Attributes are anything that can describe a characteristic of an object (e.g. “maximum speed”), resource, unit, avatar (e.g. “health points”), or almost any other game element. Modifiers alter or change attributes (either positively, negatively, or laterally).
Attributes and modifiers can be divided into the following types:
- Functional: Attributes (or modifiers) that have a direct affect on the game can be considered functional (such as a player-character’s “attack score”).
- Characterization: These are core attributes that are fundamental to an avatar, unit, or object. Typically these attributes are permanently-assigned to that unit. This is not to say that the value of the attributes cannot change.
- Status: Attributes and modifiers that define the present state of an object or avatar (e.g. its position, speed, condition, etc). These attributes may (or may not) be temporary in nature; and tend to change more frequently than characterization attributes.
- Aesthetic: Attributes and modifiers that do not effect the in-game mechanics. These attributes typically are only cosmetic (or thematic) in nature.
How, when, and why the attribute or modifier comes into existence:
- Predetermined: The attribute or modifier starts based off a predetermined method, usually ordained by the game designer. This is the most common form of an attribute and modifier; and includes any characteristic that begins with an arbitrary value.
- Activated/Exhausted: A price must first be paid (typically in resources, such as mana, currency, or points) before the attribute or modifier can be used. It’s also common for the attribute or modifier to possibly become deactivated (either temporarily or permanently) after use. Put simply, a price must be paid either before or after the attribute or modifier is used.
- Random: The attributes comes into existence based off a random/pseudo-random method.
- Player-Chosen: The player picks the attribute or modifier, typically from a pool of choices/options.
- Triggered: The attribute or modifier can only be used once one (or more) specific conditions are met or event occurs (e.g. the blade of a sword glows blue only when orcs are nearby). Conditions can include (but are not limited to) a specific time, place, player-event, and/or game-event.
Note that multiple initializations can be linked together, requiring each of them to take place sequentially. For example, a pool of attributes may first be randomly selected from rolling dice, then a player may choose which specific attribute they want from among the pool of options. This is typically thought of as “A nominates, B elects” because the first initialization (“A” in this example) nominates a list of candidates, with the next initialization (“B”) electing the winner from the candidate pool.
Duration pertains to how long an attribute or modifier will directly affect the game.
- Instantaneous: The attribute exists for a single moment (or purpose) then immediately ceases to exist. Note that the consequences (or effects) of the attributes existence may last long after the attribute vanishes.
- Lifespan: The attribute or modifier exists, but only for a finite amount of time (e.g. “gain +5 defense for five turns”). After the allotted time elapses, the attribute or modifier ceases to exist.
- Perpetuity: The characteristic, once set, is active permanently (unless eliminated, if possible).
- Conditional: The attribute or modifier will remain active until a specific condition is met or event occurs.
- Static: The value of the modifier or attribute is unchanging, remaining at its original value. Note that the characteristic may (or may not) be malleable to outside influences (e.g. a magic spell may be able to alter the static value of a character’s strength attribute).
- Random: The value of the modifier is randomly (or pseudo-randomly) chosen, then applied (e.g. a shield that provides +1d6 defense).
- Variable: The value of the modifier is a variable, which itself is based off another score, ability, event, action, or some other value (e.g. “+5% for every orc you kill”). Modifiers can be whole numbers, fractions, or percentages.
- Progression: The value changes over time (e.g. “+1 for every experience level you gain”). Note that progression values can either be absolute or relative to the point in time that the attribute began.
- Custom: The player can customize the values or abilities of the modifiers. This is either provided as a straight-up “options menu” style where the game allows the player to customize their play experience, or uses a balancing system such as a point-buy (e.g. difficulty modes will increase the HP and offensive power of all the monsters, depending on how much of a challenge the player commits to).
Targets & Exceptions
What category of objects, units, resources, or avatars that an attribute (or modifier) can belong to can vary greatly. Some modifiers may only be used if applied to a certain object, object “type” (see keywords), or condition (which may itself be derived from another game mechanic).
- Targets: Attributes or modifiers may be designated as only targeting units, resources, or avatars of a specific type, sub-type, or with a specific (or group) attribute and modifiers. An example of this is an in-game weapon that will deal +1 damage, but only to units that have a “zombie” attribute assigned to them.
- Exceptions: The inverse of targets are exceptions. Exceptions are to targeting as a blacklist is to a whitelist. With exceptions, an attribute may target all units, resources, objects, or avatars except for those with one (or more) specific (or group of) attribute assigned to them.
Note that targets and exceptions may alter an attribute or modifier in many possible ways: the type, initialization, duration, or value of the character could change depending on the same aspects of the object it is targeting. This is considered an advanced feature, but offers enormous amounts of customization within a game context.