Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Dexterity Issues

Last night I think I cracked the code on breaking down the constitution stat. There's still a lot of work there, so I have nothing to show today.  Still, the goal is to apply the same construction to all the ability stats, with time, so for a moment I wanted to talk about dexterity.

Dexterity is an odd stat.  While it belongs, and it's physical like constitution and strength, dexterity has a strange quality in that it is potential ability in so many aspects.  We teach people how to manipulate objects and play sports, or how to play musical instruments.  To some degree we do these things on our own, but real facility at something requires training.  Children's games build on this, as so many of them are designed to challenge our dexterity by training our hand-eye coordination.  No adult invented dodgeball.  It is a game that grows out of the much-less-pleasant dodgerock, adapted by cruel educators to teach both dexterity skills and the realities of social abuse.

In separating a 12 dexterity from a 13, it is much harder to do that from a visual standpoint.  A more nimble person might seem properly more lean as their dexterity increases, but we have plenty of celebrity examples to show that's not necessarily true.  Large, bulky persons find tremendous comic potential in being both gigantic and profoundly agile.

The truth is, the difference between a 12 and a 13 is in their potential to shine once introduced to a skill.  The 12 dexterity might barely survive in double-A baseball, while a 13 will do all right.  A 14 will drift back and forth between double-A and triple-A, while a 15 might imaginably dream about playing in "the show" for as much as a week, if the Boston Red Sox suffer a lot of injuries.  All these players would look similar, with like body-types, reach, stance, even the way the walked.  But they wouldn't be the same.

So how to measure it?  Probably, by defining different qualities related to those things that can be taught.  What dexterity do you need to snatch a baseball out of the air one handed, or target a football while in mid fall, with a tackle's arms around your waist?  Or, in D&D terms, what is the minimum dexterity for using a bow?  Throwing a dagger?  Jumping 10 feet?  What level of dexterity do you need to so that you don't need to make a check in order to climb a ship's rigging?  In a storm?  When there's ice on the ropes?

The reader should know I hate random checks to see if someone who can jump 12 feet might manage to jump 15 just this once, because that's the difference between ledges.  I loved track and committed to it throughout high school, but long jump just wasn't my thing.  I could jump 12 feet 1 inch, or 12 feet 4 inches, or 12 feet 5 inches.  Three more feet might as well have been the moon.  It wasn't because I didn't have the potential.  Long jump requires training to get past what we can do with physical force and will.  There's a way of jumping off, of hitting your last step perfectly, of throwing your lower body forward as you swing your body in the air, of "running" while flying.  It is a spectacular ballet. It doesn't happen naturally.  The coach tried hard to communicate it to me, but I just couldn't figure it out.

Without that connection, having failed that training, I'm not going to suddenly be able to jump three more feet because the die says 20.  It is one of the silliest notions of 3rd edition mechanics, as it insists we ignore everything about reality.

I'm not fond of measuring anything with a list of stuff that a person can and can't do, as it is never a complete list and the more things added to it, the more arbitrary the list becomes.  I'll need to do a proper amount of research to learn if there are any measures on agility that already exist ~ people ARE researching this stuff, we don't have to make it up out of whole cloth.  For the present, I'm puzzling it out, asking questions and identifying the problem.  That's the first step.


JB said...

Natural athleticism versus trained athleticism? Is such training part of your sage abilities?

It's a real challenge trying to model this stuff. I used to do a lot of "hot yoga" and still remember the postures, but my body isn't in the proper shape to do many of would take me a while to get back to "where I was." And, yet, I can dust off my bicycle that's been sitting in the garage seven months and after a couple weekends I find myself right back to where I was (or even longer layoffs...I didn't use a bike in the years I was in Paraguay, but it was very quick getting back to speed).

Likewise, I quit fencing more than a decade ago, and while my legs are almost completely shot, my hand is as dextrous as ever. My throwing arm (for baseball or football) is about the same as it ever was (at it's best), but my ability to catch a ball is better than ever. On the other hand, I'm not nearly the dart thrower or pool player I once was, the latter especially: I used to compete in pool tournaments and do pretty well, but I just don't seem to have the same finesse, "touch," or eye for geometry I did back when I used to play regularly.

I've always assumed abilities like dexterity was a measure of both natural talent (hand-eye coordination, etc.) and practice/training. A person with a 13-14 is gifted but doesn't practice OR has no special talent but works her ass off; while a person with 17-18 has both (talent and training). Is it a matter of some tasks being more difficult than others? I've shot pool with players who were much better athletes and beat the pants off them. But I've known small, awkward children who could lay-up a basketball better than me, even in my "prime" (I have never been a great hoopster).

I think you've modeled Charisma perfectly for your setting. Dexterity seems a bit more daunting of a task.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I generally agree with your assumptions, JB, except that like all stats, "dexterity" itself is innate. Training is icing.

You beating the pants off much better athletes has to take into account that athletics is also endurance and strength; pool is intelligence and dexterity (or so I opine). Those children appear to be awkward, but they're also infatuated with days spent throwing things at things, while you're stuck doing adult stuff. This is why I say it would be very hard to take a list of things and say, "Dexterity lets you do this; it doesn't let you do that." That seems counterproductive.

The "daunting" part of the task is realizing that each stat requires a different thought process. Charisma is enabling. Constitution is binding. Dexterity is something entirely different ... it requires thinking differently about the stat.

My engineer father would say that some people did not know how to think like an engineer. At university, I knew two kinds of engineering students; those who cracked the books 14 hours a day, and louts who roamed around campus in roaring gangs, got drunk daily and threw Bermuda Shorts parties in January, complete with an outdoor pool.

We would think the louts were the failures, but no. The book crackers were the failures. They cracked those books in the hopes they would "get it." The louts were those who understood that, once you do get it, engineering is fun. But you have to think like an engineer.

Dexterity is like that. It's a jump to the left. I'll need to figure out how far.

Mic B said...

If it can help, I’ve got a thought.

My exemple will be slipping on ice, but I think it applies to a lot of stuff. It might not be about falling or not falling, but how close you are to, or how awkward the recovery is. The ice has the same slip danger for everyone walking that spot. Some fall, some don’t notice but most will fumble a bit. Dexterity can reprent a mix of muscle reflexes, ability to step properly and stay balanced or also where to put your fit down.

I’d point out your replacement for the climb wall skill as a good reference for this.

As usual my comment is quite “not properly formed” but I do appreciate the reading and felt the urge to input

Alexis Smolensk said...

I find myself thinking along those same lines, Mic B, but my thoughts aren't formed either. I was just watching a video of a kickboxer teaching accuracy, control and balance:

Surely, those three points are key, with or without the strength of performing solid kicks.

Tyler said...

I often think of Dexterity as ability to predict physics using intuition. A character with high Dex can absorb vectors, speed, and position to "see" the outcome of all the interactions.

One of the benefits of high Dex isn't the ability to move quickly, but to be able to predict the future so accurately that a person moves into a beneficial position ahead of schedule, therefore appearing to move quickly.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Thinking about JB's comments on throwing darts and pool; and about Tyler's prediction.

Knowing one's own dexterity includes a deep streak of confidence ~ knowing, before the fact, that you'll hit the ball, that you'll catch the frisbee in a certain way, that you'll line your pool shot up just so, even as you chalk the cue. That sense of certainty, in yourself, before doing something you know is going to take dexterity ... I think that is key somehow.

James said...

I like this idea that progression in Dexterity is tied to confidence.

Sebastian DM said...

I am totally with you on the random checks. Until now I have just cut them out for things like jumping but the players at my table seems to like these checks. My problem is mainly that there is always some chance that anyone can do it unless i flat out say that some character cannot even attempt it.

Your long jump anecdote got me thinking about the way I usually do ability checks. Maybe the roll under ability score just isn't the best way. I mean if we want to do an ability check without luck getting that big of a role, I think there are two ways to go.

First, we could do a regular ability check but only ask for it, if the attempted action falls within the narrow interval of what the character is barely able to do and use automatic success or failure otherwise. The downside of this approach is that characters of varying ability have wildly different chances of just doing a little better than their determined ability.

Secondly, the check could be made such that we only roll for the small improvement to the base ability and add them together. We could for example use a d6 to give from -2 to +2 or -3 to +3. So we say it requires 12 dexterity to jump 15 feet. So a character with 12 dexterity can only do it if they roll +3 and a character with 15 dexterity just have to roll anything but a negative result.

Alexis Smolensk said...

First, I'd have to argue that jumping is a trained skill. Most unskilled jumpers would find it difficult to jump more than 4 meters. I'd make a window along the lines of 3.5 to 4 meters that might be in doubt. Less than 3.5, you automatically make it. Above 4 meters, you won't. Between them, it's a dex check.

The trained jumper then has a window with greater distances. Ultimately I don't need to know a precise distance on a jump; only whether or not a person can make the difference. IF the players entered a long jumping contest, the precision might matter ... but I still wouldn't need to know the actual distance jumped. Just who went farther, which I would base on a die roll plus strength + constitution.