Continuum II – Basic Attributes

Since I’ve been asked for some more of the Continuum II stuff – and I’ve managed to get some of the old files disentangled and have edited out most of the corrupted parts – here’s the segment on the seven Basic Attributes.

Attributes are a simplified way of measuring a characters innate strengths and weaknesses, and are necessarily broad and general; while “Intellect” might be broken down into; memory, logic, mathematical ability, insight, education, and many other variant categories, it usually suffices to note a “base level” and handle subcategories elsewhere – if at all. Subcategories are rarely worth the trouble.

Continuum II games normally employ seven basic attributes and at least three optional attributes. The basic attributes are Intellect, Wisdom, Perception, Strength, Endurance, Dexterity, and Presence. They should be applicable in most settings. A partial list of optional attributes is given later, however individual game masters (and players) may have ideas of their own.

The “normal” range of human and near-human attributes extends from 0 to 21 – although values below three or over 18 represent exceptional extremes, usually indicating either a severe illness or disorder at the low end or special talents or training at the high end. Typical values are in the 7-12 range, however player characters are often exceptional in one way or the other.

Intellect measures the characters ability to acquire, recall, and logically manipulate, facts – including extrapolating them into the future to predict events. While these are arguably separate abilities, strength in one can counter weakness in another. Superior logic can get along with fewer facts, superior recall can compensate for learning slowly or trouble in coming up with original solutions – and being quick to learn can compensate for forgetting a lot or being slow to figure things out. “Intellect” also covers the extent of a characters background knowledge and is the primary influence (with longevity and educational efforts being strictly secondary) on the number of general skills he or she will have picked up during childhood. It does not cover creativity and originality. Intellect has a major impact on a characters scholarly abilities and determines the upper limit on the characters development of non-martial and non-psychic skills. Characters with extremely high levels of Intellect are best left as NPC’s, simply because it can become near-impossible to properly represent their capabilities without resorting to (roll) “well… he predicted that gambit some time ago, and has prepared a countermeasure…” – and that sort of thing tends to frustrate the players if overdone.

Wisdom is measures the characters ability to access the deeper levels of his or her soul – the buried memories and accumulated experience of prior lives (generally in the thousands or millions for any character with a reasonably Wisdom score). It thus measures psychic stability and will, judgement, “common sense”, and genre awareness, as well as the ability to assess the likely outcomes of various plans. Creativity is partially a function of Wisdom, since it may allow a character to “come up with” a solution drawn from some distant prior lifetime – but it does not cover true originality (although that is extremely rare in the multiverse). Practically, while “Intellect” may let you know all about why smoking is bad for you, it’s wisdom that helps you stop. Wisdom determines a characters basic psychic strength, his or her resistance to psychic attack, ability to develop psychic abilities, and resistance to the “detachment” resulting from a true death. (Dying is less stressful for those who are already in deeper contact with their soul – but do it too many times and you will still lose contact with your physical form and so will have to start over with a new birth). Characters with very high Wisdoms are prone to getting informed by the game master of the merits and flaws of their ideas and plans.

Perception measures just how likely a character is to notice things, a combination of sensory acuity, how much attention the character pays to his or her surroundings, and the ability to properly integrate that information. It should not be confused with intellect. Even very stupid animals can be extremely perceptive and alert. Perception modifies few other rolls, but is possibly the most often used attribute regardless. Perception also serves as a measurement of how sensitive a character is to obscure and arcane influences – including subtle social and behavioral cues. Given how often noticing something is critical to an adventurers success – or even survival – Perception is very handy. At transhuman levels it becomes an innate awareness of the state of the universe – allowing the character to sense cosmic disturbances, tell what is in a container without opening it, determine if they’re in a high radiation zone, and otherwise simply “know” things that he or she has no actual sensory method of finding out.

Strength measures a characters raw physical power and his or her ability to apply it effectively. Perhaps the easiest attribute to understand and measure, Strength is a vital factor in melee and primitive missile combat. It becomes less relevant with increasing technology. Strength is also the most obvious example of the differences between heroic and superheroic settings – as the dual column for “lifting capacity” clearly shows. In a Heroic setting things like leverage, ground support, the durability of your own bones, and many other factors limit a characters Strength in “realistic” ways. In a Mythic setting… Superman may indeed lift battleships, or Thor hoist up the Midgard Serpent or partially drain the seas with no worries about that being physically impossible. Yes, most characters are personally physically impossible – but in a Mythic setting the world beyond themselves also acknowledges their distortion of physical reality.

Endurance measures a characters personal resilience – his/her ability to sustain major efforts, resist damage, recover from injuries and fatigue, withstand toxins, and resist disease. Secondarily, it covers things like doing without rest, getting along on a lousy diet, and surviving exposure. Essentially, “Endurance” simply describes how well the characters body functions under stress. This is not, however, primarily a physical quantity once it begins to transcend normal physical levels. At that point it becomes a measure of a characters Percipient ability to override mere “reality” and insist on his or her own existence. With enough Endurance, there comes a point where characters can not merely withstand having their blood replaced with boiling lead or breathing fluoroantimonic acid. They can withstand things that should rip their atomic structure apart into subatomic particles. Endurance is the major reason why single mighty attacks are often less effective then a dozen far weaker ones: the dozen are more likely to convince a characters unconscious mind that he or she SHOULD be hurt.

Dexterity is a measure of coordination, fine control, reflexes, and reaction time – the speed and precision of the characters neuromuscular system. For characters who aren’t limited by low strength, it also determines their agility. As with Intellect, any deficiency in one aspect of dexterity can usually be compensated for by another – hence a composite rating will do for most purposes. Dexterity is a vital factor in the use of ranged weaponry and when doing precision and/or high-speed work. As usual in Continuum II, at high enough levels Dexterity is less a matter of mere physics and time than of perception and belief. It may make no sense for a character to see an incoming laser beam before it arrives, and then to dodge it, without catastrophic side effects – and even less to interrupt something that mere physics says has already happened – but with a high enough Dexterity, that sort of stunt is quite possible.

Presence measures the strength of a characters psychic aura – almost literally their “strength of personality”. It governs the ability to lead and sway others (although you can have great Presence without good ideas or planning skills), to bind spirits to yourself regardless of their nature (living henchmen, bound spirits, obedient sentient undead, and many other types of minions all fall into this category), and to command obedience in those with lesser abilities. On the personal side it measures a characters resistance to being swayed by emotions (including fear), their “strength of will”, and how strongly they hold to their convictions. Of course, while Presence alone does not make someone an effective leader, or convey skill in communicative, persuasive, or manipulative abilities, just as raw Strength does not necessarily include skill in using it to best effect, a high presence will usually get them a chance to try and makes attempts at using even the crudest of such skills far more likely to succeed.

While attributes have numerical values, they are also described by the terms given below. Hopefully this will serve to give everyone some “sense” of what the abstract values actually mean.

  • 00: Nonexistent. The character has no measurable degree of this quality.
  • 01: Abysmal. About as bad as it can get and still be there.
  • 02: Dreadful. Worse than your average infant.
  • 03: Horrible. Either a small animal or something is severely wrong.
  • 04: Pathetic. The sort of person you automatically move to help because it’s painful to watch.
  • 05: Feeble. They might be able to do it themselves, but it won’t be quick.
  • 06: Inept. You wince a bit, but wait to be asked to help.
  • 07-08: Poor. Clumsy, unexercised, or otherwise a bit below average.
  • 09-10: Average. Normal. Most people fall into this band for most of their attributes – enough so that you can just note any that are exceptionally good or bad and save a little work.
  • 11-12: Fair. Better than average, the ones who “show potential”.
  • 13: Good. A high school athlete or weightlifter, a truly talented child star.
  • 14: Superior. Measurably better than the vast majority of people.
  • 15: Noteworthy. The expert at something who you hire to lead teams.
  • 16: Remarkable. “Wow. That’s amazing. How can you do that?”
  • 17: Exceptional. One in thousands.
  • 18: Extraordinary. You wouldn’t have believed that a normal person could do that without seeing it.
  • 19: Marvelous. Something to be discussed, told in tales, and marveled at.
  • 20: Fantastic. Pretty much the maximum you’d credit for any human being.
  • 21: Incredible. Stuff that’s downright unbelievable. No one could do that!
  • 22: Prodigious. Beyond normal human limits. The stuff you hear about in stories but which no one can reproduce.
  • 23: Phenomenal. A unique event, beyond being credited save as the outcome of some hidden effect or enhancement.
  • 24: Stupendous. Something you probably wouldn’t believe if you saw it, such as Krakatoa exploding.
  • 25: Unearthly. On the cosmic level. Too much to be attributed to any force a mere planet can contain.
  • 26: Preternatural. Beyond the limits of what is permitted by mere laws of nature.
  • 27: Monstrous. Something that shreds the laws of nature. The Godzilla threshold.
  • 28: Unbelievable. No. That cannot possibly have happened. There must be another explanation.
  • 29: Legendary. Sure, maybe in a work of fiction. It could never really happen.
  • 30+: Mythic. The sort of thing that you can only attribute to divine intervention.

By current RPG standards the Continuum II rules were a little bit odd. The attributes – including social attributes – were all concrete, measurable things with physics-based explanations for how they worked – but they worked according to the rules of multiversal physics, as built up from the primordial concepts of Life, Death, Separation, and Sequence, rather than from something as trivial as the lower-level natural laws that had been imposed during the creation of any given setting.

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