30 January, 2013

How many attributes are enough?

Classic D&D has six attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma.

Classic World of Darkness has nine attributes (don't get me started on nWoD), three each in three categories: Physical (Strength, Stamina, Dexterity), Social (Charisma, Manipulation, Appearance), Mental (Intelligence, Perception, Wits).

Palladium's System has eight: Intelligence Quotient, Mental Affinity, Mental Endurance, Physical Strength, Physical Endurance, Physical Prowess, Physical Beauty, Speed.

I vaguely remember Rolemaster having ten attributes, but I don't have a copy any more and it's been years since I played, so don't ask me to name them.

Monsterhearts has four: Hot, Cold, Volatile, Dark
(and most *-World games seem to also have 4, but the specific four are based on the tone of the game).

Big Eyes Small Mouth as three: Body, Mind, Spirit (where everything social is handled by character advantages and disadvantages)

And among my own published games...

FUBAR doesn't have attributes at all, instead basing all actions off traits.

Ghost City Raiders has six attributes: Smarts, Strength (split into left and right arms), Stamina, Survival, Speed.

Typically in character generation, the attributes are a player's gateway into the system. If there are a lot of attributes, you can be pretty certain that the game is going to be high crunch. If the majority of attributes relate to physical characteristics, then you are probably safe to assume that politics and thinking aren't going to be addressed too heavily in the rules (the specific scenarios in the game might address political intrigue or tests of mental acuity, but these would tend to be left to the roleplaying ability of the players involved).

Which is better? That's a really subjective question.

The important thing to consider is what you want the attributes to do. Classic D&D and Palladium don't really do anything with the attributes, but they leave it open for specific player groups to come up with their own ideas. Maybe you roll a die against a specific attribute when none of the skills seem to cover the situation. Maybe you reference some tables using the attributes to determine other characteristics about the hero. Maybe you just ignore the attributes completely.

Many games use a specific Attribute + Skill mechanism to determine overall character ability in a specific field. Others (like "Savage Worlds" and the new "Star Wars: Edge of Empire") use attributes to limit the skills related to them.

There are lots of subtle interplays between mechanisms and you need to consider all of these factors when determining the number of attributes to use in a game. With less attributes, they each need to cover a wider range of possibilities (or you need to focus your game around the specific possibilities covered by those attributes), with more attributes you can be more specific with the numbers (or wider with your game focus).

I specifically used lots of physical attributes in Ghost City raiders because it's all about stunts, exploration and combat...the roleplaying is tactical and often occurs between the designated scenarios.

The reason I'm thinking about this is for the Voidstone Chronicles game.

How many attributes would reflect that old school style of console play?
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