It’s no secret that Pillars of Eternity is a spiritual successor to the Baldur’s Gate games; it was more or less implied – if not outright stated – that early on in its development the design direction was to essentially take the Infinity Engine and its ruleset, and build upon them with modern video-game experience and sense. This should mean, in proxy, that the Eternity ruleset is directly related to and an improvement of the 2nd edition ruleset of Dungeons and Dragons, (or AD&D, for short.)
Because of this, I had a hunch at the time that I’d be able to convert a D&D character (such as my Baldur’s Gate one, for instance) into the ruleset of Eternity with some degree of accuracy. It wouldn’t just be a thematic conversion – like my favourite ‘speed style’ or an ‘ice magic build’ or something – but maybe a couple of numbers would line up in the base attributes, as an eerie and amusing coincidence. Eternity would still be using six base attributes, after all – albeit half renamed and redesigned – but there were still the stock concepts such as Constitution and Intellect, so the suspicion was there… but I quickly dismissed the thought.
And such was the case with my first playthrough, when half of the numbers lined up in the same pattern, in an eerie coincidence.
It was only after I finished the game last week, that I re-examined the idea. I didn’t really think about converting a D&D character, but there was still the claim that Eternity was trying to rebalance the six attributes from D&D to eliminate issues with the throwaway ‘dump stat’, and to give every attribute an equal level of importance. So, I compiled a quick table that summarised what each attribute did, on both sides, and found that I was definitely on to something.
While at first glance, the connections between the base attributes may look tenuous, the real connection was found in the derived stats. Most of them shared the same name, or else described identical concepts. Only two stats were really modified, yet the connections could still be made, by the second degree. It wasn’t easy, since you need to look at the descriptions and functions behind each stat, rather than the stat itself, but I eventually drew up the lines into a chart, and the visualization made several things become immediately clear.
All of the combat-related stats are on this chart. There were a few more non-combat ones I could have put in, connected to Eternity’s skills, instead of the attributes, but if you follow the combat-related properties, it’s clear that there’s an attempt at balancing the combat side of it.
In D&D, Constitution and Dexterity contribute to three derived stats, while all of the others contribute only one. Charisma barely comes into play, here, which explains its notoriety as a dump stat. It also reminds me of some old D&D advice I had, where CON and DEX are said to be common in virtually every class. If you’re a mage, then Strength becomes a secondary dump stat, and if you’re melee, then Intelligence is a second dump stat. Wisdom is important only for priests or paladins. You can probably argue the nuances of it all, or how I’m wrong somewhere, but that’s the barebones, one-minute summary that I’m familiar with.
On Eternity’s side, we can see that each attribute contributes to two stats, except for Resolve. The defence stats each have contributions from two base attributes; Resolve’s third derived stat, I suspect, was there to balance out the defence stats, more than anything else… but aside from that, we can see that Eternity balanced the properties of the attributes quite literally, by simply moving them all around. However, If you look carefully at the lines (or my convenient colour coding,) you can see some grouping emerge in the attributes, which indicates that there’s something deeper going on, here.
Not only does Eternity’s system rebalance the six attributes to equal importance, but I think the grouping of the derived stats means that the attributes can be compressed into three attributes, if one so desires. It also so happens that these three groups can be described succinctly as something like ‘Attack’ stats, ‘Avoid’ stats, and ‘Ability’ stats… which happen to be the three central pillars of designing an open world RPG.
There are other ways of describing it, but the three paths in an open-ended video game has always been this: A set of stats and abilities to survive a decision to attack the enemy, a set to be stealthy and/or avoid them, and a set of game-unique skills, abilities, and environments to pass them, somehow. Strength, Stealth, Skill. Attack, Avoid, Ability. Fighter, Thief, Mage. The prime example I can think of is Deus Ex, but most open RPGs attempt to do this.
I suspect that there’s some potential in Eternity’s system, with this in mind. After all, D&D is primarily a turn-based, tabletop game; Eternity is a real-time, video game. Who knows? Including an opening to easily adapt the ruleset into three attribute pillars is only a first step. If Pillars of Eternity really does manage to be the start of a new universe, then I can certainly imagine an adaptation into the action RPG side of things, somewhere down the line.
That’s quite a tangent from where I started from though, isn’t it? The chart I made, and the fact that all of the connections actually line up quite well, means that there’s definitely an avenue to converting at least half of your D&D character’s aspects into Eternity – and that was more or less the case when I didn’t look at it too closely, and just saw it as an eerie coincidence. As from the beginning, though, Eternity was always going to be intentionally similar to Baldur’s Gate, so there are many other places to draw the similarities. I think I was always going to build someone similar to my older characters, anyway.