View Full Version : Original System RPG Attributes

2017-10-05, 09:10 PM

I am working on an original "homebrew" tabletop RPG and was considering the matter of stats -- i.e., attributes. Right now, I'm curious to know what game or games feature the most attributes, and what are they.


2017-10-06, 12:09 PM
By 'attributes', do you mean any named variable with a numerical representation, or do you mean it specifically like the natural aptitudes of a character?

Mainly asking because many games use the term 'attribute' in different ways, and in several games the term 'attribute' is distinct from 'skills'.

As to the most... well, I think some games have you make-up your skills or at least pick from a very, very large list (Unisystem), so that one has a ton if your meaning includes skills. If you mean attributes like ability scores, I rarely see more listed than, say, Mutants & Masterminds has. Most games tend to stick to around the 6 of D&D or the 9 of the Storyteller system (nWoD, Exatled, oWoD, etc.)

2017-10-06, 12:47 PM

By 'attributes' I mean what you are describing as natural aptitudes, and not skills. So, for example: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, and so on. Not things like Climbing, Swimming, Archery, etc.

2017-10-06, 01:20 PM
Riddle of Steel has a good number, especially depending on how you look at it. You've got 5 physical attributes, 5 mental attributes, 5 derived attributes (but these are derived from phys & mental, so maybe those don't count), and a number of spiritual attributes. The latter are a combination of dramatic force & experience points, though, so those might not count either; it's not like having a Faith of 5 means you have stronger faith than someone with lesser Faith, though such is likely.
But even with a conservative definition, that's 10.

Mutants & Masterminds has a lot.
To my sorrow, it looks like my work has banned its SRD as a game-related webpage, so I can't check the number, but here is the link: www.d20herosrd.com/

More attributes is handy as each one can focus more on one thing and you can make characters with more diverse aptitudes and weaknesses. The downside is mechanical complexity and (depending on how the system handles it) perhaps odd combinations. For example, in Riddle of Steel you can make someone who can take a lot of blood loss and is really, really healthy (high Health) but is unable to handle taking damage from a blade (low natural soak, from low Toughness).
Also the meaning of mental attributes can get really fuzzy. Wisdom as distinct from Charisma and Intelligence is fairly straight-forward. Riddle of Steel actually handles it pretty well, but I know I've seen some system where the lines between mental attributes got really, really fuzzy. Maybe it was new World of Darkness, though that may have been my unfamiliarity with the system.

2017-10-06, 04:10 PM
I like to consider what "Attributes" are for- from the sort of "Ability Score/Skill Number" divide that some games feature, they usually have a three purposes:

Represent, from a fluff perspective, inherent ability instead of learned capacity.
Providing a general level of competence for the game's math to work off.
Providing an understandable and approachable base for derived numbers and statistics.

The first is the most obvious and well known- the difference allows you to convey different things about characters. Some games support the idea of them being different in mechanics, by making skills easier to increase than attributes, either by making them more expensive to raise, or creating less opportunities for it to occur. (I.E: It takes weeks, or doubled experience costs, or you can only increase an attribute every few levels, etc).

The second is one that crops up in a lot of games. The problem with being completely skill-centered is that "skills" are usually very specialized. In Attribute-Skill systems, there are usually between six or ten attributes at the most, but almost always at least fifteen to twenty plus skills. Attributes are generally broader, which allows them to grant a much broader competence within the game's task resolution system.

If I'm good at swimming, but not good at climbing, if both of those skills have part of their math linked to a single attribute (Strength or Endurance, likely), then I can still present some level of competence even If I lack the needed skill.

This allows you to have characters who can act more out of the archetype selected by their skill-set.

The third is one I haven't seen much discussion of. People like to use derived statistics for stuff because, done well, it adds more layers of nuance to a system. It makes it more complex and interesting to grapple with. However, I would argue that part of the reason these are "derived" rather than "core" is because (A) there are usually far too many of them for anyone to really grasp easily, and (B) they don't appeal to a simulationist perspective like "Strength - > Hitting ability" does.

The first one is interesting! If you present 6 attributes, which govern 8-12 derived attributes, that's easier for someone to grasp than if you present 8-12 attributes that interact with the system. Perhaps the original stats are more abstract? Perhaps they're just easier to conceptualize? Not to mention that, unlike "core attributes", derived statistics in games usually behave quite differently- they fluctuate in some systems, or serve as resource columns or stress levels.

Presenting a few attributes that help provide thematic cohesion to the derived attributes, as well as serving as relatively stable pillars for the mechanical skeleton of a character can be pretty useful!


Consider what you want "attributes" to do in your game. Why are they important and what role do they have in presenting the desired world or narrative?

If you're looking for games with expansive skill systems, you could look into White Wolf's stuff- they have a nine attribute, huge skill list system across most of their games, which are usually divided into a physical/mental/social paradigm.

GURPS also has a huge skill list (with only 4 core attributes), and behaves somewhat differently from White Wolf's stuff and so could be a nice counterpoint.

If I knew more about your project, I could make some less generic suggestions.

2017-10-06, 07:47 PM
Consider what you want "attributes" to do in your game. Why are they important and what role do they have in presenting the desired world or narrative?
This. Just because D&D uses ability scores, doesn't mean your game needs them too.

2017-10-08, 07:12 AM
Well, here's a roughly direct answer to your question (for the purposes of these descriptions, 'Secondary Attributes' are ones that are not derived from other attributes).

The various World of Darkness/Exalted games traditionally have nine core attributes (broken down into three mental, three physical, and three social attributes, with NWoD explicitly breaking them down further so that there's one 'power' attribute, one 'resistance' attribute, and one 'finesse' attribute in each category), a few other 'secondary attributes' (Willpower, some sort of morality rating, and something like 'Psyche' or 'Blood Potency' that describes your overall magical power), and then the derived attributes.

Ars Magica has eight attributes divided into four pairs: Strength, Stamina, Dexterity, Quickness, Intelligence (replaced with Cunning for animals), Perception, Presence, and Communication, plus Size as a secondary attribute.

Witchcraft has Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Perception, and Willpower (which, to a certain extent, is basically a minor tweak of the D&D stats). Magic users have 'Essence Channelling' as a secondary characteristic.

Fudge by default assumes that the group or the setting will define primary attributes and skills, but it usually has 'Size' and 'Speed' as secondary attributes (IIRC).

D&D has six primary attributes and at least one 'secondary' (level). Certain NPCs -- mainly spirit creatures and automatons -- don't have some of them.

As has been mentioned, looking at examples might help, but if you're going to make a system, you need to decide for yourself what you want attributes to be for. Also remember that most 'human' settings (this is less true of things like cats vs. werewolves) provide ways to negate or circumvent the limitations of a given character's personal meat-form: don't overstate the importance of physical attributes when a character could be a wizard, shapeshifter, warstrider pilot, or similar.

Depending on the nature of your setting, you could have similar problems even for some mental attributes, so care should be taken with anything that you're not willing to treat as absolutely fundamental to every character and creature.

2017-10-08, 09:15 AM
Begin by thinking about what the nature of conflict in your system is. Then have an offensive and defensive attribute for each dimension of combat.

Is there physical combat? Attack and defense.

Social combat? Charima and resolve.


2017-10-09, 03:15 PM
Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful responses. They are well-appreciated.

I had written a lengthier response of my own, but it started to ramble. :-) So, just a couple of comments...

Zale, you wrote: "If I knew more about your project, I could make some less generic suggestions."

The basic gist of my project is to create a system that is realistic, makes sense, and is easy to learn and use; more on the simulationist side, but without being overly complicated. And I know terms like "make sense" and "overly complicated" are subjective. :-)

JeenLeen, you wrote: "More attributes is handy as each one can focus more on one thing and you can make characters with more diverse aptitudes and weaknesses. The downside is mechanical complexity and (depending on how the system handles it) perhaps odd combinations."

Yes, that's really the question: if "More is Less", then how many basic attributes are too many (i.e., too complex)?

I suppose I'll have to write up the rules and find out. :-)

Thanks again.

2017-10-10, 11:27 AM
Something I have noticed with Attributes, almost regardless of system, is that they break down into a maximum of 4 categories: Physical, Mental, Social, Spiritual/Magical.
Not all systems use all four, while other systems overlap them. But this seems to me to be the bare minimum. How a game uses these categories and breaks them up and recombines them gives the system its natural flavor.

For example, D&D has 6 attributes, 3 physical, 2 mental, and 1 social. While it has no directly spiritual attribute, it uses the non-physical one in that place.
While WoD/CoD has 3 of each physical, social, and mental. But most of the games have a some other advantage that is a spiritual/magical attribute. These are easy to identify in CoD, but are more diffuse in some of the WoD games.
GURPS has 4 attributes, 3 physical and 1 mental. But Intelligence also covers all social and almost any spiritual needs as well.

Now there is nothing wrong with any of these methods, but my advise is if you are making your own game figure out what is important and create the attributes you need and ignore the ones you don't.