What is the point of basic Stats?

I've been continuing thinking a lot about my ptba hack. A question that recently occurred to me is, why are there stats in Apocalypse world?

I mean is this meaningful gameplay? You have to choose a line of stats, with one of them being constantly high, A player can pick to build a character who has synergy between stats (usually make as much as possible roll of your best stat), is this part of the strategic gaming in AW?

Are stats a hold over? Are there better ways to achieve the idea that, some characters a better at some things and worse at others? Is that even a meaningful assumption in game design?

Do you have an example of something that works better?

My example is AW but this could easily be a discussion of the use of stats in games in general.

Comments

  • Stats/Attributes are practical for a sort of old school game where no other bonuses are considered and skills/equipment just enable your character to try some thing, or lower the difficulty in the best case.

    Stats don't need to be linked to particular skills as one may start thinking by playing 3.5. They work better when used as in VtM, as a mix of one stat and one skill that may vary depending on the situation. You could roll Dexterity with Acrobatics to make a backwards somersault or roll Intelligence with Acrobatics to remember which thief guild made that maneuver their trademark.

    A problem arises when the design gives skills a bonus to be added to the stats and the roll, because that makes rolling just the stats an unfair useless business. So you need to add bonuses for saves and things like that.

    The whole deal may end up being so complicate that it makes you think, hey, why don't ditch stats and make it just a skill system? Skill based systems also work perfectly, they go straight to the point if you have the right skill list for your setting. You get to save time both in rolling and recalculating things when you level up or get some sort of penalty.

    But they don't save you from character optimization, unless the GM makes everyone roll all kind of skills all the time. But that's rare, as each group story preferences will make five or six skills more relevant than the others. Among those you will usually find some umbalance, like a skill that doubles for two or more different uses, or one that is OP in the setting.

    Then you may read some OSR that may bring you back to use only stats, as they are sort of general skills that also simulate a character's build. You can have the players describe exactly what do their characters do and lower the DC when what they say shows expertise in their profession. But as this requires the players to learn by trial and error what constitutes good practices and what not, you may end up going back full circle to whatever worked best for you.


    So basically, anything will work with a group that it's used to it and there is no perfect design that will work for everyone. Go for whatever feels more familiar and easier to use for you and your group. Personally I made my last hack more DW like but made the skills/items give no static bonuses but additional dice instead. So your chances are better but the math doesn't break too much.
  • I was definitely considering the adding dice instead of a modifier. But ultimately I think I'd be talking about completely re-designing characters rather, so that stats aren't needed. I made one hack like this, with no characters playbooks/sheets but I still had dice modifiers I just didn't present them as stats.

    Either way I'm very interested in what others have to say on the subject thanks Warrior.
  • Undying is like that, I think.
  • I see absolutely no fundamental need for stats, and particularly so in a game like Apocalypse World.

    It's just a way to organize information.

    However, some people have more of an attachment to them. (And it's possible that Vincent sees them as quite central to the game, according to some commentary I've read.)
  • Stats are a way of ensuring that all PCs will have a certain kind of mechanical socket to plug certain rules into. If everybody's got an Agility stat, you can write "Roll against Agility to avoid this attack," and it'll make sense. In the case of Apocalypse World, you can write "When you do something under fire, roll+cool," and it makes sense, because everyone's got a Cool stat.

    In Over the Edge (the original version, not the new edition coming out soon), you don't have stats. Everybody is made of freeform traits, rated in dice, and there's a default of 2d6. So if you want to do something, you convince the GM that you've got a trait that can cover it, and roll that many dice (usually 3 or 4), or if you fail to convince them, roll the default 2d6. This has the advantage of flexibility, but the disadvantage that you sometimes have to spend a bit of time haggling.
  • AW gathered up some trad stuff and presented it in a fresh an innovative ways. Stats/abilities are one of the cornerstones of (later edition) D&D and trad RPGs and using them provides familiarity.
  • I think the role of stats in AW is to tempt character-players into thinking some moves are "reliable" due to who the character fundamentally is. They only are meaningful when paired with highlighting, which allows you to mess a bit with other players' characters by providing a different (but related) incentive.
    However, I've found that highlighting stats got old relatively quickly in my games - this usually being the earliest cue that a long-term game should be brought to a close soon enough.
  • edited August 2018
    Maybe you can look at attributes of a character on two axis

    vague -> specific - how widely applicable is the attribute
    static -> dynamic - how frequently does the attribute change during a game

    'stats' are relatively vague and very static. Is that what you want?



  • Kenny_J said:

    My example is AW but this could easily be a discussion of the use of stats in games in general.

    I wonder if this is true. Because there very clear advantages to using stats. Whether there are also drawbacks or better ways to achieve a similar goal in your design is a worthwhile discussion, but the value and consideration of it all is relative to the specific game and the experience sought.

    "Why use stats at all, ever, for any game?" seems like a deliberately dense or falsely naïve question. Maybe it's not, but if you're earnestly asking that question, I'd like to hear your thought process in trying to answer it first - at least for context and understanding where you're coming from/what your assumptions are.

    So, if you turn the questions specifically to AW...
    What part of the experience is affected by stats?
    Do you seek to change this experience? Why?

    That line of examination seems way more revealing and useful, especially for someone coming at it from a hacking angle.
  • @Paul_D_L
    "Why use stats at all, ever, for any game?" seems like a deliberately dense or falsely naïve question.
    I never asked that did I?

    I had a longer explanation originally for what I was thinking, I took it out because I was generally interested in what people would say to the broader question. I believe in the motto that their is no such thing as a stupid question. :)

    Specifically that AW designs many playbooks with options that seem to circumvent stats, seems to be aimed at making a player choose to operate better mechanically as a player vs choosing a new thematic component. It just seems odd to spend so much design on having players think about these numbers when a line of stats can't be changed, and most if not all of the playbook moves generally (though not always) use the highest stat. Coupled with the fact that there aren't that many stats, and in many ways with playbook moves they become a little interchangeable.

  • edited August 2018
    Kenny_J said:


    I never asked that did I?

    Not technically, but it's tightly outlined by "What's the point of basic stats?" and saying the discussion applies to games in general. If that's not what you mean, then I accept that and I'm all ears, but I don't think I've put words into your mouth.
    Kenny_J said:

    I had a longer explanation originally for what I was thinking, I took it out because I was generally interested in what people would say to the broader question. I believe in the motto that their is no such thing as a stupid question. :)

    Specifically that AW designs many playbooks with options that seem to circumvent stats, seems to be aimed at making a player choose to operate better mechanically as a player vs choosing a new thematic component. It just seems odd to spend so much design on having players think about these numbers when a line of stats can't be changed, and most if not all of the playbook moves generally (though not always) use the highest stat. Coupled with the fact that there aren't that many stats, and in many ways with playbook moves they become a little interchangeable.

    Again, I think these questions (and many more that spring forth from them)
    Paul_D_L said:


    What part of the experience is affected by stats?
    Do you seek to change this experience? Why?

    actually lead through uncovered, essential ground here.

    Because when I ask and answer those questions, one of the first things that occurs to me based on playing AW is that the stats you use are inextricable from the story. Because the fiction isn't arbitrary relative to the stat used.
  • Paul_T said:

    I see absolutely no fundamental need for stats, and particularly so in a game like Apocalypse World.

    It's just a way to organize information.

    However, some people have more of an attachment to them. (And it's possible that Vincent sees them as quite central to the game, according to some commentary I've read.)

    hamnacb said:

    AW gathered up some trad stuff and presented it in a fresh an innovative ways. Stats/abilities are one of the cornerstones of (later edition) D&D and trad RPGs and using them provides familiarity.

    ^This is generally along the lines of what I was thinking.

    But, WarriorMonk, avram, Rafu, and stefoid all had something interesting to add in my opinion. The idea of a player feeling like they can "reliably" accomplish something seems like important insight, as well as the axis's of vague -> specific, static -> dynamic. As well as suggestions and examples of adding dice instead of a modifier.


  • Kenny_J said:


    Because when I ask and answer those questions, one of the first things that occurs to me based on playing AW is that the stats you use are inextricable from the story. Because the fiction isn't arbitrary relative to the stat used.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, there. Recently, I’ve started thinking about stats more thematically, which leads to three conclusions about why you want them in a game.

    The first is that they incentivize and shape player behavior in directions that support the feel of the story you’re trying to tell. If you’re playing a game about teen romance, your characters probably aren’t going to be jumping off rooftops with swords, so you don’t need a bunch of differentiated physical stats – but you might want to give empathy and charm their own stats. And once you do that, you’ve both indicated to players that those are important qualities in this game, and gotten them to think more about doing in-game actions that make use of those qualities.

    Leading off of that is the second item, which is that stats don’t just provide information about what characters can do in the world, they provide info about who the characters are. This helps in roleplaying and helps create a more interesting cast in the game story. So you’re not just getting players to think about the actions they can and should take, but to think about what their characters are like. A character with high Moxy and low Style is a totally different person from a character with high Beefiness and low Wits.

    The third item is more prosaic and mechanical, but just as important for creating a good experience, and that’s character differentiation. Stats are an easy way to differentiate one character from another. And you want differentiated characters because you want different characters to be able to solve problems in different ways, which allows everyone in a game to participate. Stats incentivize players to naturally pass different problems to each other, which is good for the player group dynamic and good for story interest.

    Obviously, there are other ways to achieve these ends. But stats are a really good shortcut, especially when you tie them to the themes of the game instead of going with the traditional idea of “cover all human qualities”.
  • Indeed. A common use of "stats", for example, is to guarantee that a character cannot be both X and Y.

    Set them up correctly, and you make a statement about what kinds of characters can exist in your sort of fiction/world/story. Perhaps in this world no one can be both Strong and Smart. That says something very specific. Now, what if no one can be both Smart and Brave? That says something very different about what this world is like, and what kinds of stories exist in it.

    A perfect example is Trollbabe (and its baby version, at least in this respect: Lasers & Feelings), where this dynamic is laid bare in character creation.

  • This is exactly why I love Lasers & Feelings so much, and find it so delightfully hackable.
  • When you roll dice for what the game considers important, and when your stats plug into those rolls, then the set of stats becomes a decent map for the game's focus.

    The list on the character sheet of Hot, Hard, Cool, Sharp indicates that the character will be facing opportunities for seduction, violence, danger, and important reads, and describes their options. The numerical values then describe the relative odds of getting what they want via those channels.

    So, do you want to play a character who wins fights but freaks out under fire, or a character who can manipulate anyone but is toast when the guns come out, or what?

    Tying the game-effectiveness of the character on paper to the fictional attributes of the character in the fiction seems like an obvious fit to me for the roleplaying medium, though other options do exist.

    That's my take.

    As for the manipulation of stats, specifically the moves which let you use your high score for a task that ought to require a lower score, I am not a fan. If the color is cool enough and sensible enough, okay, fine. But they usually feel like hacks to me. Let AW characters fail more, I say.

    More generally, my take on stats is that they shouldn't exist for (a) things that aren't regularly important in play or (b) things the players should do themselves. No mental stats for characters in games about player problem-solving, please. Also, no strength stats in games where you rarely have to figure out how much you can lift, carry, etc.
  • edited August 2018
    The list on the character sheet of Hot, Hard, Cool, Sharp indicates that the character will be facing opportunities for seduction, violence, danger, and important reads, and describes their options. The numerical values then describe the relative odds of getting what they want via those channels.

    So, do you want to play a character who wins fights but freaks out under fire, or a character who can manipulate anyone but is toast when the guns come out, or what?
    when you put it just like that, it makes me wonder if there are games where rather than ask the player to describe what they are good at, and assume they suck at everything else, ask the players to name things they are bad at, and assume they are competent in other areas. Because where your character sucks is where the interesting stuff most likely will happen.

    Just an idle thought. In this approach, 'what you suck at' are your stats., unless we are only defining stats a having numerical values
  • edited August 2018
    Paul_D_L said:


    Because when I ask and answer those questions, one of the first things that occurs to me based on playing AW is that the stats you use are inextricable from the story. Because the fiction isn't arbitrary relative to the stat used.

    @DBB I want to make sure that Paul D L gets credit for what he said here, as you post seemed to attribute it to me by mistake.

    So i definitely see the appeal of attribute/stats to help flesh out a character, doubly so when there are much fewer stats like in Apocalypse World. I conceptualized this more in traditional D&D play. But in AW you switch which of these stats around. So you the battle babe for example are controlling the battlefield by how cool you are instead of how hard you are. I can definitely seeing this working conceptually, but in practice (IME) it doesn't end up being very central to a players idea of who the character is really. Add to that I kind of want that to be something the player figures out rather than something that you pick off a line of choices, i mean honestly you should be able to decide why your character failed at a task to some extent. I dunno I digress.

    I think your other two points are very strong in my opinion. First the idea that what stats are in play act as flags for important traits in the setting/game. I suspect this is a huge reason Vincent did it that way, and I see hacks definitely use these to make a statement about what their game is about. That and its an effective mechanical way to create a varied cast of abilities and incentives.

    I don't think stats are wrong in Apocalypse words, I just sense the design manipulating the stats in such a way as I could see doing something different with the design. That was the thought I was trying to articulate at least.

    Lasers and feelings is a very interesting example for what can be done with the idea of a stat, its both very specific (one number) and as broad as every character task. It definitively acts as a flag for setting/game concept but really doesn't tell too much about the character.

  • edited August 2018
    stefoid said:


    when you put it just like that, it makes me wonder if there are games where rather than ask the player to describe what they are good at, and assume they suck at everything else, ask the players to name things they are bad at, and assume they are competent in other areas. Because where your character sucks is where the interesting stuff most likely will happen.

    Just an idle thought. In this approach, 'what you suck at' are your stats., unless we are only defining stats a having numerical values

    It could be titled; "Glass Cannon." As in a narrow range for success with high vulnerability, along with cannon referring to the aspect of fiction that is canonical.
  • I think that's a great approach. There are lots of games which include a fair bit of that, but I'm struggling to think of one which handles that as the sole method of character definition.
  • Yeah, I like "what do you suck at?" as character description. I think I actually laid out a potential design for something like that in the middle of some thread here a while ago. Ultimately, it wasn't that memorable without a corresponding situation engine.

    Assuming competence at "everything else" completely leaves out excellence. I don't see anything broken about playing in a game without character excellence, but it may be short on appeal for all but the most tragedy-seeking players.
  • @Kenny_J – Whoops! These are the perils of trying to quote parts of posts on mobile.

    Reading your last post makes me want to figure out if there’s a way to arrive at the design goals that stats achieve without using stats. Because I still think getting characters to act in theme, defining characters, and cast differentiation are really good goals. I suspect the most straightforward path is designing a game that doesn’t use dice as a resolution mechanic?

    Also have to disagree about Lasers & Feelings. I lean towards minimalism, so I think you actually get much more out of a character defined by a single strong trait than a character defined by an array of traits competing for player attention. When you have just one trait, you can really lean into it and inhabit it to its full depth. When you have a bunch of traits, you have to keep all of them in your head at once, and they’ll keep overruling each other, which makes your character muddier. Consider: When you have to make a decision, is it easier if you have 6 separate vectors to consider or just one? Is it snappier to figure out how your character acts when they’ve got 6 competing values & characteristics or just one clear one?

    Obviously this is also a stylistic choice – there are plenty of games where you want a lot of complexity in your character decisions. And there’s only so long you can play a one-trait character before doing so becomes stale. But I don’t feel, at the core of it, that a single stat is inherently a weaker way of defining a character.
  • Just played On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon. Stats are:

    Laziness
    Patheticness
    Clumsiness
    Stupidity
    Petty Greed

    Your relevant attribute has to fail in order for you to accomplish what you set out to do. They did a really good job of defining the what these Mud Dragons are all about.

    This was a game without character excellence, but it wasn't for tragedy-seeking, it was for comedy. And a bit of pity.
  • Yes. An array of "basic stats" leads us to conceptualize the world in a certain way, much in the same way that a set of classes leads us to think about the world in a certain way.

    "This is a place/time where being Smart and Strong is important. The people we care about are either Mechanics or Priests..."

    These things can place expectations or constraints on what kinds of characters we can have. (And, typically, one of the points of "stats" is to force players to distribute qualities and weaknesses in a certain way - you can have *this* but not *that. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why some people are not fond of "stat substitution" moves in AW, I think.)

    Imagine this kind of setup, for instance. You can see how setting up a game this way sends a very strong message about what it's about and what kinds of characters are possible, as well as how we will end up thinking and/or feeling about them.

    * The possible character types are Democrat or Republican.

    * When you make your character, distribute 5 points between Innocence and Popular Appeal.
  • edited August 2018
    DBB said:

    @Kenny_J – Whoops! These are the perils of trying to quote parts of posts on mobile.

    Also have to disagree about Lasers & Feelings. I lean towards minimalism, so I think you actually get much more out of a character defined by a single strong trait than a character defined by an array of traits competing for player attention....

    ...But I don’t feel, at the core of it, that a single stat is inherently a weaker way of defining a character.

    I wasn't saying Lasers & Feelings was weaker at defining a character, nor was I arguing for more stats=more character. I was arguing just the opposite really. I was saying that stats can sometimes get in the way of me conceptualizing a character rather than helping, I think we are actually in agreement here.

    About Lasers & Feelings when I said "really doesn't tell too much about the character" I was simply saying that it just says one thing about a character rather than a whole array, again referring to your point about using stats to say who the character is.

    So based on your post just now it sounds like we are in total agreement here.
  • Haha yes it does! Pardon my misreading.
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