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RPGs: Designing Stats

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What factors do you consider in designing stats for an RPG? Do you look at stats in terms of what games have come before, making alterations to a well known recipe? Do you consider the range of choices in the game and base stats on what you expect to expose players to? Or something else?

I'm asking partly to see how others come up with stats for their games but also because I seem to be a fan of stats for the sake of stats, a yen that's not too useful. So what's your process?

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Do you mean stats like str, luck, dexterity, vitality, etc

Or age, height, weight, etc.

For the first set, usually what you would do is take the two single most important ones.

HP and MP. Renaming them however you wish, vitality, health, hearts... mana, energy, etc.

Then the 4 secondary ones.

Power, stamina(or dexterity), luck, intelligence. Renaming these however you wish.

Then there's a few optional ones. Such as:
Fame, hunger, sleepyness, etc.

If you mean the second option, just take all attributes of humans (or whatever the character is, and use them as stats)

Usually:
Vitality
Energy
Muscle, or strength
Intelligence
Luck
Height
Weight
Sight? (Being able to see further with better sight. If it's 3d.)
Etc.

So yeah, that's how I'd make stats. There's a general template for stats althought some can be added. Approx. 4 are required.

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Stats, in themselves, are not fun. It's what you do with the stats that make it fun, which is why I start by figuring out what I want the player to do. I answer three questions:

"What does the game play like?"
"What choices do I want the player to make about themselves?"
"How do I want the player to grow throughout the game?"

Then I determine the minimum set of statistics to accomplish these goals. Anything more is unnecessary complexity.

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Do you mean stats like str, luck, dexterity, vitality, etc

Or age, height, weight, etc.

For the first set, usually what you would do is take the two single most important ones.

HP and MP. Renaming them however you wish, vitality, health, hearts... mana, energy, etc.

Then the 4 secondary ones.

Power, stamina(or dexterity), luck, intelligence. Renaming these however you wish.

Then there's a few optional ones. Such as:
Fame, hunger, sleepyness, etc.

If you mean the second option, just take all attributes of humans (or whatever the character is, and use them as stats)

Usually:
Vitality
Energy
Muscle, or strength
Intelligence
Luck
Height
Weight
Sight? (Being able to see further with better sight. If it's 3d.)
Etc.

So yeah, that's how I'd make stats. There's a general template for stats althought some can be added. Approx. 4 are required.




That's interesting. I'm curious why one set of stats automatically follows the other for your process. What about HP and MP automatically imply 4 subsidiary stats? What happens if you use six, or two?

Would I be right in thinking that you'd use the primary stats you mention because you're following a convention of fantasy RPGs? That is, would it be right to say that for your process it's important to live up to player expectations, and because so many games have health and mana you've got to start from what's come before?

For the second set of stats you mention, would you add them as attributes only because a person would have them, regardless of what they do in the game? If so, how do you know what to add and when to stop, given how many attributes a person could have? Do you stop at how hairy they are, or how persuasive they are, or how hard of hearing? You've got to have some basis for what you add and what you ignore, right?

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Stats, in themselves, are not fun. It's what you do with the stats that make it fun, which is why I start by figuring out what I want the player to do. I answer three questions:

"What does the game play like?"
"What choices do I want the player to make about themselves?"
"How do I want the player to grow throughout the game?"

Then I determine the minimum set of statistics to accomplish these goals. Anything more is unnecessary complexity.


I like how straightforward this is. The stats almost become a proxy for the choices. Choosing how you want the player to grow, then, can inform how you intend to allow the player to manage stats, which in turn would lead to equipment (stat modifiers) and character growth (leveling).

Seems you could extend this further in terms of what choices the player makes / gets to make about the game world (perception as a means of seeing traps or lying, for instance). Or maybe invert it when deciding what choices NPCs make about the player.

I like it, it's a very strong and logical starting place.

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I just wanna chime in as a gamer and say that I like the stats that have a direct impact on game mechanics, and I don't like the stats that are merely advertised as having some non-specific influence, to be worked out later (maybe, if the dev team gets around to coding it). Dwarf Fortress is an example of perhaps too many stats. There are descriptive stats for physical traits such as hair color, height and shape of nose. There are also traits like toughness, endurance, disease resistance and willpower. Then there are personality stats that are represented as having some influence over game mechanics, such as friendliness, general level of anger, and activity level -- but most of them have no function. And that's just innate abilities; there's also social skills like liar, comedian and judge of intent that level up.There are more stats than uses for those stats.

The problem then becomes trying to find out what stats were actually coded into the game, and have any real meaningful effect on game play.

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If I were to design an RPG....

I would start with 5-7 core stats which would attempt to describe the physical and mental capabilities of a character. In my opinion, anything much over this range starts to get a bit too spreadsheety and starts to cause Choice Paralysis. Anything under this range is going to feel a bit too abstract and Action RPGish.

I'd also define a set of derived stats, which are dependent on and calculated from one or more core stats, and possibly other variables, such as 'level'.

Then, I would set to work inventing a bunch of 'Skills', which represent what my character can actually do. I'd invent as many of these as the game mechanics need, plus as many as I can come up with cool ideas for. Each skill would relate to one or more core stats which are used in calculating the relevant game mechanics. I'd also be looking at setting up some kind of skill decay/skill training - stat boost/reduction mechanic to organically grow the character according to the skills that are used frequently.


The advantage with the skills is that you can add more and more of them as you need, allowing you to expand the mechanics of your game. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure why limiting the number of skills is so much less important than the number of stats. I suspect it is because they describe the characters capabilities in terms of what they can actually do, rather than what they are. On that basis, I can look at a skill tree and pick out several skills that I want my character to be able to do, and work backwards to see how to get there. It enables me to focus my character's development in a particular way. On the other hand, scrapping the core stats entirely and just having the skills seems to be missing something - those core skills represent natural abilities of my character on which the other skills should depend.

One issue with the skill system is balance - balancing the multitude of skills in all the possible combinations is simply not possible - perhaps not even desirable. D&D 3.5e is perhaps a good example of this in action. The core stats are reasonably balanced, the feats - not so much. With careful planning right from level 1, you can build an uber-character who will totally outclass an organically developed character of the same - or even higher - level. Whether this is an issue depends on a number of factors:
Is there multiplayer/PVP?
Is the game expected to challenge the player, or is the player free to challenge himself?
Is a player able to reverse or otherwise correct a poor build decision by any means?

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The choice is, of course, between different experiences playing the game with different characters. If the game is the same for any character, all characters are identical and they need no stat. Lack of diversity is not necessarily a bad thing: the range of proper ways to play a game is limited.
Moreover, a detailed set of stats in a tabletop RPG is required by the player's need to have a detailed description of the character in order to interpret it and by the open-ended nature of adventures (any stat, skill, trait might be useful sooner or later, and player abilities can drive the story); neither reason applies to a computer RPG, where the game author knows exactly what stats are going to matter and where the player doesn't want illusionary choices and useless information.

Do you want "weak" characters to avoid unnecessary combat? Then you need a stat to affect hit points, and something else to compensate the loss of resiliency. For example, weak characters might be expected to sneak around monster: let them buy a Furtiveness skill, or perhaps a Dexterity attribute, but you need to design fights that can be avoided before worrying about attributes.

Do you want characters that are expert in Things Man Was Not Meant To Know to be generally psychotic, and stable characters to be dangerously ignorant? First you need to make dark arts useful and to define harmful ways to go mad, then you can implement conflicting stats like Cthulhu Mythos and Sanity in the Call of Cthulhu RPG.

Do you have a lot of gambling scenes? then you might base their outcome on a Luck stat, but there's no reason to have Luck apply to combat too (unless it is extraordinarily random and not skill-based, like ritual duels of Russian roulette).

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Definitely tailor your stats to your game instead of the other way around. In my RPG I'm going levelless. Everyone is the same "level" but what makes your character shine from the others will be your skills and aptitudes.

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[quote name='XDaWNeDX' timestamp='1305697805' post='4812267']
Do you mean stats like str, luck, dexterity, vitality, etc

Or age, height, weight, etc.

For the first set, usually what you would do is take the two single most important ones.

HP and MP. Renaming them however you wish, vitality, health, hearts... mana, energy, etc.

Then the 4 secondary ones.

Power, stamina(or dexterity), luck, intelligence. Renaming these however you wish.

Then there's a few optional ones. Such as:
Fame, hunger, sleepyness, etc.

If you mean the second option, just take all attributes of humans (or whatever the character is, and use them as stats)

Usually:
Vitality
Energy
Muscle, or strength
Intelligence
Luck
Height
Weight
Sight? (Being able to see further with better sight. If it's 3d.)
Etc.

So yeah, that's how I'd make stats. There's a general template for stats althought some can be added. Approx. 4 are required.




That's interesting. I'm curious why one set of stats automatically follows the other for your process. What about HP and MP automatically imply 4 subsidiary stats? What happens if you use six, or two?

Would I be right in thinking that you'd use the primary stats you mention because you're following a convention of fantasy RPGs? That is, would it be right to say that for your process it's important to live up to player expectations, and because so many games have health and mana you've got to start from what's come before?

For the second set of stats you mention, would you add them as attributes only because a person would have them, regardless of what they do in the game? If so, how do you know what to add and when to stop, given how many attributes a person could have? Do you stop at how hairy they are, or how persuasive they are, or how hard of hearing? You've got to have some basis for what you add and what you ignore, right?
[/quote]

I'm not following a convention of fantasy RPG's rather saying that if you take damage in the game. Some form of health points are required. If you use energy running, using special attacks, or even just standing. Energy would be required in the game. Usually described as MP, however I had included "Energy" in one of my example renamings.

While it IS important to live up to player expectations, it's best to do so only to a degree. So yes, in my process I live up to player expectations, as well as implementing many other things that have never been seen before. Or so I hope, when I get to the design process of a game.

I of course was under the assumption that people would realize that these are not at all required. The subsidary stats, while being what will make your character powerful/intelligent/whatever will typically be in a game where you can progress your characters growth how you choose. EG: An overpowered attacker thats a complete idiot and probably hits himself more often than not.


As for the second set of stats I mentioned. If one truly wishes to design a game then s/he should be able to figure out what stats out of the lists I mentioned would be usable in their game, or how to implement them properly. I apologize for being vague, I'll explain in far greater detail next time.

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