Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Stats first vs. Powers first

There are two possible extreme points of view regarding D&D stats. One is that you should fucking roll 3d6 in order, as the ancients decreed (even if the ancients ate up their own words not long afterwards) and the other is that everyone should have the "best stats". I think both have their merits but are two different solutions for two different problems, or rather that there are two fundamentally different stylistic choices hidden therein. [This doesn't actually relate to D&D history all that much, it's just a general observation.]

If Stats come first, random or not, in order or not, it means that Stats matter. If I roll an 18 in Str or point-buy an 18 in Str it means that I'm good at Strength...-y stuff. It defines my character, sets him apart from those that don't have an 18 in Str. Since Strength is rolled for fighty stuff, taking or rolling an 18 in Strength means my character is fighty. In an extreme case I don't really need anything else than stats here, and could totally play the game just off of those.

If Powers (I'm using a 4E term, but I don't mean 4E specifically) come first, that means Stats don't matter. In fact, in 4E I honestly see little point in stat-differentiation. If you play a specific Role/Class, then you're going to want your best Stats for that Role/Class. If you pick Wizard, just get an 18 in Intelligence and have it over with, classes could totally come pre-packaged with specific stats. Or really, the game could drop stats altogether. If I roll/pick/buy a high Charisma I will play a Sorcerer (or Paladin). If I play a Sorcerer (or Paladin) I will buy/pick a high Charisma.

So in other words - if Stats come first, I don't really need a class. Having a high Strength makes me a "Fighter" by default. If Class/Powers come first, I don't really need stats. Being a Wizard will make me Intelligent by default.

So there you have it. I used extremes as my starting point but the result is sensible I'd say, from an Occam's razor standpoint. Of course you can claim that you'd still need classes because in all-stats characters will be indistinguishable from each other (and thus boring) or that you'd still need stats in an class-first game because otherwise two classes would be indistinguishable from each other and thus bor...stop me if you've heard this before.


  1. You're right about wanting a high prime requisite stat if you choose powers/class first (see also: Apocalypse World). Beyond that, though: ALL WRONG.

    Stats matter in determining where your character's weaknesses and flaws are. Yes, you could just replace stats with a class, some powers, and a weakness or two. In that case, those would be your stats, basically. If you're not looking for differentiation between characters, then no you don't need stats, but then do you really need powers either?

    Rolling your stats can be a way of randomly determining your class, if you go with your highest stat. But it can also determine a set of powers and abilities completely separate from class. A wizard gets spells from being a wizard, not from the Intelligence stat, and I've seen plenty of Basic D&D characters that defied their stats when choosing a class.

  2. Hm, I'm not sure I'm getting you there. I do think we need differentiation between characters. But see, in 4E, if I'm getting my best stats anyway, two Warlocks will have the same stats, hence being the same. That's why differentiation is done through class options etc, often based on second-best stat...but at that point, why bother with stats. Just make it all class features, archetypes, kits, options.

    On the other hand, two fighters in old D&D are completely the same. No customization. And that's why you need different stats.

    Basic yes, totally, but I very much see it as a Stat-first game in many ways, as described above (or even "player first", skill being often more important that mechanics). I can't really see that happening in 4E (which puts more stress on Class). "You're playing a Wizard with 10 Intelligence? What the fuck dude?"

    Also, note how in 4E you can add EITHER your Str or Con to your Fortitude etc. It's basically saying: you've got a low Con? Don't let that inconvenience you, you need high Fortitude! It's putting less emphasis on stat differentiation, making stats matter less.

  3. Well, okay, if we're talking just 4E, you're right. But that's a failing of 4E specifically, because the stats are made to be meaningless. I think when Clyde Rhoer interviewed Mike Mearls he said the only reason they kept the 3-18 range was for legacy purposes. Even so, the bonuses are arranged primarily to demonstrate a player's ability to optimize the character based on class, not really to bring any depth to the character.

    And what would 4E look like without stats? Castle Ravenloft. So, basically the same.