So About Those Six Stats....

SabreCat asked about my process in renaming the trad D&D stats — Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma — to the World Is A Fuck ones: Buffness, Litheness, Toughness, Learnedness, Quick-Wittedness, and Presence.

That starts with an ignoble admission: the motivation was 99% about the mental stats, and I did the physical ones out of a sense of nagging completionism. Also, I think I could do better work on the stats, but not without diverging substantially from the meaning of the D&D stats, and some degree of instant pick-up-and-use OSR compatibility is, I think, more important to dungeonpunk as a whole than my grumbling about what they mean.

So, to start with the less thorny stuff: STR, DEX, CON. What do they mean? Well, aside from what the label says, they mean: D&D was originally a modular add-on alternate mode of play for a tabletop miniatures wargame, Chainmail, and like tabletop miniatures wargames then and now, it demanded mechanical balance in unit design — and so STR = melée weapon skill, DEX = ranged weapon skill, CON = harder to kill, with character-generation-time tradeoffs stopping you from just being Awesome At Everything.

Frankly, I prefer the Warhammer Fantasy RPG's unfiltered admission that there are Hitting Things and Shooting Things stats; I don't believe that STR and DEX model a real distinction in the way that the human physique functions. And CON has always been this weird vestigial nub, as editions of D&D have come and gone and hung various mechanical systems off the stats themselves; it is, once and always, That One You Need For Extra HP and not much else. If one were taking a critical look at the fundamentals, you might say: well, can we dispense with it as a middleman, then? If it really only does any work at character generation, can we take it off the sheet and just say "you can also take some of these points & add them to your maximum HP instead"?

But. Divergence from the D&D standard.

On to the mental stats. INT, WIS, CHA...and this is where I pinch the bridge of my nose and wearily say: the late Gary Gygax was an American Evangelical Christian libertarian and, by my standards, the ideas that left him with made him a deeply fucking morally bad man.

INT. Never mind the mechanical confusion whether this measures book-learning or cool reason; we all know INT is IQ...and IQ is Nazi race science. A radical redesign would punt the mental stats wholesale into a bonfire. And yet, and yet, the vague OSR compatibility is a usability concern, particularly to novice game-runners who haven't got the hang of the style of improv and level of detail to make up to keep things moving with low friction. And so I leaned into the idea of it as Learning: having consciously trained your mind, absorbed knowledge from the sources you could lay hands on. It's the autodidact's stat.

(We'll leave aside how problematic our models of education are: faced with fucking IQ, they're the lesser horror.)

WIS. Again, mechanical confusion: is this perceptiveness? Intuition? Common sense? Well, mechanically, it's The Spellcasting Stat For Clerics, isn't it? And please do ruminate for a second on Gary "indigenous genocide, when undertaken by missionary Puritans, is textbook Lawful Good" Gygax naming the spellcasting stat for the missionary-Christian-in-all-but-name Cleric, and their "I burn you with holy fire, for Good!" spell list, Wisdom.


So WiaF has WITS, Quick-wittedness. It absorbs the perceptiveness and sense of intuitive leaping-to-solutions; I'll leave any implication of moral certitude, never mind correctness, to that dead prick.

CHA. Charisma. Courtesy of Merriam-Webster: "The Greek word charisma means 'favor' or 'gift.' In English, it has been used in Christian contexts since about 1640 to refer to a gift or power bestowed upon an individual by the Holy Spirit for the good of the Church. (This sense is now very rare.)" Obscure, maybe, but I know it — and what do you want to bet it was familiar to ol' Evangelical Gary?

My other two problems with "charisma" are: firstly, that one usual sense it's used these days relates to the sociological definition — it's about leadership. Second: that the other usual sense is about celebrity, where it's regarded as an innately positive trait. D&D once had a baked-in assumption that characters who didn't die horribly would necessarily end up feudal lords, with castles and armies and retinues, and for that, the leadership connotation makes an amount of sense; without those systems, the ability to use CHA to make friends and influence people directly gives you Pick-Up Bardics. Do I need to clarify that I am not a fan of latter-day D&D's mental stats giving rise to a whole class and sub-game centred on "haha NPCs shag if I say so"? The Bard as rolling sex crime atrocity, sold as Good Actually on the back of celebrity charisma being A Good Quality To Have.

Shear off the innate connotation of sandbagging people with your personality being Good. Shear away the vestiges of This Is For Building Your City-State At High Levels. What do you have? A striking presence — and so WiaF's PRES.

(..."Oh, that'll be a paragraph, maybe two," I said. "Nothing to really say about it," I said. Ha.)

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