On Wisdom

Posted: 31 May 2012 in House Rules
Tags: , , ,

While I’m still slowly going through the 5E playtest materials, I’ve been looking around at what other people have to say about it.  Reading a couple of posts on The Alexandrian and Blog of Holding, it strikes me that 5E seems to be highlighting a misunderstanding by the system of the Wisdom attribute.

There are two things that 5E is doing that spotlights the problem, but I don’t think 5E is introducing the problem: it’s just making clear a problem that we’ve all been living with for years, though it’s been masked.  First,5E is dropping the triumvirate of 3E saving throws, Fortitude, Reflex, and Will.  Instead, saves are made directly based on attributes.  You’ll make Strength saves and Dexterity saves and Charisma saves, and so on.  I’m not exactly sure what an Intelligence Save might look like (the materials say “against spells that try to overcome your intellect, but I’m not sure what they mean) but it’s in there.

The Alexandrian is tentatively supportive of this change (as am I), but notes that it might introduce the old hierarchy of saves issue.  It used to be you saves were based on what a thing you were avoiding was (death, dragonfire, ray), and later it was based on how you avoid the thing (jump out of the way, take the hit and power through, resist with your will).  But there was a question on what Save to use if a thing fell in to multiple categories (a ray of death, or something you can dodge or resist with will) — do you use the best save, or the worst save, or just whatever save the DM cares to call for?  This was relieved a little bit in 3E, I think, but in 5E it looks like both Wisdom and Charisma are fighting over the same turf.  Wisdom saves are supposed to be used to resist being charmed or influenced (and it’s noted that both Command and Charm Person call for Wisdom saves), but Charisma saves are supposed to be used to resist  “magical compulsions.”

The second point is 5E seems to be tossing away the idea of skills, generally.  I may have misread it, but is you want to bust down a door you roll a Strength check, if you want to tumble to safety you roll a Dexterity check, if you want to search the room for traps you make a Wisdom check, and so on. Some character options give a bonus to certain actions (the Rogue character does note +3 to “open Locks”), and maybe there’s a more-robust skill system than we’re seeing here.  But from the looks of it, if you want to be good at finding secret doors, you bump up your Wisdom.

Blog of Holding notes that this highlights the odd position we find ourselves in when the Cleric (who’s whole schtick is based off Wisdom) is better at finding things than the Ranger, Rogue, or Barbarian (if you accept “feral awareness” or “aggression-fueled blindness”).  In 3E this issue was masked by the fact that skill points and Class training could make up for a poor Wisdom, but all things being equal a Cleric would have higher Perception because it was based on his key stat.  He goes on to suggest moving Perception in to Dexterity not because it makes any sense but because then the classes we expect to be perceptive (Rangers, Rogues) would have it keyed to their attribute of choice.

Frankly, I think that’s just silly.  Blog of Holding claims that Perception doesn’t really fit under any of the 6 attributes and while there might be an argument for that the description of Wisdom says it represents “common sense, awareness, and intuition.”  I this that’s something of a perfect fit for Perception.  Definitely better than an attribute representing manual dexterity and agility.

The problem in both cases is one little word in the description of Wisdom: “Wisdom describes a character’s willpower, common sense, awareness, and intuition.”  One of these is not like the others; one of these just doesn’t belong.  And in fact, I think the place that “willpower” does belong is under Charisma: “Charisma measures a character’s personality, personal magnetism, ability to lead” (the 5E text says “ability to influence others and strength of personality”).  Both of those lines were taken from the Pathfinder SRD, and I’m pretty sure it meshes with the 3E SRD as well.

So my solution is thus: move Willpower in to Charisma, with “strength of personality,” where it belongs. Make Wisdom a stat of pure awareness and intuition so it isn’t fighting with Charisma any more.  And adjust Clerics so that their magic is based off of Charisma (like 4E Paladins), representing the strong personality and will necessary to draw the power and favor of the gods (bonus: Clerics are now best able to draw followers). It cleans everything up just by dropping one word.

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Comments
  1. Brendan says:

    You proposal does make a lot of sense. The only remaining problem is that the word wisdom is generally evocative of things like meditation, aged people with lots of experience, etc. Not exactly the image of wits, awareness, intuition, or perception. In fact, any of those four words would be more descriptive. Unfortunately, I think cleric = wisdom, and the six stat names in general are here to stay (and I say this as someone who is usually firmly in the tradition camp regarding these things). The idea of the super-perceptive cleric just seems really silly to me. I think the two full solutions (both unlikely) are to take perception out of wisdom or do as you suggest and rename wisdom.

    • Jack says:

      I agree, and I honestly don’t expect my fix to become official any time soon. But that being said, I fully plan in making it a standing house rule in all my games. I don’t think I’ll change the name, because I do think that Wisdom connotes a sense of awareness regardless of age (ie, he is wise beyond his years) and I don’t think it’s much of an issue since we’ve essentially been treating it this way for decades and calling it Wisdom, so… My changes to Will and Clerics are more blasphemous than my change to Wisdom itself.

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