Harvey Pekar, American Splendor
I have been thinking about this for awhile, after receiving a year's worth of comments about how this stat or that stat was just a point or so off average, and therefore I had no justification for penalizing a 7 intelligence or charisma. Now I'm not going to write a screed about it - R, for one, wouldn't be happy with me (a shame he doesn't have a real profile). Instead I'd like to point out a few pertinent things regarding the angle the game plays on 'average' stats, high stats in general and the anxious desire of players who want their characters to live.
I have those kind of characters. The survivalist types, those that get upset when their characters die. They might not throw things about or scream and whine about it (they're adults, after all), but they don't shake it off in five minutes, either. Believe me, I appreciate it. I think if there's anyone I'd rather not have playing in my campaign, it's someone who sees their character as nothing more than scratched, impersonal numbers and words on paper.
I don't see any reason why a character can't become a living, breathing entity in the player's mind - there's no difference between this kind of 'creation' and the creation of believable, wonderful characters from literature. If Peter Pan, Conan, Nicolas Knickleby, Lazarus Long, Benjamin Braddock and Rorschach can feel real enough to be tangible in our imaginations, why not Frith the Thief, Leothan the Mage and Mavis Blackwater, assassin extraordinaire?
There may be an argument to be made that some who have come into my world to find the players deadly serious about survival - which is really just character development by another name - a problematic expectation. They don't wish to invest so closely in something that a die can kill ... and would rather keep all that personal involvement off the table. In other words, they would rather mess around, play the game at arm's length and spend the session in sarcastic, snide, superior strutting splendor.
Or so I have noticed.
Now that's fine, for those that play that kind of game, who spend most of the session with others of the same ilk, topping one another in wit and genius. And for those players, who I know are out there (many a blog testifies to it), a 7 or a 17 wisdom doesn't mean a whole lot. Their characters can get a good rip off the NPC head guard's dialogue regardless. And that, for them, is what the game's all about. The measurement of fun is, I believe, recorded in PPH: puns per hour.
But we who want to live resent most heartily our 7 wisdoms, because we know that stat is going to be the death of us. It is going to be the roll we have to make at the most critical time possible, the one that keeps us from walking into an empty mine shaft when the doors opened. And we'll fail. Epically. And that will be the end of Mavis, Mavis that we loved and whose body was never found. Oh, sure, we'll roll up Ikhnaton the Mage, but he'll just be a placeholder for four or five levels, the inadequate stand in for our poor, lost Mavis. Excuse me, I need a few minutes.
Okay. I'm fine. I want to make the point that a 10 of anything is a lousy, worthless stat ... not just because it won't let us slaughter a dozen orcs in a dozen rounds, but moreso because it is the weakest point in the chain that is keeping us alive. The roleplaying pundits can ramble on all they wish about the pleasure they find in character roleplaying a bad stat, but that same bad stat will also limit the lifespan of that wonderful roleplaying. Yes, there was something lovely about Mavis' lack of wisdom. True, she was a marvellous carouser, she did get drunk and stagger home after curfew on quite a few memorable nights, and there was that pregnancy scare that ended when she got fireballed and the undetermined fetus didn't make the saving throw. But the whole time that shaft waited, patiently, not going anywhere. Given the choice, it would have been much nicer if Mavis' wisdom had been 9 ... the number the d20 actually showed.
Now, Iknaton's not bad. Lowest score's a ten, I think. And after awhile, I think I'll get to like him quite a bit. I think I can find some very interesting qualities to absorb into his higher stats just fine. I don't think every defining character trait needs to be a flaw. In fact, I kind of like Iknaton's 17 dexterity. Keeps him from getting hit quite so often.
If survival's the thing, that average 10 stat is going to get you killed 50% of the time. You've always got to remember that, and play around it, so you're not put in the position of running away from a monster when the mine shaft door opens. Which limits, really, what your character can hope to accomplish. Speaking for myself, who runs every character as a megalomaniac bent on taking over the world - why else would you play? - I hate having to play around limits. But that is the game. I haven't been lucky enough to roll six eighteens yet.
But someday, I will. And damn, will I love that character.