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.