So you've been diligently leveling up, using Upgrade Artifacts, and equipping items to make your strength, magic, and HP stronger and greater, but for some reason you still can't lift the waist-high tree blocking your path! Especially jarring if you manage to increase it from 10 to 9,001, but the only quantifiable change is damage dealt to enemies.
A particularly counterintuitive bit of Gameplay and Story Segregation, it includes everything from strength (though it does explain carrying improbable weapons), speed/dexterity (No Super-Speed for you), intelligence (can't have the mage see through the Evil Plan, can we?) and HP (You literally have the HP to survive a flamethrower in the face, but can't even get near measly Cut Scene flames without suffering third-degree burns at best, or being reduced to charcoal at worst).
Many tabletop games in general avoid this trope, thanks to the presence of a human being judging the rules and interpreting the game's gray areas. It's when roleplaying games make the jump to video games, relying on a computer that only allows you to do whatever the developers could squeeze into the engine (and conceive of the player trying) to act as adjudicator, that things get hairy.
Compare to Cutscene Incompetence, contrast with Cutscene Power to the Max for the opposite situation. Compare Plot Lock, where your character can do these sorts of things, but not when the plot demands he shouldn't. Not related to If My Calculations Are Correct.
Non-Video Game Examples
- Both Marvel and DC have made various efforts to quantify the abilities of their heroes with specific numbers or bands of ability. These numbers are at best guidelines in practice, and how strong a given character actually is invariably depends on the needs of the scene.
- Every Kamen Rider show since 2000 has published statistics for every Rider in each of their forms, describing their punching and kicking power in tons, their maximum jump height in meters, and how many seconds it takes them to run 100 meters. These numbers are seemingly chosen by drawing them out of a hat, and virtually never have any relevance to anything the characters can do in the show. Usually, the statsí numbers relative to each other will reflect an an advantage that one form or character is supposed to have over another in the same show (i.e. the Mid-Season Upgrade will have bigger numbers than the base form and the Super Mode will go even higher), but by and large everyone is as strong/fast/agile as whatever any given scene needs them to be. The numbers become absolute nonsense in the context of crossovers between characters from different seasons: characters that statistically dwarf the strongest forms of an opponent can and will be treated as equals or inferiors depending on the whims of the writer.
- Most lines of Transformers toys come with Tech Specs on the packaging, which have traditionally ranked abilities such as Strength, Speed, Intelligence, Firepower, Teamwork, etc., and just as traditionally have been nonsense. The specs are usually at least somewhat accurate for describing how strong one character is versus how fast they are, but essentially no effort is made to balance them relative to other characters. In particular, Rank Scales with Asskicking is in full effect, and Optimus Prime and Megatron nearly always get maximum ranks in every stat.
- The SCP Foundation uses the concept of a "Hume" when discussing Reality Warpers; essentially, every realm in the Foundation's world has a baseline Hume level describing their degree of reality, and whatever has a higher Hume level than the surrounding area can alter it freely (and vice versa.) Individuals classified as reality warpers, in addition to having heightened Hume levels, also emit suppression fields that lower the Hume levels around them. Despite this system being in place, the wiki's Negative Continuity and general disdain towards power scaling means that while Humes are a good tool for quantifying a single SCP's containment difficulty in specific scenarios, they aren't particularly great for balancing such SCPs relative to each other. Perhaps because of this trope, modern articles also shy away from using exact numbers unless they're arbitrarily high or low to demonstrate an anomaly's effects, the only known constant being that extremely low ambient Hume levels are a threat to regular matter as their Hume levels will equalize and promptly fade from existence.
- At the end of each round in The Weakest Link, the announcer will tell the audience which players were statistically the strongest and weakest links of the round, respectively, while the whole team is deciding who to vote off. Although the announcer has a habit of dramatically wondering whether the statistics will affect anyone's vote, the players themselves aren't given the information; their votes are purely based off their own observations of their teammates during the game. The strongest link in each round is given the power to break ties in voting and gets the first question of the next round, and Anne will occasionally bring up whoever the weakest link of the round was in order to mock them, but the titles don't otherwise have any affect on the game itself.
- This was actually studied in Freakonomics. First, the strategy for a player is usually eliminate weak links early to increase the pot, then eliminate stronger links later to increase the odds of winning. Players generally voted in line with this strategy, but they revealed prejudices. Older contestants were voted off more than their performance would suggest they should be, suggesting a taste-based discrimination. Minority players were more likely to be eliminated early, but less likely to be eliminated later, suggesting they were systematically underestimated. Here is the journal article written on the topic. Thus, the answer to "statistically speaking," is older players are universally unfairly eliminated, and minority players face an early uphill battle, but get a later leg-up due to being underestimated.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- The early editions averted this in two ways. While a character's class abilities improved over time, their base stats didn't without the aid of magic, and only the most powerful of magics could make such a change permanent. At the same time, it was plainly stated that if there was any task a character wanted to attempt that wasn't outlined in the rules, the game master could improvise a check using any of the six ability scores.
- Starting with 3rd edition, characters could slowly increase their base stats over time, and the Difficulty Class system allows the game master to assign appropriate target numbers even to things that would be "impossible," like balancing on the end of a tree branch or swimming up a waterfall. Of course, these challenges become less impossible as your characters gradually become the stuff of legend, with Charles Atlas Superpower to match.
- This trope is played straight with mental attributes, however — it's pretty difficult to put yourself in the shoes of somebody who is four times as intelligent as any real-world individual ever will be. Additionally, while the rules do allow you to use your character's Intelligence or Wisdom to solve puzzles, it's explicitly recommended that the Dungeon Master disallow this if it seems like it would be anticlimactic.
- 3rd edition and on makes attributes linear in effect, meaning that someone with 18 strength is no longer four times stronger than someone with 10 strength, but rather "+4" stronger on d20 rolls (and thus, 20 percentage points more likely to succeed at a task). This resolves a lot of the issues with trying to represent characters with very high stats, making characters with very high stats much more human.
- Anima: Beyond Fantasy features a couple interesting takes on the concept.
- It has an open-ended dice roll system, meaning it's possible, statistically speaking, to succeed on any roll no matter how badly the odds are stacked against you. Unfortunately, this could lead to a lucky roll allowing a first level PC to do something like punch through reinforced steel. To keep things (somewhat) more reasonable, allowing a roll to exceed the threshold for what a real-life human could possibly accomplish requires additional abilities. A character must have the Inhumanity trait, or its even-crazier upgrade Zen, which allow things that defy logic and physics in all sorts of awesome ways.
- Similarly, when it comes to base stats, characters cannot exceed the maximum score of 10 in any physical stat without Inhumanity or Zen. Interestingly, the game gives a little wiggle room for mental and spiritual stats, with the explanation that it's a lot harder to quantify the maximum mental ability of a human.
- Games by Black Isle Studios were among the first to kick this trope square in the nuts with Fallout, as every skill and ability has multiple applications, including checks made during dialogue, special interactions, and clues that the game can drop in your direction for characters able to notice them. The first two games also have the opposite effect if you use Intelligence as a dump stat, leaving you with a character who is effectively brain-damaged. All your dialogue options for the entire game are replaced with suitably dim-witted alternatives and certain non-player characters actually recognise that you will be totally incapable of following simple instructions and so will complete important quests for you!
- The dumbness is downplayed in Fallout: New Vegas, though there are still plenty of moments where having low intelligence enables you to say something very stupid. However, it does feature many more instances of the opposite effect, where you get to see what not having enough points to succeed a given check looks like: namely, the character desperately bullshitting. For instance, failing an explosives check when trying to convince someone you know how to handle dynamite:
- Black Isle took this approach when making Baldur's Gate, which many considered the first computer game to truly capture the "spirit" of D&D. Bioware and Obsidian (mostly Obsidian, Bioware tends to use the options as pure flavor or as an alternative that gives the same results) continue this tradition today, as seen below.
- In Fallout's spiritual sequel Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, if you achieves 20 strength and dexterity, you will be preternaturally powerful and able to easily solve any problem you can murder your way out of. This is greatly helped by the lack of cutscenes to move the story along.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, new conversation options are opened thanks to your Cunning attribute. There is, of course, a Coercion skill. Apparently lopping off enemy heads can make you really, really good at convincing people. But would you argue with someone who can turn a fire-breathing dragon into a scaly John the Baptist impersonator?
- In Neverwinter Nights, the character's intelligence and wisdom scores affect what dialogue options are offered. Dumb characters get grunting, wise ones intuitive solutions, and smart ones lore. On the other hand, the Charisma score doesn't play as large a role in conversations as it could, which was one of the reasons A Dance with Rogues mod was created.
- Especially important in Planescape: Torment, where each stat has an effect on at least a few non-combat choices. Because each level gives you another point to place in any stat, whether you've been packing them all into dexterity and wisdom or strength and endurance will determine whether you spot and disarm the trap, or take it like a man. However, in the same game, having maximum charisma does not actually enable The Nameless One to lead the planes to war or even simply recruit additional followers, even though the description implies that he should be able to. Wisdom and Charisma do, however, allow you to TALK characters to death/defeat! It grants you massive stat-ups as well.
- Knights of the Old Republic does this; improved attributes open up new conversation options, so a particularly intelligent or perceptive character will pick up subtleties that others might miss. The sequel does even more of it.
- Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, made by Troika (refugees from Black Isle), continues the Fallout tradition of most puzzles being able to be solved in various ways, and stealth being generally rewarded better than violence (for obvious reasons). Dialogue attribute checks are plentiful, especially thanks to the mind-altering powers of various Disciplines, and characters will even react differently based on different stats, particularly Appearance. Sadly, this starts to disappear in the late game, as development was rushed by the publisher.
- The Quest for Glory series averts this: certain actions depend on your abilities at the time, which can be improved. You can't move a very heavy rock until you have a particularly high strength stat, picking a lock requires dexterity and lockpicking skill, and if you don't have a reasonable level of climbing skill at key points, it's Have a Nice Death. Naturally, the only stat that doesn't have a direct effect on gameplay is Intelligence, which is only used to determine your mana points. However, to keep the treadmill going, the same character in QfG4 now needs ~350 Climbing to climb a city wall which doesn't really look at all different from the city wall in QfG1 which took ~50 Climbing. Likewise for Lockpicking, etc. Maybe Mordavia is just so oppressive that even common tasks require a diehard veteran.
- Near the middle of Fable, there's an (actually unremarkable) mystical weapon stuck into a stone. Unless you manage to get there at maximum physical stats (you can't even be one short), it is impossible to pull the sword when you first get there - you must raise them proportionally or max out later.
- In Deus Ex, strength and speed upgrades change the ability to deal with the environment, such as enabling the movement of troublesome boxes or expanding movement abilities, and the levels seem to be designed with this in mind. Oddly, the super strength used to lift heavy objects and the super strength used to hit harder in battle are separate augmentations.
- Averted in Champions Online. The amount of strength your character has DOES determine how physically strong you are. A character with minimal strength can barely lift a bench or a mailbox, where as a character that has 300 or more strength could easily pick up and toss cars, tanks, or pretty much anything not nailed to the ground. Champions uses a logarithmic scale for strength; a Strength of 300 is actually enough to lift, oh, a smallish mountain range. If the online game really lets you do that, that's impressive.
- In Digital Devil Saga Heat shows off his near single minded devotion of his stats points to strength quite well in cut scenes, even when untransformed he is able to break down stone walls and effortlessly lift people by their throat one handedly.
- In the Mehrunes' Razor downloadable content for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, you must consume the beating heart of Dagon's former champion in order to pass the gate and claim Mehrunes' Razor. However, if you have a really high strength stat, you can instead spit on Mehrunes' task and just force the gate open with your bare hands and take the Razor.
- Inverted in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The Golden Gauntlets and similar items make you strong enough to lift blocks the size of small mountains... but only affect lifting strength. Your weapon damage is not increased.
- Inverted in The Evil Within: the player character is normally very powerful, breaking wood and iron items alike with ease. His melee damage, however, is very low, and needs upgrading before it can get to the same level of strength. Justified because the setting is the fantasy world of a serial killer and Dream Logic is king.