I’m a subscriber to the EN World RPG Newsletter, and while I’ve been ignoring most of the posts and discussion about Fifth Edition, I couldn’t help but notice this seminar transcript and balk at how designers over at WotC remain hopelessly ignorant of what things are actually important to players.

Many thanks to EN World for posting this transcript, and making this post possible.

Greg: You’ve talked about the importance of ability scores in D&D in the recent past. What kind of things are you planning for ability scores for the next iteration of D&D?

Monte Cook: We wanted to distill down the essence of D&D. We wanted to make sure that the ability scores and their modifiers had a big influence. Looking at all the editions of the game, you can easily see that ability scores are really important. Often times, people will use ability scores to help them define their character, or they’ll have an idea for a character and then look at the scores first to make them fit that idea.

A couple of days ago I talked a little bit about how we want the core mechanic of the game to be the interaction between the DM and the player. And one of the great tools for that is the ability score. So what we want is to empower DMs and players so that if you want to attempt to do something “I want to open the door” then the DM doesn’t have to even have you roll, he can just look, see you have a 17 strength and says “Yeah, you burst through that door”. We want to get past some of the mundane rolls and not tie up a lot of table time with that and move on to the more interesting stuff and the table narrative.

Bruce Cordell: An example I saw yesterday was a rogue going into a room and looking for traps. You can describe what you’re doing and roleplay what you’re doing. If he says I look in the jar and I know there’s a gem in the jar, I’m not going to have him roll. However, if something is more hidden, like a secret compartment on the shelf I would look at their intelligence and see if he can just automatically find it or if he’s looking in the exact right place. However, if he’s doing that check in the middle of some other stressor like fighting, then I’d have him roll.

Rob Schwalb: Earlier this week I had some players fighting some kobolds in the room. One of the guys wanted to jump over a pit, he had a 15 strength so I let him just do it – it wasn’t that big of a jump and it sped up combat. It’s very liberating to be able to do that kind of thing and just keep the flow going.

Ability Scores are *not* an important part of Dungeons & Dragons. Ability Scores have *never* been an important part of Dungeons & Dragons. Not in First Edition, not in Second Edition, not in Third Edition, and not in Fourth Edition. They are a common element in each edition, but not an important or integral part.

(The above statement is intended to be informative, not inflammatory, and the bolded text is used for emphasis. The following paragraph, however, is inflammatory.)

Claiming that Ability Scores are an important part of Dungeons & Dragons is like claiming that Internet Explorer is an integral part of the Windows Operating System. In plainer terms, it is the fantasy of diseased, deformed, or deceived mind.

(Now, back to more reasonable discussion.)

Ability Scores are an appendage of a Roleplaying Game System. Ability Scores, a game do not make. They may lend to a particular game setting, but they serve mainly to enable subsystems within the game system. However, those same subsystems may use wheels, sliders, dice, cards, or tokens in place of static numbers.

Take a look at Guild Wars, one of the largest and most successful online roleplaying games in the world, and tell me if it uses Ability Scores. Actually, it does, in a sense. The Attribute system, which has different Attributes for each of a character’s professions, offers each character between eight and ten possible Attributes.

Guild Wars Attributes even have familiar ranges for Ability Scores. You know, that handy 3-15 range for most scores. Of course, Attributes in Guild Wars are additive, rather than, well, mandatory as they are in Dungeons & Dragons. You aren’t docked skill points or hit points if you don’t have optimal Attributes.

I’ll be going over their entire, shenanigan-laden seminar and dissecting it piece-by-piece, so stay tuned for more inflammatory statements from an amateur game designer! Woo hoo!