There’s a chain of thought in D&D which suggests that each class should be associated in some way with one of the six attributes. Fighter, for example, is keyed to STR, Rogue = DEX, Barbarian = CON, Wizard = INT, Cleric = WIS and Bard = CHA.
There’s a compelling synergy there; six classes, six attributes, with each class playing to the strengths (no pun intended) of whichever attribute is “theirs”.
It makes solid sense too – after all, Fighters (generally) have a high Strength stat, and it’s a rare Wizard indeed who has an INT of less than 16. Yes, it’s gamist, but at the same time there’s a certain elegant simplicity about it which is hard to ignore. Rogues need high Dexterity to perform their Roguely duties, and a Bard with low Charisma won’t be a Bard for very long.
There is a role-playing backstory rationale for this too. A particularly Intelligent character will likely be noticed as potential Apprentice material by the local Wizards’ Guild, and those showing Wisdom will most likely be enrolled into the Priesthood. It’s also likely that it’s the very training the characters receive before they begin play at Level One make their attributes what they are. Your Fighter has high Strength because he practiced daily with his Sword and Shield, while the Barbarian’s Constitution is so good because there’s no McDonalds Drive-Thru in the untamed wilds.
Earlier Editions of D&D recognized the synergy between Attributes and Classes by giving an XP bonus for having a high Prime Requisite stat. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me – after all, a low Strength Fighter would have to work harder to defeat the Orcs, so to my mind should get more XP than the high STR Fighter for doing the same work. I’m glad that XP bonuses for attributes are a thing of the past (unless you’re still happily playing an earlier edition (or a retro-clone), of course, and more power to you if you are), and hope they do not return.
Surely a clever Fighter who uses his wits (high INT) is just as viable as a high Strength one, and should be rewarded as such by gaining the same or similar in-game benefits? A Fighter with INT 16 is more likely to know where to hit (possibly through studying anatomical texts), whereas a WIS 16 one will use dirty tricks and clever foils to achieve the same goal. Likewise rationales can be made for an agile (DEX), unstoppable (CON) or showy (CHA) Fighter, and those are just a few adjectival examples.
The point (and there is one, I’m sure) is that there is a whole vista of potential to be found in the synergies between all the attributes and the classes. Not all Clerics should be wise, but could be known for their Strength at arms, scholarly Intelligence or Charismatic sermons. Likewise, there’s a lot of mileage to be found playing a thuggish Strong-but-low-Dex Rogue or a zenlike con-artist Rogue with a Wisdom in the high teens. If anything, the Rogue class has seen more progression toward this line of thinking with an increasing number of Rogue options being geared toward playing the smooth-talking Charismatic Rogue rather than the traditional Rogue/Dex synergy.
I could list others examples – the low Intelligence, high Charisma showman Wizard, the high Dex swashbuckling Fighter, etc – but that’s the point. There’s nothing to stop you creating such a character right now, but the game should provide solid rules that actively make these viable game options rather than being sub-optimal characters. This opens up a range of different play-styles and that’s a Good Thing, right?
What to you think? Should the traditional tropes of Strong Fighters, Intelligent Wizards, Wise Clerics and the rest be just presented as merely one of a whole range of options (and possibly the de facto easy-to-play default)? Should the game mechanics support and encourage playing against the stereotypes in some way?
Over to you, dear reader.