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Alternative To Equipment In Rpg

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I'm working on a martial arts rpg and having some trouble with equipment. The characters will fight with their hands/feet/head and wear things like monastic robes or run around shirtless. This seems to eliminate the need for weapons and armor.

 

However, there's a lot of positives to equipment I'm hesitant to lose. Loot is a powerful motivation for players. Balancing this shield against that one allows some on-the-fly customization. It's also another chance to personalize your character.

 

Can anyone think of alternatives to traditional weapons and armor in an rpg that can still fill the same sorts of role?

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Learning moves/stances/styles from enemies (i.e., being a "blue mage") is a great motivator similar to loot, that's also thematically appropriate for your game.  And to some extent stances are like equipment that you can change in the middle of battle: one gives you a defensive boost, one gives you longer reach, something like that.

 

Dieties and other supernatural helpers are possibilities, too.  (So long as you're not making these actual monks of an actual Earth religion.)  You can find new entities over the course of the game and change your worship occasionally.  Like you find an earth spirit at a big interesting rock, and if you switch to them, you get higher defense but can no longer jump.  That's equipment by another name.

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In a martial arts game I would expect to see characters finding scrolls of jutsu and ther types of internal improvement, like maybe you find a scroll with a calligraphic wise motto written on it and gain 10 chakra capacity or maybe if you complete a dungeon the big reward would be becoming the inheritor of some forgotten tradition, which would give you a permanent buff (like if you lose more that 20% of your HP at once, you glow purple and your MP fills to max, or like you are now immune to fire and can walk on lava if you want to do Zelda type advancement)

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Just equip materia onto each ab of your monk's six-pack.  :P 

You can collect and equip things that are purely "conceptual" - Paper Mario has you collecting and equiping 'badges', but you can easily use gems, rings, or even non-physical "essences".

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Jade Empire by Bioware did something like that. You literally were a shirtless (few male characters) or robe clad (everyone else and nearly all followers) monk type guy. Gems and fighting styles (weapons were considered styles too) were your 'equipment'. The gems were kinda rare though and the styles were more of customization/gameplay mechanic because most important styles (first weapon, first hand to hand, first magic, most important support) were given via plot and what could be bought or gotten via quests was less important.

 

You can see more about this here (but take it with a grain of salt, I can see few things that changed between the video and the game and wikipedia doesn't go into too much depth):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jade_Empire

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Thanks for all the feedback, it definitely refocused me on the right design questions.

 

I'm using a heavily Indian influence for the game, so I think I'm going to use mandalas as a equipment replacement and chakra as equipment slots. You find magical mandala, bring them back to home base and meditate on them, reforming the relevant chakra in its image.

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i personally always excluded to even use battle equipments at all, becouse it made the things too more complex also for the programmers and the players. in your practicular case, when the heros dont need to shoot kame hame has, and dont have such special abilities, it can work, becouse it can make the things easyer and simplier. 

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