Monday, March 8, 2010

Levels should grant more than improvement in combat

One thing that has always struck me in many level based roleplaying games is that going up level makes everyone better in combat. If we look at D&D (and going back to 2E in my case) I first remember noticing that even the wizard got the equivalent of a +1/3 to hit bonus per level. This meant leveling was primarily about combat when you got down to it, not because a character didn't get better at other non-combat things related to their class but because combat was the only thing ALL classes got better at. This also nudged the game to be more combat-centric, especially in regards to stealth. A 12th level thief may be an expert at stealth, but unless the party is all thieves it won't get fully utilized unless the game devolves into everyone else watching the thief do things (perhaps a magic user could get involved, but not a fighter).

Some push to remove all classes from being better at combat due to levelling, I personally dislike that. One of the reason its combat-centric is combat is something everyone can do. Removing that aspect so its as bad as other aspects is like noticing you have a flat tire on your bicycle and slashing the good tire so they match.

When I put in social conflict rules, I made sure that much as warriors gain a combat bonus the fastest yet everyone gains a combat bonus, so too would bards gain presence (social conflict bonus) the fastest but everyone would still gain some. This really helped shift focus (somewhat) from just combat as a metagame solution (the problem being giving everyone someone to do, even if its not the best solution in game). This has made me create a similar shift for stealth actions. A large number of stealth actions have been removed from the thief only section (sneaking and hiding for instance) to being available to everyone, using their stealth bonus. Everyone gains a stealth bonus (though thieves gain it faster) in much the same way as everyone gains a combat bonus. Early results seem to indicate this makes stealth solutions more viable without forcing everyone to be a thief multiclass.

I am really interested to see how much of the "constant combat" stereotype of RPG's may be based on the metagaming principle of ensuring everyone can participate. Ideally if we allow everyone to participate in every facet, then non-combat facets will see more light.


  1. I suppose you could go down the path some other RPG's have trodden, and make combat deadly at any level.

    I'm not sure what the solution is, to keep everyone engaged. The problem with any multi-player game is that if you have specialists, then everyone else has to wait while the specialist does their thing.

    Even combat can be a drag for the MU and thief characters, particularly at low levels.

    Not sure how you overcome this problem...

  2. Interesting how you are using a social conflict mechanism parallel to combat. I was thinking along similar lines, only I opted to take a step back and allow conflict for all the Attributes, which expands the magical options drastically and has loads of flavor at a relatively small cost. Once you figure out the basics like how to handle a Dex conflict, Con or Str, the other ones start to make more sense. At least that's the particular tree I've been barking up lately...

  3. 4e D&D solves this problem. Each classes' attack powers go up at the same rate (barring feats, magic items, etc.) Likewise, social skills and stealth all improve at the same rate. There will always be a difference, but the players will be in the same ballpark. You can usually challenge the lower ability characters without making it a slam-dunk for the higher level characters.

  4. That's not REALLY a solution though. Its like fixing the leaky roof in a garage by just tearing down the garage. There needs to be differences so that different people can shine, but it just needs to be a case where others can still participate.

    4e has a very different design philosophy so it doesn't really HAVE the same problems to solve, as it focuses less on simulationism and is more abstract. D&D 4e's class system is far less engrained mechanically as its very easy to simply play a class as a different class by renaming the abilities and keeping them the same mechanically.