Yesterday–amidst the chaos in the world around me, I took Zola the Dog for a walk. While walking in the darkness drinking a Rip-It, I reflected upon the various Dungeons & Dragons abilities that characters have. Although they’ve been improved and reorganized over the past 40+ years since D&D went from Basic to 5E, there are still the same 6 abilities:
Strength–increases damage and attack chance for some classes/weapons
Dexterity–increases damage and attack chance for some classes/weapons
Constitution–increases hit points (health) of a character
Intelligence–used for spellcasting for certain classes
Wisdom–used for spellcasting for certain classes
Charisma–used for spellcasting for certain classes
Now–these basic abilities make some sense –not just for gameplay–but also as some of the basic characteristics of humans. We all possess–to varying degrees–these abilities/categories. And in the current 5E system, there are also skills that are based on these abilities–so persuasion is related to Charisma and sleight of hand is related to dexterity, etc..
All of this makes for a pretty decent system…. and yet… there was stuff that irked me. Perhaps it’s because I have a tendency (started by an old friend an I chatting long ago) to think about what “class” various people around me are. He and I were chatting about a friend–and he asked me.. “So what class do you think XYZ is?” And I contemplated and said, “Well, XYZ thinks he’s a ranger, but he’s not.” And my friend smiled and agreed, and I continued, “He’s actually a druid.”
From that point–I’ve always thought of friends this way. Not that I pigeonhole them with it or think such categorizations are deeply meaningful. No–they are merely a kind of facet of a person–a facet that you see if you peer through the looking glass of this framework at the social world around you. ( You can also then apply gamer notions of “the tank”, “the healer”, “the DPS” as added layers..).
Anyway–if you are talking about people’s classes–then you have to think about abilities also–because different classes rely upon different abilities–and that made me think more about the 6 categories above–not just in the D&D sense–but in the more broad sense of how do we understand these things.
In D&D, you get a “score” for these attributes–and the higher the score the better (you get bonuses for stuff, or penalties if they’re low). But it made me think of each of these attributes more critically–and generated a lot of questions.
For example–What is Dexterity–really? Is it hand-eye coordination? Is it Balance? Is it quickness in reflexes/reaction? All of them?
All of these things are partially related–but only partially in my experience. Concrete example–I have REALLY good balance, and my reflexes are very quick to react to things–but my hand-eye coordination is pretty bad in general. I’m terrible at sports that require a lot of this coordination–but I can–even with many drinks in me–dance and spin and throw myself across the booze-soaked floor while twirling about and stay upright in a pretty elegant fashion.
So what is my dexterity in this sense? Is it low or high or in the middle?
And if this doesn’t work for me–does it even make sense as a thing?
Anyway–this got me thinking about all six of these abilities and whether they made sense or whether there were actually numerous components that made them up. It didn’t take long for me to realize that there were usually a couple of major components that I could come up with for each–components that were only partially related to each other–but could be of differential strengths in actual human beings.
a) Lifting/carrying power–How strong are you in the classic sense of arm wrestling lifting weights/throwing things far distances/etc.
b) Endurance–How far can you run? How long can you swim? How many reps can you do?
c) Speed–How fast can you go?
All of these are part of strength/power–but a body-builder who can lift 400lbs cannot necessarily run a marathon, nor could they be a 100 m’ dash sprinter–and yet all of these people are considered strong.
a) Hand/Eye coordination–how good are you in controlling your hand movements –used in sports/shooting type stuff
b) Balance–how good are you at walking a tight rope or not being knocked over? Do you have a good sense of your center of gravity? Can you dance well? Does your body flow easily in movement?
c) Quickness/response–reaction times are part of this–when you drop something, can you catch it.
All of these are part of dexterity–but a good marksman isn’t necessarily a good dancer.
a) Toughness–how hard is your body when it comes to damage. Does it bruise easy or break bones easily? Does Pain overwhelm you, or is it just a thing you notice?
b) Health/disease resistance–do you get sick easily? Are you robust when exposed to harsh conditions?
c) Healing–when you do get damaged–do you heal quickly? Or does it take a while?
While these may be more related–I’ve known people who heal quickly, but get sick easily–or who are tough in their bodies–but also have permanent diseases–so the relationship is not 1:1.
Research/Analysis/Investigation–how good are you at searching out information/deducing knowledge from evidence in front of you.
Memory/Recall/Knowledge retention–Do you have the ability to easily store a lot of information and recall it in relevant situations?
Calculation/Game-playing/Symbol-manipulation–Are you good at math/coding/figuring out the rules of something and then applying those rules to generate new results?
I know lots of good game players who don’t necessarily have good research skills. Similarly, some people have huge recall and yet are bad at games.
Observation/Perception/Spatial-Awareness–How aware are you of your surroundings–not just in terms of sensory perception–but in terms of recognizing the data in a way that allows you to work with it.
Pattern-Recognition/Synthesis of data–After perceiving things, how good are you at integrating such perceptions into a broader framework that allows action? And are you able to do this over time with greater complexity?
Mental Endurance/Emotional Resilience–Hou much mental “toughness”/willpower do you have? Can you work through hard situations and remain present?
As with the others–I know folks who are strong in one but not the others. Some are good at pattenr-recognition, but don’t have much emotional resilience. Others are aware in a direct way for the moment–but don’t connect such observations to broader patterns.
Physical Attractiveness/Seduction/physicality–Can you entrance people? Can you easily grab attention and spark interest?
Performance/Persuasion/Language-skills–Are you able to use your words and expressions to engage people and change their views?
Force of Personality/Intimidation–Do you generate acknowledgement by the intensity of your presence? Do you inspire respect by your forcefulness in social situations.
Each of these, I believe, is a bit more distinct–even if they can work in combination even more effectively. Hitler had the latter two traits–but was not an attractive person. Many actors have the first two traits and become cultural symbols.
In any case, I’m not at all sure where this exercise was going–but it originated in that place of distrusting the simplicity of the categories that we often work with–because too often what is useful as a shorthand way of representing reality is taken as being reality itself. We are people who are strong or dextrous or intelligent or wise–but all of those categories are significantly more complicated than the simple words we use. Intelligence, for example is regularly reduced–see AI researchers–into one of the separate categories above in our computer-infatuated society–but it is more than any one of those and more than all combined.
As I recently permanently etched into my arm, it’s fine to seek simplicity, but you should distrust such findings when you first encounter them lest you are misled.