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SpittingTrashcan

Zero-Sum Advancement

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Good forum users, In a previous post on another topic I mentioned an idea which a reply post noted as interesting. I intend to elaborate on it here. The idea I mentioned, Zero-Sum Advancement, was an alternate system for character change and advancement over time in a role-playing game, particularly an MMORPG. In many current systems, as a character meets goals for advancement (the experience necessary to earn a level, or more esoteric qualifiers), that character becomes uniformly stronger in all aspects. Strength, skill, mystic or extranatural powers, techniques, and other statistics only increase as the character advances. The main difference between characters is the degree to which each statistic increases: fighting characters gain greater bonuses to physique, while mystics gain greater mental and supernatural powers, and so on. While this system will work passably well in single-player games, where the designer can increase the strength of the challenges to meet the strength of the characters, it suffers from a flaw which becomes particularly notable in multiplayer games. With uniform, unlimited advancement, more advanced characters quickly become as gods to new players. There is little to stop advanced players from doing as they please, as eventually they can destroy any fixed-strength safeguards to the laws of the land. When a fighter can slaughter a hundred guardsmen without breaking a sweat, what prevents him from robbing everyone he meets at sword/gunpoint? To counteract this, I propose Zero-Sum Advancement. It works basically like this. 1. A player directs his character to take various actions, during which the character gains experience in those sorts of actions. 2. When the character advances, changes are made to his statistics based on the type of actions he took. This could be periodically, when an experience landmark is reached, or continuously, in which case every action has an immediate effect on the character. The character gains in the statistics which govern the activities he engaged in. He also loses an equal amount in the statistics which govern the activities he did not engage in. 3. When a character advances, he also gains permanently in skill based on his actions. A practical example, to illustrate the process. Bob has his character spend all morning punching a tree. As a result, his character increases his Strength and Toughness. However, his character decreases his Wit and Charisma, as it requires neither cleverness nor a smooth tongue to punch a tree. His character also increases his skill in Punching. This method will hopefully prevent people from becoming too powerful: after all, one can only neglect a trait for so long before it dwindles to dangerous levels. It will still reward players who put in long hours of gameplay with increased skill prowess, but great skill will merely make them heroic, rather than godlike. The next question, I expect, is along the lines of "but how can you prevent the player from having his character spend unrealistic amounts of time training in skills, and become too powerful in that fashion?" The first part of the solution is to make skills not too powerful. The second part will be addressed in another post, at another time. My hands are tired, good people... You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

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Guest Anonymous Poster
quote:
Original post by SpittingTrashcan

A practical example, to illustrate the process. Bob has his character spend all morning punching a tree. As a result, his character increases his Strength and Toughness. However, his character decreases his Wit and Charisma, as it requires neither cleverness nor a smooth tongue to punch a tree. His character also increases his skill in Punching.

This method will hopefully prevent people from becoming too powerful: after all, one can only neglect a trait for so long before it dwindles to dangerous levels. It will still reward players who put in long hours of gameplay with increased skill prowess, but great skill will merely make them heroic, rather than godlike.




I think this is a really interesting idea and valiant effort, but truly what is preventing Bob''s character from being ultra-powerful and slaughtering hundreds of guards, even if he is dull and boorish?

Two possible ways I can think of to prevent characters from becoming god-like in power (if you would want to prevent such a thing -- you could always balance it with game-controlled deities that step in if you''re abusing your powers), would be to put a cap on the number of levels they can attain (the level being the least abstract way of denoting an increase in skill and ability).

In one role-playing game I used to play (pen and paper), this issue was dealt with in what I consider to be a clever way. It avoided the problems you have identified (ones I associate with a typical AD&D-based system where your hit points (i.e. endurance for punishment) grow and grow to god-like levels) by making hit points a function of your health and endurance scores. Unless these scores were changed (through the action of magic), your hit points did not grow by level. Other skills did...particularly those that you used. Combat skills (attacking and parrying) could not naturally reach levels higher than 95% (always leaving room for error) and anyone could fumble an attack if they rolled lower than a 5 percentile. So...this way even green characters had a fighting chance, and nobody ever got so powerful that they could march into a conflict without worry.

Also, a decent critical hit system meant that even a wimpy character could dispatch someone much more powerful with a lucky hit.

I think this was a good way of dealing with the problem you''ve described.

R.

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So you gain Strength and Toughness by punching a tree? Now you know why I dislike RPGs.

Don''t you think there are better, more logical methods of character advancement? In fact, there should be active discouragement of this sort of stupidity - say if the neighbors see you, you''ll lose a lot of Respect ("Did you hear that blockhead Bob was punching a tree?!")

Or you could, for example, require that such effort be carried out in a structured manner (punching a tree should give you nothing but bloody knuckles). The player could gain from lifting blocks of wood in a sustained pattern, but shouldn''t be able to do it for an infinite amount of time (I mean, whatever happened to Fatigue?)

Just some thoughts.

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This sounds like a good idea, but actually I believe that at the base level it is not different from any other existing system.

Under this system you can still power-up your skills *without* it being zero-sum. You can gain skill forever. So you propose that skills should not be all that important. How is that really different from just having stats (no distinction between skills and base stats) and just saying that stats shouldn''t be all that important?

The key question is how do you make skills or stats balanced if you can power them up forever, and this doesn''t change that question at all.

Why not make *everything* zero sum?

In my mind people have a very fuzzy idea of what they want out of MMORPG balance. Is the goal that a "level 1" character can stand up to a "level 100" character? If they *can* stand up, what exactly is the point of having levels? And what about the people who play to raise levels, what are they going to do instead?

Your basic idea makes sense I think in that you can move your character in the direction you want, rather than "grow" them in every direction. (There are "skill-based systems" but generally these eventually grow in every direction as well, it just takes longer) But you should go all the way and just say that you can *ONLY* move and that everything is zero-sum. That of course raises the question what do you do when you have moved your character to where you want them?

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I'm not sure this system is very unique. Doesn't Ultima Online have something where if skills arent used for a while they decrease? And I think Betrayal at Krondor (or was it Betrayal at Antara(good char mechanics btw)) used a skill and attribute system where individual stats would raise with use. I have to agree with Oluseyi about the need for Stamina/Fatigue. It will help eliminate a little abuse(not much but everything helps) of this system. And there is a need for valid ways of increasing stats, for a present or futuristic setting Gyms and such would be valid places to train.

Oh I just thought of the tree thing. If youre chopping down trees THAT would increase Strength right?

Edited by - TechnoHydra on November 19, 2001 10:33:44 PM

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Good forum users,

Looking over the posts so far I see a little clarification is in order.

1. The example given was specifically designed to be as simplistic as possible. Any game which gives you any significant edge from punching trees is probably a bad game on a design and balance level. However, look at actual martial arts training methods sometime... punching trees to increase knuckle toughness and endurance isn''t that far off base.

2. By Zero-sum I mean that one has a limited pool of ability allocated among one''s stats. As stats cannot decrease below a certain level, this effectively places a cap on increase as well.

3. Skills are the reason to "level build". An example (once again simplistic): any peasant can pick up his axe and swing it. If he''s a strong peasant he will swing it with great lethality. However, if he''s not skilled in using the axe in combat, he''ll have only one tactic: swing the axe at the guy. If he studies the methods of the great warriors, he will gain additional maneuvers which will allow him to best most untrained opponents. He''s also less likely to accidentally let go of the axe and chop his foot off. But even with these techniques he''d be hard pressed to deal with five untrained peasants with axes. Thus skilled characters are good, but not gods. Furthermore, skill progression is logarithmic: after a while, it takes a lot of work to get any better at swinging an axe.

4. Stats which usually fall by the wayside, such as charisma and intelligence and the like, usually fall by the wayside because the game focuses too heavily on combat. If the only way to make your way in the world is to fight, then everyone will tend to be strong even if it makes them uncouth and stupid. If one designs a game where non-combatants can use their non-combat stats to be just as successful as fighters, suddenly those stats start looking more attractive, and their loss less negligible. So this system is only really workable in the proper context.

5. Who wants to level build? Seriously, you and I both have better things to do. I''d like to see the RP brought back to RPG. But that''s a subject for another post.

6. If zero-sum advancement is already implemented in games, good for them. How well does it work?

You can''t have "civilization" without "civil".

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the problem with advancement is how artificial it is in games. i have played games where i pick up as many rocks as the character would carry, run around for a while (so the strength goes up), until the strength is maximized. then i''d throw all of the rocks, building my throwing skills...

try that in real life. it would take a long time to get any real benefit from the same repetitive action. so should it be in our games. if a person spends all afternoon punching a tree he should walk away with little more than a broken bloody fist and tired arms.

furthermore, a person cannot become infinitely strong or powerful. the body just would not be able to handle that kind fo stress. if you want to limit people abusing leveling systems, then i think the best way to do it is to limit the system (to a degree). Extend the time it takes to gain any benefit, and have a finite limit on what the person could do. Also, reduce the value of certain activities. A person may at first struggle in a gym to do a complete set with 50 pounds, but eventually it will become easier and easier, until it is trivial. If this were not the case we could all benchpress our pens and get the same benefit of a gym workout.

here is an idea: keep track of the effort exerted, averaged, in doing an activity, and let the benefit (or rewarded experience) be a function of that effort. If they spend all day doing something, but never spending much effort on it, they will get little benefit. Furthermore, since the effort is averaged, if at first they exert a great deal of effort but then very little over a long time, the great effort at the start will count for less and the overall result will still be less. If they stop the activity during ''the height of exertion'' they will get the most benefit, and also have spent a good deal less time on it.

<(o)>

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I, too, hate to "level up" in RPGs...an over used gameplay cliche

Here is an idea...that would still allow for godlike unlimited attributes some players like...but it would effectivly limit the exposer of such characters to others (makeing it undesireable to "level up" to that level)

just an example of a magic system:

lets say the ONLY way to gain magic points is by eating a certain rare fruit...when players first eat the fruit they get 100MP and can cast first level spells, however every hour after words they will lose 1% of thier hitpoints...in addition once MP are used to cast spells it is lost forever...the only way to regain more MP is by eating more of the fruit...and with each fruit you eat your power increases like so
*2ed fruit - get 200MP...cast 2ed level spells...lose 2% hitpoints per hour
*3rd frui - get 300MP...cast 3rd level spells...lose 3% HP each hour
and on and on...to
*99th fruit - get 9900 MP...cast 99th level spells...lose 99% HP per hour.
in this way the fruit is like a deadly drug addiction...players can get powerful very quickly...but at a price...and by makeing the fruit rare...the more powerful characters who are still alive will end up spending thier time hunting down the fruit...

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Again I would point you to Betrayal at Antara. The game gives you several different methods of fighting. Stab, Swing, Hack they are progressively harder to make contact with but the better you get the the easier it is to hit with a more powerful attack.

Actually Intel and Charisma are sometimes used in magic or other special skill systems which are used in combat. So they dont have to fall by the wayside.

On point number 5:
If you hope to make a game that appeals to a wide user base you probably(notice I only said probably) should be concerned with who wants to level build. Thats why you see it in so many games because a LOT of people like it. Making a great game design is one thing. Making a fun game can be very different.

6:
The ones I played worked good.

Id highly recommend studying the magic system used in Betrayal at Antara because of the way you learn spells. You actually have to spend real game time studying various combos of magic elements. You can also learn new fields from observing other spell casters. I cant really explain it all here but its worth the $10 at a EB or Software Etc.

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