I have an irrational dislike of dual-axis stats. By dual-axis, I mean any stat that applies twice to the same task in the game, such that effectiveness at the task basically increases as the square of the stat’s level: level 2 is four times as good as 1, level 3 is nine times, and so on. Ultimately, it feels inelegant to me in most cases, and often even feels like an unforeseen side effect created by the designer. Examples:

  • In Mage: the Ascension, Arete governs both the number of dice you roll to create magical (or magickal, depending on the edition) effects and limits the Spheres you use to create these effects. Arete 1 means you can only roll 1 die and create level 1 effects, Arete 2 means 2 dice and level 2 effects, and so on. The higher your Arete, the more successes you’re going to get on effects that are more powerful and versatile to begin with. It was rare for anyone not to raise their score as high as possible in character creation without intentionally wanting to play a weaker character.
  • In the Dresden Files RPG, a Wizard’s Conviction rating determines how much Mental Stress the caster will take from using Evocation magic, and the size of his or her Mental Stress damage track. Evoking deals Stress equal to the amount your spell’s power exceeded your Conviction. High Conviction also means you can take more and bigger Stress hits. Any player that plans to play a Wizard would, like in Mage, be intentionally playing a weaker character by not buying Conviction as high as possible in character creation.
  • In a non-magic related example, the new Warhammer Fantasy RPG uses a character’s Toughness rating as both bonus hit points and damage resistance. A character with Toughness 5 will take four fewer wounds per hit than a character with Toughness 1, and will be able to take four more total wounds. In this case, the effect is diluted somewhat by having additional resistance from armor and a large number of base hit points, but a player who expects to be in combat a lot is well advised to buy up Toughness.

As mentioned, my dislike of this effect is largely irrational, when the effect is deliberately created by the designer: sometimes, a system benefits from a stat being made significant by raising on a geometric rather than linear scale. What I don’t like, however, is when this is a hidden element of the system, such that all rules indications make it seem like the dual-axis stat is just as important as stats that raise on a linear progression. In games with such deceptively potent stats, newer players may not focus on the stat, and wind up with a character that’s significantly underpowered relative to the party, while experienced players may feel compelled to max out the stat during character generation even if they’d rather make a more diverse build.

Ultimately, I’d probably be mollified if games with such stats called out the difference in the game’s character creation text. If the stat was raised by a different method than the other stats (possibly even having a locked rating based on character type rather than consuming a variable amount of creation points), that would, in my mind, be a bonus. But, really, no matter how mollified I’d be, I’ll still have that pet peeve in the back of my mind that the system would be more elegant if the stat didn’t have to double-dip into the same rules element.

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