Stats of Heroes Fall

Apocalypse World has an interesting set of character stats: cool, hard, hot, sharp, and weird. I say they are interesting because they describe characters in different ways from more traditional games. D&D tells you what your character is (strong, tough, dextrous, intelligent, wise, charismatic) but now how your character acts or who your character is. The ability scores describe the qualities of your characters. Part of this is the intentionally generic nature of D&D as it is designed to make any sort of character. Vincent Baker has taken the mechanics of the game, in this case the mechanics of describing character ability, and tied them directly into the narrative structure of the game. The stats tell you more about who your character is than anything else because they describe the means by which character accomplish things and personality traits.

  • Cool characters don’t lose their shit. They’re calm. Collected. Nothing fazes them. The best example I can think of for a cool characters is Nate Ford of Leverage. His backup plans have backup plans and nothing ever throws him off. Low cool characters would be like Benny from The Mummy.
  • Hard characters are violent, implacable badasses. They are the combat monsters of the game. Hard represents both physical traits (strength, toughness) and mental traits (willpower, aggression). Kaiser Soze would have high hard. The interpreter in Saving Private Ryan would have low hard.
  • Hot characters are sexy, seductie, manipulative and they know it. These characters spin webs of lust and put others off kilter by their mere presence. Most of the classic femme fatales are hot characters. Notable ones include Mata Hari, Jessica Rabbit, and Sil (Natasha Henstridge) from Species. Male hot characters would be the various incarnations of James Bond (well, maybe not Lazenby). Un-hot characters are people like Milton in Office Space.
  • Sharp characters are on top of it. They’re perceptive, quick-thinking, skilled and generally three steps ahead of the competition. Sherlock Holmes is the ultimate sharp character. Inspector Clouseau and Mr. Magoo are not.
  • Weird is a description of how much of a fucking whacknut a character is. This is specific to Apocalypse World, combining not just the connection to the psychic maelstrom and the ability to manipulate it but also working in social aspects. Characters with high weird tend to be socially dysfunctional or insane. Well, more insane.

In a way these stats make Apocalypse World very difficult to hack. They are tied to the fiction and setting. The terms are very evocative and fit nicely into the setting. Cool, hard, hot, sharp, and weird (I always want to say fucking weird when talking about Apocalypse World) fit a fucked up, scarcity-driven post apocalyptic future. They don’t don’t necessarily mesh with other settings or genres.

Dungeon World dealt with this by reverting to the traditional six D&D ability scores. It required a significant rebuilding of the rules to account for that change both philosophically and mechanically. For Grim World, I want to to keep the same essential five stats and the basic moves. They work so well already, I don’t see a reason to change them. But I want to have evocative dark fantasy names for the stats. To get that happy middle ground, I started by looking at the five stats and thinking about what they mean. I made heavy use of a thesaurus to consider synonyms. Here’s what I’ve got:

  • Grim, meaning implacable, cold, hard, savage, willed, brutal, physically tough and resolute. Replaces hard.
  • Mojo, as in power, essence, mystical, supernatural force or font of energy. Replaces weird.
  • Sly, meaning quick-witted, clever, talented, perceptive and educated. Replaces sharp.
  • Smooth, meaning hot, attractive, subtle, gracious, sexy, beautiful, inspiring, interesting and manipulative. Replaces hot.
  • Staid, meaning calm, composed, brave, sober, formal, and earnest. Replaces cool.

Finding a replacement for weird was a real problem. Apocalypse World has a very unified setting. The psychic maelstrom is the source of the supernatural disturbance in the game. It messes with things. The word weird fits for that game. A traditional high fantasy isn’t quite so tidy. There are multiple sources of power in most fantasy RPGs and in some fantasy. Magic, divine power and psionics are all common tropes. By calling the stat mojo, I can actually have those different avenues of power in the game represented through the splats. The wizard and the sorceror will both be high mojo characters focusing on magic. Clerics and paladins will have mojo through faith. Other splats will have some mojo but it won’t necessarily be the focus of the character or even defined. Instead their mojo scores will represent their potential for supernatural power.

At this point I’m still considering switching out ‘grim’ for ‘implacable.’ Partially because I love the word and partially because I think it fits better. My biggest hesitation is because all of the Apocalypse World stats are short, single syllables. While not technically mechanically important, I’m sure it didn’t happen on accident. There’s some aesthetic qualiy to those that is important in some way and I’m not quite sure what that importance is. Mojo already breaks that convention but the word itself is so much fun that I’m fine running with it. Then again, maybe economical stat names is fitting because of the bleak scarcity in Apocalypse World. My intention is to have Grim World focus on other sources of conflict so maybe more elaborate stats could be considered.

About PK

PK Sullivan is a game designer and writer living in Chicago.
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