Arcane Game Lore

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Designing Out Loud – Ability Scores – part 3

I thought I was done with this set of ruminations with part 2 but after finishing that post I had a thought:  Would it be possible to combine the two different set of ability scores into something that I like that could work with both skill systems?

Why?  Well my reasoning was this.  I know in the end I want both games.  And I’d like them to be somewhat compatible with each other.  Thus if a character was created in one system it could be ported over to the other.  And that would be easier if the ability scores were the same.  Much like going from Basic D&D to Advanced D&D.  The ability scores were the same and the basic ideas were the same, just some of the details were different. (I don’t know if you could actually port characters between the systems but the foundations were the same.)  The Star Frontiers style version could be my “basic” game and the RuneQuest style could be the “advanced” form.

So let’s see what we can do:


This is the easy part.  Many of the ability scores are the same between the two sets, although they might have different names.

  • Strength – This is exactly the same in both sets
  • Constitution and Stamina – These are essentially the same characteristic with different names.  The names have slightly different connotations but mechanically they function the same in both systems as a basis for hit points, resistance to disease and poison, etc.
  • Dexterity – Again basically the same characteristic, although in the one system there is a separate score for gross motor skills and dexterity only applies to fine motor skills.
  • Appearance and Charisma – While charisma is slightly broader than appearance in its application, these two are essentially the same.
  • Intelligence – This is the same in both sets
  • Wisdom – This one exists in both sets but with slightly different application.  In the Star Frontiers style set, it rolls up both the Wisdom and Willpower characteristics of the RuneQuest set.  And it’s one that I added to the RuneQuest set over the RuneQuest model.


This is where the work is.  These characteristics don’t exist in one or the other set and I’ve got to figure out if they are needed or can be adjusted.

  • Stature – This one is from the RuneQuest set (called Size in RuneQuest) and describes the physical size of the character.  In that game system it has an impact on melee combat as the bigger you are the longer your reach and the earlier you hit in combat.  Plus it is averaged with your Constitution to determine your hit points.  It also has a negative impact on agility and stealth skills as the bigger you are the harder those skills become.  The only other place I remember it being used is as a limit on certain spells, i.e. larger Size required more magic to affect.
  • Willpower – This one is also from RuneQuest where it is just called Power.  In my Star Frontiers set it is subsumed into the Wisdom characteristic.  It forms the basis for magic/psi powers and has influences on a variety of skill categories (communication, magic, perception, and stealth), both positive and negative.
  • Quickness – This comes from the Star Frontiers set (called Reaction Speed in Star Frontiers) and is a measure of gross motor skills and how fast the character responds to sudden changes.  It’s fairly heavily used in that system for ability checks.  In RuneQuest it is basically combined into the Dexterity ability score or covered by skills
  • Leadership – Another ability score from the Star Frontiers set that has no analog at all in the RuneQuest system as everything that this ability score covers is handled by skills in that system.

Is Reconciliation Possible?

One of the great things about thinking out loud and writing things out to explain to others is that it really helps to clarify your thinking and organize your thoughts and ideas in ways that you would never do if you were just bouncing them around in your head.  After writing up the above comparisons of the similarities and differences, I believe the answer is yes.  It would be possible to come up with a single set of ability scores that could be used for both systems.  The question is how many do we end up with.  Let’s dive in and find out.

The Easy Ones

Two of the ability scores, Strength and Intelligence, don’t need any work as they are the same in both systems.

There are two more that are essentially the same but with different names.  First there is Constitution and Stamina.  I think I’d use Stamina as it has a slightly broader definition to me.  The second is Appearance and Charisma.  Again I think Charisma would be the better choice for its broader meaning.  I think these choices are better as they allow the ability score to have it’s full meaning in the Star Frontiers style game and then in the RuneQuest style system, where some of the impact of these ability scores are taken over by skills, they simply have a reduced meaning.  Going the other way is a little harder in my opinion.

That’s four down, moving on.

Dexterity and Quickness

So in once of the sets, this is all lumped under Dexterity while in the other set, they are split out.  Taking a quick survey of other games on my shelf behind me shows about an even split of the two methods.  Some do and some don’t split them apart.  Although the second ability score is usually called agility, which I like and will probably adopt if I use both.

So convention isn’t going to help here.  I like the idea of splitting them into separate ability scores as they really are different things.  I personally have fairly good dexterity but I’m not very agile.  And I see their benefit is the Star Frontiers styled skill system.  In the RuneQuest style skills, most of the actions that would be covered by an ability score check are handled by skills, the main purpose of this ability score would be to affect the skill modifiers in that system.  Which is okay.

I think in this case, I want them separate and so would keep both of them, calling them Dexterity and Agility.


Other than adding flavor to the system, I don’t know that his one really has any impact in the Star Frontiers style skill system game.  Unless I model the combat mechanic of the game after the RuneQuest style mechanic, something I’m very inclined to do.  Otherwise, it would only affect things like the size of armor you needed and whether or not you’d fit in that escape pod or other such things.

The reverse question is could you live without it in the RuneQuest style skill system?  It’s only a negative skill modifier unless you’re really small so for most characters, removing it would improve their skills, a positive from the player’s perspective.  The implications on spell casting could be ignored or based on a rolled height/weight that is not an ability score.  And the melee modifier isn’t really needed either, it just adds a bit more differentiation in the combat system.

Mostly I see this one, while highly realistic, being more for adding flavor to the system than fundamental to it’s operation.  I can’t see any of the Star Frontiers style skills being based on this ability score.  For now I think we leave it out.  I can always add it back in later if I change my mind.


This one I think is unique, at least in my experience, to Star Frontiers.  In RuneQuest, the events covered by this characteristic are handled by various skills.  The only other system I know of that had something similar were the chutzpah and moxie scores in Paranoia.  Although Powers & Perils had Eloquence which was used in combination with other ability scores to compute probabilities for things a Leadership ability score would be used for.

While it’s definitely possible for someone to be very charismatic but completely incapable as a leader, or vice versa, I think this one could be dropped and the areas covered by this ability score lumped in under the Charisma score.  We’ll leave this one off as well.

Willpower and Wisdom

This one is probably the hardest for me to come to a decision on.  Willpower is derived from RuneQuest’s  Power ability score and Wisdom is derived from Star Frontiers Intuition ability score.  Neither one has an analog in the other system although I added Wisdom to my RuneQuest style set and included the nature of Willpower into Wisdom in the Star Frontiers style set.  So I’ve obviously considered them both as a combined ability score and as unique entities.

The real question is which do I prefer and how would they apply in game.  As a general rule I like more detail over less and think that they should be separate for maximum realism.  I can definitely think of people/characters where one would be high and the other low as well as ones where they run together.  Having them separate provides more potential variations.  But how do they apply in-game.

The first to consider is Willpower in the Star Frontiers style skill system.  If separate from Wisdom, it would form the basis for any psi power I included, just like it would in the RuneQuest style system.  Also, since I’ve decided to drop Leadership, some of the checks that might normally fall to that ability score would probably fall to this one instead.  At least anything related to the force of character instead of their charm and likability (which would go to Charisma).  It would also possibly be the go to ability score for things like morale.  So this has a valid use in the Star Frontiers style skill system.

The second is Wisdom in the RuneQuest style system.  I added this one originally simply because I liked having it distinct from Willpower and felt it should be in there, not because I had a strongly perceived need for it.  Although once added, I had it sprinkled throughout the skill system being a positive modifier to a greater or lesser degree for Communication, Knowledge, Perception, and Stealth related skills.  I think it also would be good to have as an ability check as a defense against skills like Bargain, Charm, Fast Talk and the like when someone is trying to pull one over on a character (whether they be a PC or NPC).  However, you could also consider using countering skill rolls and have the Wisdom ability score only play a part via its skill modifier.  So I guess I see it as useful, although to a smaller extent in this system.

Since both characteristics have a use in the system they weren’t originally designed for, I think they are both worth keeping.


If you’ve been keeping track, of the ten original unique ability scores, eight made the cut and were deemed useful in both systems and the other two were maybes whose utility could be subsumed into one of the original eight and so were dropped with the caveat that we might call them back up later on.  This gives us as our final ability score list:

  • Strength – Raw physical power
  • Stamina – Vigor and vitality – will be used for hit points as well as endurance and resistance to disease and poisons
  • Dexterity – Fine motor skills and hand-to-eye coordination
  • Agility – Gross motor skills and ability to react to sudden changes and events
  • Intelligence – Brain power, ability to reason and to learn
  • Wisdom – Intuition, street smarts, and perceptiveness of surroundings
  • Charisma – Appearance and personality/likability
  • Willpower – Force of character and presence.  Will also be the basis for psionic power if included.

It wasn’t intentional but a happy coincidence of this is that there are four physical characteristics and four mental characteristics, giving us a nice even balance.  Plus the two extras are one of each so if they get added back in it will still be balanced.

I’m quite happy with the way this turned out and so I think I’ll use this list going forward.  It’s almost identical to the original Star Frontiers style set but with Quickness renamed agility and Willpower substituted for Leadership and a few of the definitions shifted around.

But Wait, There’s More!

And it looks like there is going to be a part 4 to this series.  As I was writing this I realized that one other thing had to be determined and that is the range for the ability scores, do we go something in the 2-20, 3-30, or 1-100 range?  What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?  However, this article is long enough already so we’ll save that discussion for part 4.  Stay tuned.

Categorised as: Game Design

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  1. [...] part 3 of this series I worked through selecting a unified set of ability scores that I felt could be used in both of my [...]

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