Who is welcome in my house? While I don't turn away the sickly, the weak, or the clumsy, I don't want anyone over unless they're charming, intelligent, wise, or all three. I don't think I'm remotely alone in this: people like people they find likeable, and, really, who does suffer fools gladly?
Not only that, but in any conversation, I would hope everyone present was trying to be the most charming, intelligent, wise person they could be--whereas if they're holding a refrigerator up or have their legs behind their head that's purely bonus points.
So: if, in D&D, I devised a test that relied not on the character's Constitution, Strength or Dexterity but on the player's Constitution, Strength or Dexterity (catch the ball--kill the goblin, etc) I'd be privileging athletic players over others. That, as my aunt used to say, is a job for games played outdoors or in the dark.
However, if, in a game, I devise a test that relies on the players' Charisma, Intelligence or Wisdom, I am judging them on precisely the qualities that got them into my house in the first place. And which, basically, all social life is a competition about anyway. The less-clever player may well do worse, but they will (if the test is fair) blame themselves and become thirsty to be better--which is the best kind of competitiveness. I know that's how I felt when I was dumb enough to stand right in front of that door that got opened in the Dark Tower. Then we fucking killed that lich.
Dex, Str, and Con are off the table for Player Skill in D&D at my house. What can we do with the rest if we're determined to test as much player skill as possible?
A player, by talking alone, can describe:
- What a PC says
- How they say it (depending on acting skill)
- What logic they use
- What they offer in exchange
So, being way into Player-Skill-Based-Challenges I'm going to always at the very least give a bonus (or minus) to a roll based on this stuff and possibly even award an autosuccess if the offer is such the NPC could not possibly refuse or an autofail if they say something the NPC is primed to see as an insult.
A player cannot accurately and totally describe:
- Whether that appeal does or does not match the PC's appearance (some comedians can get away with some jokes because of their appearance that aren't funny coming out of older, younger, fatter, skinnier people etc) since the appearance only "appears" to fictional characters.
- Whatever a "Charisma save" is supposed to represent in 5e--strength of personality?
- Whether the NPC are in a mood to listen or have hidden factors that make them less or more inclined to suspicion
So the Charisma stat needs to exist to represent the PC's appearance and how their manner matches it, and the die represents the randomness of these last 3 factors (at the least) but can be modified by the other factors that the player can describe.
Wisdom is well-known to be goofy, encompassing willpower, perception, judgment, how much god likes you, etc.
A player can be reasonably tested on:
- Noticing things the GM slipped into their description (verbal or in a picture)
- Noticing their significance
- Where a PC looks for stuff
- Resisting temptations that would give the player something they'd like to see in the game (gold, a magic weapon, a plot twist the PC loves)
- Deciding whether to follow the more shrewd course of action
(In the "perception" area these kinds of layer-skill challenges require a lot of prep from the GM.)
A player could not (without excessive use of special effects) use their owns skill to model:
- Noticing hidden things that are, nonetheless, technically in plain sight (like if there's an arrow from a culture that doesn't belong lying on the orc vs elf battlefield)
- Hearing things--or noticing any sensory information the GM cannot bury- or has not taken the time to bury-, in a verbal description
- Resisting temptations the character feels but not the player (too easy: "I don't fuck the succubus")
- Resisting magical powers that chip away at the will
- Successfully sensing things despite some physical difficulty (smoke, distracting sounds, etc)
- Sensing anomalies in how something moves--or otherwise in how they present physically in a way the GM cannot verbally describe without giving away the game.
A player's intelligence could be tested about:
- Applying real-world physics, chemistry, tactics, etc to analogous situations (like: use missile weapons against the dangerous, slow, melee-only opponent, etc)
- Remembering lore the GM gave them earlier
- Drawing inferences and deductions from facts discovered
- Solving puzzles whose parameters are fully described by the GM
Again (without extensive use of props) player could not use their own skill, and would need to rely on their PC to model:
- Knowing stuff about the setting an inhabitant would but that hasn't come up in the game
- Casting spells via remembering and casting magical formulae
- Successfully completing tests of knowledge and reasoning that take a lot of in-game time (crafting a magic item, for instance)
- Interacting technically with objects that don't exist in real life (tinkering with golems, for instance) or which, again, would take a long time to verbally walk through ("put the third cog on the right strut" etc)
- Deciding how quickly the PC picks up a new skill (a language, for instance) the player does not have
So...yeah, there's that. PCs, viewed this way, are hybrid beings: they physical stats are theirs alone, but their mental ones are half theirs and half their makers.
I haven't really talked about how players can or can't model other things that define characters on paper: experience, class, skills, maybe we'll get to that later.