Would You Play This Game?

Inspired by the massive post on skill [point] based v. level based games over at Kreation’s Edge, here is the rough outline of a fantasy MMO character development system I’d like to see.   You still quest and seek to achieve goals, but there is no fungible XP.  Would you play this game?

Character Development

When you log in, you are presented with a character creation screen. You may choose a race/realm and a gender, then you may customize your appearance. Choose a name and you’re in-game. There are no class archetypes. You are Joe Average until you learn something.  

Character development (note, I don’t call it “advancement”) is based on the acquisition of skills points along two different continuua, each characterized by opposing “schools”: Physical Damage(PD)/Physical Mitigation(PM) and Arcane Damage(AD)/Arcane Mitigation(AM). (When I say “arcane mitigation,” I mean damage mitigation based on use of arcane skills, i.e., healing, buffing, shielding, cc.  Likewise, physical mitigation is being able to take a punch or three).  Here’s the idea with some basic archetypes placed for reference. continuua.jpg

To play a palladin like character, you would develop your PM (defense) and AM (healing) skills, but note, you can’t be both a priest and a warrior at the same time.

Various skills (which would require certain skill point allocations– more on that in a minute) are acquired in-game through a combination of study/training/quest reward as well as use. To use them, each would require a certain amount of skill points specced in one or more schools.  Collect them all you want a la a CCG or like LotRO’s traits, but you can only use a limited number of them.  I’ll call the allocation of acquired skill points in these schools your character’s “focus.”

While there would be no limitation on what you could learn or acquire over time (a la Eve Online skills), there is a natural tradeoff among skills along each continuum and an absolute maximum amount of skills or skill point allocation.  Basically, allocate your skill points in x,y coordinate fashion and that’s how your character will play.

This should avoid what I’ll call the pimp/gimp problem– Ultima’s Mage Tank or any number of horribly bad builds limited by poor irreversible early choices. You could be a tank or a melee dps machine, but not both. Likewise, you could be a warrior type with some type of magic wielding, but only at the expense of being a better warrior.

A quick example. To develop skills as a classic tank, you would strive to earn PM skill points through training questing, etc. Once learned, they are in your PM skill bank. But, each PM point you spec will reduce your PD spec. Likewise, as you increase AD, AM decreases. You don’t lose the skill points, but you can only use a limited number and focus in one school effectively negates focus in its opposite. Being an arcane scholar is incompatible with being a slavering brute. Put an absolute cap on all skills points and you can only blend the skills but not max them out. 

If you could only deploy 2 total skill points (just to keep it simple) you could put both only in PM, PD, AM or AD (“pure” builds) or one in several such as PM/AM, PD/AD, even one in PD and PM. No Mage Tanks here. And, skill points from a particular school are not fungible. In order to allocate them to any particular school, you have to have earned them doing something relevant to that school.  You want an AD focus, you have to earn it first.

Specialized skills would be acquired in context. Want to learn tank skills? Go study/quest/learn from a trainer that specializes in that. These could be available through quests or uniquely from trainers throughout the world the acquisition of which may require earning faction with that group (more on that later).

Advanced skills in any school would require an increasing amount of skill points allocated to the school in which that skill resides. Want to be able to use that 100 PM point skill? You have to spec at least 100 PM points to PM. Simple as that. Think of it as moving a slider from the left (away from PD) to the right (toward PM) with the limit of that range defined by the extent to which you’ve focused on that school.


As you continue to play the game and explore, you can redirect your efforts or combine previous efforts with new ones and reshape or respec your character over time.  Tired of playing a tank after 2 years?  Hit the books and become a mage.  Once you’ve acquired the knowledge in both schools, you can simply respec while in town to reallocate skill points between them and choose which skills you want to equip before you go adventuring.   I’m not sure whether there should be any penalty or cost to do this since you’ve “earned” the right to do so by acquiring both the skill points and the relevant skills.

With this system, there is no alt-itis.   Tank for your group?  No problem.  Want to solo along to advance your Monkish interests?  Also no problem.  To me this is consistent with a fantasy world where there are no archetypes. 

Avatar Response

As you focus on a school or particular school, your avatar will change in appearance. Training like a rogue? You’ll start looking like one. Studying the dark arts, your avatar will wither in physical stature, etc. Look around you in game and you’ll be able to identify (at least generally) what skills a character may be pursuing.  That big lug over there is probably a tank.  A useful immersive tool when there is no “class” label.

Use-based Skills

In addition to “focusing” on a particular school or schools, gaining proficiency in a weapon type, maneuver, etc. would allow you to gain enhancements while using that item. Use a one-handed sword, get better at using that. Substitute magical “disciplines” for names of weapons and you have the caster’s analog there too. Use pyrotechny, get better at pyrotechny…

Weapon and Armor Limitations

What you could use and wear would be based on your particular focus. If you’re 100% PM, you can wear plate, assuming you’ve learned how to fight in it. But, if you’re all caster, don’t expect to strap on a breast plate.

Likewise, if you’re physically strong enough to wield a two handed sword, go for it, but that will be impossible to do if you’re specced to be all caster. Same if you’re agile enough to use a bow proficiently.

Use a sword, get better as sword. Use a mace, get better at mace. How hard is that?

Faction based PvP

Start with at least 6 or 8 races/countries/kingdoms/species. For sake of simplicity, I’ll just call them realms. Certain realms will be enemies of other realms while neutral or friendly with others. Each realm would have at least one sworn enemy realm but otherwise, you can travel and adventure with any character of any realm.

But, its not all carebear either though.  Characters or NPCs of an enemy realm will see you as kill on sight and treat you accordingly. You can’t attack friendlies, but you can attack neutrals or enemies. However, by gaining faction with neutrals you can turn them in to friendlies. Of course, attacking neutrals will lose you faction with them as well and making friends of one neutral will likely alienate its sworn enemy… Group with folks friendly to your enemy faction you will get a temporary faction boost based on your group’s faction with that enemy. Of course, their faction will temporarily drop slightly since they’re associating with the like of you but it may prevent you from being killed in your enemy’s territory…

With skills in various schools acquired throughout the world from different trainers, players have incentive to explore and to adventure to earn faction with realms to gain access to their lore.

So, would you play this game?

9 thoughts on “Would You Play This Game?”

  1. just by looking on the skill development model this reminds me a LOT of ultima online with the skill system of the late 90s (97-99). i know you spoke of Ultimas Mage Tank but that was only prepatch possible. to become a good mage you had to have a set of required skills, e.g. if i remember correctly:magic, magic resistance, evaluate intelligence, meditation, wrestling etc… this system was even supported by the stats as you needed quite a lot of intelligence as a mage and dexterity as a fighter

    through the game you could totally switch these skills and become a rogue by dropping the mage skills and vice versa..

    I really like your idea on the Avatar Response, i can totally see that be one attracting point

  2. I too like the Avatar Response to where the avatar is shaped by the build. But if you can simply respec, upon learning/earning the points/abilities, then you’d go from a big lug to being a scrawny mage just by visiting a trainer. Would that hurt the immersion? Could Conan go Caster? Maybe a response by the avatar over a period of time to the respec. Going Conan to Caster, you’d get the abilities as soon as you respec, and then your Avatar would adjust over the course of a few days.

    All in all, though, it really sounds like it would interesting. The freedom of play would make it a winner.

  3. Yeah, I struggle with the timing of the respec issue too. The immersive part of me wants the metamorphosis to take some time even if both schools are fully learned. Makes sense that it should take time to make such a radical shift and that such changes in your physique would necessarily take time too.

    But, as a concession to game play, I’d hate to have to “migrate” from one spec to another over time. In Eve you can radically change your gameplay by switching ships and in WoW you can respec instantly for gold though your degrees of freedom are limited by your classes talent tree.

    Its a bit more of a challenge to have instantaneous berserker to fire mage transformation than say to go from Holy to Shadow priest or Retribution to Holy pally.

    However, if you buy into the mysticism of being able to be a master of multiple schools but only able to use some of those skills at any time, then your character has evolved into a being that is in effect a shape shifter not unlike a WoW druid– tank, dps, caster just one at a time…

  4. Hey this was a great blog. The only thing offhand I’d try to pursue is letting anytype use any weapon. Since you have the primary stat that they declared using the x,y position you already know they are no good at using the item. But I’d still like them get minor benefits from it- just not 100% benefits. I think Diablo I was like this where there was no artifical restriction but rather penalties. Its just nice to “feel” diverse and it makes perfect sense. Think about it in real life a “Mage” could surely put on heavy armor. But it would be so heavy, he’d have no room to carry other items, he’d be heavily encumbered (thus move slow and less agile), and fatigue way too fast.

    Next, what I find interesting your idea is very clsoe to what I had in mind whereas I’d allow a pure type to be stronger but yet- allow a hybrid be viable as well. You appear to make some combos outright impossible. Thus, you have filtered out the really gimped builds. I have seen such a system only presented once before but really I must admit this is great stuff.

    I will think on this system more, re-read, let it all soak. Perhaps return and post more in a few days if something us comes to me.

  5. I too like the Avatar Response to where the avatar is shaped by the build. But if you can simply respec, upon learning/earning the points/abilities, then you’d go from a big lug to being a scrawny mage just by visiting a trainer. Would that hurt the immersion? Could Conan go Caster?

    Well, if we want to be realistic then the respecs can only occur gradually over time or due to the efforts of the player to retrain their skills. So, for the roleplayers we could provide this immersion

    Now, for our casual gamers that just wanna have fun and play with game mechanics for PVP, Arenas, or what have you- we could charge them a fee to visit a trainer. Yes, it is not realistic at all. But at some point we usually decide on how “gamey” we want to be

    Yeah skill based systems does feel a bit too flexible sometimes but if we wanted we could limit the changes if we felt that respecs are too unrealistic. Like limit the changes within 25 points. Let’s look at World Of Warcraft how flexible are they really? A Tank is always a Tank. A Mage is always a Mage. So if we wanted to limit the changes within a certain threshold we could sure if we gave it thought

  6. I have always been a huge fan of skill based games and I could see myself playing this if it was fun.

    Respecs would be fun if they had little to no cost because I don’t like getting hit in the wallet because I didn’t have the time to scour forums for bad/good builds.

    I too like the avatar response and really would like to see something like this in-game now and not just because I’m wearing a new cowl or cloak. Hands get dirtied and arms get bruised, lets see some reflection of that maybe in the demeanor of the character.

    The combination of the avatar response and respecs is a tough one because you need to keep the fun in there but also give rewards to those who take the time to really develop their character or stick to a certain build. I would say by choosing to move to the extremities of the skill tree (i.e. Ranger, Guardian, Priest) you should be rewarded by having a more defined look to your character. If you go Jack-of-all-trades then you should have no changes as you are too well rounded. Going Raistlin to Caramon after a simple respec is not plausible. Maybe to keep it fun you revert to your original character creation look and over time you then take on the new look. Also, maybe because you are so advanced with your skills you can delve into new specialties faster allowing you to gain the change in look at an accelerated pace.

    Good post man.

  7. @brackish: “Hands get dirtied, and arms get bruised, lets see some reflection of that maybe in the demeanor of the character.”

    Which gives me another idea while we’re at it…(art asset developers may begin screaming now)… why not let armor durability be visually apparent? Even green/yellow/red paperdoll would probably be enough.

    Come back red paperdoll on all your armor and you’d actually look like you got hit by a train– dented, blasted breastplate, tattered robes, etc.

    @vajuras: Regarding weapon use (and armor use as well), I was working on another chart which rationalized their use as a function of a character’s current focus but it was getting a little complicated and would have made the post even longer…

    The notion was that if you focused your development solely on PM, you would have the strength and stamina to wear plate and heavy shield, but may lack the agility to effectively wield say a two hander or a bow for example.

    The same sort of rationalization would apply to weapon types and spell/magic item types as well. The further away from the physical realm you get, the less able you would be to use items that would require physical strength, agility or both. Going “off-axis” would reduce your ability to use items which required more of that attribute. You wouldn’t be prevented from learning it, but what you could use in any particular build out would be limited by the inherent nature of that build (e.g., no two handed axe wielding mages, etc.)

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