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Nytehauq

Ever thought about how an RPG that...

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Has no classes, non-linear character progression, skill-based combat would function? I have been pondering such an RPG for awhile, anyone thought about classless and or level-less skill based RPGs? A game where the experience is worth more than the illusion of progress but progress still exists, where combat is dependant on the player and enhanced by the character, and characters are defined by skillsets and abilities not by premade "class" restrictions? I would explain more, but it is getting a little late. Any thoughts?

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Yep. I have a bit of an idea that I want to flesh out more for how to deal with a dynamic "class" system too.

I think it's valuable to reflect a player's style in their character rather than stereotyping them as "The Priest that must heal" or "The Warrior that must tank".

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Original post by Nytehauq
Has no classes, non-linear character progression, skill-based combat would function?

I have been pondering such an RPG for awhile, anyone thought about classless and or level-less skill based RPGs? A game where the experience is worth more than the illusion of progress but progress still exists, where combat is dependant on the player and enhanced by the character, and characters are defined by skillsets and abilities not by premade "class" restrictions?

I would explain more, but it is getting a little late. Any thoughts?


Old school Ultima Online (The MMO, not the CRPG) was very much like that...it's been forced down ever since UO:R further and further. I have the feeling they felt (and probably correctly) a grind MMO makes more money for a large corporation.

I'm in the process of designing my own RPG with that kind of advancement (skill importance kept to a minimum, class-less)...but the problem is it's not the only area I want to make unique so it'll be a long time before I get working on the actual game if ever.

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morrowind did this, though not very well as the skills were very unbalanced with some being essential and other skills that were equally difficult to increse were either useless or made redundant by another skill

The biggest thing i dont like about skill based systems is that usally half way through the game i end up restarting becouse the skill combination i chose when i started the game isnt working out, you shouldnt have to master the game before you've even started playing it.

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I've been thinking a lot about such a system, and I think I have a pretty good working of it... but I'm definitley not satisfied with it, and I don't really feel like posting it... also, it has to do with a FPSRPG... so... =]

(and I'm also tired and distracted... heh...)

Basically, though... it works like this:
The character has a basic set of stats; str, dex, int, const. These don't do much by themselves but increase HP and Stamina slightly. The big thing is they play int just about everything that you do with your character: run faster, use your weapon better, more accuracy, carry and use 'bigger' equipment... the like.

There's also a skill system that basically is areas you can 'learn' in. Sniping, demolitions, high calibur weapons, hand to hand, artilery... pretty much anything you DO learn about in the military... >.> You can re-train your guy, but it does take a little bit of time and investment. Training also determines what gear you can use in the specialized areas; you can't use what you don't know how to!

This way, how the character is built only determines the play style it works best with... the rest is in the hands of the player... ^.^

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I will play devil's advocate and ask "why would it be more fun without a level-based system"? My favorite aspect of the "old-school" RPGs (the best, in my opinion) is that they were level based. Not only that, but you had to level up. You had to spend a decent portion of your time doing a repetitive but kind of cool activity. And after you put all that work in, you got to see the benefit of it when you kicked something's ass that had previously taken your party out.

That was the best! So what would be the benefits of a non level-based system?

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Original post by FunkymunkySo what would be the benefits of a non level-based system?


1) Realism
2) Personal preference.

Those would be my quick answers. Granted, not everyone enjoys realism in their games, but this is something I strive for in my own games. Hence it is also personal preference. :)

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Original post by Funkymunky
I will play devil's advocate and ask "why would it be more fun without a level-based system"? My favorite aspect of the "old-school" RPGs (the best, in my opinion) is that they were level based. Not only that, but you had to level up. You had to spend a decent portion of your time doing a repetitive but kind of cool activity. And after you put all that work in, you got to see the benefit of it when you kicked something's ass that had previously taken your party out.

That was the best! So what would be the benefits of a non level-based system?


Because a decent number of people do *not* like them and therefore it could be a (more or less) untapped niche?

The only reason I ever played a level based RPG was RL friends playing it. And never for more than 4 months. It's just too boring and repetitive.

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I've seen strict level systems, totally lose skill systems, and everything in-between.

Some level based games with linear progression are Final Fantasy, Lufia, and Chrono Trigger. Nearly all console games. There are a lot, but not a lot of really good ones (IMO).

Most of my favorite (gameplay-wise) RPGs are level based with non-linear progression. Morrowind, Fallout, Deus Ex. Most PC RPGs seem to fit here.

Those that would consider GTA: SA an RPG could put it into the level-less and non-linear progression category.

My favorite RPG, Shadowrun for the Sega Genesis console, is completely level-less and non-linear. The experience and skill setup is very much like Fallout, except the pure level-less-ness. Players spend the experience itself, straight up, to increase their skills. Something like Morrowind's skill (not body attributes) system, except that the player chooses where the experience goes, regardless of actions performed to earn it. That's likely why they call it Karma instead of experience. To blur the line a little more. You're not performing activities to add to stats. You're performing activities to get a job done. Getting the job done gives you karma, and karma increases your abilities.

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Has no classes, non-linear character progression, skill-based combat would function?


Yes, actually alot of your Multi-User Dungeons evolved into using classless systems. While on the surface non-linear character progressions seem like a really great idea, it must be implemented very carefully. Otherwise you run into the chance of alienating both the casual gamer and the hardcore gamer. For instance the casual gamer likes simplicity through the use of a small learning curve. Without some sort of linear character progression a player will run into problems such as what Kaze mentioned about Morrowind. Now I am running on the assumption that you aspire for a system that is realistic. In which case I will explain how it may affect hardcore gamers shortly.

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Original post by FunkymunkySo what would be the benefits of a non level-based system?
1) Realism


First, I have to disagree with this statement. Our society is based on level distinctions. In martial arts you earn "levels" in the form of ranks. The military is ruled by levels. You can earn a level II Electrical Engineer Certification. Even your local hospital might have a level III trauma center. Therefore having levels in a video game are not unreasonable. Levels are a form of distinction that people crave and fiend for. This is especially true for the hardcore gamer. The hardcore gamer lives through distinction by examining the game rules and developing the best character possible. The end result though could be a very linear progression with small deviations because the hardcore gamer will go with what is proven. They will attempt to take the current trend and make it better by increasing intelligence by one point instead of constitution, for example.

I do agree there are better ways to go about character accomplishment in CRPGs, although for totally different reasons.

I feel that character levels in current CRPGs are static and stagnant. Levels are too restrictive in their use and undermine personal accomplishments. The achievement in level advancement can be so short lived due to the nature of grinding that you have only a few true levels and many false advancements. For example in World of Warcraft, the first 10 levels go by so fast that there is no real accomplishment. I believe level 20 is when you are able to start placing traits (It has been so long since I have played. This may be incorrect.) and you actually reach a point where real character development begins. Then level 40 you can get your mount assuming you have enough gold. This system works for World of Warcraft though because it appeals to both the casual and hard core gamers. I personally could only take small doses of it before I got bored.

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Original post by xevoxe
Levels are a form of distinction that people crave and fiend for. This is especially true for the hardcore gamer. The hardcore gamer lives through distinction by examining the game rules and developing the best character possible. The end result though could be a very linear progression with small deviations because the hardcore gamer will go with what is proven. They will attempt to take the current trend and make it better by increasing intelligence by one point instead of constitution, for example.

That's not true (the part in Italics) with decent systems, with moderate balancing. I recommend Fallout. Fans of that game have played through it about 15 times, each of those times using a different type of character. Try using a character with int < 3. You can't fully speak, so you have to use pure action rather than words to advance the game. Or if you go with charisma & int maxed out, you can nearly avoid all forms of action, and talk your way out of anything.

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Original post by xevoxe
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Original post by FunkymunkySo what would be the benefits of a non level-based system?
1) Realism


First, I have to disagree with this statement. Our society is based on level distinctions.

I think MatrixCubed (not Funkymunky) was referring to linear progressive level systems. In the real world, you're not restricted to +4 str & +2 agi when reaching level 2. You could have reached that level of progression through any type of advancement. Morrowind's leveling system is much more realistic than Final Fantasy.

Although, personally, I don't think realism plays a very important role in leveling systems. When I'm playing, I don't care at all about how realistic a leveling system works. But a linear progression system is too simple for me.

I like systems that are detailed but easily discernable. Systems that make the rest of the game more fun, but at the same time, the game shouldn't need them to be fun. And from my experience, most bad and so-so RPGs failed to realize that the game minus the leveling still needs to be fun, and used their leveling system like a big duck-tape bandaid. And this, I believe, is where 'grinding' first became a negative gaming term.

Back in my day, grinding was fun.

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That's not true (the part in Italics) with decent systems, with moderate balancing. I recommend Fallout. Fans of that game have played through it about 15 times, each of those times using a different type of character.


I do not deny every system will fall into this realm; which is why I said it could be the result of the system. I must beg to differ on how easy you make it sound to avoid this.


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In the real world, you're not restricted to +4 str & +2 agi when reaching level 2.


You are and you are not. Which is why I feel that current level systems are backwards. In the real world the +4 str and +2 agi is what restricts you from obtaining level 3 in those things that deal with those aspects of life. Which is why I say current systems are restrictive and thus inherently change the focus of advancement from character action to player reaction.

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But a linear progression system is too simple for me.


This is just all about the player type that a game is focus towards. Granted you may dislike the system, but it doesn't make it a bad one.

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Concerning Level-Centricity

The concept of a "Role-Playing Game" as we know it was derived originally from table-top war games in the same spirit as Warhammer by Games Workshop. Basically, anachronistic folk took their little tin soldiers off the epic battlefield and threw them into dungeons reminiscent of the Mines of Moria or something. Instead of armies, they had small companies of explorers.

When handling bajillions of little tin soldiers, it was necessary to have quick-and-dirty representations of their general-purpose effectiveness on the battlefield. When handling a single such character at a time, just saying he was a "level 1" soldier was rather boring.

So beyond just the "level" of a character, RPG's incorporated other, more particular stats that would be applicable in the adventuring rather than the military sense.

It's stuck ever since.

The problem is that most RPG designers today have accepted the "level" as not just a representation of one's combat effectiveness, but as a natural force in the universe as implicitly tied to reality as gravity and electromagnetism.

Levels are a convenience invented by game designers as a means of representing how likely one character is to kill another. That is _LIKELIHOOD_ --- we're not dealing with absolutes. It should be possible (though less likely) for a level 1 character to be able to kill a level 3 character.

But, of course, people built up too many expectations for what, precisely, a "level" means and before long, the level was the center of everyone's existence. Your "level" determined how likely you were at wooing a barmaid in spite of the fact that you'd spent your entire existence smashing the heads of goblins. Who knows -- maybe all barmaids have a fetish for goblin viscera.

As a natural reaction to the way some designers have constructed the entirety of their consciousness around the "level" concept, some people think that levels are implicitly evil or unrealistic. This is not necessarily true. As I've said before, the level is supposed to be a means of representing what a character is capable of killing. Nothing more. It is not meant to be the grand apex of all the gameplay concepts --- and throwing it out entirely is not solving the problem; it's just becoming annoyed with symptoms of the real problem.

The way to correct the problem is simple: Use a character's "level" as a means of representing something pertinent to the gameplay. In most MMORPG's, a character's level is a sense of tenure: Reward for those who've sunk enough money into their accounts that the designers want them to feel rewarded. In the historic (I'm talking about pre-1980's) table-top strategic war games, it was a means of representing a soldier's aptitude at killing things and not being killed. In D&D, it's a perverse meta-fetish of analogies carried beyond their applicability and must be punished with every fiber of good game design left in our species.

When designing your game, I would encourage you to ask yourself the following questions:
- Do my characters do anything other than killing?
- If so, what other aspects of gameplay are there (theivery, diplomacy, a craft skill of some kind)
- If so, how do they relate back to the character's ability to kill? (Thieves can "backstab," diplomats can "negotiate" out of a fight, a master swordsmith can craft the ultimate weapon of destructy-doom)

If you understand the relationship that every skill has to killing, you are perfectly capable of adequately representing a character's "level" as a means of measuring how many basic monsters a character is likely to kill before being overwhelmed.

However, if you, like many game designers, implement avanues of gameplay completely unrelated to the core mechanic of choppin' off heads and yet still incist on using the "level-centric" RPG system design, chances are you need to rethink your design strategy.

To recap, levels are good at describing very specific things -- but they must be measurable inside the context of gameplay economics and mechanics. The problem with levels is not that they exist or are unrealistic but that most deisgners don't think about what a "level" actually means. Saying "My character is level 10" is like saying "I got eight billion points in Blastytron 2000 last night!" That doesn't mean anything unless people know exactly what those points represent, how hard they are to come by, and what the average maximum is in the first place.

So there it is. Ishepck's rant about "levels" for the day.

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Original post by xevoxe
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That's not true (the part in Italics) with decent systems, with moderate balancing. I recommend Fallout. Fans of that game have played through it about 15 times, each of those times using a different type of character.


I do not deny every system will fall into this realm; which is why I said it could be the result of the system. I must beg to differ on how easy you make it sound to avoid this.

That's why I said with decent balancing.

You need to give players more choices when it comes to solving problems. It's not an easy solution, but it is a simple one. The advantage is that your game, with more choices to solve problems, becomes a lot more interesting in the process.

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In the real world, you're not restricted to +4 str & +2 agi when reaching level 2.


You are and you are not. Which is why I feel that current level systems are backwards. In the real world the +4 str and +2 agi is what restricts you from obtaining level 3 in those things that deal with those aspects of life. Which is why I say current systems are restrictive and thus inherently change the focus of advancement from character action to player reaction.

If the level system is reversed as you suggest, it would become less about accomplishment, and more about acknowledgement & representation. I've always thought this is what should be done. The player would reach level 4 because he has become *that good*. Other players or AI can still acknowledge his abilities on that generic level scale, or they can look at his individual abilities for detail. But the fact that he's a "level 5 warrior" would be just for reference; level 5 wouldn't bring any new abilities when it is reached.

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But a linear progression system is too simple for me.

This is just all about the player type that a game is focus towards. Granted you may dislike the system, but it doesn't make it a bad one.

I thought I made that extremely clear by the 'me'. Just for the record, all of my statements, in all of my posts, are on a personal as-the-player just-me level. I need to put that into my signature.

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As KGodwin stated, the old school Ultima Online was probably the closest to what you are looking for. And Unlike Morrowind, and other skill based games such as it, while you are capped at the max skill, and thought, "Hey, I screwed up, why did I choose taxidermy over swords as my main skill?", you could always learn the new skill, while your old skill would lower.

There were no levels outside the skill & attribute levels. You didn't fight 800 rats with a sword, and suddenly notice you're 3x the magician you were 4 hours ago. You might have been better with a sword, you might even be stronger, but that was it. If you wanted to learn magic, you needed to practice magic. If you wanted to become stronger, you needed to use skills that used strength. Smarter, use skills that require intelligence.

Also, even if you were a grandmaster swordsman, that didn't mean you could kill a neophyte swordsman. Granted, he would miss more than you. But if he was stronger than you, and had more hp, and was faster, he could win. Or if he had a way to heal himself, and you didn't.

In a way, I was disappointed with UO. I admit, I loved it when it came out (and was probably a UO addict). But I didn't like what it became. And I had always thought that the original engine, and graphics, and sound, would have made an awesome single player experience. All they needed to do was add some AI and a story.

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A lot of single player RPG's and MMO's from the last few years are classless; in fact, I think on PCs, classless outnumbers classed. For example: Elder Scrolls (Daggerfall, Battlespire, Morrowind, Oblivion), Ultima (5? through 9, Online), Fallout (1, 2, Tactics), Vampire (Redemption, Bloodlines), Deus Ex (1 & 2), Arcanum, Arx Fatalis, and Eve Online, to name a few.

The only big-name classed RPGs still around are the Japan Console RPG's (Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, both of which include a lot of customizability in their more recent class incarnations), the D&D/D20 games (D&D Online, NWN, KotoR), World of Warcraft, and Everquest.

[Edited by - makeshiftwings on October 24, 2006 6:14:35 PM]

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Level-based RPGs exists because levels give players a sense of progression, a 'reward' for their effort in game (getting visibly stronger) and a way to gauge your character's power against other characters in the game (can I attack that group of monsters and survive?).

I think the main problem with level and classes in a RPG is the way it limits character development. Warriors should always tank, Priests must heal are what happened alot in most level based RPG.

Another problem is class limitation, you will see different 'builds' of certain classes (holy priests, shadow priests) I would much prefer the ability to build my character the way I wanted.

A good example of class less RPG will be Fallout, no classes just skill and stat based. You can make your character into the best sniper or the best merchant in the game, but even Fallout has a level system.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
in "elder scrolls 4", there are levels.
but, every skill has a level.

besides this, your overall level increases when a main skill level increases.

but i think, levels dont matter in oblivion, since all monsters get stronger when you reach a new level.
so you could level a lot. but what for ?
at some time, the enemys are harder because your equipment got relatively weak.
so youll spend the money you earned. its an endless circle.

i was bored very soon, they killed the "leveling" out of the game.
and there werent many things that were really fun to do.
the fun things were the quests, exploring the world and being a vampire.

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It of course depends on what are levels. If level 4 is demigod, then obviously majority of increases happens on skills.

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Some RPG games I've played that don't seem to have levels:

Zelda games:
Link gets his increased strength, abilities and life by collecting equipment (and heart pieces) Makes him an extreamely versitile character.

The Sims:
Sims don't really have 'classes' or roles. They get abiliies by training their skills and have some personalities and interests that effect how they work (though actually the Sims isn't tectnically an RPG, more of a simulation game. Still it is kind of neat).

Harvest Moon:
Main advancement comes from getting money to buy livestock and supplies. Though in Back to Nature the character can increase his skill with the different farm implements through use and by getting several special fruits he can increse his stamina bar to work for longer periods. Definatly not a combat oriented RPG though.

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Here's a clarification to throw the entire conversation off-keel:

When I said "skill based," I meant skill as in player ability, not learned character skills.

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Original post by Nytehauq
Here's a clarification to throw the entire conversation off-keel:

When I said "skill based," I meant skill as in player ability, not learned character skills.

The Legend of Zelda and Deus Ex are some of the few RPGs that are truly skill based. It's sad, really, because getting bigger stats is just an illusion of progress instead of true improved skill.

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Original post by JBourrie
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Original post by Nytehauq
Here's a clarification to throw the entire conversation off-keel:

When I said "skill based," I meant skill as in player ability, not learned character skills.

The Legend of Zelda and Deus Ex are some of the few RPGs that are truly skill based. It's sad, really, because getting bigger stats is just an illusion of progress instead of true improved skill.


Yes. Another example of a game (Although not an RPG) where there is character progression yet the gameplay is ultimately skill based is Devil May Cry 3. I'd like to do something more than that, a skill based game with character progression as important as the next RPG. The key is finding a system that allows players to customize their classless character and grow their character without devaluing combat due to itemization. It's no fun to be able to kill every enemy you come across instantly with your super powerful sword, but it's also not rewarding to die to basic enemies despite your powerful gear. I suppose the key would be to devise a system where there is a parity between gear and skill: beginning enemies would have low quality stats and would be relatively stupid: tougher enemies will slowly become more intelligent and acquire better statistics. Ideally, skill can make up for gear, but gear cannot make up for lack of skill. If you're very good at playing the game, you can progress quickly and fight more and more advanced enemies, and accordingly recieve gear rewards. If you're not so skilled, you can still get stuff, but you're going to have to actually work to learn and beat encounters in the same way as action games: there's no easy time-based way out. Now...how to implement such systems...

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Not to drift into the age-old argument on these boards about "the One True definition of RPG", but I think it's fairly clear that the most commnoly agreed upon definition, the one used by gaming press and developers, is that a video game RPG must include "stats" and built-in character advancement. A game that has other "rpg-ish" things like elves, swords, storyline, dialogue, etc., but is entirely based around player coordination (twitch) for combat resolution would not be considered an RPG by the majority. It would be called an adventure game, or a medieval FPS, or an action game, or an "action adventure game with RPG elelements".

Deus Ex and possibly Zelda are a good mix of stats, twitch, and story. Games like Castlevania and Metroid are a lot of twitch and story with some stats. Half Life has a lot of story and twitch but no stats. Games like The Longest Journey and Indigo Prophecy are mostly story with very litte twitch or stats. They're all similar in some ways, but most people wouldn't consider most of those games RPG's.

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