Yosharian Posted May 17, 2019 Share Posted May 17, 2019 (edited) TL;DR: other role-playing games and role-playing systems restrict their characters to reasonable attributes when creating a character, for example having lower limits of 7 points for a given attribute. Should games like Pillars of Eternity also have such restrictions, in order to promote role-playing and prevent absurd ludonarrative dissonance? Or is it perfectly fine and desirable for players to be able to create characters with the intelligence of a brick? A Short Preface I've been playing Pathfinder Kingmaker recently, and noticed that in character creation, you are limited to a minimum base value of 7. I'm normally a pretty extreme min-maxer in CRPGs, so I was quite surprised by this. It got me thinking: why are we allowed to choose values as low as 3 in games like Pillars? So I decided to write up my thoughts. I'm interested to hear what the Pillars community thinks about this. I'm guessing there will be strong resistance, but I'm not certain. Well, on with the post essay freaking novel. Attributes/Ability Scores In Detail So in Pillars 1 and Deadfire there are a range of attributes that you can choose at character creation. You can choose from a range of 3-18 for any given attribute. It could be speculated that such values originate from the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing system, where a similar set of values exist. The Pathfinder system is derived from D&D 3.5. Thus, I believe it's useful to look at the descriptions for attribute levels to get an idea for what these numbers are meant to represent. However, I do so with the disclaimer that these aren't actually from Deadfire or Pillars 1 themselves (which shall henceforth be referred to as 'the Pillars system' for brevity), and thus they may not correspond exactly with what Obsidian had in mind when they picked the numbers 3-18. I think they are accurate enough, and serve as a useful guide. An Average Score 10 could be seen as an average score for characters in the Pillars system. It definitely is in D&D/Pathfinder. The D20PFSRD (a reference website for Pathfinder, link here: http://www.d20pfsrd.com/basics-ability-scores/ability-scores/ ) has this to say about average scores: 10 Strength: an average Human. Can literally pull their own weight. 10 Dexterity: capable of usually catching a small tossed object, average human agility 10 Constitution: occasionally contracts mild sicknesses, average human healthiness 10 Intelligence: knows what they need to know to get by. 10 Wisdom: capable of planning and makes reasoned decisions most of the time 10 Charisma: understands most conventions of social interactions and acts relatively acceptably in social circumstances. For those that are unfamiliar with D&D, Wisdom determines the Perception skill in D&D, so Pillar's Perception attribute could be seen as equivalent to D&D's Wisdom (though the comparison breaks down a little once you factor in accuracy). Similarly, Pillar's Resolve functions similarly to D&D's Charisma, in that it determines "mental intimidation, leadership, and convincing performances." (Source: https://pillarsofeternity.gamepedia.com/Attributes.) (Again, the comparison breaks down a little if you examine it in detail, but broadly speaking they have more similarities than differences) So 10 could be seen as an average score for a human, and it's not unreasonable to presume that such a statement could be accurate for Pillars' system too. Character Creation Maximums In D&D, the maximum possible score at character creation is 18, before modifiers. This corresponds exactly with the Pillars system. The D20PFSRD has this to say about such scores: 18 Strength: same as a Centaur. Can break objects like wood with bare hands. 18 Dexterity: better than an Octopus. Light on feet, able to often hit small moving targets at a distance. 18 Constitution: same as a Polar Bear. Able to stay awake for days on end. 18 Intelligence: better than a Succubus. Genius-level intelligence, may invent new processes or uses for knowledge. 18 Wisdom: perhaps equivalent to a monk, or wise guardian. Often looked to as a source of wisdom or as a counselor. 18 Charisma: perhaps equivalent to a Siren, or similar creature. Immediately likeable by many people, subject of favorable talk. So 18 could be seen as the most powerful score a normal human could achieve. Of course, the abstraction breaks down somewhat when you consider that in both the Pillars and D&D 3.5/Pathfinder systems, adventurers can achieve scores well above these 'maximums'; in fact, it's possible to reach scores of 50+ by the time a character reaches 20th level in D&D 3.5/PF, and in the Pillars system the attribute cap is 35. However, the fact remains that 18 was selected as the standard maximum for the Pillars system, and it stands to reason that this was done for a reason - to represent the most powerful score a normal human could achieve. Scores above these can be seen as adventurers acquiring skills, attributes, legendary artifacts, etc, that place them well above what any normal human could achieve - putting them closer to gods, than normal humans. This makes sense when you consider that your heroes are meant to be saving the world, defeating incredible enemies, etc. Character Creation Minimums This is where the interesting part comes in. To begin, let's look at the descriptions for D&D ability scores, for the minimum scores available in the Pillars system, which is 3, or 2 after modifiers: 2-3 Strength: no description, but somewhere between "Needs help to stand, can be knocked over by strong breezes" and "Knocked off balance by swinging something dense". Similar to a monstrous centipede. 2-3 Dexterity: similar to a sea urchin. Incapable of moving without great effort. 2-3 Constitution: no equivalent creature listed, but a fair bit worse than a toad or hedgehog. Frail, suffers constant illnesses. 2-3 Intelligence: similar to a dog, or horse. Animal-level intelligence, acts mostly on instinct but can be trained. 2-3 Wisdom: similar to a semi-sentient fungal creature. Rarely notices important or prominent items, people, or occurrences. 2-3 Charisma: same as a lizard, or crocodile. Capable of only minimal independent decision-making. So if we look at these descriptions, we can see that these scores are astoundingly bad for any adventurer or heroic (or villainous) type. These are bad enough to make 'saving the world' or 'defeating incredible enemies' pretty much impossible. With some of these scores, it might be possible to still be a heroic character or adventurer if one were led around and commanded by a smarter ally, in the manner of a glorified pet, or the like, but arguably it would the victory of the commander, rather than the pet. Again, these are descriptions based off a different role-playing system to the Pillars one, but I think it's reasonable to speculate that they are fairly accurate. Also, let's bear in mind that it's likely that the minimum base value 3 was chosen by Pillars' designers because it represents the lowest roll one can achieve with 3d6 (and 18 the maximum), another nod to D&D roots. Note: Boeroer makes the point that he thinks a 3 in the Pillars system is equivalent to a 7 in the Pathfinder system. I don't buy that, personally, but it's a reasonable point. The reason I'm not convinced is because it doesn't make sense from an overarching perspective. If the range of values is from 0 (non-functional, dead, cannot exist) to 10, and 10 is average, I don't buy that 3 is the lower limit for a character that can still be an effective adventurer, because there is a huge gulf between 'competent adventurer' and 'dead/non-functional/cannot exist', but only values of 1, 2 and 3 span that gulf, in Boeroer's explanation. I concede that, as Boeroer says, it 'hurts my aesthetic feeling for numbers.' Averages, Maximums and Minimums? So it could reasonably be argued that 10 represents an average score, and 18 represents the very best humanity could offer, perhaps one-in-a-million genius, or strong-man, or charismatic leader, etc. What does 3 represent? Does it really represent the worst humanity could offer? And, could a character with such a score actually be a hero, or adventurer? Let's take Eder as an example. Eder has the following attributes in Pillars of Eternity: Mig: 16 Con: 16 Dex: 11 Per: 12 Int: 10 Res: 13. So Eder is really strong, and has a great constitution. He "carries heavy objects with one arm" and "easily shrugs off most illnesses". This all sounds like the Eder we know, and is within the realms of possibility for a relatively rare adventurer type. But what if Eder had an Intellect of 3? [Josh Sawyer himself talks about this extensively in his GDC 2016 talk about 'attribute tuning'. You can see more info here: https://rpgcodex.net/article.php?id=10263. What I find interesting is where he talks about the 'weirdness' of players choosing to lower attribute scores to extreme levels. I find this interesting, because he, as one of the game's most prominent designers, chose to give players the option of reducing attributes to extremely low numbers, then reacted with surprise when players showed a desire to reduce companion attributes to... extremely low numbers!] Pathfinder Point-Buy systems, and Pathfinder Games Pathfinder has a Point-Buy system that allows you to 'purchase' ability scores for a certain amount of points, with the points per character being static, similar to the Pillars system. (Each point is worth a different amount, with the purchase of an 18 score being much more expensive than a 12, for example, but that's not relevant to this discussion.) In most versions of this 'point-buy', you're restricted to a minimum of 7 in any ability score, before modifiers. You'll notice that that's much higher than many low 3d6 rolls (3, 4, 5 and 6 are all possible), and much higher than the minimum score available in the Pillars system. You can see for yourself by visiting a Pathfinder ability score calculator such as the one here: http://www.jody-white.com/pathfinder-ability-score-calculator.php This system is used in some Pathfinder Pen And Paper ('PnP') games, such as Pathfinder Society (which strictly regulates what characters can and cannot be made, for balance purposes), and also some Pathfinder games, such as the recently released Pathfinder Kingmaker. Other times, 3d6 rolls are used, or sometimes there are other hybrid systems, but point-buy is commonly accepted as a means of character ability score generation. Why Have A Minimum of 7? Why have a minimum set so high? Well, the most logical reason stems from the PnP roots of Pathfinder. How, exactly, do you role-play a character with 3 Intelligence, in a PnP game? Let's remind ourselves that 2-3 Intelligence in Pathfinder equates to intelligence 'similar to a dog, or horse; animal-level intelligence, that acts mostly on instinct but can be trained.' In fact, such a thing is determined to be effectively impossible to do within standard expectations. Of course, any PnP Dungeon Master, or Game Master, may operate their table however they wish, and may choose to allow characters with ability scores below base 7. But, the standard point-buy system chooses to restrict players to 7 or upwards (with the caveat that race modifiers may, of course, lower values below 7). What About CRPGs? This gets even worse when you consider CRPGs, where the freedom to role-play a character with the intellect of a brick is most likely not possible at all. In Pillars, for example, your characters talks the same no matter what Intellect score they have. 3, or 18, the result is the same; with the exception of special options that are occasionally available, your character will speak with the same level of intellect, charisma and wisdom. Of course, such role-play might take place in the mind of the player, rather than in the actual events and dialogue happening on-screen, and for some this may be enough. But even they would surely be forced to admit that such a thing requires considerable mental gymnastics; role-playing a sub-brick character when the dialogue, events, and actions in the game contradict that at every turn, isn't easy, nor desirable. Mechanics and Role-Playing Systems Working Together It's often the case that mechanical and role-playing systems run up against each other, both from a development perspective and a player perspective. I believe that in a well-designed game, they should complement each other, and work in sync to create a great player experience. For example, if I decide that my character needs a high Wisdom to be a D&D Cleric, and then in-game there is lots of role-playing interactivity for high Wisdom characters, such as special dialogues, Wisdom checks, and so on, then that's an example of a mechanical system (Wisdom required to be a Cleric) working in concert with a role-playing system (Wisdom is recognised by the game in the form of special dialogues, checks, etc) to create a great player experience. My character has a high Wisdom because he needs it to be a good Cleric, but also it's part of his character. That's a strong experience for the player. Another example could be, in Fallout 1, a player might choose to divert S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points from Intelligence into other areas, such as Strength. The mechanical reasoning is: I want my character to be strong, and I don't care about Intelligence too much. But in Fallout 1, as many of you are I'm sure aware, there are actual dialogue changes for characters with low intelligence: Quote When the player character in Fallout and Fallout 2 has less than 4 Intelligence, the biggest change in gameplay is undoubtedly the dialogue. Upon reaching Shady Sands, the villagers take pity on the Vault Dweller, and Aradesh will simply shrug them off. The best they can speak is half-word sentences or gibberish. The real downside, though, is the nigh impossibility to do about 90% of the side quests. No one will talk to a moron or even give them the time of day. In Fallout 2, the Chosen One may meet Torr, the "town simpleton of Klamath," who would normally give them a quest to help protect his brahmin against "the evil bugmen." If the player character has low Intelligence, however, he will appear to be highly intelligent as if being stupid has a culture and language of its own. Two flat-headed people can have a complete, thought-provoking, and fully articulated conversation between them. Another person one may have an "intelligent" conversation with in Fallout 2 is AHS-9, who becomes able to understand what the Chosen One tries to say after the alignment, and gives the quest to kill the Shi Emperor. When talking to Algernon in the basement of New Reno Arms, the Chosen One can start a childhood "cop and robbers" type dialog in which they accidentally "shoot" and kill him. A character with a low Intelligence is unable to gamble. When they observe a roulette table or a slot machine, the character will respond to it as a fun toy or an interactive character, respectively. Visiting a craps table will result in a dumb Chosen One commenting to the dealer that they "play craps in pants". Source: https://fallout.fandom.com/wiki/Intelligence This opens up an entirely new way to play the game. It's another example of a mechanical system (player can spend points in various attributes the way they wish, including lowering certain attributes all the way to 1) working in concert with a role-playing system (player characters with low intelligence have certain restrictions and special interactivity in the game). They work together to create a very special player experience. Now this is an extreme example, but you get the idea. Certain games have explored this in a much more limited fashion, such as Fallout: New Vegas, but at least the attempt is made. Thus, a player choosing to reduce Intelligence for mechanical reasons, also has to contend with the fact that the role-playing systems in the game will be affected by this. This is a meaningful player experience. Mechanics vs Role-Playing: Acting In Opposition So let's explore some examples where the systems work in opposition. That is to say, a mechanical system gives you an option, and when you take that option, it runs completely in contradiction to role-playing systems set up within the game. For example, let's make a character in Pillars of Eternity that has an Intellect score of 3 (referred to as Sub-Brick from now on). If we take the D20PFSRD description of 3 Intelligence: similar to a dog, or horse. Animal-level intelligence, acts mostly on instinct but can be trained. Even if you don't agree that that's accurate for the Pillars system, let's at least agree that an Intellect of 3 in Pillars is really.... really dumb. Like, extreme-level mentally challenged. Now Pillars of Eternity has many role-playing systems that provide interactivity with player characters that have high ability scores. High Resolve scores grant opportunities to role-play as a forceful, charismatic, 'force of personality'-type. High Perception scores grant opportunities to role-play as a perceptive, observant character who sees things that others miss. So Pillars sets itself up as a game in which attribute scores matter, from a role-playing perspective. Yet also within this game, Sub-Brick is able to converse readily with the people of Eora quite happily. He can solve problems, complete quests, hunt bad guys, make alliances, etc etc, just as easily as a character with 10 Intellect can. None of his dialogue is affected, and his ability to reason, problem-solve, and so on is completely unaffected. So, the mechanical system (you can reduce an attribute score to 3 and use those points to raise other attributes) runs in direct opposition to the established role-playing systems (attribute scores are supposed to be a core part of your character). The Solution A score of 7, no matter the attribute, is enough to act as a penalty, without reducing characters to the comical ineptitude of Sub-Brick. On the D20PFSRD, 7 Dexterity, for example, is described as: "Significant klutz or very slow to react." 7 Intelligence is described as: "Seems to have almost no common sense." These aren't too extreme for such characters to conceivably be able to perform heroic acts, and basically save the world, as is usually the plot in such games, while still providing players with the freedom to reduce certain attributes for whatever reason they see fit. If players are restricted to a minimum of 7, before modifiers, it would help resolve a lot of the mechanics vs role-playing contradictions that I see in games such as Pillars of Eternity. Freedom vs Role-Playing? Of course, with such a restriction, comes a loss of freedom. Some players will argue that they should be able to manipulate their attribute scores as they see fit, and damn the role-playing. However, I would point out that limitations already exist in the game. For example, I cannot play Pillars of Eternity as a fish: I cannot choose the race 'fish' for my character. Why should I be restricted from playing as a fish, if I so desire? Does it impact on other, anti-fish advocates, if I have the option of playing as a fish? Of course, the proposition seems utterly absurd. Yet, are we really going to say that playing as a fish is absurd, while also proclaiming that saving the world as Sub-Brick is not? If you think critically on the question, it is just as absurd for Sub-Brick to defeat Thaos Ix Arkannon, as it is for Plopper The Finned One, Fish Barbarian, to achieve the task. To use a less extreme example: the game already defines the limits of attribute scores as between 3-18. So limitations clearly exist. Why 3? Why 18? If we don't choose limits based on what seems logical and reasonable for the character we are playing, then why have limits at all? Why not allow any number, as low as 1 and as high as 35? If you agree that the limits exist to make characters reasonable representations of potential game characters, then it seems highly reasonable to me that the lower limit should be 7. The Question Should role-playing games like Pillars of Eternity restrict attribute scores during character creation to more sensible numbers? If so, is a lower limit of 7 the most reasonable choice? If not, why not? If you made it this far, thanks for reading! PS: you win one internet if you're cool enough to recognise the Fallout: New Vegas reference Edited May 17, 2019 by Yosharian Yosharian's Deadfire Builds Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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