Attributing Correctly

At the moment my biggest conundrum in collaging an RPG is what Attributes should be represented in it.

All the D&D retroclones keep to the D&D array (henceforth referred to as the Standard Six) – Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma – and those are the ones I am most familiar with, as would probably be anyone who has played a computer game requiring you to allocate stat points. And had I not read quite so many different RPGs recently, I daresay I would have thought nothing of continuing the tradition.
But I have come across game authors proposing alternatives, ranging from a pared-down trio of attributes up to eight or so. Thus I am open to the possibility of a different attribute line up.
With the desire to provide less complexity to new players, I will put aside the possibility of splitting up some of the Standard Six.
Reducing the attributes, however, is tempting.
My favourite tabletop miniatures game for the last few years has been Pulp Alley, which runs with six attributes of its own: Brawl, Shoot and Dodge for combat-related challenges, and Might, Finesse and Cunning for non-combat. Wanting to lean away from giving combat too much rule space, I will not give it its own attributes, but the latter three provide a good coverage of most of the potential challenges a party might face. Players could use those to create pretty well-rounded adventurers, or specialise in one to make an archetypal Fighter, Rogue or Wizard. I might change Cunning to Wits which I feel would broaden the scope of the attribute a bit more to include information recall, as well as complementing the other two to create a consistent shorthand: Mi, Fi and Wi.
I have toyed with the idea of adding a fourth attribute – not one that I would be able to easily tie in with that shorthand – for that other important aspect of RPGs: social interaction and challenges. Charisma would hopefully underline the importance of diplomacy to reduce the number of character deaths from unnecessarily violent encounters.
However, if I were to move away from the Standard Six, I would be quite keen to leave behind the occasions which I see in 5e whereby a character tells a not-very-good lie and aces their deception roll. Every once in a while is alright, but Charisma almost works as a skill in its own right with players tending to rely upon it and its roll bonus rather than playing the role. It could be used largely to determine how many followers a character might be able to manage, and give bonuses to random encounter reaction rolls, but I feel that it wouldn’t be of all that much use in the dungeon (or general adventuring areas) compared to the others, and I would be encouraging people to avoid using it in social scenarios.
Then again, the OSR ethos is generally to resort to attribute checks only if you have to, so would that same encouragement apply to the other three?
All that said, the Standard Six would be more familiar to those who have played popular RPGs before, and would allow for a fairly straightforward conversion of other OSR material for quick use at the table. People would also feel that their characters were more distinct from each other, but is a reliance on one’s stats to determine character really something I want to encourage?
Ideally I’d like to be able to tailor it to the group’s needs, depending on their comfort and experience. If it were only a case of having two different character sheets, that would be fine. Alas, not really feasible, particularly since I want to link HD or an equivalent more closely to an attribute than is currently the case.
Ack, perhaps more discussions to bring to the Discord channel and G+ communities. They have been very helpful and understanding so far.

9 thoughts on “Attributing Correctly

  1. I replaced charisma with leadership to limit its use. I'm not sure if it's going to work out well or not. A later edition player might bark orders to strangers and ask to roll leadership. I hope instead that it encourages interactions with hirelings and retainers.Charisma's great value is in allowing the hire of other adventurers.


  2. Interesting couple of posts! I've posted some related thoughts here: general, I think the d20 attribute check is a good thing, and the more that the attributes – rather than derivatives – are used, the better. That points towards a system where all attributes are equally likely to be used, which isn't probably the case in most RPGs (where DEX is king!). So I'm leaning towards STR, DEX, KNO (for knowledge) with perhaps a STR-linked CON.


  3. Yeah, the difficulty is avoiding a game where Charisma is used either all the time or not at all, neither case being ideal.I'm wondering whether, if one were to omit Charisma or an equivalent from the line up, whether hirelings and retainers might be influenced by other attributes, since people might follow others because they've been cowed, or the individual has a certain reputation of skill or status…Hmmm, perhaps an average of the highest and lowest stat…


  4. I think I may go down Knave's route of treating the bonus as the de facto attribute – certainly with new players I see little point wasting time on essentially a double layer of stats.I think condensing the stats helps to reduce the emphasis on DEX since the others start encompassing several useful elements of gameplay such as – like you suggest – tying STR and CON together, and mixing most of the mental elements into one mental-focused INT equivalent. Yeeees – I have plans for Might…


  5. Yup, I think one or the other is the way to go. Either use 3d6 attributes and roll under (my preference – because there's a bigger range) or just have modifiers like Knave or Runehammer. As you say, a double layer's a waste.


  6. I'm considering removing Charisma and just having players roll a d6 to see what their max hireling count is, then recording that number on the sheet. No attributes involved.


  7. For me Might, Mind, Agility, and Luck are the only essential stats. Might encompasses con and str and separating those two never made a lot of sense anyway. Mind can be all mental stuff. I like leaving out Charisma because it encourages players to just talk and not check to see which one has the most charisma. Agility for all handy and jumpy stuff. Luck because DCC style Luck is an awesome mechanic and Luck rolls as a concept are really useful for my decision process as a DM.


  8. Yeah, combining Might and Con seems to be one of the first changes for anybody looking to simplify attributes, and bringing everything physical under one banner gives that side of adventuring a necessary boost after Dexterity's dominance.


  9. I'm not sure I'll follow the DCC mechanics (or what I've seen of them so far) exactly, but I'm certainly keen to get a luck feature of some sorts in, perhaps utilising the Usage Die mechanic in a similar vein to Sharps Swords and Sinister Spells.


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