Monday, 1 August 2011


I'm fascinated by the idea of stats which have no maxima.

By this I mean that any value along the stat range has advantages and disadvantages. I've done this ever so slightly for the Size stat in Unangband, where increasing Size lowers your Agility, but this is too easily overcome (by having high Strength) and to make it more significant would require a redesign of the whole class and stat system.

A clearer example of this is the Body Type characteristic in Brink. In that game, you can have either a character with high hit points and the widest selection of weapons, but moves slowly and unable to climb obstacles effectively (the Heavy body type) or a character with lower hit points, much more restricted weapons, but high speed and maximum movement choices (the Light body type) or one in between.

Now you can simulate a stat system with no maxima by having a fixed number of stat points you can allocate to various stats, and provide no way of increasing the number of stat points you have. There are three problems with this: two obvious and one subtle.

The first obvious problem is the fallacy of stat equivalence: that is, increasing your strength stat by one point is equal to increasing your intelligence by one. In a system with stats with no maxima, you have to explicitly balance the drawback with the advantage; in a system with a fixed pool of stat points, you loss the ability to have improvements on a bell curve or inverse bell curve, as people will inevitably min-max by dropping points from stats near the middle range to pump one or more stats into the interesting edges of the curve (or vice versa).

The second obvious problem is psychological: people are not good at moving numbers around multiple stats, but when you make explicit trade offs instead of implicit ones, they are much more able to make correct decisions instead of vascillating between multiple seemingly unimportant choices.

A more subtle problem is that you miss out on systems which have interesting but hard to define drawbacks: an example of which is the Luck stat. Having a high luck means you get the widest variation of dice rolls against you (good and bad), having a low luck means you get fixed results every time. Having a low luck and therefore low variation emphasises skill (think TF2 servers with no randcrits and no damage spread), having a high luck means you occasionally overcome overwhelming odds (and therefore have more chance of having fun), but also can perform below par.

Now the question I have, is it possible to design a system in which you have every player characteristic defined by stats with no maxima?

The first example I can think of is Belief. If you have high Belief, you have powerful spell casting abilities, but are also vulnerable to magic being used against you; if you have low Belief, you are highly resistant to magical effects applying against you, but are unable to use magical effects reliably.

Any suggestions for other stats which could operate this way?


Ryan said...

Final Fantasy Tactics uses a faith stat, which is essentially what you described as belief. However, if it gets too high, the unit will leave the party to live religiously.

I suppose another stat could be willpower:

When willpower is high, you're less likely to be affected by mind-altering effects like confusion or sleep. You might also be able to go longer without food, or survive lethal critical hits.

However, when willpower is lower, you could be more likely to detect invisible creatures (pay more attention to that faint shimmer in the corner of your eye). Also, mythical creatures, like fairies, might choose to approach you more often. Or rather, you won't disbelieve their existence when they do. Suffering from hunger or pain would also make you more vocal about your situation, possibly eliciting help (or wrath) from others just to shut you up.

Having no maximum seems difficult to play against though. How do you normalize the range of effects for things that occur by chance? How do you place the 50% point of something occurring? I guess you could make it asymptotic, which might make sense for somethings. There is a physical maximum to human strength, and at some point, increased effort in strength training will have diminishing returns.

Andrew Doull said...

Having no maximum is not the same as having no maxima.

By no maxima, I mean there's no point at which the stat is better than any other point...

Ronbo said...

Some RPGs have no maximum in any attribute which is an extension of no maximum level, which is more common. These games (we had an in house version of Heroquest) would tend to assume the player wanted to become a more supernatural heroic being as their strength, dex, etc transcended human boundaries.

It would make the game generate monsters with higher and higher attributes to match these pcs though. it would get complex.

Ronbo said...

Some RPGs have no maximum in any attribute which is an extension of no maximum level, which is more common. These games (we had an in house version of Heroquest) would tend to assume the player wanted to become a more supernatural heroic being as their strength, dex, etc transcended human boundaries.

It would make the game generate monsters with higher and higher attributes to match these pcs though. it would get complex.

RedFoxOne said...


Just wanted to say I found this article very thought provoking and very interesting, I'd love to use something akin to this in my roguelike which is centralised on magic and not physical combat.

I'm certainly going to look more into it and I'd welcome any more thoughts you may have on this.



RedFoxOne said...

Btw my google blog has been cancelled as I've moved across to Wordpress here


Feldherren said...

The GearHead roguelike did this with pairs of personality traits; heroic versus villainous, spiritual versus pragmatic, shy versus sociable and so forth.
Mostly this affected talking to NPCs; whether or not the person you were talking to would think better of you following an attempt at conversation.

However, more Spiritual characters had an easier time getting bonuses from shrines, but suffered more for having cyberware installed, which Pragmatic characters adapted to more easily. Becoming more famous meant better rewards from missions, but also greater difficulty in general.
The other paired traits didn't really do so much. You had to be Lawful to join one faction, but there was no corresponding Chaotic faction, and Heroic/Villainous only really made NPCs react differently initially.
The problem with these is that they're personality traits, and really change depending on how the character acts. Depending on the system, making anything major rely on them might be a bad idea.

For proper stats, you could put Strong against Dexterous; if you look at it as a scale from 0 (Dexterous) to 100 (Strong), then a person with 100 can demolish furniture, but has a tendency to break fragile things by accident. Whereas a character with 0 would make a wonderful crafter, but you'd never ask him to help you move house.

Granite26 said...

In reality, strength is balanced against calorie expenditure.

Paul said...

Reflexes: Higher values give you bonuses to hit and avoiding attacks. However, because as that stat increases you are increasingly focused on reacting, you become predictable, giving foes progressive bonuses as a battle goes on and they figure out your patterns.

Height: Characters have increased effectiveness against slightly shorter characters. However, a "David and Goliath" effect switches this for extreme height differences, where it's difficult to reliably strike a very small opponent.

Intensity: High intensity characters are able to expend a great deal of energy in a short time period, sprinting faster, hitting harder, summoning more magic. Low intensity characters are able to sustain performances for longer stretches of time.

Sensitivity: notice traps/spot opponent patterns/perform tasks requiring a careful touch. But increased sensitivity leaves you vulnerable to extreme temperatures, shock from sustaining damage, panic, etc.

droid factorial said...

In Winter Voices, there is a stat (Memory if I recall) that increases both difficulty and XP rewards.

I think mental attributes in particular would fit this model well. There isn't one way of viewing the world that is superior, but not all perspectives are identical. Perhaps look at some psych test (maybe the five factor model) that has different flavors of insanity at either extreme and form some kind of stat from it.

And I would like to mention that since games are somewhat escapist, insanity isn't necessarily a bad thing. Just look at the Malkavian portion of VTMB, or Psychonauts.