[MUD-Dev] Moving away from the level based system

Travis Casey efindel at earthlink.net
Wed Dec 13 13:59:14 CET 2000

Monday, December 11, 2000, 5:44:05 PM, John Vanderbeck
<agathorn at cfl.rr.com> wrote:

> A common system of advancement, most likely born from D&D, is the
> level based system.

The rustling sound you hear is my restraining myself from commenting
on that "most likely".  :-)

> However, for many reasons to numerous to mention here, we are
> finding that this doesn't work well anymore.

> Other areas have been explored, such as a skill based system, but
> even that doesn't seem quite right.  I would like to present to you
> what I have in my designs, for your comment.

> On a personal note, I abhor level based and class based systems.
> They certainly have thier place, but ideally I think that all
> characters should start out exactly the same when they enter the
> world, and simply "grow" into whatever the player naturally plays.

A comment here -- class-based systems do make this pretty much
impossible, but there's nothing about that goal which conflicts with
having a level-based system -- you can have levels without having
D&D-style classes (or, for that matter, without having classes at
all).  See for example, D&D3 (which still has classes, but treats them
very differently from older versions), Fantasy Wargaming,
Bif!Bam!Pow!, and other paper RPGs.

> Levels are used a sort of stairway to power.  At each progressive
> step, your character is "X" amount more powerful.  It is a central
> part of the overall design in any level based system and dictates
> things such as when you can acquire and use skills, spells, or other
> abilities.  It also has an effect, usually indirectly, on stats.

> First let me define, in my view, what "level" means.

> Level: A single statistic used to measure a characters current power
> and overall skill

> In a level based system, you have one single statistic that defines
> the player's overall power.  What I propose in my design is to
> distribute that statistic of power. This is to some degree what a
> skill based, or skill tree, system does.  I however propose a more
> Attribute Base system.  Think about a bodybuilder.  At the start of
> his "career" he is just like the average person.  He however spends
> his time working to increase both his physical strength and stamina.
> He performs >skills< that have a direct affect on his >attributes<,
> wich in turn are a measure of his power.=20

Some paper RPGs have used an attribute-based system -- e.g.,
Dragonlance: Fifth Age and Marvel Superheroes.  Almost all of them,
however, have at least a rudimentary skill system, because many
activities simply don't fit an attribute-only model.

Bodybuilding is about the best example of an attribute-tied skill
there is; other skills are much harder to link to an attribute
directly.  Let's take a few examples:

Lockpicking -- All the manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination in
the world isn't going to let you pick a lock if you don't have the
*skill* of lockpicking; that is, the knowledge of how to pick a lock.
On the reverse side, though, an average person can become an excellent
picklock with that knowledge and a little practice.

Mathematics -- A genius who has never been taught or exposed to any
math beyond counting simply isn't going to be able to do a
differential calculus problem, while someone of average intelligence
who has been taught the methods will do it easily.

Blacksmithing -- A blacksmith needs to be strong, but strength alone
won't tell you how to tell when a piece of metal is at the proper
temperature, how to forge a good sword that will bend before it
breaks, or how to temper metal properly.

One way to prevent this from being a problem, while keeping an
attribute-based system, is to have binary skills -- skills that
characters either have or don't have.  Attribute ratings are used for
any roll involving the skill, but some things may simply be impossible
to do without the skill, or there may be a penalty applied to attempts
by unskilled characters.

(For that matter, you can go beyond binary skills by simply having
skill prerequisites -- for example, the RPG The Fantasy Trip, used
this sort of system, and had skills that had to be taken in sequence
such as "Horseman" and "Expert Horseman".)

Another note is that things that are traditionally skills can be made
into attributes.  For example, the Marvel Superheroes game has a
"Fighting" attribute which describes how good a character is at melee
combat.  This can work very well with skills which cover a broad area
(i.e., those that would be tied together strongly in a skill tree or
skill default system).

Some systems do this by adding another category to the traditional
"skills" and "attributes" -- aptitudes.  In this sort of system, broad
sets of skills are broken into a few aptitudes.  All characters have
ratings in all the aptitudes, which makes them like attributes, but
aptitudes cover things that attributes traditionally don't (such as
"mechanical aptitude"), and are often treated differently from
attributes by the game mechanics.

> Let me describe for you my current design for a "caster".  In a
> level based system, a caster's level would dictate how many spells
> he could have/cast, and what spells could be acquired.  Instead, in
> my design, this is distributed among several attributes wich for
> lack of better names are currently called: IQ, Energy Storage, and
> Energy Gathering.

[snip a bit]

> As a note, nearly all spells (with the special exception of a few)
> require that you have the "energy to cast" already stored.  There is
> nothing that says "You must be of 10th level to cast this spell".
> What is stated, is that in order to cast this spell you will have to
> be skilled enough to A) Store at least 10 points of energy, and B)
> Be skilled enough to maintain the spell.  Now maintaing the spell ,
> in this case, could be done two ways. Because the spell states it
> can be maintained from stored energy, you could simply accumulate
> alot of stored energy and then maintain it from that.  The other way
> to maintain the spell would be to be skilled enough to gather energy
> at a rate faster than 5 points per second.

This reminds me of the paper RPG Champions.  In it, characters have
Endurance which is used to power super-abilities, and also have a
Recovery rating, which governs how fast they get back Endurance
points.  The WitchCraft RPG also has a magic system which separates
ability to store energy from ability to gather energy; in it, most
characters can only gather energy at certain times and places, but
those with the proper advantage can gather it at any time.

> I'm not sure if any of this makes sense, i'm trying to show a
> snippet of a much larger over magic design (one that focuses heavily
> on managing your energy among spells), but let me try to illustrate
> with an example.

>   Character: Falyn Waylander IQ: 21 (rather high) Energy Storage: 11
>   (This would equate to the character being able to store roughly 23
>   points of energy) Energy Gathering: 8 (Equates to roughly being
>   able to gather energy at a rate of 3 points per second)

> As a side note, this character if translated to EverQuest's level
> system just to give scale, would be about level 12

> By looking at the numbers we see something interesting.  This
> character could cast the morph spell.  He is able to store enough
> initial energy to get the spell to cast.  He can't store a lot
> though, so most likely he would have to first accumulate the energy
> to cast.  This would take him about 2.5 seconds to do.  Once he
> casts the spell however, our character has an interesting situation.
> Yes he is powerful enough to >cast< the spell, but he will have a
> lot of trouble maintaining it.  He would not be able to maintain it
> by using external energy.  He simply can't gather it fast enough.
> What he can do is use internal energy, but not for long.  Assuming
> his <g> Batteries were full when he cast, he would be left with 13
> points of energy. Lets run a log:

>   Energy -> Time
>   23 -> Cast
>   13 -> Initial
>   11 -> 1 second
>   9 -> 2 seconds
>   7 -> 3 seconds
>   5 -> 4 seconds
>   3 -> 5 seconds
>   1 -> 6 seconds

> So we see that he could maintain the spell for a maximum of 6
> seconds.  Remember that he is still gatheringenergy as he is
> consuming it.

I think that this sort of idea can be combined with the idea of having
"spell programs" in an interesting way -- a spell such as a ward may
take very little energy from the caster when it is simply waiting for
something to happen, but suddenly take much more when it is activated.

Some other paper RPG systems vary energy recovery not per person, but
based on other circumstances, such as whether one is in a place of
power or not.  This idea could be combined with a system like you're

> I think that an approach like this, by not setting hard "levels" by
> using the characters attributes as a basis for power, would work
> well in the long run.  I have not however, worked it all out for
> non-casters. It may not work in that area.

I think it can certainly work, and can work for non-spell-casters as
well as for casters.

       |\      _,,,---,,_    Travis S. Casey  <efindel at earthlink.net>
 ZZzz  /,`.-'`'    -.  ;-;;,_   No one agrees with me.  Not even me.
      |,4-  ) )-,_..;\ (  `'-'
     '---''(_/--'  `-'\_)   

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