Action Oriented Progression – Part II

Since Brian Green will likely finish his levels theme with his own proposal soon and D^t already has presented his own ideas on the theme, I thought I’d drop in my own proposal. As I alluded in part I, the oversimplification of combat in the D&D/Diku level based tradition closes many avenues for gameplay and roleplay. Traditionally, the alternative to levels is skill based systems. Here, I’d like to propose my own variant on skill based systems; action orient progression.

Every action stands on its own as its own skill – By action here, I man every atomic action. A strike to the head is one action. A recovery to a stance is another.

Actions can be combined into combinations – And these combinations constitute their own virtual actions. Combining a feint and strike together into one action is such a virtual action. It can never be better than the skill of the individual actions, but the cleanliness and speed of the transition from feint to strike is a property of the combo. Karate’s katas are like this. Every individual move is its own action, yet many hours of practice are required for the ensemble to reach perfection.

Actions can have synergy – The feint and strike above are an example. Knowing one helps with the other. Obviously, knowing each helps training the combo and vice versa. Learning the combo allows the character to break it apart and use just the individual components.

Actions can have multiple levels of synergy – Combination moves have high degrees of synergy with their components. A fighting style as a whole (Karate, Italian school of swordsmanship, etc.) would have a lower level of synergy, but still much more than it has with basket weaving or mountain climbing.

Recognizing actions when performed by others is also a skill – An unskilled swordsman will telegraph his movements to a skilled observer and will not recognize the feint for what it is.

Actions improve with use – a sword swing might get faster, do a bit more damage and telegraph less.

Actions decay with misuse – Stop practicing your swordsmanship for six months and you’ll get rusty. You won’t lose it entirely, but you will get rusty.

Skill learning happens online. Skill improvement happens offline (EVE style) – You first learn a skill online. Your character perfects it with a mind number of practice rounds while you are offline. Actual play is the application of those skills, not the source of them. This would hopefully have the effect of being self balancing using market-like mechanisms. If a particular action, or school of actions is unusually effective, then many players will want to train them. This is the gold rush effect. Many characters being skilled at a particular action decreases its effectiveness (see the recognizing part above). This combines with atrophy in other skills to encourage characters to move on. This would create fads. If there is a large enough palette of actions, even within a domain such as swordsmanship or magic, no single character can master everything, there should be incentive to seek out and try new approaches, combinations, etc.

Lastly, we have the problem of button overload. Having every action accessible creates a tyranny of commands and pretty soon the UI would look like the cockpit of a fighter jet. This, combined with half second lags on PWs and a general unpopularity of manual combat suggest a need to NOT force the player into Tekken style button mashing. Neither Age of Conan nor D&D Online is very successful and both use manual attack controls. Which brings us to the last feature:

Conditional execution and branching of action combinations – This is a big one for the designer because he is explicitly allowing – no encouraging – the players to write macros/scripts. If I had an action combination that put my fighter into a defensive stance and then reacted “IF I see a strike; BLOCK it and KICK him in the gnards; RETURN to stance ”, I’d essentially be writing combat AI scripts for my character. You’d have to limit the complexity of player made scripts for performance reasons, but I think it opens up many new doors.

These things combined – if they worked out – would reduce grind, encourage inventive builds and player created content. And yeah, you could buid a newbie pole-arm fighter who could take on more experienced fighters with an inventive stance. I think it it is worth the experiment.

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About Dave

I’m a 38 year old American who has lived the past 9 years in Germany and India.
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5 Responses to Action Oriented Progression – Part II

  1. D^t says:

    You bring up a lot of important and interesting points. First having the developer implement a system of conditional series of abilities instead of relying on player made macros opens a whole can of strategic value. This would allow developers to dictate how involved macros can be while actively improving gameplay.

    Synergy of skills is already a major part of MMOs, but I like the direction your attacking it from. Skill families would have synergy, not just individual skills if I understand correctly. I can imagine if you learned water magic and wind magic, they would have a synergy bonus of ice based attacks, or something similar.

    My question for you though is, while I love the idea of decay (armor and skill) do you think it is fair to penalize the gamer for taking an extended break?

    -D^t

  2. Dave says:

    >Skill families would have synergy, not just individual skills if I understand correctly. I can imagine if you learned water magic and wind magic, they would have a synergy bonus of ice based attacks, or something similar.

    That is how I imagine it. This also creates templates for classes if players wish to use them – especially when starting out – without holding them to it as they gain knowledge of the rules system and start to experiment.

    > My question for you though is, while I love the idea of decay (armor and skill) do you think it is fair to penalize the gamer for taking an extended break?

    If you were using EVE style offline training and a player took an extended break, his character would still be training. There are EVE players who don’t often actually play, but just manage the training of their characters. What would atrophy are those skills that the player decides to stop putting his training investment into because he deems them worthless, they have gone out of fashion, wants to try something else, etc. The purpose of atrophy is to prevent characters from mastering everything and ensure an ebb and flow of skill preferences and that skills are most valuable at the times when their recent popularity is at an ebb.

  3. Michael says:

    I personally love the ability to program a fighting style (i.e. macro) and then charge my followers a fee for teaching it to them. It opens up real online training between people not affiliated with the world builder. This is the best of user built content since it would be built without it being a burden of work, more like a desire to do better. This can apply to new spells, crafts, the whole world. There are pitfalls, but the nice thing about a free market society is that things usually even out over the long term. This would make things pretty dynamic and exciting.

  4. Edward says:

    I like this idea a lot; it’s simple and intuitive.

    I don’t think a character who learns a combination action would always be able to break it apart and use the individual components — or at least not with nearly the same skill. If you focus on the combination, it may be much easier for you than its components, just as it may be easier for you to recite your entire Social Security Number than to recite the last four digits (or the middle four digits). If you’re used to driving from Point A to Point B every day, you may have to concentrate to drive only halfway to Point B; otherwise you’ll forget to stop and proceed to your usual destination. Similarly, it may actually be faster for you to draw and fire than to fire a revolver that is already in your hand.

    I think it’s important to distinguish between training and field use. Learning to pick pockets in an academy is well and good, but it’s not the same as picking pockets on the streets of Cairo. Theoretical knowledge needs to be consolidated by being used in the field. The flip side is that learning only in the field is much slower than learning in school, because there’s less opportunity to think and experiment. A combination of training and field use should be most effective.

    It may not be possible to come up with a single formula that applies to every action. Some skills are learned in different ways, and forgotten in different ways. It’s much easier to learn the crossbow than the sling. Learning the longbow is heavily dependent on your strength. You’re likely to forget how to tie knots faster than you forget how to ride a bike. I’m not sure about this, though; it would probably require some experimentation while devising a ruleset to come up with the best approach.

    An action-based system also makes it possible to pick up bad habits. If you develop a bad golf swing, you may have a high level of skill in an action that doesn’t work very well.

    • Dave says:

      >An action-based system also makes it possible to pick up bad habits. If you develop a bad golf swing, you may have a high level of skill in an action that doesn’t work very well.

      Now this is an interesting idea. One of the reasons we “cap” our skills in real life is due to bad habits; and all of the experience in the world can’t fix that. Only a skilled instructor carefully observing us and setting us straight can do it. One way to do this might be to have proxy actions. These are sub-optimal variants that are stand in proxies for the desired action. The player would get feedback indicating that the desired action’s level is X, but this is a mask and they would be unaware that a sub-optimal proxy. Only a skilled observer would see it.

      This would make a highly specialized trainer a viable “crafter” career.

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