Adjective Ladders

View up a smoothly-rendered CGI ladder on a sky-like gradient, receding into the distance.Ladder to Heaven by fdecomite, CC-BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Adjective ladders never quite worked for me. The idea of using plain language to describe things is appealing, but then having to memorize an arbitrary ranking of words for each system immediately removes the text from the realm of plain language” again. Especially so if the words correspond to absolute and not only relative values. Consider the original Fudge ladder:

  • Superb
  • Great
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Mediocre
  • Poor
  • Terrible

Which eventually evolved into the Fate ladder:

Rating Adjective
+8 Legendary
+7 Epic
+6 Fantastic
+5 Superb
+4 Great
+3 Good
+2 Fair
+1 Average
+0 Mediocre
-1 Poor
-2 Terrible
-3 Catastrophic
-4 Horrifying

Or the FASERIP ladder:

  • Feeble
  • Poor
  • Typical
  • Good
  • Excellent
  • Remarkable
  • Incredible
  • Amazing
  • Monstrous
  • Unearthly

Especially as these lists get longer, the distinctions become blurrier. Already in Fudge, fair” and mediocre” are stepping on each others’ toes. Once I get to Fate, how am I to remember that catastrophic” is better than horrifying”?1 Sure I can look it up, but then why bother using such cute language in the first place?

If words are going to be abstracted from their common meanings, I want to own that. Now, in this imagining, words are worth the number of syllables they have. Don’t remember the right” word? Anything similar in length will do.

  1. Good, great, fair
  2. Super, awesome, superb, epic
  3. Amazing, excellent, fantastic
  4. Spectacular, legendary, remarkable, incredible
  5. Extraordinary

What about negative words? The same in reverse.

  1. Bad, poor, shit
  2. Awful, feeble
  3. Horrible
  4. Miserable, catastrophic, horrifying
  5. Abominable

Difficulties? Sure.

  1. Hard, tough
  2. Severe, grueling, tricky, monstrous
  3. Difficult, demanding, challenging
  4. Formidable, problematic

Can’t think of the right word? Add more” or very” for +1 or +2, respectively.

And if you need a zero,” just don’t use an adjective.

  1. ¯\(ツ)/¯

  1. Rod, Reel, & Fist sidesteps this problem by always including the numerical value in parentheses. Where a direct mapping to numbers is available, this works OK without breaking up the text too much.↩︎


May 7, 2024