Master Mines

We’re digging RPGs

To Attribute or Not to Attribute

So I am thinking about chargen for NGHB and I got to thinking about attributes.  I’m not saying that attributes are a sacred cow for me, but I feel comfortable with their interplay with skills to make a roleplaying game.

Howevever, I’ve been thinking about games that I’ve played recently: PTA, Matt Gandy’s Seiyou (sp?), Spirit of the Century, Inspectres.  None of those games use attributes.  Most just use Traits or Traits and Skills.

I am trying to determine what I think the advantages to each are, but I’d love some feedback.  But in general, an attribute describes what a character is rather than a Trait or a Skill describes what the character does.  Being games of drama and tension, most roleplaying games are concerned with character action so it makes sense to focus on what they are able to accomplish.  Still, I wonder if there is not value in a more traditional mechanic of mixing attributes and skills.


August 31, 2007 - Posted by | Mecha


  1. You’re getting distracted by the cosmetics, dude.

    Ask yourself first, what does your game do?

    Then ask yourself, what tools does your game need to achieve that?

    Attributes? Skills? Whatever. They’re all the same soup — things you put numbers on to drive play towards what your game is supposed to do.

    Comment by fredhicks | August 31, 2007 | Reply

  2. After you mentioned the drama/tension bit, it got me thinking.

    It seems to me that…

    Skill Only systems are good for more narrative games where a character’s smarts is just as effective in most situations as another character’s strength.

    Attribute + Skill systems seem better able to represent the minute differences between a clever swordsman and a strong one.

    Games like SotC seem to be saying “Your character can do everything well, but in a handful of areas he’s just awesome!” Every character uses the same ‘Fight’ skill and it’s left up to the players to decide how that looks for their character. Games like D&D break it down an extra step, or six, and have all the customization on the actual sheet.

    One might argue that Attribute+Skill+BAB+Feat is a good tool for these to unimaginative or just to lazy to describe their characters cool action.


    Comment by neastrith | August 31, 2007 | Reply

  3. Ditto. Quit takin yer eye off that ball, man!

    Comment by misuba | August 31, 2007 | Reply

  4. I have to agree with Fred & Mike here. I know you have a bug about this being a “trad” game or whathaveyou. Stop focusing on someone else’s mechanics — focus on what you want your game to be about. You’re putting the cart before the horse.

    I’ll be more blunt: are you designing a game or writing up essays on games others have designed? The latter has a place, but remember that this is a workshop blog.

    (Psst. The answer can totally be both.)

    Oh, and if you “feel comfortable,” it’s likely a sacred cow. They make for tasty burgers.

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | August 31, 2007 | Reply

  5. Fred…Okay, point well taken. I don’t think I’m as held up in the cosmetics as much as you think, but as I write these comments perhaps I am mired in them more than I first realized.

    Jarvis…I like your comments. I am not sure I agree with them (for instance, I think that the difference between a strong swordsman and a quick one CAN make a large amount of difference), but you made a lot of sense.

    Mike…I understand why you think I am taking my eye off the ball. I don’t think I’m doing that this time.

    Ryan…You do make a good point. I’ve been focusing on other’s mechanics, but not in the way you think. I think I’ve been worried about making a game that you all want me to make. I think I’m done with that. I think I’m writing my game and that’s that.

    Comment by commondialog | August 31, 2007 | Reply

  6. I think I’ve been worried about making a game that you all want me to make. I think I’m done with that. I think I’m writing my game and that’s that.

    Bing-fucking-o. I’m eager to see what you’re cooking.

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | August 31, 2007 | Reply

  7. The game I’m working on is also a “traditional” rpg, but at the same time, I’m very much leaning away from the traditional attributes. My game (which I will hopefully soon have the honor of sharing with this group) is a space opera rpg, and the decision to drop (or significantly alter) traditional attributes is based on the requirements unique to such a setting.

    Since your game is based on anime influences, pick those attributes of anime characters that are most appropriate and include mechanics to meet those needs. I’m not a big follower of anime, but as I see it, anime characters are very diverse in their abilities, making each one stand out in its own way. This implies to me that a standard set of attributes for all characters would be a disservice to the theme. Making characters modular in that they choose attributes that are appropriate for their character type (both as a participant in the story and as a participant in the world) would be more intuitive. So a magic using character is the only one with a mana pool or Force attribute, while a martial artist has a Fight skill or Chi pool.

    This is actually similar to what I’m doing, though for different reasons. If they help, my notes on this are here.

    Comment by btaggart | September 8, 2007 | Reply

  8. Thanks! I’ll take a look at your notes!

    Comment by commondialog | September 10, 2007 | Reply

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