Friday 3 September 2010

Constitution vs. Fortitude/Fortune

In social science, when a number of variables characterize a single entity - say, six stats that define a character - one mode of analysis looks to see whether given pairs and groups of variables tend to cluster together in the observed world, or are orthogonal, having little to do with each other.

One of the original appeals of The Fantasy Trip's three stat system (ST, DX, IQ) is that these three stats are pretty near orthogonal. You can see combinations of high and low in each of them as being about equally credible.

Intuitively, the six stats of D&D are a harder sell.

Wisdom, like Intelligence, tends to be a slippery subject. I really tend to define those more as "intuition" and "learning" to avoid the confusion between character and player abilities. They are filters through which the player receives information in character, rather than fetters placed on the player's common sense and problem solving ability. As such, it is easy to think of a weaker link between the two, making for dotty professors with low WIS and high INT or canny urchins with low INT and high WIS.

Charisma, probably can exist with any level of mental or physical aptitude, and the charismatic moron makes for good comedy if nothing else. (I suppose by now you can tell why I hate Comeliness, quite apart from its tendency to lead games down the path of the drool-soaked adolescent hornfest.)

But what about STR and CON? Uh yeah, the guy with high CON and low STR is a big barrel-chester ... with little T-Rex arms. Or, the guy with high STR and low CON has huge muscles ... and a debilitating condition, maybe tuberculosis, that reduces his fitness.

I'm sure we've all resorted to these explanations but they just seem kind of forced. STR and CON, as defined, don't really seem orthogonal.

But let's take a look at what CON does. In almost every case, it increases the survivability of the character from immediate threat. Its role in hit points, saving throws, and system shock rolls over various editions speak to this. So why not make it a metaphysical rather than physical trait?

Fortitude, or Fortune. Someone high in this ability possesses a strong will to live, almost a sense of invulnerability at high scores. They are fortunate - not in the sense that they can lift up their shoe and find a gold piece stuck to the sole, or roll random encounters with wish-giving unicorns. No, they are fortunate where it counts, at the thin edge between life and death.

Snails: Low Fortune from minute 1
Someone low in this ability may be big and strong, but they have a weak will to live, or at the very least have some doom or fate upon them from sources unknown. Not particularly sickly looking, but certainly ill-starred  compared to their fellows. For folks watching the movie at home, there are tell-tale clues - the nickname "Lucky"; this adventure being their "one last score" before they settle down; a desire to see the world and do great things, touchingly expressed; being comic relief; the party's one example of an ethnic minority; a red upper garment.

Fortitude/Fortune then takes its place as Charisma's sibling - two physical, two mental, and two metaphysical stats. All more or less orthogonal. All I have to do now is settle on a name .. Fortune ... Fortitude ... maybe something starting with Con that calls back more readily to the original stat ...?


  1. Conviction?

    If not the CON, then...
    Mojo. (*hahahah*)

  2. Luck.

    Samwise must have had not much of it, since he was the one who wants to see the elves, the minority (the only working class one in the book), and as close to comic relief as there was.

    But I guess he had high Courage, which is another 'stat' that fiction has but RPGs generally don't.

  3. What about Will? I that doesn't carry the conotation of "luckiness" or "favored by fate" but when you think of characters in literature and film that take physical punishment and keep going if its not physicality getting them through, its typically atttributed to "force of will."

  4. Thanks for the good ideas. I came up a couple more in the meantime, myself: Endurance, and Vitality. I particularly like Vitality because it conveys the idea of guarding/promoting survival without being as physical as "Constitution."