A New Set of Attributes

By | August 10, 2013

Hello once more!

After our most recent demo, we began taking a closer look at our Attributes.  They were previously described way back in June of last year in this Overview.  As we have refined the system, those have remained the same.  But with the recent demo, we got some feedback that the Attributes, and the Character Sheet, made the game seem much more complex and crunchy than it actually was.

And further, as we run playtests and demonstrations, we watch how Players interact with the system.  And we noticed a couple of things: Players would just register the attributes matter-of-factly and interact with them as if they were Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma.  The Attributes, despite being a vital part of the system, were adding nothing.  In fact, in some cases they were even subtractive: the number of Players who saw an Intellect of 0 and felt they must play characters who were dumb as bricks was very telling for us.

And to be clear: they weren’t playing it wrong.  Instead, it was our design that was telling Players something we didn’t want to be telling them.  Players saw 0 and they thought “incompetent,” while we intended players to see 0 and see “average person.”  Part of the problem in this is that 0 is the lowest Attribute a character in Infinite Earths can have, largely because characters in Infinite Earths are heroic figures who are mightier than mere mortals.  But part of it was the presentation of the Attributes.

If the Attributes were just reskins of the classics, years of play through various editions have taught Players that 0 just isn’t good enough, and that “average” means halfway up the Attribute chart instead of at the very bottom of it.  Players are used to having one number that means another number, to the point where it has become intuitive to them.

So our presentation of Attributes needed to change.  And, as we were looking at them, we started thinking that the number of Attributes and their meaning could also change.  One question we kept asking ourselves as we were designing was, “why would Players ever choose to have values in more than 3 or 4 of these Attributes?  At most that’s all they would gain benefit from.”

We even considered removing Attributes altogether.  However, Attributes really help Players to identify (and identify with) the capabilities of their characters.  Is my guy strong, or smart, or fast, or friendly?  We were not interested in abstracting these concepts; that design is for another type of game, one in which tactical combat plays less of a role.

In the end, the redesign was simple and, we think, fairly clean.  So we’d like to introduce you to the four core Attributes of the Infinite Earths roleplaying game:

  • Pace combines a character’s natural speed and accuracy.  It is the ability to choose the right moment to act.  In combat, it represents being able to get a hit in at just the right time for that hit to deal damage.  It impacts a character’s Initiative order and his Defense when wearing Light Armor.  Further, characters with a higher Pace move more quickly, gaining additional movement Speed, and can take additional Swift Actions on their turn in every round of combat.  Pace also sets a character’s ability to react in combat and social play, enabling them to potentially interrupt other characters’ actions.  Pace can also represent a quick or clever manner of speaking, such as you’d find in a fast-talker or a carnival barker.
  • Perspective is a character’s ability to examine a situation and combine what he is aware of with his experience and knowledge to gain insight.  In combat, it represents an awareness of the battlefield and a skill in determining the best place to strike.  Perspective also helps a character remember events that have happened, know or understand various facets of the world, get hints from the Guide, and resist mental domination and temptation.  Perspective also represents a more methodical approach to social interaction and a kind of “teaching” style of communication like many intellectuals or parents can develop.
  • Power represents a character’s forcefulness and toughness.  In combat, it represents both the ability to take a hit and the ability to hit really really hard.  Power impacts a character’s carrying capacity, Resolve, extra Resolve gained when wearing Heavy Armor, and ability to resist massive physical trauma.  Power improves damage from most Fighting Styles, but it is also valuable for social interaction.  Characters with a high Power tend to speak more directly or even threateningly, as lone wolves and bullies generally do.
  • And finally, Presence represents a character’s presence of mind and general innate skill at communication.  This can be used in combat, representing getting someone else to do your hitting for you, or even rote trickery to get opponents to drop their guard and give you a cleaner target.  Presence also improves your Speech and makes you more Famous, as people far and wide tend to hear about you and your exploits.  Presence also directly impacts a character’s force of will, representing his ability to make others do what he wants and resist the attempts of others to manipulate him.

The reason for these changes to the Attributes was to make them somewhat more abstract than their “classic” counterparts, in the hope that in so doing Players will begin to think about them not as statistics where “good” values start in the middle of the range and go up, but instead as bonuses representative of how much better their characters are than the average person.

Additionally, the old Attributes were beginning to feel dated, like “races” before them.  While there are alternate interpretations of ability scores wandering around the Internet and game tables, the majority of Players take them at face value.  And at that face value, each score represents some innate, intrinsic and inviolate talent.  But Charisma (Presence), for instance, is not a mystical force which some people have access to and others do not.  Talking with people, and manipulating them to your will, is a skill.  It can be learned and it can be taught.  The same goes for, for instance, Intelligence (Intellect): yes, to a certain degree there is an in-built capacity.  But working at learning and understanding, putting effort into knowing, is another path to the same Attribute.

And I don’t think our presentation of Attributes, using variations on the same old terms, was getting that concept across.  So we reduced them, changed what they represent (for instance, you could consider Power to be both “Strength” and “Constitution,” but there’s also a little “Charisma” in there), and abstracted them a bit.  But we also changed how they’re assigned.

At character creation, the Player selects Persona, Fighting Style and Vocation. The slotting of those three roles (Great, Good or Fair) adds to the Attributes as appropriate.  Great roles provide a +2 to one Attribute or a +1 to two Attributes.  Good roles provide a +1 to one Attribute.  And Fair roles provide no bonuses.  Players then gain an additional 2, 1, 1 and 0 to assign to their Attributes as they see fit.  Score assignment in this way allows character customization and reflects that what a character focuses in helps to improve that character.  Further, over the course of 10 levels, characters gain a total +2 to add to their Great Attributes, and a +1 to add to their Good Attributes.

This may prove too complex an attribute assignment method in open Playtesting.  If that’s the case, we’ve got another “Quick start” option up our sleeve: give a +4 to Great Attributes, +2 to Good Attributes, and +1 to Fair Attributes.  On one hand, we like Players being able to choose.  On the other hand, as we discussed last week, choice is paralyzing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this nuts-and-bolts look into the development of the new Infinite Earths Attributes.  Thank you for stopping by!