Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thinking about skills

During the past two days I have been thinking a bit more about the skill system in ADOM II. Personally I'm mostly pretty happy with it (although it still seems to be a bit too easy to get very high skill levels early on) but I have the nagging feeling that skills should be handled differently during character generation (where skill selection probably is the part that currently differs most fro ADOM). Here are some questions for which I'd like to have feedback:

  • Should it be at all possible to distribute skill points during character generation? While I believed that to be a great thing for customization it surely is a quite involved process with all the points and skills? Alternatively the game might use your skill points to automatically distribute them to skills governed by race and profession choice so that you only need to care about this detail after gaining a level.
  • Should all skills be available right away from the start? In ADOM you had a more limited selection of skills. Again the initially available set of skills could be made up from the favored skills of race and profession plus some basic ones. Others would have to be learned from trainers, scrolls, by learning different professions, etc.
One player suggested that it would be nice if the game memorized your skill selection for a specific race-profession-combination and would allow you to re-use it. I generally like that idea but it's rather difficult to implement as different characters have different starting skill point numbers - thus I'd lie to delay this implementation issue to a later point.

These thoughts are parts of the "how to introduce new players more easily to the game" ideas I am pondering... although a tutorial game will be the most important thing in that respect (I guess).


  1. Personally, I feel like the skill system in ADOM II actually gives too much flexibility. Give any character the ability to use any skills they want and suddenly races and classes have a lot less meaning. Not to say that you have to make it identical to ADOM's skill system, but the current system is a big turnoff for me personally.

    As a side note: Thomas, you're the man. Thanks for creating such amazing games :)

  2. I think it should be possible to spend skill points during generation. I like being able to customize my character during creation. Having the game distribute my skill points would give me less control over my character, something I'd find frustrating. That said, perhaps you could include the option to auto-assign skill points (initially and maybe on level-up too) for newer players?

    I don't mind the orniginal ADOM system of having the skills that are actually available depend on race/class though, or even some of the more specialized or powerful skills being only available through quests or trainers. Finding something like that can be a cool reward in-game and adds another way to progress your character besides just leveling up and finding gear.

  3. Selecting skill right after creating character is pure lottery. It would be much better to give every player some free skill points and let them asign it later after checking gear and stats in game. Dumping half of my points to two handed combat just to find out I'm starting with one weapon is a bit frustrating.

  4. I'd have to agree here; I like the limited skill selection system of ADOM, it gives a sense of "Yeah, you CAN become the most all-round badass ninja-berzerker-sniper-pope-magician of all time, but son; you will have to work for it."

    Also, what you said about skill points is interesting. What would happen if multiclassing and such not only gave you different classes and such, but also levels certain skills depending on what classes you pick? Example: You start out as a Healer getting skill levels in First Aid, Healing, Herbalism, Literacy, Alertness, Concentration, Cooking and Find Weakness (ADOM example), with some randomness to it. When you level up and pick a class to level, you level the same skills unless you pick another class but you also get a limited amount of skill points to distribute as you see fit (between the skills available to you, in the case that you go with the limited selection option).

  5. I think it's nice that the skill selection is unlimited as long as skills unrelated to the profession you're getting levels in are much more expensive than those related. That is, if I'm levelling up as a Tinker I should be able to get a point in Construction for a cost of 2 while a point in Two Weapon Fighting could be worth 10 or so. I think that's enough.

    As for not selecting skills at all on character creation, I think choices during character creations are nice, and most of us old-school RPG players like them. But the perfect balance to please everyone is to allow skill selection, but also have an option to skip it and let the game select skills by default. This has been used in many successful RPG's and is great IMHO.

  6. I think you should already start with some skill points already spent in specific race/class skills. But you shouldn't be able to have choose all the skills, i mean, imagine a gray elf mage with metalurgy... Oh and some skills should only be avaible if some stats match. like only having smithing if character starts with >/= 11 strenght.

    It also would be interisting to have some better skills according to the PC past life.

  7. I think not having all skills immediately at the start is probably a good thing. Looking at ADOM I for comparison, I think it gave certain races/classes a huge amount of flavour depending on whether they started with Healing, Herbalism, or Literacy, for example.

    I'm not sure how this system would mesh with multi-class though. Would an illiterate barbarian become literate if he took a level in Wizard? Maybe you could have it that every Nth level in a second class, you get a new skill in that class' skillset?

    I think having a "choose for me" option for distributing at creation would be an acceptable way to go.

  8. It's a bit too early to say, honestly. Mainly, because a lot of the skills aren't (fully) implemented and neither are a lot of the profession features, so it's hard to judge how they balance against one another in practice.

    There are two basic questions here that are conflated - 1) do you want to make choices "for" the player, and 2) do you want to restrict the available universe of choices. Similar but not the same thing.

    Regarding making choices "for" the player:
    My only current gripe with the skill system is that it gives players an incentive to save or bank skill points and spend them after you've gained levels. Restricting player options in that sense might be good - unless it gave players an incentive to take profession levels in some weird order. Accounting is not fun.

    An option I'd actually-prefer would be to give each profession some fixed allotment of skill bonuses (which might be magnified by Learning score) and then give players an entirely distinct pool of skill points to spend. At character level 1 players get 0 skill points, just the bonuses for their profession (agree with other comments that roguelike chargen should be fast). In order to avoid making this an accounting issue for the *player*, the costs to get bonuses in skills for skill points don't change, and don't interact with the fixed profession bonuses. So a 4th level fighter gets Tactics = 4 + (however much bought), while a 4th level barbarian gets Tactics = 0 + (however much bought); but (however much bought) isn't cheaper for the fighter than for the barbarian.

    Regarding restricting overall choices:
    If players can't train "Athletics" until after they've brought the head of Count Sigismund to the village priest, then this just encourages people to bank skill points so they can buy a bunch of athletics after Sigismund is taken out. I don't like it, personally.

    That said, skills-as-rewards are doubleplus good, and some of the heavy lifting that used to be done by class features is going to be done by skills now, correct? So you have your Fighter:
    - you don't your Fighter to be as good as a Fighter/Thief just by shunting a bunch of skill points into thiefy skills.
    - you *do* want your Fighter to be able to join the thief's guild and get some of the thief advantages.
    - for your Fighter/Thief, you want the player to be able to join the thief's guild and do quests to get much better at thiefing.

    So rather than restricting skill choices, I think it's important to design what-the-skills-do so as not to stomp on the protected role of one or another profession. OTOH, the skills should still be useful; this is a difficult needle to thread, of course.

    My suggestion of order-of-preference would be:
    1st, make all the skills useful.
    2nd, make sure that the profession bonuses provided by each skill-heavy class (Craftsmen to craft skills, Thieves to stealthy skills, and so forth) are big enough that you always want them too.
    3rd, if you can manage 1st and 2nd both, then you can let people buy whatever skills they want.
    4th, if you can manage all the above, then include some guilds and societies which give players bonuses to the various skills, which they'll generally want because the skills are good.

    This way you'll have Wizards who take Smithing skills because Smithing is good - and they'll consider becoming Wizard/Craftsmen to boost the utility of their Smithing.

    But, again, this is an exceptionally hard needle to thread, in fact I don't think anyone has actually done it.

  9. My choice would be to auto-assign skills based on race and class, but then give the player one or maybe two free skills of their choosing.

    This would keep the flavour of the races and classes, while also allowing some customisation. No more "oh, I want to have $skill so I'm going to have to play as $race".

    It also makes sense from a roleplay perspective. There are skills that any dwarf would learn growing up, and skills that any aspiring assassin would learn, but there's also room for individual variation. Maybe my dwarven assassin grew up loving wild flowers and learned about gardening as well.

  10. Well, you could take a page from some games (Daggerfall comes to mind) and give the players multiple options. Start new character "fast gen" and "slow gen"

    The first one will be all defaults, pick race/class and go.

    The second one can allow players to assign skill points, attributes, and more. And really, one of the things that bothers me on chargen is the few things I can't control. I mean, I'm given some great options to choose race and class and assign skill points, but if I start off with a poor intelligence and get no skill points to assign - or a poor strength when I roll a fighter... I may as well just delete the character. Adding in the option of more versus less customization is essential for fun in an RPG like this.

  11. There was something that Gearhead did with starting skills that I liked. You could choose any skill to gain marks in, but the "class-specific" ones had a rank already. Additionally, those skills were still treated like they were at 0 in terms of cost, so if it took 50XP to go from rank 0 to 1 and 100XP to go from rank 1 to 2 (150XP total), it would take 50XP to go from 1 to 2 for the class-specific skills.

    The benefit of that system is that it only rewards you for choosing the "right" skills, but it doesn't harm you if you want to do something else. Of course, professions really only influenced your starting skills anyway, so you wouldn't pick one unless you had a particular skill set in mind to begin with.

  12. I don't know if this has been mentioned before, but the skill selection screen is a lot to digest right out of the door, and a bit of careful sorting and color coding might make things more manageable.

    1) It would be nice if skills would be sorted not only by alphabet, but rather by "Skills useful for my profession" or "Stuff I get a bonus on" so you can see what you've got already.

    2) Color coding for skill point cost. Cheap skills (or their cost only) in green, expensive ones in yellow, unavailable ones in dark greys.

    Make sort order a toggle either in the options or the config file, with a smart choice as the default.

    On the topic of "more vs. less customization": I would second a choice here. Let new players (or those in a hurry" pick from a skill package (think D&D 3E skill packages) relevant to their profession and distribute skill points meaningfully. Veterans can go for the "fully customizeable" approach and fiddle with each skill point.

    Having choice is good :)

    1. And while on the idea of sorting skills - maybe find a way a player can "tag" or "like" a skill he uses often and have that skill be put on the first page of the skills screen, so you get another way of sorting skills

      - liked/fav'ed
      - profession/race/bonus skill
      - alphabet

    2. Definitely second the idea of having different tabs to categorize skills would be *extremely* helpful.

      'Cus there is a lot of different skills to choose from, it would be nice to click on the class skills tab, or the sort from lowest to highest cost tab.

  13. While it would no doubt make the entire skills process more complicated, I think you could solve some of these problems by simply adopting a "price tag" system for skills, which can increase or decrease depending on your race, class, and what trainers you've visited.

    Let's use three skills from ADOM as an example, and assume that all skills have a base cost of 100 (and at each new level you're given 10x your current WIS in points you can spend):

    Music 100pts
    Mining 100pts
    and Metallurgy 100pts

    Now, if you're a dwarf, it makes sense that you get a bonus to skills that are dwarven, and penalized for skills that dwarves don't generally use. So when a Dwarven Archeologist is given skill points to spend, his screen might look a little like this:

    Music 120pts
    Mining 60pts
    and Metallurgy 80pts

    He gets bonuses to Mining and Metallurgy because of his race (and a penalty to Music) plus a second bonus to Mining because of his class.

    Meanwhile, a character playing as a Dwarven Bard would see this:

    Music 100pts
    Mining 80pts
    and Metallurgy 80pts

    Note that Music is now only costing them 100pts per skill level (with Skill Bonus essentially cancelling out Race Penalty), but a Human Bard could get it for 80pts (no Race Penalty + Skill Bonus) and an Elven Bard for 60pts (Race Bonus + Skill Bonus)

    What this would mean is that you **could** play as a Dwarven Barbarian troubadour healer, but you'd have to work *extra* hard at it, while not spending your points on skills that might actually keep you alive.

    Of course, the point system would also allow trainers to have more of a lasting impact (Say shaving 10pts off the price of a skill for apprentice level training, and 20pts for journeyman, or even 30 if you attain the level of master)

    Plus, you could also go the Fallout route and allow the player to select between 1 to 3 "tag" skills (or hobbies) at the time of character creation which get an automatic 5 to 10pt price bonus.

    Additionally, if you find yourself with certain skills which seem intrinsically more or less complicated than everything else, (I've often thought it was silly that it cost you the same number of points to study Swimming as it did Two Weapon Combat) you could adjust their base price accordingly.

    At any rate... I think it's a more flexible and "fair" system, though I suppose it may also be so "fair" that it encourages players to pretty much only study what their races/classes are good at, which could impact replayability.

    1. Oh, and to address the idea of whether all skills should be available at start. If you decide to use the point cost system I'd say *mostly* yes, since you could use the Race/Class penalty to keep them in check somewhat.

      For example, Orcs and Trolls should get a pretty massive penalty towards Literacy and Concentration, but not so much that you couldn't have an Orc or Troll learn how to read. (though they'd probably never be able to get them high enough to be effective spell casters)

      The only reason I say *maybe* is because there are a few skills (namely Necromancy and Alchemy) which seem like they should be class specific, and not really the sort of thing that a Farmer or Healer is likely to pick up along the way, even if it costs twice as much to learn as a normal skill.

  14. I made a RFE about skills in ADOM II some months ago:

    It suggests the same things as your blog post, and some others as well.

    I think limiting skill selection helps differentiate races and classes. If people want to select skills, maybe the commoner class could allow it. It could act as a jack-of-all-trades with some more freedom in building your character, while all other classes would be specialists.

  15. I'm happy with the exact same way ADOM 1 did it:

    - Starting skills determined by race/class (with maybe 1-2 extra skills randomly learnt as a character gen bonus)
    - Rare skills only available from special trainers/quests/luck

    Every single skill available at the start is quite overwhelming. Cutting the list down and turning others into quests/special events, or as something to learn from the mage guild/academy will make the start game less cluttered, while making the world more interesting and detailed.

  16. I liked the way ADOM I and OAngband did it, but lately I've been playing a lot of Crawl, and for all its problems I find it a lot more tolerable for some types of players.

    So I want to sometimes have all the skills available, and other times I don't want to spend time tweaking them.

    How about making it easy to find "trainers" who will take over controlling your skills for you so long as you're following their rules of conduct (i.e. a particular temple will help you become a priest of a particular goddess, but only if you adhere to THEIR reading of her rules). These trainers might give minor bonuses as well if their rules are particularly nasty, but by and large they're merely meant to make skills a little less onerous to people who don't want to juggle them.

    And for people who do want to juggle skills? Well, don't use the trainers whose rules of conduct include "we get to control all your skill points."


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  18. Personally I believe having all [or most] skills for any character is okay as long as skills do not work same way for all classes.

    think like Archery in ADOM gave different bonus for Archers and not Archers. Or you know having "perk" like stuff like Assassin with backstabing at 75 getting certain damage bonus on stabs and so on...

    In general that would allow free skill system [why on earth my healer should not be able to have hobby in archery if he wishes so] while sustaining individuality of classes.