Saturday, June 2, 2012

Infinite Earths Overview: Attributes

Hello once again!  Let me begin by thanking everyone who came out to see me last night at the Raleigh Tabletop Roleplayers Casual Meet, and thanks to the RTR Organizers for allowing me to present our (still unfinished) game to the membership!  I was and am both deeply gratified and deeply humbled by all the interest expressed in Infinite Earths, and your enthusiasm for what we're developing has given us new drive and new fervor to make sure we get it right!

For everyone who was interested in playtesting, we will be in touch shortly, providing additional preview material as we develop it.  And if anyone reading this not from RTR is interested in being a part of our directed playtesting, which is currently scheduled to begin in late July, please leave us a comment or drop us a line at contact@ (this domain name).

Today we're going to talk about Character Attributes, and how we've changed them slightly from the Open Gaming License standards in order to clarify and simplify their meanings.  We've been doing a lot of that throughout our development process, to such a degree that while we are still developing an OGL-based product, it's not going to look, feel or play a whole lot like most OGL games once we're done.

So we've changed the names of the classic Character Attributes, in order to more accurately reflect what they represent in our system.  Here they are:
  • Brawn represents the pure physical power you can muster--how well you can batter through something, break something, and how much you can lift.  It is the Combat Attribute of Guardians and Warriors, the people who wrap themselves in heavy metal armor and the people who try to just smash through your defenses with brute force.
  • Agility represents your physical grace--how deft you are at having your body in exactly the right place at exactly the right moment.  It governs how well you aim, how well you can find an opening in someone's defenses, and how well you can avoid blows when not wearing heavy armor.  It is the Combat Attribute of Archers, Assassins and Dervishes, who all use dextrous, graceful movements to acquire and destroy their targets.
  • Vitality is unique in that it represents both a metal and physical quality of how much you can endure before you can endure no more.  No class uses this as a primary attribute, because it is equally important for everyone--it serves as a bonus to your Morale (your hit points in combat tactics, largely determined by where you slot your combat role) and your Resolve (your hit points in social tactics, largely determined by where you slot your social role).  The higher your Vitality, the tougher you are in both social and combat situations.
  • Intellect is a representation of your sheer reasoning power, a mental stat representing how quick-thinking you are.  It is the Combat Attribute of Bladecasters and Spellcasters, who must assemble their magical spells quickly in the heat of combat.  One thing it does not provide, though, is additional skill points for characters with high Intellect--after much (and heated!) debate, it was agreed that if that were the case, everyone who did not play a very smart character was disadvantaged, and we didn't like that.
  • Awareness replaces that old standby "wisdom," and is now purely representative of your character's ability to notice his or her surroundings.  And while that sounds kind of bland, it fits in very well with the Beastmaster, Monk and Tactician combat roles for which it is the Combat Attribute.  The Beastmaster and the Tactician must be constantly aware of everything happening on the battlefield, and able to anticipate how best to maneuver their pawns.  The Zen-like Monk can sense what you're doing almost before you do it, and his strikes are at pressure points and his movements are between the swings of your blade--precisely because he has such a preternatural awareness of what is happening around him.
  • Presence represents your ability to get people to pay attention to you, and to command a room by entering it and beginning to speak.  It has nothing to do with your physical appearance (there is no "physical appearance" stat), and everything to do with your ability to communicate the force of your will to others.  It is the attribute used for all Social roles as both an offensive and defensive bonus.
Now, some of you may look at those new names and say, "Well, they're pretty much the same thing as before," and you'd be largely right.  We felt, though, from a design perspective that we didn't want to have any of the old arguments about Charisma being representative of physical beauty, Dexterity meaning only that you can make a hit easier, but not do any extra damage, Constitution only representing the physical damage you can take, and Wisdom. . .well, Wisdom was always tied to Clerics very heavily.  Once we decided we wouldn't have Clerics in our system, because we wanted to handle healing completely differently, that started a chain reaction that led to the above.

Additionally from a design perspective, we recalled the difficulties in transitioning between D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder:  the design of the games was so similar, that it led to a lot of early rules-skimming because if you knew 3.5, you thought you knew Pathfinder.  By changing these names, we're underscoring the idea that "hey, you really want to not think of this as the same game you've been playing. . .cuz it's not."

And in keeping with our idea that nothing should be wasted--that there should be no "this step sucks, but you've got to take it to get to the next step, which is awesome"--we've done away with the "bonus every other point" in the Attributes.  In standard OGL, you get a +0 bonus at 10-11, a +1 bonus at 12-13, a +2 bonus at 14-15, and so on.

In Infinite Earths, your Attributes all begin at 0, representing the "average human" level of skill.  You can then buy them up, at the time of character creation, to a maximum of 4.  These Attributes are directly your bonuses, so are no "skipped" or "wasted" steps.  Our default method is point-buy, because we want to let you customize your character to your desires, but a random-roll system is also available (roll 1d10, divide by 2, then subtract 1).

And you may have realized something with that last paragraph:  you can buy up from 0, you can roll as low as 0, but you cannot go lower.  There are no "dump stats" in Infinite Earths.  This is a thing that we as designers, as GMs, as players have always hated, because our approach has always been to try and create people to play.  

The capacity to have a "dump stat" has led to a lot of games devolving into intellectually disabled hulks and fragile brains-in-a-shell smashing their way through a series of rooms and calling it roleplay.  And if that's your thing, God bless you and we're glad you enjoy it.  But it's not our thing, we don't enjoy gaming that way, and we're building Infinite Earths to reflect the notions of how we like to play.

So to that end, player characters will always be at least as good as the average human in any given way.  Does it take away some of the challenge?  For some people, I expect it will.  But our intention isn't for the challenge to be overcoming the statistical limitations you've placed on yourself in order to gain statistical benefits elsewhere--our intention is for the challenge to be achieving your goals, stopping the bad guys, and saving the town. . .or the kingdom. . .or the world.  That way, you can play the game not of, "how do I make this situation into one in which my good stat is useful," but the game of, "how do I handle this situation?"

See you next week, and as always, feel free to leave any comments!  We're not joking when we say we would love to hear from you :-)

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