Author Topic: Character Attributes & the Options Built On Them  (Read 3103 times)

Offline Ziegander

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Character Attributes & the Options Built On Them
« on: December 18, 2011, 11:44:24 PM »
A common thread between countless tabletop RPGs is a collection of numbers known as Attributes, or Ability Scores, or, put another way, a collection of numbers that represents a basic, mechanical translation of what a player character is able to do. Strength, Speed, Endurance, Agility, Stamina, Power, Guts, Wits, Wisdom, Intelligence, Personality, Charisma, etc. Whatever names an individual game uses, whatever mechanics a game devises to determine the value of each number, the commonality is that they always serve to give the player of their character a guideline for the sort of things they can expect their character to be good at.

It strikes me as odd, then, when in some games we are given this set of statistics that tells us that our characters should be good at certain things, but really our choice in other aspects of our character better defines what the character will be good at, often to the point of making some of our "Attributes" or "Ability Scores" entirely irrelevant. Some of these core statistics are given more mechanical weight than others making them clearly more important. Sometimes to circumvent this imbalance entire subsystems are devised, separate from the Attributes/Abilities system, to give the "lesser" stats something else to contribute, but often are only accessible to players that make specific character creation choices.

For example, let's say a game has the following Attributes: Strength, Endurance, Speed, Agility, Wits, and Wisdom. In that system, you are given to believe that a character with high Strength & Endurance makes a fine fighter, that a character with high Speed & Agility makes a fine scout, that a character with high Wits & Wisdom makes a fine puzzle solver, and that one is encouraged to mix and match scores as he or she sees fit. Great. However, then that game attaches more rules to Strength and Agility than it does to the other four scores, but in an attempt to make up for this they devise the notion of powerful and diverse spells, available only to the Wizard class, which make high Endurance, Wits, and/or Wisdom scores useful. Sadly, Speed gets no such support. So, at their core functions, a Strong/Agile character is better than any other character, but with the rest of the game taken into consideration such a character is never able to access anything like spells.

So what if that game instead had come up with interesting options for Strength and Agility, different from spells, but in the same spirit of offering characters with high scores something powerful and diverse, removed Speed as an Attribute entirely (since the designers couldn't think of anything special to do with it), and then opened up the "powerful and diverse options" to all characters regardless of class? Sure, there might still be a Wizard class, but any character with a high enough Wits score could cast certain spells, if they wanted to. What are the potential pitfalls of such game design? What suggestions do you have to competently approach such design?

Offline BG_Josh

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Re: Character Attributes & the Options Built On Them
« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2011, 01:26:01 AM »
This is a pretty standard thinking trap.

It comes from people who are building a game by modifing anothor game.

So turning DnD potapocalyptic yields gamma world.  Of course gama world is not really post apocalyptic sf, it is just action adventure.  It just uses mutants instead of orcs.

Better design is when you decide what you want and build mechanics based on that.

Don't say "how do I fix attributes?" Say "what mechanics do what I want?"

Offline veekie

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Re: Character Attributes & the Options Built On Them
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2011, 03:31:24 AM »
Actually, it depends on how you define a character.

Attributes go with what a character is, they start from describing characters in common terms, and then derive further abilities through these terms. They're good for providing general capabilities(particularly capabilities that go unconsidered by default, since attributes are general by nature), if properly implemented. Its also useful in lightly restricted character design, since you provide general attributes and the system informs you of the resulting specifics, which is itself a form of character inspiration(for a large number of players, in the absence of such automatic guides, you wind up with certain archetypes over and over). By describing general attributes you have the skeleton of a character.

Capabilities go with what a character does, you start from what a character can do. They're fairly effective at game balance, but you have exactly the capabilities spelled out(barring wildcard abilities or resources). They are good for when you already have a character in mind, and seek to realize said character. They aren't so nice when you are partially seeking the system to provide you a character.
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Offline Ziegander

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Re: Character Attributes & the Options Built On Them
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2011, 12:27:36 PM »
This is a pretty standard thinking trap.

It comes from people who are building a game by modifing anothor game.

I assure you, I'm not trying to build a game by modifying anything. I'm exploring possibilities, that's all.

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Don't say "how do I fix attributes?" Say "what mechanics do what I want?"

I'm not saying, "how do I fix attributes?" I am saying, "what if, in hypothetical Game X, character capabilities were directly derived from character attributes and not layered on after the fact?" As Veekie did a great job summarizing a lot of my post more succinctly by saying that describing general attributes gives you the skeleton of a character I'm positing the question that rather than starting with the skeleton and jumping straight to laser eyes, what might a game look like that built the character organically up from the metaphorical skeleton to the sinew, the circulatory and nervous systems, the musculature, the vital organs, and then, finally, the laser eyes? How might such a game feel to play, what would be gained over other games, what would be lost in translation?

Offline RedWarlock

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Re: Character Attributes & the Options Built On Them
« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2011, 01:41:12 PM »
Don't say "how do I fix attributes?" Say "what mechanics do what I want?"
But if you are building a game, and you ask one question, then set it aside, then ask another, and wind up with the same answer, does it make it wrong?

Modifying one thing to create another isn't any less valid than trying to build something from scratch. That's a mistake I see a LOT of young, trying-to-define-themselves artists make, they think that just because you used a pre-existing reference or concept, or borrowed a technique, or a particular detail concept, that it makes the resulting work any less worthy. We all build what we know from what we've seen before, it's just a matter of how finely we break down the elements before we re-assemble them.

If a design, or a concept, WORKS for its purpose, then taking that concept and adding new material, or modifying it to fit a new context, doesn't make it work for that purpose less than something someone else constructed entirely from scratch, trying to work in a void. Nine times out of ten (in my experience), it actually works better than that scratch-built concept, because it's still had the end-goal of purpose in sight while it's been rebuilt.

In your example, Gamma World has a purpose, to be an adventure game. The context is a post-apocalyptic mutant world, but just because the game it was modded off of was a fantasy adventure game, doesn't mean it's any less successful at its purpose than someone trying to make another post-apocalyptic adventure game. Nobody said it was trying to be a survival game, or a horror game. Some might try to play it off as that, but that's them.

That's exactly what I've done in my system, in broad strokes. (spoilered for those not interested in my design walking steps.)

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Offline BG_Josh

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Re: Character Attributes & the Options Built On Them
« Reply #5 on: December 20, 2011, 03:55:36 PM »
But what is your game about?

Offline RedWarlock

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Re: Character Attributes & the Options Built On Them
« Reply #6 on: December 20, 2011, 06:34:26 PM »
Action, adventure, horror (esp. personal horror). The transformation of men into monsters, physically, who work to retain their humanity mentally, and dealing with those who've lost that fight. Magic is the power and lure of the system, magic changes you, esp. during times of crisis. But magic itself isn't evil, it's just a natural system, with consequences.

Hamfisting the definition. On my phone.
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Offline BG_Josh

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Re: Character Attributes & the Options Built On Them
« Reply #7 on: December 20, 2011, 07:11:36 PM »
Action, adventure, horror (esp. personal horror). The transformation of men into monsters, physically, who work to retain their humanity mentally, and dealing with those who've lost that fight. Magic is the power and lure of the system, magic changes you, esp. during times of crisis. But magic itself isn't evil, it's just a natural system, with consequences.

Hamfisting the definition. On my phone.

How does your game go about doing that?

What is the horror mechanic? Why am I the player scared?
how is your action/sdventure carried out?  What does it do different from DnD?
most important: what about the mechanics would make me choose this game over other aa games?

Offline RedWarlock

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Re: Character Attributes & the Options Built On Them
« Reply #8 on: December 20, 2011, 09:38:04 PM »
Back home, I can be a little more verbose now.. (Hah. A little?)

How does your game go about doing that?
Well, in several different ways. One is the Deviation system, where you can get small physical and metaphysical mutations which build over time, in response to use or overuse of magic. (This includes 'panic button' mechanics, where the player, in a tough situation, when their character is not likely to survive, can draw in more power than they would normally be able to, but take on deviations as a form of backlash.) These deviations have a mix of positive and negative effects, with positive favoring the front half of a given deviation progression, and negative favoring the back half, with the difficulty that once you start down a path, your character is going to keep progressing down it whether you as the player want them to or not.

Another is Instinct and the Feral bonus. This is one of those benefits derived from the Deviations, but it also exists outside those bounds as the Rage mechanic. Basically, you have this Feral bonus, a number which you can improve, which adds to a number of places, mainly to your attacks and your Will defense measures, and exacts a toll in energy on your character. Specific circumstances, in part dictated by an Instinct concept, though, will force you the player to test the character's Will against their own Feral bonus. (One example of this is were-creature shapeshifting, which requires you to test your Feral vs. Will to take beast form, and Will vs. Feral to change back to human.) By investing in your Feral bonus to get its boosts for combat, you're also setting your character up to have challenges when you need to oppose your own instincts, requiring a careful balance of your character's abilities.

What is the horror mechanic?  Why am I the player scared?
Instilling fear is a very tough concept to mechanically write. Hopefully the challenge inherent in managing the character has a part of this, but a good portion also relies on a good storyteller-as-GM to set up the situation, drawing out the character's details and history to involve them in the overall scenario, using their flaws against them. I know you don't favor it, but this is one of those concepts I can appreciate from the nWoD, the idea that not only are there bigger and badder things out there than you, but that you might become one of those things without even realizing it.

It's not something just anyone can do right off the bat, it takes some fiction-crafting skill and experience. (I'm not saying that only specific people can do it, but that anyone who wants to try needs to take time to learn the process and skills of writing for fiction.) I know that means that less people are going to be able to run this game than might be said of other systems, but I think the reward is greater if they know what they're doing in that regard. I really do think it's a skill anyone can learn, though, they just need to take the time and have the patience to do so. (On the other hand, that time and patience means a lot of people aren't going to be able to, just because they don't have those aspects themselves.) I'm going to try to break those steps down properly, if I can.

how is your action/sdventure carried out?
It is a modern setting, but my principle focus is on combat scenarios and mechanical systems, since I come from a wargame background. The secondary intent is to have mundane and social situations to interweave the combats, including some underworld politics and mystery situations, but I'm mainly setting up a framework there, to allow individual games to expand on them if they find that aspect more interesting within their games. Maybe future supplements, but I'm not intentionally leaving a gap to be filled later.

Once aspect of these mundane situations is in how these deviations and magical powers affect their every-day lives, with the intent of showing that as they accumulate this power, they need to counterbalance it with their normal life or risk losing themselves to these deviations and instincts. In part, that's reinforced by provided bonuses to these opposed checks based on those mundane connections. (For instance, relationships and allegiances to other characters, PC or NPC, are a specific mechanic which can be invoked to favor or hinder the characters, including when trying to sustain an opposed Instinct roll. This is somewhat of a slimmed-down and mechanized version of the Dresden Files/FATE system's Aspects, which allow the story's path to be more negotiated between player and GM.)

What does it do different from DnD?
Well, a number of things, but I can say that all day and it doesn't mean anything to you. One of my main concepts is breaking down spellcasting to be just as numbers-interplay-based as weapons and attacks. For the most part, I don't have cast-and-done spells, I have spell components which are crafted together to create a 'spell'. I also don't differentiate between casters and non-casters intentionally. Mundane characters are certainly possible, and may even be more viable than mixing fighters and wizards in D&D, or jedi and non-jedi in SW-d20, but the majority of the material is geared towards everyone having some kind of magic, even if it takes different forms.

I'm not intentionally defining 'roles' for party members, in terms of stats and abilities. This is intended to be flexible in terms of play-size, able to be one-on-one, or up to a group of 8 or so. Characters are intended to be stat-based but not stand-dependent, I'd like to try to have it that two characters with very different stat setups should both be viable in the same vague concept, with those stats determining varying playstyle rather than setting one character as inherently better than the other. (How much of that I'll be able to maintain is another matter, but I'm hoping I'll be able to see and fix these problems in the metagame as I start playtesting.)

I'll also add that I'm trying to explore a concept I hear waved around, the idea of the classless, level-less system. I don't agree with a lot of arguments made about it, but I'm exploring what might be a system compromise between level-based and non-leveled systems. My system right now has freeform advancement, but the most significant form of that advancement is by purchasing levels in 'archetypes', my classes, except instead of locking off one whole character concept per archetype, they just build towards one mechanical concept. So, for instance of my four 'base' archetypes, one's quick & accurate, another's strong and tough, another is smart and flexible, and the last is the 'support/reinforcement' type. Because it's a classless system, though, everyone could take levels in these classes, to different benefits. For that matter, because I'm currently structuring XP to be such a fluid, fast-moving resource, you could buy a level in one of these archetypes mid-combat. Bump a couple numbers, add the level's benefit, throw some skill ranks on the pile (or don't, in one case), and you're good to go.

most important: what about the mechanics would make me choose this game over other aa games?
Honestly? Not sure, in a purely mechanical sense, since I can't determine what others will like or dislike ahead of time, only react to what preferences they show once they've shown them. All I can really do from the outset is make a game I think I would enjoy playing, and hope enough people play like me to also find it enjoyable. Part of that, for my case, is the setting, and how well it's integrated into the mechanics. This started as houserules on top of the nWoD mortals rules, and then as an overlay for d20 modern, then back to the nWoD. Neither really worked, since I was fighting too much the existing problems and systems which clashed with what I wanted out of the game I wanted to play.

I'm not aiming this as a purely mechanical package for presentation, however. I'm developing this system as a mechanical side of a media concept I'm putting together. I'm actually a 2D animator by trade and degree, and I've been working on this world-concept as the subject of my projects in animation classes for the past four years, and as my own fictional world I've written for a decade now. I've been wanting to develop this story into an animated web-series for a while, and that's still my goal, although I've settled in the short term on developing it into a webcomic in my spare time, until I can get enough funding and following to be able to support the actual series. The RPG is a supporting effort in that regard, incorporating more of my interests into the whole. (Y'know how they say your dream job is doing the exact same stuff you'd be doing anyway, if you didn't need to work? I'm working on creating that. I love animation, I love roleplaying games, and through the supporting aspects of bringing both to life, I've been working on what I want to do for the rest of my life. It'll just take time to get there.)
« Last Edit: December 21, 2011, 03:37:38 AM by RedWarlock »
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Offline RedWarlock

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Re: Character Attributes & the Options Built On Them
« Reply #9 on: December 22, 2011, 01:17:21 AM »
...did I kill the conversation? (He asked, I just answered!)

Sorry.  :-\
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Offline BG_Josh

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Re: Character Attributes & the Options Built On Them
« Reply #10 on: December 22, 2011, 09:26:24 PM »
So, the third question, of Jared Sorensons set of questions to ask about RPG's, is "how does your game go about rewarding that".  But, your second questions answer needs some feedback, in a new thread.

Getting back to attributes:

Quote
Modifying one thing to create another isn't any less valid than trying to build something from scratch. That's a mistake I see a LOT of young, trying-to-define-themselves artists make, they think that just because you used a pre-existing reference or concept, or borrowed a technique, or a particular detail concept, that it makes the resulting work any less worthy. We all build what we know from what we've seen before, it's just a matter of how finely we break down the elements before we re-assemble them.
The game can be valid. 

But, when you take a game and modify it, you are usually just creating a lesser derivative work.

The best example is Apocalypse World to Dungeon World, and Dungeon world is clearly a lesser and derivative game

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In your example, Gamma World has a purpose, to be an adventure game. The context is a post-apocalyptic mutant world, but just because the game it was modded off of was a fantasy adventure game, doesn't mean it's any less successful at its purpose than someone trying to make another post-apocalyptic adventure game. Nobody said it was trying to be a survival game, or a horror game. Some might try to play it off as that, but that's them.
Gamma world *was* supposed to be post apocalyptic.  And it was never popular or successful. 


Quote
If a design, or a concept, WORKS for its purpose, then taking that concept and adding new material, or modifying it to fit a new context, doesn't make it work for that purpose less than something someone else constructed entirely from scratch, trying to work in a void. Nine times out of ten (in my experience), it actually works better than that scratch-built concept, because it's still had the end-goal of purpose in sight while it's been rebuilt.
I am hard put to think of many "good" games that are derivative.

Spirit of the century, Dungeon world, (I have not played thou art but a warrior)  that's a pretty extensive list.


 

Offline RedWarlock

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Re: Character Attributes & the Options Built On Them
« Reply #11 on: December 22, 2011, 10:56:30 PM »
So, the third question, of Jared Sorensons set of questions to ask about RPG's, is "how does your game go about rewarding that".  But, your second questions answer needs some feedback, in a new thread.
I would be very appreciative of feedback on my concepts. I'm trying to finish the base, version alpha of my system, but it's a ways away from being done, and I feel like anyone looking at the incomplete document would be missing the total picture.

Should I start a new thread? (and where?)

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Getting back to attributes:
(cut, no argument to make here)

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Gamma world *was* supposed to be post apocalyptic.  And it was never popular or successful. 
Popularity is a separate issue, but you're missing my point. I'm asserting that 'post-apocalyptic' is an adventure game in a post-apoc setting. It never stopped being an adventure game, when it was modified from a fantasy setting. That's what I mean by successful, success at achieving its genre and concept, not market success.

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I am hard put to think of many "good" games that are derivative.

Spirit of the century, Dungeon world, (I have not played thou art but a warrior)  that's a pretty extensive list.
I'm not saying that derived games are automatically good, and obviously I can't match your experiences. I'm just trying to point out a flaw in your methodology. Derived concepts in any medium are not automatically worse than purely original ones. Your experiences may state otherwise, but I'm making this statement not limited purely by the context of games, I'm saying that as a professional creator under any context or medium.

To say otherwise (to be clear, 'that derived games are inherently flawed', which whether you intend it or not, is what comes across to me) is to lead young creators to try to spread themselves so far apart in pursuit of misguided concepts of 'creative originality', that they don't wind up making any headway. Creativeness and originality are good things, but most people misunderstand them, thinking it to be only creating something entirely new and unlike anything seen before, when they can also be arranging known ideas in a new way. That latter concept I what I'm trying to support.

Just to give you some background, on-topic or not: I'm a 'creative' person. I put this in quotes because it's not a term I generally use to describe myself. I trained myself as an artist by copying the styles and works of others. I studied, broke them down, and learned how to apply those details to my artwork. When I look at one of my drawings, it's not something I can say is purely 'mine'. There might be this nostril, which I copied from so-and-so, or that eye-line, which I lifted from that other artist, or these mouth-shapes, which I learned in this book. I'm just assembling the drawing from a vast library of components I keep in my head, in what way I feel suits the purpose at hand.

People have called me 'creative', but for me, in my head, it's just assembling this part, that part, those pieces, all together in a way which does what I need it to. In some cases, I take a pre-existing concept of mine, another drawing from days, weeks, months, or years back, and add this element, change those details, and restructure it into something new. Some people would call that common set of elements between the two works my 'style', but for me, it's just a set of components. I've walked them through my steps, my choice of elements and the decisions I made, and they've still said I'm being 'creative'. I didn't make anything up from scratch, it's all pre-existing techniques, but for the teachers I've learned from, and the students I learned with, and taught in turn, I'm a 'creative' person.
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Offline RedWarlock

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Re: Character Attributes & the Options Built On Them
« Reply #12 on: December 28, 2011, 03:15:42 AM »
Just to note, I put up a more compiled thread here, if anyone wants to comment on my game concepts. I'd be very appreciative of any input (of a helpful nature) that anyone can put forth.

http://www.minmaxboards.com/index.php?topic=2450
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