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Leveling without killing

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I'm doing a 2d action rpg; most of my inspiration comes from the newer 2d Castlevanias(SOTN). I'm trying to make sure the game mechanics allow for a robust and rich variety of actions. It occurred to me that non-damaging actions can get you past monsters or guards just fine but they aren't traditionally rewarded. One can cause pain or illusion to make monsters flee, use a distraction, sneak past, run past, trap or hinder the monsters temporarily, or any number of skills, but generally games of this type only give rewards of bigger stats for killing bigger and bigger things. I still prefer slashing and casting but these non-damaging skills and spells have their place in combat and I think they should "realistically" cost much much less than direct damage(compare the energy required to singe somebody's eyebrows vs sending a fireball up their ***). So the question is how can I dole out stat/level increases(player rewards) for surviving the game, regardless of how players choose to do so? I have some vague notion of tracking "defeats" rather than just kills, but it isn't entirely clear how to do that sort of thing(it's such an odd thing to realize there's a huge gaping hole in a genre you love). Ultimately, it is a matter of player progression. Typically, for the optimum challenge of progressing past a particular boss there is an implied function that maps player skill level to a necessary character level. Fall off that function and lower skill players quit because it's too hard and higher skill players quit because it's too easy. I'd say abandon stat leveling altogether but I like watching my character progress and if I did abandon stat leveling it becomes less an 'rpg' and more of an action game with a wide assortment of upgradeable equipment and weapons. Though Ratchet and Clank is popular, I only own one of theirs but all six rpg-ish Castlevanias. I'm not sure how to fit this in but a popular feature among more hardcore fans of Portrait of Ruin was to use Level Caps on subsequent playthroughs. That still implies leveling up is a part of the game though. Another, broader question, how does one balance grinding? If it takes too long, they stop, if it's too short, they do nothing but grind and make the game too easy.

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So the question is how can I dole out stat/level increases(player rewards) for surviving the game, regardless of how players choose to do so? I have some vague notion of tracking "defeats" rather than just kills, but it isn't entirely clear how to do that sort of thing(it's such an odd thing to realize there's a huge gaping hole in a genre you love).

If I understand your question then one potential way to do this is to have it by how much damage had been taken through the course of the level; maybe the amount of stealth used; perhaps even incorporating different paths to take that involve less killing or more strategy to not kill. Depending on your fighting mechanics, you could choose to immobilize characters vs. killing them. These are things that just popped in mind. I hope this somewhat answers your question.


Another, broader question, how does one balance grinding? If it takes too long, they stop, if it's too short, they do nothing but grind and make the game too easy.

From my perspective, grinding has always been based off boss levels or boss strength. So to me, if your enemy levels do not provide enough points to take on a boss at a decent time, then that will require grinding. If they provide too much, then players will spend time killing a bunch of enemies to make boss battles simpler. So I think it's a matter of balancing enemy experience in relation to a coming boss battle.

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Thanks for the reply. Perhaps one could 'tag' monsters or their could be some arbitrary flag in each room that one must reach in order to get exp and like you say, one mustn't take damage before or after getting it. Like someone who's so good at walking in the woods they win in capture-the-flag paintball but never actually shoot.
Perhaps every use of a particular skill would add exp to its own level and to the main character level so the character is gaining exp so long as the player is active and the rate of exp gain could be tied to how much pressure the player is under at that point.

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If you're doing it as a series of discrete levels, without free-roam, sandbox-type gameplay, then you can use map design to control these factors.

Like sirkibble2 said, have paths or areas that demand a certain play style. In Deus Ex, you'd get XP for killing a bunch of guards, but you could also hack the nearby terminal and open an access shaft to circumvent them. The game awarded XP for that, as well. Incorporate something like that, where killing the monsters awards you XP for butchery but also flags you as "indiscrete", so you don't get points for discretion after that part of the level.

At the beginning, this should be purely a matter of choice, but as you level up your character and choose specializations, some of the doors would begin to close to you. If you've been building up your stealth and deception skills, then the only way for you to get through the vampire senate will be to say, "Hey, it's the Goodyear Blimp!" and then dive through a manhole and pop up somewhere else. You just won't have the combat ability to take them all on. At the same time, if you're a many-armed fury of second death, clanking into the room in your consecrated plate mail of redemption and wielding the flail of nosferatu's bane, you can't do much except blast their elected representatives into ashes and say, "Parliament is dissolved... bitches."

Letting the player define their style as they learn to play, including a finite amount of XP potential per level, and making the styles an either/or proposition would take some careful balancing, but would ultimately let you preserve diverse gameplay and replay value without facilitating exploitable farming techniques.

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One idea would be to have all skills give exp upon success, both damage and non-damage abilities. The amount of exp gained be in relationship to the monster's level. To prevent constant spamming of non-damaging skills on enemies, you could institute diminishing returns for exp rewards until no exp is gained from doing anything to the enemy.

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Quote:
Original post by RolandofGilead
So the question is how can I dole out stat/level increases(player rewards) for surviving the game, regardless of how players choose to do so? I have some vague notion of tracking "defeats" rather than just kills, but it isn't entirely clear how to do that sort of thing(it's such an odd thing to realize there's a huge gaping hole in a genre you love).

Ultimately, it is a matter of player progression. Typically, for the optimum challenge of progressing past a particular boss there is an implied function that maps player skill level to a necessary character level. Fall off that function and lower skill players quit because it's too hard and higher skill players quit because it's too easy. I'd say abandon stat leveling altogether but I like watching my character progress and if I did abandon stat leveling it becomes less an 'rpg' and more of an action game with a wide assortment of upgradeable equipment and weapons. Though Ratchet and Clank is popular, I only own one of theirs but all six rpg-ish Castlevanias.


Upgrading equipment and weapons, if done by money collected from dead guys, is basically the same thing as increasing stats. Just a different type of "levelling", it wont solve your problem.

I think the most important question is: why do you feel that you need grinding in your game? Granted, grinding makes the game longer without extra content, but thats just a poor design imho. From top of my mind, two simple ways to combat both grinding and "you have to kill everything that moves" in free-roam environment (such as SOTN):

* Player levels up always after neuralising a boss (or a key character). Bosses are usually presented in a fixed order. Depending on your design the game will be much easier to balance and it doesn't matter how the player gets to boss, or how he neutralises it (talking boss out evil ways, killing it, hacking some robot to kill it etc).

* Player gets exp from completing a room for the first time/exploring the castle. Again it doesn't matter how the player gets through the room. This makes the "grinding" exploration based, with the player experiencing new content, instead of just entering/exiting the same room and killin everything.

Most importantly, I think you should give the player same exp reward no matter how the he solves the situation. Kill the bad guys, get 100 exp, talk them out of it, get 100 exp, sneak past them, get 100 exp. This way you can balance the game more easily and the player doesn't need to consider the exp gain when he makes the decision what to do.

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Thanks for the replies. I like the idea of exp gain for map coverage(both per boss and per premier entry).

I don't want to veer too far into the programming aspect, but I've said this many times, *how*. Giving exp after killing a monster is ridiculously easy to implement and think about, but I'm looking for a theory of non-killing exp gain. How do I know if an non damage ability has been used successfully in the first place?

Yes, I must reward the player(that's just an axiom for this particular discussion). What do I give them? There's an obvious corollary, but what are the problems with that approach? What happens when non direct damage abilities or stats reach the godlike proportions of the normal leveling process? Players become so stealthy they walk through walls :) ?

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..........................
I don't want to veer too far into the programming aspect, but I've said this many times, *how*.
..........................

I think was covered earlier; on success, award the experience. So for successfully talking the enemy down, award the experience for the *encounter*. Not experience given for a kill, but tie the experience to success on the encounter. That way, you can define success as a kill if you want to, or dialogue, or sneaking past.


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What happens when non direct damage abilities or stats reach the godlike proportions of the normal leveling process? Players become so stealthy they walk through walls :)
..........................

If you do not want your players to become so stealthy that they walk through walls, do not implement that feature into your system. Easy.

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In most pen-and-paper role-playing games I play, I tend to award experience based on player accomplishments. Being present and actually doing something, no matter what, brings in a constant flow of XP (about two XP per hour in Exalted, for instance). Doing extremely unusual and spectacular things also brings in additional XP (between one and two XP per impressive feat).

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One way of implementing "accomplishments" could be to only reward XP and progress for killing bosses, and only reward items for opening chests. That way, it doesn't matter if you kill the less important monsters. You can scare them away, sneak past them, or use brute force as you please.

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If you have never played Fallout, Fallout 2, or Planescape: Torment, I highly recommend you do so. These games have numerous methods to solve goals, all of them providing experience. But it's hard to explain it without oversimplifying, but basically you get most of your experience for solving problems, much less for mindlessly running around killing. Usually it winds up being either talking your way out of a problem or using force, but there were a few instances where you could use a disguise, bluff them, sneak around, etc. The only problem I see with this is that you have to be careful not to let them do one path for the points, then go back and do a different path for more, etc.

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Consider the EVE style? xp per time?

Or Discworld MUD uses a system of xp per time, that is then distributed into skills by choice - or you learn skills by using them.

Not sure how this would work in the context of your game, but they are both interesting concepts of "rewarding" non-killing.

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Look at how it's done in Pen & Paper RPG.

In scenarios such as "Key is in Boss ABC's pocket", you would be rewarded on the end result AND on how you did it

Somthing like :
warrior/soldier : got the key = XP, Boss ABC dead = more XP
thief : got the key = XP, Boss ABC alive = more XP
mage : got the key = XP, doesnt matter of boss is dead or alive, more XP - chances are he was killed with magic anyway...
priest : got the key = XP, use of cleric spells = more XP.
etc.

So, if you accomplish your mission you get XP, if you do it according to your character type you get more XP.

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Another system you might look at is the Elder Scrolls system where you level individual skills such as certain weapon expertise, acrobatics, stealth, security, etc. When a character is created they have certain skills that will contribute to an overall character level that raises HP and attribute points. People have created and completed a lot of the games with mostly non-combat characters.

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Upon mention of XP based on exploration one can look towards the Metroid series for inspiration in that area. One did not gain XP based upon exploration, but one had to explore to get stronger. I've played through all three Prime games, and exploration played a HUGE role in getting anything done. Powers-ups both optional and needed were littered throughout the entire game. The more one explored and solved puzzles, the stronger one got. So consider those games, and maybe take a few ideas from them.

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One option for giving XP awards based on stealth:

- Each enemy is worth X amount of Experience Points.
- If you shoot that enemy, you get those as Combat XP.
- If you make it to the end of the room/level that the enemy is in without that enemy ever knowing you exist you get those as Stealth XP.
- If you used a tranquilizer dart, you get a percentage of those as Combat XP and a percentage of those as Stealth XP.

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Play Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines.

In Bloodlines, you get exp by completing quests, how many enemies/friends/etc you kill during, after or before the quest does not matter at all. You also get extra experience for killing specific bosses, persuading a character to help you or do something, sneaking, etc.

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