And One More Thing...

... on Attributes.

In a recent G+ post on the topic of Charisma as a dump-stat and ways to beef up it's importance, I was pleasantly surprised to see somebody else had made an effort to treat the mental stats the same as the physical. Their term for Strength and Charisma's type was 'Force', and their term for Dexterity and Intelligence's type was 'Finesse'. I am not terribly excited about 'Force', but I am going to be borrowing Finesse. This line of thought made me examine the nomenclature once again, and I have come up with some other name changes for the Finesse attributes:

StrengthBrawn   Presence
Endurance  Constitution   Willpower

The use of Finesse as a type name liberates Agility, which is a more encompassing than dexterity, which has a distinct hand-eye connotation outside of RPGs. Intelligence is changed to Intellect to create a little separation from the old attribute name and the assumptions that entails, while still sharing the abbreviation INT with intuition, which captures the other aspect of the stat.
  • Brawn (PS): raw muscular development and capability.
  • Agility (PF): physical reaction speed and coordination.
  • Constitution (PE): overall bodily health, and resilience.
  • Presence (MS): strength of personality and charisma.
  • Intellect (MF): instincts, perception, and problem solving.
  • Willpower (ME): personal resolve, focus, and concentration.
I had hoped that these entries would be more akin to a final-state summary, but obviously, this has become more of a design journal, capturing the flow of thought.

An Antarctic Mystery

Thought it was about time to get this off my desktop. I pulled this unattributed image from the web recently, for inspiration or future use. I did a bit of research, and discovered it was cover art for Jules Verne's An Antarctic Mystery.


More on Attributes

An alternate six attribute system I considered, but did not document in my previous post about the 3x3 stat-grid, would treat Intelligence as Mental Agility, Wisdom as Mental Endurance, and Charisma as Mental Strength. This would eliminate the need for the Spiritual category, and maintain the dynamic I observed among the physical attributes. With some minor nomenclature changes:

StrengthBrawn   Presence
Endurance  Constitution   Willpower

This retains the more familiar six-stat block, with the names of the poorly understood attributes of Wisdom and Charisma renamed Willpower and Presence respectively, clarifying the mechanical and descriptive differences between the old attributes and the new. Intelligence is not the most precise name for what it now encapsulates, but sharing the abbreviation Int with Intuition works to it's advantage, and so it was kept as is.

And so:
  • Brawn (PS): raw muscular development and capability.
  • Dexterity (PA): physical reaction speed and coordination.
  • Constitution (PE): overall bodily health, and resilience.
  • Presence (MS): strength of personality and charisma.
  • Intelligence (MA): instincts, perception, and problem solving.
  • Willpower (ME): personal resolve, focus, and concentration.

Relative to the 3x3 Stat-Grid:

  • Intelligence is a contraction of Intuition, Acuity, and those aspects of Knowledge governing learning potential. All cognitive and intuitive work is combined, eliminating the need to speculate what attribute handles various mental gymnastics and guesswork.
  • Presence becomes the singular contributor to mental strength. Knowledge or Intelligence was a poor fit in this type: existing knowledge is covered by class and/or skills, and the learning potential is sufficiently captured by mental acuity.
  • Willpower absorbs what was Focus. This again, removes the need to make distinctions about how one maintains focus or resists influence. This attribute can also be used to generate Mana Points for casting systems and/or psychic or magical damage, using the same formula used to generate Health Points from Constitution.

My initial reluctance to use this layout was motivated by a desire to stake out unique territory and differentiate the new attributes and their roles from the established muddle of the D&D rulesets. The 3x3 stat-grid seemed to do those things. Getting into the finer details of spell casting as either skill or class based mechanics, I realized that the division of mental and spiritual was too nuanced to build solid mechanics around, causing the mental attributes to be relegated to more mundane skills and actions that most players in adventure gaming do not engage in frequently, and when they do, it's often during downtime and between game-sessions. Ths was a grievance I had with the mental attributes of classic D&D style gaming, so clearly the 3x3 stat-grid was not serving the intent of making all the attributes pertinent in play.



Dungeons & Dragons, and most D&D based retro-clones, divide attributes (stats, ability scores, traits, etc) into physical and mental groups, presumably on purpose. The physical attributes are Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution; while the mental attributes are Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. The physical attributes are clearly beneficial with mechanical applications that passively enhance players who invest enough in them. Mental attributes are ultimately useful only for specific classes. As a result the mental attributes are typically deemed dump-stats where low scores can be placed to favor more useful attributes.

D&D Attributes

Listed in order of overall utility, notwithstanding class requirements or personal preference, including descriptions of the attributes and overviews of their mechanical advantages:
  • Constitution measures physical resilience and overall health. It is universally important for the extra Hit Points a high score can provide.
  • Dexterity measures physical agility and hand-eye coordination. It is also universally important for Armor Class, and to a lesser extent ranged combat, never mind the other advantages poorly armored thieves gain for a high dexterity.
  • Strength measures physical capacity for lifting, pushing, and other exertion, namely combat. Its value for any potential combatant is undeniable, and it offers escalating advantages to fighters by way of the exception strength sub-attribute (1e & 2e).
  • Intelligence reflects general knowledge, learning potential, and arguably thinking and reasoning. It grants extra languages in 1e, which converts to additional non-weapon proficiencies in 2e, making it useful, but not crucial; but does allow extra spells and easier spell training for magic-users.
  • Charisma reflects leadership, charm, and social skills, and is erroneously used as a measure of physical appearance. It is useful for those who often parley with NPC's and intelligent monsters (bringing the extra languages of intelligence into play) or for those gamers who utilize retainers or followers.
  • Wisdom is variously considered common sense, reasoning, judgement, spiritual awareness, perception, empathy, etc. It offers a boost to mental saving throws, an oft forgotten perk. It also grants clerics some extra spell capability.
The mental attributes, namely wisdom, are a bit muddled, and provide few overwhelming advantages that cannot be adjusted for via player agency. Most of the mental attributes tend to affect things that happen off the clock, like training time and cost between gaming sessions or the price of room and board and return on fenced spoils, all of which are easily written off as the cost of surviving. Up until non-weapon proficiencies were introduced in 2e, there were few meaningful mechanics that relied on mental attributes, and even those were not significant enough to warrant making an undue investment in mental attributes that were not core to the character's class.

Next Steps

Several steps need to be taken to address this dump-stat mentality and attribute irrelevance in actual play. I feel the first step is resolving the idiosyncratic nature of mental attributes by making their nature consistent with the physical attributes, which I observed followed a model of potency (strength), adaptability (agility) and vitality (endurance). Below is my first effort at uniform attributes following this model:

Type:PhysicalMental        D&D Equivalent 
StrengthStrengthKnowledge   Intelligence
AgilityDexterityAcuity           Intelligence/Wisdom
Endurance   Constitution   Will              Wisdom

The first obvious issue with this is charisma no longer is on the matrix, which is unacceptable as charisma provided some of the most obvious opportunities for mechanical application in the form of reaction checks for NPCs. Also, this breakdown illustrates the fickle double duty shared by intelligence and wisdom, and the latter, being full of so many intangible aspects, only compounds the problem. 

My first thought, and presumably the obvious idea, is to add Appeal as a fourth type:
StrengthStrength     Knowledge
AgilityDexterity  Acuity
Endurance   Constitution  Will
Appeal ComelinessCharisma

The problem here is that the corresponding physical attribute is physical attractiveness. Even granting aspects of grace and poise to this, and not just passive 'beauty', it is a highly subjective trait that I don't see as a numerically relevant for adventure-based gaming. It is also practically guaranteed to become a dump-stat: An ugly warrior or haggard wizard? No problem!

So I reexamined the basic model, and it's assumptions, but focused on the mental attributes mutability, particularly the ill-defined boundary between intelligence and wisdom, and the nebulous hints of dominion wisdom claimed over so many other traits. The more I looked, the more clear it was Wisdom was doing too much work, which made defining the roles of other mental traits difficult.


This brought me back to thoughts of other systems that separate the supernatural from the natural aspects of intellect, usually in the context of one or two attributes. What if I added a category covering the more ephemeral aspects of human capacity? Charisma certainly falls into that category, the art of inspiring and manipulating is not a learnable thing so much as a gift. One can learn skills to augment poor charisma (oration, et al), but there are those who lack such skills that are remarkable leaders or confidence men.

So I narrowed the scope of the mental category to testable mental capacities like calculation speeds, knowledge, pattern recognition, etc; and put the fuzzy bits that were left over into the new spiritual category:

StrengthBrawn   PresenceKnowledge
Endurance  Constitution   WillFocus

With the addition of a third category, I gain a set of attributes explicitly for all those things that wisdom, intelligence, charisma, or even dexterity (as luck!?) often got inconsistently tasked with resolving in the golden age of gaming, or were managed by other mechanics like saving throws, or handled as class-based abilities.
  • Brawn (PS): raw muscular development and capability.
  • Dexterity (PA): physical reaction speed and coordination.
  • Constitution (PE): overall bodily health, and resilience.
  • Presence (SS): strength of personality and charisma.
  • Intuition (SA): instincts, luck, and non-tangible perceptions.
  • Will (SE): personal resolve and resistance to trickery.
  • Knowledge (MS): learning potential and recall of information.
  • Acuity (MA): perception of details and problem solving.
  • Focus (ME): attention span and concentration.

What Next?

The next step, now that I have this matrix locked down and documented, is to establish value ranges for these attributes, and flesh out the mechanics that handle how to apply those numbers for opposed and unopposed checks. 

This attribute matrix is robust enough that it, possibly combined with a level or skill mechanic, is sufficient for use as saving throws. I also intend to detail a tiered, broad-to-narrow scope skill system, wherein all applicable skills add to the applicable attribute and a dice roll, and are compared to either a target number or opposed roll. I want this system to rewards skills without making them mandatory to make an attempt. I also expect the combat mechanics to be a uniform part of the skill system, so no single aspect of game play has a mechanical advantage, giving it the impression that one behavior is preferred over others.

Although I have increased the number of attributes by 150%, by doing so I have made things simpler. By standardizing the nature of the attributes by type and category, I have made a uniform system where every attribute has a discernible purpose; unlike attribute systems with multiple arbitrary or ambiguous stats and setting specific jargon.

Attribute Naming

I have obviously adopting alternates to some standard attribute names, and conversely, kept several existing ones in place. These choices were not made lightly, no matter how capricious the results appear, and were all made respecting this rule:

No attributes, categories, or types can have similar names or abbreviations.

I wanted the names of both Attribute Categories and Attribute Types to be easily understood while also encompassing their entire domain. Physical, Spiritual, and Mental are practical givens, ideal for their categories. Strength, Agility, and Endurance; using the categories as modifiers make perfect sense in every case, capturing all applicable subsets while clearly communicating the nature of each type. Individual attribute names are provided for flavor and were selected for their descriptiveness and simplicity.

The D&D mental attribute names Intelligence and Wisdom were rejected because those attributes are no longer represented by a single attribute, but by the Mental and Spiritual categories, respectively. Charisma has been combined with some interpretive aspects of Wisdom to form Presence, and the name change reflects this. Strength became Brawn to avoid confusion with the type name, per the rule, above.



"Becoming Troll" by Velkis Erk
These images were intended by their creators as depictions of trolls, but these are more consistent with what I think of as goblins.

Long ago, the Enfae warrior castes known as the Gnuae'Moblae, in their lust for power, trifled with dark powers and became corrupted. Over the centuries, as their culture became more barbaric and their language degenerated, they came to call themselves the Gyo-blunn. But in the common tongue of men, they are known as Goblins.

Goblin have long pointed ears, sharp elongated noses, small eyes, high cheekbones, and tusk-like teeth or fangs. They have little if any facial hair and body hair, and their heads are covered in thin hair, though balding is common. Head ridges and goat-like horns are rare and marks of strong fae-magic potential. Their bodies are lean and muscular.

"Troll" by Alexey S. Lipatov
Goblin coloration is fairly consistent in any given clan: typically shades of olive green, tan, or gray. Their hair, if they have any, is usually black, dark green, brown, or less often, coppery red, graying with age.

A fair matrix of Goblin skin tones,
but I doubt those are the names they
would use for those colors.
The more degenerated goblin clans and subspecies have rounder, larger, and less pointed features: larger eyes; broader, longer noses; and thicker, longer ears. Their bodies are thicker and gnarled, their skin mottled and darker with lumps and lesions, and little if any hair. The less fae-influence, the more pronounced these traits, and the weaker their magical aptitudes.

Most goblins have affinities toward elemental magics, but those strengths are normally rudimentary. Strong elemental affinities are rare, and those with them become the craftsmen, bosses, or shaman of goblin society, depending on the strength and nature of their affinities.

Goblins with affinities toward the life-force and mind influencing powers of their fae ancestors are few, and are normally found in the less degenerate clans and individuals. Individuals with particularly strong fae affinities are typically marked with ridges or goat-like horns on their heads, or even more rarely, tails or other animal like manifestations. In goblin clans, such goblins are occasionally killed to protect power structures, but more typically, they become commanders, shaman or seers, or even chiefs and kings.

The Shhee-Veld, image attribution unknown
Some of those with fae affinities can find the veils between the Enfae dreams and see through from the fifth (the dream or realm of human activity) and into the sixth dream' that the goblins call Shhee-Veld or The Ghost Land. Shhee-Veld is a darkened world full of spirit beings, strongly charged with black energy. It is there, that the few remaining original goblins, those corrupted Enfae warlords, eternally young, dwell in their fortified palaces, commanding armies of elite goblins. Those goblin god-kings are worshipped by the lowest castes of goblinkind, a belief that if they prove their worth, they will be revived in the Shee-Veld to join those grand armies, waiting to amass the numbers required to emerge forth and reclaim all the dreams for goblin glory.