Might & Magic is the first game in which I'm really noticing the affects of ability scores. Every game up until now has had them, but I didn't really think about them once the game started. Here, their effects are front-and-center.
Ability scores, attributes, characteristics--whatever you call them--are an element that almost all CRPGs share. In this, of course, they are adapting rules from pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons. The earliest games had only one or two scores. Rogue, I think, just had strength. But fairly quickly--by Ultima I, really--games had grown into the standard set of five or six ability scores. It's rare to find a game (like Ultima IV, which only had strength, dexterity, and intelligence) that reverts to fewer.
I'm always amused by the numerous ways different games try to be original by changing the names of the ability scores. The standard D&D list is strength, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, charisma, and constitution. Perhaps in an an effort to avoid copyright violations, Wizardry offered a slightly different but nearly synonymous list: strength, IQ, piety, vitality, agility, and luck. "Charisma" was presumably left off the list because in early CRPGs, there were few ways to actually base anything on it. "Luck" is an innovation for Wizardry--an extra score that has subtle influences on just about everything--and it would carry over into other first-person, multi-party games like The Bard's Tale and Might & Magic.
Might & Magic's contributions, such as they are, to the evolution of ability scores is to use "might" instead of strength, split dexterity into "accuracy" and "speed," and combine wisdom and charisma into "personality," the prime stat for clerics (in this they anticipate the third edition D&D rules). Like D&D games, each character class has minimum levels of attributes.
Although the names change, the purpose of different ability scores remains fairly consistent. In descending order of prevalence, we find:
- Something that determines how much damage the character does when he hits something. This is almost always called "strength" but of course is "might" in Might & Magic (otherwise, it would have to be Strength & Spells). Secondary uses of this attribute in some games include determining what type of weapon one can wield (Phantasie), how much weight the character can carry (Elder Scrolls) and whether the character can force doors or chests (D&D-derived games).
- Something that determines the character's spell power. Usually this is "intelligence" but it also goes by "IQ." Like strength, it has secondary uses in more advanced CRPGs. In D&D games, for instance, it helps determine whether you can translate scrolls and identify magic items. In Baldur's Gate II, Neverwinter Nights, and Icewind Dale II, it also determines the sophistication of your dialog responses.
- Something that determines how likely a character's attack is to connect. "Dexterity" is the D&D term, but we also have "agility," "accuracy," and "aim." I can't think of secondary uses for this one, but see below.
- Something that determines how fast the character moves and, hence, how likely he is to be hit. In D&D, this is also "dexterity," but some games, including the Might & Magic and Elder Scrolls series, split it off into a separate "speed" score. In continuously-scrolling games (like all games are after the mid-1990s), this score may literally determine how quickly you move across the screen. Some of my fondest times in Oblivion is when my speed-enhanced character rushes up and down mountainsides, blasts through forests, and leaps across rivers. In turn-based games like Might & Magic, speed determines the attack order of characters and enemies (more on this in the last paragraph).
- Something that determines how much damage you can take. Usually, hit points are a "derived" statistic based on your level and an ability score. In D&D, that ability score is called "constitution," but we also have "endurance," "vitality," and "stamina" in the repertoire. As games get more advanced, this statistic also determines how likely you are to succumb to certain spell effects and how much liquor you can hold.
- Something that determines how charming you are. "Charisma" or "personality," generally. This has a bunch of different uses depending on the game, including spell power for clerics or priests, prices at shops, and relations with NPCs. In the Baldur's Gate series, it determines how easy or difficult it is for the PC to hold together a party of differing alignments, and it determines who the PC can romance.
- A secondary characteristic for priest spells. In games that separate cleric/priest spells from wizard/sorcerer spells, "wisdom" or "piety" or "personality" will determine the power of those spells and how many the character can cast. Except when combined with the above attribute, this doesn't seem to have many secondary uses.
- Do you feel lucky? Finally, as we've seen, Wizardry and its posterity introduced a "luck" statistic just to shake things up.
CRPGs offer a lot of variety as to how these statistics are determined. Some automatically generate them and you take what you get. Some allow you to "re-roll" until you get the outcome you want. Some give you a fixed score pool and allow you to allocate the numbers the way you want. A few (Pool of Radiance and Temple of Apshai come to mind) allow you just to specify the attributes you want, which offers a usually-insurmountable temptation to just max everything. Perhaps the most unique attribute-setting method was found in Alternate Reality: the City, in which a constantly-spinning series of dials fixed in place the moment you walked through a portal.
Perhaps one of the most variable aspects of CRPG playing is how mutable these statistics are once fixed. In D&D games, it practically requires an act of the gods to change your ability scores, and even then you can only change them by a little bit. This makes sense in the context of the D&D worlds, in which there is a theoretically upper limit for any human, no matter how heroic. In later Might & Magic games, by contrast, it hardly matters what statistics you have at the outset because you're final characters will have many many times that initial number. I remember starting out Might & Magic VI with 15 or 16 strength and--thanks to potions, wells, barrels of colored liquid, magic items, and other fortunate finds--ending up with almost 300.
Oh, let's quickly cover a few other aspects of ability scores worth thinking about:
- They can be damaged. Spells, poisons, curses, and other assorted calamities can give you the strength of an infant and the intelligence of Glenn Beck.
- They can be enhanced. Other spells, potions, and magic items can elevate your stats. I particularly like finding Gauntlets of Ogre Strength in D&D games and immediately transmuting a character with a strength of 6 to one with strength of 18 (the third edition ruined this).
- They are modified by race and sex. If the game allows multiple races, very often you'll find yourself with higher strength (dwarves), lower charisma (half-orcs), or some other adjustment after finishing your character.
- Each character class usually has a "prime requisite." Strength for fighters, dexterity for thieves, and so on. There is usually a minimum acceptable ability score for those classes. In some games, you choose the class first and the ability scores get adjusted; in others you get your scores first and have to choose from a limited selection of classes based on the results.
With a charisma of 6 and an intelligence of 4, I could only choose between the "Fox News Commentator" and "Galoot" classes.
Bringing this back to Might & Magic, as I said, I'm feeling the results of my initial ability score selection choices. I did well enough with might for my two fighting classes, and when their swords connect, they connect with a satisfyingly-high amount of damage. I did well with accuracy on my archer, too (19)--she lands every shot she makes. But I skimped on speed except for my robber (16). The result is that he almost always attacks first, but with an accuracy of 13 he often misses, and with a might of 8 he hardly ever does any damage.
What you really want, I'm discovering, is a sorcerer with a high speed score, so he can immediately blast groups of enemies at the opening of the battle. Conversely, you want a cleric with a low speed score, so she can go last in the rotation and heal any major damage taken by party members in that round, getting them back on their feet for the next round. This is important enough that I'm considering ditching my existing cleric and sorcerer and re-creating ones with better (or, in the case of the cleric, worse) scores.
Other than that, I'm still exploring and mapping, and collecting screen shots for a post later about the different things you encounter in the Might & Magic world.