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Rough Quests

A BROAD VIEW ON PRIMARY ATTRIBUTES

by Sergio Mascarenhas
Jul 08,2005

 

A BROAD VIEW ON PRIMARY ATTRIBUTES

By now we know which are the core peoples and the core roles that will be available for players of the fantasy rpg Rough Quests. What about the descriptors that define their characters? In the last column I shortlisted the types of descriptors I plan to use in my game. Now it is time to zoom on the first of the categories I selected: Primary attributes.

As I said before, RuneQuest III is the main inspiration for my Rough Quests project, so it is only natural if I look at its primary attributes as a reference for my game. RQIII has 7 basic characteristics (or attributes, I'll use the two terms interchangeably): Constitution, Size, Dexterity (both dexterity proper and agility), Strengh, Intelligence, Power (the magic attribute) and Appearance. RuneQuest II had almost the same set with Charisma instead of Appearance. On the other hand, D&D is the grand father of rpgs so we should consider its own list of basic stats: Constitution, Dexterity, Strengh, Intelligence, Wisdom and Appearance. Needless to say, D&D had a major infuence on RuneQuest.

It makes sense to broaden the list to games other than D&D and RuneQuest since I opted to design Rough Quests by 'benchmarking' other rpgs in order to re-engineer or reverse engineer their best features. For that purpose I prepared the table found in the next pdf file. Needless to say, this is my interpretation of these games. Your take may be different.

As you can see, I made a break-up between three types of primary attributes (physical, psychological and special) and next introduced two mixed types. This breakdown will allow for a tighter analysis of concrete attributes in latter stages of the process. On the other hand, there are games that don't have standard primary stats, as mentionned in the pdf file. Since I opted to follow the classical design with stantard primary attributes, I dropped those games from the list. Furthermore, different games have a different number of stats, going from 2 to more than 10. Even without considering the exact content of the stats, how many should I include in Rough Quests? I'll look at it from the perspectives I identified in the third column of this series, realist, gamist and cinematic:

The realist argument against too few attributes steems from the consideration that a small number of stats forces the designer to amass things that we tend to consider separately as per our empirical experience. For instance, when we consider the physical abilities of a person we tend to look at force, addroitness, size, health, etc. A single stat just doesn't seems to provide the type of understanding of physical prowess that corresponds to our common understanding. On the other hand, the realistic argument against too many stats is that it leads to 'splitting hairs', distinctions that are increasingly hard to justify since most often than not there is an overlap between the different stats.

The gamist argument in favour of several stats is that a small number doesn't provide enough options to the players or a basis for gaming variability. The gamist argument against too many stats is that they may lead to a complex game without improving the gaming experience.

The cinematic argument for multiple stats is that each may provide the players with ideas for interesting stunts to perform. Against a wide set of stats lays the consideration that it may drag the players to points of rules instead of focuzing them on the action of their characters.

So, what's the ideal number of attributes that I should target at? My intuition tells me that bellow four it's not enough, while above ten it is too much. This means that I will not follow in the path of games like Prince Valiant, The Shadow of Yesterday, Tri-Stat dX or Sorcerer since they have too small a number of basic attributes. Yet, they deserve to be looked at when considering the concrete attributes to be chosen for Rough Quests (more on this latter).

As I mentionned before, the table presented in the pdf file above includes three basic types of attributes (physical, psychological and special) plus two mixed types (physico-psychological and psycho-special - not the most interesting terminology but it is functional enough for my present purposes). Now, at this stage of game design I'm not concerned with magic and other non-mundane abilities. This means that I'll concentrate my attention on only physical, physico-psychological and psychological attributes, so I can drop the lists of special and psycho-special ones. Of course, I'll still keep the instances identified as psycho-special in the listing of psychological attributes.

If we look now at the list of attributes that I classify as physico-psychological, we may notice that most of these have to do with either one of two issues: Perception (also qualified as Awareness) and Appearance (going by names such as Beauty, Physical Beauty or Comeliness). You may also notice that there are instances where Perception or Apperance are classified as purely physical. Why the discrepancy? It has to do with the way the different games specify these attributes. For instance, some games describe perception as just senses, so I classified it as physical, while others describe it as a combination of senses and understanding based on the data collected through them, and in those cases I classified perception as physico-psychological. Likewise, some games consider that appearance is purely physical, while others describe it as incorporating emotional or psychological components. At the risk of antecipating conclusions that should only come at a latter stage, I have to ask: Do we really need the Perception or Appearance stats?

For years I thought that there was a glaring miss in RuneQuest, and it was Perception: it seemed to me that the game didn't have a way to measure the ability to perceive things in the environment. I thought. I don't think anymore, not since the day I asked myself the next question: What if a character has both a very high Dexterity and a very low Perception? It makes no sense. Just as it makes no sense to have high skills that require perception if the character has a low perception. What makes sense when we consider BRP games is to figure that Perception is implicit in Dexterity, Constitution or a combination of both, maybe with optional rules to refine the way this happens. For the same reason Perception will not make it into Rough Quests.

What about Appearance? The first thing to notice is that beauty really includes both physical and psychological components. It is also highly dependent on skill and personality (some people pamper themselves while others make a point of paying no attention to the way they look) and, if we consider dress or make-up, on 'stuff'. This means that it is very hard to separate 'raw' beauty from 'produced' beauty. Furthermore, 'raw' appearance usually only works in the case of a person of exceptional beauty while for most people the finner aspects are balanced by some weaker traits. And we should also take into consideration differences in taste according to which different people are attracted to varied patterns of beauty. Finally, the usage of beauty and appearance in a rpg tends to be limited. For all these reasons I think the game can live happily without an appearance stat.

In conclusion, Rough Quests will not have Perception or Appearance as primary attributes. If we eliminate these two attributes from the physico-psychological category we are left with only three instances: Dragonquest (Fatigue), HARP (Quickness) and The Shadow of Yesterday (Instinct). It would be nice to drop the physico-psychological category all-together, but how to handle these three instances? In the case of Dragonquest's Fatigue it is actually simple, all we need is to break it up into Physical Fatigue and Psychological Fatigue. The same can be done with HARP's Quickness. The Shadow of Yesterday's Instinct is harder to handle but we may consider that the contraposition between Reason and Instinct can lead us to place the latter in the physical side of the equation.

Remember I said that I would not consider less than 4 or more than 10 attributes? Since I've broken up attributes into two categories it naturaly follows that I will neither consider less than two attributes or more than five in each category. This leads to a last tweak in my analysis of the attributes in different rpgs: I will not consider creating a game with only one attribute in each category, in other words, games that represent physique or psychology with a single attribute (in any case, I'll keep them in the list since it will be useful to look at them for the development of attributes for Rough Quests). Furthermore, in the few instances of games with more than five attributes in a category I'll bundle together those that are more closely related, thus reducing the total to five. The next pdf file presents the end result of the previous exercise. This will be my primer to decide on which attributes to include in Rough Quests.

I suppose that it is better to stop at this stage. Next column I'll look specifically at Physical Attributes.

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What do you think?

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