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Item superiority

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Is anyone aware of any role playing games successfully doing away with the cliche game item superiority hierarchy system? For example, no two items or weapons are of the same type where one is obviously better than the other. I'm wanting to employ a balanced system in my own project, where items of the same type are all measured against each other. One of a type may have more power, another more speed, another more stealth, etc, but all would be equally useful, and none would completely outshine another. Does anyone know of other games that have done this successfully? And what do you think about the general idea?

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I'm a huge fan of the idea. I hate, hate, hate the "loot table" philosophy of item attributes, with a line of swords that go along a continuum of increasingly impressive performance, even to the point where they boost the holder to 20x the combat ability without any good explanation.

I've never seen it done any other way, though.

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I think Diablo 2 and Asheron's Call are both known for having pretty good loot tables.

IMO the key is to have a lot of variables to work off of and a good number of scenarios or encounters for your players.

Some things that are commonly balanced against one another.

Damage versus defense

Efficiency versus power

regular versus random

Player skill requirements. For example their ability to recognize a weakness in an enemy.

There are a large number of potential variables that are based off of the very basic act of trying to reduce the enemies HPs while maintaining your own. When I tried to create a loot table and an ability table I tried to list every variable used in such games I could think of.

Here is a good place to start if you can't think of variables.

http://guildwars.gameamp.com/ampgw/viewGwSkills/0.php!class=6

http://www.battle.net/diablo2exp/items/

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You might want to try look at pencil and paper role playing games. For example, GURPS melee weapons and skills are realistically balanced against each other. Some weapons with higher damage can't be used to parry in a turn if you've attacked with them. Weapons like flails are harder to defend against than others, while some types of weapons are easier to defend with.

Even in munchkin friendly environments like third edition D&D, basic weapon types can be considered to be balanced against one another. More effective weapons tend to require more skill to wield in terms of the scale from simple to martial to exotic weapons. Weapons of the same proficiency level tend to do less damage if they have better critical chances. Two handed weapons do more damage, but you can't use a shield. Bludgeoning weapons tend to do less damage but you'll still want one around when you fight skeletons. In the Iron Heroes variant rules, there are additional categorizations like finesse and power that dictate what kinds of feats can be used with the weapons.

Of course, in real life, some weapons are obviously better than one another. While you can make arguments about speed, reach and balance of a rapier versus a flamberge; a letter opener is probably going to fair poorly compared to a KA-BAR. And an AK-47 is better in pretty much every conceivable aspect than a Charleville musket.

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Quote:
Original post by SiCrane
Of course, in real life, some weapons are obviously better than one another. While you can make arguments about speed, reach and balance of a rapier versus a flamberge; a letter opener is probably going to fair poorly compared to a KA-BAR. And an AK-47 is better in pretty much every conceivable aspect than a Charleville musket.

You're right. After giving it some more thought, there's probably no need to be strict with the concept going down-hill. There could be any number of generic, rusty, joke, or badly built weapons. It would be crazy to let the player pick up a broom stick and wield it as effectively as an iron mace.

I think the concept works as long as the majority of effective and useful weapons are balanced against each other, and there's not one or two best weapons of each type. Here are my own guidelines so far..

1) There needs to be at least 3-6 weapons at the top of each type category (sword, pistol, etc) that are equally effective in different ways, or for different character types.

2) When an item mostly outperforms another normal (non-joke, non-prop) item of its type, there should at least be some type of small negative change, such as overheating, bulkiness, or weight. The player should always need to give a little to gain a lot, so there is at least some trivial consideration.

3) Even though a few items may be better than others in many situations, weapons won't traverse a large hiarchy over the entire course of the game. So a weapon found near the middle of the game could be used to defeat the final boss.

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Table-top games like BattleTech seemed to have good trade-offs between all weapons and mechs. However, I can't think of any CRPG games that do this. Hmmm.

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The Fallout series is the only one that springs to my mind as having a decent balance between weapon types. While there were some weapon types that were strictly better than others (combat knife vs. standard knife, for example), most of the others still had their uses throughout the game. For example:
  • Melee weapons didn't use ammo, which was scarce and expensive. Melee weapons and hand-to-hand also tended to do more criticals than firearms, meaning you could cripple or disarm your opponent. The big downside was you needed to get to point blank range while being shot at, and some guns were extremely lethal at close ranges (like the minigun)
  • Standard firearms were relatively plentiful. Each type though needed its own ammo, which often meant you had to switch guns if your ammo was running low.
  • Fancy guns like energy weapons were rare and required investment in a different skill to use, but they tended to do more damage.
  • Heavy weapons would do a massive amount of damage, but were rare, expensive and, as the name suggests, extremely heavy; taking up valuable carry space. They also needed special training to use effectively
  • There was also different damage modifiers for different ammo types against different types of enemies, as is often done in RPGs

The main problem was that due to the skill system, it was usually best to invest in standard firearms as the most useful choice.

One thing I'd like to see in an RPG is to put the main reason to use weapons like quarterstaves and common knives; conspicuousness. A dagger can be concealed in clothing, while a broadsword cannot. A quarterstaff is just a stick and wouldn't be seen as nearly as much as a thread as a crossbow. I know I'd react differently to a person in normal clothes with no obvious weapons over a guy in heavy armour with enough pointy objects to rival a porcupine.

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I would have to agree with SiCrane. As a avid player of PnP RPG's I would have to say you will not find much more balance then that anywhere. Not only is GURPS good you can also look into D20 Modern, D&D, as well as Spycraft(more futuristic). Also don't forget to look into some D10 games like Legend of the Five Rings. L5R is notorious for item balance. The finest I have ever scene.

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Quote:
Original post by Trapper Zoid
The Fallout series is the only one that springs to my mind as having a decent balance between weapon types.

That's where most of my inspiration comes from. I just figured some other games would have done the same.

Quote:
The big downside was you needed to get to point blank range while being shot at, and some guns were extremely lethal at close ranges (like the minigun)

Fortunately, because the AI was a little thick and the game was tile based, you could usually lure them into a corner with you, then punch or kick or poke them in the eyes when they get there. I really loved that trick. Doesn't work so well on open space battlefields, though. Just need a lot of agility.

Quote:
The main problem was that due to the skill system, it was usually best to invest in standard firearms as the most useful choice.

I think that was mostly due to a balance issue between small guns and everything else through the beginning to middle of the game. If it were possible to find more (at least junky) energy weapons or cannons early on, it would have made a pretty big difference.

The way they lined up the progression of weapons to find or obtain made it seem like starting players shouldn't find heavy or energy weapons early on - as though it was to balance the game. That would have made sense if all ranged weapons used the same skill group. But since they didn't, players who wanted to specialize in the alternate weapon types had to suffer pretty severely near the beginning. I think a few less powerful energy weapons near the beginning would have helped a lot. Heck, they should have given you a laser pistol for a going-away present from Vault 13.

Quote:
One thing I'd like to see in an RPG is to put the main reason to use weapons like quarterstaves and common knives; conspicuousness. A dagger can be concealed in clothing, while a broadsword cannot. A quarterstaff is just a stick and wouldn't be seen as nearly as much as a thread as a crossbow. I know I'd react differently to a person in normal clothes with no obvious weapons over a guy in heavy armour with enough pointy objects to rival a porcupine.

That's one of the things I've worked into my system. Daggers and knives can be put into boots, armor gauntlets, belts, and coat pockets. Small pistols can be concealed in the back lining of some pants. All pistols and small SMGs can be concealed in a trenchcoat. Rifles, cannons, and most other large weapons are always in plain sight.

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without reading all the other replies:

you might consider a point-cap system (for lack of a better term). Say an item has three attributes: X, Y, Z. Each slides from 0-15 points. You have 15 points to "build" an item. It could be balanced with 5-5-5, or totally lopsided with 15-0-0.

That's totally fair. You could either offer it as a do-it-yourself system, or determine or hard-code the combinations available.

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