Monday, June 17, 2024

The BIG 4 of RPG attributes

It is possible that I would be a little embarrassed if most people knew how much time I spend thinking about character stats in roleplaying games.  And not in the sense of theorycrafting a perfectly minmaxed build...more about which attributes are the simplest or fastest or somehow the best for breaking down an RPG character.

I think my approach to it -- and probably that of many others, honestly -- is rooted as much in beauty as it is in usefulness.  Like a physicist drawn to supersymmetry, I don't know that I am ultimately being guided to the set of attributes that actually describe people most accurately.  I think I mostly want a set of stats that feels whole and balanced...which may or may not be the best approach, honestly.  I mean...that's subjective anyway, eh?

Lots of systems employ a physical/mental attribute split, including the one that probably introduced most of us to the idea of characters as numbers...the six stats of D&D.  Strength/Dexterity/Constitution and Intelligence/Wisdom/Charisma are a nice 1:1 divide between body and mind.  The other main approach to rational attribute assignment would probably be the one taken by games that break stats down into Mind-, Body-, and Soul-related attributes (e.g. the appropriately named Tri-Stat System).  That's a different symmetry that still "feels" good, I think.  (Conversely...the five stats of Savage Worlds?  They do not feel good.  I know, I'm weird.)

At any rate, I would guess most gamers who care to think very hard about attributes realize pretty quickly that there's an arbitrariness to the division.  And since gamers love nothing more than to fiddle with the games they already love, a lot of work has been done over the years to perfect the spread of stats.  I'm pretty sure that somewhere out there, there's a big list (maybe even called the "Big List of...") compiling a ton of the attribute options on display in various RPGs.  This post isn't about exploring that diversity, though; it's about expressing appreciation for what I consider a sort of Big 4 of RPG stats:

1. How strong and tough are you?
2. How quick and nimble are you?
3. How knowledgeable and logical are you?
4. How emotionally resilient and capable of manipulating others are you?

Or, as the Ghostbusters RPG introduced them to me:


Not necessarily in that order.

I just keep coming back to these as potentially the most succinct yet simultaneously satisfying way to describe a character...two physical, two mental; two based on power, two more about skill.  (I think one of my friends, when I first described the stat breakdown to him many years ago, just said, "Yeah, that pretty much covers it...")

I loved it when Mini Six came out and sort of codified this set of attributes for light hexahedral gaming (as Might, Agility, Wit, and Charm).  I enjoy spotting other games that follow in this tradition.  And I think it's kind of cool to see that even the West End Games Star Wars RPG -- probably the best known game to use the WEG D6 system that grew from Ghostbusters -- basically rehashes these four (as Strength, Dexterity, Knowledge, and Perception) then adds on a couple of extras by pulling out the otherwise Dexterity- or Knowledge-based skills which are technologically oriented into their own stats (Mechanical and Technical, which do give D6 Star Wars some of its space opera flare.)

If in doubt...I could probably stat out most RPG characters using these (with an established scale) and translate them to a ton of other systems without an excess of effort.  I'm not sure if it's best to try to figure out how to define them generically or if I should take on more of the D6/Mini Six spirit and pick my favorite names.  I kind of partial to Might, Dexterity, Knowledge, and Presence right now.  I've gotta let those settle a bit...but they feel pretty whole and balanced at the moment.

This is definitely worth obsessing about for a while.  I'll get back to you on it.

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