. Your first flub on a stealth roll might pique the interest of a guard but by itself it isn't going to bring the whole mission to a grinding halt. I also avoid having them roll too many times. i.e. They can get around the area with one stealth roll rather than having to make a roll every time they move.
 

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
Oh, boy! I was thinking of stealth rolls before I finished reading your first sentence. I try to take a page from video games like the Metal Gear series. Your first flub on a stealth roll might pique the interest of a guard but by itself it isn't going to bring the whole mission to a grinding halt. I also avoid having them roll too many times. i.e. They can get around the area with one stealth roll rather than having to make a roll every time they move.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Now, if you start to use any advanced social combat mechanic (for example), then you are left with the following outcome- either you preserve player agency, in which case players can engage in it, but the enemy cannot ... or you violate the fundamental design ethos of D&D (full player control of the player's thoughts and feelings).*

Maybe not? We should note that "combat mechanics" are not a form of task resolution, they are a form of conflict resolution.

In D&D, when attempting a task, the player gets to be pretty specific about what they want to accomplish - "I want to climb to the top of the cliff" or "I want to open the lock" are viable tasks. "I want to convince him that the King is actually a giant chicken" is also a task, and such social tasks are by convention asymmetric - many of us don't generally apply them to players, because of the agency-breaking that can entail.

But, everyone knows that in combat, things are messy, and they don't get to stipulate the detailed fate of everyone involved. While we don't like it when characters die, or retreat from a fight, we don't think of that as loss of agency, merely loss in this conflict. Why, then, in considering a possible D&D social combat, do we think in terms of task-type results that would involve breaking agency?

If we were to apply social combat - aka social conflict resolution - mechanics, the results should be like combat. The win/loss would not be about agency, but about whether your social attempts to resolve an overall conflict succeed or fail. Loss in a social combat should be about not getting what you want, not about being specifically convinced that the King is a giant chicken.

So, an excellent example of a social conflict/combat folks might be familiar with is from LotR - the scene where Gandalf and Friends come into the Hall of Theoden. The conflict is actually between Gandalf and team vs Grima Wormtongue. Wormtongue loses, but not by being convinced to do what they party wants! Wormtongue, socially, is almost as dead as Boromir is physically, but neither lost agency.

As for the idea of making puzzle solving and tactical choices dependent on die rolls ... if I proposed that to any table I've run, I'd get run out of town.

Well, tactical choices also don't solve conflicts on their own. They are filtered through tasks - individual combat actions, that DO call for die rolls.

As for puzzles, though, die rolls are hardly the only possible mechanical representation we can use.

Imagine the mechanic: Every character gets a number of puzzle hints equal to their character's combined Int and Wis stat modifiers (minimum 1), this pool of hints refreshes on a long rest. Solving puzzles is then influenced by the mental stats, but not completely controlled by them either. It also allows collaboration between characters, as they collectively gather hints.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
Maybe not? We should note that "combat mechanics" are not a form of task resolution, they are a form of conflict resolution.

I'm clipping the rest, because it fundamentally misunderstands what I meant by the non-reciprocal nature of the resolution.

In your scenario, you continue to posit that the PCs act upon the NPCs. Sure! Why not!

But the difference is that in physical combat, PCs act upon the NPCs, and NPCs have the reciprocal ability to act upon the PCs.

That is the salient difference I was outlining. If you want an advanced method of "social combat" (which is something other games do have), then you have to have a reciprocal ability- that NPCs can act upon the PCs. That social resolution cannot just be about whether your attempts fail, but also whether others can influence your character.

Without that reciprocity, then ... yes, social mechanics will always necessarily be different. And asking why they are different should be met with the usual response- it is self-evident. If you don't like that they are different, then you have to be willing to sacrifice a core tenet for many of the people that play D&D.

That doesn't make it good or bad, but there are many wonderful games that do provide for this- but they aren't D&D, and there is likely a reason that D&D has adopted this particular model, and why people like it.
 

Voadam

Legend
The difference is that your character can frequently act as if their intellect is very different from their intelligence score, but can never act as if their strength is different from their strength score. If the character is too weak to move a boulder, it doesn't help that the player is a bodybuilder. If the character should be too dumb to solve complex, logical puzzles or mysteries, or make good tactical decisions, he can still solve the puzzles constantly and make perfect tactical decisions if the player is smart enough.

Because a TTRPG takes place in an imaginary space into which you can only project your mind. A notable difference to LARP, which takes place in physical space.
I played a 5e viking valor bard modeled on a WWE wrestler with an 18 Charisma. He did not have an 18 strength, but he absolutely looked like he did.

Did not affect his attack rolls with his axe but it was great for characterization and concept and was a lot of fun.

Narratively you can do a lot with physical aspects of the character that rarely interacts with mechanics.

Anybody could roleplay Raistlin with a cough as a characterization, but still have plenty of mechanical con and hp. I vaguely remember the Raistlin stats in the modules not having a bad Con.

You could do a Jar Jar binks characterization rogue, where you are narratively clumsy and you accidentally shoot droids dead in the fights while tripping and falling while tangled up with weapons. It would probably be grating but it seems feasible to do so with a mechanically high dex and as a PC making conscious attacks.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I've grown to dislike ability scores that indicate personality or the intelligence of PCs, for various reasons. For one, it makes certain personality choices highly punishing for some characters. If you want to play a smart or charismatic fighter, you'll be punished by being less effective at your role. Of course, you can just roleplay your character that way regardless of stats, and I see this done constantly. Does that mean players roleplay their character "wrong?" Or is the stat wrong?

There's that situation where most of the party is silent, because they're afaid of screwing up some social encounter as they side glance at the party bard. "What are you doing, barbarian? Trying to role-play in a role-playing game?! Now make a Charisma roll. That'll teach you to make the bard do all the talking!"
This seems more of an issue with games that encourage heavily specialization because the characters are expected to face challenges their specialities can overcome. If I make a bard that can talk an unstoppable force into taking a breather, I probably want to do that on occasion. Otherwise, what’s the point, right?

Then there's the trouble with role-playing characters of different intellect than your own, which (hopefully) is never really enforced anyway. "Oh, you think you just did a clever plan to stop the ogre? Well, your Int is only 8, so your character wouldn't do that! And why haven't you come up with a brilliant idea no one else has thought of yet, Gundalph?! Your character has 18 Int! Start role-playing like it!"
The difference between an 8 and a 10 is a 5% chance of success. It’s the same as the difference between a +2 and a +3 proficiency bonus. Are 1st level characters bumblingly incompetent compared to 5th level characters in 5e? No? Then why should a character with a similar difference in Int be completely stupid? It seems like the dice should be able to handle this difference since it’s baked into the modifiers applied to the roll. It just needs to be made to come up in some way. For example, when Deirdre wanted to lead a bulette away from their settlement, she would roll Manipulate + Intellect to entice it into following her plan. (Note: that post uses old skills and attributes. Those are what we would use currently. Her Intellect is −1, so it’s definitely not her best stat, but it’s what was indicated by the approach her player chose.)

If we separate things like charisma and intelligence from from ability scores and mechanics, the player no longer has to sacrifice "fun" to play a desired personality. But then we don't have a lot of stats left, do we? Well, if we look at D&D, Wisdom is not really a personality stat anymore. It's more of a Perception or Awareness stat. So maybe it's just a question of renaming, or looking at abilities through a different lens. Intelligence could be "Knowledge", reflecting study, observation and practical experience prior to adventuring, rather than reasoning and logic. This also makes sense in terms of additional skills and languages gained, which the ability does in some systems/editions.

I struggle more to get around some kind of social stat. For some classes, it just makes sense to have one. Like a bard or leader archetype, such as a warlord. Perhaps use a stat with a more neutral name, such as "Presence" and simply have it affect the initial disposition of NPCs. Interactions past that could be handled purely through role-play, rather than die rolls.

The problem of personality/intelligence stats goes double for systems (or tables) that emphasize "player skill" and seek to test the imagination and reasoning of the players.

Should some characters just check out of the role-playing game when it's time to role-play? Should the GM keep putting the shy player with the high Charisma score on the spot? Should the GM berate an average intelligence player for not coming up with genious plans all the time when playing his 18 Int Wizard? Should he make the Int 3 cleric walk blindly into the dark room and onto the pit trap? How many stats should there be at minimum? Do I even have a point, or am I just over-analyzing and rambling? Make up your own questions and add them to the list!
Another possibility is allowing flexible skill usage with ability score based on what the character is doing. If a fighter has a high Strength, they should be able to do something involving displays of their physical prowess. Perhaps the NPC is apt to be impressed by the fighter’s physique, allowing the fighter to roll Persuasion (Strength) instead of the usual Persuasion (Charisma). Maybe the barbarian is unrelenting and stands outside for days until they get an answer, allowing for Persuasion (Constitution). Maybe the rogue’s displays of legerdemain are enough to convince a potential benefactor they’re up to the task of stealing an item discretely, so Persuasion (Dexterity). This could also go the other way. Perhaps the wizard is very studied on the nature of walls and knows all the techniques for climbing them safely, therefore Athletics (Intelligence). And so on. There are social rules in the 5e DMG (on pp. 244–245) that may be useful in that game for providing a way to establish that certain flexible usages are permissible (e.g., discovering an old NPC has an ideal pertaining to health and long-livedness).

⁂​

My homebrew system keeps mental attributes, though it uses a different list compared to D&D: Intellect (reasoning and smarts), Wisdom (based on experiences), Willpower (withstanding mental trials and punishment). Attributes are also allocated semi-randomly. You increase two and one randomly during character creation then roll on a table (based on your ancestry) to determine which of mental or physical (your choice of three) to increase. You roll again on the table at 2nd and every even level after that. When a check is made, the player picks the attribute for the approach (unless it’s dictated by the action such as Strength being used to make a Melee Attack). That gives the players a lot of flexibility to decide how to go about a check, and my players have been pretty creative with it (see my posts in the 5-words commentary thread for examples). Obviously, the approach has to make sense for a situation (i.e., you have to be in position). If it’s not established that the approach will work with the opposition or is possible, then you have to take steps to make it so or use a different approach. It’s like needing to move into melee range to make a Melee Attack.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I've grown to dislike ability scores that indicate personality or the intelligence of PCs, for various reasons. For one, it makes certain personality choices highly punishing for some characters. If you want to play a smart or charismatic fighter, you'll be punished by being less effective at your role. Of course, you can just roleplay your character that way regardless of stats, and I see this done constantly. Does that mean players roleplay their character "wrong?" Or is the stat wrong?
You may want to check out the DC20 RPG that is being developed. From what I recall, players select one of their four stats as their Prime stat, which acts as the value for things like attack rolls. But this means that if you want a smart fighter, that you can select Intellect or Charisma as your prime stat without being mechanically penalized in your role.

Maybe not? We should note that "combat mechanics" are not a form of task resolution, they are a form of conflict resolution.

In D&D, when attempting a task, the player gets to be pretty specific about what they want to accomplish - "I want to climb to the top of the cliff" or "I want to open the lock" are viable tasks. "I want to convince him that the King is actually a giant chicken" is also a task, and such social tasks are by convention asymmetric - many of us don't generally apply them to players, because of the agency-breaking that can entail.

But, everyone knows that in combat, things are messy, and they don't get to stipulate the detailed fate of everyone involved. While we don't like it when characters die, or retreat from a fight, we don't think of that as loss of agency, merely loss in this conflict. Why, then, in considering a possible D&D social combat, do we think in terms of task-type results that would involve breaking agency?

If we were to apply social combat - aka social conflict resolution - mechanics, the results should be like combat. The win/loss would not be about agency, but about whether your social attempts to resolve an overall conflict succeed or fail. Loss in a social combat should be about not getting what you want, not about being specifically convinced that the King is a giant chicken.

So, an excellent example of a social conflict/combat folks might be familiar with is from LotR - the scene where Gandalf and Friends come into the Hall of Theoden. The conflict is actually between Gandalf and team vs Grima Wormtongue. Wormtongue loses, but not by being convinced to do what they party wants! Wormtongue, socially, is almost as dead as Boromir is physically, but neither lost agency.

Well, tactical choices also don't solve conflicts on their own. They are filtered through tasks - individual combat actions, that DO call for die rolls.

As for puzzles, though, die rolls are hardly the only possible mechanical representation we can use.

Imagine the mechanic: Every character gets a number of puzzle hints equal to their character's combined Int and Wis stat modifiers (minimum 1), this pool of hints refreshes on a long rest. Solving puzzles is then influenced by the mental stats, but not completely controlled by them either. It also allows collaboration between characters, as they collectively gather hints.
Some of what you describe here is similar to social mechanics in various PbtA where it's often about divulging information that let's the players then make informed decisions about how to procede. So social encounters can involve what clues you get. The guard or even PC may have to say what conditions are required for them to be convinced, the player character has to answer honesty, or the player can choose from a list of possible consequences.

Or in Fate, which I know we both play, you can be "taken out" in a social situation. Maybe you are humiliated and embarrased by a rival. How you feel about that or what you think still is up to the PC, but you were effectively taken out of the scene. We may even throw a consequence on the PC that will take time to clear: "Humiliated at the Royal Court." That may take as long to heal as a combat wound.

There are some games that stradle the line. A possible consequence in Monsterhearts is the "turn someone on" move can be used by a PC on a PC or even a NPC on a PC (as a possible consequence of a failed roll: i.e., "turn the move back on the PC"). But the game says that the PC still has control over how they feel or what they think about it. But being "turned on" is a reality in the game fiction that they have to deal with.

Or in Pendragon there are times when failed rolls means that there are times or situations where the the player can lose control over their character. However, it's like succumbing to insanity in Call of Cthulhu, but in this case, it's succumbing to your virtues or traits as an Arthurian knight. I was actually pretty impressed with Greg Stafford here. He brought his receipts about his decision to do this with heavy citations of the Arthurian source material: such as Lancelot losing control in a fit of murder or an inability to not fall in love with Guinevere despite that going against his better judgment.
 
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payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
Another possibility is allowing flexible skill usage with ability score based on what the character is doing. If a fighter has a high Strength, they should be able to do something involving displays of their physical prowess. Perhaps the NPC is apt to be impressed by the fighter’s physique, allowing the fighter to roll Persuasion (Strength) instead of the usual Persuasion (Charisma). Maybe the barbarian is unrelenting and stands outside for days until they get an answer, allowing for Persuasion (Constitution). Maybe the rogue’s displays of legerdemain are enough to convince a potential benefactor they’re up to the task of stealing an item discretely, so Persuasion (Dexterity). This could also go the other way. Perhaps the wizard is very studied on the nature of walls and knows all the techniques for climbing them safely, therefore Athletics (Intelligence). And so on. There are social rules in the 5e DMG (on pp. 244–245) that may be useful in that game for providing a way to establish that certain flexible usages are permissible (e.g., discovering an old NPC has an ideal pertaining to health and long-livedness).
This is how I tend to ref Traveller. The narrative piece and player agency is a lot of fun. A few items it has that makes this easy over D&D is an expansive skill system and no spells. D&D traditionally has been heavily specialized but also binary do or do not.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
This is how I tend to ref Traveller. The narrative piece and player agency is a lot of fun. A few items it has that makes this easy over D&D is an expansive skill system and no spells. D&D traditionally has been heavily specialized but also binary do or do not.
Spells can definitely pose a challenge depending on how they are done in a system, especially if spells operate under essentially their own rules. I try to keep that from happening in my homebrew system by tying spell usage to a check. In general, if a spell would allow you to do something in place of a skill check, it’s just allowing you to apply your group rank (typically Mage) to the check. Casting is providing flexibility at the cost of resource usage.

For example, Guidance is a rank +2 cleric spell. It costs 3 MP and lets you use your Mage rank when Working Together. Normally, Working Together involves making a skill check to Set Up the target (your choice, but it has to make sense) or a Group Check (all skills must match but approaches can differ). The former can provide a bonus while the latter allows multiple attempts for the same check (and they both can be used together). Whether to use Guidance is a tactical choice depending on the situation. It’s not something you’ll spam every skill check.
 

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