RPG System 1: Attributes

The first foundation for the musings of my new RPG system came as (what I think are) an interesting set of attributes.

As I mentioned in the previous post, in game designs of the past I’ve included a high number of attributes, including a lot of secondary attributes that brought what I thought was a lot of granularity (and “realism” ) to the system.  Like everything else, I’m shuffling down in my complexity desires, looking to model only what provides a “useful, at-the-table impactful” amount of detail/granularity… my new foundation still has more attributes than classic D&D, but something as fundamental as attributes I think still deserves this level of detail.

My thoughts on what attributes represent have also shifted.  For a long time I viewed attributes as a measurement of something “inherent” to the character:  either they were born with it/genetic (especially physical stats), it was formed during their, er, formative years (things like intelligence), or otherwise hardwired.  Now, my feeling is more that an attribute is simply a reflection of the overall capacity of a character in a particular area:  they are the full measure of a character’s ability in those fields at the present moment, a combination of whatever innate potential they may possess coupled with their training, experience, exploration, and development.

In other words, the idea is to begin breaking down the distinction between raw vs trained, and moreso breaking down the barriers between what’s purely a statistic, and what’s a measure of a group of abilities.  A character with a high Physical Strength may be big and beefy and can raw power their way through things, or they may be more wiry and through efficient body use developed by training are able to move (figuratively) mountains.  In addition, do we need a “balance” skill modified by “dexterity” or can the attribute called “dexterity” just be a representation of a character’s ability to balance, swing, and do agility based stuff?  How I’m now viewing it is much more of the latter; I’ll get more into this when I talk about skills (for this will still be a skill-based system).  As heroes, as adventurers, as characters out of the ordinary, the PCs ought to be quite capable in many areas, and the attributes reflect that.

In addition, the usual occurance is for a dexterous character to pick up the “balance” or other skills anyway, and so making a distinction is a level of complexity that at-the-table is not really bringing any benefit.  And for those cases where the dexterous character can’t balance, then the player can say “my character can’t do that, they’re afraid of heights.”

OK!  Enough quick-thought background, here is the key idea that has me intrigued enough to be the impetus to begin designing a new game system:

The core concept for attributes in the system is a matrix.  There are three aspects for a character:  Physical, Mental, and Spiritual.  Each is measured by three fields:  Strength, Agility, and Fortitude.

Physical Mental Spiritual
Power Strength Reasoning Presence
Agility Dexterity Creativity Empathy
Fortitude Vigor Focus Willpower

While nine smells a bit to me like a too granular number of stats, I am enamoured with the three base aspects and each being measured against the similar fields of strength, agility and fortitude.  That really smells very right, giving a good run of a character across broad but focused areas.  I think it will make things easier for the GM’s call on what attribute is being tested by a particular task:  pick an aspect, and pick how that aspect is being tested.

It also has the advantage of being able to have in-game effects that modify specific rows and columns.  A magic spell could heighten a character’s awareness and senses, granting an agility boost (across all three aspects);  similarly, an esoteric training regimen could boost a character’s body, with a bonus to their physical aspect (across all three fields).  This is useful.

Let’s dive deeper into each of the attributes.

Strength (Physical Power):  Perhaps one of the easiest attributes to grasp, this is how well the PC uses their body to generate force, motion, and gross body movements.  Uses include:  climbing, breaking open a door, lifting something heavy, running, tackle something, melee combat, and aspects of many sports.

Dexterity (Physical Agility):  How well the PC uses their body to be nimble, balanced, to react, and for hand-eye coordination.  Uses include:  walking a tightrope, acrobatics, tumbling, ranged weapon use, fencing, and dodging out of the way of something.

Vigor (Physical Fortitude):  How well the PC’s body can withstand stress and strain of impact and physical exertion, as well as how healthy and hearty the PC is.  Uses include:  resisting poisons or disease, endurance, resistance to physical damage, how long the PC can hold their breath, and how long the PC can stave off environmental effects.

Reasoning (Mental Power):  How well the PC can process information, use logic, and remember things; ie, brain power.  Uses include:  deductive reasoning, figuring out complex formulae, remembering facts (obscure or not), and processing incoming (and sometimes contradictory) data.

Creativity (Mental Agility):  How well the PC can come up with new ideas, can think laterally, and put 2 and 2 together to get 22 (ie not a direct line of reasoning).  Uses include:  art!  Also jerry rigging, inventing new devices, solving puzzles, and making crazy plans.

Focus (Mental Fortitude):  How well the PC can handle mental stress, multitask, and deal with overly stimulating situation.  Uses include:  narrowing out distractions, functioning despite sleep deprivation, working for long hours on complex problems, and resistance to psychic attacks.

Presence (Spiritual Power):  This is the PC’s force of personality, how they present themselves.  It shows up most often in how others respond to the PC.  Uses include:  influence, persuasion, intimidation, inspiration, charm, oratory, and leadership.

Empathy (Spiritual Agility):  How in tune the PC is to the environment around them and other people, how flexible they in seeing other things.   Uses include:  intuition, being connected to and in tune with other people, spotting/noticing objects and ambushes, sensing motives/lies, and training animals.

Willpower (Spiritual Fortitude):  How much of a sense the PC has of themselves, how well they can keep going when the going gets tough.  It is resilience in the face of rough situations.  Uses include:  resisting interrogation, initiative in combat, surviving mission SNAFUs, winning a battle of insults, and resistance to ego attacks.


And there we have it, the nine stats in a nine square grid (Architects, ho!).  How these will interplay with skills, and more, in the next post(s).  Any thoughts?  Please fire away!

4 thoughts on “RPG System 1: Attributes

  1. Jeff February 18, 2014 / 07:26

    Really like where you’re going with this. I must admit that I find 9 aspects a bit high – would love to see that pared down to 6 but… well, I really don’t see anything there I’d want to get rid of so perhaps 9 is best. I love the breakout of Power/Agility/Fortitude as it really does a great job of describing various facets of the same attribute.

    I think you’re on to something quite exciting with this re-imagining of stats and attributes. Following it through with a matching skills/experience tree could lead to a really unique gaming experience that is quite impressive to think about.

    You’ve got a great start here – Can’t wait to see where it leads you.

    • Kannik February 20, 2014 / 12:26

      Thanks! Your thought above about the number of attributes mirrors my thoughts almost exactly; something about 9 seems high, but the matrix of aspects is just too good. Many games, it seems, will break out the physical aspects into multiple attributes, but lump all the mental and, moreso, spiritual ones into fewer stats — which is how they get their low number of stats. D&D’s an example: 3 stats for physical stuff (STR, DEX, CON), one mental (INT), one spiritual (CHA) and one mental/spiritual combo (WIS). }:)

      Onward to skills!

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