Alternative to character levels and experience development


#1

This has been an idea that I’ve been kicking around for some time for my “perfect game” when I might try to do what Tom & Tony are doing right now. It is a little complex to understand at first, but it provides an alternative to the traditional “levels” as found in most games and offers some interesting ways to think about a few other aspects of the game as well.

I’ll also note that if this isn’t put into the game directly, I do plan on writing this as a mod as one of the ways that the villagers will be obtaining experience, although it would require getting deep into the game to make it happen.

What I’m proposing is that instead of starting out at “level 1”, an individual character would have a “percentage” chance of being able to complete a task. I suppose it would still be “levels” after a fashion, but it would be much more finely grained and not nearly so noticeable when a player “levels up” compared to a limited number of “levels”. When a character succeeds at completing a task, their likelihood of success can increase. I’m basing this system on the paper & dice RPG known as RuneQuest as opposed to Dungeons & Dragons that the traditional computer-based RPGs tend to be based upon.

Basic Scoring

From the perspective of computer play, I would imagine that the percentages would be based upon a open ended score that would generally be in the range of 0-1000. In other words, a score of 100 would mean you have a 10% chance of making an item of some sort (as in carpentry). Each time they perform a task like making a piece of rope, adding a brick on a wall, or crafting a sword, their success would be checked against this score for related tasks.

Leveling Up

In order to “level up”, each time the task is successfully completed there is a random chance that you will improve. This happens at the reciprocal of chance of success. In other words, if you have a 10% chance of making an item or completing a task, you have a 90% chance of “improving”. On the other hand, if you have a 90% chance of success, you only have a 10% chance of improving. This sort of simulates a learning curve where repetitively doing the same task over and over again only has a marginal improvement over time.

Performing some tasks can have bonuses or penalties as applied to a general skill. For example, a carpenter splitting a log may have a +500 bonus for that task, thus giving an automatic 50% chance of success for somebody who is just starting out with that skill and making it all but certain that a “master” in that skill can complete the task. Other tasks like building a fancy wall clock with inlaid gold and intricate carving may have a -500 penalty applied instead for a carpenter, where only a genuine master would be able to make that item at all and even an experienced carpenter would commonly fail. Making tools of various kinds would have other bonuses or penalties.

Equipment Arms Race

It would be useful to point out that due to these bonuses and penalties, you can have a skill score well above 1000, and indeed it is open ended so far as a “maximum score”. Penalties represent harder tasks, but they also represent further learning that a skilled craftsman can make in that skill where they would leave behind the mundane tasks to lesser craftsman or only doing them in a pinch.

Try as they might, most game developers really struggle to work on the “end game” where players have done everything. It also becomes harder and harder to shoehorn in new ever more powerful content. By leaving the skill score open ended, you can have something like a smith forging something like a ring of power or other weapons to take on titans, or even an “arch-titan” that eats other titans for breakfast.

Related Skills

In addition to unlocking classes in a tech tree, this system would allow some skills to “carry over” into other classes and provide a route for establishing experience in other skills as well. For example, a skilled carpenter with 700 skill points moving on to becoming a mason (one of the paths already discussed by Radiant) would get an initial “bonus” derived from the carpentry skill. It would only be a fraction of the original skill, say 30% or so of the “base skill”, but it might require spending some time to tear down the skill tree under this kind of system.

Sure, you could hand over equipment to keep upgrading characters from one class to the next very quickly, but they likely couldn’t make anything or do anything successfully. In this fashion, by requiring characters to spend time at least training on some basic tasks in the “inferior” classes first, it slows down the progression until you have a stable village.

Apprenticeships

This system also allows a master/apprentice relationship to develop where the “master” could grant a portion of his skill as a bonus to any apprentices working under him to help the apprentice perform some of the tasks using that skill. I’m not sure of the exact mechanism, but suppose a master could grant about 25% of his skill to an apprentice while working in the same workshop. In this case a “master” with a score of 800 could give his apprentice a boost of about 200 while working on items. The apprentice would still need to be working on the “easier” items, but it would give that apprentice a boost early on. To show an apprentice gradually improving, the bonus would be based upon the difference in skill between the master and the apprentice, so perhaps it would only be 25% of that difference that could be used as a bonus.

In that sense the master & apprentice roles could switch over time if the apprentice is busy making a whole bunch of things but the master isn’t.

Books

This system lends itself very well to books and libraries as well, where a skilled craftsman could “write a book” about the skill they’ve learned and share that skill with others. On a practical value it isn’t as valuable as being an apprentice, but it can be copied and sent to other villages. In this case, somebody reading the book could get a slight bonus (about 5% of the skill level of the craftsman who wrote the book). It would still be based upon the difference of the skill level of the craftsman using the book and the craftsman who wrote the book (or even when the craftsman wrote the book).

These books could then be even used as trade goods to other villages, especially in a multi-player setting, where books written by highly skilled craftsmen would be very valuable indeed.

Tools

Just as there are books that can give a bonus, you could have tools which would directly add bonuses (or penalties) when you use them. They can be either constructed by a master craftsman, thus rare in the early game, or they can be items found through quests or other rare artifacts. These too could be traded with other villages in a multi-player game.

This would also allow for different tiers of tools that could be used by each of the various classes or skills.

Conclusion

I’m sure there are other ideas that could be added to this concept. Of course some of this could be done with the pure level + experience point system as most other games like this use, but I hope this shows at least another way that you could “train” the villagers to do tasks… where they would start out generally unskilled but eager to learn about the world and gradually train them in various skills to be able to take on the challenges they will face to become a fearsome force possessing nearly god-like skills.


#2

I love the concept, and I think it will make for an incredibly interesting mod, however I don’t think this is a system that could ever flourish in Stonehearth for only one real reason. It would mean that, sometimes with incredible frequency, after you tell one of your settlers to do something, they might attempt it, and simply fail.

Well what happens then? Do they try again? What if they were trying something expensive and complex, something that you were doing with limited resources, and they automatically use far more of your precious (insert resource here) than you had ever intended. Or maybe it requires direct input from you to decide whether or not they attempt it again. Well now you’re micromanaging, no? Instead of instructing your worker and trusting it to get done, you are watching over each of your twenty different smiths, and managing each individual order to make sure resources are not being wasted, but you still get the important products you’re in need of finished. And if there is one thing this game isn’t, it’s micromanaging.

So again I say, I love the concept, and I think it is a great idea for an experience based system. However I’m afraid at most it can be an interesting mod in Stonehearth, because it would really break the management system Tom and Tony seem to have in mind. We’ve seen a lot of things from them like the “Make more if stocks fall below…” and management tools like that, which are all a much broader type of awareness, that wouldn’t ever require worrying about if your carpenter is going to have an off day and spend hours wasting wood trying to get that damned door engraving just right.

And while I was rereading this, I was reminded of something they said about tools never wearing out or breaking, so they seem to be opposed to the concept of occasionally losing resources in any manner, which makes me think it would be even more of a stretch for you to lose resources without ever having gained any use from them.


#3

That gets into an interesting gameplay issue: Should characters fail at completing difficult tasks? What does failure mean? There is a failure where you simply can’t make the item and must try again but still have the original materials, and then failures which waste resources… just as you’ve alluded to. Perhaps it is just wasting time.

I know that Radiant is looking into an experience gaining system for the characters anyway, where there will definitely be at a bare minimum some tasks that brand new characters will not be capable of performing. I really think your concerns about task failure are going to be something much broader in the game and something apart from the experience system for how individual characters will improve.

Thank you for your feedback on the idea though. If it will give a different feel to the game than the default experience system (if any) that Tony and Tom develop, it might be worth doing just for that reason alone.