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Rough Quests


by Sergio Mascarenhas
Nov 11,2005



The last six columns concerned the definition of the set of primary attributes to include in Rough Quests. As we have seen in a previous column (when I tentatively defined the set of categories of descriptors to be present in the game, check Rough Quests may or may not have secondary attributes, traits based on the combination of the primary stats. At the time it was seen that half of the games with primary attributes also had secondary traits. Im not going to look in detail at the games that have them, though. These games handle secondary stats in very different ways and for very different purposes. It would be hard to get at any meaningful conclusions based on their comparative analysis. Instead Ill pick some of my favorite games and see how they handle it. Yet, before that theres something worth discussing, something that will help us to put things in perspective and to reach some conclusions on the issue of secondary attributes. It is...

Attributes, the game system and the game mechanics

Why do games have attributes? Actually we have seen that no all of them have these but when they do have then, whats their function in the game system? At this stage -- and with the risk of antecipating issues that will be looked at with more depth at a latter stage of the design of Rough Quests -- it is important to advance some notions about how rpg systems work.

A good start can be a comment by Torgen Mogensen to a previous column in this series ( He provides some of the more common ways how attributes are used in rpgs. I just think he didnt mention the core one: From a qualitative point of view they provide the basic description of the character, a description that focus on things that are fairly stable and that either dont change or only change in special or exceptional situations. These are the basic physical and psychological traits. Until now thats the way we have been looking at attributes, as descriptors or static models of a non-game reality.

Yet, attributes also provide the core game entities that are to be used by the game system, the purposes mentionned by Torgen. If we look at a game system as a production function, we have inputs, a transformation process and an output. The latter is the end result of the action, the change to the game world that results from the behavior of the character (or any other game entity). The transformation process corresponds to the application of the action resolution mechanics. The inputs are the descriptors. Usually when games have attributes these are the core inputs in action resolution.

The way attributes are used as inputs for action resolution depends on the way each game handles action resolution. A major concern is whether it is dealt with in a single stage (say, a single roll mechanic where all possible factors influencing the result have to be factored) or whether it has multiple stages (something like initiative determination plus ability determination plus damage determination, etc.). In a single stage action resolution mechanic the attributes will be one of the inputs into that single stage. In a multiple stage action resolution mechanic the attributes may be used in any of the different stages, depending on the way the game conceives them.

A further issue concerns which situations, which types of action, call for the presence of each attribute as a potential input. When we broke the attributes into two sets we left implicit that there may be two types of actions, physical and psychological, thus its also implicit that each set of attributes may have a reserved scope in terms of situations where it will be relevant.

Finally, an attribute may be called as an input to action resolution directly or, instead, it may be used to the determination of the value of a different descriptor which will be used as the input for the action resolution mechanic. In the first case we have the primary attributes being used as the inputs for action resolution while in the second case we have secondary attributes filling that role. Of course, a game can have both alternatives being used for different purposes or in different stages of action resolution.

By now we can understand why some games opt to have secondary attributes. Its either because it provides to a more complex description of the character (in this case the secondary attributes allow the system to account to the qualitative impact of the interactions between the different primary attributes) or because the complexity of the action resolution process has scope for a more complex set of inputs than the straight contribution of the primary attributes.

An example of secondary attributes: RuneQuest

RuneQuest has several action resolution procedures, each used for different purposes. The simplest is the Resistance Table (or, more exactly, the Resistance algoritm) where one pits two abilities against each other, plus or less circumstantial modifiers. The basic formula is:


( Offensive Ability + 50 + Positive Modifiers ) -- ( Defensive Ability + Negative Modifiers) >= d100

then Success, otherwise Failure.

RuneQuests Resistance Table is used primarily to pit primary attributes against each other (notice that in RuneQuest primary attributes are called Characteristics while some secondary attributes are called Attributes while others are not qualified as such -- thats the case with skill modifiers). This is the action resolution mechanic where these attributes are used as direct inputs to action resolution.

The second action resolution mechanic used in RuneQuest is the Opposed rolls with direct results method:


(Offensive Ability +/- Modifiers to Offensive Ability + 1d100 ) >= (Defensive Ability +/- Modifiers to Defensive Ability + 1d100 )

then Success, otherwise Failure.

Most often than not this mechanic is used with skills, a different descriptor from attributes. In RuneQuest the value of the skills incorporates a modifier that is calculated from the primary attributes. Furthermore, advances in skills are also influenceed by that modifier. So we can say that RuneQuests primary attributes are an indirect input to opposed rolls. (Other BRP games may not have this feature, though.)

The third action resolution mechanic used in RuneQuest is the Opposed rolls with indirect results method (my terminology in this case). The previous methods have a single stage while here the opposed roll does not settle action resolution, it just authorizes a second stage in the process. RuneQuests third method is used chiefly for combat damage, so Ill detail it for that purpose. This is how it works:

Stage 1, Opposed Roll - If Opposed roll is Successful move on to Outcome Determination stage, else Failure. Outcome determination is as follows.

Stage 2, Outcome roll: If

( Offensive Damage Modifier, a set of ndx +/- Offensive modifiers ) - ( +/- Defensive modifiers ) > 0

then deduct balance of the rolls from Relevant Secondary Attribute and apply Qualitative Outcome, else Failure.

Of course, the primary attributes still impact indirectly on stage 1. They also impact on the Outcome stage since they may contribute to the determination of the sets of dice to roll or to the modifiers.

(Notice that the core BRP has a two-stage action resolution mechanic that combines the Resistance Table with an Outcome roll.)

I suppose we can stop here and avoid going into other details in RuneQuests action resolution mechanics (like Strike Ranks, the initial stage in combat). The point is, primary attributes are used by RuneQuest:

a) Directly in the Resistance Table. Notice that the RT does not used the value of the attribute as such, instead it is multiplied by five to allow for a percentile roll.

b) Indirectly for the determination of the skill modifiers. Even if these are not called secondary attributes thats what they are at core. Here the primary attributes allow for the calculus of a percentage in a range that usually goes from -5% to +10%.

c) Indirectly through Characteristics, the secondary attributes used in the Outcome determination stage. In combat the most useful of these are Hit Points and the Damage Modifier. Here we have many different types of inputs including: Absolute values (HPs, Magic Points); random factors (Damage Modifier); thresholds or target numbers (the values required to achieve qualified damage).

d) Indirectly through other secondary attributes used in other stages of action resolution not described above: Absolute values (Strike Ranks, Fatigue Points); fixed values (Movement).

What I trying to highlight is the complex way that RuneQuest handles action and the varied alternatives it considers to use attributes as inputs for the resolution process. I personaly think that the game could achieve the same results with a smaller set of alternatives in terms of action resolution mechanics and with a smaller set of secondary attributes (if not without these). But my porpose is not to work a revision of RuneQuest (Mongoose is doing it anyway), so Ill not consider those alternatives.

Secondary attributes in Rough Quests

The need for secondary attributes is deeply tied to the action resolution mechanics. This means that at the present stage I should not concern myself anylonger with this issue. All I can say is that Ill try to avoid as much as possible to ressort to them. If its possible to handle the situations by direct recourse to the primary attributes, thats what we shall do. Needless to say, when those issues come to the fore we will go back to RuneQuest and see how it can inspire what to do and what not to do.

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