[Luna System] Freeform Traits vs. Fixed Attributes

I am in a bit of quandary. When I originally began designing Luna, I wanted it to use freeform Traits similar to those in Over the Edge. I liked that they would allow me a lot of freedom when creating a character and that the characters could be kept fairly simple.

Then I got it into my head that fixed attributes like Strength, Agility, Intelligence. and Willpower would be better since they are more familiar to most gamers. Thus, I would be able to invoke the Attribute+Skill formula. Also a familiar concept to gamers. By breaking down the characters into smaller elements, it would seem like the players had more to play around with. Any thoughts on this?

Comments

  • edited February 2015
    I think it's somewhat game dependent.

    In D&D before 3rd the 'skill check' system was largely an attribute check system. In such a system obviously attributes matter greatly. In D&D 3rd and after they developed a decent skill system, but most meta-numbers (BAB, HP, etc) were still mostly class and attributes so again the attributes were vital (though in a different way). In fact, there's a solid argument for abandoning most of the skill system (or demoting its impact at least) in D&D and keeping it a game focused on class & attributes.

    When we created Stupid Heroes I had the epiphany that in games where two things could have widely divergent attributes (Aunt May vs. The Hulk in an arm-wrestling contest) the exact strength number was irrelevant because anything with 'super strength' was going to obliterate anything without it. That meant it was the superpower that mattered, not the attribute.

    What's more, in any case where two roughly equivalent attributes contest something (Soldier A vs. Soldier B arm-wrestling), as a gamer I want it to come down to the die roll rather than the number on the sheet (i.e. story and active game over character and metagame).

    The other realization was that when there is an underlying skill or power system it was that skill or power that really mattered most, not the comparatively minor influence of the attribute bonus or penalty. So in a contest of say, computer hacking, I want to compare levels of skill in computers, not their intelligence or finger dexterity. As someone with a lot of combat experience I can assure you that while strength, speed, endurance and so on have impact, it is the fighting skill that matters far more...hence a smaller, weaker combatant can still drop a larger, tougher opponent. It's only when the skills are roughly equal that the attributes provide the tipping impact.

    Instead what attributes should do is influence the quantity and quality of skills received. Smart people learn more, faster. Dextrous people have faster muscle memory, with greater room for techniques. However those things are metas of character creation, not active game elements. Because of that we chose to abandon attributes completely for our superhero game.

    Someone else on here recently brought up the same basic idea, categorizing it as a contextual issue. That's what you're dealing with really...in what context of the game would each element (skills, attributes, etc) matter, and is there a random determination system in place versus a strict numbers comparison?

    I'm much less worried about familiarity and marketability than theory and concept. I design for me and mine, and if others find happiness with it bully. If breadth of interest in your product matters to you it's probably best to ignore my skew.
  • I think I'd be interested in hearing more about your perspective as a game designer, and why you're being worried about whether your design is familiar to gamers. This strikes me as peculiar, as not only is the history of tabletop gaming full of innovation, but it is also a common design goal to actually create something new, rather than repeat something old.

    Perhaps you're attempting to create a gaming equivalent of comfort food, something that feels nostalgic and doesn't challenge the prospective player? If so, shouldn't you simply recycle an existing system popular among your target audience?
  • The problem with making a game that looks like all the others is that you need to work harder to get it noticed by the general public. That is why an indie movie doesn't need the same advertising budget as a big film. Indies are able to be braver in their storytelling.

    The same seems to hold true in the game industry. However, while the indie game publishers come up with some very innovative games, they also pull back from fully marketing their product. I personally am trying to strike a balance.
  • Ah - so using conventional rules mechanics would be a marketing move, then? You're hoping that the game would be more popular and receive more attention by using a familiar base mechanic? I don't quite see how being familiar translates into marketing, but maybe it does.

    The details of the character modeling mechanics aren't really the first thing that comes to mind for me when I think about causes for games being popular, but I've certainly heard it advocated as an idea. I don't know why practically every popular game has different rules mechanics from each other if this is actually an important factor, though.

    If I had to pin-point the factors in game design that seem to correlate most with popularity, they'd be things like being an adventure game, having a GM, character building and character development, GM-managered campaigns, a thoroughly documented setting, and so on. Base mechanical details are pretty low on my list due to how almost anything people care to put together seems to float as long as the subject matter and production values are in the right place.

    This being the case, in your stead I would pay attention to how much character min/maxing the ideally popular game would have, but I don't think that I'd choose the base mechanics on that basis; the idea that attribute+skill would contribute to marketing doesn't seem credible, while I see no reason for freeform traits to fail in that regard. Heroquest has freeform traits, for example, and I've never heard that to have been a significant barrier to success.
  • I think I'd be interested in hearing more about your perspective as a game designer, and why you're being worried about whether your design is familiar to gamers. This strikes me as peculiar, as not only is the history of tabletop gaming full of innovation, but it is also a common design goal to actually create something new, rather than repeat something old.

    Perhaps you're attempting to create a gaming equivalent of comfort food, something that feels nostalgic and doesn't challenge the prospective player? If so, shouldn't you simply recycle an existing system popular among your target audience?
    I actually don't see any reason to design if I cannot innovate. Then I might as well use one of the D&D retro-clones. I hate those things. However, get heavily influenced by those gamers in my area. Peoria is notorious for its provincial attitude and that makes it extremely difficult to come up with anything new. When I have designed for the locals, I have been actively encouraged to make the games more like something they already like in the mainstream market.

  • I think you'll get lots of answers on this but it comes down to what you want the experience to feel like when playing a character (which is a difficult position to sit in, as the designer, with a burden of omniscience), right? It's like the difference between imagining your character and wearing it. Those are different feelings, and will induce different types of play.

    I don't think Familiarity vs Novelty is as much of an issue as Clarity or Elegance. Any which way you go, you'll want reasonably uncomplicated system mechanics, clearly explained.

  • edited February 2015
    What innovations do you have in mind, Keith? No one's going to play a game just because of how it mixes freeform traits and fixed attributes. The desired mix there probably depends on what's going to draw gamers to Luna in the first place. What do you expect that to be?

    If the hook was some fictional high-concept thing, like "fighting Cthulhu in mecha", then you might find the biggest audience by using d20 system and relating your game to others that people already buy.

    On the other hand, if your hook were something more experiential, like "this is medieval fantasy, but INTENSE", then you might want a brand new system with unique forms of "intense" baked into it at every turn.

    (Not trying to lay out a formula for all high-concept / experiential games; just throwing out two examples.)
  • I agree with the other posters: framing a question as "does my game need to have freeform traits or traditional attributes" is very odd, and lacking context. Surely each game will have its own demands, and a particular set of rules will suit that particular game best.

    If pure familiarity/accessibility is your goal, then maybe a hack of a d20 game (or whatever is popular with your friends/audience) is the best way to go? Just change as few rules as possible to achieve your goals, and sell your product as a supplement for that game (assuming copyright laws permit).

    However, that doesn't suit your apparent goal of innovation in design terribly well.

    I *will* say that there are many interesting ways to crossbreed freeform traits and traditional attributes which I think are underexplored. There are many ways to get all the benefits of one while looking much like the other. If that's interesting to you, we could discuss that as well.
  • Its odd because I tend to focus too much on system details over the overall system. The point of Luna is to design a fast, simple system that can keep up with the player's imaginations. Also, I want to place tools for the GM into it that will allow for improvisation without losing balance. The feel of the game is to be as though the players are constructing a story together, preferably using the mental tools that writers would use.
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