Why I hate the Attribute Auction

Initial Cut by DaR


In my experience, hostile NPC interaction happens far more frequently than PC encounters. So the fact that your place in the auction of a couple people is far less interesting than the number of points (and thus your "overall position") compared to NPCs. Spending 44 instead of 40 to get first in Warfare is seriously unlikely to make a difference to anyone but the second and possibly third place characters. The Elders will have more, the minions will likely have less. And if they didn't, those extra four points proabably didn't make a difference anyhow.

Further, because your interactions with NPCs happen more frequently, you usually can't afford to not bid on attributes (or buy up). If you all are really conservative and first place in all the stats goes for no more than 10 points in a 100 point game, you'll all likely get whipped by the various NPCs and other threats. So you can't afford to not bid up to a certain level. Which leads to:

The bidding gap

Since you can't afford to lose to NPCS your initial bidding strategy has to include at least a minimum initial bid, to prevent you from getting frozen out by one player bidding high initially. This can be done simply to scare others off, or even to deliberately try and freeze out people who were planning to bid up incrementally, and it's very effective at doing that. If the initial bids for a group are 1,1,1,1,100, you can bet that the four 1s aren't going to be bidding up to 101, and now there's a 100 point gap in that attribute. It means that no one else is going to bid up. It means that no one else is going to buy up. And if you go strictly by the book, it means that it's extraordinarily unlikely anyone will be able to advance up to even tie first, let alone go ahead. That leaves 4 players stuck, unable to raise their abilities enough to effectively deal with NPCs. Oops.

This particular example is a little extreme, but the same idea applies on slight smaller scales. I've seen games that had initial bids like: 1,5,8,40,50. Assuming that also ends up the final bid, there's a 32 point gap between 2nd and 3rd, which is unlikely to ever be corssed reasonably during play.


Due to the uncertainy in initial bids, any group with reasonable intelligence (or previous experience in such auctions) will tend to create a very strict attribute budget for the auction and stick to it nearly religiously. I've seen at least 3 auctions where there were less than a handful of bid ups. For all 4 attributes auctions combined. Talk about boring. Why hold an auction at all, if no one is going to bid up?

Stat Inflation

Wujcik is guilty of this. By creating versions of the elders that could live in any game, he needed to give them auction 'bids' that would be high enough to make sure the elders were way up the scale as was appropriate. So attribute scores of 100 or 150 or 200 can be found. Well, most GMs will look at that and use those figures as guidlines for creating their own NPCs. So now the Elders and other NPCs have attributes ranging from 20s and 50s to 150s and 200s. So the players have their auction, and number 1 in an attribute happens to go for 25, which is quite respectable in a 100 point game. That means that the player who has spent a large fraction of his points on one attribute might be able to take on a couple of the lower ranked elder. And the higher ranked Elders, why they might have almost 10 times their points. Now the scale isn't linear, because these are auctions bids and thus places. So the GM can either figure out the rank for everyone, or just cheat and use it as a linear scale. So now Brand and Fiona are 5 or 10 times better than best PCs. And probably 20 or 30 times better than the average. No wonder people are scared of them. Not that the canon supports that being even remotely the case. Oh well.


The only real prize in these auctions is the first place. No other character can be better than you at that ability. Of course, NPCs can. Lots of them. All of them. So much for that. And what about advancement? Well, since you can theoretically only advance to the rung above you... wait, there is no rung above you. Even the ADRPG author admits that there's no clearly defined way for a 1st place to advance. Whoops. Maybe you can extend it up the ladder using NPC levels. Of course this might introduce one or more large Attribute Gaps (see above). Or you can just allow small increments for the 1st. Of course that increases any existing Gap between 1st and the lower players. Ooops. Well, let all characters go up incrementally. No more gaps. No more usefulness for any place but first now. Unless you can bypass first too. Then there's on use for places at all. Gee.


It's one thing to rip on the attribute auction. It's another to fix it. There's all sorts of things you can try. Maximum intial bids. (Say, no more that 10) Caps on bidding up. (No more than 5 above the previous bid) Letting the "ladder" include all the NPCs and inserting proxy bids for them. (majorly time consuming)

Or... you can just drop the attribute auction completely.

Gasp... you heretic!

Let players just buy the levels of attributes they think is appropriate with the points they have. Build your NPCs and set your Elder's stats the same way. Nice and easy.

But... but... auctions are fun

True enough. They are. So auction off something else.

Alternative Auctions