Lots of games have attributes, and they vary widely. D&D uses the familiar STR/DEX/CON/INT/WIS/CHA complex, GURPS uses ST/DX/IQ/HT, Basic Roleplaying uses STR/CON/SIZ/INT/POW/DEX/APP, Rolemaster has 10 attributes, and FUDGE has a list of dozens that the GM can choose from when building a campaign.
Generation methods are equally disparate. D&D has a number of methods, with the most popular probably being 3d6-in-order, 3d6-arranged, 4d6/drop 1-arranged, and point buy. GURPS uses point buy. BRP uses 3d6-in-order, although players get automatic 6's for one die in each of SIZ and INT. Rolemaster uses d% or point buy. FUDGE uses either 2d6 or a buy system of sorts. And in all systems, gaming groups everywhere have customized these methods.
Knowing only these things about a game - the attributes and their method of generation - tells players quite a bit about what to expect.
Attributes represent what the game considers to be the most important aspects of a character, and indicate what the rest of the mechanics will look like. For instance - compare a FUDGE game that uses Wit and Honor, to one that uses Fatigue and Sanity. The former might bring up imagery of swashbuckling samurai, and the latter might inspire Cthuluesque horror.
The game's method of generation tells you how balance-focused it is (point buy being the most balance-oriented), what the range of scores are (i.e., how important is each integral increase), and to some degree even what type of dice the system likes.
There are reasons beyond basic flavor for having certain numbers and ranges of attribute scores. Systems with random generation favor having more attributes, providing less chance of an "I'm good at everything" character being randomly rolled. Larger ranges of scores indicate that each individual point is worth less, whereas small random ranges imply that getting a +1 is a huge deal.
Dice synergy also factors in - 3d6 fits neatly inside a d20 and even averages the same as that d20. Such synergy is important to games like D&D.
Attributes in Phoenix
All creatures and characters in Phoenix are a combination of three master attributes: Body, Mind, and Soul. Each of these attributes has two primary attributes that make it up.
Represents overall fitness, constitution, and physical being.
Measures muscular power, stamina, and endurance.
Describes hand-eye coordination, reaction speed, reflexes, and balance.
Represents overall wits, awareness, and mental being.
Encompasses mental resilience, stubbornness, passion, dedication, persuasiveness, and perseverance.
Represents logic, memory, reasoning, and capability for learning quickly.
Represents overall essence, creativity, and spiritual being.
Details willingness to trust in concepts and senses without complete information or existential proof.
Quantifies consistency, self-control, training capacity, and ability to stay calm in stressful situations.
Attribute Generation in Phoenix
The six primary attributes - STR, DEX, WIL, INT, FAI, and DIS - are rolled randomly via 3d6 arrange-to-taste. Of course, like all d6 rolls in Phoenix, these dice can explode. This can produce some outrageous numbers, but each race has a maximum mortal limit for each attribute, usually between 15 and 25. These limits go up at the heroic and demigod tiers.
The three master attributes are the average of the primaries within; so BODY is an average of STR and DEX. Fractions are always rounded down in Phoenix.
All nine of these attributes are used at various times during play.
What this tells us
Phoenix likes exploding dice, and scores range between 3 and 25 - provided the character's race allows it (most attributes will be limited to 20). So, the scale at the mortal tier is not altogether different that other 3d6 games, albeit with a spike at the upper end. Looking at the complete odds on AnyDice, balance between characters is clearly not a priority, as witnessed by the significantly higher standard deviations for attributes in Phoenix.
This is deliberate - yell at me if you like, but I enjoy having a wide variety of characters. Homogeneous character populations bore me, and these days I run in fear from point-buy systems. That being said, there are rules for minimum acceptable characters should someone wish to examine re-rolling. And really, that's all up to the GM and the players to negotiate anyways, as in most systems.
I also believe that unlike some other systems, having lower scores is more playable in Phoenix. More on that another time!