For my ChoiceScript workshop (materials to be made available later!) I wrote up how I messed up my stats when I first started my game, and how I made them better. It’s an example of me running afoul of the Stats Disease pitfalls @Brian_Rushton documented in his excellent “What I Learned From Playing Every ChoiceScript Game” post.
Before I started my game, I thought I knew what it took to pick good stats. I’d played numerous Choice of Games games. I’d read articles and posts on selecting stats. I took the common approach of dividing my stats into skills, which would go up as the player gained in ability, and personality traits, opposed stats that would let the player express what their character was like.
You’re a professor at a magic school, so the skills reflect what’s critical in that job:
- Lab Skills. Practical magic.
- Library Research. Wresting information from magical tomes.
- Logic. Reasoning, especially about magic.
- Rhetoric. Use your words!
- Political Insight. Use politics to your benefit.
I was pretty pleased with myself. I had skills that grouped nicely into magic-focused skills (Lab Skills, Library Research, and Logic) and interpersonal skills (Rhetoric, Political Insight, and Logic). Sure, I’d need to make sure not to make Logic overpowered, but I could handle that.
Then I chose the personality traits.
- Structured/Intuitive. Do you plan or wing it?
- Straightforward/Circumspect. Do you say what you mean plainly?
- Steadfast/Flexible. How willing are you to make changes?
- Tweedy/Modern. Do you favor historic or modern approaches.
That screech you hear is the train leaping off the tracks and plunging down the mountainside. I messed these up but good.
To start with, Tweedy/Modern is tough to involve in many choices. It’s not a broad enough category, and it’s not all that interesting.
Far worse, though, is Steadfast/Flexible. It’s awful. The other stats already capture a player’s flexibility. If they make varying choices, the personality stats will hew closer to 50. This stat could also influence players not to make interesting choices because they’re emphasizing steadfastness.
Then there’s what happens when you combine this personality stat with the others. Can you be flexibly structured? Is flexibly tweedy even a thing? Ugh, ugh, ugh.
If I’d been clever, I’d have thought about how the stats work in combination before I started writing a game. I’d have written ten choices involving the stats to see what I thought of them. Instead, I slogged through a good chunk of my first chapter before throwing these personality stats out and creating a new set:
- Outgoing/Reserved. Do you show your feels?
- Pathos/Logos. Feels or lasers?
- Self/Others. Who do you focus on?
- Driven/Relaxed. Type A or laid-back?
These aren’t perfect by any means. Pathos/Logos conceptually overlap with the Logic skill, though I’m trying to differentiate them through their descriptions on the stats page and how they show up in choices. Even with that bobble, these personality stats are a far sight better than what I started with.
In conclusion, I am going to invent a time machine and take @Brian_Rushton’s post to my past self. Barring that, I hope seeing how I floundered with stats will help others think through theirs before they’re tens of thousands of words into their story.