Sonntag, März 03, 2013

INT score and the number of languages (old school)

Just some thoughts I had while reading Basic Fantasy RPG and the updated ORSIC 2.3.

There is a table for each of the ability scores, and I always had my problems with the INT score.
Basically, I see no relevant connection between INT and the number of languages a character is able to learn, or begins the game with. While it may be said that intelligent people are better language learners, I believe there is a fallacy, and the connection of INT and languages is a construct due to the mechanics of the game system and its game world dependency. And in my opinion, it's simply because the INT score had to be good for something. Characters need STR to inflict damage and bash in doors, DEX to get some missile attack bonus, and better AC and CON for more hit points. So what does the characters with high INT get? Languages, or more spells in some editions.

There is a real-life stereotype of intelligent people playing musical instruments, especially the violin, and the piano (, because Mozart played them and PR did the rest. I'd rather have the stereotype be jazz vocalists, and electric guitar-players but I lack the PR funds.) Why is this not represented in the old school INT score?

Why, because this is not a game about musicians. Player characters may play instruments, and sing, or chant, but there are no 0e/1e skills, or class abilities to reflect this. And even the bard class does not use instruments to play music for entertainment, their special power is to influence people by device of vocal, and/or instrumental music. It is a magical power rather, or at least one of trance induction, and hypnosis (which would be seen as magic in many human cultures, anyway.)

Back to languages, and literacy. So, the fighter eventually gets more weapon-proficiency skills, but cannot learn to read and write? Not even by using all his riches to employ a decent teacher? What is the gold about then? (Experience points, yes. I remember, now.)

INT defines how many languages characters know at the start of the game, and limits what they are able to learn. Experience points do in no way simulate learning, because there are no skills that are learned (in a system without skills), and special abilities, feats, powers and so forth connected to the class are aquired in such a slow and irrational way that simulation of real-life learning is out of the question, or seems at least silly. But then ability scores are static, too. And even the long life-spans of dwarves and elves are not represented anywhere. On the contrary even, they have limits on the experience levels they may attain.

In many game systems experience points and levels represent hierarchy, and power within the game system and the game world. They have little to do with skills, or learning.
Player characters are merely playing pieces with attributes. Constructs. They are no real elves with magic powers, so I guess it does not amount to much wether INT and the number of languages they know have, or have not any plausible connection.
It's a game. And the rules can be changed.

Alternate language rule

Have each character roll 1d4 languages. Decide on fluency, and possible literacy skills depending on the character's class and background. 
1st level human fighter from the border marches between Nugluk and Goblin Plains? Knows regional human tongue and Goblin fluently, reads most of the signs, and picked up a few dwarven words that allow him basic conversation.

Languages are cool. Use them, and don't waste space on an INT table with it. Instead grant a saving throw bonus vs. puzzle traps, or something like that.

Put those INT and WIS scores to better use

Use ability scores - and not just INT and WIS bonuses - coupled with class skills to determine how well the player characters interpret the game environment. And I do not mean perception alone, but the clues that only fighters, magic-users, or characters with high CHA may find (e.g. CHA as an ability to influence people, and understand the means and ends of such influence, and consequently spot the use of it.) Interpretation is up to the players eventually, but PCs with high scores may grant their players a little help from the DM.
Read the Lorefinder book for some ideas. I'm still thinking on how to implement it into old school games.


alexandro hat gesagt…

One Thing I consider quite interesting about "old-school" D&D is the way it handles Attribute-traits. There isn't really a mention of attributes-as-innate-abilities in BECMI-D&D, so I took a step back and considered, what we actually *know* about those attributes:

Strength determines how much you can lift and carry (not really anything to do with raw strength, but with training and experience) and your ability to deal damage in close combat.

Dexterity does the same for ranged combat.

Constitution doesn't affect your saves vs. poison or similar effects (immune System), but allows you to keep going after being wounded.

Intelligence affects the number of languages you know.

Wisdom affects how well you can resist spells (thus, it can be seen as world-weariness and practical experience).

Charisma represents your social skill (reaction) and your leadership qualities (morale/retainers).

...seeing all that, I have come to believe that those traits are not so much innate qualities, but things the character has *learned* in his experiences Prior to adventuring. So those "attributes" are a lot closer to what we, in hindsight, call "skills".

This is perfect, because it allows the players to describe the character they want, instead of letting the attributes dictate his appearance and/or personality:

- Your low-Str character doesn't have to be weak, he just doesn't know how to apply his strength.
- Your low-Dex character doesn't have to be a klutz, he just hasn't mastered coordination-skills yet.
Your low-Con character doesn't have to be fragile, he just isn't used to having pain inflicted on his Person.
- Your low-Int character doesn't have to be stupid, he might just not have had an education.
- Your low-Wis character doesn't have to be weak-willed, it might be that he simply hasn't seen much of the world yet.
- Your low-Cha character doesn't have to be grating and/or unlikable, maybe he is very charming but too honest to influence people to his way of thinking and too timid to be a good leader.

Just something to think about.

lars_alexander hat gesagt…

Hi alexandro,

thank you very much for your comment. I understand abilities as abstract measurement of skill and physical/mental aptitude and whatever myself. And I've had a notion about the meaning of the scores similar to the one you mention.
I always felt that the actual training after the active adventuring career of the characters (being told to do this and that by their players ;-) ...) is not represented in them, though.
Starting with a young character there is no increase in wisdom, charisma, strength. You can increase scores via wishes, but not through study.
Do you have any rules/rulings to represent training later on? Your thoughts and input a welcome!

Take care!

alexandro hat gesagt…

Well, adventurers gain a more broad form of advancement (in the guise of Levels), representing that when you do the stuff they do, you need a well-rounded skill-set. So I can live with not increasing abilities.

However, I have indeed some rules for increasing ability scores after chargen:
For each year spent in the pursuit of an ability (not adventuring) you roll 2d6 and compare to your score: if you meet the score, it goes up by +1.

The above is likely something the characters do at name-level, if at all. While adventuring, the characters may be (once per level) be granted 1d6 to increase an abilty (as above), provided they can justify how the adventure improved their ability (i.e. the wizard got seperated from the party, was out of spells and had to fend off a Kobold with his staff).

The above methods cap the increase at ability scores 13 and 7 respectively, so characters can use it to get rid of really low stats, but they don't become exceptional, barring a wish.

If this still isn't enough, the DM may grant them additional d6, if they accomplish something exceptional that might benefit their ability. Just how many d6 depends on the epicness of their deed (assembling a huge library of lost & forgotten tomes might grant a +1d6 for increasing Int, while convincing Thor to tutor you in hand-to-hand combat may grant a whopping +3d6 to increasing Str).

lars_alexander hat gesagt…

Thanks for your ideas. I can see the point in capping scores at 13, or 7.