Disco Elysium has an interesting system for measuring the capabilities of the protagonist. A selection of 24 skills serve as party members of sorts, voices in the head of the hero who chime in during conversations to make recommendations on how to proceed and reveal information that could be useful. These skills are tied to a set of overall stats which define the base competency in each skill, and are further modified by thoughts that have been internalized by the character. When I first played Disco Elysium earlier this year I thought it might be fun at some point to speculate about my own rankings within this system – now that I’m roughly halfway through a second run and have gotten a much better idea of how the skills that I didn’t really use during my first run function, this feels like a good time to bring that idea to fruition.
There are four core stats in Disco Elysium: intellect describes your knowledge and brainpower, psyche your spirituality and personality, physique the power of your physical body and its systems, and motorics the way your body moves. Each stat must be at least one, and the recommended builds all use a system which ranks the highest at 5, the second-highest at 4, the second-lowest at 2, and then the lowest stat at the 1 minimum. By making your own character instead of choosing a preset, you can juggle these around, giving you essentially 8 points you can spread around between the four stats in whatever way you want. The value of a stat is significant because it not only defines how high your base skills are but also their learning caps – a skill within a stat with only 1 point can also only be raised by 1 point, while a skill within a stat with 5 points can double to 10 as you level up.
I think it makes the most sense for my stats to be guided somewhat by the skills I anticipate to be high or low. The obvious top stat for me is intellect – drama and rhetoric are both skills I have been honing throughout my life and most people who meet me think of me as a smart person. Conversely the obvious low stat for me is physique; while I have recently taken up a more concerted effort to take care of my body, both how good of shape it is in and the ability to listen to its needs are things I haven’t really invested in over the course of my life. So I have my 5 set and I have my 1 set. Now things get a little tricky between psyche and motorics. I would assume my psyche is higher but when looking at skills, there are only a couple of key psyche skills that make sense for me. There are an equal number of motorics skills that I think it is safe to say I have. So rather than having a 4 and a 2, I think I’ll balance these at 3 and 3; I have the same inherent potential for both but my level up investments and thoughts are the true determinants of how those skills work for me. This makes my final stat block 5 intellect, 3 psyche, 1 physique, and 3 motorics.
Next is the signature skill. This is the main skill that defines your character, the one they are most obviously good at or have great potential in. The signature skill gets a +1 bonus, making it higher than other skills within that stat block. But what it does for the stat at large is raise the learning caps for that stat. So if you have a signature skill in a stat with a 3 ranking, all of the skills within that stat can actually be increased by 4. In the default builds offered by the game, the signature skill is always one of the skills in the highest stat, pushing the ranking of that skill to 6 and raising the learning cap of all skills within that stat to 6. Following that logic, my signature skill would need to be logic, encyclopedia, rhetoric, drama, conceptualization, or visual calculus, the six skills that fall underneath the intellect stat.
Ever since I was a kid, rhetoric and drama have been what I would describe as my core skills. I was a competitor on my school’s “speech and drama” team, so the two skills were essentially intertwined for all of my teen years. I would go to camps to study speechwriting and spend summers participating in local children’s plays. One of these two would definitely be my signature skill – the question is, which one takes precedence? Looking at the descriptions in game, rhetoric is focused very specifically on debate while drama is focused very specifically on lying, neither of which is really where my expertise with those skills lies. So instead I think about the effect that I have on other people – how do others perceive me? What skill stands out to them when we interact? Even when I present in a professional capacity it’s not that people are impressed by the actual strength of my “arguments” – what people say stands out about me is my delivery. It is the performance of the information rather than the quality of the information that impacts my audience most frequently. With that in mind, I think it is safe to say that drama is my signature skill, raising that skill to 6 and increasing all of my intellect learning caps to 6.
We know what my character is like “in the beginning,” so to speak. With no skill points invested in thoughts and no level ups to speak of. But I’ve been alive for thirty years at this point. I do in fact have thoughts and I imagine I’ve been through enough to have leveled up at least a couple of times. So how have my life experiences and the choices I’ve made over the years influenced the skills I have, particularly the skills in lower stats that I would say have come up to the level of some of my intellect abilities? I won’t be using any of the in-game thoughts for this partly to avoid spoilers to anyone reading this for fun but also because most of those thoughts are highly contextual and wouldn’t make sense for my own life.
I’ve already spoken to some degree about my intellect in terms of drama and rhetoric. Both of those I imagine will have some level up bonuses invested. I’d also imagine that schooling would push my encyclopedia up by 1. Logic I think would be increased by a thought in the form of my spiritual beliefs, or rather my lack thereof. I grew up as an evangelical Christian but in recent years have sworn off belief in any kind of supernatural force – this will come up again in psyche but for now I think it guides me to lean harder into logic, giving that a small bonus. My weakest intellect stat by far is visual calculus – I’m not particularly observant and spatial reasoning isn’t a strong suit of mine, so I might have a thought that actually decreases that skill. Maybe something like “head in the clouds” or “living in his thoughts.”
For psyche, my inland empire would definitely have some points invested from my early years, communing with the spiritual as a result of my religious beliefs. This would push it closer to my intellect skills, but the same thought that buffs my logic would also nerf this stat; I’ve sworn off the belief system that led me to invest in it in the first place. The empathy stat is one I have been investing in during recent years; I can’t pretend I’ve become an expert, but I definitely have thoughts that would give bonuses similar to how “inexplicable feminist agenda” works in-game. I’ve become a lot more empathetic over the years towards the folks I was taught to dismiss as a child, enough at least for it to be noticeable to folks who have been friends with me for a long time. That’s a skill I’d like to continue to improve after letting it lie fallow for so much of my life.
Physique…dear goodness. I don’t think I have any physique skills that would be higher than their base. A couple stand out as potential candidates but I think there are better explanations for the role they play in my life. One is electrochemistry, the system in the body which desires pleasure and cries out for alcohol whenever it is near. I’ve never drank a drop in my life but the reason isn’t a lack of desire – it’s the presence of risk. Alcoholism runs in my family and genetic predisposition is a major predictor of substance use disorder. The likelihood that I could develop a dependency is pretty high, and given that the only times I ever want alcohol are the times when my brain is saying “I want to erase everything that just happened,” I think that is my electrochemistry failing checks rather than passing them. I have similar thoughts about half-light, the fight or flight skill of Disco Elysium. My anxiety makes half-light overreactive, but similar to electrochemistry I think this is easily justified by having a bad half-light statistic rather than having a thought that boosts it. Most boosts are only 1 or 2 points, not enough to make half-light more active than my most important skills.
Finally, there’s motorics. This is where I think my gaming hobby kicks in a bit. My history learning about technology and engaging with it as a hobby I imagine would have put a point or two into my interfacing skill. I’ve also learned interfacing as part of my drama studies when working backstage. I could see hand/eye coordination and reaction speed having similar small gains from my practice playing games, although the latter is somewhat less likely since most games I play don’t require twitch reactions. The other motorics skill that I think is a core one for me is composure. Composure was an important skill on stage, being able to maintain myself when unexpected events occurred during a show, but it has also been important in my job when working with frustrated clients or external partners. I once had a client who, upon seeing me take a breath to stay calm during a particularly heated interaction, remarked to their child that “they taught him that face in school,” which I think would be the perfect name for the thought that increases my composure.
So without further ado, here’s what I think my Disco Elysium stat block would look like:
|Intellect: 5||Logic: 6||Encyclopedia: 6||Rhetoric: 7||Drama: 8||Conceptualization: 5||Visual Calculus: 4|
|Psyche: 3||Volition: 3||Inland Empire: 4||Empathy: 5||Authority: 3||Espirit de Corps: 3||Suggestion: 4|
|Physique: 1||Endurance: 1||Pain Threshold: 1||Physical Instrument: 1||Electrochemistry: 1||Shivers: 1||Half-Light: 1|
|Motorics: 3||Hand Eye Coordination: 4||Perception: 2||Reaction Speed: 3||Savoir Faire: 3||Interfacing: 4||Composure: 5|
So there you have it adventurers, my character sheet based on the stats and skills of Disco Elysium. I’m curious what you think your own abilities would be based on your experiences and thoughts? Let me know in the comments below – or hell, write your own blog post. Or don’t. I’m not your dad.