Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Uniform Level Progression: Phil Was Here First

Let me start by saying how much I love looking at M.A.R. Barker's 1975 Empire of the Petal Throne. This was a game that I became aware of due to a glowing, though probably incestuous, review in the Dragon magazine. It sounded so nifty. But, alas, I never actually saw one in my little corner of the gaming world and sort of forgot about it. I missed the other versions that came out over the years, until I snagged a used copy of Guardians of Order's Tekumel, which bored me so silly I turned around and resold it in record time (record time for me, anyway). Some time later, I stumbled upon a thread at, wherein Mike Mornard talked about how they really played it back in the day (a thread which I'll be damned if I can find now). He was so inspiring that I went out and bought the pdf of the original game (back when one could buy legal pdf's before Wizards of the Coast decided to electronically wipe the memory of TSR from the face of the earth with the ridiculous assertion that they were preventing "piracy" following a policy that worked oh-so well for the music industry. But I digress).

One of the things I love about reading this book is that it is like falling into an alternate dimension of Ye Auld Game, wherein every thing is both familiar and weirdly different. If you haven't read it, do so (except that you can't legally buy the pdf anymore). But I don't want to review the game right now. Rather, I want to point out something that had never quite impressed itself upon me before:

Empire of the Petal Throne uses Uniform Level Progression. In 1975, just one year after D&D itself had been published! As far as I know, this is the first published version that uses Uniform Level Progression (I've never been clear on what Dave Arneson was doing, but his system wasn't published in any case). And it's a very simple progression to boot, with each level essentially doubling the requirements of previous: 2,000 xp; 4,000xp; 8,000 xp; and so on.

OK, there is a slight asterisk to all this. Up to Level 8 (or "VIII" as Barker has it) all three Classes share the same progression. But for reasons so inexplicable as to make me believe that it is a typo, a Wizard needs 10,000 xp less to reach 8th level and 40,000 less to reach 9th level. But even with that, I feel comfortable calling the system Uniform.

This all makes me feel even more comfortable using such a system in Under the Dying Sun. If it's good enough for Tekumel, it's good enough for me.

Playing With Experience, Part III - Complexifying

[Yes, that really is a word. Look it up.]

Part I saw me trying to simplify the awarding of experience in Under the Dying Sun and Part II saw me changing one of the bases of experience accumulation by rewarding exploration in a relatively broad sense. This third installment sees me trying to complicate things again now that I have a relatively stable base. Having somewhat deprived players of experience rewards for treasure due to their scarcity while inflating the award for killing monsters, I was concerned that I was making a pure blood-bath game. There was some mitigation due to exploration rewards, but they clearly wouldn't be the fast path to advancement. The question then is "what do I want to reward" which is much the same as asking "what behaviour do I want to encourage?"

I don't intend to rehearse all the arguments about what experience "means" in Ye Auld Game nor the consequent arguments regarding the rationale behind awarding experience for A, B, and C, but not X, Y, or Z. Frankly, I haven't the stamina to attempt such a resume, valuable though it probably is. Instead, I'm just going to jump into the idea and hope my hypothetical readers ride along.

The idea of class-specific experience rewards has floated around for years. I always ignored it as too fiddly and complicated. But having boiled the classes in Under the Dying Sun to three very broad archetypes with less mechanical distinction than is usual, it occurs to me that the idea may have merit. When a player selects a class, they have a lot of leeway as to how that character embodies that class. A Slayer could be a soldier, a gladiator, a bandit, or just a scary, scary man. A Survivor could be a crazy old hermit, an ardent tech-head, a grim-faced frontiersman, or a clever rogue. And a Sorcerer could be a desert eremite, cult leader, court magician, scholar, or even that creepy kid from The Twilight Zone.

But the class has meaning; it gives a solid core idea to the character: he kills, he survives, or he masters psychic sorcery. And that makes me want to reward behaviour that plays to the character core. The trick to this is to make these rewards general enough to fit the broad scope of the class without making them so broad as to eliminate the interest in the universal awards. What follows are my preliminary thoughts. I will definitely need to keep working on these ideas.

Slayer--Receive double the usual experience award for killing things when they do so single-handedly.

Well, that was easy. At least until the real world of play-testing. Let's try another:

OK, this one is a lot tougher. It's hard to see rewarding someone for not dying. That falls into the "too broad" category. So now I have to think. Surviving in this game is, at least in part, about mastering your environment. Stealth, Jury-Rig, Back Stab, Survival Instinct, and the Appraising Eye all go towards that.

Now I don't feel the need to reward being stealthy nor for making a Saving Throw (too broad). I could see rewarding killing a foe from behind or with a jury-rigged trap or the like. That's kind of cute. I could also see giving them extra experience for finding and/or deciphering artifacts. Hmn, I need to think on this some more.

Let's move on to Sorcerer.

Well, this one makes the Survivor seem down-right obvious. I'm definitely not going to reward the successful use of sorcery; it makes all kinds of sense, but it's just too broad. But if I tighten focus, I might give them a reward for using psychic sorcery to solve some kind of problem, like killing a monster purely by sorcery. That may still be too broad, though.

And that's about where I am, dear reader. I was holding off on this installment until I had something more definitive, but then realized that the whole point behind this blog, as recorded in my first post, was to stop that tendency on my part. So I present this half-arsed idea and hope to have it jell more soon.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Playing With Experience, Part II - Adding

Yesterday I posted about about using Uniform Level Progression and a simplified system for accruing experience as a way to save me the trouble of too much point counting. Today, my thoughts go to adding in a few more ways to gain experience while keeping to that design goal.

The estimable Jeff Rients made quite a splash a few days ago by articulating a convincing argument for and method of granting experience based upon exploration. Like many others, I find this idea enchanting, not least because I have come to the conclusion that exploration is what this crazy old game is all about. Not killing things, not taking their stuff; those are by-products of the act of venturing into the unknown. Can you run Ye Auld Game without exploration? Sure you can. But I do think that this is what the game is really designed to do.

The strength of the exploration idea is the flexibility of the concept. Exploration can be defined in this context as the stepping into terra incognita, the twin classics of the Wilderness and the Underworld. But it needn't be limited to that. As has been said, travel broadens the mind, and you don't have to go where no man has gone before to explore. A game which has a fantastic city along the lines of Lankhmar or Sanctuary might well give experience the first time a yokel ventures onto it's decadent streets. Indeed, if it's a city-based campaign, you might well grant experience for different sections of the city--the first time you see the Great Tyrant's palace, the first time you wander the Great Bazaar, the first time you make it back out of the Thieves' Quarter, and so on.

Or, take a game in which information is important. Experience might accrue from finding out things, whether you do it by looting ancient tombs or from the safety of your armchair. A certain Lovecraftian-sense might be given if characters earn experience from learning Awful Truths. A noirish twist would grant experience for learning Secrets from the Past. The possibilities go on an on.

Now, let me descend from the heights of theory to the ground of design, specifically the design of Under the Dying Sun. I'm perfectly persuaded that Dying Sun should grant experience for exploring. The theme of a dying world, in which travel is inherently dangerous and the inhabitants have grown insular and isolated just calls out for rewarding the adventurer. Now how to do it is a more difficult thing. I intend to hew to the simplifying ideas from yesterday's post. I might, for instance, take various features--mountains, hills, villages, cities--and rank them in simple increments of 100's of xp's. So, visiting a little village grants 100 experience points, while visiting the infamous City of Hajal might grant 1,000. Getting close enough to smell the sulphurous effluvia of Devil Lake might give 500 xp's and descending the great sinkhole in it's center is worth an additional 500.

That's an idea for physical exploration, but as discussed above, there's much more that can be worked in. One nifty thing about this system is that I can, at last, feel totally comfortable granting experience for discovering artifacts and relics. Any time one comes upon tools of the Old Men, one learns that much more about the unfathomably vast history of the world. Similarly, I think I might give half the experience for killing a monster when one is first encountered (50 xp/Hit Die rather than 100).

That's a few ideas. It's all still percolating through my brain and, as always, I'm thrilled when any of my hypothetical readers feels like a tossing an idea at me. And, while the ideas percolate, tune in to our next installment--Complexifying.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Playing With Experience Part I - Simplifying

Some months ago, I posted on the Heresy of Uniform Level Progression and followed that up with five, off-the-cuff ways to avoid counting experience points by using that style of advancement. Although I incorporated Uniform Progression into Under the Dying Sun, I didn’t heed my own advice on simplifying xp counting. So far, I’ve been working under the idea of standard xp accumulation as per the Spellcraft & Swordplay core rules. But I’m beginning to rethink that. Not because there is anything wrong with those rules--there isn’t. But, as I said in my earlier posts, as a Referee, I kind of hate counting up experience points.

So I cast my mind back to the Matrix of this Old Game i.e. D&D Volume 1: Men and Monsters. And there I am reminded that the original rules had a much simpler system in re killing things: 100xp per Hit Die. Now that is simple. Sure, the Blessed Gygax would later renounce this system as too generous, but I’m not bound by that recantation. Plus, I don’t think it’s too much. A character in UtDS needs 2,000 to make 2nd level. That’s 20 HD of beasties if he works on his own.

Alert, imaginary readers will note that I have left treasure out of the equation. I do intend to give experience for treasure, but UtDS is a game about scarcity among other things. Wildmen of the Hills don’t carry sacks of coins on their persons and monsters of the desert don’t crouch on piles of gold and jewels. This is a metal-poor world where most commerce is handled by barter or by money whose value derives solely from the strength of a City’s tyrant. This is a setting where access to a well is a legitimate reward at the end of the session; after all, water is worth more than gold to a man in the desert. That’s not to say that there isn’t any treasure to be had, but I expect it to be far less common than in the default game of dungeon-delving. So that while I think that I’ll maintain the 1xp per coin standard, less experience will derive from that source.

The 100 xp per Hit Die partially makes up for the loss of treasure. But doesn’t that encourage a game of killing things and strive against the old-school idea of running away and stealing when you can? In part. But I have some more thoughts on that which will be revealed in the next installment.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Places Under the Dying Sun - Devil Lake

Nestled in a valley in the Tharian Hills, it is possible that this was once a true lake, but the so-called "Devil Lake" is now just a sulphurous wetland; a stinking, marshy expanse with a foot or two of yellowish, standing water. While many plants eke a lean existence from the tainted waters, the area is almost wholly devoid of animal life. Indeed, the Tharian Wildmen strictly avoid the valley and regard Devil Lake with a superstitious dread. They say that the marsh is actually the outflow from some Hell and that a portal to that nether-world stands in the midst of the lake in the form of a vast sinkhole hidden under the water's surface.

Although this tale is widely believed by the credulous, most sceptics regard Devil Lake as merely the dying remnant of a once-mighty lake or inland sea which vanished as most of the other surface waters of the world have and which has become polluted by elements in the soils.

However, there is a persistent rumour that the Lake's foul nature and fouler reputation were manufactured for the express purpose of keeping the area isolated. Many gamblers, adventurers, and drunkards of the City of Hajal have heard the whispers that the waters of the ancient lake were drained into some subterranean vault or cavern lying just below the surface by an antique and foresighted order of scholars and wizards, who saw the coming of the Aeon of the Dying Sun. Upon the lightless shores of the old lake made new, they founded a utopian society with the might of their forgotten arts and sciences. These blessed survivors broke no intrusions upon their sub-terrene realm and thus created the legend of Devil Lake to maintain their seclusion.

This legend or dream promises uncountable wealth in artifacts and other wonders of the Old Men to any who should penetrate into the sunless vault and return alive. But the inhabitants will visit a horrible fate upon any outsiders whom they catch. Using the soul-drinking machines of the Senex, they render all intruders into mindless troglodytes, loathsome creatures less even than animals who live only to feed, and release them upon the shores of Devil Lake to add to their security.

There is one further tale of these unknown wizards, more of an appendix, and it is one whose telling is most dangerous in the City of Hajal. A few brave or foolish souls whisper that there was once a rebel among the underground sages who sought to convince his fellows to rise up to the surface and use their great powers to conquer the world. He went so far as to stage a coup, but was overthrown and forced to flee for his life. This outcast then made his way to the surface world where he eventually took the name of "Attar Khanda" and, using his ancient magics, became the Archwizard and Dictator of Hajal. Needless to say, the telling of this particular part of the tale is bad for one's health within the City.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How To Handle a Bugman?

(That's a little Lerner and Loewe riff for you show-tune cats out there)

Yesterday, I posted about my issues with the Scorpion Men in play-testing. This whole thing has me rethinking my approach to non-humans. A little background if you please:

Although I started gaming with the Holmes edition, I soon leveled up to AD&D. And even though, as a kid, believing that the Great G could do no wrong, I had a big problem with Elves. Elves received way too many racial benefits for my taste and the limiting mechanic was level limits. Both sides of that equation rankled me, but the latter more than the former. Level limits stuck me as a misfire of a balance mechanism. This argument is as old as the game, so I won't go into too much detail. Suffice it to say, I didn't find it to do what it was supposed to do. Making a character stronger in early play but then capped later didn't play well with me.

Later, I read an article in the Dragon that suggested that demi-humans receive an experience ding instead of level limits. This made sense both in-game and out-of-game sense to me. But, in practice, I could only give it two cheers. Maybe one and half. The penalty was so arbitrary and even what sounded like a hefty 15% wasn't really felt early enough in the game to make a difference.

When I went back to OD&D, I enjoyed, as many others, the simpler rules which were as evidenced in the handling of nonhumans as anything else. The basic advantage of the Elf was being able to multi-class. So, when I was putting together my house-rules for my Onderland Campaign, using Spellcraft & Swordplay, I was happy to stress that aspect. Elves can take any combination of Warrior, Wizard, Thief, but must split all experience equally between the classes. That turns out to be a pretty hefty ding and gets felt very early in the game. It's still only two cheers, maybe, but it's the best I've got right now.

But in Under the Dying Sun, I mostly removed the multi-classing which didn't fit so well with the way I redid the classes. And that left me back at assessing an arbitrary XP penalty. Now I find that with the Scorpion Men, I have recreated the whole AD&D Elf problem: too many perks and a clumsy balancing mechanism. So where does that leave me?

Well, it would make sense to remove some benefits. The biggest offender, as I mentioned yesterday, is the built-in armour which make a 1st level Scorpion Man all but invulnerable. But built in armour just seems so right. They are bug-men in a iron-poor world of giant bugs, where most plate armour is made of chitin anyway. It a big part of the flavor.

Rather than remove a benefit, I could come up with some significant penalty. But I must admit to a paucity of ideas here. I don't want to give them a glass jaw; they are supposed to be my Tharks for Issus' sake!

So, anybody with any smart, semi-smart, or quasi-smart ideas, please let me have them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Scorpion Men: Too Much?

The play-testing continues nicely. One thing is coming up again and again: Sot Sojat (erstwhile Scoprion Man Slayer, Omnivore, and Philosopher) is all but invincible for monsters of this level. Plate Armour is proof against almost any kind of natural weapons. Add his Parry to that and, well. The more we play, the more I think I may have to tone down the benefits of the Scorpion Men. I think that I have might have fallen into the Super-Cool Non-Human trap (see Elf, Drow and oh so many others) and the proposed fix (significant XP ding) doesn't really mean anything for a while: he only requires an extra 353 XP to make Level 2; an extra 705 to make 3rd.

Hmn. How to fix. I should probably make his built-in armour less heavy duty, although Plate sounds right for a carapace. A Lizard Man could plausibly have Leather-like armour, but that doesn't sound quite right for a Scorpion Man.

Make them notably slower moving? Hmn, I'm at a bit of a loss at the moment.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What I Learned from Porn Girls; or Rules--What Are They Good For?

I have become a regular reader of Zak Smith's wonderfully titled Playing D&D With Porn Stars blog. And not because of the implicit promise of prurient delights. Don't misunderstand, I'm perfectly happy to look at pictures of pretty girls like Kimberly Kane. But the fact of the mater is that I would enjoy Zak's blog just as much if his players were not professionally naked. His posts almost always cause me to think, to laugh, or both.

That is the certainly the case with his latest Actual Play report. That, in of itself, is surprising to me, as I rarely find those interesting. Even the reports of fascinating settings from clever Referees (such as Planet Algol and Dwimmermount) usually cause my eyes to glaze over. I think the difference is that most "Actual Play" reports are, in fact, summaries of the in-game narrative while Zak's are really reports of actual play. That is, his posts are about the players rather than the characters. Reading about other people's characters is, for me, uncomfortably like reading gaming fiction; reading about other people's players is a great window into how this strange past-time of ours is actually played.

All of that is by way of introduction to my subject. In Zak's post, he makes a reasoned and reasonable argument for the utility of edition 3.141's Barbarian class and, by extension, many of those elements hated by the grognards. He suggests that the new player, confronted by the limitless options of the table-top rpg, finds rule-based options helpful; something solid to sink her extra-sharp teeth into (sorry about that).

I think Zak has identified something that most of us oldsters forget: the existential dilemma of gaming. "What do I do?" is the first reaction of an adult playing this game, often followed hard upon by "What can I do?" Those of us who have been playing for decades tend to forget this problem. If you were introduced to gaming, as most of us 2nd Gen gamers were, the dilemma was not so acute. Kids have an utterly uncanny ability to make up their own rules at the drop of a hat. If you haven't watched young 'uns at free play in a while, then do so. All they need is the barest seed of a game--"Let's be ponies!"--and off they go. But when you, the putative adult join, you're apt to face the same problem as the adult newbie gamer: "What do I do?"

Stepping back, the phenomenon that we are looking at here has to do with the limiting function of rules. When edition 3.141 was introduced, a lot of people thought that the additional rules meant additional options for play. "I have a Feat that lets me do that? Cool!" What wasn't immediately obvious was that this is the opposite of the truth. By allowing a character with this Feat to do this cool thing, the game explicitly tells everyone without the Feat that they cannot do this cool thing. In less rules-heavy games, pretty much anybody could do that cool thing, if the Referee and the group like the idea. The rules do not, in fact, open up options, but limit them instead, which is to say that they define play.

This much is basically a truism in the OSR now, so I won't belabor the point. But what is less accepted and is what Zak has identified, is that new players find comfort and direction is limiting their options. If you have no idea what to do, being told that you can do anything you want isn't very helpful. Being told that you can do X,Y, and Z is.

Now this leads me to an intriguing conclusion. With all the talk about how the hobby needs a good, introductory game, it occurs to me that something along the lines of 3.141 isn't a bad idea. Maybe there was a good reason that that edition brought a bunch of people into the game. Those defining mechanics can be analogous to training wheels on a bicycle (although that is not a very good analogy, I'll admit). The thing is that, as with training wheels, you aren't supposed to keep them forever. Good bicycle riding and good gaming both ask for you to remove your limiting factors and go nuts.

One might argue that back in our day, when we walked uphill both ways to game, we didn't need no stinking training wheels. Maybe not. Besides the fact that many of us learned from older gamers, there is the big difference that potential gamers today have more alternatives than we had in the all those online thingymabobs, many of which have already inculcated the idea that training wheels are good. Which leaves me to wonder if the ideal intro game would be something quite limiting in character, but which does not run to extended game play. What if one of the Wizards' edition only ran to Level 3, a Basic Game, after which you dropped all those defining rules, took off the training wheels, and just let go?

Post-script: Although I have only glanced at it, it looks as if Green Ronin's Dragon Age rpg, may be exactly what I am describing here. However, I don't really expect them to drop rules as the game levels up. But we shall see.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Psychic Road-Block

I've been kind of stuck on Under the Dying Sun lately. I'm so darn close it's maddening. And I realized that I'm basically stuck on psychic Disciplines. Here's what I have right now:

Level One
1. After Images
2. Body Equilibrium
3. Detect Psions
4. Dowsing
5. Empathy
6. Hypnosis
7. Mind over Body
8. Psychic Obfuscation
9. Psychometry
10. Psychokinetic Push
11. Sensory Enhancement
12. Sensual Obscurement

Level Two
1. Alter Self
2. Body Weaponry
3. Cellular Adjustment
4. Domination
5. Empathic Projection
6. Empty Mind
7. Levitation
8. Occultation
9. Psychic Blast
10. Sense Life
11. Suspended Animation
12. Thought Reading

Level Three
1. Body Control (Withstand Extremes)
2. Clairaudience
3. Clairvoyance
4. Emotional Aura
5. Energize
6. Enervation
7. Hallucination
8. Molecular Agitation
9. Molecular Stasis
10. Neural Erasure
11. Spatial Warping

Level Four
1. Aura Alteration (Remove Curse /Dispel Magic)
2. Feeblemind
3. Mass Domination
4. Mind Bar (Resist Possession)
5. Mnemnonic Illusion
6. Molecular Disintegration
7. Telekinesis
8. Telepathy

Level Five
1. Astral Projection
2. Energy Control
3. Etherealness
4. Molecular Rearrangement (Transmute Metals)
5. Omnipresence
6. Shape Alteration
7. Telepathic Projection (Possession)

Level Six
1. Psionic Necromancy

And I have descriptions and effects for the first two levels.

So what's the problem? Well, look at those lists. Levels 1 and 2 have twelve Disciplines apiece. That works great for rolling up Disciplines. But after that, I'm kind of stuck. I've got eleven Disciplines for level 3. I'm dying to get one more into that list. Oh sure, I could swipe one from Level 4, but that a Peter-Paul problem as I only have eight now form that level and seven for the next. And then poor, sad Level 6 has one and I'm not really sure that even ought to be there at all as it's probably more of a villain bit of colour than a real power.

There are lots of other things unfinished, but this is the one that keeps making me put down the pen (metaphorically). I hope I can break through this soon.

Quite Distracted By: Frontiers of Alusia

I never played DragonQuest. I recall some totally confusing articles in Dragon Magazine and a cool picture of a warrior holding a dragon's head. That was about it until a few years ago when I stumbled upon Cessna at talking passionately about in some thread or another. After checking it out, I found that the system was not really to my taste, but the game was flavourful as hell and had lots of nifty elements (like an amazing list of demon princes to summon).

But forget the system right now. What I just stumbled upon is the default setting:
the Frontiers of Alusia. And I must say that I'm digging it. You get an ~125,000 sm setting, with lots of geographic detail but virtually no settlements. A small barony on the coast and a smaller fief inland. It's not very medieval in that way; rather, it seems to be channeling the idea of the American frontier: people move from the civilized North into the frontiers in search of whatever they are in search of. You kinda know what's there, but not really. Things have names on the maps, but no one has really ever explored them.

Plus, the entire gazetteer is 4 pages long. That's it. For someone like me, that's gold!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Mental Ramble About Abilities Leads to a Minor Conclusion

You know Abilities:


Unless you were born after 1974, in which case they are more likely:


The question of what the Abilities in Ye Auld Game really represent is a venerable one. As with so much in the LBB's, the gamer is more-or-less left to his own devices in figuring out these things. Some are fairly straight-forward: Strength seems clear enough, for instance. Constitution too is reasonably self-explanatory. Of course, the fact that Abilities really didn't do anything in that game, other than affect experience accumulation, meant that it wasn't too vital a question.

The debate over Dexterity has had some traction, with many ardent advocates holding the opinion that Dexterity encompasses too many diverse elements: agility, manipulation, and speed among others. I never had much time for this argument on the theoretical level, but it has some validity on the rules-level in later iterations of the game; exceptional Dexterity begins to accumulate a few too many bonuses for my tastes, what with a modifier to hit with missile weapons, a modifier to Armour Class, and a modifier to initiative.

Wisdom has been a good one, particularly when paired with Intelligence. The time I have spent reading arguments over how to distinguish the one from the other is time that I shall, alas, never be able to retrieve from the Abyss of Ages. But the idea seems to have settled down by seeing Wisdom as a combination of willpower and a kind of experiential canniness.

Those confusions all pale in comparison with the Great Mystery Ability, namely Charisma. Ironically, Charisma actually had more mechanical definition in YAG than anything else: it gave you the maximum number of hirelings you could retain. That makes it clear that it is some sort of transitive trait, but it turns out that this isn't as helpful as might be thought. The default assumption among everyone I knew or read was that it basically came down to "attractiveness" and that attractiveness pretty much boiled down to being hot or not. Therefore, the Princess in need of rescue and the Seductive Vamp would have high Charisma.

But that seemed a bit limited after a while. What if you looked like Dejah Thoris, but had all the charm and grace of Tars Tarkas? Even worse, what if you were trying to raise an army of Tharks? Wouldn't looking like the great jeddak be more helpful than looking like the most beautiful woman on two worlds in that case?

It got so bad that the Game Wizards actually addressed the issue in an official publication, the much (and to me, justly) maligned Unearthed Arcana. The UA took the unprecedented step of creating an entirely new Ability, Comeliness. Ah, Comeliness, what an abortion you were. Imagine if the thought behind Comeliness had been carried through and other new Abilities were created which captured some specific element of another Ability? We could have wound up with the HERO System! Actually, our imaginings needn't be so fanciful; some years later, the concept was actually revive in Herbert Westian-fashion when Players' Options: Skills & Powers was gurgitated upon the world for 2nd edition. Each Ability was there split into two Abilities, giving you twice as many things you weren't quite sure about.

Pulling back from individual Abilities, one might contemplate how they all fit together. Do six Abilities really capture all the nuances of a human being (or an elven being or whatever)? Probably not, but really they work just fine if one keeps to the design strategy of broad generalizations. Otherwise...well, see the above comment about HERO. So, returning to the context, it would seem that we have three physical traits (STR, DEX, CON), two mental traits (INT, WIS), and one social trait (CHR).

And there's that Charisma being troublesome again. A social trait? Really? Well, maybe not. During my thinking about spell saves in Spellcraft & Swordplay, I posted about how I had to define Charisma in order for it to make sense to me: strength of self-image. But it's actually a bit more than that, because it has that interpersonal quality. The more I think about it, the more Charisma, like other Abilities, encompasses various traits, one of them being self-image and another being the projection of one's will onto the world.

Huh? Yeah, I know. But the only mechanical effect is how it affects other people. So what if we stop thinking of Charisma as a social trait and start thinking of it as a mental trait? Then one (by which I mean me) begins to notice that an interesting pattern can be created:

Strength: active physical trait
Constitution: reactive physical trait
Dexterity: manipulative physical trait

Intelligence: active mental trait
Wisdom: reactive physical trait
Charisma: manipulative mental trait

I'm not saying that this is the context for Abilities or that I have entirely defined any of them. But for someone like me, who finds the pull of symmetry inescapable, I can't help but be attracted to this way of thinking which gives to the hodge-podge of Abilities that quality which the philosophers called kallos; a beautiful symmetry.