The Anatomy of RPGs, Part 1: Stats

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Well, I have been playing a few RPG video games lately. Since I started playing Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars and Pokemon around middle school, I had been hooked on the genre. Today, I have something different from most of my other content. I will be looking at the many moving parts that make up the RPG genre, and explain them in as much detail as possible. This will be a multi-part series, with a different element of the genre being explained in each article.

Much of what is explained here is from the RPGs I’ve played, and will be covering only the turn-based games. Strategy RPGs will be excluded, with the exception of how those games may overlap with others in the genre. Additionally, some of these game mechanics do show up in other video games, though most of those games will not be mentioned.

A quick warning: some of this content will be very detailed, will include a fair amount of math, as well as genre exclusive lingo. As such, it might be a little hard to understand some of this content. Feel free to read my other articles if this seems to be too much for you.

And now, a bit of history. The video game RPG (short for Role Playing Game) is an offshoot of table top role-playing games, most notably Dungeons and Dragons. Many of the game rules and battle systems are built around the foundation of that game. There are many noteworthy differences, but there are many similarities that lead to popular video game RPGs. A lot of what you see next is based on this game, and the differences will be highlighted accordingly.

Levels and Stats:

The main focus of this article are levels and stats: These numbers are the foundation of RPGs everywhere, both the table top and video game variety. Each game uses some similar and different stats, each with a different purpose. Some games use different names for similar or identical stats, so general terms will be used here. Let’s start with Levels:

Levels:

Levels are a general gauge of how strong a character is in an RPG. The higher the number, the stronger the character. This number varies between 1-100 in most games, though some games lower the upper limit to control how hard the game might be (Dungeons and Dragons usually limits levels to 20). When a character gains a level, he or she gets a boost in their stats, the other numbers that detail how strong the character is. To increase a level, the character has to gain experience points, usually gained by defeating enemies. Once the character gets enough experience, the level increases by one. The requirement to reach the next level increases as the character gets stronger, generally slowing down how often the character gains levels the stronger they get.

In Dungeons and Dragons, gaining a level only increases some stats, while most or all stats increase in video game RPGs. In some RPGs, when stats increase the value may increase by a random amount (let’s say 1-5 points, for example). In some RPGs, it may be random which stats increase at all, while others give that choice to players, to an extent. With all this talk about stats, let’s take a look at what they are and what they do.

Stats:

RPGstats
The stats screen from Final Fantasy VI features the stats seen in most RPGs.

Let us start by listing the stats that appear in Dungeons and Dragons, and in video game RPGs:

Dungeons and Dragons:

  • Strength
  • Dexterity
  • Constitution
  • Intelligence
  • Wisdom
  • Charisma

Common Video Game RPGs:

  • HP
  • MP
  • Attack
  • Defense
  • Magic Attack
  • Magic Defense
  • Speed
  • Evasion
  • Accuracy
  • Critical
  • Luck (sometimes)

As you can see, there are some big differences here. In Dungeons and Dragons, the stats aren’t always for combat. In video game RPGs, most of the time, the stats are only for combat. Additionally, there are other numbers used in Dungeons and Dragons, but most of the other numbers are derived from the six listed here. Let’s describe the purpose of the stats from Dungeons and Dragons:

Strength:

Strength determines how much the character can push, pull, or hit an object. In combat, it can help determine how much damage weapon based attacks deal to opponents. Interestingly, it can also affect the accuracy (the likelihood of scoring a hit) of short ranged weapons too. Out of battle, strength influences lifting objects, climbing, pushing objects, and anything physical strength does in real life. The stats in table top RPGs are meant to cover any action the player can imagine that he can do, it isn’t just for fighting.

Dexterity:

Essentially how quick a character is. In combat, it affects turn order, accuracy of ranged attacks (in some cases the power of these attacks too), and the ability to dodge some actions. Out of battle, it can influence how quickly they can run, or how nimble their hands are, such as picking a lock or yes, pick-pocketing.

Constitution:

This is how durable a character is. The ability to endure poisons, or have better endurance, and how many hit points (HP) they have are altered by their constitution score.

Intelligence:

This is a character’s ability to know things. Since Dungeons and Dragons has a system of magic, it can change the effectiveness of spells used, depending on the type of character that is being controlled.

Wisdom:

This is the application of knowledge. This may affect how well spells are used, and may help defend against spells too.

Charisma:

This stat doesn’t translate well in most video games. It is a character’s ability to communicate and influence other characters. Depending on the character in question, it may also affect the spells that character can use.

Now let’s look at the stats usually used in video game RPGs:

HP (Hit points):

This number determines how many hits it takes to knock out a character. Higher HP means that a character can take more hits, or can take stronger hits.

MP (Magic Points):

This stat goes by many different names. It determines how many times you can use magic spells or other special actions. Each action that consumes these points has a certain cost that determines how many times these actions can be used. There are ways to replenish this number, if need be.

Attack and Magic Attack:

These numbers determine how much damage certain actions do. Weapon based attacks use the attack stat, while magical attacks use the magic attack stat.

Defense and Magic Defense:

These numbers reduce the amount of damage taken from opposing attacks. Often, a formula not seen by the player takes place here. It can look something like this:

(total attack – total defense = final damage)

The exact formula looks different from one game to the next. In some games, the attack is divided by defense, not subtracted, leading to different numbers. Sometimes, depending on the formula, zero damage can be done.

The difference between defense and magic defense is which attacks are reduced by which stat. This can lead to one character withstanding weapon attacks better than magic, while the opposite is true for another character.

Speed:

Usually, this changes turn order. The faster character goes first, and the slowest goes last. In some games, turn order is partially random. In other words, the faster character usually goes first, and the slowest usually goes last. Two characters with the same speed randomly act first instead. Speed may also impact accuracy, evasion, and sometimes the number of hits with certain attacks. This varies by game.

Evasion:

This doesn’t appear in every game. This reduces the odds that an oncoming attack will hit.

Accuracy:

This doesn’t appear in all games. This increases the odds the user’s attack will hit.

Critical:

This improves the odds of dealing extra damage when using certain attacks. Doesn’t appear in every game.

Luck:

May effect accuracy, evasion, critical chance, or reduce the odds of certain actions working on the character. Not used in every game. It is somewhat rare in modern games due to the vagueness of the term.

And that is a general explanation of each stat in RPGs. There is plenty more to discuss, so look forward to part 2 where I cover the actions that can be used in and RPG’s battle system.


This was the first part of the Anatomy of RPGs. What other stats have you seen in certain RPGs not covered here? How do they work? Was there anything confusing in this article that needs to be amended? What other systems have you seen in the genre? Let me know in this comments below!

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