On Abilities (Them Deeper Bones design diary 10)

People discussing Ability Scores (Tappelu toukolaisten kanssa, Akseli Gallen-Kallela)

The Abilities

As a quick walk-thru copy-pasted straight from the book, there are six Abilities in Them Deeper Bones: Physique, Reflex, Stamina, Knowledge, Insight and Power.

The Role-Playing Dilemma

One of the age-old beefs I’ve had with RPG systems that use the old Ability Score spread is that of “but my character is too stupid to figure that out, so I won’t contribute even if as a player I know how to solve this puzzle” and its mirror image “my character would be wise enough to know what to do here even if I have no idea, so please spoon-feed me the answer to this” — in order to cater to the emphasis of role-playing as a problem-solving tool, and the idea of the character sheet not dragging players down, the “mental” Ability Scores had to change. Knowledge and Insight as concepts are far less likely to drag the player down to a passive path, being more akin to the physical characteristics in their interaction with the fiction than the “original” terms. This also means that the contents of those two Abilities are a bit different, and while most of the burden contained within is moved to the realm of role-playing, they also lack the direct connection to magic the originals had. But more about that later.

The Dexterity Umbrella

The other big issue I’ve always had was with the Ability Score Dexterity. It is a one singular number that somehow affects a whole lot of things. Everything from how fast you act, acrobatics, shooting bows, picking locks and dodging blades goes under this one stat. Thus, if you had to describe someone who is dexterous it’s not really a simple task. After a very short deliberation after the mental scores got changed I knew removing all that baggage from the stat was a priority for what I wanted to do next. I decided on creating the Ability “Reflex” and making it just about being fast — it affects how well you get out of the way by affecting your Armour Class, and how fast you move (so it affects Initiative Rolls and Saving Throws when you being fast enough matter). And not much else. Attacking with ranged weapons goes to Physique as that’s a good general stat for making that sort of things. Picking locks and other detail work that requires good hand-eye coordination goes to Insight. Makes the spread a lot better.

Snowballing Changes

So, that’s the big two things, and from them come the rest. From changing Intelligence and Wisdom, it’s natural to look at Charisma that is another one of those stats that players sometimes let interfere with their role-playing, albeit to a lesser degree. But as I noted earlier, the system now having Knowledge and Insight means that there is no clear spell-casting stat, and that willpower (another staple of “Wisdom”) is nowhere on the sheet. Enter Power, a repurposing of the Charisma slot on a six-stat spread, and have it be the force of will and presence of the character.

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