The Drawing Board

Game Balance



Game Balance

Breadth & Depth: To what degree should players be able to specialize?

Dilemma:  It makes sense that a character should be able to specialize on several levels. First of all, they should be able to choose a broad area of expertise, such as melee fighting, psionics, or alchemy. Within that, they should be able to focus their studies in an area, such as fire alchemy or earth alchemy. Ideally, we'd like to let them specialize further, say in using earth alchemy to form barriers.

If we broke up all skills to the lowest level (the extreme specialization) and allowed the player to build each up separately, however, then they might choose to become very good in selected specialties (such as earth alchemical barriers) without putting any work into related skills (such as earth alchemical regeneration, or fire alchemical barriers). Moreover, they could choose several totally unrelated specialties -- perhaps one in alchemy, another in psionics, and another in necromancy. If we gave them enough "skill points" to be passably good in all skills in a group (such as all alchemy involving a particular set of three elements), then they could excel in several very narrow areas.

While this might make for an amusing game, it certainly seems to push the borders of realism. Also, it dramatically increases the combinations of powerful, unrelated skills that characters might combine, and would therefore make balancing the game extremely difficult.


Possible Solution:  Rather than simply composing a list of all the extreme specializations, set up a hierarchy of skills. For example, there might be a skill for each element of alchemy, and then subskills used for specific kinds of alchemy involving that element. When the character performs an action, they derive bonuses based on the level of the specialized subskill being used, but also based on the higher-level, broad skill.

Do not allow the broader skills to be raised directly. Instead, the broad skill is based on the levels of the subskills beneath it (probably an average, or a sum divided by some arbitrary constant). Becoming skilled in a particular specialization therefore confers a lesser bonus on related skills. By practicing many related specialties, each confers bonuses upon the other and the overall skill in the area is higher.

The tree could be several layers deep, conferring larger bonuses on closely related skills and smaller ones on remotely related skills. Theoretically, the depth does not need to be the same for all parts of the tree, but if it is not constant, this raises questions as to the relative "value" of the end skills (the ones that are raised directly) and therefore has the potential to significantly complicate the mathematics of character construction and advancement.


Starting Wealth: Does it stay in the player's hands?

Dilemma:  Whenever a new character is created, it seems reasonable that they should begin the game with some equipment. Entering the world naked, unarmed, and without a penny to your name seems a rather wearisome way to start. Moreover, in the spirit of making character creation very customizable, we would like to allow the player to alter his starting equipment and wealth (with appropriate tradeoffs).

However, once the character has entered the game, this equipment or wealth could presumably be transferred to another player character. The character which possessed it initially could then be deleted and a new character created, which might even immediately take the other character's wealth. The players therefore have the ability to create wealth and bring it into the game at virtually no cost.


Possible Solution:  Place a very strict limit on the amount of cash that a character can start with (make it trivial), and prevent the character from transferring or dropping any of the items/equipment with which he starts the game (they may, of course, be consumed or destroyed). The only starting equipment or wealth that can be transferred is the cash, and this amount is too low to make it worth the player's while to do so.

Of course, this is a rather inelegant solution, doesn't particularly make sense, and has the potential for interfering with all sorts of perfectly legitimate activity.


Possible Partial Solution:  All starting equipment and wealth is tracked for a period. Any time a character is deleted within a certain time period (perhaps a month or so) of being created, all that character's starting resources are automatically removed from the game. This means all of the character's starting equipment and gold, any equipment purchased from an NPC with that gold, and any gold obtained by selling the starting equipment to an NPC -- regardless of who is carrying it at the time. Players conducting trades will be able to see whether money/equipment has this "newbie" status, and the date at which it will lose it and become permanent.

Alternatively, simply disallow characters from being deleted within a month of their creation if more than a certain (small) cash value of their starting wealth or equipment has left their possession.

The problem with this, of course, is that there is no particular reason why the character would need to be deleted -- it could simply not be played. This might become a better deterrent if combined with limitations on the number of active characters per player or some similar restriction.

At best, though, this would likely be effectively the same as the above solution, except that people choosing to abuse the system now have a way around it. Players would generally not want to trade for money or equipment that might suddenly disappear.


Possible Partial Solution: To at least keep players from giving equipment to themselves in this way, track all starting equipment for a period of time (perhaps a month or so) and do not allow it to be picked up, carried, or otherwise used by any other character controlled by the same player while it is marked. If it is impractical to track money in this way, starting currency could be of a special type that cannot be dropped or given to another player, but can still be used to buy from NPCs.

This doesn't seem to prevent the player from starting with a lot of money, buying something, and transferring it, though -- also, it doesn't prevent one player from giving money or equipment to another.


Imprisonment: How to keep it under control?

Dilemma:  It seems like it would be a great feature to be able, under certain circumstances, to imprison a character. This could be useful for certain quests (if the player gets captured somehow) and for "criminal justice." However, if players can run their own justice systems in areas they control (and especially if they are allowed to take prisoners of war), then it must be possible for one player to imprison another player's character. If this is the case, how can this power be limited to prevent its misuse?


Possible Solution:  Although different rules might apply to NPCs, players could be prevented from forcibly moving other players' characters (or applying restraints, etc.) unless the targeted character either gives consent or is unconscious. If one player is capable of rendering another unconscious, then he is almost certainly capable of killing him, which seems like it would rarely be preferable to imprisonment for the victim.


Idea:  Personal restraints (ropes, etc.), especially those commonly available, are relatively easy for the captive to break free from (given time) if he is not kept under guard; therefore, in order for these to remain effective long-term, the captor must either constantly supervise the captive, or be able to hire a guard. While you can theoretically keep someone captive even if they log off, they will have the option to instruct the computer to make their character attempt to break free if an opportunity presents itself, and furthermore can log back in at any time, so the greater burden of attention is placed upon the captor. You cannot instruct your character to watch a prisoner when you log off. NPC guards sleep, and so to thoroughly guard a captive, several hired guards would need to work in shifts.

Prison cells (which are capable of holding someone for a longer period of time) could be hard to come by, so it would be very difficult for a random vagabond to make use of one. Someone with appropriate skills (pick lock, etc.) could also probably still break out of one (given ample time) in the absence of guards, so it is necessary not only to build such a cell but also to staff it.