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Old 11-30-2004, 08:46 AM   #1
KaVir
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Around a month ago I implemented a Talent system, primarily inspired by the D&D feats. It was only really intended to add a little flavour to characters, allowing people to better differentiate themselves from each other, but it's actually proved quite popular and so I've expanded it somewhat. However while doing so, I've come to realise that it would actually lend itself extremely well to an alternative way of supporting races.

The basic premise is very simple - unlike skills, each talent is a boolean, so you either have it or you don't. However each talent also has a series of requirements that must first be met (much like a skill web), so players don't get overwhelmed with a huge selection, nor can they just select the better talents without first fulfilling the requirements. Here's an example to give a better idea:

[code] --------------------------------[ IRON FISTS ]---------------------------------
Talent availability ; You already have this talent.
Method of purchase ; During gameplay or character creation.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Required stats ; Brawn 6+, Mettle 6+, Discipline 6+
Required skills ; Unarmed 75+
Required styles ; Crab 75+
Required talents ; Unarmed Mastery and Mind Over Matter
Banned talents ; None
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This talent improves your unarmed hand damage by +1 for each point of Brawn you
have (added as if it were a natural weapon bonus - but only for bare hands, not
for claws or when wearing gloves or gauntlets). It also allows you to block
melee attacks as if you were wearing bracers, and grants you a natural armour
of 25% on your hands and arms (stackable with Toughness and other armour in the
normal way).
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------[/quote]

Extending this to a race system could be done under the assumption that all characters are human, unless they specifically choose otherwise. Note that humans in D&D start with a free feat, so it could almost be said that D&D does this to a point already. However my suggestion is that races could be treated in exactly the same way - with requirements, banned talents, and so on. Of course such talents would only be selectable during character creation, but then so would various other talents (Ambidextrous, Dark Lineage, Twisted Upbringing, etc), so that's already being catered for.

For example you could say that an 'Elf' talent requires a strength of no more than 16 and an agility of at least 12. You could give them the requirement that they have the longbow and longsword skills at at least a certain level (reflecting their natural proficiency) and prevent them from also having one of the other racial talents (dwarf, halfling, etc). Elves could then receive certain special benefits such as bonuses to certain skills, night vision, extended lifespan, and so on. You could also provide drawbacks (weaker bones, less stamina, etc) if the benefits became too great, to help balance the race out.

Alternatively you might decide you want elves to be more powerful than the other races - in which case you could have an 'Elven Blood' talent which, on its own, would make you a half-elf. But buying that would then unlock the 'Elf' talent, allowing you to become a full elf. You could even add further options such as 'Wood Elf', 'High Elf', 'Drow', all of which would require you to first have 'Elf' (which, alone, would represent a standard type of elf rather than one of the rarer and more powerful bloodlines).

The same logic would of course extend to other races - so you could have 'Dwarf' (assumed to be a Hill Dwarf, perhaps receiving a bonus with axes and more hitpoints), which would then let you unlock 'Mountain Dwarf' (gaining additional mining and forging skills), etc.

You could even allow crossover races - perhaps a 'Dwelf' talent which requires you to have either the 'Dwarf' or 'Elven Blood' talent, and which then gives you a mixture of bonuses from both (or allows you to purchase some/all talents from either list).

You might then decide that some races were naturally weaker - a "Hobbit" or "Halfling" might simply receive some stealth and dexterity bonuses, but not have any further expansion talents available.

Additional racial abilities could also be handled through this. For example a 'fire breathing' talent available to a dragon-like race, or a 'forge mithril' which dwarves could learn, or an 'underground sense' which could only be developed by dwarves and gnomes. Other special conditions such as vampirism or lycanthropy could also be handled this way, without interfering with races in any way.

Obviously this would also mean that humans were the weakest of all, from a pure racial point of view - but it wouldn't matter because they'd also have more talents in other areas. Perhaps you've picked 'Elven Blood', 'Elf' and 'Drow', giving you bonuses in combat as well as a range of natural magical abilities - but for those three talent slots I could give my human Curved Sword Mastery, Assassin Training and Magically Gifted, allowing me to pretty much match you. Of course I'd be an exceptional human, while you'd be a standard drow, but balance-wise we'd be fairly well matched.

If you really dislike the idea of all humans being weaker, you could add 'High Man' (as per Lord of the Rings) or somesuch as another racial option, or you could have 'standard human' as a basic option and give each player one free racial talent (so that the more powerful races would still need to spend more points). A third option would be to make the initial racial talents free, but give them as many drawbacks as benefits.

The thing I like about this idea is that it makes races easier to balance (because you can break them down into smaller parts), while removing the requirement that all races be of equal power (something which often doesn't make sense from an RP perspective). It also makes humans just as viable as the other races, rather than being the jack-of-all-trades that never gets picked. Sure, the High Elves might be great mages - but so is a human who has spent those three talent slots on Magically Gifted, Channelling and Enhanced Spell Damage.

Such an approach is extremely simple to implement, but unfortunately it completely undermines the racial system used by every other mud I've seen, so I can't really see any mud converting across. However for a custom mud it could certainly prove an interesting avenue to explore. Unfortunately it's not something that really fits the theme of what I'm working on, but I thought I might share it anyway in case anyone else is interested or would like to comment.
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Old 12-03-2004, 06:28 AM   #2
 
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Have you considered implementing Flaws? Where flaws give you vulnerabilities but taking them allows you to spend more points on talents. They'd be optional but might be a nice addition.

For example, you might have a flaw like Fire vulnerability (player receives a +25% damage from fire attacks), and picking it costs you -10 points or -1 options, which has the effect of giving you 10 more points or 1 more option to pick. It would allows greater customization and gives those Gods with more talents some interesting Achille's heels.

I think point choice systems are the way to go, regardles of whether or not they are exposed directly to the players. If you can assign a 'reasonable' point value to a feature, skill, talent, flaw, stat, action, then it follows that one can calculate the difficulty of a related action, scenario, dungeon, area, new ability, or reward. It would make the design and analysis of features much easie as one might then be able automatically calculate a point value for a spell, item, area or critter submitted by a builder or player. And from that determine where or whether it's suitable for entry into the game, or the cost and duration of its creation for player driven items.

One could then design races by adding up all it's point values for extra skill, talents, stat bonuses, and charge the player N amount of points for choosing it.

Skill or talent packages or groups are another good feature. I think some of that was in Rom or Smaug. The primary game design benefit is an easier character creation process. The mistake I think some games made was in pricing them on a discount. Anway I ramble... ;-)

Balancing a game could be done by sampling player selection and preferences in creation or training, by observation, and corrected by tweaking the point values of the features. If point value dependencies are kept, the entire chain of dependencies of risk and reward could be updated instantly.

Obviously some features can't be balanced in this way and were probably misdesigned, misapplied or not well thought from the beginning and would have to be nerfed or removed. Nevertheless tracking those for the purposes of analysis of potential new features, as to not repeat them would be useful.

I wrote a rather lengthy piece on Mud Feature Analysis years ago. I'll have to dredge that up and post again. IIRC it was a higher level look at features in relation to gaming styles rather than the low level mechanics of assign point values.
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Old 12-03-2004, 07:45 AM   #3
KaVir
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Quote:
Originally Posted by
Have you considered implementing Flaws? Where flaws give you vulnerabilities but taking them allows you to spend more points on talents. They'd be optional but might be a nice addition.
I've thought about it, yes - one of the players suggested it - but I've not yet decided whether or not I want to take that route.

Quote:
Originally Posted by
For example, you might have a flaw like Fire vulnerability (player receives a +25% damage from fire attacks), and picking it costs you -10 points or -1 options, which has the effect of giving you 10 more points or 1 more option to pick. It would allows greater customization and gives those Gods with more talents some interesting Achille's heels.
True, but that could also be integrated into a regular talent. For example something like "Ice Born: Immunity to cold, but take +25% damage from fire. Banned talents: Fire Born."

Equally something like "Druidic Vows" might prevent you from using metal weapons or armour - but also grant you access to nature magic.

On the other hand, it could be argued that "Druidic Vows" is simply a prerequisite for purchasing "Nature Magic" (so in theory someone could take their druidic vows, but not be gifted with magic in return). The result would the equivilent of a free talent which had both a good and a bad side.

For races it could work either way, but I was thinking more along the lines of having each race as a highly specialised talent (with the potential for additional talents to provide further specialisation).

Quote:
Originally Posted by
One could then design races by adding up all it's point values for extra skill, talents, stat bonuses, and charge the player N amount of points for choosing it.
I do like the merit/flaw systems that RPGs like GURPS and the WoD games use, but for this situation I'm really trying to create bonuses that are more self-contained. Assembling a race from a list of points (like GURPS does) would obviously provide a far more detailed solution than I originally suggested, even allowing players to create their own races, but it would also mean additional complexity, making it something of a double-edged sword; one of the things I like most about my system is its simplicity.

Quote:
Originally Posted by
Skill or talent packages or groups are another good feature. I think some of that was in Rom or Smaug. The primary game design benefit is an easier character creation process.
Yes, ROM uses that approach for skills and spells. I'm not really talking about a replacement for skills/spells though, so much as something else to tack on afterwards.

As far as ease of character creation is concerned, I already have three creation modes - a "quickstart" option (provides a sort of jack-of-all-trades character), a "concept" option (select from a list of predesigned character templates) and "traditional". Only the latter of those requires players to worry about selecting skills, talents, etc, so if someone can't be bothered to go through such choices they don't have to. Applied to a racial system, you could simply include the races in some of the concepts (Wood Elf Scout, Dwarven Soldier, Gobin Gigolo, etc) - as well as allow people to pick the racial 'talents' as options during the traditional character creation system.
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Old 12-04-2004, 08:00 AM   #4
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I like the concept. I liked it when we discussed it, and I like it more the more I think about it. It is simple, elegant, and allows for greater variety between races than seen in most muds, as well as easier control of balance and race restrictions.

Although simplicity is one of its charms, it could be easily extended by making the talents (both racial and normal) more synergistic. If you allow for a selection of possible prerequisites, you can have the talent behave differently for each of them (or even in combination with other talents which are not required). So the Psychic Wall talent, for example, could look like this:

[code]
-------------------------------[ PSYCHIC WALL ]--------------------------------
Talent availability ; You don't fulfill the requirements for this talent.
Method of purchase  ; During gameplay or character creation.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Required stats      ; Discipline 7+
Required skills     ; One magic colour 75+
Required styles     ; None
Required talents    ; Psionics or Mind Over Matter
Banned talents      ; None
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This talent indicates that you have learned how to build a strong psychic wall
within your mind, helping you block mental probes and attacks.  This provides
you with a +25 bonus to Protection, added before percentages, and - because the
mental barrier is automatic - pain penalties will no longer reduce the result.
You also gain the following bonuses from additional talents;
Psionics; increases Protection bonus by 10.
Telekinesis; gives you a chance to block small thrown objects and projectiles.
Mind Over Matter; negates all pain penalties.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[/quote]
In a race system based on the concept, this would allow diversifying how each talent works for different races and encourage specialization. The Metalworking talent could be available to dwarves (allowing them to forge weapons), gnomes (allowing them to construct devices made of metal) or anybody with the Alchemy talent (allowing them to produce alloys). Of course, being a human alchemist with Metalworking probably wouldn't be a blast, unless the demand for alloys were really high. For a dwarf or gnome the combination might be more tempting, since a dwarven alchemist could produce steel weapons and a gnome alchemist could make brass clockwork golems (or whatever).

Of course, the same could be achieved by having separate talents for each combination, but the list would get very long fast, and with a limited number of talent slots for each character, most of them would probably prove too obscure.
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