Writing Series

Writing Atlas: Attributes

Last time I talked about the Combat pillar because it’s typically the easiest thing to explain and understand. At least that’s what I said it was about, it was honestly because I didn’t think to write about the Attributes until I was halfway done with the Combat pillar. I would have started with this article if I had thought to do this earlier. Anyway, here’s some insight into the attributes, how I picked them, what they do, and why there’s so many of them.

Atlas Spire has nine attributes with three categories of three attributes each. The Physical category includes the attributes Agility, Endurance, and Strength. Mental category covers Charisma, Perception, and Talent. Lastly the Spiritual category governs Affinity, Devotion, and Wisdom. A couple of things may affect attribute groups as a whole. When a player takes a wound for example, the attacker gets to decide which of the attribute groups suffers a -2 penalty. So if they wounded you and chose the Physical group, your Agility, Endurance, and Strength would suffer -2 penalties. Other than the occasional wound or other exception, the nine attributes work pretty independently.

For the most part it’s easy enough to figure what the attribtues do, but I tried to make sure they were all as balanced as possible with no obvious universal dump stat and give each one something special. Plus some stuff like Talent, Affinity, and Devotion might not be clear by their name alone so I’ll elaborate over each one.

Agility governs the use of Finesse type weapons like daggers adding a damage and attack bonus for their usage. It also covers feats of stealth, reflexes, and other such events. Agility also provides a beneift if the character is unarmored or wearing light armor.

Endurance grants benefits to health and any endurance bonus is added to rolls to resist poison or disease. Endurance also governs the somewhat rare Recoil type weapons (think shotguns) and provides benefits to wearers of Medium and Heavy armors. The logic there being that in those armors you generally just try to absorb the attack harmlessly rather than dodge it entirely.

Strength does obvious strength things. Allows you to hit harder with Puissant type weapons like clubs or axes. Strength is also naturally the door bashing, stuff smashing, stat of destruction that it always is. Strength will also add some carrying capacity, which in Atlas means inventory slots. I’m not a fan of calculating the weight a person can carry and trying to identify the weight of every object they hold so I settled for a more video game style approach of just inventory slots. I actually tried to figure out a way to do an attache case style of thing like Resident Evil 4, but there was no real decent way to make it happen.

Charisma basically allows the character to be more witty and charming than the player. You’ll roll it anytime you intend to resolve a situation diplomatically or when you need to convince or bribe or intimidate someone. Charisma will also passively determine the amount of followers your character has. Think of followers as crew on a ship or one-shot minions who are along mainly as fodder / background characters. Charisma will also determine the highest level of companion your character has. Companions being “real” NPCs who gain levels and follow orders. Companions include animal familiars, and your character will be limited in regards to the amount of companions they can have accompanying them.

Perception is a sort of catch-all for all the primary senses of a person. If you’re trying to listen for something, look for something, or just passively try to spot a trap or something you’re going to roll Perception. Perception also covers the use of Precision weapons like crossbows, rifles, and pistols. Standard bows are the domain of agility.

Affinity and Devotion are two sides of the same coin. Affinity determines the highest level spell and what attack and damage benefits the spell receives for the Arcane while Devotion does the same thing but for the Divine. Affinity represents a characters aptitude for manipulating the arcane layer of the world while Devotion represents their connection to a higher power which grants them strength, whether it be a deity or just the natural world itself. These two stats don’t do much for non-caster types honestly and are the closest I think Atlas gets to having dump stats.

Wisdom determines the amount of mana a character has which is used to cast their spells. Wisdom also adds to a characters Resistance stat which is sort of like an arcane defense. When an attack ignores armor, it typically targets Resistance instead. Wisdom also governs rolls made to “know” trivial things like the local geometry, the history of dwarven stonecutting, and other random stuff like that.

So I skipped over Talent in the mental category because it is kind of complicated and the decision of its inclusion is a sort of short story about how Atlas took this shape, so Talent gets its own rather large description.

Originally the Talent attribute was Intelligence. The game was meant to include things called Universal Talents which acted as skills in a sense. You would buy a Universal Talent (Uni. Talent) when you wanted to learn how to pick locks, or sneak better. Intelligence was meant to have some interaction with Uni. Talents either by way of governing how many you could have or the highest level of talent you could buy at a time or something along those lines. But the more I started linking Intelligence to the Uni. Talents the less it made sense. Agility was clearly a better fit for a Stealth Uni. Talent, and forcing someone to have a higher Intelligence so they could buy the Stealth Uni. Talent so they could make better Agility rolls which are already related to stealth just felt convoluted and silly. Aside from this, I wasn’t really having fun writing the Universal Talents. They all felt kind of boring and dialed in. In Atlas when you gain a new level you get to spend it  on only one thing, either advancing your class or racial trait, unlocking a new template, or increasing your attributes, and originally you would have spent a level on Uni. Talents as well, but where the other options were exciting and interesting Uni. Talents were just “You’re better at lockpicking / stealth / jumping / whatever now.” So Universal Talents were removed because they weren’t very interesting, and having them gone left not much for an Intelligence attribute to actually do so it was removed as well. I still wanted something that felt like “Skills” in a sense that could provide even more individuality to a character but wasn’t so cookie cutter as a skill list or feat table.

Over the summer this year I was at GenCon running a game of Demon Hunters for Dead Gentlemen. That game has a very free form idea of character creation. You basically choose the aspects of your character that you want to represent them like “One-man Apocalypse” and when they can make use of that aspect, it provides benefits in game terms. So if you were fighting a horde of enemies you might invoke your One-Man Apocalypse aspect to cause some chaos or tilt the scales in your favor. I wanted to do something like this for Atlas, and introducing a Talents attribute felt like the answer to the two problems I was having.

So the Talent attribute will have tiers. Each attribute runs between -10 and +10 so in the lower numbers the Tiers will be wider something like -10 through -5 being one tier, and then -4 through -1 being another. Higher levels make the Tiers much smaller allowing you to achieve a new one much easier. At each new tier your character will unlock a new Talent. Something that you write out for them and make use of like “deft hands” or “fast talking.” Something to help you distinguish and build your character that you can also use to justify gaining benefits in game terms when your talent would be appropriate. You’d want this stuff to be fun, not overpowered and broken. So things like “God of War” aren’t going to cut it but something like “Longsword Proficiency” to gain some small buff with your weapon of choice, while boring, is not unfair.

So there’s all nine attributes broken down and discussed. I felt like each one of them has a place in the game while being balanced but without being totally necessary to the success of a character. There are 77 classes in Atlas and 99 racial traits (at the time of writing) each with 5 unique levels, so there’s just a ton of variety and choice involved. You’d be hard pressed to find a combination of the nine main attributes that doesn’t result in a viable character concept somehow.

Really that “at the time of writing” bit regarding the amount of class and racial traits is there because I’m considering adding more… I might have an addiction.

To become an enabler, check the Archfossil Patreon page. It’s undergoing some changes soon, but you can read more about how and why while you’re there.

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