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RPG: Simple Stats, Complex Meaning

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In just about every RPG I've ever played stats are represented as integers which increase in value to model the idea of character growth. I'm trying to come up with a simpler paradigm which uses fewer categories but retains some of the complexity you'd get from multiple stats. What I'm thinking of using right now is three simple stat categories (Body, Mind, Spirit) which rather than being linear values are instead like containers which hold a limited number of player capabilities. Visually they'd be represented as slots and you'd level by placing icons in the slots which represent player abilities or states. Growth would be a matter of adding or replacing icons (states / abilities) and these might have dependencies on other icons.

For example: Rather than having a certain strength, you'd choose a strength icon and place it in the Body category in order to have above average strength. If you wanted to have above average strength, greater poison resistance, high pain tolerance and phenomenal endurance, these would all be icons you'd choose from some trait palette each time you wanted to build your character.

The biggest flaw I can see with this idea is recognizing all the icons so that you could summarize in your head what you were (especially if you hadn't played in awhile). This could be solved by a textual description when you hover over each category. It might also be necessary for the sake of clarity to still use linear values (maybe like Borderlands skills, these could appear as numbers in the corner of an icon) in order to control the number of icons.

In truth, these scheme may be no more than a skills only system-- except that I'd like to have skills which depend on either capacity of each category (e.g., you have 10 Body slots, that entitles you to skills in category Y) or having certain abilities / states. So it may be slightly different.

Any thoughts or ideas to make this more clear?

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I'm not quite following. How is this different than having stats with numbers. If you want to be very strong can you "choose" multiple strength icons? If so... then you are still using a numerical system, so I don't see how that is different. You could simply count how many strength icons someone has rather than having the game do it for you; either way it is no different.

If you instead mean that you can pick a few different attributes from a pool of attributes, then you are basically designing a character once and you're not able to improve that character if they only get to keep those traits.

If they later can get more traits, then each character will become more like each other since there won't be as much room for personalization. By that I mean one guy can't get a bunch of strength and agility with some wisdom, while another person gets a lot of wisdom and agility but a little strength. They would both end up having the same 3 attributes and that would be it, although the two people I described with a more traditional system would clearly play differently. (Having a large pool of attributes to choose from to try to counteract this problem has its own problems, which I won't go into since I'm not even sure I am discussing what you are referring to)

If you are strictly discussing the stats interface, I don't see the point in making it unclear with pictures instead of numbers, but I am pretty sure that is not what you are discussing since you said you may include numbers along with it (which would defeat the whole purpose if you were only referring to the interface) but I figured I would bring it up anyway just in case.

So that all being said... what exactly are you trying to do? It seems like you are really trying to stretch an idea to make it different, but in essence it will be the same... but I may have simply misunderstood.

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So you're wanting players to assign what they want to buff via filling a finite number of buckets under certain categories?

So:

Body
[Bucket 1]
[Bucket 2]
[Bucket 3]
[Bucket 4]
[Bucket 5]

Mind
[Bucket 1]
[Bucket 2]
[Bucket 3]
[Bucket 4]
[Bucket 5]

Soul
[Bucket 1]
[Bucket 2]
[Bucket 3]
[Bucket 4]
[Bucket 5]

?????

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After writing the stuff below, I realize I've gone off on a tangent that might not be the direction you're aiming for. Acquiring and assigning icons into body, mind, and spirit for different effects as you progress has similar feeling of acquiring different skills or objects found within the game to enhance your character as you go. I went off in a direction leaning towards enhancement though objects.

Running with your basic idea and in a sci-fi genre (are you still working in that area?), I'm envisioning you start out with a basic character where everyone is very much the same. You purchase or acquire various technologies and install them into your body to make your self stronger, faster, smarter, or otherwise open up new abilities. Some sort of UI displays what is installed and where on your body it is installed. Perhaps as damage is acquired through combat to parts of your body, those technologies take damage as well and require repair or replacement. I can see different corporations producing different products some of which may work well with each other and others outright incompatible or even somehow hostile to each other. There would probably be a wide range in product quality as well from say a cybernetic limb from 100 years ago found in the trash to the latest in experimental military grade advancements. Maybe consider having two main types of technology, cybernetic vs biological products each with different capacities for modification. Cybernetic products are removable for easy upgrade to the next generation of product while biological products are more permanent changes to the body that are either impossible or much tougher to uninstall but maybe less likely to require replacement due to battle damage (can regenerate or something).

After being away from a game for some time, it might be hard to remember the specific characteristics of something but I think in general I quickly recall the relevance of a particular class of something. That's probably the main thing you need to communicate in any sort of at a glance display. There's a lot being communicated already if an icon is shown as a part of a characters body or if its specifically shown as part of the character's arm. Quality can maybe be communicated by indicating age (a version number?) primary technology (cyber, biological, nano, energy based). You could go further and indicate a particular company maybe by colour and if that company has a good reputation (or is known for its commercial or military projects) it could be an indication of its quality.

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I like the basic idea, but I'm not entirely convinced you've done away with stats at all - judging from your choice of example, you've simply buried the familiar stats under the skill system, and added the derived stats of Body, Mind, Spirit which strike me as being of dubious utility. While the unification of those attributes with the skill system might have a certain tidiness about it, I do think they are fundamentally different from skills, and you may be making things less intuitive by treating them the same way. After all, strength is not really a skill - it is a physical property of your body, and while it can be improved by practicing lots of strength related skills, it is not a skill as of itself.

I would be inclined to consider the following tweaks:
Do away with skills that look like stats: skills should relate fairly directly to some game mechanic that my character wants access to. Being strong is not a mechanic, is a modifier which may effect an arbitrary number of other mechanics - it's a 'stat'. 'Crushing Blow' might give me access to a special attack which would qualify as a skill.

If you do want stats, use them as your slot categories. Have strength, agility, etc. slots which you can drop skills into, and derive the actual stat values from the number of filled slots in each category. The neat thing about this, in that it automatically establishes a certain synergetic relationship between skills of a particular category.

Also, this is kind of a small thing, but I'm also not sure that I like the Body, Mind, Spirit categories anyway - it's not especially clear to me what Spirit actually relates to, and how it differs from Mind. It also comes across as a bit fantasy-ish - if you're still looking at a sci-fi setting I'd look for slightly less mystical sounding categories. Physical, Mental, Social perhaps?

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I’ve been playing with a similar idea for a while now with my game designs I was originally inspired by an old adventure game whose name I can’t remember. I’ve been using a lock and key approach to Skills/Traits/Knowledge in that they unlock additional options or information during interactions. Some traits have upgraded versions. Characters acquired traits in various ways some positive others negative.

Taking the deception skill would allow you to lie, cheat, and steal from others. Knowledge of the occult would allow you use it conversation or gain more info when looking at occult objects. Super human strength would allow you to use weapons that you normally couldn’t, or destroy terrain obstacles.

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Something I was trying to conceptualize was a different way to handle attributes. I wanted to have the usual Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, and such, but I wanted to have them provide a more diverse benefit to your character rather than just one or two benefits.

For instance:
The Intelligence attribute. Rather than providing just the typical magical benefits, like increased magical damage or mana pool, I wanted it to provide benefits to non-magical characters as well. Shouldn't more intelligence provide a benefit towards the smarter combatant in a melee fight?

The different qualities to the attributes would help establish a system to prevent "max your intelligence, nothing else matters, you are a caster" mindset. If designed properly it could also be designed to promote a more balanced selection of attributes for characters with them slightly specializing rather than stat dumps all into one attribute. If you neglect certain attributes it could come as a hindrance in combat and other activities. The key is to find a way to balance each attribute to make them all beneficial making them more of a customization rather than a necessity.

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It sounds to me like your system is just a different way of looking at typical stats, though i might just be understanding it wrong.

Heres a suggestion that might be fun to stick into a game.

You can develop a list of abilities, make them hidden, or display them that include specific requirements for which attributes you put into which bucket (body mind soul). If the player includes the correct attributes in the correct retainers, he receives the ability. It could also reflect in the way the character looks and grows.

For example:

A player levels up and receives 2 strength attributes, and 2 Magic attributes

You create a few abilities:

Body abilities: The player can invest all his stats into the [Body] retainer and it would mainly affect his physical nature. Things like his size, hair, melee strength, etc.
Skullbash: Requires || 2 Str in [Body] || Gives + 2 to player size (hidden attribute)
Flame Punch: Requires || 1 Str in [Body]__1 Mgk in [Body] || Gives + 1 to player size + 1 to gray hair
Stone Skin || 2 Mgk in [Body] || Gives + 2 to gray hair

Mind abilities:
Focus: Requires || 2 Str in [Mind] || gives dark eyes + 2 || Reduces casting time interruption by x%
Telekinesis: Requires || 2 Mgk in [Mind] || etc

and then promote the combination of 2 retainers:
Fireball: Requires || 1 Str in [Body] 1 Mgk in [Mind]

Throughout the leveling process, the player will constantly be gaining new skills through different combinations. They also have the choice to focus on mind, body, or soul, and through ability balancing, you can making it rewarding for each different play style.

Choosing to stick all your stats in Body could net you a sweet ultimate ability that involves physical force, but you wouldn't have any other abilities from Mind/Spirit.

I think that would be pretty neat.





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Thanks for the replies. I'd wanted to keep this conversation going but the untimely demise of a laptop fan has really thrown a wrench into my plans. Anyways...



I'm not quite following. How is this different than having stats with numbers. If you want to be very strong can you "choose" multiple strength icons? If so... then you are still using a numerical system, so I don't see how that is different. You could simply count how many strength icons someone has rather than having the game do it for you; either way it is no different.


Behind the scenes there'd be little difference. What I'm trying to cut down on is the whole "distinction without a difference" situation which seems to arise from having lots and lots of stats which would mostly be average. If you assume that everyone is average in most dimensions, why not eliminate those dimensions.


So that all being said... what exactly are you trying to do?
[/quote]

Have lots of complexity in terms of stats but not show it all at once nor have it managed all at once I think is the main goal.




So you're wanting players to assign what they want to buff via filling a finite number of buckets under certain categories?


That's pretty much it, yeah.


After writing the stuff below, I realize I've gone off on a tangent that might not be the direction you're aiming for. Acquiring and assigning icons into body, mind, and spirit for different effects as you progress has similar feeling of acquiring different skills or objects found within the game to enhance your character as you go. I went off in a direction leaning towards enhancement though objects.


No worries, I think the object-based approach should be included as a way to temporarily modify your basic traits.


Running with your basic idea and in a sci-fi genre (are you still working in that area?), I'm envisioning you start out with a basic character where everyone is very much the same.
[/quote]

That's what I'm seeing, with an initial character creation segment that comes before modification. Although, thinking about it, it could be intertwined-- for instance, getting cellular mods in the womb which give you neural electronics as you grow (yeah, btw, still chipping away in the same area-- I'm like the cursed ferryman doomed to cross the same river forever unless I can get some other sucker to take the oar :P)

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I like the basic idea, but I'm not entirely convinced you've done away with stats at all - judging from your choice of example, you've simply buried the familiar stats under the skill system, and added the derived stats of Body, Mind, Spirit which strike me as being of dubious utility.


With this bucket system what I'm trying to have is something on the order of 20 or 30 attributes available to make a character but only a handful of them being relevant to any character. What I imagine is that you'll never really be able to be just slightly above average on every stat. If, for instance, in Body there is (behind the scenes) Strength, Endurance, Agility, Healing Rate, Disease Defense, Attractiveness, etc. and you imagine that we all start pretty normal you won't have the ability to put a point in each category-- with limited buckets you'll have to specialize.


While the unification of those attributes with the skill system might have a certain tidiness about it, I do think they are fundamentally different from skills, and you may be making things less intuitive by treating them the same way.
[/quote]

I don't necessarily want the skill system to work exactly the same way. I'm thinking of skills as being something you qualify for based on stats (or which are given base values based on stats)


Also, this is kind of a small thing, but I'm also not sure that I like the Body, Mind, Spirit categories anyway - it's not especially clear to me what Spirit actually relates to, and how it differs from Mind. It also comes across as a bit fantasy-ish - if you're still looking at a sci-fi setting I'd look for slightly less mystical sounding categories. Physical, Mental, Social perhaps?
[/quote]

Good point, been ruminating on this a bit for awhile. I've got ideas (or pretensions, probably) about trying to use the gameplay, right down to the stats, to comment on having a mechanistic versus wholistic view of the world-- the whole "are we just lights and neural clockwork" or something more debate that kicks about in science fiction. Not sure if I can pull off the gameplay to match it, though, so it may be safer to go with a more science-based labeling.



Will try to flesh this out a bit more when I get some more computer time.

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