Thursday, June 10, 2010

How Many Attributes are TOO Many Attributes

I was reading a post from JB over at B/X BLACKRAZOR about character attributes and how many are too many in his opinion. While I agree with him in principal that too many attribute can become cumbersome and tedious, I find myself designing a game system that has 10 attributes.

I have a similar attitude towards RPG in that I can't seem to leave a system alone. I always have to tweak them and modify them to fit what I think they should be, or to correct what I see as flaws. So some years ago (a LOT of years ago) I started writing my own system so it would be exactly what I wanted from an RPG. As I started putting things together, I started getting more and more attributes to flesh out what a character is. What I ended up with (so far) is 10: Strength, Health, Endurance, (manual) Dexterity, Agility, Speed, Intellect, Perception, Will Power and Bearing (charisma and presence).

"You're a mad man! That's too damn many attributes!" you say?

I thought that myself at the beginning, but when comparing to existing games (D&D for example), aren't saving throws similar to a character's attribute? It's his ability to resist or overcome certain situations. So I decided that the attributes would be the backbone of the character and his attributes would double as saving throws. Instead of making a Reflex Save or a Save vs. Breath Weapons, the character would make an AGILITY check. and the player would determine for himself how able he was in those situations. Sure it sounds the same, but Agility also determines a great deal of other things. It, and all other attributes for that matter, serves as a fall back stat for characters wanting to try something they don't have a specific skill for.

Sure, this may just be a re-imagining of a hundred other systems, but I wanted a little more definition for characters and what they are capable of. I wanted them to be different than one another. With a system like GURPS, for example, those three stats don't distinguish characters from one another very well.

So I guess what I'm asking many attributes is TOO many attributes?
If you make "saving throws" player defined, does that make them attributes?


  1. Mmm...tricky. I think I have to cap it at seven, myself (that's as many as I can easily remember without a LOT of repetition), but it depends on the game.

    My current game design has four Primary (random rolled) and four secondary (derived from the Primaries). Even that feels like I'm pushing it.
    : )

  2. I've drawn the hard correlation between the 'saves' and the Abilities, as has Castles & Crusades, and it seems to work out well in both cases. The key is to still use Ability checks rather than throwing a lot of save-rolls or else the illusion of their separation is strained.

  3. GURPS has 4 stats and characters are defined far more by the host of advantages and disadvantages they can have.

    That aside:

    A game has too many stats if they overlap seemingly similar purposes too often.

  4. I use the traditional 6 abilities, though I may expand to a 7th Magic ability. I use xd6 ability checks way more than saving throws.

  5. 8. Set up in pairs.

    Roll a d6 for each pair, then roll 2d6 for each attribute and add the base d6. So, for example, 18 Strength is tied to a minimum 8 Constitution.
    True, it doesn't have the gloriousness of 3d6 in order, but c'est la vie.

  6. More than 6 is too many in my opinion, although take that with a grain of salt. While it really depends on the system, I tend to prefer games with fewer than 6 attributes and not more.

    Often, you really have to ask yourself why there is a stat for certain character elements and do they all fit for your game and your group.

    For the most part, my players and I don't like Charisma. First, if you're developing a character's personality during play, shouldn't that personality have an effect on the PC's Charisma score? Basically, a Charisma score limits the type of personality I can give my character. That's silly.

    I also think certain terms are kind of goofy. Let's see a player with a low Intelligence or Wisdom play a character with a high Intelligence or Wisdom. I prefer WEG's D6 'Perception' and 'Knowledge'. These are two elements of the character (the persona born into and living in the game universe) that would be rated seperately from that of the player using them.

    Sorry, I just have a few pet peeves with classic D&D ability scores. Don't mind me...carry on.

  7. @Barking Alien...Nothing wrong with having problems with a system. I've never played a game that I didn't have to tweak until it was almost unrecognizable. I have a TON of problems with D&D, not just ability scores, but it hasn't kept me from playing it for over 30 years :)

  8. I don't think the number of attributes is relevant, if you're treating 'attributes' as separate to 'skills', 'saves', 'hit points' or other numbers. Rather, the relevant factors are the total amount of stats, and the complexity of creating them.

    For example all versions of D&D have six attributes, but clearly the complexity of characters is different. GURPS isn't easier than D&D despite having less attributes, and so on.

  9. @Brian Lujan...I totally agree with you but in my actually has.

    Over the 30+ years I've been gaming, D&D has become one of my least favorite RPGs to play. Partially its the rules and partially I'm just not that much of a medieval fantasy fan. For me to play a fantasy game the system, especially the rules for magic, have to be something completely different and absolutely awesome.

    But to each their own of course.


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