d&d

class and role

I’ve deleted a post about class “purity”, and how adding more of them — or any asset, really — blurs and devalues the existing ones, but it was too generalized in tone.  To help this time, I will employ some awesome photoshop skills.

Let’s say we’re making an rpg and we’ve established 10 fundamental skills.  These are unique, arbitrary, independent, consistent among themselves, and non-contradictory.  We’ve decided (so again, arbitrary but reasonable) that we will have 5 classes (I – V), each with its own unique pair of skills (A-J).

-1

rigid but elegant

If this is too abstract, pretend that the skills are things like martial prowess, spellcasting, diplomacy, healing, mechanical ability, stealth, etc.  The only restriction on a “fundamental” skill is that it reside at the lowest tier of definition, so you wouldn’t want a distinction between melee and ranged physical combat ability if you’ve only got a generalized spellcasting skill.  It really depends on how you want to categorize the skills.

Because each skill is possessed by only one class, neither of the pair is seen as “primary” or more important, though one might more align with a preconceived class archetype.  When the classes are as well-defined and unique as this, it is much more likely that an adventure can be constructed that allows each class to fulfill its role, in the true “role playing” sense.  [The transformation of “role playing” from “role played in the party composition” to “let’s play dress-up like I’m on stage” is a totally different rant topic.]  This applies equally to pen & paper, where you will have different personalities with different preferences for what kind of character to play, as well as a crpg, where one player will want to have a different game experience based on playing a different class in subsequent playthroughs, or simply wants to enjoy having to manage party NPCs.

Now let’s do what even 1e did, and start making hybrids with the previous fundamental classes.  We’ll add new class VI, which will have skills b and c.  Instead of 6 distinct classes, we have 3 distinct classes, and a new, higher tier of class that is defined by skills b and c.

-2

3 hybrids and 3 pures

This new metaclass has a “pure” version, class VI, and two subclasses, I and II.  Adventures must accomodate redundant roles now, and for the same reasons, obsolete roles.  If a balanced party consisted of each of the 5 original classes, you’re now dealing with potential overlap between 3 classes, when at worst only 2 were needed.  Even more detrimentally, you could “waste” a party slot in order to satisfy a required need from a role, using two or more classes to do what one used to or could.

So far, this has been at its simplest.  Now (I wish I didn’t have to use this word so much, but I guess if I’m contrasting like this, it’s unavoidable?) let’s imagine that instead of simple and unique skills, we further break those skills down into their components and make those into subskills (such as the aforementioned melee vs ranged physical combat prowess, or arcane vs divine spellcasting).

-3

and this is less than 20% of the new “classes”

When the classes simply become varying combinations of arbitrarily defined skills, the “role” the classes could play goes into the toilet.  Consequently, in order to accomodate the virtual inevitability that a limited pool of players (in p&p) or preferences (single-player in a crpg), the adventures will have to be reduced to the lowest common denominating ratio of fun:challenge.  Battles will become more generic and less tailored, requiring increasingly mindless stratagies to overcome.  AD&D was already headed in this direction in 1e, but 2e solidified the bastardization of classes and skills, finally culminating in the robotic 3e and Pathfinder breed of rpg.

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druid equipment

I preferred 1e druids over 2e, when they were a distinct subclass like paladin, rather than shoved into a cleric with a nature focus.  Oddly, though, some of the characteristics that were carried over intact remained opaque and arbitrary.  One of these is the equipment restrictions. 1e simply states that they have “an inability to wear protective armor of metal” (1e PH, p. 21).  Their weapons, without any explanation, are limited to “club, dagger, dart, hammer, scimitar, sling, spear, staff”.  For 2e, they tried a little harder to justify these same restrictions by stating explicitly a druid can only use “natural” armors, with weapons still unexplained (2e PH, p. 35).

I don’t see how iron is any different in “naturalness” than leather.  The distinction they seem to want to make is “organic” or “biological”, so let’s treat that as the reason.  Either way, it still shines no light on why this would apply to armor, when weapons like scimitars still violate the rule.  This is another example of trying to retrofit a somewhat rational design scheme onto a hodge-podge of peremptory rules:  It is incomplete, inconsistent, and unsatisfactory.

Magic Combat and AI

There are things that devs and modders have tried to implement, but haven’t really come close to being successful at.  One of the most obvious and saddest examples is the AI versus player’s spell protections.  When the AI casts a spell like Spell Deflection, the player sees both the name of the spell as the enemy’s action, and can tell by the graphic overlay if the spell is still functioning in later rounds.  He also knows whether this spell is deflection, reflection, or absorption, and can act accordingly.  He can also easily keep up with how much of a beating the protection has taken, and can tailor his actions.

Sadly, the AI cannot come close to this level of knowledge.  BG only has two conditions to check for spell protections, HasBounceEffect and HasImmunityEffect.  The first returns true if the target has any reflection effects; this would be fine, except that this also includes spells that reflect physical projectiles like arrows.  The AI can’t tell the difference between the 6th level priest spell Physical Mirror and the 5th level mage spell Minor Spell Turning.

The second trigger, HasImmunityEffect, is even worse.  It returns true if the target is immune or protected, not from just spells, but from secondary applied effects like icon displays, visual effects, and display strings.  This means that HasImmEff will return true even if the player has only cast Remove Fear on himself, since part of that spell is protecting from the Fear visual effect, the string that says “Charname panicked”, and the Panicked icon.  The AI is unable to distinguish between Remove Fear, Minor Globe of Invulnerability, Spell Immunity, or Chaotic Commands.

In many effects exists a hardcoded setting of a variable, either as STATE or STATS (IDS files), that can be checked by a script to help with targeting.  For example, charm effects automatically set the STATE_CHARMED as true, so that when the charm is ended, whether by duration or dispelling, the STATE is also reset to zero.  Spells that apply an effect that does not have this hardcoded convenience can use the simple workaround of manually setting a STATS as a part of the spell.  There’s even enough room in the STATS and STATE IDS files to add new entries.  The venerable Detectable Spells mod, in use by many AI mods, does this with Spell Deflection for the various deflecting anti-magic spells.

The problem with this — and it’s a big one — is that it cannot account for the spell running out by decrementation (being used up by spells cast at it), and so only resets by either duration or dispelling. What you get is the ultimate in inefficiency:  You’ll see AI mages wasting a 6th level Pierce Magic spell to take a down a 3rd level Minor Spell Deflection that only has 1 spell level of protection left.  These are crippling mistakes that only the AI can make, not the player, and as such, are yet another opportunity for the player to inadvertently (or not) exploit the suboptimal AI.  Even the better AI mods are unable to overcome this deficiency.

terminology, history

The “long sword” in D&D is misnamed.  What it should properly be called is an arming sword, or broad sword.  Historical longswords were designed for 2-handed use, and are nearly synonymous with greatswords.

Splint mail shouldn’t even exist in a world with full plate.  It’s the equivalent of muskets alongside AR-15s.

Why is it so?  Remember the freedom of 1e that I praise?  Well, sometimes it works against itself.  In the 1e PH there’s several pages of equipment listings, costs, and statistics.  What was supposed to represent what might be available in a game setting was taken as what should always be available.  This is why there is no accounting for obsolete weapon and armor forms.  Sure, someone ignorant of the evolution of armaments wouldn’t notice, and there’s always the fallback of “it’s just a game, don’t care so much”.  But to me, it stands out like someone with so little knowledge of baseball, that he keeps the glove on while at bat.

Fortunately, BG is already very limited in its animations, so pruning the excess of items won’t be a problem visually.

weight, encumbrance, inventory

This is one of those areas where I definitely want to effect a change, but the manner for doing so is slightly unwieldy.  Let’s define the terms.  Weight is simply how heavy an object is.  Encumbrance describes how restricted you are by a combination of an object’s weight, its fragility, and the ease with which it is carried.

A small metal vial containing poison antidote might weigh about half a pound.  In BG, there are no fractions.  This potion has to be either weightless or twice as heavy.  Its encumbrance is almost negligible.  These facts combine to make this potion more encumbering than it should be, a due paid for its translation into a computer game.

At the other end, we have a suit of plate mail:  large, heavy pieces of thick metal.  It is exponentially more encumbering to carry than to wear, but there is no way to represent that in BG.

Then we have BG’s inventory system.  On one hand, it wants to be realistic:  STR-determined carry limits, a finite number of slots for equipped items, and a finite number of slots for carried/unworn items.  For convenience, they also allowed for the stacking of certain items — ammuntion for missile weapons, scrolls, and potions mostly.  Unfortunately, the limitation of the engine once again makes something inconsistent, and both unrealistic and inconvenient.  You can stack arrows, but only arrows of the same type.  You can stack spell scrolls, but only of the same spell.  Unique scrolls, such as quest clues or notes, can’t be stacked at all.  Then they added in portable containers, where like-item-stacking was not a concern, but also completely obliterated the point of limited carrying capacity in the first place.  In other words, it’s an incoherent mess that serves no purpose other than to clumsily and impotently limit what and how much a character can carry.

There are very good reasons for wanting to limit how much a character can carry.  You don’t want them to be able to horde potions and spell scrolls, saving them for the otherwise really tough encounters, by deliberately not using them for the numerous token battles.  But inventory restriction is the wrong place to address this.  The encounters should be designed to need those assets more often, and they should be harder to come by.

On the other hand, in P&P, players would have the option to hire porters and henchmen, hirelings that wouldn’t necessarily affect the outcome of an encounter, but would allow the party to lug around much more loot and equipment.  As it is in BG, one of the biggest restrictions on this — the weight of coinage — isn’t even an issue.

I’m not quite sure why I would restrict inventory, even if I can figure out how, but I do know I don’t like the idea of a character carrying multiple suits of armor, or an entire collection of weapons like a portable armory.

you can’t just evolve from a flawed ancestor

This is from the Character doc, in the same rambling style as the rest of the docs.  It’s at least 6 years old, but I’m sure its points have been stated before.  Yet, here we are in ’16 and we still ignore them:

I want to rant a bit on the existence of the paladin concept in the first place.  It’s from a time when the game was absolutely human-centric, as easily seen in level caps for demihumans and some classes being human-only.  But it’s more than that.  Even its brand of LG is an extreme version, and one implicitly religious in nature with its demon protections and evil detections.  Holy warrior, indeed, but did it need to be its own class?  Why not just a role-played fighter?  Surely if the religious aspect were made explicit, any extraneous benefits could be given both variety and consistency.  As it is, it’s a class very limited in what cultures it would exist in without heavy modification.  Moreso, it forces a definition of LG that is horribly arbitrary;  witness Keldorn who knows he must kill the man who “cheated” with his wife, and put his wife in jail, all for “adultery”?  What kind of stereotypical patriarchal bullshit is this?  Is it Lawful because he’s obeying his order’s, or Amn’s, laws?  Is it “good” by any definition at all?  That these are even questions, nevermind unignorable and quite legitimate ones, shows that the paladin concept needs to be separated from its antiquated “historical” inspirations if it’s going to stay in this mod.  Hypocritical, self-righteous religious freaks doling out paranoid justice with swords need to meet the same fate they all too willingly mete out to everyone else.

Is it possible to make a paladin a viable subclass and not just the obvious cleric/fighter hybrid it currently is?  Is it possible to give it abilities and restrictions that do not explicitly rely on religious affiliations?  The most consistent characteristic of the paladin ideal is Lawfulness.  They all give reverence to a code of behavior and enforce that code through violence regardless of its nobility or righteousness.  I’d strongly argue that they need to be Good;  Keldorn himself personified the adage that “Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you’re told;  religion is doing what you’re told regardless of what is right,” if you treat his Order as a religion (and it certainly qualifies).

Enchantment and weight

Given how much of AD&D was derived from Tolkien, I can understand why they would have magic armor reduced in weight. However, one of 2e’s numerous failings, that I will point out at every opportunity, was in not understanding why it happened in the first place. The entire idea was based on Bilbo’s mithril chain. The armor was light because of the material and construction, not because it was “magic”. Enchanting something doesn’t automatically alter any particular characteristic. If this weight reduction (and subsequent lessened Strength requirement) were valid, all magic items would be reduced in weight compared to their normal counterparts. This is clearly not the case. Tomes remain heavy and bulky, amulets bow to gravity and lie gently on the chest or neck, and potions retain their viscosity. Indeed, imagine the difficulties involved with enchanted arrows, whose efficacy depends on the physics of their flight remaining stable.

chargen

(from Character doc)

Anyone familiar with the original PnP will know how difficult it is to roll an 18.

.               % chance
score          on 3d6
3                    0.42
4                    1.25
5                    2.50
6                    4.17
7                     6.25
8                    8.75
9                     11.7
10                    15.0
11                    15.0
12                    11.7
13                    8.75
14                    6.25
15                    4.17
16                    2.50
17                     1.25
18                    0.42

That’s right:  a less than one half of one percent chance of getting an 18 (less than once per 200 rolls), and a less than 10% chance of getting a 15 or higher.  It is more than 50% likely that a roll will fall into the average range of 9-12.

As you can see, 18’s were monumentally difficult to achieve.  Most of the alternative rolling methods dealt with how to assign them to the attributes, as much as slightly raising the average.  You could also raise one attribute by one by lowering another by two — once.  This was when you rolled before choosing a class and not the other way around as in BG2, making being a paladin or druid or ranger much less likely and way more awesome.  The net result is that no one ever had more than one 18 if any, and having more than two stats higher than 14 was exceedingly rare.  Imoen’s stats (18 17 16 16 11 9) are absolutely godlike and should be treated as virtually cheating.  Multiple 18’s and the rest as 10’s should be disallowed, as should any stat below 6.  There’s no way to do this with BG2’s character generator, which makes any other workaround an automatic fail since re-generating Charname in Candlekeep/CI via scripts and dialogs would be cumbersome and clumsy.

Most (combat) grunt NPCs should have their primary class attribute in the 13-15 range with “bosses” 16 or higher.  Only unique or rightfully powerful NPCs should have 17 or higher or multiple attributes over 14.  Non-class attributes should be 12 or less.  The sheer number of fodder NPCs that routinely have 18’s is ridiculous.

One thing missing entirely from BG2 are class level limits for nonhumans.  Even 2e held this concept over as a way to balance power and justify a human-centric milieu.  Even though BG2’s setting, The Forgotten Realms, was born of that era, it is understandable a game that would see human characters attaining level 19 and upwards would not want to keep nonhumans in the 8 to 16 range.  Had they done so, multiclassing would have gone from optional to required just to maintain viability.  The glaring problem is, of course, that any class available to a nonhuman is going to automatically be more powerful played by a nonhuman, i.e. outside of class availability restrictions, there is a tremendous disadvantage to being human.  While I can’t easily — and don’t want to, anyway — impose level limits on nonhumans, I will be giving humans in non-exclusive classes some advantages

distinctiveness with a limited resource

In the overall picture, nearly every asset in BG2 is geared towards one thing:  combat.  As sad (and still rectifiable) as it is, there are scant few instances in dialogs or plots where a character’s attributes, skills, or even race or class, come into play.  This is certainly the case with magic.  This makes magic a necessarily truncated experience, as the things that can be altered and the ways those things can be altered are both limited:  thac0, damage, AC, saves, and various states like panic, hold, and charm.  All spells outside of the metamagic category are some combination of these effects as either boons to allies or banes to enemies.  Some effects like petrification have a minimum but also static level of effectiveness (one cannot be partially petrified).  Others like panic have a de facto maximum due to widespread immunities or easy to obtain counters.  Both types can be given power mobility by adjusting the saving throws of their effects, and limiting or expanding their range or area of effect.  Other effects, notably damage, are easily scalable and can be crafted to fit any situation.  In essence, there are only a handful of  spells, but by managing the likelihood and extent of these handful of effects, we can have seemingly disparate spells of differing ranks.  (I use the term “rank” instead of “level” when talking about spell levels… er, ranks.)

One way to go would be to simply enumerate all these spells at rank One and scale them thereafter with no need for Two through Nine other than as deliberately expanded options.  Take Charm.  At rank 1, for example, it affects one creature of a specific creature type (humanoid) for a short amount of time with a significant save bonus.  That same rank 1 spell could scale to gradually reduce the save bonus into a penalty, the duration could be lengthened, the target types affected could eventually become universal, and the number of targets increased.  That’s one scaled spell that is doing the job of multiple BG2 spells without any real loss of verisimilitude or variety.  BG2/AD&D just so happened to parse out these iterations in a more arbitrary fashion.  Many damage spells do this exact thing but it seems more natural when the scaled effect is ‘damage’ as opposed to a status effect.