Thursday, February 7, 2013

Old School Sensibilities: Attributes

For my last few games, I’ve moved away from core attributes, and into more free-form systems where you purchase what you want and skip what you don’t want. In Resolute (and the games based off of it, including the most recent edition of Mythweaver), you only purchase Might if you want to be exceptionally strong – otherwise, you default to a +0 modifier, and you don’t have to record it. It makes record-keeping easy, and you only have to track the things that are exceptional about your character.

However, that’s not very old school, nor is it in the tradition of the Army Ants games I’ve published.

Originally, I had three attributes in MTDAA: body, mind and speed. These three governed all of your actions in the game, and modifiers extended from there. In truth, I didn’t really limit the attributes to this, because each of the three had two core traits linked to it, which effectively gave the game six attributes.

For this edition, I originally planned to go back to those three, but I ran into one key problem: Mind.

On one hand, it didn’t feel like you used Mind enough. It was less important, for most characters, than the other two attributes. Even worse, many things that fell under mind – perception, awareness, intuition – didn’t naturally align with intellect, reason and learning. In fact, the stereotype of the ‘absent-minded professor’ wouldn’t work at all; high mind implies that you aren’t absent-minded.

Therefore, I split mind up into two attributes – Mind and Spirit. Mind governs all mental processes of the conscious mind, while Spirit governs intuition, insight, spiritual attunement and overall awareness. Things like stealth then become a function of spirit rather than speed, which brings down the latter as an uber stat.  I also knew that I needed to buff up Mind within the context of the game, so things like mind control (psionics), technology and intelligence need to take a bigger role in the core system, which is one of the things I wanted anyway. It became a natural fit. Finally, I renamed Speed as Prowess, since that fits its role as governing dexterity, coordination and agility.

That leaves me with four core attributes: Body, Mind, Prowess, Spirit.

This gives the exact level of simplicity I want out of the core attributes, but enough variety to create a wide range of characters.


  1. I generally prefer the base 0, only write what your good (or bad) at type of games. I play B/X D&D this way and just use attribute mods. I wouldn't say this way is not old school, Dave's early pre-D&D game changed attributes often during development. Other early games would often swap them out EPT dropping Wisdom for Psychic Ability, Runequest Wis for POW, Metamorphus Alpha having Radiation Resistance. If you use a base 0 attributes, you can have characters from different game worlds and genres all in the same party without doing any conversion work. That is totally old school.

    Still, I don't have a problem with lists in games where 0 isn't the baseline.

  2. What? I'm more old school than I thought? My paradigm has just shifted...

  3. Just started reading your blog. My own RPG in its current iteration uses a base-0, three-ability score system similar to this: Strength, Agility and Intellect. I thought it was neat that someone well-established has already thought along the lines I came to. Cheers, Dane

  4. Hey, Dane. Thanks for checking out the blog.

    The three stats seems like a very intuitive way to go, if you can make the system hang on just those three.

    Good luck with your game!