Results 1 to 21 of 21
  1. - Top - End - #1
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Mordar's Avatar

    Join Date
    Mar 2008

    Default Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    So based on the pet peeves thread I started thinking about things I liked and disliked about various games. That got me to thinking character design in different games. I don't mean archetype, optimization or build here...more like "what is the mechanical basis of the character system" and "do characters improve over time"...and how that speaks to the types of games that a given RPG can accommodate and/or do well.

    Without getting too deep, I kind of came to the preliminary conclusion that there are two categorizations that influence me, and they are directly tied to the two questions I was considering.

    Mechanical basis
    Is the character interaction with the game (a) skill-based, (b) level based, or (c) attribute based?

    Skill-based games are driven by the use of skills. Chaosium games like Call of C'thulhu or Stormbringer are close to pure examples of skill-based games.
    Level-based games are driven by the character's level first and foremost. D&D or Pathfinder are classic examples of this.
    Attribute games are driven primarily by "stat" attributes where players are always making a "Str Roll" or "Smarts" roll. Monster of the Week is good example, and I would put oWoD here as well, but as stated below, there is hybridization.

    Of course there is overlap - sometimes in Call of C'thulhu you make an Idea check, or in D&D you roll a skill even as a Fighter. And there are some hybrid games - RoleMaster is skill based but uses levels to determine when you get to improve/learn skills; EarthDawn has levels, but they only gate learning new "skills", not improving old ones. And then there are the L5Rs, 7th Seas and Worlds of Darkness games that have resolution achieved by a combination of skills and attributes (roll/keep systems).

    So there is muddiness here, but for my initial purposes, I think it is okay.

    Progressive vs Static
    Is the game progressive (characters improve mechanically over time) or static (characters remain effectively the same mechanically over time)?
    Perhaps this is better stated as "what is the level of progression in the game?" since the majority of games I know have some degree of aptitude or ability growth for characters over time.

    I think of D&D as highly progressive (fitting as it really is a model of the Hero's Journey). Call of C'thulhu, Shadowun or Deadlands might rate as moderately progressive. Vampire/oWoD and Marvel Superheroes rate, to me, as minimally progressive. I guess the original Indiana Jones would be truly static as you only play certain pre-built characters.

    So why do I care about mechanical basis and progressivity?
    Because I think it tells me something about the style of game that could/should be played in a given system.

    The more skill-based a system the more granularity there can be between characters, and the more the game tolerates multiple types of encounters or game play (say combat, social, investigative). The more level-based a system the more growth is a dominating factor and "environmental" variability comes into play (don't walk in the ogre hills at first level!). The more attribute-based the game, the more important the decisions you make at character creation matter, and (IMO, like everything else here) the more trouble you can run into with spot-light hogs.

    Progressivity...well, that just tells me if I need to expect a long haul before we get to all the good toys, or if we're going to be reasonably good right out of the gate and will have to stay in our lane.

    This kind of gives us a nine-box descriptor system for character mechanics...three layers of mechanical basis with three layers of progressivity.

    Skill-based Level-Based Attribute-based
    High Progress RoleMaster D&D 3.x TBD
    Mid Progress Call of C'thulhu Earthdawn Deadlands, oWoD
    Low Progress WHFRPG? TBD Marvel Super Heroes

    All of the games I included in the grid I personally like.

    So again, why do I care? Because the grid provides me with an expectation about the game to be played...and how I should think about my characters going in. Do I prepare for a development arc, transitions of roles, or one-trick ponies? Do I need to invest a lot of thought in initial selections, or can I be more liberal in my whims? Will the game have a lot of stratification?

    So...is this useless rambling or does it encourage/stimulate additional thought?

    - M
    No matter where you go...there you are!

    Togashi Ishi - Betrayal at the White Temple
    Da Monsters of Da Midden - GitP Blood Bowl Manager Cup Season VI

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Yora's Avatar

    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Location
    Germany

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Progressive and Static seems to be pretty much the idea behind the common terminology of steep and flat power curves. It's an old concept that I've seen quite widely used to describe different game systems.
    Spriggan's Den - Sword & Sorcery, Bronze Age, Adventuring RPG Stuff

    The Fallen City States of the Forests of Kaendor - Mythic Bronze Age of Weird Wild Wonder

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Knaight's Avatar

    Join Date
    Aug 2008

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mordar View Post
    Mechanical basis
    Is the character interaction with the game (a) skill-based, (b) level based, or (c) attribute based?
    I need to formally write this up at some point, but systems can effectively be based in any of the different types of mechanics, and skills, levels, and attributes barely scratch the surface, and I have a longer list (somewhere).

    From memory though, that list involves stats (e.g. AC, BAB, levels if they're used directly), attributes, skills, talents, powers, and descriptors (e.g. aspects, alignment). This is a pretty end focused list, with the question of how you get them (point buy, levels, lifepath, etc.) being treated as a seperate question.

    Most systems are hybrids, but they often focus heavily on one or two of these. For instance, Mutants and Masterminds & HERO are pretty heavily power focused, GURPS, d6, and Fudge are pretty heavily attribute and skill focused, D&D is pretty stat and power focused, so on and so forth.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Bugbear in the Playground
    Join Date
    Oct 2007

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    What's the difference between skill-based and attribute-based systems? Whether I make a strength check or an athletics skill check, the effect is mechanically the same - the only difference is in naming covention.

    Regarding your picks: Call of Cthulhu is definitely a low progress game, and that's assuming your characters even survive more than one session, with the default assumption being that they won't - ending up traumatized at best, insane, dead or worse otherwise, and most adventures are meant to be one shots anyway.

    Warhammer RPG on the other hand is at least mid progress, possibly high progress. A difference between a starting character and the same character after a few adventures, with improvements to weapon skill, initiative, attacks, etc, is huge.

    Mutants and Masterminds is a low progress game. You get more power points as you play, but they come in tiny packages and the assumption is that your character is already created as they should be, as opposed to growing into the role as level-based systems tend to do.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Knaight's Avatar

    Join Date
    Aug 2008

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Quote Originally Posted by tensai_oni View Post
    What's the difference between skill-based and attribute-based systems? Whether I make a strength check or an athletics skill check, the effect is mechanically the same - the only difference is in naming covention.
    There's a few others, starting with how attributes are generally comprehensive and skills generally involve selectively picking some skills out of a broader list. Attributes also are often there to feed into skills in a skill based system.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Ettin in the Playground
    Join Date
    Oct 2015
    Location
    Berlin
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Quote Originally Posted by tensai_oni View Post
    What's the difference between skill-based and attribute-based systems? Whether I make a strength check or an athletics skill check, the effect is mechanically the same - the only difference is in naming covention.
    Permanent vs. selective choice. In attribute-based systems, you always have your attribute, so you can always do your check. In skill-based systems, you only have your selected skills to make checks with. In mixed mode (like +attribute +skill) you can also always do your check but you're only really good at selected skills.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Troll in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

    Join Date
    Jan 2009

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    I like the progressive vs. static comparison. I hadn't considered that before. Would FATE and FAE be low-progress?

    For me, I've found that saying it's a d20-based system or d10-based system relays a lot of information. In isolation, those terms are pretty meaningless since they could apply to any system that predominantly uses those dice, but in effect a d20 system comes to mean "derived from D&D and using a lot of that as its basis--so levels, skill points, bonuses to rolls, etc." and d10 means "storyteller system like oWoD, nWoD, Exalted, Scion, etc. with its ideas of attributes, skills, and a power stat and special powers".

    But of course there are a lot of systems outside of d20 and d10-based, and my comment mainly comes from those being what I generally play. And some, like Mutants & Masterminds, though d20-based don't fit most of the assumptions of d20 games (e.g., it has no levels, you don't generally increase in overall power over time, etc.).

    I think your grouping is helpful for folk who are used to a few games and wanting to branch out to others, to let them know of similarities and differences. I recall that the slow growth of power in oWoD was a bit surprising to me after moving from D&D 3.5.

    ---

    On your grouping, I can see oWoD as attribute based if you expand attributes to explicitly include "power stats" that govern a lot of overall power level but changes over time. For example, Arete in oWoD Mage, Essence in Exalted 2nd edition, and Legend (er, I think that's right) in Scion. While skill use and the core attributes (Str, Dex, etc.) are about equally important in oWoD, if you count power stats (and thus all derived from them) as an attribute, I think you can put it clearly in attribute-based.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Mordar's Avatar

    Join Date
    Mar 2008

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Quote Originally Posted by tensai_oni View Post
    What's the difference between skill-based and attribute-based systems? Whether I make a strength check or an athletics skill check, the effect is mechanically the same - the only difference is in naming convention.
    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    There's a few others, starting with how attributes are generally comprehensive and skills generally involve selectively picking some skills out of a broader list. Attributes also are often there to feed into skills in a skill based system.
    Quote Originally Posted by Florian View Post
    Permanent vs. selective choice. In attribute-based systems, you always have your attribute, so you can always do your check. In skill-based systems, you only have your selected skills to make checks with. In mixed mode (like +attribute +skill) you can also always do your check but you're only really good at selected skills.
    While the mechanic itself is pretty much the same (I roll dice influenced by my stat or my stat+skill and compare to a target number), the design of the element and the character vary.

    In addition to what Knaight and Florian have noted here, another element that feeds my distinction is which side of the equation dominates. In a roll-keep system where you are keeping dice equal to the attribute, for instance, the attribute is the most dominant part of the pair. If it is a "roll stat + skill and count the total" than it is equal. The roll-keep favoring the attribute also creates a clear "optimization path" that favors the attributes over the skills. Far better to be a 5 intellect with 1 point in a number of intellect-based skills (rolling 6k5) than have a 3 intellect and 3, 4 or 5 ranks in the skills (rolling 6/7/8k3), which is fairly contrary to real expertise.

    Allowing unaltered or minimally penalized defaulting to attributes is also a system distinction that renders something attribute-based instead of skill-based. The skills in such systems are minor modifiers and window dressing as opposed to the basis for the mechanic.

    I certainly agree that most systems are a mix...but that virtually all systems favor one over the other. RoleMaster is an example of a skill-based system that uses attributes as skill modifiers...but fairly quickly the weight of the skill dwarfs the modifier (you get +05 per skill level...most attributes, even primary attributes, will have modifiers under +15. By say 5th level you should have 10ish levels in your primary skills, so your skill would be (levels x 05 + stat) so 50 + 15 = +65).

    Quote Originally Posted by JeenLeen View Post
    On your grouping, I can see oWoD as attribute based if you expand attributes to explicitly include "power stats" that govern a lot of overall power level but changes over time. For example, Arete in oWoD Mage, Essence in Exalted 2nd edition, and Legend (er, I think that's right) in Scion. While skill use and the core attributes (Str, Dex, etc.) are about equally important in oWoD, if you count power stats (and thus all derived from them) as an attribute, I think you can put it clearly in attribute-based.
    I do think the "attribute-based" should include things like Arete and the like, particularly if they are power-pools that also determine resistance/potency et cetera. Blood pool and so on feel like attributes to me.

    Quote Originally Posted by tensai_oni View Post
    Regarding your picks: Call of Cthulhu is definitely a low progress game, and that's assuming your characters even survive more than one session, with the default assumption being that they won't - ending up traumatized at best, insane, dead or worse otherwise, and most adventures are meant to be one shots anyway.

    Warhammer RPG on the other hand is at least mid progress, possibly high progress. A difference between a starting character and the same character after a few adventures, with improvements to weapon skill, initiative, attacks, etc, is huge.

    Mutants and Masterminds is a low progress game. You get more power points as you play, but they come in tiny packages and the assumption is that your character is already created as they should be, as opposed to growing into the role as level-based systems tend to do.
    Oops, now you've triggered me

    Call of C'thulhu is not a one-shot game for GMs to test their TPK (including TPKrazy!) skills on a group of helpless players. It has garnered that reputation, but I view it a lot like the "D&D makes you worship Beezelbub or somebody" kind of things (okay, way less bad than that, but you get my point). I've personally played in 2 CoC games that lasted over a year with regular play and only a couple characters worth of turn-over. Many of the best published adventures for any game (IMO...heavily biased, granted) are the Call of C'thulhu campaigns like Masks of Nyarlathotep and Shadows of Yog-Sothoth. Now, these do accommodate character loss and replacement, but they are also built with the idea of a group moving from one section to the next. Don't let the TPKrazy hacks ruin a good game!

    So one of my favorite aspects of CoC is the skill improvement system. As play progresses you make skill checks in a wide array of skills, putting a mark next to each skill in which you succeed. At the end of each story you check for skill improvement. You roll % against each skill with a check, and if your roll exceeds your skill you get to add 1d10 to the skill. In a good story you are going to use 10-15 skills, probably with 8-12 successes (doesn't matter if you succeed at a skill once or forty times in a story, still just counts as one check mark). Early on you will get skill-ups on probably half your checks...so you are going to be adding 4-6d10 to your skills. And much of the skill growth will be focused on skills your character uses a lot. That's why I put it in the mid-progress point.

    My WHFRPG experience is much more limited than my CoC experience, so that's why I put it on low with a "?". I'd certainly have no issue with bumping it up. IN M&M are you basically buying powers like skills, or are they heavily based on your attributes?

    - M
    No matter where you go...there you are!

    Togashi Ishi - Betrayal at the White Temple
    Da Monsters of Da Midden - GitP Blood Bowl Manager Cup Season VI

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    ElfRangerGuy

    Join Date
    Jul 2014

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Cypher, is I believe in your nomenclature another example of an attribute-based mid-to-low progressive.

    D&D 5e is Level-based, mid-progression probably, part of the reason I dislike it.
    My attempt at non-awful fumble rules
    Arcane Archer minimal fix
    Expanding the Pathfinder Called Shots system
    ͼͽ

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    RangerGuy

    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    Craig, Co
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    The other main factor to me, is how the dice are used. A dice pool makes a very different style of game (WoD, Shadowrun, FFG Star Wars) then a bell curve (FATE, Traveller, GURPS, PbtA) or a straight roll (D&D, Cyberpunk, Savage Worlds?).
    Not actually sure about Savage Worlds, not got to play it. But I think it would fit as a straight roll game, even though you roll multiple dice, only one count one of them.
    Spoiler
    Show


    Warforged Upgrades
    Blade Lord Vestige
    Soulforged PrC
    Transformers RPG Now Updated as PDFs on Google Drive.

  11. - Top - End - #11
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    RedWizardGuy

    Join Date
    Dec 2015

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mordar View Post
    Vampire/oWoD and Marvel Superheroes rate, to me, as minimally progressive.
    Don't various WoD titles have powers written up for several levels above starting characters? As I understand it, a starting Mage might have two or three dots (out of five) in as many as four spheres (out of nine). It's possible that I'm overestimating how much you are supposed to progress, but there clearly is a lot of potential there.

    Because I think it tells me something about the style of game that could/should be played in a given system.
    This is exactly the wrong reason to try to develop a Grand Theory of RPGs. The kinds of games an individual RPG intends to support should be laid out by the core book (or books) of that RPG. Insofar as there is a reason to have a Grand Theory of RPGs, it is to support the design of new RPGs, not the categorization of existing ones.

    The more skill-based a system the more granularity there can be between characters, and the more the game tolerates multiple types of encounters or game play (say combat, social, investigative). The more level-based a system the more growth is a dominating factor and "environmental" variability comes into play (don't walk in the ogre hills at first level!). The more attribute-based the game, the more important the decisions you make at character creation matter, and (IMO, like everything else here) the more trouble you can run into with spot-light hogs.
    I don't think most of those claims hold up, unless you are defining things tautologically so that games with lots of granularity must be skill based (of the top of my head, there's nothing that stops a level based system from being on rails -- low level choices mattering at high level was a D&D 4e selling point). Also, those things are not really exclusive (except maybe skills versus attributes). Also, I don't know why you don't have "point based" in there somewhere.

    Quote Originally Posted by tensai_oni View Post
    What's the difference between skill-based and attribute-based systems? Whether I make a strength check or an athletics skill check, the effect is mechanically the same - the only difference is in naming covention.
    Well, the distinction is honestly pretty stupid. Almost every system with skills also has attributes. Shadowrun dicepools are Skill + Stat. D&D skill checks are Skill + Stat. And so on. Insofar as there is something there, the difference is that if you have a skill based system you can have people who are good at different things that fall under the umbrella of "being strong" or "being smart". So you could have a character who is good at swimming, but bad at climbing, or something like that.

  12. - Top - End - #12
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Knaight's Avatar

    Join Date
    Aug 2008

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Quote Originally Posted by Cosi View Post
    Well, the distinction is honestly pretty stupid. Almost every system with skills also has attributes. Shadowrun dicepools are Skill + Stat. D&D skill checks are Skill + Stat. And so on. Insofar as there is something there, the difference is that if you have a skill based system you can have people who are good at different things that fall under the umbrella of "being strong" or "being smart". So you could have a character who is good at swimming, but bad at climbing, or something like that.
    Far from every system with attributes has skills though, and there are major exceptions in terms of skills without attributes (Fate), or skills that aren't directly added to attributes (Savage Worlds, Fudge). Then there's directly rolled profession systems, which better parallel skill systems than attribute systems.

    Treating them as two separate categories of games doesn't work, but partitioning skills and attributes as distinct design elements absolutely does.

  13. - Top - End - #13
    Bugbear in the Playground
    Join Date
    Apr 2013

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    GURPS is skill and attribute based, I guess slightly more skill but still and also progression is entirely slow or medium or fast depending on setting. So that doesn't really fit the grid, which makes me think a lot of other games probably don't either.
    Re: 100 Things to Beware of that Every DM Should Know

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay R View Post
    93. No matter what the character sheet say, there are only 3 PC alignments: Lawful Snotty, Neutral Greedy, and Chaotic Backstabbing.

  14. - Top - End - #14
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    RedWizardGuy

    Join Date
    Dec 2015

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    Far from every system with attributes has skills though, and there are major exceptions in terms of skills without attributes (Fate), or skills that aren't directly added to attributes (Savage Worlds, Fudge).
    I think "attribute influence skills by some mechanism other than directly adding" isn't really an example of "skills without attributes". I don't really think Fate (a rules light system) having skills but not attributes is evidence of much. Rules light systems have less complicated rules, but I don't think the particular rules they choose to include or omit constitutes much evidence of anything.

    Of course, I'm sure you can find some RPG somewhere that does any particular thing, but in general skills and attributes are not competing design decisions.

    Treating them as two separate categories of games doesn't work, but partitioning skills and attributes as distinct design elements absolutely does.
    Sure. But it's not very useful for categorization, which is the nominal point of the thread.
    Last edited by Cosi; 2018-02-10 at 10:58 AM.

  15. - Top - End - #15
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Knaight's Avatar

    Join Date
    Aug 2008

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Quote Originally Posted by Cosi View Post
    Sure. But it's not very useful for categorization, which is the nominal point of the thread.
    It's plenty useful for categorization, you just need to structure it differently. Instead of broad categories of "X-Based" you can look at mechanical classifications ahead of time and define by their extent of presence. When doing that it becomes immediately apparent that some systems that include both attributes and skills are vastly more focused on attributes (5e D&D), and others are vastly more focused on skills (Open d6).

  16. - Top - End - #16
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Mordar's Avatar

    Join Date
    Mar 2008

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Quote Originally Posted by Cosi View Post
    Don't various WoD titles have powers written up for several levels above starting characters? As I understand it, a starting Mage might have two or three dots (out of five) in as many as four spheres (out of nine). It's possible that I'm overestimating how much you are supposed to progress, but there clearly is a lot of potential there.
    You are correct...but it was something of a misleading truth. Playing "classic" Vampire you were 13th generation vamps [really 14th - 10th or so, remember lower = "stronger"] and you could be *very* good at one or two "vampirey" things (and several skill-things). And the system both accommodated building much lower generation vampires with 6/7/8 dots in one or more Disciplines and the attributes to match, as well as *interacting* with vampires of that nature...but it would take Monty Haul levels of experience points for PCs made "by the book" to ever reach such levels after months and months of play. To compare...think of it as D&D (3.x) where you start at first level, frequently interact with 15th+ level characters...but are capped at only ever reaching 5th level yourself. That's why I feel it is on the lower end of the progressive scale.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cosi View Post
    This is exactly the wrong reason to try to develop a Grand Theory of RPGs. The kinds of games an individual RPG intends to support should be laid out by the core book (or books) of that RPG. Insofar as there is a reason to have a Grand Theory of RPGs, it is to support the design of new RPGs, not the categorization of existing ones.
    I'm not looking for a Grand Theory at all...just indicating something that was bouncing around in my head that kind of...well, not even defines...by categorizes my experience with RPGs over my gaming lifetime. And it is meant to help a person (specifically, me, but hopefully others) set expectations about games without necessitating the purchase, review and play of those games. The key being expectations...which are very much subject to change.

    Heck, the Call of C'thulhu conversation up above presents exactly that...a common expectation about CoC is that if there isn't a TPK(razy) by the end of a couple hours of play somebody isn't doing something right. That is an expectation that is easily changed by actual play with a good Keeper and "proper" mindset. My placement of WHFRPG was based on limited play, so it generated an expectation...which was countered by someone with more experience.

    I guess what I'm really looking for here is kind of a shorthand that matches something like what we have for movies. If I say "tentpole action" versus "historical docudrama" versus "M. Night thriller" versus "space opera" you've got a pretty good opportunity to build an expectation. The actual execution of the movie (or game) can shatter that expectation and much better define the actual experience of viewing (or playing)...but with so many movies out there and limited time and resources, it's nice to have an initial idea of how to filter the lot.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cosi View Post
    I don't think most of those claims hold up, unless you are defining things tautologically so that games with lots of granularity must be skill based (of the top of my head, there's nothing that stops a level based system from being on rails -- low level choices mattering at high level was a D&D 4e selling point).
    My thinking is this...that a greater number of *useful* skills in a game provides more granular distinction between characters - particularly characters of a similar class/role/race - than a game with few useful skills. Let's remain in (A)D&D for a moment. Consider 2 5th level fighters in red box D&D, AD&D, D&D 3.x and D&D 4e (I don't know 5e, so I am excluding it). While there would be minor variations brought in by magic items or 1 to 2 points of stats, the D&D and AD&D versions will be pretty similar. The 3.x version will potentially have more variation depending on feats (which I admit are a hard part to categorize) and then 4e kind of brings them back to more similar. They are distinguished more by the minor modifiers to their ability to hit/damage or resist damage than by their ability to do mechanically adjudicated tasks (hereafter MAT) outside of combat, or the roles they can play. Consider instead 2 fighters with identical starting stats and the same degree of magic item availability (scaled by level), but now one is 3rd level and the other is 8th level across the same systems. They still play the same role, they still have limited ability to perform mechanically adjudicated tasks outside combat, but now one is vastly superior at hitting, hurting and resisting damage than the other. That is a level based variation.

    Now take two "fighter types" (not necessarily specifically gunfighters) in a game like Deadlands. From the outset there will be more potential for noticeable differences in the character's ability to perform MAT outside of combat and the methodology of their MAT in combat can be very different. As they gain experience, they improve their abilities even if they don't gain "levels"...but even in a "fair" fight it is possible for the character with 2-3 "adventurers" worth of experience behind him to beat the character with 8-10 such "adventurers". So there is more granularity in MAT outside combat and even in combat. Not a likely case with our 3rd and 8th level fighter above.

    Now, it is fair to say that may be more a limitation of D&D's system than of a level-based system in general, but since so many of the level-based systems are spawned from D&D I think it does carry some water.

    If we extend the example further, taking two characters in Call of C'thulhu that have a combat focus we can quite literally end up with *playable* versions of Indiana Jones and Al Capone (without all of his goons, of course)...or Sam Spade for that matter. They would each have decent...potentially identical...combat ability but much greater differences in the skills that make up 80% of their character.

    So in my mind, I see the characters as (a) 80%/20% same/different, (b) 50%/50% same/different, and (c) 20%/80% same/different...and it is by that that I mean there is granularity.

    If we were to accept that the statement is arguable but true, is there a better word than granularity to encapsulate the idea?

    I don't understand the point about 4e...unless you mean that paths for the fighters bifurcate down the road, and choices made at 3rd level will limit options available at 10th level and so on...so that even if there isn't a big difference at 3rd level, by the time you get to 10th level (or paragon or whatever) the choices will result in significant difference.

    Additionally, there is something to consider that you and I sort of touched on...how to classify things like Feats that are not developed as skills or attributes. My first impulse is to say "it depends" but that isn't a very good answer. Some seem to add flavor to how you do things, some seem simple minor modifiers as much like a magic item as anything else, and some seem to add new opportunities for your level-based or skill-based system to mechanically adjudicate tasks. Hrm...

    Quote Originally Posted by Cosi View Post
    Also, those things are not really exclusive (except maybe skills versus attributes). Also, I don't know why you don't have "point based" in there somewhere.
    When you say "point-based" do you mean point-based character creation? If so, I didn't include it because I really didn't delve into creation methods (random, archetype, point-buy, priority). I didn't consider it in my expectations of how the character will play out, but it is clearly important in how I could mechanically produce my "vision" of a character for the game. Worth consideration, but I wonder if it is as important as the mechanical basis or progressivity. In a low-progress game, I do think point-buy would be far preferable to random or archetype...but still a secondary consideration.

    If not, please help me understand what you mean.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cosi View Post
    Well, the distinction is honestly pretty stupid. Almost every system with skills also has attributes. Shadowrun dicepools are Skill + Stat. D&D skill checks are Skill + Stat. And so on. Insofar as there is something there, the difference is that if you have a skill based system you can have people who are good at different things that fall under the umbrella of "being strong" or "being smart". So you could have a character who is good at swimming, but bad at climbing, or something like that.
    I think I am missing something here again. You are quoting not-me in your reply...and the statement tensai_oni made doesn't match my position at all.

    Of course almost all games that have skills have attributes. But as I explained upstream, the difference is in which one dominates mechanical adjudication. Additionally, as you spell out yourself, the system choice can answer the question "For purposes of this game, if you are "smart" are you equally smart at all things?" There isn't always value in an answer of "no", but for me there often is.

    Additionally, there is the issue with attributes and defaulting or outweighing skills as I mentioned before.

    Through my Shadowrun experience I only recall rolling the skill dice, never adding the attribute. Granted there was a combat pool, or hacking pool, or spell pool, based on attributes that I could use to add to my skill...but that seldom was worth more than the skill itself. In D&D, stat modifiers are certainly added...and in many cases are the only thing added...to a roll, but I would put D&D as the least skill-based of the games. Skills account for a very small proportion of play and depending on version, the value of having the skill can be overmatched by both the attribute and level.

    So the mechanical basis considers both the "source" of the modifiers to a roll and the relative magnitude of the modifiers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    Far from every system with attributes has skills though, and there are major exceptions in terms of skills without attributes (Fate), or skills that aren't directly added to attributes (Savage Worlds, Fudge). Then there's directly rolled profession systems, which better parallel skill systems than attribute systems.

    Treating them as two separate categories of games doesn't work, but partitioning skills and attributes as distinct design elements absolutely does.
    Quote Originally Posted by Cosi View Post
    I think "attribute influence skills by some mechanism other than directly adding" isn't really an example of "skills without attributes". I don't really think Fate (a rules light system) having skills but not attributes is evidence of much. Rules light systems have less complicated rules, but I don't think the particular rules they choose to include or omit constitutes much evidence of anything.

    Of course, I'm sure you can find some RPG somewhere that does any particular thing, but in general skills and attributes are not competing design decisions.
    Again, "skill-based" is not a suggestion of the absence of attributes in a game...it is a statement that says "the development of skills and the mechanical implementation of those skills is more important in the game than the attributes of the character or the "level" (if any such measure exists in that game) of the character."

    I do think there can be a competing design decision in "which dominates, skills or attributes?" and the answer can easily be "neither". But I think the question can have value.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cosi View Post
    Sure. But it's not very useful for categorization, which is the nominal point of the thread.
    When it comes to the presence and use of skills in an RPG, and how attributes intersect with them in the MAT I think it is very much useful for "characterization" both in how characters are to interact with the game/encounters/obstacles. Its good to know (for me) if the game is one where Dr. Savage is the default expectation (smart guy = physician, scientist, detective, inventor and so much more) as opposed to one where "Dr. Jones" is a heck of an archaeologist but can't diagnose diseases, know the difference between two isomers of a compound, and reroute the power from the warp drives to the deflector screens.

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    It's plenty useful for categorization, you just need to structure it differently. Instead of broad categories of "X-Based" you can look at mechanical classifications ahead of time and define by their extent of presence. When doing that it becomes immediately apparent that some systems that include both attributes and skills are vastly more focused on attributes (5e D&D), and others are vastly more focused on skills (Open d6).
    Precisely...and that is important to me in helping describe the game, and knowing (a) if I would want to play or prefer something else, and (b) how to frame my expectations about my character and role in the game.

    Thanks to both of you (and everyone else that has chimed in) for discussing. I look forward to more thoughts on the issues!

    - M
    No matter where you go...there you are!

    Togashi Ishi - Betrayal at the White Temple
    Da Monsters of Da Midden - GitP Blood Bowl Manager Cup Season VI

  17. - Top - End - #17
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Friv's Avatar

    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Toronto, Canada
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mordar View Post
    I think I am missing something here again. You are quoting not-me in your reply...and the statement tensai_oni made doesn't match my position at all.

    Of course almost all games that have skills have attributes. But as I explained upstream, the difference is in which one dominates mechanical adjudication. Additionally, as you spell out yourself, the system choice can answer the question "For purposes of this game, if you are "smart" are you equally smart at all things?" There isn't always value in an answer of "no", but for me there often is.

    Additionally, there is the issue with attributes and defaulting or outweighing skills as I mentioned before.
    The point is, games don't have Attributes and Skills. Games have zero skills, one skill, or multiple skill construction, and then balance that system out differently.

    For D&D early editions, the skills are called "Attributes". For later editions, there are Attributes and Skills. World of Darkness used Attributes and Abilities. Leverage used Attributes, Roles, and Distinctions. Fate just has Skills (or Approaches). Some games use Skill + Skill, although I'm blanking on which ones at the moment.

  18. - Top - End - #18
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Mordar's Avatar

    Join Date
    Mar 2008

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Quote Originally Posted by Friv View Post
    The point is, games don't have Attributes and Skills. Games have zero skills, one skill, or multiple skill construction, and then balance that system out differently.

    For D&D early editions, the skills are called "Attributes". For later editions, there are Attributes and Skills. World of Darkness used Attributes and Abilities. Leverage used Attributes, Roles, and Distinctions. Fate just has Skills (or Approaches). Some games use Skill + Skill, although I'm blanking on which ones at the moment.
    For purposes of this discussion at least, I believed that "attributes" = stats like Strength, Wisdom, Agility, Body...things meant to indicate inherent physical, mental or social traits.

    "Skills" are learned abilities, generally selected by applying a limited number of development points that do not reflect inherent physical, mental or social traits, so stuff like Climb, Astronomy, Drive, and in some systems combat skills like One-Handed Edged or Pistols.

    Most games that I know have both...and in clearly different sections of the character sheet...and as you say, the systems balance the two differently.

    - M
    No matter where you go...there you are!

    Togashi Ishi - Betrayal at the White Temple
    Da Monsters of Da Midden - GitP Blood Bowl Manager Cup Season VI

  19. - Top - End - #19
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Max_Killjoy's Avatar

    Join Date
    May 2016
    Location
    The Lakes

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mordar View Post
    For purposes of this discussion at least, I believed that "attributes" = stats like Strength, Wisdom, Agility, Body...things meant to indicate inherent physical, mental or social traits.

    "Skills" are learned abilities, generally selected by applying a limited number of development points that do not reflect inherent physical, mental or social traits, so stuff like Climb, Astronomy, Drive, and in some systems combat skills like One-Handed Edged or Pistols.

    Most games that I know have both...and in clearly different sections of the character sheet...and as you say, the systems balance the two differently.

    - M
    I've seen a trend in some recent games to do away completely with one or the other, or to do away with the distinction entirely.

    And it usually turns out badly.

    Look at how the SOIF RPG has Agility, Animal Handling, and Status crammed together all under "Abilities" -- "Fighting" covering all forms of combat (other than ranged) from swords to wrestling to fistfighting, and there's no way to make a character who is just plain strong or overall intelligent. Damage rests mainly on how Athletic or Agile the character is... and those are both just Abilities, no distinction.
    It is one thing to suspend your disbelief. It is another thing entirely to hang it by the neck until dead.

    Verisimilitude -- n, the appearance or semblance of truth, likelihood, or probability.

    The concern is not realism in speculative fiction, but rather the sense that a setting or story could be real, fostered by internal consistency and coherence.

    Planet Mercenary RPG Discussion

  20. - Top - End - #20
    Ettin in the Playground
    Join Date
    Oct 2015
    Location
    Berlin
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mordar View Post
    For purposes of this discussion at least, I believed that "attributes" = stats like Strength, Wisdom, Agility, Body...things meant to indicate inherent physical, mental or social traits.

    "Skills" are learned abilities, generally selected by applying a limited number of development points that do not reflect inherent physical, mental or social traits, so stuff like Climb, Astronomy, Drive, and in some systems combat skills like One-Handed Edged or Pistols.

    Most games that I know have both...and in clearly different sections of the character sheet...and as you say, the systems balance the two differently.

    - M
    Warhammer/Dark Heresy is interesting when it comes to that. You have your basic attributes, represented in percentile values (STR 43%). For "untrained", you use half the value, for "skill trained", you use the full value. You can advance a skill by +10 or +20, meaning you treat the associated attribute as 10% or 2o% higher when it comes to that skill.

  21. - Top - End - #21
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Friv's Avatar

    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Toronto, Canada
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Thinking about "categories" of RPGs (not genres)

    Quote Originally Posted by Mordar View Post
    For purposes of this discussion at least, I believed that "attributes" = stats like Strength, Wisdom, Agility, Body...things meant to indicate inherent physical, mental or social traits.

    "Skills" are learned abilities, generally selected by applying a limited number of development points that do not reflect inherent physical, mental or social traits, so stuff like Climb, Astronomy, Drive, and in some systems combat skills like One-Handed Edged or Pistols.

    Most games that I know have both...and in clearly different sections of the character sheet...and as you say, the systems balance the two differently.

    - M
    I was going to write a quick response, but apparently I needed to put something together, and the result is a bit of an essay on mechanical differentiation in RPGs. Apologies for the wall of text.

    So, in most games, the core of your character mechanically can be summarized by your Traits, and your Powers. Your Traits are the basic stats that determine how likely you are to succeed at things, and your Powers are special permissions that give you advantages in various situations.

    Traits can be modeled as a three-dimensional graph. The first axis is how many types of Traits you have:

    If you have zero Traits, basic resolution doesn’t involve your character sheet at all. This is usually only true in one-shots such as Fiasco or Dread, or games that don’t have mechanical resolution. I can’t think of any campaign-focused games that are power-exclusive, but someone may correct me.

    If you only have one Trait, you’ve got a basic set of things that say what you’re good at. Basic D&D has its Abilities. Apocalypse World has its five stats. Fate uses a set of eighteen Skills (some of which you would consider Skills and some of which you would consider Attributes under your methodology). Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine has an infinite array of skills and descriptors, which can be anything from “Strong” to “Cheerful” to “Student” to “Great At Finding Small Things In Larger Things”.

    If you have two or more Traits, you have different traits that apply in different situations, or that mix. Rifts has Attributes that provide modifiers to different situations, and skills that give you percentage chances of success. World of Darkness uses Attributes and Abilities - you might use Manipulation + Stealth to slip through a crowd, or Dexterity + Stealth to physically hide. Leverage uses Attributes and Roles - you might use Intelligence + Grift to set up a cunning disguise, or Willpower + Grift to manipulate people. (Leverage also has a third Traits, Distinctions, and similar Cortex games will have several Traits.)

    The second Trait axis is whether Traits are general or specialized. A general Trait is just a flat score. A specialized Trait provides sub-modifiers that improve the Traits. For example, D&D 3.x or 5e has its Skills - you use Charisma to interact socially, but you use Charisma (Bluff) to lie, and Charisma (Diplomacy) to negotiate. In Serenity, you have general Attributes, but your Pilot skill caps at d6, and then you buy Pilot (Ground Vehicles), Pilot (Transports), or Pilot (Fighters). In World of Darkness, you have a small Skill specialty that gives you a bonus.

    The third Trait axis lies with permissions - Traits are either fully permissive, semi-permissive, or not permissive. If a Trait is fully permissive, you don’t need the related specialization or trait - it provides bonuses, and that’s all. If a Trait is non-permissive, you take substantial penalties or are totally unable to do things if you don’t have the Trait. Many games use a mixture of permissive and non-permissive Traits. For example, World of Darkness applies small penalties to your Attribute + Ability roll if your Ability is 0, but boosts those penalties substantially for mental rolls. D&D 3.x lets you use many Abilities without having the related Skill, but lists some Skills as trained-only.

    Now, the other side of a sheet are your Powers. Your Powers mainly exist along two axes. The first axis is whether they are Bonuses or Permissions. Bonuses are things like a fighter’s increased Attack Bonus, or a Fate Stunt that gives +2 to dueling. They operate like extra Traits, but in situations that the game doesn’t normally track otherwise. Permissions give you the ability to do things that you can’t normally do under the rules - the paladin’s Lay on Hands, or a wizard’s spells, or the Apocalypse World move that lets you declare that a character will die when a fight breaks out.

    The second axis for Powers is whether they’re permanent or resource management. Some powers just do things. Other powers require a cost, or have a limitation on how often they can be used. This is important for mechanically figuring out how much people are supposed to lean into their powers.

    Once you’ve got your Traits and Powers, there are mechanical questions for character creation and progression. Generally, there are four major types of character creation. A class-based system usually gives a package of creation powers, and you choose which package to start with. A point-buy system encourages you to purchase Traits and Powers, sometimes with restrictions and sometimes without. An array-based system gives you a set of arrays, with each array having its own freedoms and restrictions (Fate, for example, is an array-based system, as is World of Darkness.) Finally, a freeform system tells you to just take what fits your character.

    Some character creation systems will mix and match - World of Darkness uses an Array-based system, with Classes that restrict or modify your arrays rather than providing a full package. Iron Kingdoms tells you to pick an over-arching class and two smaller classes. And so on.

    And then there’s progression, which has three axes of its own. The first aspect is what is being rewarded. Progression can be based on success, or on failure, or on time spent, or on events that take place. D&D uses a success model. Dungeon World mixes a failure model with a per-session model. Chuubo’s grants progression based on narrative beats. World of Darkness gives XP per session. Serenity gave some XP per session, plus extra XP if you didn’t spend your plot-modifying currency. Some games offer lots of rewards, and some offer few, and some don’t offer any.

    The second aspect is individual or group. Some systems give each player their own progression track. Some systems track progression for the whole group. Some systems give some progression currency to the group, and other progression currency to individuals.

    Finally, progression advancement is an issue. There are three major options - a level-based progression, in which packages of Traits and Powers are given at set intervals, a point-buy progression, in which you buy individual Traits and Powers as you want, or an array-based progression, in which you get individual Traits or Powers at intervals with rules about what you can take when. Your character creation methodology may modify or restrict your progression methodology.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •