May 2, 2011

Going mental over Wisdom(+ poker)


Those six stats have been burned into my gaming brain (in that order) for years now.  I totally respect the simple elegance of this method of character design.  Three stats for physical attributes balanced with three for mental attributes.

Yet... as much as I like and respect the basic six I've always felt that something was slightly off.  Like this system stopped just short of perfect, and some minor tweak would make everything fall into place.  I like the three physical stats... simple, elegant, perfect.  The mental stats never quite sat right with me though, and if I'm perfectly honest... Wisdom was always the red-headed stepchild that I had a problem with.

Wisdom was always described to me as representing common-sense, street-smarts, and willpower... but aren't those aspects provided by the player?  Still, I agree that "absent minded professor" type characters should be possible.  So, I left the big six alone while I watched and waited for that perfect solution to present itself.

Well, after swishing the problem around in my subconscious for twenty-some years the answer was finally revealed to me during a rum induced moment of clarity.

Wisdom = Awareness 

Of course!  It's so simple.

I grokked, and saw that it was good.

So, from now on I'll explain the three mental stats to my players as such...

Intelligence (Int):  Problem-solving, memory, reasoning.  This score shows how quickly the character can grasp new concepts.  If two characters are given the exact same education and life experiences the one with the higher Int will have absorbed and retained more of the information. High Int might give bonus skills or languages at character creation.  It is up to the DM to determine what is common knowledge (automatically known) and hidden knowledge (unknowable) for the character.  For everything else, roll for Int to see if the character remembers reading/hearing something about the subject.  Intelligence ability checks might be made for appraising, heraldry, deciphering codes, solving puzzles/riddles, using unfamiliar machines/devices, and having the character remember facts or details that the player has forgotten.

Wisdom (Wis):  Perception, intuition, prescience.  This score shows how aware the character is of the world around them.  It reflects the accuracy and speed of that characters' senses.  I'll use wisdom ability checks as detection rolls for tracking, traps, secret doors, lies, ambush, weather, direction, spirits, invisible creatures, and (possibly) auras.  It is also useful for interpreting the body language of people and animals.

Charisma (Cha):  Charm, composure, leadership.  Force of personality.  This score shows both how persuasive a character is, and (inversely) how likely they are to be persuaded by others.  This score also reflects how well the character can control and use their emotions and body language.  Social interactions can either be resolved through role-playing, or through Charisma rolls (whichever is more fun).  Charisma ability checks might be made for haggling (Cha vs. Cha), telling convincing lies (Cha vs. Wis), acting/performing, resisting fear, enduring torture, and to withstand enchantment/charm effects.

I can already hear disgruntled players crying out "Where is the common-sense, the street-smarts, the measure of will?".   You provide those things to your character.  As it has always been, you make those decisions and the character suffers the consequences and reaps the rewards.

The "absent minded professor" characters are still possible.  Low Wisdom still means that the character has his head in the clouds and is unobservant of the world around him.  I'm half tempted to rename Wisdom to Awareness, but I'm happy enough with simply tweaking the definition a bit.

Some might say that I've folded willpower into Charisma, because of the enchant/charm thing.  I think I have stopped just short of that though.  Charisma is a measure of the characters force of personality and how well they can shrug off outside influences, either persuasive or magical.  The characters willingness to go on in the face of insurmountable odds, to continue down darkened corridors even though they are 1hp away from death... that is willpower, and that is a decision for the player to make.

As a real world example of how the three mental stats play out, imagine yourself playing a hand of poker.

Once the cards are dealt, you'll use your Int to count cards.  Consciously or not you'll look at your hand, any cards that are face up on the table, discarded, or traded to the dealer, and get some idea about the probability of your hand winning the pot.  Texas Hold'em, before the flop you're dealt a pair of 8's and have 2 opponents...  you have a 50% chance to win the hand.

Your Cha is used to keep your "poker face" on.  You decide to bluff, does a twitch reveal your nervousness? On the next hand, do your eyes go wide when you are dealt 4 aces?  You decide to act a little bit and pretend to be nervous while you bet on your 4 aces, does your opponent believe your performance and think you are bluffing or see through the ruse and realize that you are trying to trick him (your Cha vs. opponent Wis)?

Your Wis is used to read your opponent, looking for tells.  It might help you see a bluff, or marked cards.  Your Wis vs. opponents Dex might show you that he is dealing off the bottom of the deck or slipping an ace up his sleeve.

OK, so that was a real world example.  However, if characters in my game start playing poker in a tavern, I'd never make so many rolls.  I'd do something like this instead....

  1. Determine the ante, i.e. the amount of cash each poker player throws in before the cards get dealt (don't subtract this from the character sheet yet, it is factored into the roll)
  2. Every poker player rolls a d20.  Poker player(s) with the highest Int, Wis, and Cha each get +2
  3. Highest total is the winner.  Ties are ties, split the pot... both had a pair of aces or royal flush (one hearts the other spades)
  4. Each poker player subtracts their total from the highest total, then multiply the ante = amount lost
  5. All these losses totaled together = the pot going to the winner

So, if your total is one less than the winner that means you folded just after the cards were dealt.  You only loose the ante amount.

Worst case scenario, you roll a 1, winner rolls a 20 and has the highest Int, Wis, and Cha at the table (total = 26).  You got taken on a ride and lost 25 times the ante.  Which is kind of a lot for a single hand, but hey... it happens.


  1. Yes. Nice. Bond called it PERception and it works just fine without a misleading metaphysical name.

    For magic/metaphysical systems, I'm going to plug my recent thing about CHA again because I like it. If CHA is secretly CoC's POW - the thing you use for controlling spirits - then WIS/PER is the thing you use for detecting/being sensitive to them. Useful for mediums, macumba terreiro leaders, wise-women etc.

    ...which is all part of my sneaky plan for de-Christianizing clerics.

  2. I love how you put the elements of RPG character stats in relation to poker.

    Poker looks like a shallow game of chance to newbies and a murder-case mystery to the weathered.