ATTRIBUTES AND CHARACTERISTICSby Sergio Mascarenhas
ATTRIBUTES AND CHARACTERISTICSby Sergio Mascarenhas
BREAKING UP ROUGH QUESTS' PRIMARY STATS INTO ATTRIBUTES AND CHARACTERISTICS
Two columns ago I settled on the list of attributes to figure in Rough Quests. Last column I putted in suspended animation the design of secondary attributes. At the time I linked a decision on this issue to the design of the action resolution mechanics since attributes, either primary or secondary, are used as inputs in the action resolution mechanics. Many mechanics break up action into several stages and the attributes may be inputs (direct or indirect) at the different stages. I illustrated this using RuneQuest as an example where there is a skill resolution stage and an outcome resolution stage (at least in combat and sometimes in magic).
Today I want to focus specifically on that last break-up of action resolution into two stages. Let me christen them Performance and Result. Performance concerns what the character does, result represents the impact of what the character does on the setting. A character moves and hits a table. That's his performance. Does the china jar fall? If it falls, does it break? That's the result.
RuneQuest has a break-up between performance and result. Yet, it does not have consistent and standard ways to handle both. We have seen that it can deal with performance either through the Resistance Table or through opposed rolls, and that it can use as inputs to performance either the primary attributes, skills or even secondary attributes. Likewise, it does not have an universal mechanic to handle results. This is not the moment to decide on how Rough Quests will address these issues, though.
My focus lies elsewhere. So far I have handled all attributes at the same level. I didn't consider the way they are going to be used in the game since that is to a great extent - I said it before - a function of the way the game deals with action resolution (and also how it scales capabilities, another issue to be handled at another moment). Still, should Rough Quests have a single-stage action resolution mechanic, or should it have performance plus result? Uh, uh... I'm looking at a system that pays a lot of attention to detail, to the gritty aspects of adventuring. This means that an action may agregate many inputs. In this context it makes sense to break the same into sub-sets, each pertaining to a different aspect of the action. There should be at least two stages and breaking-up action into performance and result works very well for my purposes.
Which brings us back to what I wrote above, the fact that I've been handling all attributes at the same level. Since I'm considering mechanics where there is a stage for handling performance and another stage to handle results, how do I assign my eight attributes to these two stages? To answer this question I need to address some more question marks about the attributes: Do they tell us the same type of things about the character? Should all attributes work the same way? I think not. I tend to consider that they can be separated into two sets, dynamic or active attributes and static or passive attributes. In other words, there are attributes that relate directly to what the character does while others have more to do with “being” (no, I don't want to start a discussion on ontology, existencialism, and other philosophies; I'm just looking at things from a very crude, pragmatic way focuzing on how the issues under consideration shape the game system).
Think about Vitality. Even a sleeping or chomatose character has Vitality. The same can be said about Size. Vitality and Size are there, even if there's no action on the part of the character. Yes, both influence action but that influence is not direct. They set constrains on action, they don't drive action. In that sense Vitality and Size are passive determinants of action.
On the other hand, we have Dexterity and Agility. They are directly related to action. They define the physical capabilities to act, they represent the body dynamics.
Now, consider the psychological attributes. Intellect is about thinking - either in a reasoned or in an intuitive way -, mental action by excellence. Within the non-expressed assumption that roleplaying is about intentional action these traits are iddle when the character is sleeping or unable to think for whatever motive. Take out action and Intellect or Communication loose their relevance.
On the other hand, the charismatic character is charismatic with or without a manifestation of will on his part. Charisma shines even when the character is doing nothing. The same can be said about Determination.
I guess you have sensed where I am going: Some attributes relate to the way the character performs while others determine the results of that performance. Or let me present things in process terms (remember, a process is a sequence of events where some inputs are subject to a procedure or transformation that generates an output). If we look at things this way the performance-oriented or dynamic attributes define the nature of the procedure or transformation; while the results-influencing or static ones are the inputs (the result is, well, the result).
The point is to identify the dynamic or procedural attributes and the static or input ones. The answer has been provided, actually: The former are Dexterity, Agility, Intellect and Communication. The latter are Vitality, Size, Charisma and Determination. I have two categories of attributes, each one to be used at a different stage of action resolution. To make things more clear I'll call the first ones as Attributes and the last ones as Characteristics (thus inverting the terminology used in RuneQuest, go get it).
Interestingly enough, this also solves to a great extent the issue I left in suspended animation at the end of last column: Whether I should or not design secondary traits. No, I think I don't need them. My list of primary stats provides two subsets that - time will tell - cover the gamut of design needs that are handled in systems such as RuneQuest with secondary traits.