Should stats and mechanics matter to narrative


Ok, pretty much the same page here! Except I’ll admit I’m totally flexible now in oneshots…or short games…longer ones are a bit more iffy for me.


This is kind of tangential, but I hope it becomes clear how it fits. In Fate Accelerated, there are approaches: ways to solve problems. They are for the most part adjectives and adverbs. The don’t describe inherent qualities of the character, just how they solve problems. So Forceful is an approach, as is Flashy. Someone who solves problems in an attention seeking way is Flashy; someone who solves problems by breaking them or shoving them out of the way is Forceful. Either one could describe a strong hero, a quick hero, or a charismatic hero.
A friend is working on an RPG where he wants to have very few stats. It occured to me that Mind, Body and Spirit would be sufficient, if you included tags. So a hero with the Strong tag would have all body rolls to move, lift or break things be Easy while a hero with the Quick tag would have all body rolls to outrun, evade, and catch or quickly move things be Easy. These tags are similar to approaches: They represent a problem solving style rather than a comparative value of a given trait.
This is where language comes in: Describing traits or problem-solving style according to the fiction embeds the character into the core activity of the game. A Harry Potter game doesn’t really need a Strength score. It might have relative scores of Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Slytherin and Gryffindor. Harry Potter fans will Grok what those mean, and it’s easy enough to explain. (I’d also maintain that Harry has the highest Slytherin, Ron has the highest Hufflepuff, and Hermione has the highest Ravenclaw, but that’s just me.). I see Alex’s point about rules falling into the background, but I would counter that with rules being better able to fall into the background if they are bound to the background.
It’s not absolute. Ghost Mountain doesn’t use Dead Lands-style cowboy palaver; it just uses ICRPG stats and it’s fine. Blood and Snow uses base ICRPG stats, but the tags help embed the character into the setting.
Using Harry Potter and The Fast and the Furious as examples, perhaps the success of this technique depends on how already familiar the players are with the fiction. Numenera never really stuck with me because the setting is so alien I don’t really connect with it. Call of C’thulhu, with its Runequest roots, doesn’t really speak to the Lovecraftian milieu like Trail of C’thulhu or Tremulous (or even Beneath the Door) does.
It’s an interesting question. I think the answer is “just enough to help the players connect to the setting.” D&D, for good or ill, has its own set of expectations and tropes and the 6 stats are part of what define it. Other games will benefit from tailored language that puts the players immediately in mind of the setting and what they are going to do there.

Edit: This is really just long-winded version of @Shadymutha’s first comment on this thread. His comment about knowing what F&F is about and what to do by reading the names of the 3 stats prompted my train of thought.


YES. A fantastic way to put it. This is the real reason I love TAGS; they add narrative description and weight to a character’s mechanics. Hells yeah. Very well put @Geoffrey_Nelson.


totally agree, and like I said before…we seem to be on the same page. So going back to OP…

and my answer is still pretty much it depends.

If designing a whole new world where physical stats don’t matter much…you can have one stat for Physical or no stats for physical…but as the game designer and game runner, you have a situation where I am going to get beat up physically…and there are no stats I could have rolled or saves or anything??? Its the same as mind control, and a source of frustration. So you have to understand the genre, fiction material, and the limitations you have on the stats/skills/powers you are running.

If playing a combat only game…Power and defense are all I need. Tags and other stats can fill in special moves, range, stealth…but all that is needed Power and defense. everything else is fluff…and usually as RPG players, we live in the fluff.

D&D can be played with AC, Attack, HP, Damage…and for Murder hobo type games, it’s all that is important.
Does it matter that you reskin the game to fit the Genre (change stats with names to fit)? It’s helpful, but not necessary if you are playing with experienced gamers, new players playing because of the Fiction…need to feel familure with the terms and names and words for things.


You don’t need to test for everything. Doesn’t mean that because you encounter it that you need such stats. If you meet a God, are you supposed to beat him in hand to hand combat? If yes, then that God is pretty weak. If you can push through an illusion through sheer luck and barely any role play, then that illusion is pretty darn useless, wouldn’t you agree?
Give me inputs, as @NorthShoreDM and then let me deal with it and we’ll see if it deserves a dice roll or not. OTherwise, your illusion should be pretty specific.


Wheeee!!! @BlazingPolyhedron if you want to be right!!! You are 100% correct. Your table your rules.

But if this is a discussion about game design, as opposed to home rules…where you write something and someone else runs it and other people play it, your path typically leads to folly.

I ve played in games with destiny and ever present statless gods. It was both boring and frustrating for all involved. It belongs in a novel, not a collaborative story game.

Even in games where everyone is going to die or go insane, choice and the ability to act and have an impact with agency is ever so important.

If I have a table, where my players enjoy me telling a story, and they are just bit players from a point of view!!! If everyone is having fun great! And Johnny getting jumped once is fine…but if your game is all about the mindful application of solutions, brought on solely from the minds of the players???

Perhaps LARP mechanics have a stronger place than TTRPGs. But for that you need 10+ players…it’s a different format. There are no important NPCs typically except at the beginning to set the tone or create unity.

Can LARPs be played at a tabletop? Sure…but again different format.

That said, I am pretty sure I know where you are coming from. A single roll should not say that I befriended someone or solve the Gordian Knot.

But in today’s age of RPGs being a super investigator or equation solver is a few clicks away! Or hours of frustration away.

If you stick to 6 stats and rename them Power, Force, agility, accuracy, stamina, fitness. Bam! No intellectual, spiritual, or discipline based stats. It is now up to the GM to present everything where if a roll is required for arbitration, it fits one of those stats.


What’s most important in a narrative experience and game are the decisions we make. Stats are just there to represent probability. When does probability matter? When the character’s skills are compromised or there is much left to luck, etc.

That’s how we adjudicate rolls in TRPGs: why would an illusion require luck to be dispelled or a hand-to-hand fight with a god be the same? That’s not a:“My table, my rules.”-case, it’s a:“That’s how the game rolls.”

It’s fine if you don’t agree, but if you really need to stat everything (and it might happen, no judging here) then what you need is a Whatever Stat that can be applied anywhere, anytime, on the fly.


3 adjectives and no dice, no cards, Rock Paper Scissors if there is conflict…lets Play!

Been there, done that, would do it again in a one shot, no hesitation. It’s more than all you need. But it gets boring or very arbitrary very fast if there is more investment than everyone having a good time.

I don’t have a dog in this fight, LARPS are cool at times, Renfairs where everyone is Role Playing the shit out of their world…and no dice just all improve!!!
But Taking out the Big Bad does not happen in those! it does in TTRPGs.


I’m not saying “no dice”, I’m saying dice have a job to do and are welcome at the appropriate time. Sometimes, players figure out a plan or approach that just can’t fail. At that time, I just let them succeed and victoriously laugh at the villain. Other times, they just can’t fight something with dice, it’s just part of the rules of the game, really.


But I’m struggling to see how mental stats prohibit that?


Oh nice topic! I think about this often. Specially in terms of that elusive perfect balance between crunch and ease. Here’s a couple of worthless cent :wink:

As others has said: Depends…

  1. Will it be simpler/intuitive?
  2. Will it provide the right Feels for the game?
  3. Is it adding anything?

For one-shots or no-crunch games (specially for non-vet casual players), I think tinyDungeons got it nailed:
Character = HP + Tags…
“STRONG! advantage when using your strength” “Stealthy” “Herbalist Wizard” “Wizard Dueller” etc


@Ardon I love succinct!


innit @Alex :smile:

Dungeon worlds 2d6 system is also pretty good, making 3 STR really mean something.

That’s the thing with d20 systems, I’ve found it hard to get that differentiation and hit that sweet point between characters feeling GOOD at certain things, but not so good so that rolling is practically pointless.
Maybe another way to approach it is have each character have a negative/disadvantage stat/tag (eg. -str for the old wizard)?

(disclaimer: obviously i favour games where there is specialisation between characters, apart from one shots of course)


I think if we could apply THAC0 to every check like in Godbound, we’d hit that sweet spot! I like to have limits on rolls and everything!


TAGS are really the leveler I think. If we use DnD as an example: the difference between an elf in the Forgotten Realms and an Elf in Eberron is mostly fluff (yes there are a couple option differences), but the output of those different elves could be more impactful if that difference was in a mechanic as well. I think TAGS flavoured for narrative and backed my mechanics are an amazing way to color these differences.


Wholeheartedly agree with you on TAGS…

I just replied this same answer on another thread.
here goes one mo’ again…

Tags and Keywords are great… I agree and use them all over my games…
Tags have mechanical effects tied to them. Powers, Loot, Abilities, etc.
Keywords are more colorful and descriptive. Afraid of Water, Shy, Heavy, Bulky, Charismatic, Woodsy, etc.
While both are interchangeable on Characters as well as Loot, they provide great opportunity to role play and differentiate one “elf” from another “elf”.

Tags and Keywords are the same as Stats. They are just another adjective you can use to create a mechanical action. You don’t need STR +3, when you have “BRAWNY: all STR checks are EASY.”

But enough said…

Game On!


My only hesitation in having the mechanical effect of all TAGs making things EASY, is you loose that situational leverage. If a character is BRAWNY, and another character helps them lift the heavy doors, I think it’s cool to give them a bigger bonus (than effectively +15%). I want to encourage players using the environment/each other/creativity to make tasks EASIER.

Personally, in my homebrew game I’m toying with Stats+Skills+Abilities.
A Skill-Tags are essentially like 5e Skills (eg. +2 bonus), but where the TAGs can be anything, eg. Gladiator, Silk Merchant, Cat Burglar, Orcish Hostage Negotiator, Wizard of the Blue Goat, Greenwood Elven Singer, etc. ANYTHING related to the tag, gains the bonus. Thing need to be done in the game to gain new skills or level them up.
Ability Tags have specific mechanical effects and can basically be anything. Eg.
Iron Lungs - Only fail breath saves on 1
I-Will-Never-Die - Once per battle, if brought to 0HP, stay on 1.
Berserker - Below half HP, deal ultimate damage.
Blessing of the Blue Goat - Reroll effort below 4 on blue goat spells

Obviously this is totally subjective and subject to taste. I like a tad more crunch and permanent character progression (not to say skills/abilities couldn’t be lost or negative). I’ve also toyed with doing away with Effort as a character stat, that’s only attached to items. shrug

Edit: To bring it back to topic - YES I think stats and mechanics do matter to narrative (unless you want to play a game that is more 'group story telling, and can’t be Won or Lost by players).
In my homebrew example Skill-TAGs represent PC’s… skills. It will reflect what they are good at in the narrative as they succeed at them more. You could reinforce this by having PCs trying to do a specific skill they are not familiar with as always HARD.