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Rough Quests


by Sergio Mascarenhas
Aug 12,2005



Last column I standardized the terminology used in different games to label physical traits. I also organized these stats in a tree where they are related in terms of generality vs. specialization. This time we will focus on the sub-set of physical traits that relate to tangible, static body functions, what I called Physique and its sub-components. In any case let me recall that we are looking at Primary Stats. There may be games that handle some of the concepts we discuss bellow with Secondary or Derived attributes, yet we are not interested in it at this time.

Our initial aim will be to compare the games to see how they handle Physique. For that purpose check the next table.

As you can see I looked at 43 systems that correspond to 50-something games. The most immediate thing to notice is that twelve of those 43 systems handle Physique with a single stat, while the remaining 31 break it up into two or more sub-stats. Of these the great majority (actually 60% of the 43 systems) has a stat for Power and another for Vitality. Needless to say, this is an enduring legacy from D&D, as the fact that most games handle Power under the label of Strength demonstrates. Given that, what's more interesting to look at is the 12% of games that diverge from those two main paradigms.

Let's first look at Power. Both Basic Role Playing and Fuzion sub-divide it into Strength and Size. On the other hand, Skyrealms of Jorune handles Power by recourse to the idea of Strength when it represents individual attributes, yet it uses Size instead to represent the differences in Power among different races. I will not even consider the last option since it's hard to see the rationale between calling one thing by a name here and another name there. It bears mention the fact that Tribe 8 is the only game that has a Power stat but approaches it by the side of Size instead of Strength.

Let's focus on this last point. I'm always surprised by the lack of attention that size gets in rpg mechanics. After all, size is one of the most immediate things we notice about people around us. What's more, it provides a much easier way to measure people than Strength (either if it is through eight or through weight). Finally, we just need to look at our real world experience, for instance, let's look at sports. How are people separated into different categories in sports that rely on power, like combat sports? On weight, of course, which is a measure of size. Yet RPGs ignore it. The only explanation I can find is the power of tradition. Since D&D ignored it, most designers end doing the same.

On what concerns Vitality the vast majority of the games does not sub-divide it. The few that do, Dragonquest and Multiverser, break it up into Constitution and Endurance. Once more, many of the games that have a single trait for Vitality call it Constitution, once more inspired by D&D.

What about Rough Quests, should I follow the pack and go for ( Power plus Vitality )? Should I attempt to sub-divide one or both of them? Or should I default to a single Physique attribute?

Physique vs. Power plus Vitality. First, should I break up Physique into two sub-stats, Power and Vitality, or not? My perspective is simple: Fantasy characters face a lot of physical action and, being pre-modern, they rely to a great extent on individual, congenial capabilities. Furthermore, the variability in terms of physical capabilities is increased by the presence of non-humans. Because of that it is important to provide a good deal of options that may cover the different outlook of a varied set of characters, and that provide more gaming options. Breaking up Physique into Power and Vitality is a good way to ensure this objective. Rough Quests will have at least Power and Vitality.

Power vs. Size plus Strength. The analysis of the different games presented above pointed to the fact that Power tends to be equated with Strength. We have also seen that Size is a marginal stat and that this was somewhat surprising. How should Rough Quests handle this issue?

I said before that RuneQuest is one of my major inspirations if not my major inspiration. Interestingly enough RuneQuest and, more generally, the other BRP games are among the few that have both Strength and Size. Should I follow in their path? If not, which stat should I retain?

Years ago I reached the conclusion that there was a stat too many in BRP, It made sense to have either Strength or Size, not both. The reason is simple: Strength (the real thing, not the RPG stat) is to a great extent a function of body mass the thing that a game trait like Size represents. As I mentioned before, that's why combat sports break up people into size categories (by measuring size in terms of weight). It makes no sense to have two attributes that to a great extent cover the same ground. Yes, Strength and size are not exactly the same thing, but most of their impact in fantasy RPGs relates to physical power and that's where they come together. The end result is that Rough Quests will not work like BRP games. It will have either Strength or Size but not both.

Of course, most games in my list do just that. It also happens that most of them handle physical power with Strength. Yet forgive-me for keeping repeating this - combat sports break up people according to size calculated from weight. We also tend to make judgments on people (are they menacing, dangerous?) based on their size, in this case by a cursory analysis of dimension and shape. These two arguments alone would lead me to opt for Size instead of Strength. Yet, there is something more.

The relationship between size and Strength is not direct. Yes, on average the bigger guy is also the stronger one, but this is not mandatory. Why? Because Strength is not a function of raw size alone. There are two other factors at work that may change the relationship between these traits. The first is what's into size. It includes bone, muscle, skin, brains, fat, etc. Not all of this is used to generate Strength. This is particularly true about a fat person since in this case fat not only is useless in the generation of Strength, it distracts from it by increasing the mass that has to be moved by the person. This reasoning means that when I speak about size I must qualify it by stating that it is useful size -- bones and muscle. The other issue is that Strength or physical power is a function of both useful body mass and adroitness! After all, isn't Strength the product of the ability to move the body mass effectively compounded by the volume of useful body mass available? This means that separating Strength from coordination is actually a dubious choice.

Given all these considerations I'll keep Size but I'll specify that this is useful size -- bones and muscle. Inert body mass like fat is not considered under Size. (If that's so why keep the name? Well, I tried different alternatives -- Body, Body Mass, Muscle, Build -- but nome seemed better than Size.) Two characters with the same Size can have very different body shapes, have different eights and different weights. These differences I'll leave to optional rules where the players will be able to specify if their characters are athletic, thin, compact or fat (for instance), and do things like refer to a drawing that will give them the shape of the character and to a table that will provide both eight and weight, etc. In Rough Quests Size is the attribute that provides the energy that allows the character to power his moves, while Coordination (or one of its sub-attributes -- see the next column) provides the physical control required to use that energy effectively. Size without Coordination leads to spoiled energy (a lot of sweet, groans, and erratic moves, etc.), while Coordination without Size generates precise, technically brilliant moves that just have no impact. Strength is, then, the combined effect of Size and Coordination. How this will be represented by the rules is still to be seen.

The bottom line is that Rough Quests will have a single trait to represent physical power. That trait will be related to size and will be called exactly that.

Vitality vs. Constitution plus Endurance. The analysis of different game systems shows that most of these have a single stat to represent the ability to endure physical hardships irrespective of their nature, yet some break it up into a trait that covers hardships resulting from external factors (sickness, damage, poisoning, etc.) and another that covers exertion (due to effort, lack of sleep, water, food, etc.). I called these two Constitution and Endurance respectively. How should I deal with this?

Needless to say, I need a stat to represent health, the ability to endure damage, illnesses, etc. (Interestingly, I could break it up into several stats corresponding to different external hardships, yet I think that it is better not to introduce that level of complexity. Besides, I may be able to cover this at a latter stage when I'll handle secondary traits.)

What about endurance? Let me start with the realist argument. Well, this is pre-modern fantasy inspired by pre-modern real world realities, so it is about a world where characters have a hard and physically demanding life. They are used to endure sleepless nights, shortages of food and to beg for a bowl of water. My reading of real world sources on the life of soldiers and common people in the Renaissance period shows that people were able to live and function even in the most exerting situations. The factors covered under Endurance matered only when people were pushed to really extreme situations. Now, these situations tend to be exceptional. Why having a stat to cover it?

There is also the gamist argument. Most often than not, rules for endurance are a core to play. They introduce a further level of complexity without much gain in terms of every-day game situations. In my opinion it's better to treat endurance with special rules that focus on the extreme situations where endurance really matters, not with general rules to be applied every time. Based on these considerations I can live happily without an Endurance stat.

Yes, I need something to represent the physical status of the character yet Vitality is enough to do the trick. It cover both Constitution and Endurance.

We can close the column. Rough Quests will handle Physique with a pair of attributes: Size and Vitality. Next column we will look at Coordination.


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