Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Specifics of Status

I wish to be very clear that I do not run my D&D campaign according to egalitarianist principles.  No doubt, the many social problems that do arise in the world come from social inequality, but nevertheless a class system does exist and is, for good or for bad, an intrinsic part of a Renaissance world.  I would not fault players who wished to establish a government based upon egalitarianism, but they would be forced to work with the materials they had, just as the founding fathers of every modern country in the world did.  It may be well to wish that all men and women are created equal, but the fact remains that some persons come up through the world as peasants, and some come up through the world as the 'upper classes' - whatever term one may wish to use.

Intrinsically, D&D itself is a system based upon inequality.  Stats and character classes provide exclusionary privileges to some while denying others.  Said classes provide opportunities to some to join guilds or religious organizations, which necessarily are conditionally secretive and manipulative of the general society.  These things do create a great deal of evil - more evil than good, I would argue.  And yet I cannot see a system working any other way.  I do not desire my world to be a utopia.  A utopia would not create conflict and drama.

This may seem all very obvious to the gentle reader, but since I am about to outline just how some persons in the society are technically stronger than others, I feel I need to make myself clear.  To me, a peasant being less than a king is no different than a goblin being less than an ogre.  There is a social hierarchy, and each being has its place within.

That said, consider the following table:

I have given a description of the various status groups before, so I will skip doing it here.  Suffice to say that as you move down the list, the status increases, the relative rarity increases, hit points increase and so on.  I should have created a line on this table between the attendant and the adherent - as this is the point dividing zero-level persons from leveled persons.

Please note that in no way is this list limited to humans, or indeed to any particular race or even hit die.  It would be just as easy to calculate a night hag's stats on this table as anything else - assigning the hag according to what status the reader felt she held in the social system.  Obviously the hag is leveled ... and would have to have a high intelligence.  What is presented here is a gauge for determining the rarity of a night hag Queen vs. a night hag minion.

Also note that more than 99% of the population is NOT leveled.  I have had reason to reconsider that occasionally ... but the reader must be careful in using the table where it comes to a given segment of the population.  The table does not mean to give the suggestion that in a town of 29,000 persons, only 216 would be leveled.  Members of a town would be the elite individuals of any given state - and it is presumed that a town (pop. 5,000 or more) would be surrounded by a great many manors and other centers of industry.  Where a town might have 5,000 persons, the likelihood is that the surrounding environs would have another 25,000, so that within the town itself 1 in 25 persons might be levels (the remaining levels distributed about the hinterland).  I know this is not D&D canon - the Monster Manual in particular seems to suggest that leveled persons, even persons above 6th level, are as common as hay - but I find this system works for my purposes.

Moving along.  The hit points (HP) column I think is fairly clear, but I would point out that the hit points listed for peasant through exemplary are part of my hit points for mass system ... with comparatively sickly peasants having few, and healthier individuals having more.  Attendants and better add hit points according to their skills (with leveled persons adding a lot more hit points), and so it is listed as 'variable.'

Now, the Roll Distribution column may not be clear.  What this gives is the number of dice rolled to determine each ability stat.  As I said yesterday, a peasant rolls 2d6 for their stats.  A laborer does better in that one of their six stats is rolled using 3d6.  The artisan gets two stats rolled with 3d6 and so on, to where the adherent, being leveled, gets a jump over the attendant and has all their stats rolled with 3d6.

The zealot, being somewhat better than a mere adherent, is shown here having 1 die roll for stats being 4d6; this would mean the standard practice of rolling four dice and discarding the lower die.  The adventurer (which should not be confused with the player character) does better than the zealot in having two stats rolled with 4d6.  And so on.  Thus the player character fits into the system as being having the best average statistics in the world ... and this I find quite correct, as players are special.

For comparison, the reader can see how the Average Stats go up as status increases.

This is a fair bit of meat, so I'll leave off here - having answered Carl's question - before moving on.

Extra Credit: Consider how this above might be applied to these figures here.

39 comments:

noisms said...

Goblins and ogres are different species, which is why a goblin being lesser to an ogre makes sense. But that's not quite the same thing as a peasant vs. a liege, who are after all of the same species.

Does the difference in average stats between a peasant and a leige reflect the fact that the liege is likely to be better fed and educated, or is it some kind of genetic essentialism? If the former, fair enough, but if the latter, I think you're on dodgy ground both scientifically and philosophically...

Greg said...

Doesnt seem fair or realistic that your attributes are related to social standing.

Why should a character roll more dice for intelligence than a peasant? This is not skill, education, etc. This is raw talent.

I'm on board with having some people inherently better or worse than others; but that is the role of dice, (Pun intended) not a function of social class.

R said...

@Greg - even if intelligence is raw talent, you need to be in the right environment to make it grow. There's a reason that philosophers and theorists were all well-to-do; they didn't have labor intensive day-jobs that ate up all their free time.

James C. said...

@Greg - My sense of D&D ability scores has always been that they exist as a measure of effective value vs. raw value. I'm not sure that I'm on-board with all of Alexis's conclusions and implementations yet, but his basis for reasoning seems pretty sound. That is, certain classes just wouldn't have the opportunity to develop higher ability scores based on a limited opportunity to do so. I think it also important to point out that his "social classes" are explained further : "...the above organization is not to describe the general occupation the individual serves within the society, only his or her general importance and/or success. I find the ordering useful for determining an NPC’s ability stats and probable level." in the linked post.

I interpreet it as a loose, flexible system whereby an NPCs general "success and or importance" can be ascertained. Does it not make sense that the important and successfull will be generally more capable as well?

Alexis said...

noisms says,

"... or is it some kind of genetic essentialism? If the former, fair enough, but if the latter, I think you're on dodgy ground both scientifically and philosophically..."

Was this intended for me to see the error of my ways, and to realize that all people really are created equal and that this equality has both scientific and philosophical roots? I ask because I thought I was being pretty clear about this post not being about egalitarianism.

See, I would think that since I took the time to write two paragraphs here before saying anything else that I really didn't care about the equality of things where it came to D&D, that you might have thought to yourself, "right, he isn't going to worry about that pesky equality thing, got it" - and at that point either stop reading (if your science and your philosophy disagrees) or move forward accepting the premise.

I mean, it does seem strange to me that this would be the issue that would raise your interest, given that your nick is 'no-isms' and that you seem to be dumping at least two -isms on me despite my saying that I didn't care.

(in case you missed it, the other ism was moralism)

It makes me think that mostly you read this blog not for the insights about D&D, but just so that you can comment pompously off topic in order to make yourself feel really terribly important. I realize that for a few times I did something similar on your blog, but that was more than a year ago and I've stopped doing that altogether, everywhere.

If that's what you want to do here, I'm cool with that. Get as pompous and important as you like, the Internet makes space for you and as long as you're not deliberately insulting I won't delete your comments. In future you might make them a bit more relevant, however. It would make it seem as though you'd read the whole post, even if you hadn't, and that would give your entire thematic position more credibility.

In the meantime, no, sorry, I did not feel myself convinced by your withering argument. I still don't care about egalitarianism.

Alexis said...

James,

I appreciate the defense you offer.

What conclusions and implementations are you not on board with. I would like to address those.

James C. said...

Alexis, Specifically its the 2d6 across the board for ability scores on the lower tiers of your system. I'm not sure that I wouldn't want to allow for an outlier on the ability scores at all levels and the 2d6 doesn't allow for it.

This is easily modified from my standpoiont should I swipe this idea. In fact I've already swiped this idea and your implementation as the basis and starting point for my own variation.

Carl said...

1% -- fascinating. This is pretty much where I had prepared to head, somewhere between 1 and 3 percent of the population would have levels. A leveled slave in Rome would cost big, big money, but was not unheard-of.

I can't wait until you start breaking down that 1% into how many of them are fighters and how many are magic-users. If I had to guess I'd say that majority of leveled persons would be thieves followed immediately by fighters. The experience tables and starting ages for characters are what shaped my hypothesis.

I'm surprised you even addressed the nature of egalitarianism. Us modern folk are so sold on the idea that everyone is created equal that we don't even stop to think about what it might mean. Equal what? Opportunity? We know that's bullshit. Equal genetics? Again, bullshit. What's equal about us? Hell, even our inequality isn't equal with one another. AD&D's system is even built around inherent inequalities in society and nature. Ogres are more powerful than goblins, fighters are more powerful than peasants. Since it's a primarily medieval fantasy setting, we have kings and emperors, yet we still think in these egalitarian terms. We think our characters can just be those people if they grow rich enough. Why? Has anyone ever had their character grow up to become a convincing king? How about any flavor of titled noble? I've never seen this happen.

In my own game, I have a group of citizens and freedmen for player characters. With a bit of luck, some sound financial planning, and an advantageous marriage their grandchildren could possibly wear the purple stripe of a Senator. They themselves might be lucky enough to enter the Equites (middle class) if they made a fortune and had a powerful patron who relied upon that fortune. More likely it would be their children who entered the middle class and that would happen through marriage -- if they had enough money to attract an alliance with an established family. But there would be no marrying into the Patricians until they were at least three generations from freedman.

Anyway, good post today Alexis. I think you've got a good gradation of a medieval caste system here. As I said, I'm excited to see the next level of detail.

-Carl (Three Hams Inn)

James C. said...

My previous comment should have read "lowest tier" not "tiers" of your system. I was speaking specifically of the peasant class, which is the most numerous.

noisms said...

Alexis, you work so hard to portray yourself as a kind of prickly and irascible eccentric that I can't help but feel that outside of the internet you're nothing but a pussycat.

Was this intended for me to see the error of my ways, and to realize that all people really are created equal and that this equality has both scientific and philosophical roots?

Not a bit of it - I wasn't talking about egalitarianism, I was talking about reality.

You put a lot of effort into creating as realistic a D&D world as you possibly can, and this is what makes your blog such a fascinating and enjoyable read. It's a marvellous creation. And yet you don't seem at all concerned whether or not your average ability scores for the respective levels reflect reality at all.

For instance, what is your justification for assuming that no peasant can have greater than 12 in any stat? While you might argue that, for instance, peasants will be uneducated and hence unable to have an intelligence greater than 12, I'd agree with you. But consider constitution - infant death rates in medieval times were so high, and diseases so prevalent, that any peasant who survived to adulthood would be likely to have rather good constitution, so your limit of 12 seems unrealistic.

Likewise, wisdom, which I think reflects intangibles like common sense, willpower and intuition, is likely to be higher in peasants than further up the social tiers, where people are closeted by both custom and manners into regimented forms of behaviour which are not conducive to developing quick-wittedness or human perception skills.

I don't give a fuck about equality (though I'll stand by my insinuation that this table smacks a little of genetic essentialism); I'm just curious about your apparent lack of detailed thinking on the matter.

As for the rest of your reply, I think I've probably made a grand total of about 3 comments on your blog during the entire course of its existence; I'm sorry if any of them struck you as pompous but I suppose it's just the way I am.

James C. said...

This is why I bother to read the comments section on this blog after each and every post. Noisms leads with vague and vaguely condescending; Alexis bristles and brandishes his scalpel; then Noisms responds with some actual specifics. NOW we're TALKING D&D!

Alexis said...

“You put a lot of effort into creating as realistic a D&D world as you possibly can, and this is what makes your blog such a fascinating and enjoyable read. It's a marvellous creation. And yet you don't seem at all concerned whether or not your average ability scores for the respective levels reflect reality at all.”

I suppose that depends upon how you define ‘reality.’ I am quite used to many people having skewed, hopeful versions of it - I have, however, mine.

Regarding the reality of this particular table, I draw your attention to that comment made by Carl. You can find it between my attack upon you and your response to it. You cannot do better than read anything that Carl says under any conditions.

”For instance, what is your justification for assuming that no peasant can have greater than 12 in any stat?”

It is because I see 7 as the average stat for every typical creature, not 10.5. Just because the DMG says otherwise, why would I care? I have rewritten much of the DMG already.

If we consider 7 to be an average intelligence or constitution, then you, me, most of us, are the same rank and file as the typical peasant. This would mean that only profoundly unique individuals, truly remarkable individuals, like characters, would have any stat higher than 12. Does that put it into the frame for you?

”While you might argue that, for instance, peasants will be uneducated and hence unable to have an intelligence greater than 12, I'd agree with you. But consider constitution - infant death rates in medieval times were so high, and diseases so prevalent, that any peasant who survived to adulthood would be likely to have rather good constitution, so your limit of 12 seems unrealistic.”

A brilliant example of flawed thinking. The argument that if you survive all the trials and sufferings of infancy, you become magically strong and healthy all the rest of your days. Spend any time in a Third World setting and you will discover that malnutrition and a myriad of diseases continue to afflict the poor long up until and all through adulthood.

“Likewise, wisdom, which I think reflects intangibles like common sense, willpower and intuition, is likely to be higher in peasants than further up the social tiers, where people are closeted by both custom and manners into regimented forms of behaviour which are not conducive to developing quick-wittedness or human perception skills.”

This is pure Rousseauian bullshit. I remember the course work in University that preached this sort of crap from within their Ivory Towers. Five minutes with the ordinary rustic is enough to show that ignorance does not equal wisdom. As to the insistence that educated people are somehow dull-witted - Rousseau wrote this too, from his point of view that their failure to consider him a genius of the first order was proof positive of what fools they were.

At any rate, you are mixing up status according to the usual meaning with the definition I have already provided, and which has been re-emphasized by others.

”I don't give a fuck about equality (though I'll stand by my insinuation that this table smacks a little of genetic essentialism); I'm just curious about your apparent lack of detailed thinking on the matter.”

I thought it was very clear that I was a genetic essentialist. I did not argue that I was not. I argued that the need to include the label did not, in itself, add any information to the discussion.

As for the rest of your reply, I think I've probably made a grand total of about 3 comments on your blog during the entire course of its existence; I'm sorry if any of them struck you as pompous but I suppose it's just the way I am.

Perhaps. I may not have been correct in defining your response as pompous. I shall rescind that.
=

James V said...

I'm not sure that I wouldn't want to allow for an outlier on the ability scores at all levels and the 2d6 doesn't allow for it.


Good point, James C. For me it would be just fine to just decide that Laborer X is special, and give a bonus where appropriate, but is there means to model certain traits based on heredity, or even random chance?

Royalty is a good and famous example. Regionally, it's not unusual for nobility and royalty to engage in intermarriage between families. In one way this is great support for granting superiority in traits. These are people who at some point in their ancestry were probably exceptional and now benefit from a high standard of living and get to live long enough to pass those traits on, even if they sometimes cross over into each other through cousins, half-siblings and the like.

At the same time, there is the occasional oddity, like the Habsburg Chin, or Victorian Hemophilia. It seems to be a rare occurence, but it does happen, and it can be tied back to the common custom of intermarriage.

noisms said...

Regarding the reality of this particular table, I draw your attention to that comment made by Carl.

I read Carl's comment, but I think you're both misunderstanding me (or perhaps I'm not explaining myself particularly well). Of course I wouldn't expect equality of status in a medieval society. Of course true equality doesn't exist even in modern times. That's not in dispute; what is in dispute is whether individuals in different social strata will necessarily have ability levels which reflect their status. In some cases and for some abilities they might, but the complex history of human society just does not map to a simple schema wherein the genetically superior people naturally form the upper classes and the genetically inferior people form the lower.

A brilliant example of flawed thinking. The argument that if you survive all the trials and sufferings of infancy, you become magically strong and healthy all the rest of your days. Spend any time in a Third World setting and you will discover that malnutrition and a myriad of diseases continue to afflict the poor long up until and all through adulthood.

I'm not arguing that surviving suffering makes you "magically strong and healthy"; I'm arguing that surviving suffering indicates that you are genetically well constituted. The weak die and the strong survive, hence the people in such a society who are still alive in adulthood at any given time are likely to have a bell-curve of constitution scores that lies above the average, for obvious mathematical reasons.

For what it's worth, I have spent quite a lot of time in a Third World setting and generally speaking I've found that people in the developed world have a view of poorer countries that does not reflect the reality. When we see the Third World on our TV screens we see it in a context of disaster - Ethiopia during Mengistu's manmade famine, Zimbabwe under Mugabe, the post-war DPR Congo. This grossly inflates our sense that people in such countries live in eternal misery and destitution.

I should also point out that there is a sense in which surviving suffering does make you stronger - the human immune system is strengthened by repeated exposure to disease, provided the disease is not fatal. A trivial example: when I was in Uighurstan in Western China I ate water melon with some Uighur workmates. I got sick from food poisoning; they didn't. I'm sure (as they joked for days afterwards) that this was down to the fact that my immune system has been pampered by clean living like all Westerners.

A less trivial example: the Conquistadors in 16th century Mexico had almost all survived encounters will smallpox during their childhoods - partly this was due to genetics (resistance to the disease proliferating through a population through many generations) but also due to innately good constitution, good nutrition, and many other factors. Once you have survived smallpox you have a resistance to it. This meant that when smallpox swept through Mexico shortly after their arrival, the Conquistadors mostly survived while the population of the Aztec empire mostly died. When it comes to disease, it is sometimes the case that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

This is pure Rousseauian bullshit. I remember the course work in University that preached this sort of crap from within their Ivory Towers. Five minutes with the ordinary rustic is enough to show that ignorance does not equal wisdom.

This is just one of those things that people will argue about forever with no conclusion, presumably due to personal experience. I've met plenty of uneducated people with great horse sense and plenty of callow PhDs who can barely tie their own shoelaces. Obviously your experience is different.

Alexis said...

Damn. It's like a sack of dung. The more you poke, the more shit comes out.

That's bonified country wisdom, cottonpickers.

While noisms wanders off to argue I'm not sure what, I'd like to bring this back to pointing out that the table is an effort to sort out the various strata of society into groups according to their capability to affect the campaign. DMs have for years given 4d6 to players and 3d6 to NPCs as a matter of course. I'm only extrapolating this further. The fact that I refer to the bottom of the heap as 'peasants' and not some other thing, such as my Mammie's left tit (more country wisdom) really doesn't matter. Some element of society will be at the bottom - and being at the bottom, there's no reason not to use the mechanism of assigning that strata's ability scores using 2d6.

That's really all I'm arguing here.

Greg said...

No, you are actually arguing for a kind of social Lamarkism, where people are granted biological traits as a result of their social context.

Like Noisms, I have no problem with social inequality. That isnt the issue here it all. The issue is the claim that there are going to be BIOLOGICAL traits that are based upon SOCIAL status.

Nobody is arguing, so far as I can tell, that the peasants are on average going to be more wise than the aristocratic class. But that any given individual has an equal CHANCE of being wise when the dice are rolled. I would actually have no problem with some kind of static +2 to INT to Aristocrats to represent tutoring or something similar. But to bend CHANCE in the favor of the aristocrats is just unrealistic.

I dont think anybody is actually arguing that all people should be political equals in D&D. And I dont think anyone is arguing that giving adventurers a little boost above the average would be unjustified, since we are specifically choosing for excellent genetics in those who would engage in this activity. Those are just straw men you are throwing up to obsfucate.

Your argument amounts to a defense of the ludicrous claim that nobility is embued with superior genetics to common stock.

And despite my concerns, I still fail to see how this could be relevant to an actual campaign. How often is it necessary to roll up stats on a peasant? Are your players going on pogroms or something? I don't see any need for having this information, unless you were like building a video game script to assign stats to every single NPC in some kind of MMO world (and a strange one at that; one with large numbers of peasants milling about).

Alexis said...

Ah, I see.

Did you miss where I said that this status was based upon education and opportunity, and not upon 'social' privilege?

Could you, Greg, by any chance, because I am obviously remiss, point to the page in the DMG where it says, exclusively, that ability stats are 'biological?'

Even if you could, upon what basis would you argue that I am 'ludicrous' in changing said rules? On the basis that rules cannot be changed without defying the laws of science? Of god? Of man?

You have an awful lot invested in these principles, demanding you capitalize words and produce a baffling qualification of realism on the basis of abstract character abilities in a game that is abstract in the extreme. I am simply applying a different abstraction than the one you are familiar with - as far as I can tell. I could be wrong.

As far as the concerns of gaming, I have found my players very often interacting with persons from all walks of life, and it is nice to find out how well they are able to survive attacks or protect themselves. I don't see how this means I have to roll up every NPC, as you suggest ... but overall I find the information, rolled on the spot as needed, useful for things like determining the attractiveness of prostitutes or the knowledge of gatekeepers. But, like you say, I'm ludicrous and unrealistic for having any structure on how many six-sided dice to roll in such a situation.

You may have noticed, Greg, that there are others in the room who seem to be enjoying the post. I take it that you find them ludicrous also, for giving me any encouragement. Would I be correct in this assumption?

James C. said...

You guys are all still talking past each other. Noism and Greg are assuming a rigidity in Alexis's social strata that doesn't necessarily exist. Perhaps it is his choice in names, perhaps it is your own philosophical and intellectual axes to grind. Perhaps some of both. I think you've both got something to say about the D&D aspect of this, but rush too quickly to the OTHER stuff.

Nothing in Alexis's system claims that a "lower class" person can't be anything short of a Title Holder. Rather it implies that if the character had displayed some ability (i.e. a high score or two), then they more than likely found themselves doing something other than tilling fields and mending fences 6 out of 7 days a week.

I direct you each to the below passage that I copied from the linked post. Note particularly "exemplary" and "attendant". I'd be careful not to necessarily equate "advanced education" to the no-doubt excellent university educations you may each enjoy. An "advanced education" can be any number of things, even in our modern context.

"The first group would be un-leveled persons. A peasant includes anyone who is lacking in all status, does not own land and in fact exists under a limited freedom (tied to the land). A laborer is anyone lacking in education and who performs unskilled work. An artisan has been given a directed education to perform a single skill. An exemplary includes persons who have obtained several skills and advanced education, but who remain untrained as leveled persons or who perform unusual occupations. An attendant would include those who directly support leveled persons, though they themselves remain zero level; a man-at-arms would be an attendant.

The second group would be leveled persons. An adherent would have the adequate skills to be leveled, without possessing extraordinary abilities; they would adhere to their class structure, serving as functionaries such as parish priests, city officials, laboratory workers and so on. A zealot would be an adherent who has adopted a particular political or religious calling. An adventurer would include persons who explore or who serve as freelancers. A celebrity, or hero, would be an adventurer who has had notable success. A title holder would include the nobility, or persons who have risen to the highest rank in their profession, such as admirals, bishops, marshals or guildmasters. Finally, a liege would include masters of primary political divisions, of religious groups or class-based organizations.

These classifications are meant to be flexible, and are not based on any moral principle..."

James C. said...

@ James V: The idea of determining laboror x as special and just making it so would be my normal method as well (great James's think alike, I suppose). What I enjoy about Alexis's blogs and others is to see how other people do it.

Alexis, in yous system do you allow for laborer x being special or does a special laborer x become something else as a result of his, um, specialness? Do you somehow allow for the outliers I spoke of that you haven't discussed in system? Do you account for them out of system as James V and I have mentioned?

Roger the GS said...

The percentage prevalence for leveled characters is interesting. As for coming up with stats for NPCs, a basic D&D ruleset and mindset would rarely need them. If needed on the fly, I would roll 3d6, or 4d6 if the stat was important to the job of the NPC (keep highest), or underused (keep lowest).

In a system where levels are more important than ability scores it is more likely that the social classes sort themselves out by levels, anyway.

noisms said...

James C: Rather it implies that if the character had displayed some ability (i.e. a high score or two), then they more than likely found themselves doing something other than tilling fields and mending fences 6 out of 7 days a week.

What you're doing here is giving a very weird and anachronistic twist of meritocracy to medieval social roles. (You also seem to assume that "tilling fields and mending fences" requires no knowledge or ability, which is a questionable proposition in and of itself, but we'll leave that to one side.) What is the mechanism by which a particularly skilled person advances up the social ladder? Does this happen to all such people? At what point do hereditary roles play a part in this schema? Could an extremely skilled subsistence farmer eventually rise to liegehood? Does this happen to all such extremely skilled low-level types? (I shouldn't have to point out that if all people on the lowest rung have 2d6 for stats and all lieges have 4d6, this implies such a level of stark genetic determinism that it's difficult to credit.)

The complexity and randomness of human genetics and society, I would argue, is such that this sort of rigid schema just will not work. The beauty of rolling 3d6 for everyone (including adventurers) is that it embraces this complexity and randomness by rejecting easy categorisation.

Greg said...

Couldn't agree more with the above, Noisms. Well said.

James C. said...

Noisms and Greg, rather than a weird and anachronistic twist I think I'm seeing the various gradations for what they are in game terms as Alexis himself defined and implemented them. I think you continue to misperceive the classifications as strict and pre-destined social catse vs. broader abstractions on how to classify NPCs based on ability AFTER the fact. The thing Alexis has done worthy of greater debate, I think, would be in dropping the "average" of the game world from just over 10 to around 7.

Back to the difference between Alexis's strata and actual social strata... I don't recall a zealot or adherant "class" during my own laymans' studies of medieveal culture and society. Are you advancing the notion that the 12 or so distinctions Alexis has made correlate directly, on a one-for-one basis, to historical European class distinctions? If so, I'd like to hear more about that position.

The "classes" are not pre-determined and rigid like a true medieval distinction of "commonor", "yeoman", "nobility" whatever... but rather a means of a DM classifying an individual after the fact, based on thier competency in game terms. I see little actual SOCIAL distinction between a peasant, a laborer, and an exemplary, for instance other then the exemplary would possibly rise to some meager position of note within his own small community. This is nothing new in D&D where "chiefs", "captains" and "sargeants" have long enjoyed more hit points and better equipment through all of the versions that I'm familair with, including Alexis's AD&D.

All three of the above "classes" could be fence-menders and all three beholden to the same system in exctly the same way. The exemplary would just be a more capable fence mender or perhaps the supervisor of the fence menders(and a better fighter, when the fief or barony was threatened) and there would be less of them.

If you look at the sort of medieval manor that is the basic unit in Alexis's system (and defined more clearly in the linked post above) you begin to see an environment where two siblings, born into the same exact circumstance in terms of their historical caste, could occupy two different rungs on Alexis's ladder from a game standpoint yet be otherwise rather identical on the surface as it pertians to their social standing. Skip liege lord down through title holder (that's just over one-hundreth of a percent of the population anyway) and focus instead on peasant through celebrity (99.87% of the population). Really read them and try correlating them to medieval society without getting weird and anachronistic and then tell me what you think.

Would it be unlikely for a commoner to rise to the level of liege lord? Of course... if for no other reason than liege lords represent .003% of the population and there are many, many more better positioned people in terms of ability and social standing ahead of them in line. It truly would take an exceptiopnal individual and a unique circumstance to make such a thing happen. The more likely generational social climbing Alexis later describes above would be more common but still rare. And that is neither wierd nor anachronistic as far as I'm aware.

noisms said...

Are you advancing the notion that the 12 or so distinctions Alexis has made correlate directly, on a one-for-one basis, to historical European class distinctions?

This is the nub of the matter.

No, I am not advancing this notion. But this leads to the deeper question: what do these distinctions actually represent?

You seem to be suggesting that all they really represent is ability. Peasants are people who have 2d6 for their ability scores, rather than farmers or fishermen or what have you. Lieges are people who have 4d6 for their ability scores, rather than kings or high priests or whatever.

All well and good, but in that case these distinctions need to be entirely divorced from profession or social role and abstracted to simple descriptors like "people who have 2d6 for stats", "people who have 2d6 for stats except one stat is 3d6", and so on - otherwise they become so reductionist as to be useless. This is because it simply isn't true that natural ability maps perfectly to social advancement in any society, so merely plucking a 2d6-for-stats person at random from the 62.501% of the population who constitute this group will not allow you to predict what kind of life they lead. (Though of course this needs to be divorced from our commonsense assumption that a randomly picked person in any given medieval society was likely to be living the peasant lifestyle simply due to mathematical probability.)

If all Alexis is saying is that "in any given society 62.501% of the population will have 2d6 for stats, irrespective of social status, 23.468% will have 2d6 for stats except one at 3d6, irrespective of social status..." etc., then that's fine, but I really don't think that's what he is saying. (I'm sure he can interject at this point.) He seems to also be tying this to social advancement. This would make sense were his world a pure meritocracy, but somehow I don't get the sense that it is.

James C. said...

Aha! Now we're getting somewhere. I obvioulsly can't speak for Alexis and I'm also not convinced of all of the specifics regarding the implementation here, but I think I'm less sensitive than you are re: the distinction between peasant and liege and more focused on how I would then apply everything in between.

But it does beg the question that if a peasant had truly exceptional stats why would they stay a peasant? I'm not suggesting a meritocracy that doesn't exist, I'm wondering why any capable person would not then find themselves on some other path... adventurer, soldier, lord's attendant, clergy, bandit, con-artist, trianed laborer... all within reach of the so-called "commoner". Alexis's assumption is that they have. I still wonder about the outliers... those that haven't

Again, I also think the real crux of this debate that you've touched upon again lies more or less with Alexis's reduction of the worldwide average on ability scores to ~7 vs. ~10. That he chose .003% of the population to make nearly as statistically capable as actual characters and assumed that they would rule the land doesn't strike me as outlandish. You yourself have provided some of the basis for it in regards to diet and all-around better quality of life and education. The nobles aren't better than everybody else because god chose them or they represent the master race, entitled by destiny to be better... they get a leg up becuase they sit atop a crushingly biased system.

PatrickW said...

It seems to me that Alexis's table generates stats that statistically match what one would expect at various levels of capabilities in a general populace. It also maps the fact that privilege is a distinct benefit.

What it does not do is prohibit individuals higher up the scale from being inferior in stats than those lower, it just makes it less likely to happen, which models to our expectations. It would be very unbelieveable for the leader of a guild to have sub-par stats, especially a low INT or CHA, and this system avoids that for the most part, which a straight 3d6 system doesn't. If a DM rolled up stats for a guild leader with 3d6's and the highest number rolled was a 12 and the rest single digits, the DM would change it by fiat or reroll. Alexis's system cuts out that step almost entirely, providing numbers that match expected ability.

Alexis's system says "I want a person of this level of quality with some randomocity, what do I roll to make that happen". Noisms and Greg seem to be arguing "roll the same way for everyone and if you don't get something credible or useful, keep rerolling until you do". As a DM, I'd rather get a credible spread of stats the first time than continually fishing for something usable.

noisms said...

Alexis's system says "I want a person of this level of quality with some randomocity, what do I roll to make that happen". Noisms and Greg seem to be arguing "roll the same way for everyone and if you don't get something credible or useful, keep rerolling until you do".

Not at all. I advocate rolling 3d6 and arranging to taste once and once only. Not only does this reflect the unexpectedness of human society, it also makes for more interesting play. A guildmaster with low INT and CHA is something that a DM and players can riff on. How come this moron became guildmaster? Is he the tool of somebody working behind the scenes? etc.

As a DM, I'd rather get a credible spread of stats the first time than continually fishing for something usable.

I think if all you want are credible stats, you might as well just make them up and forget about rolling the dice. I wouldn't have a problem with doing so and often have done so in the past - though nowadays I see the virtue of purely random generation more and more.

James C. said...

Patrick very succinclty summarizes my take on this as well. I think furthermore, and all of the socio-political hand-wringing aside, what it essentially comes comes down to is personal preference and end-goals for the game.

Alexis seems to have already decided upon the general capabilities of his NPC and put them into a social context, he then wants to roll the dice to see what comes out. Noism rolls the dice first and either works backwards or forwards from there. These two approaches could be applied across the board in generating stats and material for RPGs and I've personally used them both at different times. Neither needs to involve discussions on LaMark, acquired traits or essentialism.

I think it obvious that Alexis's approach provides a sounder and easier basis if your goal is to simulate the world, the devil just remians in the details. I personally keep coming back to the lower inherent "average" score in Alexis's world. In his system the average individual has a much tougher time with ability checks and anything dependent on an ability modifier. Depending on how one uses these, this could really mean something. If there's dodgy ground anywhere, in game terms, I think it there.

Carl said...

I read Carl's comment,

Thank you for that.

but I think you're both misunderstanding me (or perhaps I'm not explaining myself particularly well). Of course I wouldn't expect equality of status in a medieval society. Of course true equality doesn't exist even in modern times. That's not in dispute; what is in dispute is whether individuals in different social strata will necessarily have ability levels which reflect their status. In some cases and for some abilities they might, but the complex history of human society just does not map to a simple schema wherein the genetically superior people naturally form the upper classes and the genetically inferior people form the lower.

I'm not advocating that the upper class are made up of genetically superior people. What I am advocating is that if you are born into the upper class, there's a much higher likelihood that you will be successful and rich. You will be better fed, medicated, offered access to better education, and shown superior social interaction skills.

Here's a very crude example of what I'm saying. Do you think that George W. Bush would have been president of the United States had he not been born into one of the richest and most powerful political families in the United States? Do you think he would have gained entrance to Andover and Yale and Harvard had he been born to a family of sharecroppers in rural Alabama? Of course he wouldn't have. Further, I think that had he been born a Bush and in some contrived Prince and Pauper scenario wound raised by a family of Alabama sharecroppers, he still wouldn't have been president. Even with all his superior family status he's still a man of average intelligence and possibly below average wisdom with a slightly above-average charisma score (due, in my opinion, solely to the fact that he's the son of one of the richest and most powerful men in the world).

I'm totally behind everyone getting 2d6 to start. Ultimately, genetics is only a small part of what we are. The nature of our being is far exceeded by the nurturing we receive. My grandparents and even my uncles are several inches shorter than I am. Superior nutrition in the 1970s made me taller than their diet from the 1950s and 1930s made them. It's all nurture.

What I see in this system is not a model of genetically inferior versus superior, but rather a model that demonstrates that if you are born to a rich and powerful family, you will tend to be rich and powerful. You will tend to be stronger, you will tend to be smarter and you will tend to be healthier. That's not to say that the son of a king would never wind up unloading ships on the docks for a daily pittance, or that some myopic son of a Missouri farmer who didn't attend school until age 8 couldn't grow up to become the president of the United States. It does happen both ways, and in my opinion it's more circumstance and individual initiative than genetics that drives these things.

Greg said...

@James C

But it does beg the question that if a peasant had truly exceptional stats why would they stay a peasant? I'm not suggesting a meritocracy that doesn't exist, I'm wondering why any capable person would not then find themselves on some other path... adventurer, soldier, lord's attendant, clergy, bandit, con-artist, trianed laborer... all within reach of the so-called "commoner". Alexis's assumption is that they have. I still wonder about the outliers... those that haven't

You are assuming a remarkable amount of social mobility for a peasant. A peasant is, by definition, stuck in that social strata. The intelligent peasant isnt going to seek opportunity elsewhere. That is anachronism right there, if anyone is going to be accused of it. An intelligent peasant is just more miserable as a peasant because he realizes his potential which cannot be fulfilled. Peasants dont get promoted.

Alexis said...

Greg,

Thank you for your contribution. But I have given the definition of a 'peasant' in this context. And it is for me, and other DMs, to say whether they get promoted, or what degree of social mobility exists. Both have already been explained to you, at length, and it is very clear that you are unable to see past the point of your nose.

It is now time for you to go write about this on your own blog now.

James C. said...

@ Greg: I'm actually assuming rather limited SOCIAL mobility and if you read the author's actual premise, understand how the gradations can fit into the medieval caste structure and bother to consider any of my posts that would be clear.

If you're interested I'll continue to banter this with you if you'll honestly answer me this: how many exceptionally able peasants should there be in any given 100? What score would you consider to be "exceptional"? Using this % as an objective standard, should one then expect there to be that many exceptional classed individuals in D&D terms? If so, I get it... everybody is 3d6 down the board. If not, how would you approach solving the matter and how would it differ from the approach put forth on this blog?

Greg said...

Nah, I'm out of this discussion, James. My respect for Alexis was just divided by zero.

James C. said...

Now THAT is both nonsensical and all the answer I needed. Thanks.

noisms said...

Carl: Thanks for the reply. There are two comments to be made, I think.

1) I'm willing to accept that being born into a rich environment gives opportunities for advancement in some areas. But it brings concomitent disadvantages. I've elsewhere cited the example of an illusionist who studies for 21 years too learn his spells - you're telling me his Charisma and Wisdom, not to mention Constitution, aren't going to suffer as his Intelligence and Dexterity increase?

Alexis dismissed this argument as Rousseauism without properly answering it; I work with people who have PhDs every day, and let me tell you, these people are not either charismatic or wise. In most cases they aren't as charismatic or wise as the guys who sit at the security desk.

2) The Bush example rather confirms my argument than yours, I think. Bush was President of the USA (a liege by any stretch) but he was neither particularly strong nor particularly healthy nor particularly intelligent nor particularly wise nor par... well, you get my drift.

James C. said...

But "Bush's stats" could have been rolled using any variation on any of Alexis's gradations, Noism. That's sort of the central point in the argument against your position. Alexis's system does not banish randomness... it just tweaks it. It games the system in favor of those atop the system.

Would you accept that Bush was at least the exception to the general rule in terms of the ability and accomplishments of U.S. presidents? If so, you're taking the first step down the path to being monumentally misguided (or however you put it).

Before somebody mentions it, yes I understand kings aren't elected and we're now mixing apples and oranges somewhat. Please let's not run down that tangent...

Vincent Diakuw said...

This is one of the tangles you get when you extend the methodology for creating player characters to your talking props. Hopefully navigating the thicket makes for pleasant mental diversion.

I prefer that PCs have levels and ability scores, while NPCs have hit dice and no hope of breaking the mould other than to have a player pick up their sheet after their PC suffers an unfortunate demise.

Carl said...

Noisms -- I've worked with a number of PhD folks myself and continue to do so, but our personal experiences with people with advanced degrees isn't a very scientific survey of how people who've spent a lot of time in school act. I do know that academia is infamous for the petty and vicious political battles that take place. They must have some kind of charisma or they'd never had received their PhD in the first place. On the other hand, I've been in a number of classes taught by PhDs and pretty much anyone who gets up in front of a group of people every day for several years and speaks is going to gain a few points of charisma.

That said, point 1, regarding illusionists: Harry Houdini, Doug Henning, Penn and Teller, Sigfreid and Roy, David Copperfield, & Harry Blackstone. All illusionists. All masters. All very charismatic and in the case of Penn and Teller and especially Harry Blackstone, very wise people. Illusionists are stage performers. The Illusionist class in D&D reflects this heritage. They perform and construct elaborate illusions and sell those based on their charisma and savvy (wisdom). I would expect that an illusionist studying his spells for 21 years would know a thing or two about how to work a crowd.

Now, constitution may suffer -- I can see that, given the long hours these folks put in and the hard-living that many of them partake in.

Regarding Point 2 -- I think James C. said it better than I'm about to, but GWB was a liege (not a stretch -- he wasn't elected) and had average to below-average stats! So in spite of all those dice, he still rolled like crap and became king anyway.

Steve Lalanne said...

As I posted on the other blog (the one you were loathe to name, Alexis), social class barriers impede social mobility--by definition. This mostly nullifies the causal link between D&D ability scores and social class. (Conversely, in classless, merit-based societies, ability scores are the prime determinants of social mobility and social standing.) But insofar as ability scores are affected by diet, the lower classes would generally suffer accordingly. Thus, mapping lower-score-generating techniques to the lower classes is quite plausible, as is some ad hoc provision for the occasional existence of specimens that break the general pattern (e.g., a 6'4" peasant with strength 13+).