26 January 2010

January Challenge #26:
Crafty Combat

Earlier this month, I promised a look at one of my fruitier ideas for a combat skill system. It would work best in a setting where advanced armed and unarmed combat techniques are highly valued by the social elite, such as a game set in Renaissance Europe and focused on fencing masters and their salles, or Mythic China with its wandering martial arts masters and fighting monasteries.

All combat skills in the game are reducible to individual components that define the attributes of the skill as a whole, such as speed, accuracy, power, aggression, balance, weapon type and weight, required hands, and potentially many more. A player can't directly improve their rating with these individual components. Instead, they advance them indirectly by improving the composited combat skills. The contribution to the component rating from a single skill quickly hits a point of diminishing returns, so players are encouraged to learn many different skills in order to master the components. Components covering a given attribute of the composite skill are available in several levels, the less powerful easier to learn, the more powerful harder to learn.

What's the point of this? Threefold.

A rising tide lifts all boats. High rating in a combat component will improve that aspect of all skills that incorporate it. For instance, all skills with the Speed of the Mongoose component will strike faster when mastery is attained.

When you can snatch the pebble from my hand, I will train you. Learning a skill with components you already know is easier than a completely new technique. Further, all but the most basic skills will have minimum requirements to learn, maybe of a lesser component. For example, any skill with Power of the Mountain requires mastery of Strength of the Bear to even begin to learn.

When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the Master. This is the fruity filling of the system. A player may combine known fighting components into new combat skills of their own devising, much like crafting in many MMOs. This requires a template with slots into which to place the components. The template has a number of required slots to create a minimum workable combat skill, and many have optional slots for additional hack & slash goodness.

The components can't be used up, since they are inherently part of the character, but the templates are a limited resource, abstract rewards as part of the experience system. Think of them as the core inspiration to develop a new combat skill.

The more components, and the more powerful each, the more deadly the end-product skill, but the more risk once finalized. While a new combat skill is still in development, the player can swap around components and actually use it in fights, though at a penalty. Once the player is satisfied with the combination, the skill can be marked as complete, which will accomplish several things. The template is consumed, and the skill can now be used normally. Also, a final set of bonuses and penalties is randomly generated, representing unguessed synergies and incompatibilities between the various components. The player's existing ratings with the relevant components, known skills with similar component combinations, and time the template spent unfinalized with exactly the final components slotted will all affect this determination.

Most importantly, finalization means the skill can now be taught. Imagine fighting monasteries and fencing salles as "auction houses" of combat skills. You visit a monastery to partake of their hospitality, and while there you teach your unique combat skills to the resident masters and students. Other players visiting the monastery can now learn the skill you made available there. Every player that learns your skill gains you some form of reward, such as reputation (most realistic), services at the monastery (also fairly realistic), or money (not very realistic in a Mythic China type setting, but more so in a Renaissance Europe type setting). I prefer reputation as a parallel economy, capable of acquiring goods and services otherwise unavailable for blood or money.

Unlike current player economies, combat skills are evergreen products and not subject to artificial scarcity. Limiting their long-term value is the fact that other players will also develop their own skills for sale, and there's nothing preventing another player from duplicating the maneuver you created, and maybe getting a better final outcome. You won't stay the fastest sword in the Orient if you don't keep pushing better and better techniques.

So yeah, as promised, pretty fruity. It's got plenty of potential for exploit and abuse, but so does any system allowing community created content. In all, I think this a promising core of a system with good potential, a worthy contribution to a System Designer portfolio.

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