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    Default Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    In the last year or two, I have seen many people assert that D&D style racial ability modifiers, particularly to mental stats, are offensive. I have never really been able to figure out why, and the threads invariably get closed due to some sort of racist tangent before I can ask, but that isn't really here or there.

    I am about to revise the races chapter of my own system (playtest link in the sig) and was wondering if anyone had any input about how one could do ability modifiers "right"?

    Currently, it is a point buy system and all stats cost the same amount, but have different ranges for different species, so orcs can put more points into strength than a human and halflings less, which isn't quite the same thing as straight modifiers, but is pretty similar in end results.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Well your current system doesn't seem too good, for a few reasons: it encourages over-specialization and it is too easy to specialize.

    Roughly: if there's a character type that benefits from having an attribute above normal maximum, you pick the race with highest range for that attribute and buy it to cap. This is the one and only scenario where a different ability range ever really is relevant and where there is no incentive to buy attributes to cap, these ranges don't create any play differences between characters of different races.

    In general, point-buy is crappy for a similar reason: it's too easy to optimize and thus heavily encourages stereotypical characters. To even begin doing racial stat modifiers "right", you want heavy randomization. You also want modifiers big enough to create play differences across character types. Because such big differences are hard to balance, it's often best to create significant racial differences in other ways. To give a D&D example, dark vision and infravision are significant non-modifier differences, because every class uses visual senses and so all classes are impacted by difference in visual ability. By contrast, an ability modifier borders on irrelevant for classes that don't have major secondary features tied to that ability.

    Back to big ability score differences, I'll use Ancient Domains of Mystery, a computer game, as an example: the difference between something like a Troll and a Grey Elf in Strength and Toughness is not one or two points, it's closer to ten or twenty. This means that while Trolls vary among themselves, each Troll is massively stronger than basically any Grey Elf, to the degree that a Troll Wizard (a particularly weak Troll) can wield a log or an anvil as a weapon, while a Grey Elf Barbarian (a particularly strong Elf) would struggle to do so. Differences on the mental side are equally dramatic: even Grey Elf Barbarians (class noted for being uncivilized) can usually read, while most Trolls struggle to do so even if they're of a civilized class (such as a Weaponsmith); on the other side, a Grey Elf Fighter (a non-caster) can approach Learning, Willpower and Mana abilities of a Troll Wizard. Differences of such magnitude guarantee that members of a race place differently across classes: a Troll Wizard isn't just a slightly worse Grey Elf Wizard, they play differently throughout the game.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    Well your current system doesn't seem too good, for a few reasons: it encourages over-specialization and it is too easy to specialize.

    Roughly: if there's a character type that benefits from having an attribute above normal maximum, you pick the race with highest range for that attribute and buy it to cap. This is the one and only scenario where a different ability range ever really is relevant and where there is no incentive to buy attributes to cap, these ranges don't create any play differences between characters of different races.

    In general, point-buy is crappy for a similar reason: it's too easy to optimize and thus heavily encourages stereotypical characters. To even begin doing racial stat modifiers "right", you want heavy randomization. You also want modifiers big enough to create play differences across character types. Because such big differences are hard to balance, it's often best to create significant racial differences in other ways. To give a D&D example, dark vision and infravision are significant non-modifier differences, because every class uses visual senses and so all classes are impacted by difference in visual ability. By contrast, an ability modifier borders on irrelevant for classes that don't have major secondary features tied to that ability.

    Back to big ability score differences, I'll use Ancient Domains of Mystery, a computer game, as an example: the difference between something like a Troll and a Grey Elf in Strength and Toughness is not one or two points, it's closer to ten or twenty. This means that while Trolls vary among themselves, each Troll is massively stronger than basically any Grey Elf, to the degree that a Troll Wizard (a particularly weak Troll) can wield a log or an anvil as a weapon, while a Grey Elf Barbarian (a particularly strong Elf) would struggle to do so. Differences on the mental side are equally dramatic: even Grey Elf Barbarians (class noted for being uncivilized) can usually read, while most Trolls struggle to do so even if they're of a civilized class (such as a Weaponsmith); on the other side, a Grey Elf Fighter (a non-caster) can approach Learning, Willpower and Mana abilities of a Troll Wizard. Differences of such magnitude guarantee that members of a race place differently across classes: a Troll Wizard isn't just a slightly worse Grey Elf Wizard, they play differently throughout the game.
    I agree that is a problem with all point buy games but it is, imo, better than any of the alternatives.

    My game tries to alleviate this by having every ability score be useful for every character archetype, and to make it fairly trivial to bypass racial limitations with magic, cybernetics, mutations, or the like.
    Looking for feedback on Heart of Darkness, a character driven RPG of Gothic fantasy.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    My game tries to alleviate this by having every ability score be useful for every character archetype, and to make it fairly trivial to bypass racial limitations with magic, cybernetics, mutations, or the like.
    It's easy for this to collapse into a situation where choice of race just doesn't matter, or only matters in the early game. Ranges in particular are bad in creating differences between characters in this kind of system, because if all stats are useful, there's a big opportunity cost to buy up to above-normal racial caps: you could've spread those points more evenly for equal or greater benefit. Especially if points have diminishing returns.

    If all ranges are equally large for all races, you avert part of that, but at that point your system is mathematically equivalent to flat modifiers.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    I would argue "by not having racial ability modifiers." Regardless of real-world concerns, they're boring. They basically vanish as soon as you're done with character creation, especially if you didn't min-max (ie, if you start with a 20 when the normal max at creation is 18, that's at least sort of noticeable; if you start with a 16, who can even tell?) If you want orcs to be stronger than humans, it's more fun to give them something like Powerful Build than +2 Strength.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Grod_The_Giant View Post
    I would argue "by not having racial ability modifiers." Regardless of real-world concerns, they're boring. They basically vanish as soon as you're done with character creation, especially if you didn't min-max (ie, if you start with a 20 when the normal max at creation is 18, that's at least sort of noticeable; if you start with a 16, who can even tell?) If you want orcs to be stronger than humans, it's more fun to give them something like Powerful Build than +2 Strength.
    For sure.

    But that also creates a ton of balancing issues, requires a lot of book space and effort on the parts of both authors and readers, and risks limiting creativity by making certain races drastically superior / inferior at certain tasks.

    I would personally prefer PC races to be mostly cosmetic, with the benefits being non numerical things like night vision or resistance to heat, but that can create certain issues when comparing them to NPCs who need to be more numerically distinct to be interesting as opponents.

    Still doesn't really touch on the real-world concerns that I was hoping to address, or at least understand, though.
    Looking for feedback on Heart of Darkness, a character driven RPG of Gothic fantasy.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Grod_The_Giant View Post
    I would argue "by not having racial ability modifiers." Regardless of real-world concerns, they're boring. They basically vanish as soon as you're done with character creation, especially if you didn't min-max (ie, if you start with a 20 when the normal max at creation is 18, that's at least sort of noticeable; if you start with a 16, who can even tell?) If you want orcs to be stronger than humans, it's more fun to give them something like Powerful Build than +2 Strength.
    That depends on the available ranges. When any Shadowrun Troll can start with a Body higher than anyone will ever have without high-end gear, that's significant. Also, there's the issue of how much a +1 matters - if it's just one more die, when you have 15 to roll, or one more bonus when you roll d20+10, it's not that significant. But if you roll, say, 2d6+4 against a DC of 10, then that +1 gains a higher value.
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    For sure.

    But that also creates a ton of balancing issues, requires a lot of book space and effort on the parts of both authors and readers, and risks limiting creativity by making certain races drastically superior / inferior at certain tasks.

    I would personally prefer PC races to be mostly cosmetic, with the benefits being non numerical things like night vision or resistance to heat, but that can create certain issues when comparing them to NPCs who need to be more numerically distinct to be interesting as opponents.

    Still doesn't really touch on the real-world concerns that I was hoping to address, or at least understand, though.
    You're not going to address or touch on those concerns adequately by making a decision about character building mechanics. You'll have to do so with careful and thoughtful world-building and characterization: making sure to avoid playing to harmful stereotypes, not presenting races or cultures as monoliths, allowing individuals moral agency, demonstrating an awareness that some things are cultural rather than innate, etc. You can fail at that easily with neutered racial mechanics, and you can succeed at it with meaningful racial mechanics. I'd argue that Pillars of Eternity does a good job of the latter*, which is probably helped by the fact that they have a non-D&D system where every class can use every stat, so you don't run into the halfling problem.

    I'm in favor of retaining racial stat modifiers for reasons of verisimilitude; it strains credulity to have a dozen or more sapient species who all happen to have exactly the same range and variance in terms of strength, intelligence, reaction time, what have you. This is true in both a naturalistic setting with evolved creatures (because competition should drive niche specialization that affects these characteristics) or a mythological setting with various deities creating these species (because those deities will have different goals and priorities for their creations and may even have varying levels of skill at creation). Perhaps, in a very specific setting, you have a pantheon with a Congress of Vienna-style obsession with balance that got together and decided that each of them would make a race, and that they should all be exactly the same except for certain cosmetic differences, so as not to create an imbalance, but that A) seems more like a parody setting than anything else, and B) represents one world-building instance that can't be applied to other situations.

    *Probably not absolutely perfect, but absolute perfection is unlikely in any endeavor.
    Last edited by VoxRationis; 2020-12-25 at 03:26 AM.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    It's easy for this to collapse into a situation where choice of race just doesn't matter, or only matters in the early game.
    I would like to mention that this isn't inherently a bad thing, the game in writing intentionally does this. This is mainly to be true to the source material of 60s television scheme fiction, where rubber foreheads could sometimes be too expensive, so except for descriptive traits that work a little like Fate's Aspects (they give Permissions, and can explicitly Deny you the ability to do things as well, and you roll an extra die if you have a relevant one) aliens and robots differ from humans only cosmetically.

    On how to do them properly? It's tricky. The easiest answer is don't, the longer answer is to avoid negative modifiers, and the nicest way I've seen it done is DSA 5e where nonhuman races get a slightly higher starting cap but have to pay the full cost to advance to that rank. I'm not near my book right now, but I believe that it's only raising the cap by one, and humans get a floating +1 to the cap anyway (so they can have the same score in stats that really matter, like the one you use to determine AE).

    The problem with racial modifiers is that, if your race can believably be said to be based on a certain culture, it can look like you're making problematic statements whether you are or not. The one that came up most is orcs, because people connected then to certain groups and in 5e they got both an Intelligence penalty and the intimidate skill (5e has since updated to make Eberron orc racial traits the standard, which doesn't include the penalty and gives a choice of skills). There's also a lesser issue with racial modifiers pushing certain races towards certain concepts, but that's unavoidable even if you get rid of modifiers entirely. Honestly, it's probably best sticking to recess that are physically different enough that them but having special rules is absurd, like intelligent horses.
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    In the last year or two, I have seen many people assert that D&D style racial ability modifiers, particularly to mental stats, are offensive. I have never really been able to figure out why, and the threads invariably get closed due to some sort of racist tangent before I can ask, but that isn't really here or there.
    Just don't give anyone a modifier to Intelligence, and you'll probably be fine. 99% of the complaints I've seen about racial modifiers seem to be about that one stat.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    IMO, there are a lot of considerations.

    First, you need to decide whether playable races have (1) different physical abilities in average and (2) different mental abilities in average (3) if those differences are innate or cultural.

    Second, you need to decide to what degree the character creation of PC actually match the state of the universe. Just because roughly half of the PC do magic doesn't mean that half of the NPCs of the universe do magic. Same apply here, just because the average human has less Strength than the average dwarf does not necessarily mean that the average human PC should have less Strength than the average dwarf PC, in other words it does not mean the PC race dwarf should have a Strength bonus. But it can if you want.

    Third, you need to consider the gameplay. Races grant different bonuses as a way to increase how unique each character is. It help the player to build an identity to their character, both in-universe and mechanically. However, the pitfall to avoid is to have combinations that are clearly better than others, as instead of increasing diversity of the PCs, you will see more and more instances of the exact same combinations.
    IMO, ability improvement are one of the worst kind of boost you can give from a race: it is both good and boring, which is the opposite of what you want (something interesting, but isn't a must-have)
    Last edited by MoiMagnus; 2020-12-25 at 05:25 AM.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymouswizard View Post
    I would like to mention that this isn't inherently a bad thing, the game in writing intentionally does this.
    If math behind racial modifiers collapses to a cosmetic difference, you are introducing mechanical complexity that doesn't impact gameplay. This is bad game design, period. It' s cluttering a system with non-choices. The right design choice, if you don't want there to be beyond cosmetic differences, is to do away with mechanized racial differences entirely. But this isn't a right way to do racial modifiers, it's just not doing it.
    Last edited by Vahnavoi; 2020-12-25 at 06:03 AM.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Instead of increasing a score, increase the minimum. For example instead of an orc getting a flat +2 to strength their minimum is 10 instead of the usual 8.
    If you’re using point buy then this will effectively reduce the cost of a higher score but doesnt just increase it

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    If math behind racial modifiers collapses to a cosmetic difference, you are introducing mechanical complexity that doesn't impact gameplay. This is bad game design, period. It' s cluttering a system with non-choices. The right design choice, if you don't want there to be beyond cosmetic differences, is to do away with mechanized racial differences entirely. But this isn't a right way to do racial modifiers, it's just not doing it.
    Sure, which is why there are no actual Ability modifiers. Aliens are intentionally 'like humans unless otherwise noted', it's not that the modifiers collapse, it's that in the Fiction I'm working from there's no actual difference with noting (mostly). Unless you have a trait like 'strong psychic space elf' you're just going to be treated like a normal human.

    Robots are treated in the same way, they're assumed to need equivalent downtime to human sleep and to intake materials and energy as hard to get as food is. This is to minimise complexity.

    Not doing racial modifiers is a perfectly legitimate way of doing them, and deserves to be discussed, including when it is and isn't appropriate to just leave them out.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelphas View Post
    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    How about a Jovian Uplift stuck in a Case morph? it makes so little sense.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Azuresun View Post
    Just don't give anyone a modifier to Intelligence, and you'll probably be fine. 99% of the complaints I've seen about racial modifiers seem to be about that one stat.
    This is a bad argument. Sturgeon's Law applies to complaints just as well as anything: 90% of complaints are worthless whining.You don't get better game design by appealing to worthless whining, so for those complaints to have any weight, they have to be justified and shown to be reasonable first.

    For the record, there are good arguments for not mechanizing intelligence, but the best one has nothing to do with race. To wit: the best argument for not mechanizing intelligence at all is that intelligence, as far as we can show in real life, is primarily the ability to make good choices. The basic task of a player in a game is to make choices; the only way we can ensure those are good choices (or bad choices, for that matter) is by removing those choices from the players' hands and outsourcing them to something else. The logical conclusion for mechanically modelling intelligence is something that will play the game for the player; this is obviously pointless if you want your player to be the one doing things.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    This is a bad argument. Sturgeon's Law applies to complaints just as well as anything: 90% of complaints are worthless whining.You don't get better game design by appealing to worthless whining, so for those complaints to have any weight, they have to be justified and shown to be reasonable first.

    For the record, there are good arguments for not mechanizing intelligence, but the best one has nothing to do with race. To wit: the best argument for not mechanizing intelligence at all is that intelligence, as far as we can show in real life, is primarily the ability to make good choices. The basic task of a player in a game is to make choices; the only way we can ensure those are good choices (or bad choices, for that matter) is by removing those choices from the players' hands and outsourcing them to something else. The logical conclusion for mechanically modelling intelligence is something that will play the game for the player; this is obviously pointless if you want your player to be the one doing things.
    Or just make intelligence completely separate from common sense and thoughtfulness, so it's raw logical capacity that is in no way related to actually making good or even sensible decisions. I like that approach more.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azuresun View Post
    Just don't give anyone a modifier to Intelligence, and you'll probably be fine. 99% of the complaints I've seen about racial modifiers seem to be about that one stat.
    I mean, yeah. However, most of those arguments, as Vahnavoi notes above, are bull, and stem from people's own prejudices. I have never had any problems with orcs or other typically evil humanoids being hit with an INT penalty simply because I have never associated them with any real-world ethnicity or people or race. They're orcs, just orcs. They're not humans, and any human shares all human racial bonuses with other humans, regardless of culture, skin color, or what have you. Being sentient doesn't mean you're necessarily, on average, as smart (or as dumb) as humans.
    Last edited by Ignimortis; 2020-12-25 at 07:38 AM.
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by MoiMagnus View Post
    ...you need to decide to what degree the character creation of PC actually match the state of the universe. Just because roughly half of the PC do magic doesn't mean that half of the NPCs of the universe do magic. Same apply here, just because the average human has less Strength than the average dwarf does not necessarily mean that the average human PC should have less Strength than the average dwarf PC.
    I think that this is the solution, right here - decouple PC and NPC creation mechanics. This checks all of the boxes that we're looking for.

    • Fits with existing systems: PCs are already built differently from NPCs. It's widely acknowledged that a typical human adventurer is more capable than a typical human commoner. We're just applying the same principle in different ways to other races. Maybe dwarves tend to lack charisma, but as dwarf PCs are exceptional individuals this limitation does not apply to them.
    • Verisimilitude: Depending on your setting, it might not make any sense for various humanoid races to all have the same range and variance of basic abilities. Heck, it might not even make sense for different humanoid species to have the same overall level of capability. To draw an example of two species of similar bodily shape from the real world, a jaguar would have a higher baseline in every stat than a sloth. (Sloths have other advantages that allow them to survive as a species, but that wouldn't make individual sloths balanced as adventurers in a party of jaguars.) Perhaps human PCs are exceptional individuals by human standards while elf PCs are average elves, so the game is balanced for players despite the average difference in capability between the species.
    • Unique NPCs: You can have incredibly strong half-orc NPCs. You can have your players think "Well, the bandit with greenish skin probably has orc blood, so he's a priority threat." You can have all of this without half-orc PCs being strong enough to unbalance the game.
    • Diverse PCs: Most players care about optimization as well as roleplay. For those players, racial ability modifiers restrict the range of race/class combinations that they might play - so without modifiers, you'll get a wider range of combinations (including odd combinations such as half-orc wizards).
    • Leaves room for more interesting racial differences in PCs: Playing a tiefling should feel different from playing a human with cosmetic differences and slightly more charisma. If tiefling PCs don't have a charisma bonus, that leaves feature-space open for them to have more interesting abilities such as fire resistance or SLAs.


    It might feel weird to have PC and NPC stats be completely disconnected, though. If half-orcs are supposed to be incredibly strong for example, then this should be reflected mechanically in some way - though preferably in a way that doesn't limit player choices significantly. Perhaps half-orcs should have a minimum starting strength that's not high by PC standards bus still a bit above the human norm - or, better yet, give players a choice by requiring half-orcs to start with either at least a certain strength or at least a certain constitution.
    Last edited by Herbert_W; 2020-12-25 at 09:16 AM.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ignimortis View Post
    Or just make intelligence completely separate from common sense and thoughtfulness, so it's raw logical capacity that is in no way related to actually making good or even sensible decisions. I like that approach more.
    This a nonsensical statement. Any decision-making involves logic: specifically, ability to draw conclusions from premises.

    The closest you can get is rationing premises by limiting available information; you cannot logically draw correct conclusions from incorrect information. But this does not support mechanizing intelligence. On the contrary, the best way to do this is this: you have another stat, such as Perception, which provides a player with correct information, and the player uses their own logic to draw conclusions from that information, with no mechanized Intelligence or other logic stat in sight.

    EDIT:

    As a commentary on what Herbert W above said:

    You easily get more diversity out of random generation than players cherry-picking their characters. If diversity is what you desire, then get it across to your players that optimization starts only when basics of a character have already been decided by a randomizer.
    Last edited by Vahnavoi; 2020-12-25 at 09:07 AM.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    In the last year or two, I have seen many people assert that D&D style racial ability modifiers, particularly to mental stats, are offensive. I have never really been able to figure out why, and the threads invariably get closed due to some sort of racist tangent before I can ask, but that isn't really here or there.
    There's two issues at hand here: the racism issue and the available characters issue.

    The racism issue is based on the fact that D&D-style races are basically ethnic groups with distinct appearances and cultures (almost invariably based on or inspired by a superficial take on some real life culture) which are then labelled as a 'race' and proclaimed to be in-world objectively superior or inferior to other 'races'. And of course only once of those 'races' gets to be human (usually the one that's coded as being generic/default/culturally white caucasian) while every other culture gets exaggerated and labelled as some sort of non-human. No matter how delicately you try to handle that, you're basically building your house on a foundation of landmines. Probably the best way to combat this is to make your non-humans distinctly alien while making your default culture very cosmopolitan - even though Klingons, Vulcans and Humans are all shown as very different, the fact that they all serve on the same ships makes it hard to say that Star Trek's species are racist.

    The available characters issue is basically this: If having extra <STAT> makes your character better at <CONCEPT>, and picking <RACE> gives you the option to start with higher <STAT> than you could otherwise acquire, there's inherently going to be a pressure to make all characters for said <CONCEPT> also be <RACE>. The way that attributes are handled in D&D implicitly discourages people from wanting to play a bookish orc wizard, or a halfling knight or an elven berserker. Which is really weird when you think about it - surely those are all concepts that are less tired and played out than yet another elven wizard, human paladin or half-orc barbarian? Even if you can technically play the less supported options, the fact that the game rewards you for playing to a stereotype sticks in many people's craw. Consider The Wandering Inn, where the most famous military mind in the world is a 6 inch tall Fraeling who needs a butler to help him into his seat at dinner if he wants to dine with mixed company. You don't need to go that extreme, but at least don't have the abstract attribute mechanics fighting them the whole way.

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    ICurrently, it is a point buy system and all stats cost the same amount, but have different ranges for different species, so orcs can put more points into strength than a human and halflings less, which isn't quite the same thing as straight modifiers, but is pretty similar in end results.
    This is basically how Shadowrun handles it, except that in Shadowrun race also sets the minimum for your stats as well as your maximum. Weak trolls aren't a thing; even a troll who is a total couch potato decker is still pretty strong and has to take points as appropriate, simply by virtue of the fact that they are a troll.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    All is that intelligence, as far as we can show in real life, is primarily the ability to make good choices. The basic task of a player in a game is to make choices . . .
    Quote Originally Posted by Ignimortis View Post
    Or just make intelligence completely separate from common sense and thoughtfulness, so it's raw logical capacity that is in no way related to actually making good or even sensible decisions. I like that approach more.
    I think that the fundamental problem here is the choice of the name "intelligence" for this stat. Going by 3.5e rules, so-called intelligence determines how many skill points a character gets per level, provides a flat bonus to knowledge checks, and allows wizards to prepare more and more powerful spells . . . none of which are really functions of decision-making ability at all! These are all functions of memory, not intelligence.

    I completely agree that mechanizing decision-making in an RPG would be silly. However, this argument misses the point because that's not what the so-called intelligence stat does. Really, it's a representation of the capability of a character's memory. There's a lot of things that a character might be able to remember and which their player would not know, and it makes good sense to have a mental ability score to represent a character's ability to recall them.

    There's nothing wrong with having a DnD-style "intelligence" stat in a game, except for the fact that it shouldn't be called intelligence - it's really a memory stat, and that's what we should call it.

    Bringing this back on-topic:
    Quote Originally Posted by Azuresun View Post
    99% of the complaints I've seen about racial modifiers seem to be about that one stat [intelligence].
    Renaming intelligence to memory would have the additional benefit of dodging those complaints.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    there is nothing wrong with racial modifiers, full stop.

    they're designed to help make each playable race feel different from one another, stemming from either biological build, or cultural stimulus, which are again all different from one another. If you live in a culture that mandates everyone has a morning yoga routine for two hours every morning, then of course you'll get that +2 Dex. If your culture doesn't believe in formal education, and instead encourages individuals learning from trial and error independently, then yea that -2 Int would make sense. If your biology makes you completely immune to some forms of poison, then it'd be understandable to have that +2 constitution, etc.

    That's all assuming each race is raised in their own culture of course. If you want to play around with things, you could have an Orc raised by Elves. Because of the different culture, perhaps the orc would gain an intelligence or a wisdom boost due to having a formal education, while loosing a strength bonus due to not having mandatory combat training every day. You can absolutely play around with things.
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    @Herbert W:

    Regarding mechanical role given to Intelligence stat, you're not wrong. You can scrub out "Intelligence" and replace it with "Learning" and, with no further changes to mechanical niche of that stat, boom, all's fine.

    The reason why this isn't a solved problem is because some players bake the idea of intelligence, as in the ability to make smart decisions, into their character concept. They want to play, say, a genius detective because they read a book once and it had this cool genius detective in it, but they (the players) think (rightly or wrongly) they can't do the genius detective stuff themselves, so they want the game system to give them a leg up. And if it doesn't, you get an old discussion that goes something like this:

    GM: "So you made a stupid mistake."
    Player: "How? My character is really smart, they don't make stupid mistakes."
    GM: "Sure, but you didn't figure out how this detail fit the puzzle..."
    Player: "Surely, my character would've figured it out, they're really smart, it reads so right here on the paper..."
    GM: "Look, regardless of what it reads on the paper, you're still the one responsible for choosing what your character does."
    Player: "Yeah, but I'm not that smart. You should've just told me what to do."
    GM: "But what's left for you to do in the game if I tell you what to do?"

    Alternatively:

    GM: "So you made a stupid mistake."
    Player: "How? My character is really smart, they don't make stupid mistakes."
    GM: "Okay, I'll just tell you what the smart decision is next time."
    Player: "Wait... if you just tell me what's the right decision, won't it be super boring?"

    Or:

    GM: "So you made a stupid mistake."
    Player: "How? My character is really smart, they don't make stupid mistakes."
    GM: "Okay, I'll tell you what your character ought to think next time."
    Player: "Hell no. Only I get to decide what my character think or feels!"

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    @Tanarii: That's a bad defence for a bad argument. Yes, sometimes designers and publishers cave in under public pressure. Do I need to give you a list of all the times this had lead to a designer or company making bad decisions? Sane developers have either limited pool of people to get reasoned feedback from or a group of professionals to vet the public opinion for useful feedback. They do not follow Azuresun's line of reasoning.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    This a nonsensical statement. Any decision-making involves logic: specifically, ability to draw conclusions from premises.

    The closest you can get is rationing premises by limiting available information; you cannot logically draw correct conclusions from incorrect information. But this does not support mechanizing intelligence. On the contrary, the best way to do this is this: you have another stat, such as Perception, which provides a player with correct information, and the player uses their own logic to draw conclusions from that information, with no mechanized Intelligence or other logic stat in sight.
    On the contrary. I know some people who are smart and logical in the typical RPG Intelligence/Logic sense (good with numbers and complex concepts, fast learners, can retain information well), and also have their head so far up their bum, they just don't follow common sense and therefore can still interpret data absolutely wrong, because they fixate on some irrelevant detail or interpret it in a way that might be logical, but also very dumb when you look at it for more than two seconds.

    RPG Intelligence is usually more narrow than "high value = perfect analytics" and tends to be more like "high value = faster thinking, but not necessarily the right way of thinking", and "the right way of thinking" is usually relegated to a different stat like Wisdom or Wits or Intuition, to create those distinct archetypes of "inept sage", "street smart kid" and "unlearned, but wise nonetheless".

    Therefore, it might need a better name, but the concept itself is solid.
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ignimortis View Post
    On the contrary. I know some people who are smart and logical in the typical RPG Intelligence/Logic sense (good with numbers and complex concepts, fast learners, can retain information well), and also have their head so far up their bum, they just don't follow common sense and therefore can still interpret data absolutely wrong, because they fixate on some irrelevant detail or interpret it in a way that might be logical, but also very dumb when you look at it for more than two seconds.
    This appeal to real life is not a counter argument to anything I said. It is, instead, a description of a logical person acting on incorrect premises. Nothing about this observation supports mechanizing intelligence.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ignismortis
    RPG Intelligence is usually more narrow than "high value = perfect analytics" and tends to be more like "high value = faster thinking, but not necessarily the right way of thinking", and "the right way of thinking" is usually relegated to a different stat like Wisdom or Wits or Intuition, to create those distinct archetypes of "inept sage", "street smart kid" and "unlearned, but wise nonetheless".

    Therefore, it might need a better name, but the concept itself is solid.
    Again: correct logic founded on incorrect premises yields incorrect conclusions. You can gatekeep correct premises behind a stat like Wisdom - it is the exact same solution I posed with Perception - but you don't need Intelligence as a stat in this equation at all.

    A system honestly interested in modeling speed of thinking is trivial to implement but no version of D&D, or most other games that have an Intelligence stat, actually implement it. To wit, it goes like this: player of an intelligent character has more real time to make a decision, player of a less intelligent character has less. This way, intelligent character actually have more thinking behind their decisions for each unit of game time.

    ---

    EDIT:

    Quote Originally Posted by Tanarii View Post
    More commonly it leads to success.
    Oh, you actually have statistics showing it is better than a coin flip? I doubt you do. A few cherry-picked examples don't prove you right. Your "it's how real life works" is rhetoric, not logical, defense.
    Last edited by Vahnavoi; 2020-12-25 at 12:39 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Herbert_W View Post
    I think that this is the solution, right here - decouple PC and NPC creation mechanics. This checks all of the boxes that we're looking for.

    • Fits with existing systems: PCs are already built differently from NPCs. It's widely acknowledged that a typical human adventurer is more capable than a typical human commoner. We're just applying the same principle in different ways to other races. Maybe dwarves tend to lack charisma, but as dwarf PCs are exceptional individuals this limitation does not apply to them.
    • Verisimilitude: Depending on your setting, it might not make any sense for various humanoid races to all have the same range and variance of basic abilities. Heck, it might not even make sense for different humanoid species to have the same overall level of capability. To draw an example of two species of similar bodily shape from the real world, a jaguar would have a higher baseline in every stat than a sloth. (Sloths have other advantages that allow them to survive as a species, but that wouldn't make individual sloths balanced as adventurers in a party of jaguars.) Perhaps human PCs are exceptional individuals by human standards while elf PCs are average elves, so the game is balanced for players despite the average difference in capability between the species.
    • Unique NPCs: You can have incredibly strong half-orc NPCs. You can have your players think "Well, the bandit with greenish skin probably has orc blood, so he's a priority threat." You can have all of this without half-orc PCs being strong enough to unbalance the game.
    • Diverse PCs: Most players care about optimization as well as roleplay. For those players, racial ability modifiers restrict the range of race/class combinations that they might play - so without modifiers, you'll get a wider range of combinations (including odd combinations such as half-orc wizards).
    • Leaves room for more interesting racial differences in PCs: Playing a tiefling should feel different from playing a human with cosmetic differences and slightly more charisma. If tiefling PCs don't have a charisma bonus, that leaves feature-space open for them to have more interesting abilities such as fire resistance or SLAs.


    It might feel weird to have PC and NPC stats be completely disconnected, though. If half-orcs are supposed to be incredibly strong for example, then this should be reflected mechanically in some way - though preferably in a way that doesn't limit player choices significantly. Perhaps half-orcs should have a minimum starting strength that's not high by PC standards bus still a bit above the human norm - or, better yet, give players a choice by requiring half-orcs to start with either at least a certain strength or at least a certain constitution.
    This, to me, smacks of an attempt at obfuscation more than anything else. You've still got the racial stat differences baked into your world-building and NPCs (and include the suggestion that the average elf is equal to the very best of humanity, something way more problematic than just giving them +2 Dex/-2 Con) but have simply removed the player-facing elements so it's harder for people to point to in the book and complain about.

    Also, PC/NPC separation is something of a pet peeve of mine, particularly when it's in blatant ways that are reflected in game.
    Last edited by VoxRationis; 2020-12-25 at 12:49 PM.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vahnavoi View Post
    Again: correct logic founded on incorrect premises yields incorrect conclusions. You can gatekeep correct premises behind a stat like Wisdom - it is the exact same solution I posed with Perception - but you don't need Intelligence as a stat in this equation at all.

    A system honestly interested in modeling speed of thinking is trivial to implement but no version of D&D, or most other games that have an Intelligence stat, actually implement it.
    Well, what stat would something like hacking or medicine use? Having to make correct IC decisions in (usually) short amounts of time shouldn't probably be a player-based ability, considering few people know much of such things to actually describe a correct procedure - especially if it's not necessarily the same thing as IRL, i.e. medicine in sci-fi, or hacking in Shadowrun, which is much more action-y.

    This argument is basically the same thing as Charisma - most games assume that a Charisma check is supplemented with some roleplaying of the action taken, or at least a presentation of arguments, and that means the player is expected to make some sort of contribution regardless of their CHA score. In fact, I've played with some people who were harshly against CHA being a stat at all, as they said that it diminished roleplaying and made persuasion and deception more reliant on stats than choosing the right words.

    Besides, I don't think that having a character stat sometimes correct a player's inability to make right choices is a bad thing. One might want to play a smart character while not being smart (or at least as smart) themselves, they just need to not be a prick about it, like the person described above insisting that their character is smart enough to not make a mistake. And they can always roll for it, you know? If they do roll INT or LOG or w/e well enough, give them a hint or a warning. If they don't, then their character made a mistake — which is fine, everyone makes mistakes sometimes, even the smartest people. That's why you play a TTRPG instead of just pretend - to have a chance of failure, a chance of success, and the numbers on which to base those things.
    Last edited by Ignimortis; 2020-12-25 at 12:55 PM.
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    The funny aspect here is racially-based ability modifiers CREATE DIVERSITY in a game. It differentiates Orcs from Elves from Humans. It adds identity, capability, and disability.

    Removing those mods makes all races the same, which could be identified as boring design since it makes player choice ineffectual.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by SwordCoastTaxi View Post
    The funny aspect here is racially-based ability modifiers CREATE DIVERSITY in a game. It differentiates Orcs from Elves from Humans. It adds identity, capability, and disability.

    Removing those mods makes all races the same, which could be identified as boring design since it makes player choice ineffectual.
    *inset "this. *points up*" image here*


    the whole point of having different playable races with different modifiers, cultures, and abilities is to let people play different things. If you want to have a human-only game then that's fine, but don't give me an urban human dude painted green and tell me it's a goblin.
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by SwordCoastTaxi View Post
    The funny aspect here is racially-based ability modifiers CREATE DIVERSITY in a game. It differentiates Orcs from Elves from Humans. It adds identity, capability, and disability.

    Removing those mods makes all races the same, which could be identified as boring design since it makes player choice ineffectual.
    +X to Thing isn't the only way to differentiate humans from elves and orcs. It's, in my experience, one of the least interesting ways to make them different.

    In the context of D&D 5e, I could make orcs that fit the usual archetype by switching the bonus to Strength with Powerful Build. They're still stronger than an average human being, and mechanically distinct thanks to all the doodads like Darkvision, Relentless Endurance and Savage Attacks (the latter also plays in the idea of higher strength). Give them the option to pick a Skill and/or Tool proficiency from a pool that makes sense for orcs in your world and you're done.

    None of those abilities are vanilla +X to Thing, yet they play in the archetypal idea of orcs being strong and resilient without making them the optimal choice for every Strength-based character, because now if you pick elf as your race you aren't effectively giving up a bonus ASI spent on Strength (this obviously assumes we give every race this treatment).

    I feel that moving away from racial ability modifiers is a good way to design options without falling back on the lazy choice of "humans but stronger/quicker/healthier". This is a possibility even if your game isn't derivative of D&D. If you're making, I don't know, a Star Trek inspired game, I'd like Vulcan to have the ability to hide/suppress their emotions and think clear even when under stress rather than just having a bonus to mental stats or skills.

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