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Basic Information

Attributes or Abilities, within the context of a role-playing game, are a form of Game Statistic that represents the innate capabilities of a character. They are ranked, often on a numeric scale, so that a player can gauge the character's capabilities. For example, a character's strength rating could be used to determine the likelihood that the character can lift a certain weight.

Attributes don't typically reflect training, as most games use Skills or Character Classes for for that. Also, unlike skills, nearly every character has a rating in every attribute. A physical weakling might have a low strength score, but he has a rating. That same character might totally lack the athletics skill.

Attributes are sometimes grouped into various categories based on what they do. Different games split up human capacities along different lines, and some games focus more in certain areas. Games have been published that boil everything down to three or four attributes, but other games break them out into 10 or more attributes. Some Indy RPGs don't even have formal attributes.

Here's an analysis of the corresponding terms in several different RPGs.

Concept Broad Category Names Used by various games
Book learning and knowledge, memory, problem-solving skills Mental Attributes Cognition, Education, Intelligence, Mind, Smarts, Wits
Strength and presence of mind, mental stability, psychic reserves Mental Attributes Cool, Integrity, Spirit, Power, Psyche, Resolve, Sanity, Willpower, Wisdom, Wits
Awareness of self and surroundings, sensory input, and possibly reaction speed Mental Attributes Perception, Quick, Psyche, Reflexes, Wits, Wisdom, Intelligence
Understanding of technical concepts and machinery, spatial relations Mental Attributes Cognition Intelligence, Mechanical, Mind, Technical
Lifting capacity, muscle strength, force you can exert, melee damage bonus Physical Attributes Body Type, Brawn, Somatics, Strength
Hand-eye coordination, fine muscle control Physical Attributes Agility, Coordination, Dexterity, Finesse, Technical
Speed and manueverability Physical Attributes Agility, Coordination, Dexterity, Finesse, Movement Rate, Panache, Quick, Reflexes
Health, endurance, energy reserves, healing rate Physical Attributes Body Type, Brawn, Constitution, Endurance, Hit Points, Resolve, Somatics, Stamina, Toughness, Vigor
physical bearing and size, height and weight, mass or muscle mass Physical Attributes Body Type, Brawn, Size
Physical Beauty, grace and elegance, personal style Social Attributes or Physical Attributes Appearance, Charisma, Composure, Comeliness, Panache, Somatics
Ability to make friends and favorable first-impressions, inspirational capacity Social Attributes Charisma, Composure, Fellowship, Leadership, Savvy
Talent for getting others to do what you want Social Attributes Charisma, Fellowship, Manipulation, Savvy, Willpower, Wits
Resistance to manipulation and trickery from others Social Attributes or Mental Attributes Composure, Perception, Resolve, Spirit, Willpower, Wisdom, Wits

Other attributes may also govern Luck, Sanity, Magical and/or Psychic ability and similar things. As with some of the more mundane examples above, these scores may serve several duties1. Occasionally a system may also combine aspects of skill and attribute into a single, attribute like score - typically for a combat skill called something like "Prowess".

Attribute scores are typically generated at character creation. Depending on the system, this may be by random generation, by buying up or down from a default by spending points or adjusted from a default by a life path (and/or the player's choice of species and class) - and combinations of these are possible.

These attributes may then be more or less set in stone and only adjustable by major in game events or may be something that can be adjusted freely during character development (including improving with use in some systems).

Again, depending on the system, the character's rating for various skills will tend to depend in some way on one or more of their attributes - whether using them as a default or merely a source of positive or negative modifiers. Some skills or powers might well have a given attribute level as a hard limit on their development - whether as a gate ("No character with a Reflexes score of less than 18 can learn the Death Blossom feat") or as a governor ("A character's thaumatology skill may not exceed Intelligence+5").


Game and Story Use

  • Various games approach these in different ways. In some, Attributes are a vital part of your core dice mechanic. In others, they merely provide a small modifier, or even just determine how high you can raise your corresponding Skills.
  • One way to model youthful exuberance or beginners luck is to give a character high attributes, but very few experience points or skill points.
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