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Vince
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« on: July 18, 2016, 03:57:13 pm »

Let’s talk about our design "brand" as it applies to all future games and the Colony Ship RPG is next on the list. AoD wasn’t perfect and we want to do better but without changing the core design to appeal to a wider audience. In other words, we want to do better for our existing audience, so let’s examine the pros and cons of each design aspect (and then you can tell us how we can improve them).

  • Turn-Based combat with action points and different attack types based on tradeoffs. I see nothing but pros here, so let’s move forward.

  • Skill-Based character system.

    Class-based systems offer you different packages of skills and abilities, designed to ensure that no man is left behind and your rogue can kick as much ass as your fighter. It’s a good, time-honored design that makes it very hard to make mistakes. In comparison, skill-based systems offer all the freedom you can handle and don’t restrict you in any way, so the chances of you screwing up your character is fairly high, especially for the first time players.

    Neither system is better by default so it comes down to personal preferences and firmly held beliefs, which is where it gets a bit complicated. Some folks believe that games shouldn't allow the player to make bad builds and choices; anything else is bad design. I think that if every decision is awesome, it hardly matters what you choose. Making mistakes is part of the learning experience but not everyone has the patience for it.

  • Stats & Skills Matter not only in combat where they provide various bonuses but outside of combat as well, when exploring or dealing with people. It’s a deceptively simple aspect, so let’s examine it in details.

    What it means in practical terms is that your character would succeed in areas where his/her stats and skills are strong but fail where they are weak. For example, a perceptive person would notice something others won’t; a brute would be able to move a heavy object, etc.

    Obviously, the effect can be minor (i.e. you moved a boulder and found a couple of coins underneath it!), major (you moved a boulder and found a passageway to another area!), or anything in between (you moved a boulder and found a passageway to another area where you found … a couple of coins! T’was a good day for adventuring).

    Usually, stats and skills are checked in the following situations:

    • Multiple solutions (i.e. different ways to arrive to the same destination, everyone’s happy and nobody’s upset)
    • Optional content (limited ways to unlock optional content, aka. “gated” content)

    Multiple solutions are an important gameplay element, which allows you to go through a game in a manner fitting your character, but it is the optional content that truly differentiates one playthrough from another and boosts replayability (because solving the same problems in different ways isn’t enough).

    Naturally, optional content must differ in accessibility. Someone’s old shed should be easy to break into (let’s say everyone with a single point in lockpick, which is 80% of all players). An area that resisted all attempts to get into for decades or centuries like the Abyss should force most people to turn back to preserve the setting’s integrity (let’s say only 10% of players should explore it). The rest of the content would fall somewhere in between.

    This approach greatly upset some players who felt that they were punished “just because they chose the ‘wrong’ stats”. Some RPG players are notoriously obsessive-compulsive and won’t rest until they create a character that can get the maximum amount of content, which does require reading online guides and meta-gaming like there’s no tomorrow – the fastest way to kill all enjoyment and ruin the game. Of course, the counter-argument is that failing repeatedly (considering how easy it is to make a character ill-equipped for what you're trying to do) is an equally fast way to kill the enjoyment.

    I’m not sure there’s a way to “fix it” as those who want to get maximum content in a single playthrough will continue to metagame no matter what. The moment you tell the player "sorry, buddy, you need to be this tall to ride this", some players won't accept the failure and would want to know this kind of info in advance. Not many people see it as "you win some, you lose some" design. Anyway, I'd love to read your thoughts on this matter.

  • Non-Combat ways through the game

    While combat should always be the main pillar of RPGs, allowing the player to avoid combat and progress in different ways opens up more role-playing and story-telling opportunities. Also it makes killing your way through the game YOUR choice rather than the only thing to do.

    AoD allowed you to talk your way through and in the CSG we’ll add a stealth path through the game. Here is what it means design wise:

    Combat should be avoidable in most cases. Enemies shouldn’t turn hostile on sight, which means that filler combat is out, which in turn makes the game much shorter. Populating a map with “enemies” is easy. Providing paths to sneak past and writing fitting intros and dialogues with logical speech checks (you can’t just ask them nicely and passionately to let you through) for each encounter, as well as reasons for them to be there in the first place isn’t. It’s also very time-consuming and heavy on scripting, which is always an issue for a small team.

    Even playing Pillars of Eternity I was surprised how much filler combat the game had and wondered if cutting it out wouldn’t have boosted the game’s replayability as I’d rather play a shorter game several times to explore different options than run through an endless bog of generic encounters that serve absolutely no real purpose.

    Keep in mind that combat is an active gamepay aspect – basically, its own game with its own rules and complex mechanics. Dialogues are a passive aspect. You choose a line, click and see what happens. Unless dialogues are the main and only gameplay element, it will always be inferior to combat on a system level, much like no RPG has managed to offer a stealth system that rivals that of Thief.

    Thus the talking and sneaking paths will be much shorter by default but the assumption is that it’s part of the meal not the meal itself, i.e. the full experience will require several different replays, combat AND non-combat, which brings us to the next item: replayability.

  • Non-Linear & Replayable

    First let’s define what it means. Linear design is easy to understand: you move from A to B to C, always in this order, which takes away the freedom of choice completely. Then we have the “Bioware design”: do 4 locations in any order, which as an illusion of choices, much like dialogues where you get to say the same thing in 4 different ways.

    True non-linearity requires two things:

    • Multiple ways leading toward the endgame location (i.e. branching questlines), so you never have to travel the same path if you replay the game
    • Very few “required” story-telling nodes (locations, conversation, events) the player simply must visit or trigger in order to progress.

    The positives are clear. Now let’s take a look at the negatives:

    • The game will be short because you’re taking all available content and splitting it between multiple paths and filter it down via mutually exclusive decisions. AoD has over 110 quests, which is a lot, but you get no more than 20-25 per playtrhough and that’s if you leave no stone unturned.
    • The game will be even shorter because it’s easy to miss locations and content. Throw in the gated content and non-combat gameplay and it will be even shorter.

    Not surprisingly, "the game is too short" was complaint #3, right after "the game is too hard" (#1) and "too much meta-gaming" (#2).

Overall, I believe that it’s about finding the right balance, which is always the case with all sufficient complex systems and issues. Your feedback is critical, provided it fits our design core, so regardless of whether or not you agree or disagree with my take on these aspects, feel free to share your thoughts.

Now that we got this out of the way, let’s introduce location #2 aka the Armory:


Click Here to see the larger version

It’s a restricted location that resisted all attempts to plunder its depths (it’s sitting in one of the cargo holds and goes 3 levels down). Fortunately you won’t have to meta-game to figure out how to gain access because you were Chosen to receive a magic plastic card in the beginning of the game (see the intro posted earlier). You’d still have to get past the evildoers waiting for you to open the door though.

In other news, we've gained a talented artist (3D modeling and mapping): João Barradas of Portugal. Now we can have all the art assets we need, starting with upgradeable firearms:


^ multibarrel shotgun, tier 1, click here to see the model in 3D.

Each weapon will have its own detailed 3D model (not just an icon) and will be visible when equipped, so you can quickly tell which enemy is packing what. In the next update we'll introduce Romeo, the first party member who's always in the mood for some romance. Full name: Unit Romeo Whiskey Sierra, model XV. Designation: Riot Suppression.
« Last Edit: July 18, 2016, 04:22:02 pm by Vince » Logged
sporky
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« Reply #1 on: July 18, 2016, 11:15:26 pm »

I wish I could be totally prevented from metagaming. I always end up with a sniper/burglar and he has to be the best!
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« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2016, 01:03:09 am »

It's all looks (and feels) cool to me.
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« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2016, 05:38:30 am »

Turn-Based combat with action points and different attack types based on tradeoffs. I see nothing but pros here, so let’s move forward.

Like it's that easy... Smile
Ok, I won't argue with this formula (I do love turn-based combat with action points), but there are some specific things I'd like you to consider:

1) More tactics, more attention to combat environment. For some reason, most games never use the terrain / environment in combat. At most, some allow using it for cover. Distances mean nothing beyond weapon range and movement AP cost. Formations never matter beyond protecting "weak" party members from direct assault by blocking the way with "strong" ones' bodies (oh, and an occasional "flanked" status). In AoD, even cover often doesn't work because it's randomly "transparent" for projectiles for no apparent reason (e.g. a tent near entrance to the "old facility", or wall twists and neighbouring rooms in the monastery). If you add party, you'll definitely need to do better than that. And maybe try adding some contextual formation bonuses/penalties (e.g. for fighting back to back, shoulder to shoulder, back to the wall etc). More active abilities would help too, although I'm not sure what they might be in a no-magic setting - maybe more different traps and throwables?

For me, the best example of turn-based tactical combat lately is Divinity: Original Sin. It executed many "classic" ideas beautifully and added lots of originality, and the result is so good that I just can't remember the last time I enjoyed a turn-based combat so much. Definitely worth looking at for some inspiration, even though it's traditional high fantasy with magic.

2) More freedom. Combats in AoD are very "staged". While that's good to avoid filler combat, it also removes many tactical and other opportunities. You can't start combat from an exact spot. Even if you are 100% sure that there are thugs waiting for you behind a door, you can't just open it and attack immediately with your ranged weapon - no, you need to obey the script that puts you 2 or 3 cells inside, next to one of these thugs, and then spend a turn or two running into a corner and throwing liquid fire to keep them at bay. Sometimes you are offered to "attack from a distance" by a helpful script, but that's it - you still have to trust the designer's choice of exact initial position. I dread the day when the same will apply to a party... Smile

Running away should be an option too, at least sometimes. I won't mind if some enemies will be able to follow, though. Or perhaps lay low and ambush you again later, when you think you've lost them.

3) Less random. Maybe it's just me, but I'm absolutely tired of fighting against the RNG. Even with 10 in a weapon skill, AoD can sometimes put you against a dodger with 15% chance to hit him. 50%-60% hit chances are pretty common (at least for a crossbowman). And getting 4 good shots in a row (which is sometimes critical for your survival) turns out to be next to impossible with any amount of save scumming even if all the hit chances are around 80%. Fixed 25% miss chance with a bola to the head is something only a crazy ironman would tolerate when bolas are in such a short supply. Especially when you don't have AP for a second attempt, and the enemy you've just missed is surely going to kill you next turn.

And then there are "special" items (nets, bombs, liquid fire), which can only miss due to a trajectory/collision bug. This mix of extreme randomness and guaranteed success feels really weird to me. I'd love to see something more balanced - not in terms of challenge and realism, but rather tactical playability.

Perhaps it might benefit from some kind of "effort" system allowing you to boost your hit/dodge/block chances at specific ("critical") times by willingly sacrificing something that's not easy/quick to replenish (to keep it balanced). Seems to be in line with the "tradeoffs" idea.

4) AP conservation / action continuation? In AoD, if you use a scoped heavy crossbow from a distance (6 AP snipe, 6 AP reload), having anything except 6 or 12 AP per turn makes absolutely no difference. If you don't have 12, you won't be able to shoot more often than once per 2 turns, despite 9 AP over 2 turns being mathematically enough for 2 shots and a reload in between (9+9=18=6*3). Extra movement is not that important most of the time, because either the enemy is too far anyway, or he's already reached you and running a few cells away will at most save you from one attack (but probably replace it with a free one for disengagement).

This is just one of the many obvious examples. What I'd like is to see some mechanism of putting these spare AP to good use - either by conserving some of them for next turn (the "easy way", D:OS even does that to some extent), or allowing to start a "long" action and finish it next turn, once you get more AP. The latter would obviously lead to interruption opportunities with various penalties (e.g. to dodge/THC during an attack), and sometimes just waste the planned action due to changing circumstances (e.g. if you start a 6 AP hammer blow when having only 3 leftover AP, and your target moves away from that blow on their own turn, the result is definitely a miss - and you've just wasted 3 AP from your next turn because it was too late to cancel, essentially making it an "active dodge" instead of the RNG-based one).

Skill-Based character system.
Stats & Skills Matter

Making mistakes is part of the learning experience but not everyone has the patience for it.

That's great, but there are mistakes and mistakes. Smile I think that one of the biggest problems with AoD skill system (or maybe THE biggest) is that the 1..10 scale is counterintuitive when you have so much opportunities to use the skills. I finished the game more than 10 times, and still don't have an understanding of the conceptual difference between 3 and 4 or 7 and 8 in a skill. Do you even know it yourself? Smile Or do you just pick  numbers which "somehow sound right" for a specific stage in the game?

Every time I win or fail a check, it's not because I planned carefully and decided on the right amount of skill to tackle a specific problem - no, it's rather because I guessed the designer's intention - sometimes blindly, sometimes less so. E.g. if sneak 1 + critstrike 8 is not enough for a kill I want, then the check probably wants a sum of 10, because it's a round number and why the hell not. Smile Or, I already know that most skills work fine in Teron when they are at 3-4, so maybe it's 7-8 for Maadoran...

1..10 scales are not bad for pure-combat skills, where you get a clear numeric representation of your skill level through attack/defense ratings. However, social skills need something else to minimize metagaming and guesswork. A good range for a persuasion-like skill might be between 3 to 5 skill levels (not counting the "zero" level) - anything less is not a skill, anything more is too much to keep every level meaningful for players. And then you'd need to come up with good skill level descriptions - not funny ones like in AoD, but meaningful ones, establishing rules which let the player understand how much skill he needs for a specific check without asking on a forum, looking through game scripts, or just testing it by save-load. Sometimes, it might make the skill levels look more like "perks" with very specific effects, but is it a bad thing?

Of course, it might also be tricky balance-wise to abide by such rules throughout the game if you have a more or less specific sequence of "main" events. E.g. I don't remember specific numbers, but convincing Antidas to act against Carrinas without any proof probably shouldn't be that much easier (for a charismatic person) than most of the persuasion checks in Ganezzar. On the other hand, if a check in Teron required persuasion=8, it would become impossible to win for any player except 1% who put all their SP into persuasion and nothing else.

Optional content (limited ways to unlock optional content, aka. “gated” content)

I can't speak for all players, but for me, gated content is the most frustrating when it is:

1) Too visible.

E.g. it's hard to miss the Abyss or the Arch, but most characters won't be able to do anything there. When there is a complete location which is freely accessible by anyone, but only meaningful for select few, it can get very irritating especially after many different playthroughs. I think you can call this kind of gating "negative", because that's what provokes the most negative reactions.

On the contrary, it feels awesome when you find something you've never expected to find. Harran's Pass, Darius' Tomb, Livia's personality, Aemolas' gold retrieval quest are all great examples of "positive" gating in my opinion: you don't even know they exist if you don't meet the requirements; when you finally do, you get a nice surprise - and that's when you really start feeling that your current playthrough is different from all the previous ones. Playing multiple times just to see the different guild quests is nice, but again - that's something you definitely expect, and it's the surprise factor that helps replayability the most.

2) Too unbalanced.

The worst example of this in AoD is the whole historical/explorative part. I see AoD as a game with two separate "main stories" which every character gets: one is your guild, the other is everything that has to do with the Empire, "gods", ruins and artifacts. And that's cool - until you realize that the second "main story" is gated by a set of skills/stats specific to a single type of character (loremaster). Sure, you can visit all the main locations without any specific skills (except Inferiae, which, if I remember right, is gated by lore=3, and Al-Akia which is faction-gated), but there's a fat chance that you won't get anything from any of them except some exploration SP - and that always feels like you are robbed of 50% "playthrough content" (not to be confused with ALL game content). The only other "big gate" is the Arena and the side quests it unlocks, but it's still much smaller, and it's also a "soft" gate, meaning that practically any character can win it by trying hard enough and using all the tricks he can.

If you absolutely have to put so much content behind a single "gate", the only way to "fix it" I can see is adding even more gated optional content for all the other archetypes (i.e. different builds "reasonable" from role-playing perspective). Baldur's Gate 2 has "strongholds" gated by main character class, which is a lot of content - and I've never heard anything but praise of this decision. Why? Because there's always a stronghold for you, no matter what class you pick, so no one "loses" anything - instead, every player "gains" something that most other players do not. And the important part is that it's all optional, unlike AoD's guilds (well, technically they are optional too, but what's there to do if you don't join a guild and don't play a loremaster?). Of course, I don't really expect a small team to compete with BG2 (after all, Obsidian still can't do it with all their talent and money). But perhaps it means that you need smaller "gates" - but more of them instead.

Basically, gating in general is fine - but giving huge "unfair advantage" to 1 or 2 select builds out of dozens or hundreds possible ones is much less so. In AoD, it's very much possible to play a pacifist loremaster/praetor with high charisma and intelligence, get ready for ascension, and still have enough spare skill points to raise combat skills for the Arena, especially if you keep the power armor...

Dialogues are a passive aspect. You choose a line, click and see what happens. Unless dialogues are the main and only gameplay element, it will always be inferior to combat on a system level, much like no RPG has managed to offer a stealth system that rivals that of Thief.

I can't quite agree with that. I'd really love to see a true RPG with a more "active" dialogue system without sacrificing the rest of the systems. Of course it's hard, but hardly impossible.

I have a pet RPG project too, although for some reasons (biggest of them being myself) it will probably take even more than AoD's 11.5 years at current rate. Smile "Active" dialogues and active skill usage instead of "choosing, clicking and seeing what happens" is something I'd really like to explore in depth if I ever get it to a proper state. Perhaps you can too. Smile Much like adding peaceful ways makes combat the player's choice, I dream of a CRPG which makes threats, jokes, abstract logical arguments and other skill-based dialogue options a conscious role-playing choice rather than just letting players pick the best-looking option from a list. And then consistent role-playing can have as much impact as decision-based reputations: e.g. joking gets easier and more natural if you do it all the time, but it may also make it harder for you to stay serious when it's important, hiding "serious" options unless you resist the system and opt to "pay" for them, suggesting even more jokes by default, and definitely modifying NPC reactions when you do something that's not typical for you (if they know it, of course).
« Last Edit: July 19, 2016, 05:49:38 am by Kirinyale » Logged
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« Reply #4 on: July 19, 2016, 06:30:07 am »

Kirinyale wins the Biggest First Post award!   galsiah
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Wizard1200
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« Reply #5 on: July 19, 2016, 06:54:38 am »

  • Skill-Based character system.
  • Stats & Skills Matter
  • Non-Combat

A skill-based system is in my opinion better, because it increases the replayability.

I think that a game is boring if the stats and skills do not matter, because why should i think about them if they have no effect. Important stats and skills increase the replayability of a game, too, because they increase the number of choices and consequences.

The choice between non-combat and combat solutions makes a game more realistic in my opinion. Non-combat solutions can be as active as combat solutions if the player has to think about his answers and their consequences. This is especially the case if the player has to select the "right" answer multiple times during a conversation to reach his desired goal.
« Last Edit: July 19, 2016, 07:24:37 am by Wizard1200 » Logged
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« Reply #6 on: July 19, 2016, 07:15:23 am »

Kirinyale wins the Biggest First Post award!   galsiah
Well, I'm posting a lot on steam forum, just didn't have a good reason to migrate here before Tongue
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Vince
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« Reply #7 on: July 19, 2016, 07:52:12 am »

Thank you for your feedback. Quick comments:

For some reason, most games never use the terrain / environment in combat.
The reason is simple: it's a fairly complex feature, big enough to be listed first. Considering that RPGs consist of many complex system, throwing in another one, especially a major one, isn't something that can be done lightly.

Quote
2) More freedom. Combats in AoD are very "staged". While that's good to avoid filler combat, it also removes many tactical and other opportunities. You can't start combat from an exact spot. Even if you are 100% sure that there are thugs waiting for you behind a door, you can't just open it and attack immediately with your ranged weapon - no, you need to obey the script that puts you 2 or 3 cells inside, next to one of these thugs, and then spend a turn or two running into a corner and throwing liquid fire to keep them at bay. Sometimes you are offered to "attack from a distance" by a helpful script, but that's it - you still have to trust the designer's choice of exact initial position. I dread the day when the same will apply to a party... Smile
I agree. The dungeon crawler already allows you to place your characters manually before a fight, which will be a standard feature from now on.

Quote
Running away should be an option too, at least sometimes. I won't mind if some enemies will be able to follow, though. Or perhaps lay low and ambush you again later, when you think you've lost them.
i.e. more scripting. AoD has over 100 fights, let's say we let you run away in 30 fights. That means we have to write and script 30 different post-fight situations.

Quote
Less random. Maybe it's just me, but I'm absolutely tired of fighting against the RNG. Even with 10 in a weapon skill, AoD can sometimes put you against a dodger with 15% chance to hit him.
Well, they don't call it a Random Number Generator for nothing, but we'll make sure that skills will play a stronger role in the fight against RNG. Since you've mentioned it, which dodgers had such high defense against 10 in weapon skill?

Quote
And then there are "special" items (nets, bombs, liquid fire), which can only miss due to a trajectory/collision bug. This mix of extreme randomness and guaranteed success feels really weird to me. I'd love to see something more balanced - not in terms of challenge and realism, but rather tactical playability.
Bombs really shouldn't miss. Liquid fire too. Nets? Originally the THC was determined by your Dex + Throwing against enemy's Dex + Dodge, but most players who start a fight by throwing a net would just reload if they miss. So we toned down their effect and added them to the 'always hit' category, which isn't unreasonable considering their size.

Quote
4) AP conservation / action continuation? In AoD, if you use a scoped heavy crossbow from a distance (6 AP snipe, 6 AP reload), having anything except 6 or 12 AP per turn makes absolutely no difference. If you don't have 12, you won't be able to shoot more often than once per 2 turns, despite 9 AP over 2 turns being mathematically enough for 2 shots and a reload in between (9+9=18=6*3). Extra movement is not that important most of the time, because either the enemy is too far anyway, or he's already reached you and running a few cells away will at most save you from one attack (but probably replace it with a free one for disengagement).
We've considered and even implemented transferable APs (half of your unused APs are added to your next turn's AP pool) but it completely fucked up the balance, so it never made it past the internal testing. Such things often seem like great ideas on paper but their effect is hard to predict until implemented.

Quote
That's great, but there are mistakes and mistakes. Smile I think that one of the biggest problems with AoD skill system (or maybe THE biggest) is that the 1..10 scale is counterintuitive when you have so much opportunities to use the skills. I finished the game more than 10 times, and still don't have an understanding of the conceptual difference between 3 and 4 or 7 and 8 in a skill. Do you even know it yourself? Smile Or do you just pick  numbers which "somehow sound right" for a specific stage in the game?
Would the problem really go away if we switch to a smaller scale? You can ask the same question: what's the difference between 2 and 3 or 3 and 4? Combat systems have a ready answer: in our case it's 10% THC bonus and % bonus to passive. With non-combat skills that don't rely on % roll, the conceptual difference is non-existent.

Quote
Every time I win or fail a check, it's not because I planned carefully and decided on the right amount of skill to tackle a specific problem - no, it's rather because I guessed the designer's intention - sometimes blindly, sometimes less so. E.g. if sneak 1 + critstrike 8 is not enough for a kill I want, then the check probably wants a sum of 10, because it's a round number and why the hell not. Smile Or, I already know that most skills work fine in Teron when they are at 3-4, so maybe it's 7-8 for Maadoran...
Are you talking about hybrids? Like you said most skills work fine in Teron if you have 3-4. Considering that you can start the game with 3-4 in your key skills and quickly add 2-3 skills or raise your key skills to 6, it's really hard to fail unless you go for a hybrid right away and spread your points too thin.

Quote
I can't speak for all players, but for me, gated content is the most frustrating when it is:

1) Too visible.

E.g. it's hard to miss the Abyss or the Arch, but most characters won't be able to do anything there. When there is a complete location which is freely accessible by anyone, but only meaningful for select few, it can get very irritating especially after many different playthroughs. I think you can call this kind of gating "negative", because that's what provokes the most negative reactions.
I don't consider it a flaw.

Quote
2) Too unbalanced.

The worst example of this in AoD is the whole historical/explorative part. I see AoD as a game with two separate "main stories" which every character gets: one is your guild, the other is everything that has to do with the Empire, "gods", ruins and artifacts. And that's cool - until you realize that the second "main story" is gated by a set of skills/stats specific to a single type of character (loremaster). Sure, you can visit all the main locations without any specific skills (except Inferiae, which, if I remember right, is gated by lore=3, and Al-Akia which is faction-gated), but there's a fat chance that you won't get anything from any of them except some exploration SP - and that always feels like you are robbed of 50% "playthrough content" (not to be confused with ALL game content). The only other "big gate" is the Arena and the side quests it unlocks, but it's still much smaller, and it's also a "soft" gate, meaning that practically any character can win it by trying hard enough and using all the tricks he can.

If you absolutely have to put so much content behind a single "gate", the only way to "fix it" I can see is adding even more gated optional content for all the other archetypes (i.e. different builds "reasonable" from role-playing perspective). Baldur's Gate 2 has "strongholds" gated by main character class, which is a lot of content - and I've never heard anything but praise of this decision. Why? Because there's always a stronghold for you, no matter what class you pick, so no one "loses" anything - instead, every player "gains" something that most other players do not. And the important part is that it's all optional, unlike AoD's guilds (well, technically they are optional too, but what's there to do if you don't join a guild and don't play a loremaster?). Of course, I don't really expect a small team to compete with BG2 (after all, Obsidian still can't do it with all their talent and money). But perhaps it means that you need smaller "gates" - but more of them instead.

Basically, gating in general is fine - but giving huge "unfair advantage" to 1 or 2 select builds out of dozens or hundreds possible ones is much less so. In AoD, it's very much possible to play a pacifist loremaster/praetor with high charisma and intelligence, get ready for ascension, and still have enough spare skill points to raise combat skills for the Arena, especially if you keep the power armor...
That's a good topic, so let's talk about it for a moment.

First, "strongholds for everyone" fucking sucks, which highlights Bio's "everyone is special so everyone gets a stronghold!" mentality. Back to AoD. I agree that Lore was a key skill that handled way too much, but it was kind of fitting. We could have split it into 3 skills but that would have forced you to spend more and only increased metagaming. In general, I don't think it was very hard to keep investing in Lore, once you realize its significance.

Anyway, let's talk about the CSG skills like Computers (aka the new Lore). Clearly, computers play an important role in this setting and people who are skilled in this area will have an advantage over their unwashed brethren. I really liked the new Deus Ex game, can't wait for the sequel, but that "let's leave datapads with passwords EVERYWHERE to offer a viable alternative to hacking" was kinda silly.

So what would be an appropriate alternative to Computers that wouldn't cheapen the skill and make investing into it pointless?

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I can't quite agree with that. I'd really love to see a true RPG with a more "active" dialogue system without sacrificing the rest of the systems. Of course it's hard, but hardly impossible.
Of course it's possible. The only factor is time. Originally I wanted to focus on redesigning the dialogue system and making it more "tactical", but we've decided to focus on a stealth path instead as it adds more. Basically, we have to pick our battles and now is not the time to fight this one. We'll tweak the dialogue system to make sure that the first failure doesn't end conversations but act as a modifier but the core will remain the same.
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Kirinyale
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« Reply #8 on: July 19, 2016, 11:31:15 am »

Since you've mentioned it, which dodgers had such high defense against 10 in weapon skill?

Plaudius the Arena challenger - 14% against 9 in crossbow skill, with a non-crafted repeating crossbow at 3 cell range. Ok, let's make it 24% against a 10.
Although I still killed that guy without too much trouble - got 2 lucky throwback hits out of 7 or 8 shots I had in my first 2 turns and added some poison... but I could just as well miss all 8 and get brutally murdered.

Bombs really shouldn't miss. Liquid fire too.

Well, if you can dodge an arrow, you can certainly dodge a bomb. Of course, it doesn't mean you will avoid all damage - it just won't hit the exact spot I aimed at, but still damage you if area of effect is wide enough. Though I'm not asking for this - it would only ruin the tactical aspect even more... Smile

but most players who start a fight by throwing a net would just reload if they miss.

Isn't it the same with bolas? I understand that the choking effect is much more powerful than a net, but it's exactly the same: if my tactics rely on using it and I miss, I'll just reload and try again. And if an enemy is scripted to start by choking me with a bola, I'll reload until he misses. Smile

We've considered and even implemented transferable APs (half of your unused APs are added to your next turn's AP pool) but it completely fucked up the balance, so it never made it past the internal testing. Such things often seem like great ideas on paper but their effect is hard to predict until implemented.

Was your enemy AI using it too? It's certainly hard to keep balance when adding features easily exploitable by humans, but blindly ignored by the NPCs...
Anyway, the second option might work differently since it doesn't give you extra AP "for free". Of course, it would require just as much testing (and much more work to implement).

Would the problem really go away if we switch to a smaller scale? You can ask the same question: what's the difference between 2 and 3 or 3 and 4?

But that's half as many questions, which makes them easier to answer. E.g. in AoD the crafting skill already has 5 meaningful levels (outside the explorative uses). It's bronze, iron, steel, blue steel and meteor metal for 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 respectively. Sharpening bonuses increase by the same 2-level steps IIRC. So why not bring it all to 0..5 scale and "normalize" the other uses?

I am still thinking about proper "steps" for various "peaceful" skills. It's certainly not easy without any existing examples (beyond simply splitting their uses into a catalogue and assigning a known level to each one, like it's often done with magic). One of the ideas I had was something like this for Persuasion:
1) You can convince someone who doesn't really have much against helping you, but doesn't see a good reason to make the effort.
2) You can convince someone who's mildly afraid of helping you.
3) You can convince someone who's actively opposed to what you are asking for due to reasons practical, but not essential to his/your personality.
4) You can convince a man to go against his personal principles (if he has any), or betray someone who's always been good to him (or, on the contrary, someone who's bad enough to not be wanted as an enemy).
5) You can convince someone who hates you personally (not necessarily to drop that hate and help you immediately like you are best friends, but at least listen to some of your arguments).

Of course it's very crude and probably can't account for all possible situations (but it's also not the only talking skill in the world) - but I think it's a decent starting point to illustrate what I mean. With 5 levels, establishing such rules for all skills is hard but theoretically manageable. With 10, it becomes impossible and you have to resort to assigning random-looking requirements to each check as you see fit.

Another one of my recent ideas is branching skills, or specialties. E.g. a Persuasion skill can branch at level 3, forcing you to choose between, say, Reason, Deception, Eloquence and Intimidation (the last one, of course, might be affected by some other factors, like it is in AoD). These 4 specialties are separate flavors of the skill, all usable independently in different situations. First 2 levels of the skill affect them all (to give the new player a small taste of everything before he's ready to choose what he likes best - but he might still have to think and use them proactively), and then only one is raised to 3 and beyond, leaving the others at 2 forever. Of course, this will limit the player freedom somewhat, but do it in a more-or-less natural way, preventing thin-spread builds, but making specialized ones more "personalized".

Are you talking about hybrids?

I am talking about first-time players who don't read guides and know nothing about usefulness of specific skills and amount of available skill points. I think it's quite natural to go for a hybrid right away when you are getting acquainted with the game, especially when there are so much temptations to resist (i.e. visible skill checks), and no one around to tell you that you HAVE to focus on at most 4 skills to get them all to highest levels. And when you play the second time, you probably already know many of the checks in advance.

it's really hard to fail unless you go for a hybrid right away and spread your points too thin

In Teron - yes, but it's quite easy to fail in Ganezzar. I failed the Commercium questline on my very first run because I didn't want to kill Cassius in the beginning, and didn't have "just enough" persuasion/streetwise/charisma in the end to convince Meru to give me a chance despite Feng's accusations. It's also extremely easy to fail 40 thieves in Ganezzar after passing all their previous tasks with flying colors, if you prefer sneaking and stealing (or fighting and killing) to lockpicking, throwing and disarming traps (which aren't too common before Ganezzar tunnels).

I don't consider it a flaw.

I don't say you have to. I'm just trying to explain where some of these complains are coming from and what can be done about them (to some extent). And of course, I don't say that all gated content should be invisible - it just won't make any sense sometimes. But more "surprise content" will probably improve the overall reaction greatly. My best moments when replaying the game for N-th time were surely the ones when I found something new where I thought I've already left no stone unturned.

First, "strongholds for everyone" fucking sucks, which highlights Bio's "everyone is special so everyone gets a stronghold!" mentality.

Ok, you'll be the first one. Wink

I agree that Lore was a key skill that handled way too much, but it was kind of fitting. We could have split it into 3 skills but that would have forced you to spend more and only increased metagaming.

Perhaps not if you had less levels in each of these 3 skills. If wouldn't have added much stress for a pure loremaster, but could have given more options to hybrids if they don't want to be jacks of all trades, but still want to stand a chance in a specific lore-related area.

In general, I don't think it was very hard to keep investing in Lore, once you realize its significance.

But you can't invest anything into intelligence if you deliberately started with a dumb character and hoped for more opportunities to use your strength, dexterity and constitution for something other than simply killing things. Smile Of course, 10 lore & 4 intelligence is better than nothing...

So what would be an appropriate alternative to Computers that wouldn't cheapen the skill and make investing into it pointless?

First of all, if you haven't already done this (seems pretty obvious), then Computers/Programming/Hacking/whatever-you-like-to-call-it (the new Lore) can naturally be paired with Electronics (the new Crafting), because hardware and software is not the same. Or, glancing back at my specialties idea, it might become a Science skill branching into several mutually exclusive specialties:
- Electronics - disabling alarms, bypassing (not hacking!) code locks, fixing broken gadgets, assembling robotic helpers (but the latter will probably be stuck with lousy "stock" AI).
- Programming - for an adventurer it's probably mostly hacking, but may come in different flavors - from cracking passwords to reprogramming turrets to improving robots' behavior to setting booby traps based on face/image/sound recognition to finding bugs in security programs and exploiting them later without actually altering or breaking anything (just like we constantly exploit AI deficiencies to win a combat)...
- Chemistry - Alchemy's respectable twin sister. Smile Can be used to blow up / melt strongboxes and doors instead of hacking their codes...
- Medicine - pretty self-explanatory, though doesn't have much to do with computers and strongboxes...
...and maybe something else that makes sense in your setting.

Well, these aren't really "alternatives", but I'm not sure a party-based RPG with predefined companions (they are predefined, are they?) will need them. A good party will likely have experts in most if not all fields (but skill branching might make it less straightforward). If it was single-character... leaving passwords everywhere is silly of course, but:
- You can intimidate/torture/bribe someone who has the right knowledge, not necessarily right on the spot where you need it - i.e. hire Iola or Bennie to help you with the monastery machine in AoD. That, of course, is risky because they might betray you or use the knowledge you shared with them against you. Also, if your only access point is the sewers teleporter, you'd have to work out a way to get your hired help there (i.e. Iola might not have enough con+dex to swim there on her own, so it might add a strength requirement to help her and a persuasion check to make her agree to that madness).
- You can sometimes copy some information and keep it until someone decyphers it for you. E.g. in AoD it would be nice if a character with high perception & dexterity was able to make a copy of an ancient inscription he can't read, then bring it back to Abukar for translation. There was even a quest like that in Skyrim's thieves guild, but, naturally, they kept it straight and simple like they always do.
- If your goal is getting somewhere (as opposed to understanding/using something), you may use your strength/dexterity to take a route unavailable for a "man of science". AoD sewers are a good example of that, but they ultimately lead to a machine which you can't use and canister you can't get if you are too stupid (though there are also other bonuses like respirator and some meteor metal, which is good). Heavy stone in Saross is a different example I still don't understand at all, because it requires great strength and doesn't seem to help reaching the secret chamber in any way. Why not remove the grating and attach a grappling hook to get inside through the service vent? And then use an old-school torch to examine the dark room?
- If everything else fails, you can SELL access to the weird places you've found to some prospector/loremaster who'll know what to do with them (getting some extra SP for such a deal, and, possibly, some interesting consequences after your buyer actually makes use of the tech & knowledge).

Simply speaking, if your character is too thick to understand something himself, find someone/something who can. Then manipulate them into doing what you want or explaining the most important parts in layman terms. Even a dumb person might be able to use sophisticated tech (e.g. hellgate grenade) if provided specific instructions (e.g. by Bennie - the fact that the first construct is already dead doesn't mean you won't need it later). And you don't have to be a genius to understand most of the pre-war lore if someone tells it to you straight (like Zamedi demon does, if you can convince him).

In fact, AoD already has lots of potential in that direction and could eventually be expanded to better support non-intelligent explorers. Of course, it would require more scripting... It always does. In the end, only you and your team can know how much of it you can handle.

Also, "balancing" doesn't necessarily mean giving full access and understanding of all loremaster-oriented areas to everyone. Instead, gate some content with other skills, so that even loremasters won't get everything. To quote your original post:

you moved a boulder and found a passageway to another area!

Why the hell not? Smile If a loremaster can find new areas by reading old scrolls and talking to other loremasters, a brutish thug can find different areas by moving boulders or killing and robbing people. As long as the balance is right, they will both feel rewarded (just in different ways). Monastery is one such location (which you find by getting hurt on a regular basis and going to healer), but one is just not enough when loremaster has what - 5? And what does a thief/assassin/grifter find that everyone else can't?
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Vince
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« Reply #9 on: July 19, 2016, 02:14:49 pm »

Was your enemy AI using it too?
Yes. The AI uses all available APs not a fixed amount.

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Would the problem really go away if we switch to a smaller scale? You can ask the same question: what's the difference between 2 and 3 or 3 and 4?

But that's half as many questions, which makes them easier to answer. E.g. in AoD the crafting skill already has 5 meaningful levels (outside the explorative uses). It's bronze, iron, steel, blue steel and meteor metal for 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 respectively. Sharpening bonuses increase by the same 2-level steps IIRC. So why not bring it all to 0..5 scale and "normalize" the other uses?
Oscar would agree with you but I feel that gaining skill level is an important aspect and 1-5 scale is simply too small, regardless of other factors. With 1-5 it would take you twice as long to gain a skill level, especially in an increase-by-use system.

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I am still thinking about proper "steps" for various "peaceful" skills. It's certainly not easy without any existing examples (beyond simply splitting their uses into a catalogue and assigning a known level to each one, like it's often done with magic). One of the ideas I had was something like this for Persuasion:
1) You can convince someone who doesn't really have much against helping you, but doesn't see a good reason to make the effort.
2) You can convince someone who's mildly afraid of helping you.
3) You can convince someone who's actively opposed to what you are asking for due to reasons practical, but not essential to his/your personality.
4) You can convince a man to go against his personal principles (if he has any), or betray someone who's always been good to him (or, on the contrary, someone who's bad enough to not be wanted as an enemy).
5) You can convince someone who hates you personally (not necessarily to drop that hate and help you immediately like you are best friends, but at least listen to some of your arguments).
I see it a bit differently. It should be tied to the task not to the person.

Asking to borrow a pen is easy. Asking to borrow a car for a week isn’t. Asking your boss for a position you want is much harder than asking him for a raise, neither is an easy task. Convincing Mercato (a pissed off guard who was passed for promotion) to tell you what you need to know, which doesn’t harm the Imperial Guards (the faction) directly is one thing. Convincing Carrinas to break the siege giving a big fuck you to Paullus and ruining his plans is another. Carrinas may like you a lot but what you’re asking for is simply too much.

It’s very hard to convey this information to the player, thus the only hint is common sense: the player must be aware of the constantly raised stakes. In Teron you use streetwise to convince some guy to deliver poisoned wine to the outpost. In Ganezzar you convince a zealot to die for you or some mercenaries to hand over the power armor.

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Another one of my recent ideas is branching skills, or specialties. E.g. a Persuasion skill can branch at level 3, forcing you to choose between, say, Reason, Deception, Eloquence and Intimidation (the last one, of course, might be affected by some other factors, like it is in AoD). These 4 specialties are separate flavors of the skill, all usable independently in different situations. First 2 levels of the skill affect them all (to give the new player a small taste of everything before he's ready to choose what he likes best - but he might still have to think and use them proactively), and then only one is raised to 3 and beyond, leaving the others at 2 forever. Of course, this will limit the player freedom somewhat, but do it in a more-or-less natural way, preventing thin-spread builds, but making specialized ones more "personalized".
It is too limiting. I don’t think you should be able to go through a game using nothing but Reason or Deception. You have to use both as neither one would work on everyone.

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First of all, if you haven't already done this (seems pretty obvious), then Computers/Programming/Hacking/whatever-you-like-to-call-it (the new Lore) can naturally be paired with Electronics (the new Crafting), because hardware and software is not the same.
Sure but then we’re back to that deadly Lore/Crafting combo.

Yes, the party setup will remove some of the pressure but I was curious how to solve this problem in a single-character game.
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Kirinyale
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« Reply #10 on: July 19, 2016, 03:07:48 pm »

Quote from: Kirinyale link=to---pic=7217.msg146099#msg146099 date=1468945875
Was your enemy AI using it too?
Yes. The AI uses all available APs not a fixed amount.

I mean, was it smart enough to willingly conserve AP where it makes sense (i.e. stand back and skip turns, inviting you to go first) instead of just closing in and attacking?

I see it a bit differently. It should be tied to the task not to the person.

But what I wrote is about the tasks. It's just that persuasion tasks are deeply tied with a person's feelings towards a specific proposition, or towards the person who's making it, so some classification might be possible. Lets see...

"Asking to borrow a pen" - this probably won't require a skill check at all, unless this specific pen is very dear to its owner and/or he doesn't have another one. Ok, maybe it's 1 if he's a greedy bastard.

"Asking to borrow a car for a week" - If you are really good friends with the owner, this is probably 2 or 3, depending on how often the owner is using it himself (i.e. how much inconvenience it would cause to him), and how much he trusts you not to crash it... and you might have to offer something in return.

"Asking your boss for a position you want" - 3 if you are qualified for this position, 4 otherwise.
"Asking him for a raise" - 2 to 4, depending on how much you actually deserve it.

Both can easily go up to 5 if your boss doesn't like you (but in that case, you are likely to be fired before you get a chance to ask for anything).

"Convincing Mercato (a pissed off guard who was passed for promotion) to tell you what you need to know, which doesn’t harm the Imperial Guards (the faction) directly" - 3 if you are nice to him. If you are not... well, as far as I remember, it's free because you have a really good leverage, but will certainly raise the difficulty of all subsequent dealings with him to 5.

"Convincing Carrinas to break the siege giving a big fuck you to Paullus and ruining his plans" - 4 to 5, depending on whether he does like you a lot.

Well, as I said from the start, it's pretty crude right now...

It is too limiting. I don’t think you should be able to go through a game using nothing but Reason or Deception. You have to use both as neither one would work on everyone.

If you specialize on Reason (with level 3+), you still keep level 2 at Deception and vice versa. Also, Persuasion doesn't have to be the only skill usable in dialogue. E.g. I'm also thinking of including "Inspiration" (which includes charm, wit, fervor and wisdom in its current iteration), and some lore/science/art-based skills with their own sets of specialties. Going through the game with a set of 3-4 "strong" specialties and a bunch of weaker ones is quite possible even in AoD. Though of course it's a very different design overall.

Yes, the party setup will remove some of the pressure but I was curious how to solve this problem in a single-character game.

Well, I don't have a magical solution yet. Smile In my project, I've spent most of the time so far on the tech side, and some of it on a rough story carcass, and only now (after getting more free time) starting to put together all my "systemic" ideas into something design-like. It's definitely going to take a while. Meanwhile, I'm just sharing some of these ideas in case you find any of them useful from your experience standpoint. And, in any case, such solutions are highly context-specific. I'd be very surprised if anyone found a skill combination which is always functionally equivalent to a different skill combination - but if you review it quest-by-quest, location-by-location with a few specific builds/archetypes in mind and all major NPCs in place, alternative solutions for individual problems can be found.
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Vince
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« Reply #11 on: July 19, 2016, 04:27:53 pm »

I mean, was it smart enough to willingly conserve AP where it makes sense (i.e. stand back and skip turns, inviting you to go first) instead of just closing in and attacking?
It didn't conserve AP the way the player would (which was problem #1 as it encouraged the player to skip or waste a turn by falling back to pile up more AP for the next turn, so essentially attacking every other turn to unleash the full power of your AP became the best strategy.

I don't recall the rate, I think you got 1AP for every unused 2AP to the maximum of 5, but I don't recall for sure as it was back in 2008. It was filed under 'failed experiment' and never revisited again.

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"Asking to borrow a pen" - this probably won't require a skill check at all, unless this specific pen is very dear to its owner and/or he doesn't have another one. Ok, maybe it's 1 if he's a greedy bastard.
Good pens are hard to come by. Anyway, your system is as arbitrary as mine because the player would still have no real way to tell why this check is 3 and the other is 4. The only way to fix it is by giving the player detailed stats on the NPCs (greed, honor, loyalty, distrust, confidence, etc). So if you're making an argument against Honor & Loyalty (Carrinas when you ask him to betray Paullus), you need to have Persuasion & Streetwise higher than the traits you're trying to undermine.

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Meanwhile, I'm just sharing some of these ideas in case you find any of them useful from your experience standpoint.
Of course. Always appreciated.
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MF
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« Reply #12 on: July 19, 2016, 06:06:09 pm »



So what would be an appropriate alternative to Computers that wouldn't cheapen the skill and make investing into it pointless?



That's something that bugged me in AOD.

There are loremaster NPC's in the game. I know Feng is a quack and the other guy is a bit of a weirdo, but they are loremasters and I'm sure they could solve more of the character's lore-related problems than they do now. A fighter would be able to intimidate them, a commercium player would be able to buy their service and a very persuasive character might convince them to help somehow.

I know this would make the player's lore skill less meaningful, but it would solve the hard gating for OCD players and make the world feel a little bit more alive. Int he CSG game, I'm sure the party-based mechanic will make up for some of this.

I'm not saying this would have been the way to go in AOD, but it did feel weird that I couldn't enlist help, no matter how rich or persuasive I was.
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Vince
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« Reply #13 on: July 19, 2016, 06:34:16 pm »

There are loremaster NPC's in the game. I know Feng is a quack and the other guy is a bit of a weirdo, but they are loremasters and I'm sure they could solve more of the character's lore-related problems than they do now. A fighter would be able to intimidate them, a commercium player would be able to buy their service and a very persuasive character might convince them to help somehow.

I know this would make the player's lore skill less meaningful...
A lot less. Why would you invest into a skill wasting valuable points if you can easily bypass it with your primary skills or money?
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Pladio
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« Reply #14 on: July 20, 2016, 04:12:48 am »

Combat system
I think it may be worth adding active abilities like Expeditions Conquistador did.
For example, a bowman should be able to use some AP to boost his aim for the next two shots. Or a swordsman could use his AP to increase his block chance for the next turn.

Also, make use of unused AP. For example, if I don't use all of my AP on one turn, why not make it regen one HP and give me another AP for next turn ?

Passive abilities could also be used to further flesh out characters. Or perks like in Fallout.

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I’m not sure there’s a way to “fix it” as those who want to get maximum content in a single playthrough will continue to metagame no matter what. The moment you tell the player "sorry, buddy, you need to be this tall to ride this", some players won't accept the failure and would want to know this kind of info in advance. Not many people see it as "you win some, you lose some" design. Anyway, I'd love to read your thoughts on this matter.

I think it may be worth looking at how Piranha Bytes "solves" this. In Gothic you can become whatever you want: a mage, a fighter, a hybrid and join multiple factions, but the choices are quite obvious. Once you join a faction, you know you cannot do other things.
Maybe this would be a good way to handle it.

Taking AoD as an example. It might be worth telling people, now if you do this for us, you are with us. There is no turning back. You'll be an assassin and no one else will ever think of you differently. Some doors will open. Others will shut.

Another way, it might be useful to suggest even on character creation the amount of unique content not possible to achieve with those starting stats.
For example, with intelligence of 9, you can get to 10 unique locations, but with 8 you can only get to 6, however, because you have now increased your dexterity the number is 7 locations.
No need to say which, but this way, people can min-max if they want to, but it gives some more information to the play to decide how to play ?



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A lot less. Why would you invest into a skill wasting valuable points if you can easily bypass it with your primary skills or money?

I actually think it makes sense though. And you wouldn't be able to bring Feng or Cassius with you everywhere, so it's only of limited use unless you raise your own Lore skill..
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