The very first thing that everyone learns about AD&D is the statistic system. The six statistics of strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom and charisma once rolled effectively define everything that a character is, but most players don’t understand how those statistics impact on that character beyond the simple plusses and minuses to dice rolls that they provide. This article seeks to illuminate those areas which often go unconsidered when stats are rolled; history and family, because a character’s upbringing and lifestyle, coupled with their genetic make-up, are the factors which really determine who a character is.
Genetics is not a word which would often pass the lips of even the most enlightened of medieval scholars, but whether a campaign is set in the bronze-age or the late-renaissance there will be an inherent understanding that children are like their parents. Farmers breed from the strongest bulls to produce the healthiest calves, while human parents who have dark hair and dark eyes are much more likely to have children with dark hair and dark eyes. The same can and should be assumed of the fantasy races of a world, such as dwarves, elves and gnomes. So while the specifics of genetics would mystify the inhabitants of a fantasy world, the practical implications of genetic traits would be widely known and obvious.
Breeding or Upbringing
The question of whether it is breeding or upbringing that determines personality has been a controversial question for a long time, but there are certain physical characteristics about which we know the genetic impact. Eyesight, for example, is almost entirely genetically derived; the worse the eyesight of one or both parents the more likely it is that the eyesight of the progeny will be deficient. Some of the more esoteric aspects, such as singing ability, are eighty percent genetic, so if the parents are awful singers then the child simply cannot be trained to a professional standard regardless of their effort. In fact there is substantial and growing evidence to suggest that all of the five senses are genetically derived to a high degree. Along with these is intelligence; about eighty percent of our intelligence is determined by how intelligent our parents were with the remainder depending on how we were brought up and roughly the same can be said of how we look. It can be said then that dexterity (as reactions are often determined by the acuteness of the senses), intelligence, and to a lesser extent charisma (attractiveness) are determined by genetics.
The impact of upbringing on the physical body and the personality however is much more important than genetics. While it is the case that bulls have strong calves that grow into strong bulls, this is because the life of one bovine if fairly typical of the life of every bovine – wake-up, eat grass, poop, mate, sleep, repeat until death – so the physical characteristics of every bull are in effect influenced by exactly the same environmental conditions. Taken in human terms we know that people who take exercise become stronger, faster and generally fitter, while those who do not take exercise are generally less strong, slower and less fit. How fast an athletic parent can run has no bearing on how fast an un-athletic child can run. Similarly, it is generally, though not always, the case that children which are brought-up in poor living conditions are more prone to disease and illness than children who are well kept. And finally our opportunities for social interaction and the number of times we encounter mental stimuli directly affect our minds and our personalities. So we can see that some aspects of all the AD&D statistics are at least in part, and in many cases crucially, determined by upbringing.
Normalcy and Aberration
All things being equal – the dice always rolling the average score of 3 dice – the average rating of every statistic should be between 9 and 12, the actual average being 10.5. Scores of 10 or 11 should be considered normal and would not necessarily require explanation if the character had a normal background. The average AD&D character is a very rare creature indeed. As an example, a single statistic rating of 18 happens only 1 in 216 rolls. Even if that character has 10 or 11 in all their other stats they are still in the top 0.5% of the population; they are aberrant, being significantly different from the average. When constructing a character history and family from just the statistics it is necessary to explain these aberrant statistics in terms of genetics and upbringing, because one or both of these must have been responsible for the statistic, and in terms of statistical extremes such as 3 or 4 and 17 or 18 ratings then it is almost certainly a combination of the two. A character who has three 18 statistics is so rare that in a truly random system they will occur only one time in 10,000,000 and characters like this do not come out of nowhere; they are nurtured, they are constructed, they put effort into constructing themselves and they almost certainly have a remarkable lineage which will include other individuals with high statistics. This article will now discuss each of the six statistics in turn identifying those factors which will have impacted on the development of aberrant statistics, the assumptions being that the character in question is in their late teens, or the equivalent in non-humans, and beginning an adventuring career.
Strength determines how physically strong a character is, how much he can lift, how much he can comfortably carry before his actions are compromised or he becomes quickly fatigued. Most of the contribution towards strength will come from upbringing, so the factors which affect strength are, in order of importance: level of activity; history of illness; quality of diet; and physical strength of parents. A child which was very active and perhaps helped in a family business in which manual labour featured highly, such as farming or smithing, will be stronger than one which was inactive and whose parents were perhaps clerks or tailors. If the child grew up in a city filled with pollutants or grew up in a time of plague then they would likely be ill several times, restricting their physical activity and in some causes causing muscle wasting. A child which grew up in the country or who enjoyed robust health would not encounter these setbacks to the development of their strength. The quality of diet is important; in Victorian Britain the vast majority of meals consumed by the poor consisted only of bread meaning their diet was deficient in many minerals and in proteins which are essential to muscle formation. So stronger people are more likely to have the opportunity or the money to enjoy a richer diet, while weaker people are more likely to be poor. This was a fact well known in ages past: medieval knights lived on a diet consisting almost entirely of meat; Roman Centurions actually received an allotment of meat as part of their salary because commanders knew how important it was to maintaining and building strength. The rich-poor divide is not always the case at all times in a society’s development however, since poor people are likely to engage in manual labour while the wealthier classes are more likely to be engaged intellectually as soon as a civilization has developed sufficiently to allow the soldiering profession to be separated from governance and mercantile pursuits have developed independent of both. Finally the strength of the parents comes into play in determining the extent to which positive or negative conditions affect the child; strong parents whose child had little activity, some illness and a poor diet may have a strength of 6 or 7, while weak parents with a child brought up in the same conditions might have a strength of only 4 or 5. Weak parents, no activity, poor diet and a lot of illness would result in a strength of 3, while strong parents, much activity, a good diet and no illness would result in a strength of 18.
In dexterity, which should not be confused with gymnastic ability which is in fact a combination of dexterity and strength, the dominant factors are genetic. So from most to least important the factors are: parental dexterousness; related activity and training in youth; physical injury (bodily injuries affect the senses most of all, burning damage touch, blows to the head can impair hearing, etc.); and finally diet. Poor eyesight has been explained as genetic, but there is also substantial evidence linking all aspects of physical dexterity to genetic factors, this is because the basic nervous system is inherited, not developed largely according to activity as the musculature and cardio-vascular systems are. Training is vital for dexterity simply because when a child is born it is incapable of any deliberate movement and must learn to operate all of its limbs – this brain programming continues throughout a person’s life so if by the time they reach adventuring age they have a dexterity of 18 and can bend like a reed in the wind then they simply must have had training to be able to do it. Physical injury can impact on dexterity in a number of ways: damage to the nervous system can cause loss of fine motor control as well as reduction of sensation; muscle damage can reduce responsiveness and flexibility; while something as innocuous as an ear infection has the potential to permanently impair balance. Diet is essential for maintaining a healthy nervous system as well as the formation of new sets of abilities stored in the brain. A child with naturally dexterous parents will almost certainly also be naturally dexterous, but that child will also have the potential to be trained to a high standard. Conversely clumsy parents have clumsy children which will take to training far less readily.
Constitution represents the body’s ability to endure, whether this be physical effort or against disease. While a measure of resistance to disease is passed on by parents the larger part of determining illness is lifestyle. Environment, exercise, diet, parental health and previous illness all impact on constitution. Where a child grew up has a great effect on their health, discussions about the benefits of mountain air apart, smoke from wood or coal burning fires inhibits the growth of lungs, while many pollutants are thought to cause asthma and many respiratory problem which impact on overall health. All other factors being equal, in a medieval society people would probably be much healthier growing up in the country than in the town. People who take regular exercise are more likely have better health in general. While a diet which consists mainly of meat is excellent for building muscles, it usually also involves a high intake of saturated fats. In a fantasy world the effects of such a diet would not be observable unless the person actually gained weight, but the effect would be there in any case and any heart disease will impact on general health in all bodily systems. The benefits of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables were largely a mystery to pre-industrial civilisations and fantasy worlds are likely to have developed accordingly with vegetable diets being more common in the poor than the rich. Hereditary diseases as well as acquired illness can become debilitating to a severe degree at any time, or can simply be a constant drain on the individual, in any event the body must fight the problem which uses more energy, making the body more vulnerable to other illness.
Intelligence represents the problem solving ability, intellectual grasp of a character and that characters general knowledge. There are three broad factors which influence intelligence, these are genetics, diet in the first few years of life and mental stimuli. Because of the strong ties that intelligence has to genetics it is possible to say with a degree of certainty that double the intelligence statistic of the child will be within three points of the combined score of both parents. In the vast majority of cases a child which has an intelligence statistic of 12 will have parents whose combined intelligence score is between 21 and 27. If the intelligence statistic were based solely on IQ then Mensa-level intelligence (the top 2% of the population) would begin at a rating of 16 or an IQ of 135 or so, while the top 1% of a population would begin at a score of 17 with an IQ of 155 or so. Of course these are modern-day statistical references and people living in a pre-industrial society where education of the working class was unheard-of, most people could neither read nor write and the diet is restricted, would very likely be considerably less intelligent. Diet is very important; in the first few years it is essential that a child’s diet have a high fat content as neural pathways require fat for their formation. If a child is from a wealthy background it will have lots of fat and calories in its diet, while children from poor families will be denied these and as such their potential intellectual development will be impaired. Finally, intellectual stimuli affect not just what a child knows, but also their intelligence. Studies have shown that children become more intelligent the more attention they receive and stimuli they are exposed to, and they respond best to stimuli introduced by their parents – put simply, all other things being equal, children who are played with by their parents will be smarter than those who are not. Again, this factor prejudices intelligence to the more affluent classes who have more leisure time.
There is no evidence that wisdom is a genetic trait, in fact given what most people (including certain Content Imps) do in their teenage years it may very well be impossible for parents to pass on wisdom to their children. More than any other statistic represented in the AD&D game, wisdom must be learned. The only factor which can definitely be said to influence the wisdom statistic is the experience of the character, or, to put it differently, the way a character perceives experience. Having wise parents does not guarantee wisdom, however growing up in an environment where ideas are discussed – such as at court, in a monastery, forward-thinking educational establishments – might lead to the character gaining a greater understanding of concepts such as morality, truth, justice and various other component theories which will be a part of the wisdom statistic. Wisdom, unlike intelligence, is not necessarily biased in favour of the wealthy. Wisdom can come from the verbal traditions of even primitive tribes, all the is really required for a character to become wise is the ability to listen and to empathise, but where they learned these skills will have a massive impact on how a character uses their wisdom. Is their wisdom pure and straight like Socratic dialectic, honed under the tutelage of a brilliant abbot, or twisted and slippery street smarts, cut from the hide of the underworld and paid for in scars and nightmares?
When the AD&D game speaks about charisma it is really taking about two completely different sub-abilities: appearance and personality. Genetics play a large part in appearance, with attractive parents producing attractive children, while upbringing is more important in personality. Appearance can be improved by eating well, washing regularly (something nobody did very often in the real world of medieval Europe), dressing fashionably (not a modern fad by any means), and wearing perfume (which was unisex until comparatively recently) and a character which has been brought up with these routines – again wealth is a factor as most peasants were quite ugly by our standards – will have a higher charisma rating than they otherwise would. Personality depends on how the character views themselves and how they view others, rather than how others view them. If the character was brought up in a loving family or was required to learn the gift of the gab early they will have a higher charisma; if however the character was perhaps orphaned, or suffered cruel treatment as a child, or even as a young adult, they may be less outgoing, less articulate or just less friendly, resulting in a lower charisma rating.
Out of the Blue
While great individuals often come from at least good backgrounds (the Freud family are an excellent example, as are Hollywood acting families and political dynasties) there are rare individuals which come seemingly from nowhere. Exactly what determines which of the mother’s genes and which of the father’s genes go towards forming a child is still very much a mystery but it is obviously the case that individuals can be more than a simple sum of their parts. However, if they are not a sum they are certainly a function of those parts and it is not appropriate, desirable, or productive to say that a child derives nothing from either parent. While it may be difficult to trace characteristics directly there is always an origin, even if those characteristics have skipped a generation or two they can still resurface. Basically, nothing is gained by saying a character is a freak other than some kind of munchkinesque pride.
Background Through Statistics
In identifying why each of your characters’ statistics is the way it is what you do is develop an in-depth history of who your character is, where they came from, who their family or the significant figures in their life are and what their relationship is with them. By looking at your stats this way, rather than as plusses or minuses applied to your dice roll, you gain a complete understanding of the role you are playing and will be able to fulfil that role much more easily. Following on from this are a few afterthoughts that logically flow from this essay.
Afterthought 1 : Reverse-Engineering Statistics
The argument can be made that if you want to play a certain type of character with a certain background that it would be easy to then pick the statistics for that character instead of rolling them. Various rolling methods exist (some DMs have their own) and there are build point systems (the Epic Adventures world of Saas uses points for character stats) which seek to give more freedom or flexibility to the statistics generated for a character. It seems only a small step to allow players to select the stats they want and providing the DM is certain this will not lead to unbalance or system abuse – and it is unlikely they will be certain of this when dealing with a player that is new to them – then there really isn’t any reason to disallow it. Rolling statistics is actually a throwback to TSR’s war gaming days, in a true RPG or any campaign where mystery or problem solving forms a large part then randomly generating a character isn’t always necessary. A good character idea is more important to a good RPG than what six-sided pieces of plastic determine.
Afterthought 2 : Ad-Hoc Statistic Development
At the age of 16 – a common age for a human beginning an adventuring career – no person is entirely formed physically, mentally or emotionally; the body does not reach its full potential until the late twenties while it is possible to develop mentally and emotionally throughout life. There are a number of games system in which characters begin with minimal or basic stats and increase their physical capacities as well as their skill attributes as they age and develop. It would certainly make more logical sense for the physical statistics a character has (strength, dexterity, constitution and charisma) to be much more mutable than they are and subject to the effects of intensive training or degeneration. This method, while perhaps more factually representative, might lead to a focus on statistical values that the present system does not since changes in statistics are extremely rare occurrences. Adopting ad-hoc statistic development has the potential to shift characters away from roleplaying to merely role-exercising.