Rule of Four

I’m going to stick my neck out and say for any RPG system, four stats is pretty much the perfect number.

Eliphas Levi refers to the tetrad:

the first square and perfect number, the source of all numerical combinations and the principle of all forms.1


p>From the numerological point of view four represents the divine trinity married with humanity to produce an earthly presence.

Four is a number people can visualise and therefore understand. Four represents a balance of forces on two axes. Four seasons. Four elements. Four compass points.

There’s no problem with more attributes if that’s what you want, but don’t try to pretend the system is anything other than more of a game. D&D’s six attributes – and specifically the “holy trinity” of Strength, Dexterity and Constitution – have influenced RPG design ever since, all the way from Runequest and Traveller to Vampire and beyond. In the latter case there’s a “high art” RPG that pretends to a high level of emotional and narrative roleplaying, but is actually abnormally crunchy. I blame the stupid number of traits and their endless combinations.

Kudos to Spirit of the Century for coming up with a system with no attributes – although it has a high number of aspects in its place. I’ll write a more in-depth analysis soon.

  1. from Trancendental Magic, translated by Arthur Edward Waite