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MadKeithV

What's with Stats - the Return (TM) (RPG)

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Well, after a nice little thread on RPGs somewhere in the depths of Game Programming ( RPG''s Everywhere ) I thought it was just about time to resurrect this age-old topic. The catalyst in this case is Neverwinter Nights, DnD 3E, and Kylotan''s assertion that we should (and must) be able to do better on our little CPU''s than what is currently being offered and thought up. I''ve got Neverwinter Nights. It''s the only game I''ve bought the past couple of years. I like playing it, but the ruleset underlying it (DnD 3E) irks me more than a little. Why adapt a Pen-and-paper ruleset onto a computer implementation? The way people around a table interact is so very different from the way a computer calculates things that it seems to be very counter-intuitive to do so... (I can see the point with Neverwinter Nights, somewhat, because of the Dungeon Master''s Tools, but still). So, an example pet peeve, and brought up by Kylotan in aforementioned thread: How come a character at "level 2" is twice as hardy, on average, as a character at "level 1"? You double hit points, that''s a HUGE increase relatively speaking. Why would being hit by a sword suddenly only be half as dangerous? They explain it by saying that hitpoints are not really a measure of the damage you can take, but rather a measure of how adept you are at not getting damaged in vital places by wriggling out of nasty situations etc. etc.. But that''s not a terribly gradual progression, is it? It''s in there because it''s easy. You get a certain number of "hit points" per "level", as a measure of your hardiness. Hey, that''s simple, even a half-wit half-orc like me can get my head around that... in a pen and paper game. But, there''s no need to keep it simple and illogical on a PC, the PC is much better at tracking huge numbers, floating point stats, 24-variable to-hit functions, etc etc. So my question is the following: How can we leverage the computing power of that little box under our desks to have computer-RPG systems that work, are entertaining, and make sense (whereas pen-and-paper seems to fall down at "making sense" )? People might not remember what you said, or what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.

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There are a couple of big advantages to using a system like the D&D 3rd edition rules.

1. Your players are familiar with them. (or at least the ones who have played P&P D&D) Even if they are not familiar, they can easily learn the rules, since they are relatively simple. People fear the unknown - a lot of players will tend to buy a game with rules and a game world they understand, rather than go with something unknown.

2. The ruleset is well playtested already. It might not be perfectly balanced, but it is not horribly unbalanced.

Are these good reasons? From a marketing point of view, yes. From a development point of view, yes (all that playtesting and balancing has already been done - saves a lot of time)

From a gameplay point of view, maybe not.

I don't know the 3rd Edition rules so well, but I am reasonably familiar with the 2nd Edition, and it is definitely NOT perfectly balanced. A player who is reasonably familiar with the rules can easily find and exploit the weaknesses, resulting in powermaxing characters and generally ruining the spirit of the game - which is really about playing an interesting character in an open ended story, not a competition to see who can exterminate the most goblins in the shortest possible time.

However, since most CRPG's seems to strongly focus on the goblin extermination theme, maybe using an existing, well known and possibly slightly flawed ruleset isn't such a bad idea...


[edited by - Sandman on July 24, 2002 9:40:27 AM]

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I can''t really answer your question, but rather state my opinion. I''ve been a pen-and-paper GM for several years, and I have always liked to make up new rules and systems. The problem, to me, was that the systems I''d like to use didn''t suit PnP games (I made them too complex), so making computer RPGs is really a relief for me...

To say it in another way:
You can gain a level every 30 minutes in a computer game, in a PnP that would ruin the gameplay because you would spend too much time rewriting your character sheet That is probably why the level difference is so great in D&D3, it should mean something.

Hmm... duh... I lost my point somewhere... Oh well, back to work.


My Stuff : [ Whispers in Akarra (online rpg) || L33T WAR (multiplayer game) || The Asteroid Menace (another game) ]

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quote:
Original post by Sandman
1. Your players are familiar with them. (or at least the ones who have played P&P D&D) Even if they are not familiar, they can easily learn the rules, since they are relatively simple. People fear the unknown - a lot of players will tend to buy a game with rules and a game world they understand, rather than go with something unknown.



One one hand, I can go with this - I know AD&D quite well, and it''s reassuring to see the classes and races you know so well reappear. It gives the world a feel without the game designer having done diddley squat except for picking a system. In that way it is useful.
Yet, on the other hand, why do players need to be familiar with the actual rules in a computer game? I mean the deep, underlying mathematical and statistical stuff that''s going on. "This helm will improve my chance of doing x points of damage by 10%". That''s one of the original points in the old "What''s with stats" thread that I tried to make as well - a lot of things need to be poured into formulae to be calculated, but the player need not see those formulae. All the player has to see is that he got a bit better at whacking goblins while standing on one hand wearing a pink scarf.

quote:
Original post by Sandman
2. The ruleset is well playtested already. It might not be perfectly balanced, but it is not horribly unbalanced.


I think this is very true, but again, my limited experience with 3E is that some of the simplifications they made to make it playable, also make it seem very contrived and illogical. With a human DM, maybe he can use some common sense or at least a consistent interpretation of some ambiguities, but a PC doesn''t have that option, it must do the thing that was programmed. (case in point: 1-hour discussion with one of my players on whether or not one could Cleave off of an Attack of Opportunity !! )

quote:
Original post by Sandman
However, since most CRPG''s seems to strongly focus on the goblin extermination theme, maybe using an existing, well known and possibly slightly flawed ruleset isn''t such a bad idea...



END GOBLIN GENOCIDE!




People might not remember what you said, or what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.

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quote:
But, there''s no need to keep it simple and illogical on a PC, the PC is much better at tracking huge numbers, floating point stats, 24-variable to-hit functions, etc etc.


Yes, but most players like to see the numbers. Also, if you make it "make sense" your characters wouldn''t last through the first battle. There''s a tradeoff between making sense and being entertaining. Having to roll up another character every 10 minutes would not be very entertaining. You have to pump up a character every level so they can take on bigger and more dangerous enemies. If a character got better only very gradually it would mean you be fighting pretty much the same type of enemies for a long time. It would just get easier to kill them. But if your character wasn''t getting stronger faster he would get wiped out trying to take on something stronger. At least that would be the case with the current crop of RPGs since they''re pretty much hack ''n slash. If you were able to plan battles and use strategy (ambushes, traps, etc) you could get away with a character not getting stronger quicker as they could take on tougher enemies and win.

The problem is that RPGs are probably the toughest type of game to write because of all the number crunching of stats, combat, etc. How long are you willing to spend writing a game to make it more logical and still make it fun for the player if they want to see the numbers getting crunched. That''s part of the fun of RPGs - fiddling with the numbers. If you take that away from the player by letting the PC handle it, you''ll lose a large portion of the RPG crowd.

I don''t believe there''s any easy answer. I personally like the 3rd ed. D&D rules. There''s some things I would change but overall it''s come a long way from the original. Bioware also did a pretty good job adapting it to the PC with NWN. The game is far from perfect but I enjoyed it and played all the way through it in about 2 weeks. Now I''m taking a stab at designing a module and getting into multiplayer. I''m not sure how anyone could top everything that''s in the game, other than fixing the bugs that people have come across and they''re doing that already.

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quote:
Original post by Machaira
Yes, but most players like to see the numbers. Also, if you make it "make sense" your characters wouldn't last through the first battle. There's a tradeoff between making sense and being entertaining.



I did not mean "real-world realism" by saying "making sense". I don't like real-world realism much anyway

What I meant was (among others) removing most of the blanket "this is an abstraction of so-and-so" statements, that turn out to be false anyway. Hitpoints abstract how good you are at avoiding that your critical parts get hit... then why is there also a dexterity modifier (which is more more "logical")? I've seen worse, I've seen games with both a "hit" check and a "damage" check, where if you fail either, you don't hurt the other guy at all.


quote:
Original post by Machaira
You have to pump up a character every level so they can take on bigger and more dangerous enemies.



This is something that has always irked me greatly in all forms of roleplaying... do you get tougher to kill the monsters, or do the monsters get tougher to challenge you? The actual challenge level doesn't really increase as the game progresses, you both have "bigger guns" - you can take more damage, the other deals more damage... so what has changed, really? The name on the little sheet that says what the monster is called, and the "awe of the populace at your immense prowess" which is usually limited to "YAY, you won, you saved us, you're our hero, no, you're not getting this magical longsword any cheaper because of it."

Then again, I'm told I'm a story-gamer, I like talking a lot in my games (pen-and-paper), I've played ridiculously under-powered characters because I thought it was fun. I'm thinking maybe it could be fun for other people too, if I can show them how.

quote:
Original post by Machaira
If a character got better only very gradually it would mean you be fighting pretty much the same type of enemies for a long time.



Yep. Didn't you ever wonder why the "mysterious mages" only sent in 8hp goblins to wipe out the academy in NWN? The very first encounter with them ruined my disbelief of the campaign. These are supposed to be powerful people in the academy... Well, maybe they underestimated you etc etc... but still... you always happen to NOT run across really lethal monsters if you're not ready for them, and that just doesn't feel right with me. I want to run into that zombie lord, and KNOW that if I don't manage to hide my sorry behind somewhere, I'm going to be toast I want those heavy cannons to be in there right from the start. I want to have to think to bring them down. I don't want to find myself suddenly at demi-god status because I happened to bring Foozle back his thingiemadjing and it granted me enough XP to go up 13 levels...

I want knowledge to be power in my games, and cooperation to be the way to bring the big guys down. Not any "amulet of protection vs. big guys that would have killed you otherwise."

quote:
Original post by Machaira
The problem is that RPGs are probably the toughest type of game to write because of all the number crunching of stats, combat, etc. How long are you willing to spend writing a game to make it more logical and still make it fun for the player if they want to see the numbers getting crunched.



I've been doing it for years, in pen-and-paper anyway... I just figured that my knowledge of programming and computer games might find some new insights into how the PC can be leveraged to do better than what's currently going on in the paper arena.


quote:
Original post by Machaira
I'm not sure how anyone could top everything that's in the game (note: Neverwinter Nights), other than fixing the bugs that people have come across and they're doing that already.


It still doesn't run on my laptop . But seriously, how could you NOT improve on the game concept, if you dropped the 3E rules altogether from the computer version? These rules were designed for completely different circumstances, for humans to parse... The computer has other strengths and weaknesses that we need to mine and avoid, in my opinion.



People might not remember what you said, or what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.


[edited by - MadKeithV on July 24, 2002 10:19:19 AM]

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MACHAIRA wrote:
quote:
At least that would be the case with the current crop of RPGs since they''re pretty much hack ''n slash. If you were able to plan battles and use strategy (ambushes, traps, etc) you could get away with a character not getting stronger quicker as they could take on tougher enemies and win.

I think that''s what it''s all about: in order to be able to use a different computer-rpg system, we need to change the way we think about those games, the way they function. We need to move away from the hack''n''slash and focus more on the roleplaying aspect. Not so much the ''I play a troubled bard with a terrible voice, unable to attract attention from the opposite sex'', but more in the way of ''Okay, there''s a patrol of four angry-looking [insert enemy] in front of us. Combat is only one of many options.''

So, let''s ask ourselves an important question (in order to be able to better answer the original question):

Do we want to keep combat somewhat the same, but just change the way the numbers work?

Or do we want to change the entire feel of the game as we''re changing the way the numbers work, finetuning each to the other?

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quote:
Original post by Silvermyst
We need to move away from the hack'n'slash and focus more on the roleplaying aspect. Not so much the 'I play a troubled bard with a terrible voice, unable to attract attention from the opposite sex', but more in the way of 'Okay, there's a patrol of four angry-looking [insert enemy] in front of us. Combat is only one of many options.'



The D&D ruleset is very much combat orientated. There is a fairly good reason for this - this is the part of the game that is most likely to cause controversy. People would rather think that their character is killed fairly, rather than just because the DM decided to kill it. (even though we know in real life that most DM's invent their dice rolls anyway )

With the non-combat side of things, pretty much anything goes. There is relatively little use (in the rules) for the characters int, wis and cha characteristics beyond the difference they make in combat (spell bonuses, save bonuses, reaction rolls etc)

A good player can take any random set of stats, and create an interesting and believable character out of them. A good DM can see he is doing a good job of playing his character, and reward him accordingly. However, all of this is left up to the DM - only the most basic rules exist for this sort of thing - and with good reason. It is hard to come up with a hard and fast set of rules for these things, it is easy to leave it up to the DM.

What you need to do is extend the rules to try and cover the other aspects of gameplay. Is there an algorithm that can objectively tell you how well the player is playing his character?

There is also an issue of progression. Generally, most RPG's involve a fair bit of fighting during the course of a story. A human DM can vary the amount of combat to suit his players' characters, but can the computer do this? Of course it can, but this requires a slightly different approach to the way CRPG storylines are written.

[edited by - Sandman on July 24, 2002 10:43:24 AM]

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quote:
Original post by Silvermyst
Or do we want to change the entire feel of the game as we''re changing the way the numbers work, finetuning each to the other?



This is what I''m aiming for - I believe firmly that the feel of a CRPG can be much more dynamic than it is now, by modifying the way it works completely.

Yes, I still want stats of a sort - I do not want to play Quake3, I want things that influence how good my character is with a sword without having to study swordplay or get to grips with a difficult user-interface. But I do think that it is possible to do this in a real-time game, with a lot of flow. I think "inertia" would be a large part of it, "inertia" when you are caught flat-footed, "inertia" recovering your weapon to a useable position after a swing... and getting better would mean your character''s inertia decreased.

I haven''t thought about this very thoroughly yet though, I posted this thread in a fit of madness I''ve got a few alternative ideas for skill progressions, how they relate to experience handouts, difficulty levels, etc... but they need to solidify in my mind still.

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quote:
Original post by MadKeithV
Yes, I still want stats of a sort - I do not want to play Quake3, I want things that influence how good my character is with a sword without having to study swordplay or get to grips with a difficult user-interface. But I do think that it is possible to do this in a real-time game, with a lot of flow. I think "inertia" would be a large part of it, "inertia" when you are caught flat-footed, "inertia" recovering your weapon to a useable position after a swing... and getting better would mean your character's inertia decreased.



I don't know if you meant it like that but the way you describe it still sounds somewhat combat-centric.

While adding a level of realism to way in which your swordsmanship improves, and the way in which combat is carried out might add a bit of eye candy and strategy to the combat side of things, it won't really change the game as a whole. People will still play hack and slash style, and still powermax their characters.

To be honest, I don't think the combat rules need to change. Sure, they may not be realistic, oversimplified and illogical etc, and there is no real reason why you shouldn't change them, but I don't think it will necessarily solve the problem. The problem is that P&P RPGs rely on a flexible and intelligent DM being able to adjust the game to the players, and reward them based on criteria not specifically covered by the combat rules, whereas CRPG's tend to have an inflexible storyline, and award experience ONLY according to the combat rules. There is relatively little experience to be had from talking to goblins (except in a few very rare scripted cases perhaps) whereas you can guarantee a small reward for hacking the little green bastard's head off on sight. And since you invariably need to gain experience in order to make any progress in the game, talking to the goblin is a waste of time.

In other words, to improve things you need to:

a) Change the way experience is gained, so that going on random murdering sprees is not the only way to gain experience

b) Make sure that progress can be made in the story without necessarily having a powerful character.


[edited by - Sandman on July 24, 2002 12:30:53 PM]

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