Attributes measure innate the abilities of a role playing character such as Strength, Intelligence, or Spiritual Resolve. These measure a character’s full potential, and as such rarely fluctuates or improves. While not all RPGs utilize attributes, a great majority of popular RPGs has character attributes – including the most popular and original RPG system on the market today. However, too many RPGs attempt to reinvent the wheel when it comes to attributes. They split up some attributes, rename others, and add attributes that are out of place for the type of game in question.
When there is a purpose behind these attributes, these changes are fine, but far too often it seems like the designers have chosen their attributes only to be different. The end result is games that have far too many attributes, many of which rarely are used, and others which have obscure uses. As a game designer, I wanted to avoid making that same mistake.
I decided early-on that I would use terms that are very common within the gaming community and that I would try to make each attribute equally important. I chose four familiar attributes for the Dual-Core System; Agility, Intelligence, Strength, and Wisdom. These attributes all of their roots in some of the first RPGs created and haven’t really changed in the 40 years since the birth of our hobby. Due to there being only four attributes, it becomes easier to balance all four and make them equally useful in game play. Of course, they will never be “perfectly” balanced, as there will always be factors which cannot be accounted for in game play.
- Agility is the attribute of moving quickly and easily; its the nimbleness of a character’s hands and feet.
- Intelligence is the attribute of learning and reasoning; its a character’s ability to grasp abstract relationships and remembering facts.
- Strength is the attribute of muscular force and physical vigor; its the power and health of a character’s body.
- Wisdom is the attribute of understanding and insight, which allows a character to discern truth from deception and judge options.
Attributes for characters normally range from 1 to 4, but sometimes can range from 0 to 5 if the setting includes races or if the character has suffered Attribute Damage – both issues will be discussed in detail later.
Skills work in conjunction with attributes to determine how well a character can accomplish any given task. Unlike attributes, skills represent learned abilities of a character. However, much of my thinking about attribute scores apply to skills as well – they should be few in number so that they are easier to balance against one another, and should not deviate too far from accepted norms. Fortunately for me skills do not have too many accepted norms. So long as the skills I have chosen make sense in context of the game and each are useful in the context of the game, it will be a successful design. The Dual-Core System is meant to be more universal than genre or setting specific, so each skill should have multiple uses that could be important in several different settings.
Each Character has twelve skills:
- Acrobatics (Agility) allows your character to jump or tumble around obstacles; it represents your character’s ability to keep balance and move with stealth.
- Athletics (Strength) deal with activities such as swimming, running, climbing, fisticuffs, and sports that require endurance.
- Diplomacy (Wisdom) is the ability to detect deception, negotiate, and to convince others of your honest intents.
- Evasion (Agility) allows your character to dodge incoming attacks and squeeze out of precarious situations.
- Finesse (Agility) represents a character’s hand-eye coordination; with the Finesse skill, your character can aim ranged weapons, do anything that may require fine motor skills
- Fortitude (Strength) addresses a character’s ability to resist poison, disease, and exhaustion.
- Instinct (Wisdom) allows characters to hunt in the wild, understand the motives of untamed animals, and survive in extreme conditions.
- Knowledge (Intelligence) is the character’s understanding of the world around them, and may include science, history and literature, just as much as it includes pop-culture, video games, and trashy romance novels.
- Manipulation (Intelligence) deals with the ability to manipulate another character’s actions through deception, intimidation, or derision.
- Mechanics (Intelligence) deals with the common technology and techniques of the setting in which the character is native.
- Perception (Wisdom) addresses your character’s ability to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste the world around you; it is usually used to detect individuals who are hiding and finding clues.
- Prowess (Strength) is regarding feats of strength, such as bending soft-iron bars, ripping phone books in half, and using melee weapons.
Each skill is associated with one Attribute, shown in parentheses next to the name of the skill; this will usually be the Attribute you will add to the skill when you roll a skill check. There are three skills to each attribute, which helps maintain balance in the game system. However, there will be opportunities and the occasional necessity to use Attributes other than that commonly associated with the skill in question. Skill Ranks usually range from 0 to 10, but only reach as high as 10 after the character had been played for several game sessions and gained several levels. New PCs have Attributes that range from 0 to 3.
Mechanics and Knowledge may be expanded upon by a character’s background. Later I will discuss the mechanism that determines a character’s background – named, aptly, “Character Background.” Setting also may have a large impact on Mechanics and Knowledge; while how to shoe a horse may have been common knowledge just before the industrial revolution, a common person from this era wouldn’t have a clue how to begin. Likewise, a gentleman from the 18th century would have no idea how to change a flat tire.
I have chosen a more balanced and familiar approach when it comes to attributes and skills. While I think this is sensible, some may find it a bit dull. I remain, however, open to critique and new ideas. If you have any suggestions, I am ready to listen.