Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Why Everyone Should Have 3d6 For Stats

Following on from discussions here and here, I've been thinking about stats. Specifically: what is the relationship between stats and social status in a quasi-medieval society? Are all peasants cursed by their poor upbringing to a lifetime of dimwittedness and ill-health? Do all kings make the best use of the opportunities available to them and become highly educated and physically perfect? Does genetic inheritance limit ones horizons and capacity for social advancement?

I've written before about epistemic arrogance, and one of my pet peeves in life is the tendency towards know-it-all-ism on the part of academics, journalists and political commentators. (To hear talking heads rambling on about the future of the global economy - as if something that complicated is within the grasp of one mind to understand.) In fact, human society is grotesquely, exhuberantly, vastly, incomprehensibly complex. So much so that great thinkers from Weber to Marx to Luhmann have devoted their entire lives to attempting to explain how it works, and failed. The more you burrow into it the vaster it appears, and it grows, tardis-like, in complexity with each layer of its onion that you peel. The idea that one could make statements about "serfs" and "labourers" and "artisans" and "merchants" (or whatever social strata you care to name) as single discrete units with defined characteristics, other than those that are very simple and banal (e.g. labourers perform labour, merchants sell things) is hopelessly misguided.

What rolling 3d6 for stats for everybody (arranging to taste) in a given society does, is reflect great complexity in its beautiful simplicity. It denies that we can map social status to ability in any coherent way, and instead allows us to represent the fact that we can never really predict human ability by social class, beyond what we know by common sense (labourers perform labour and will therefore likely be strong, etc.). We can't expect that kings, guildmasters, priests and marshalls will have higher-than-average stats across the board than merchants, fishermen and soldiers.

What 3d6-for-stats also does is allows the DM to riff. The party encounters an innkeeper; the DM rolls 3d6 for all his stats. One of the scores is 16; the DM has to put it somewhere and decides to put it in Intelligence. So the next questions are: Why is this bar-room genius an innkeeper, and is there more to him than meets the eye? What is his role in the village? And why isn't he doing something else? Next they come across a guildmaster who ends up with a host of crap scores, including an Intelligence of 8 and a Charisma of 5. How come this guy came to the position he is in; is he the tool of powers behind the scene, or is it due to nepotism?

There is great creative power in random generation, particularly random number generation, that is not adequately tapped into by players of D&D (and I include myself in this). Embrace randomness, my children, and discover the secret of everlasting life.

42 comments:

  1. Oh, yes, that is indeed the thing. Let me do that right now. Here's the innkeeper: STR 8, CON 8, INT 13, WIS 13, DEX 9, CHA 18. And the roleplaying for me, as GM, flows right out of that: a tiny little stick of a man, who is amazingly charming but sort of clumsy, comes right out of those numbers, just like that, instead of being another Butterbur clone.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think your aprroach here and in the linked threads is to simply re-frame the argument against your preferred approach to its most absurd conclusion. For what real purpose, I can't imagine.

    Both of the scenarios you describe (the clever inkeeper and the bumbling guildmaster) are possible under the system proposed by Alexis, just less likely. This runs counter to your preferred method of riffing of of straight 3d6 rolls and I get that. What I don't get is the vigorous denial and tangents there and here. Know-it-all-ism? Really? May I direct you back to your own posts?

    I feel that you are focusing over-much on the potential difference between the "liege" and the "peasant" and ignoring the variety possible within the 40% or so in between. You also tend to ignore that the author has essentially accpeted a lower "world averge" on abilities and the fact that 2d6 still represents randomness.

    ReplyDelete
  3. @ James
    Turn the finger around and point it at yourself: What is the purpose of your non-sensical defenses?

    Good post, Noisms.
    Taleb is a genius too.

    My only critique is that I wouldnt allow picking placement of the stats. Just roll straight down the line, no assignment.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Greg, if I'm guily of something nonsensensical, its only in my attempt to draw you and others out beyond knee-jerk responses and try to understand better your position in game terms... and coming here at all to offer anything other than yours and the author's accepted approach. Oh, and contributing at all to the making of mountinas from molehills. I read and understood the subject blog post above so have got what I came for. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think your aprroach here and in the linked threads is to simply re-frame the argument against your preferred approach to its most absurd conclusion.

    James, I think all the conclusions of Alexis' system as it currently stands are absurd. It isn't very well thought through. This isn't what I'd expect from him, because almost everything else he's ever written about has been extremely well thought through. I find this curious; my only purpose is to tease this out and understand why.

    Also, I enjoy discussing these thigns.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I really can't help myeself, I suppose, Noism.

    Given your assesment that "things not being thought through" and "absurdity" are not generally descriptors you'd use for Alexis's content, could it be that you're instead missing something? Your posts continue to note "superior genetics" and echo sentiments arguing against "genetic pre-determinism" and my sense here is that you're homing in one one aspect of the approach but missing the overall effect.

    When you suggested elsewhere seprating implied class disticntions from the gradations, you were getting closer to the crux of it. I'm not saying the implication is not there, its just not as stark as you present it when arguing against it.

    If you start by accpeting 7 as an average ability score, counter to accepted D&D canon, you begin to see some of the benfits of Alexis's system. If you don't, try 2d4+6 for your peasants instead of 2d6. The underlying premise isn't absurd... its the re-framing of the results in your posts that paint it absurd.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I sat last weekend with a group to roll up LL+AEC characters with my houserules, which include rolling 4d6, dropping the lowest and arranging to taste. As I also allow any demi-humans to take a sub-class of a class that they can take, the dwarf ranger, when all was said and done, was a bit over the top for a first level character. Taking this into account, I just re-rolled pertinent stats with the Mad Ogre dice roller on the fly for NPCs of note. This, in turn, actually almost built in the "rabble" status of some individuals and small groups. So for me, that actually worked out accidentally.

    Nobody's approach is really right or wrong as long as the rules work for the group. I discovered something that worked for me quite by accident just by going a step further.

    ReplyDelete
  9. The decision to arrange the stats to your liking defeats the purpose of rolling in the first place.

    We know what the scatter of a 3d6 looks like, it's the "in order" that establishes randomness.

    If you just want to establish that "the inkeeper is smart", save yourself the dice rolls and write "smart".

    If you want to FIND OUT what the guys quirks are, then roll the dice and follow their mandate.

    ReplyDelete
  10. If there's one thing history (the “...the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.”) does teach, it's that social status and wealth = more opportunities, not more inherent talent.

    3d6 in order also has greater simplicity than Alexius (impressive, comprehensive) system.

    It therefore wins (for me).

    ReplyDelete
  11. 2d6 ability scores are fine for the elderly and people tiling fields, but I agree with 3d6 (or 2d6 +5) for NPCs that are ENCOUNTERED by the players.

    Example from real life, professional athletes;
    many come from the lower levels of society, yet have outstanding ability scores

    Even a low ability score doesnt mean the character is pathetic but could represent a prior injury; i.e.,
    Low STRENGTH does not have to imply the character is a weakling, but could reflect a prior shoulder or back injury .
    Low DEXTERITY is not necessarily a lack of coordination, but could represent a knee injury or vertigo from severe barotrauma (large explosion next to ear).

    For more examples see the 6 March 2010 post (under rules label) on my blog

    ReplyDelete
  12. If everyone should have 3d6 stats, shouldn't they have them in random order too? If everyone has 3d6 stats in random order, shouldn't character class also be random? Spell list? Equipment?

    The only good thing random stats have going for them is that they are quicker than deciding how to allocate points. I can roll up a 1st edition AD&D character, choose race and class, from memory, in less time than it would take me to open a WoD book to the character creation section.

    You can make a character with random-seeming quirks or weaknesses using a point system, you just have to have a little creativity instead of letting the dice tell you what to think.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Much as I hate to weigh in on Alexis's side in this argument, I have to say your position has some strong flaws, Noisms. Putting aside the assumption of biological inheritance being class-based (which as Greg observed is a horrible form of Lamarkian stats creation), it is well known that social class determines physical and mental statistics, even intelligence, and your arguments to the contrary are weak.

    It's pretty likely that in the mediaeval era the ruling classes were stronger, healthier, smarter, wiser and more charming than the peasants, due to better diet, education, less stress, and nicer clothes. Even if you construe education as straight-out IQ, there's strong statistical evidence that IQ changes with social class and education [not that IQ is a good measure of "intelligence," whatever that is].



    I don't think your claims about constitution have much traction in modern medicine, the evidence is that good diet and freedom from disease and stress are the key determinants of a healthy and strong body. It's also true that the development of exceptional physical traits (e.g., above 12) requires leisure time and wealth, something not available to peasants.

    For clear evidence of this you don't need to look further than your own blighted shores, where the poorest 20% of the population do worse on every measure - education, life expectancy, academic achievement, child mortality, etc - and in quite noticeable ways.

    If you want to have a world where peasants have the same stats as rulers then do so, but Alexis is right to observe that it won't be a model of the Renaissance.

    [But if I were him I would allow for exceptional talent in the lower classes by rolling 2d6 and allowing a critical roll on 12].

    Also rolling 3d6 and assigning them to stats doesn't reflect "great complexity" in its simplicity, it simply reduces it to lumpen randomness. Quoting Taleb won't help you here - the existence of outliers is not particularly relevant to a predictive model of human traits based on class, which I don't think you'll find Taleb denying the value of in any case. Nor is it epistemic arrogance to construct a statistical model of difference between classes, it's a simple empirical finding.

    All Alexis is really saying is that there is a slightly higher mean and variance in the higher classes in his society, which I assume is due to social pressures (and he seems to imply is due to genetic pressures, the charming chap). Just as there is in the UK now.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Lord Bodacious: Obviously, the more random the better in terms of creative power. The reason I advocate assigning to taste when it comes to NPCs is it allows you to reflect the fact that e.g. labourers labour all day and so are likely to be strong, etc.

    faustusnotes: I was only quoting Taleb to explain the meaning of "epistemic arrogance". But if you want we could get all Popperian; just because every peasant you meet is weak, unhealthy, stupid, unwise, clumsy and uncharismatic, this doesn't have any predictive power - the next peasant you meet might not be.

    That's really a side issue, though. The point I am making is that even if you can make broad and sweeping claims about the composition of various social strata in a medieval society, the picture would be far too complex to map to "peasant = 2d6 for stats, labourer = 2d6 for 5 stats and 3d6 for one stat..." on the individual level.

    As you'll know if you read the comments on Alexis' posts, his mechanism would better be described as "about 68% of people in a medieval society will have 2d6 for stats" (and so on). I don't particularly have a problem with this if the average for stats is 7; my problem is more to do with mapping this group perfectly to "peasants".

    ReplyDelete
  15. Noisms, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of a random variable. The 2d6 roll gives a method for generating stats on the individual level which represent the structural differences between classes (in this case richer better than poorer), while still preserving individual randomness.

    And since we know these structural differences exist, Alexis has presented use with a model we can use to represent them statistically (thus pissing off popper and all the other faux science-philosophy wank of the talebs of this world). Admittedly, his model isn't good at handling outliers, but that's what GMs are for. On this topic my model is better, of course, because the distribution for peasants is a mixture model with a skewed tail. But either one would do in a pinch.

    Incidentally, I can't square his probability calculations with the distribution of 3d6 or the probabilistic structure of D&D character creation, but I'm unwilling to mention this on his blog because a) I don't have a player's handbook to check the minimum requirements and b) I can't be bothered finding out exactly what his house rules on character creation are and c) he's awesomely rude, and really not worth engaging. I don't know why you did, given the tone of his response.

    I read the comments on Alexis's post, btw (more's the pity) and I can't see what your problem is with assigning those 68% with 2d6 into a class of peasants. Historically, that's where they were. Are you disputing the statistics of class inequality? Because if you are, you're really not onto a winner.

    ReplyDelete
  16. faustusnotes: This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of induction.

    Let's say for a second that 68% of the population have 2d6 for stats. Then let's say that most of these people will be peasants (for both social and genetic reasons, and also due to brute mathematics - the majority of the population are peasants). Fair enough.

    But that still doesn't allow you to predict that an individual peasant who the party meets will be one of those who have 2d6 for stats.

    The other side of the argument (what's good for the game) also then comes into play - because it is also less interesting if all peasants the party meets have 2d6 for stats.

    ReplyDelete
  17. but that's not what Alexis is doing. He's saying that peasants as a class of people have 2d6 stats, and other classes of people don't. He's saying that there is 0 probability that peasants can have a stat score greater than 12. This means by definition (his definition) that you can't meet a peasant with a score greater than 12 (though I'm sure he allows the GM exception, just as he would occasionally create a goblin with 2HD). Now, you can meet a nobleman with a score less than 12; you can, in fact, meet a nobleman with all his stats lower than a peasant. But what you can't do is meet a peasant with all his stats at 17. I think this is actually pretty reasonable under Alexis' model that anyone with a stat greater than 12 could only have got there through some special privilege.

    You're supposing a different system to Alexis, in which 68% of the population have 2d6 stats and social class is a confounder for low stats, so a large majority of the 68% are in the peasant class. This would certainly be a good approach to take if you were constructing a statistical model. But Alexis is creating the underlying population, not modelling it from a sample, so issues of induction or otherwise are irrelevant.

    Consider, for example, a claim that 0.01% of the modern population have enormous physical strength, sufficient to lift, say, 250 Kg clean-and-jerk. To all intents and purposes, the assumption that when you meet such a person they will be a professional weight-lifter is entirely reasonable. Alexis is just applying this quite reasonable method to a society with extreme class divisions.

    I agree entirely that it's less interesting if all the peasants you meet have 2d6 stats, but I do think that this is a perfectly reasonable model for creating a world in which your peasants are ugly, weedy and nasty. My mixture distribution gets around this (as would rolling 2d6, +2d4-2 if you roll a 12).

    I prefer the model where every tavern owner is a retired soldier, with strength 2d6+6, 1d4+4 interesting stories, and infinite hit points.

    ReplyDelete
  18. faustusnotes: but that's not what Alexis is doing.

    I know it's not what he's doing; what I'm arguing is that what he is doing (0 percent probability of meeting a peasant with a single stat over 12) is absurd.

    You're supposing a different system to Alexis

    Exactly. But it's more than that. What I'm saying is that there can't be a "system"; human society is too complex than that. If people in our real world struggle to understand all the many different variables which govern how society is composed, then what chance does a DM have of coming up with a realistic system? And yet this is what (apparently, judging from his blog) Alexis is putting his utmost into trying to do.

    It's tilting at windmills.

    ReplyDelete
  19. "In fact, human society is grotesquely, exhuberantly, vastly, incomprehensibly complex."

    Is it? Really? Personally I've always felt we as a species are not complex at all but rather that we have added layer upon later of unnecessary elements to make getting anything truly worthwhile done on a global level virtually impossible.

    One a similar note...while I find the discussion fascinating, I'm not a D&D fan so it almost seems on argument over which hammer is better for peeling grapes.

    As a GM, if I want a genius merchant, a foolish and inept king, a wise beggar or a physically imposing sage I make one. The only time 3d6 is rolled in my few D&D games is when creating a PC and none of them are peasants or lieges (at least very rarely).

    They're adventurers.

    ReplyDelete
  20. if you think there can't be a system, why bother with 3d6? That's a system.

    As I said above, thinking that you can't model social systems in a broad sense - by, for example, stating the difference between peasants and lords - is just flying in the face of all the available evidence. Taleb's foolish ideas about epistemological arrogance aside, we know from over 100 years of epidemiological research that differences between classes in rates of disease, death and childbirth are very easy to model in England, for example.

    Which is why I said you're on a losing wicket. Go check the ONS neighbourhood statistics data if you're not sure about this - class differences can be very easily represented statistically, and if you were trying to represent the characteristics of the different classes of modern britain for a role-playing game, it would be very easy to construct plausible systems based on them.

    The alternative is a plea for structurelessness. Why would you want that?

    ReplyDelete
  21. Barking Alien: As a GM, if I want a genius merchant, a foolish and inept king, a wise beggar or a physically imposing sage I make one.

    Where's the fun/surprise in that?

    faustusnotes: thinking that you can't model social systems in a broad sense - by, for example, stating the difference between peasants and lords

    I don't know where you're getting this from, because I've said in most of the comments on Alexis' thread that there are going to be differences between peasants and lords as classes and that I have no problem with that.

    What I'm talking about is the individual level of predicting what a certain person the PCs come across will be like. Who knows what has happened to Peasant X or Lord Y in his life? As Vincent put it, "In the mix of fate, will & chance there are just too many factors to try and model differences in outcomes using only differences in initial conditions (apparently, differences in one initial condition)."

    ReplyDelete
  22. and that's your losing wicket right there. Modelling differences between people is really not that hard. Epistemological humility and intellectual nihilism aside, we're really quite good at it. Alexis's models aren't even very modelish. The next peasant you meet will have a strength between 2 and 12, while the next lord you meet will have a strength between 3 and 18.

    If you have a problem with the idea of "modelling" people or saying anything about the consequences of peoples' life course for their stats, then how are you going to explain it when you roll an 18 strength for a peasant? I mean, if people are too complex to model, surely it's epistemologically arrogant to suggest that this peasant's strength is due to a career as a woodcutter? Or whatever explanation you give?

    As soon as you attach such an explanation to a 3d6 roll, you've broken your own framework.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I think there's a fundamental difference between tasks where you have to view people as individuals and tasks where you view people in bulk.

    If you make psychiatric medicines, you need to view people in bulk: What works MOST of the time for MOST people.

    If you are a shrink, you need to view people as individuals: what will work on THIS person in THIS individual case, whether or not it accords with what USUALLY works.

    McDonalds employees, military logistics officers, and postal workers NEED to view people in bulk in order to survive.

    Emergency room doctors, massage therapists, and portrait painters NEED to view their clients as individuals to survive.

    Now: is DMing a "bulk" activity or a personalized one?

    Alexis LOVES creating rules he can broadly apply to his entire universe--thus he deals with NPCs in bulk. What's USUALLY true is what hes after.

    Most GMs don't do that--they tailor encounters to be interesting a few days ahead of time or on the spot, and assume that next time, things may be completely different and eccentric, so they deal with people as individuals.

    ReplyDelete
  24. faustusnotes: If you have a problem with the idea of "modelling" people or saying anything about the consequences of peoples' life course for their stats

    No, silly, I've no problem with that - you should really have gathered this by now! The point is that individuals all have different life courses in which all manner of complex factors come into play. Social level is only one of these things.

    You keep bringing up "epistemological" arrogance (sic) as if you think it means something it doesn't. It's about induction/prediction. It isn't about facts (for instance: Peasant Billy has a Strength of 18 because of reasons x, y and z).

    Zak S: Pretty much!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Zak, doctors et al apply diagnostic methods to individuals within a very strong modelled framework, or they wouldn't be able to do their job. They apply inductive logic to a strong set of models about the human body and disease. Certainly this is about treating individuals differently, but it's also very much about analysing structure and models of the human condition; their prescriptions even more so.

    I agree about your view of how DMs work, but I don't think it's possible to say we aren't working from a strong set of models. That's what monster and NPC stat blocks are. It seems passing strange to me to object to constructing such models for NPCs based on social class, when one already happily uses them based on character class, race, or even (in many games) location and nationality.

    Noisms, you keep saying that social class is only one of the determinants of stats, but it's not enough to keep repeating this against the fairly sure knowledge we all have that being a peasant was the single most damning aspect of a human being's life, against which all other factors were background window dressing. If he were saying that the lowest class in England now get 2d6 you might have a point, but he's talking about a class of people who were abjectly poor, had no education, and were malnourished for the vast majority of their lives (actually, that does sound like the British lower class now). It's a perfectly reasonable application of induction to say that this means the next peasant you meet will have stats in the 2d6 range, just as it's perfectly reasonable inductive logic to say that the next human being you meet will be less than 10' tall. Or do you keep an open mind against the possibility you might meet a giant on the streets of Liverpool today?

    ReplyDelete
  26. faustusnotes: but it's not enough to keep repeating this against the fairly sure knowledge we all have that being a peasant was the single most damning aspect of a human being's life, against which all other factors were background window dressing.

    The weird things is that this isn't what Alexis is saying. Read his posts; he's postulating a very strange anachronistic meritocracy.

    just as it's perfectly reasonable inductive logic to say that the next human being you meet will be less than 10' tall. Or do you keep an open mind against the possibility you might meet a giant on the streets of Liverpool today?

    What an odd thing to say. I don't have a closed mind against it, that's for sure. Do you?

    ReplyDelete
  27. Okay, so riddle me the difference between these two inductive fallacies:

    1. all peasants have 2d6 stats, so the next peasant I meet will have 2d6 for his/her stats

    2. all unusually strength is caused by some kind of physical activity (driving a mill for 15 years like conan, military training, sporty dad, etc.), so the next person I put in my campaign with high strength will have a back story involving some kind of physical activity

    The first is Alexis's, the second is yours. What's the difference? You posit a model, and then fit your next observation to it. Your model involves some more variables, sure (more types of physical activity back-stories), but it still has them. All your arguments at Alexis's place also posit causes for observed stat values (your constitution example, for example). These are models too.

    As for 10' people - no, I don't have an open mind to the possibility of meeting giants. I have a pretty robust biological model says I won't be meeting any in my lifetime, either. I also don't expect to meet humans with elephant trunks, elephants that can sing Opera, or any one of a number of other things that an anti-modelling approach to theory would allow me to believe in.

    And what is it with openid errors on your blog?!!

    ReplyDelete
  28. faustusnotes: Saying that things have reasons is not positing a model. If you're saying that the reason "peasants are poor" is the same as the countless other reasons that may exist for people having the ability scores they have, then we're not in disagreement. The point is that all the reasons are a) to all intents and purposes countless and b) not reducible to a single broad category like "poor".

    As for 10' people - no, I don't have an open mind to the possibility of meeting giants.

    The probability may be very low, but not zero - would you agree?

    ReplyDelete
  29. Noisms, saying that things have reasons, and then offering plausible reasons, and inducing a plausible reason (or set of reasons) the next time you meet someone with a certain characteristic is precisely the definition of a model. It's just that your model is very very crap, because it has no theoretical basis against which (to use your ideals) it can be falsified.

    Obviously a more detailed model can more easily be wrong, which is the point of falsification as a concept. But a detailed model predicting within its posited framework, with statistical uncertainty factored in, is often very reliable. That's why life tables remain very popular.

    I'm not sure what you're saying otherwise when you say

    If you're saying that the reason "peasants are poor" is the same as the countless other reasons that may exist for people having the ability scores they have, then we're not in disagreement.

    The reason that peasants are poor is precisely one - they were born into grinding, indentured labour. They aren't countless. But I'm not saying anything about this, I'm arguing that this certain fact that a peasant is, by definition of being a peasant, grindingly poor and indentured (i.e. not free) is a single overriding factor in their lives that can be used to explain a lot of things, e.g. the fact that they have never travelled, can't read, are short, have many diseases, are weak, can't count, can't fight, and probably have gait or posture disorders.

    So, when you meet a peasant, it's very easy to predict that they have 2d6 stats.

    And no, I don't think the probability of someone being 10' tall is "very low" but not zero. Remember that the world is not normally distributed (Taleb!), there are probabilities that will be 0. I think it's currently biologically implausible, therefore its probability is 0. Not even 1 in 6 billion, currently, or even 1 in 180 billion person-years.

    ReplyDelete
  30. faustusnotes: Noisms, saying that things have reasons, and then offering plausible reasons, and inducing a plausible reason (or set of reasons) the next time you meet someone with a certain characteristic is precisely the definition of a model.

    Faustusnotes, you are engaging in sophistry. If it entertains you to play around with words like this, then I suppose what I'm doing is postulating a model, inasmuch as saying "the reason why the goal was scored was that Wayne Rooney kicked the ball and it went in", or "the reason why I find Scarlett Johansson attractive is that she has great tits" is postulating a model. For the rest of mankind, though, this just constitutes giving reasons for things.

    It's just that your model is very very crap, because it has no theoretical basis against which (to use your ideals) it can be falsified.

    I don't have a model. I can't believe that after 29 comments you're still banging on as if you think I do. I'm saying human society is too complex for a model by which you can map D&D stats to social background in the way Alexis is doing. What you have is a huge bundle of variables which affect each individual's development - or, put more prosaically, a huge bundle of reasons for why a person is the way they are.

    You have to represent a person's stats in some way for there to be a game, so better to use 3d6 for everyone and cloak all of those multitudes of un-modellable reasons in randomness.

    The reason that peasants are poor is precisely one - they were born into grinding, indentured labour. They aren't countless.

    You misunderstand me. What I mean is that reason X ("peasants are poor") is only one of a huge number of the possible reasons why a person has a given set of stats. There's also reason Y ("fishermen are very perceptive"), reason X ("people with one leg don't run very fast"), reason Z ("very tall people have long reach"), reason A ("people who sew are very dextrous")... and so on to near-infinity. Because you have all these different potential reasons coming into play, it doesn't make sense to boil everything down to "Peasant = poor = 2d6 stats" and "Liege = rich = 4d6 stats". (For one very obvious thing, where does old age come into play? What about sex?)

    And no, I don't think the probability of someone being 10' tall is "very low" but not zero. Remember that the world is not normally distributed (Taleb!), there are probabilities that will be 0. I think it's currently biologically implausible, therefore its probability is 0. Not even 1 in 6 billion, currently, or even 1 in 180 billion person-years.

    Aren't you supposed to be a scientist? It's biologically implausible so the possibility is zero? What about 1 in 100 trillion person-years? You're saying that you know the details of every single potential random mutation that could possibly affect a human being and none of them could lead to somebody being 10' tall? You need to get on the phone to those people at the Nobel Prize committee, quick! When are you going to publish your results in a paper?

    ReplyDelete
  31. Noisms, if you can claim that there can be a causal relationship between a phenomenon (people sew) and a physical property of those people (they are dexterous) then you have a model. This ain't sophistry. Accepting the randomness of the world and blanketing it in 3d6 means accepting that you have no explanation for Conan's strength. Or Fergie's stupidity.

    Regarding your division of peasant's traits by these second order properties, you're clutching at straws. It's simple analysis of variance. 40% of a person's height is determined by that of their parents; more than 40% of a peasant's stats will be determined by the single biggest factor in their life, which is their indentured slavery. The parts you're suggesting might have an influence (this person sewed a lot, etc.) will be a tiny bit of window dressing on that 2d6, easily fiddled with by, for example, saying that a person who sews should have their highest 2d6 score assigned to intelligence. Self-selection, and all that.

    Your responsibility in defense of an alternative theory is to postulate a way in which being a peasant could possibly have such a small effect on their life that their sewing hobby would be a noticeable influence on their basic physical stats.

    So, 100 trillion person-years is about 14000 years at the current population of the earth. The secular trend in height is expected to stop - or start declining in some developed countries - in this generation or the next. There is no record of anyone of a height of 10' anywhere in the world, outside of mythological creatures. I'm quietly confident that you won't be meeting any 10' people soon, Noisms, nor will your children or their children. Or their children, who will probably on average be about the same height as your children.

    btw, the 50 or so main genomes responsible for height have been mapped and published, and I think there are established bio-physical reasons as well why height can't continue to increase. I think this example of scientific philosophy at its purist isn't going anywhere useful!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Noisms, if you can claim that there can be a causal relationship between a phenomenon (people sew) and a physical property of those people (they are dexterous) then you have a model. This ain't sophistry.

    Whatever you say. The rest of mankind calls this giving reasons.

    Accepting the randomness of the world and blanketing it in 3d6 means accepting that you have no explanation for Conan's strength. Or Fergie's stupidity.

    No, it means accepting that there are different and various reasons why people are strong or stupid.

    Regarding your division of peasant's traits by these second order properties, you're clutching at straws. It's simple analysis of variance. 40% of a person's height is determined by that of their parents; more than 40% of a peasant's stats will be determined by the single biggest factor in their life, which is their indentured slavery. The parts you're suggesting might have an influence (this person sewed a lot, etc.) will be a tiny bit of window dressing on that 2d6, easily fiddled with by, for example, saying that a person who sews should have their highest 2d6 score assigned to intelligence. Self-selection, and all that.

    You're still missing the point. It's not just whether somebody sewed a lot, which is a small variable; it's EVERYTHING ELSE THEY DID, TOO.

    So, 100 trillion person-years is about 14000 years at the current population of the earth. The secular trend in height is expected to stop - or start declining in some developed countries - in this generation or the next. There is no record of anyone of a height of 10' anywhere in the world, outside of mythological creatures. I'm quietly confident that you won't be meeting any 10' people soon, Noisms, nor will your children or their children. Or their children, who will probably on average be about the same height as your children.

    Smokescreen. The probability isn't zero.

    btw, the 50 or so main genomes responsible for height have been mapped and published, and I think there are established bio-physical reasons as well why height can't continue to increase.

    So you're saying scientists can predict mutation with perfect accuracy nowadays?

    ReplyDelete
  33. "Giving reasons" - and what do you base your reasons on, Noisms? Blind guesswork? Or some kind of underlying model of the human condition, in which practice improves certain traits? Do you perhaps use a statistical model, in which agile people are more likely to take up basketball? One things for sure, you don't base your "reasons" on nothing, or they wouldn't be reasons.

    None of your process of giving reasons is incompatible with a 2d6 spread, in any case; you roll a peasant with 11 dexterity and 4 strength and claim that they spent a lot of time sewing because they had polio as a kid. This very accurately reflects the balance of determinants in their lives - first and foremost is their place as a grindingly poor indentured labourer, which controls almost all of their aspirations and puts strict constraints on what they can achieve; second comes their employment of free will to maximise their chances within this restrictive framework.

    That wasn't difficult was it? You do the same thing with 3d6 stats - the 3d6 stats put a fundamental limit on what ordinary people can achieve (because they aren't Gods or Giants, who you presumably accept have a different spread of stats...???) But the person whose 3d6 gives them an 18 strength becomes a fighter, while the 18 intelligence is a wizard.

    I presume you aren't arguing that there is no physical limit on human potential in the game world? You do support the use of 3d6, after all... so the primary limit on the spread of peoples' achievements is their humanity (3d6); and within that you give reasons for their particular variation (or more strictly speaking, on its expression). This is the same process as for the peasant - first recognise the largest cause of variability (the gross restriction on stats) then the smaller causes.

    Which brings us back to your main contention - that peasants had the same opportunities as lords. Where were we going with this one, again?

    It's interesting to watch you describe basic empirical facts as a "smokescreen." I'm pretty confident that my position on Giants is backed up by contemporary biophysics and the statistics of the human growth curve, though sadly I can't check these things very completely from my home; however, by all means, reject biology and epidemiology as well as economics!

    ReplyDelete
  34. faustusnotes: "Giving reasons" - and what do you base your reasons on, Noisms? Blind guesswork? Or some kind of underlying model of the human condition, in which practice improves certain traits? Do you perhaps use a statistical model, in which agile people are more likely to take up basketball? One things for sure, you don't base your "reasons" on nothing, or they wouldn't be reasons.

    They certainly aren't based on one model. Are you seriously suggesting that one can postulate a model which says "agile people are more likely to take up basketball" while neglecting to say "tall people are more likely to take up basketball" and "American are more likely to take up basketball than Italians" and "Lithuanians are more likely to take up basketball than Poles" and "the longer someone's arms are, the more likely the are to take up basketball" and "people who are encouraged by their parents to take up basketball are more likely to take up basketball" and "people who are too strongly encouraged by their parents to take up basketball are less likely to take up basketball", etc., etc., and have this model taken seriously as a way of explaining why people take up basketball?

    We're going round in circles here, but life is complex. People aren't the way they are because of one variable. There are many many different variables, of which social status is only one.

    Which brings us back to your main contention - that peasants had the same opportunities as lords. Where were we going with this one, again?

    Where the fuck do you get the idea this is my "main contention"? Inasmuch as I contend anything on this specific point, it's that "having opportunities" is only one variable among many. (And a highly nebulous variable at that.)

    I'm pretty confident that my position on Giants is backed up by contemporary biophysics and the statistics of the human growth curve, though sadly I can't check these things very completely from my home; however, by all means, reject biology and epidemiology as well as economics!

    More smoke. I'm not talking about what "contemporary biophysics" says. Contemporary biophysics does not have perfect theories about human evolution, does it? Do you accept that much? That nobody can predict what mutations can occur in a human genome with perfect accuracy?

    The probability of meeting a 10' tall person is not zero (unless you're speaking in the sense in which a probability of 0 can still include events that are technically possible). It is possible that it might happen, though the chance is exceedingly low.

    ReplyDelete
  35. It's your main contention, Noisms, because you are proposing that a class-based division of statistics is wrong, and you're doing so because you think the myriad reasons like "he has long arms" are as important as the single most powerful factor in a peasant's life, which is their continual grinding poverty.

    It's almost as if you think that for a peasant, grinding poverty means they go out to the chippy on Friday instead of Waterstones, and have to practice cricket with a rubbish bin and a tennis ball.

    Being a peasant means it doesn't matter how long your arms are, you don't get to be a basketball player; it means that even if you had the genetic potential to be 10' tall, your diet will make you 5'1; it means that you will work so hard in winter that you have no time to practice sewing and get dexterous, except perhaps for a few nights in August; it means that you'll never hear any stories except from a travelling minstrel in the markets a few times a year, and will never learn anything about the world except what the Priests tell you on Sunday morning, so you'll never develop any wisdom or intelligence beyond knowing when to plant parsley. Even the wisdom of your own religion is written in a language you can't read, and denied to you by your betters.

    All the genetic, personal and national traits you describe in your comment will be washed out by the single fact of this grinding poverty and servitude. Those factors are the benefits of life in a post-feudal world, when commerce and free association became possible beyond the merchant class.

    ReplyDelete
  36. faustusnotes: It's your main contention, Noisms, because you are proposing that a class-based division of statistics is wrong

    That a class-based division of statistics that predicts anything on the individual level is wrong.

    It's almost as if you think that for a peasant, grinding poverty means they go out to the chippy on Friday instead of Waterstones, and have to practice cricket with a rubbish bin and a tennis ball.

    Believe it or not, I do know a little bit about how contemporary peasants - subsistence farmers in central asia - live their lives, and the sort of grinding poverty they experience. So let's not get into speculating about what I think, please.

    ReplyDelete
  37. and here you show your idiosyncratic view of the model Alexis proposes. The model merely proposes a random distribution for members of a class - it doesn't predict individual values. He's suggesting only that the variation between groups in his society is large relative to their within-group variance, and putting a putative maximum on the values (just as you do). Did you ever take a course on Analysis of Variance? All that he's doing is simulating data for an ANOVA experiment.

    "It's almost as if" is clearly a piss-take and not an allegation. You really are over-sensitive!

    ReplyDelete
  38. faustusnotes: it doesn't predict individual values

    It restricts the range of individual values, which is really functionally equivalent to predicting individual values. The argument just moves to a slightly higher level of abstraction.

    "It's almost as if" is clearly a piss-take and not an allegation. You really are over-sensitive!

    Yeah, I get a little prickly when somebody starts telling me what "being a peasant means" when I have a reasonable idea, having seen it first hand.

    More to the point, you weren't really representing Alexis' argument with your little spiel about the life of peasants, because his system builds in a weird form of meritocracy that means, e.g. that peasants with long arms can be basketball players, or whatever the medieval equivalent is.

    ReplyDelete
  39. All the genetic, personal and national traits you describe in your comment will be washed out by the single fact of this grinding poverty and servitude.

    I should be depressed to imagineer this true of anyone in a fictional world - and I certainly don't believe it of the real individuals composing the linguistic fictions bandied about about in our world.

    It strikes me as little more than superstition.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Vincent: Well put.

    I'm not saying this is true of faustusnotes, but there is a tendency to make assumptions about people who live in poverty in developing countries that simply aren't true, based on what is in news reports.

    There is also an unfortunate tendency among certain groups to rely more on statistical models and rationality than personal experience in trying to understand how the world works. This approach can yield very useful results, but it can also cause all kinds of mistaken thinking.

    ReplyDelete
  41. faustusnotes wrote: "For clear evidence of this you don't need to look further than your own blighted shores, where the poorest 20% of the population do worse on every measure - education, life expectancy, academic achievement, child mortality, etc - and in quite noticeable ways."

    True. Insofar as society is performance-based, poverty is caused by deficiencies of character or ability, rather than by (social) class barriers. In D&D terms, affluence in the modern world tends to vary directly with ability scores.

    In societies with class barriers, the upward mobility of those with superior ability scores is hindered. On this account, we therefore expect to find an equal distribution of ability scores among the social classes. But we also expect lower ability scores for the lower classes because of poor diet--theirs and their parents' diets. (When parents eat poorly, their children are more likely to be deficient.)

    So, I think everyone who's been debating this is more or less right. To the extent that the lower classes are less healthy, their ability scores would suffer.

    An interesting question is the D&D strength score of labourers. A labourer is stronger than average due to the nature of his work, but his nutritional requirements are also greater. Because of his relative poverty, can he afford the additional sustenance to sustain his strength? For a labourer, strength is needed to earn money for food, and food is needed for strength. How does his strength compare to that of the average person? The answer is not obvious to me; it would seem to depend partly on prevailing economic conditions (e.g., famine vs. prosperity), which are, of course, subject to change.

    ReplyDelete
  42. faustusnotes wrote: "Okay, so riddle me the difference between these two inductive fallacies:

    "1. all peasants have 2d6 stats, so the next peasant I meet will have 2d6 for his/her stats. . . ."

    Please forgive me for possible nitpicking, but isn't No. 1 a deduction rather than an induction? Didn't you mean "all known peasants have 2d6 stats, . . ."? That would make it inductive, and the conclusion about the next peasant encountered would be speculative and therefore subject to error, as you suggest.

    ReplyDelete