I’m going to be starting a new series of posts about Frequently Abused Powers. Things that can overpower a game and kill the fun factor. Something like a really high Dexterity. I’m going to call it . . .

F.A.P. (Frequently Abused Powers): The Problem With Dexterity

Ahh Dexterity, a god stat by any other name. In any game system that emphasizes any sort of combat it is usually Dexterity (Reflexes, Mobility, etc.) that players can min-max with the most ease. Dexterity seems to crop up as the broken stat in almost any game system. Why is dexterity such a problem?

The hard tasks becomes easy; The realistically impossible task becomes doable.
Building a character with a high dexterity isn’t necessarily a problem. Only when it is in excess or is making a game less fun is it an issue. The biggest problem with a high dexterity (or any overused attribute) is that it can make hard tasks incredibly easy. When a character no longer bats an eyelash at attempting to pick an incredibly difficult lock or avoid a poison dart it starts to feel less like a game and more like look how cool that character is. Some players will love this but only if they are the one doing it. It can also force the Game Master to ramp up the dexterity based challenges and make them break the reality barrier. Exactly how is the duke of this poor country able to afford such incredibly high quality nearly unbeatable locks that seem to be on every single door?

Unfortunately it’s realistic.
Dexterity controls so many different tasks and actions that are related to combat and other areas of finesse that it can’t help but be a little broken. Dexerity is akey factor in things like dodging, attacking with precise weapons, firing ranged weapons, getting to act first, and blocking attacks to name just a few of its applications. Since it also key to other sorts of actions like sleight of hand, piloting, fine motor control, etc. a character can become overpowered in multiple areas with just this one stat.

Dexterity makes one player good at everything but there are 4 players at the table.
The biggest problem that I’ve ever found with a character with a high Dexterity is that it tends to give him or her the biggest piece of cake. Other players who can’t waltz past the same challenges are left with a little less fun and tend to be less active participants. I hate to limit a player’s enjoyment but I hate to see other players having limited enjoyment more.

Dealing With Devious Dexterity.

Game System Limits
Most game systems have ways of preventing characters from having one stat go too high. Using these limits can help you keep an overpowered Dexterity stat in check. If you decide to limit a player with something like this, make sure it is reasonable. Most players hate to see a character lose any kind of power bonus.

House Rules
If dexterity plays too much of a part in a game and is tarnishing the fun element, then come up with some house rules to limit its effectiveness. Nerf the armor bonus that it adds or convey a similar type of bonus for other statistics. Wisdom and Perception can come into play with dodging almost as much as dexterity does. Make sure that house rules don’t detract from the fun of the game and prevent players from flexing their fine motor controlling muscles if that is what they really want to do. The key here is to make the change universal.

Understand Dexterity’s brokenness and use it against the players.
2 words – Dodgy Enemy
4 words – Dodgy Knife Throwing Enemy
1 word – Ninja

Characters with high dexterity can be incredibly broken in a game but so can enemies with high dexterity. Throw a few ninja, acrobatic goblins, dodgy demons, etc. against the characters and give them a challenge. Characters and enemies with high dexterity can also lead to incredible epic and cinematic battles. Think about any kind of Kung Fu movie you’ve ever seen. Let the players and the enemies use their dexterity to its fullest and you might get a combat that looks pretty close to a Bruce Lee classic.

Dexterity’s enemy: perception!
A high dexterity is usually countered by whatever perception score a game system has. An NPC with a high perception, spot, etc. can usually prevent some of the non combat brokenness of dexterity. They can easily see things like pick pocketing or slipping poison into drinks. Some systems even incorporate perception into a characters ability to avoid hits. Having a high perception doesn’t necessarily stand out either. Any NPC could have a high perception and still look like any other NPC. Does the vizier really have eagle like eyes or is that guard going to be able to spot my indiscretion? Hard to tell unless the character has a high perception as well.

If Dexterity is the player’s hammer, start using screws.

If a player is solving everything with their high dexterity then change the dynamic of the game a bit. Shift some of the challenges to things they can’t beat with dexterity. No lock on that door huh, just an 800 pound stone block. Well time for creative problem solving or a broken Strength score. A situation where diplomacy is key? Pity you can’t pickpocket that one away. It is important to do things like this in moderation though. Limiting something broken shouldn’t take away from the players’ fun.

These are some of my thoughts on broken Dexterity. The more I think about it the more I find that determining if a power, skill or ability is broken is a matter of game balance and fun and is highly dependent on the players. A high dexterity can be incredibly fun to play with. Being able to dodge 4 out of every 5 shots is going to make most people smile with uncontained glee. What are some of your worst experiences with a character with broken dexterity? What are the best ways to deal with it that I’ve missed here?