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Rough Quests


by Sergio Mascarenhas
Nov 25,2005


As you know by now, the order of the columns had been had been changed some time ago. In order to have things straight we are now re-publishing the two columns that came out of order combined into a single one with some minor comments and corrections. From next column we will resume the normal ordering of the events.


In the previous columns I settled on the list of attributes to figure in Rough Quests and kept 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 aggregate 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, existentialism, and other philosophies; I'm just looking at things from a very crude, pragmatic way focusing on how the issues under consideration shape the game system).

Think about Vitality. Even a sleeping or comatose 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 idle 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.


I just said that Rough Quests is not going to have secondary traits, only primary ones, yet there's scope to toy with these in order to provide a finer modeling of different game situations. There will be occasions when two traits seem to be equally applicable. What to do? Well, we can have combined traits.

Combined Attributes

Adroitness - DEX and AGI. It was discussed before, enough said.

Craftiness - DEX and INT. This is mainly used to deal with objects on a technical basis. It underscores crafts, the handling of mechanisms (like traps) and similar activities.

Seduction - DEX and COM. It represents the ability to influence others with a combination of dexterous movements and communication. It is relevant for 'magic' tricks, pickpocketing, gambling, massaging (huu, huu), etc.

Maneuvering - AGI and INT. It is about a clever handling of positioning, the ability to be at the right place at the right time. It influences tactical movement, dodge, stealth, etc.

Grace - AGI and COM. We are talking about the aesthetics of body language, elegance, sensuality. It is relevant for performing arts, dance, courtship, etc. (Notice that GRA is not to be confused with beauty. There are highly graceful people that are far from being beautiful.)

Persuasion - INT and COM. What's at stake is the ability to achieve results in social life through the usage of the intellect. PER allows the character to talk things out through debate, diplomacy and the like.

Combined Characteristics

Power - VIT and SIZ. This represents the power of a physical action. How strong is your blow? How far can you jump? How much can you lift?

Aura - VIT and CHA. It corresponds both to vital power, the energy that fuels magic, and to the resistance to magical interferences with the character's vitality.

Endurance - VIT and DET. It determines the ability to endure sickness and deprivation (of food, water, etc.).

Presence - SIZ and CHA. Who are the individuals you notice when looking at a crowd? Most likely the biggest individuals but also the ones with the strongest character.

Resistance - SIZ and DET. Resistance to damage and poisoning.

Leadership - CHA and DET. It represents the ability of the character to drive others to do as he wants.

On the overall we have twelve combined traits, six attributes and six characteristics.

Good. No, not that good...

Eight primary traits plus twelve combined stats, that's a lot of things to keep in mind. I suppose this is a classical example of overdone design. It's time for some refitting. (Don't know what I mean with these terms? Just check the game design cycle I proposed in one of my old Ruleslawyer for Free columns [].) I see two ways in which I can simplify the list of stats:

First, drop the combined traits. I can just drop the combined traits by subsuming these into the primary stats. For instance I can subsume Adroitness and Maneuvering under Agility; include Seduction, Grace and Persuasion with Communication; drive Craftiness into Dexterity. I can also factor Power and Resistance into Size; Aura and Endurance into Vitality; Presence into either Size or Charisma; Leadership to Charisma.

Second, reduce the number of primary traits, thus reducing the number of combined ones. Why not going back to the classical combination of Agility and Dexterity into a single Adroitness stat? And why not fuze Charisma and Determination? If I do this I will have only three Attributes and three Characteristics based on which I can derive three combined Attributes and three combined Characteristics, thus lowering the total number of traits to a more manageable total of twelve. The combined traits would be:

Combined attributes: Dexterity (ADD plus INT), Grace (ADD plus COM) and Persuasion (still INT plus COM). Maneuvering would be covered by Agility, Craftiness by Dexterity and Seduction by Grace.

Combined characteristics: Power (VIT plus SIZ), Aura (VIT plus CHA) and Presence (SIZ plus CHA). Endurance would be subsumed into VIT while Resistance would be intoSIZ.

Where do I stand?

Some columns ago I stated that I like tidy systems where symmetry is paramount. I moved forward and back, and ended with a proposal where I'll drop the ball on that account. On the other hand, something like 20 core traits, either primary or combined, is just out of question. In other words, which of the two approaches above should I retain in Rough Quests?

Personally I consider the last proposal to be the best (or the less bad). Twelve traits is a manageable number and I really think that subsuming some combinations into one or the other of the primary traits is hard to explain when we consider the interactions at hand. Yes, this means that I end with a fairly standard list of traits, specially the physical ones. But at least I know why I do have these stats and no others.

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What do you think?

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