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Rough Quests

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE DIFFERENT PSYCHOLOGICAL ATTRIBUTES

by Sergio Mascarenhas
Oct 28,2005

 

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE DIFFERENT PSYCHOLOGICAL ATTRIBUTES

As was seen, there's a wide variety in terms of the names, the concept and the number of the psychological attributes present in the 46 games covered in the previous column. These variations have been standardized into seven core traits. It's important to look better at what each one of these covers before deciding on which I should retain in Rough Quests.

Intellect. It is called Intelligence, Intellect, Reason, Reasoning, Smarts, IQ, etc. Under this terms we find the ability to think rationally, to use data, to make inferences in a logical way, etc. What's at stake is the capability to reach consistent conclusions from a base of information or knowledge through a well defined and explainable thought process.

Intuition. Once more, what's at stake is the ability to reach meaningful and useful conclusions, only that here these conclusions are based on an emotional process that is hard to explain or describe.

Communication. This stat corresponds to how oriented the character is to inter-personal exchanges. A good communicator is someone that's expansive, ... In a sense Communication is to personal interaction what Adroitness is to physical action.

Charisma. Is the ability to impress on others, even if not intentionally. The charismatic person is an attention grabber, a leader, ...

Determination. Often called Will or Willpower is the ability to endure mental pressure, to reach decisions under duress and to sustain the decisions once these are taken. A character with low determination will be changing his focus all the time, will give up at the first adversity and will avoid commitments (or be too easy to commit himself only to forget it a moment afterwards). A very determined character will follow the course he traced to himself (and expect the same from the others) despite the level of external pressures against it.

Psychological Health. This trait models situations where a character develops mental problems, mild or extreme.

Creativity. Where Intellect and Intuition work within a stable framework of knowledge or perceptions, applying it to deal with the particular circumstances of the moment, Creativity brings something new, changes the basic framework of reality, at least as it is perceived by people. We find it at work on the output of a great artist like Mozart or Michael Angelo, a great scientist such as Einstein, etc. True, it's also present in the way we handle everyday life each time that we say "wow, I've made something different", even if that something is only the rule for a role-playing game.

PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAITS FOR ROUGH QUESTS

The point of the exercise has been to check if the set of games under analysis provides clues to which mental attributes should be present in Rough Quests or even if they should be there for a start. At this stage it may be interesting to break up our seven traits into sub-categories. It's not very hard to conclude that Intellect, Intuition and Creativity are related more closely among themselves than with the other psychological attributes. Charisma and Communication also seem to be close to each other. Determination and psychological health are harder to aggregate, so let's handle them independently. Let's look at the standardized traits by the order of their frequency:

Intellect, Intuition, Creativity. All of these mental activities have in common the way we understand the world around us (and ourselves for as long as we are part of that world), and how that understanding allows us to interact with that world. The question is, do we need to consider all of them? Let's recall that Intellect is the most often used psychological trait while Intuition and Creativity make for a distant third set of stats, judging by the frequency they are found in the role-playing games I looked at.

I think we can safely drop Creativity. Big C' Creativity is only an issue for the small set of geniuses in the population, and even for those they only show it a small percentage of the time they live. As Edison used to say, invention is 10% of inspiration and 90% of perspiration. Besides, most characters will not invent or innovate, they just apply their acquired knowledge and ability to slightly different circumstances. In-setting character's creativity (to be distinguished from player's creativity, of course) can be effortlessly incorporated into skills or into other mental attributes. Rough Quests will not have a Creativity stat.

Intellect and Intuition fill the same role, they just do it differently. Both are concerned with the capacity of the character to grasp things about it, either through reasoned inferences from a well defined set of data or through inspired emotivity. The critical issue in role-playing terms is to have a way to model the varying ability to understand what's happening. We don't need to be too precise about the exact thought process that leads into that understanding. If we are to consider it, all we need is a single stat that incorporates both reasoning and intuition.

But do we need such a stat? There has been a endless debate on this issue ever since D&D came with Intelligence to the point that some games -- like Pendragon -- completely drop the stat. Yes, there are circumstances -- or settings, to be more precise -- where an Int stat adds nothing and distracts from the issues the game is to handle. Yet, I still think that there's a space for mental and intellectual activities in fantasy RPGs. After all, fantasy has both the mindless brute and the thoughtful Wizard. Rough Quests will address all mental activity under a single Intellect stat.

Determination is the second most frequent psychological stat. I like it since it helps in handling some game situations, like when the players want to have their characters attempting several times to do the same thing until getting a success roll, or when in combat or other conflict one needs to decide when the PCs or NPCs break up and turn from offensive to defensive to the point of giving it up altogether.

Charisma and Communication. I suppose I mentioned it before but let me restate it again: These two are not to be confused. A character may be very charismatic without being sociable while another can be sociable without being charismatic. Look at it this way, Shrek or Xena are charismatic; their sidekicks (the donkey and the other girl) are good communicators. I like Charisma, it can be very useful both when used actively (a character wants to impress other people, but is he able to do it?) as when used passively (the character steps into the bar; even before he attempts to do anything, what's the reaction of the people inside it?). On the other hand, I also like Communication. In fact, it's one of the stats that I think should be in RuneQuest and are not there.

Psychological health. Fantasy is not exactly characterized by a deep look at the personality of its characters. Usually they don't suffer from emotional extremes, mental illnesses, dysfunctional personas. In this context it makes no sense to place psychological health and balance at the centre of the character's concept. In other words, dealing with it is not the norm but the exception. It should not be handled at the level of the core character descriptors. It does not fit the set of primary attributes. There will be no attribute for mental sanity in Rough Quests. These issues can be handled by specific rules to be introduced at a latter stage of game design.

It's time to conclude. I will include four psychological attributes in Rough Quests: Intellect, Communication, Charisma and Determination. Not by accident, that's the same number as for physical attributes. Did I say I like tidiness and symmetry? It seems things are going in the right way. Yet, there are some rough hedges to cut before we are done with the core traits to be found in the game. But that's for the next column.

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What do you think?

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