An Indie Oldschool Role-Playing Game

Classes in DarkDale

Classes in DarkDale

on Jun 1, 2013 | 1 comment

The game is progressing at a good pace, a character panel is now implemented with all character details, stats, attributes, resistances. We’ll cover it in more detail next time however, and let me introduce first how classes and skills are going to work, as far as we know at this stage.


To Be or Not To Be in a Class

In role-playing games, character development has been approached with various degrees of flexibility. On one end of the spectrum, you have the “no-class” school, where the player can chose to make the character into anything, without restrictions. In those games, characters could equally well fight with any weapon, cast spells or pick locks, provided you train them to do so. Dungeon Master is a prime example of a trend which continued through Ultima Underworld and up to recent Elder Scrolls incarnations. On the other side, we have D&D-inspired systems in which each class has strictly limited and exclusive abilites, with all kinds of restrictions. Only thieves can disarm traps. Only mages cast fireballs. Clerics cannot use edged weapons. Fighters are dumb and not good for anything else than taking and distributing blows. Each side has its pros and cons, obviously. The no-class system allows greater playing flexibility, and you can tune your characters to you playing style and really “role-play” them. Some argue also that it’s more realistic, especially in “advance-through-use” systems like DM or TES. There’s three major flaws to it however:

  • Advancing skills by training them is easily exploitable by grinding techniques (some of Skyrim‘s design issues go in this category), leading to unbalanced games.
  • Too much flexibility doesn’t force the player to make choices. Role-playing games are all about making choices, and if the player can have the cake and eat it too, it’s bad design.
  • In multi-character parties, it tends to erase character personality in the end-game where everyone gets eventually good at everything. This is a reason why this system works in single-character RPGs, like Ultima Underworld or Oblivion, but is weaker in games such as Dungeon Master. By the time you get to Chaos Strikes Back (DM’s follow up), if everyone in your party is not at least expert fighter and expert ninja and expert wizard and expert priest, you have little chance of surviving. At this point, there’s little individuality left, and your final party mostly looks the same in every playthrough.

The class systems have the great advantage of forcing you to choose when building up your party, carefully planning ahead. The game with a different party composition offers a different playing experience. If done well, it also allows you to tune your party to your playing style (more fighters vs more wizards). The system is not devoid of design problems however:

  • Exclusive but essential abilities frequently force you to include certain classes in your party. You needed a Bard in The Bard’s Tale, or couldn’t get past a puzzle. No Rogue in Might & Magic 3? Forget about loot in chests, no one else could pick locks well enough. No Cleric? Prepare to sleep for 3 weeks to get hit points back. Party creation choice then becomes the illusion of choice.
  • Too specialized classes don’t encourage gameplay choices, as there’s an obvious use for everything. Who should wear the plate armor we just found? Only the Fighter is allowed to. For whom is the book of magic? Well, only Mages can read those. Where do I put my skill points on leveling my Rogue? Lock picks, traps, evasion, daggers, maybe bows – it’s a no brainer. Who’s on the front rank. Well… the Fighters, no? Things shouldn’t always be a no-brainer.
  • If there aren’t any multi-classing/specialization paths available, the class structure feels rigid over the course of the game, as you are stuck with the same combination of talents for the whole game. This absence of evolution may prove fatal when you realize you don’t have a late-game essential skill because you didn’t train it or include it, as there was no use for it early-game.
  • Finding random class-specific loot can be somewhat disappointing. You fought bravely and the Lich is dead. Its minions almost killed your Cleric, and your Mage is out of spells for the way out of the catacomb. You used that potion of Titan’s stength you were holding dearly.  You approach the chest, disarm the trap, open it at last and find… A… what? A Diamond Katana of the Gods? Wait, what! Samurais only?


The DarkDale System

As far as real-time crawlers go, Dungeon Master is on one side of the spectrum, Eye of the Beholder or Legend of Grimrock, on the other. DarkDale will try to propose a hybrid solution between these two approaches, in an effort to correct some of the flaws pointed out on both sides. So there WILL be classes, and yet everyone WILL be able to learn every skill and use every item in the game. How is this going to work, you might ask? Well, everyone can do anything, but they are not equally good at it.

The system will revolve around the concept of skill modifier. Each class will be able to learn each skill, but at a different rate and/or skill points cost. For example, Fighters will be able to learn the Swords skill at a 100% rate, Rangers at a 75% rate, and Mages at a 25% rate. So at level-up, if you invest 4 skills points on the Swords skill of your fighter, it advances by 4 points, but you would only get an advance of 3 for the ranger, or 1 for the mage. If it was just that of course, no one would inefficiently invest skill points at a 25% rate, and rightly so. These skill modifiers will be able to change under three circumstances, making things a bit more dynamic:

  • At level 10 and level 20, characters will be able to chose one of two specialization paths specific to each class. It is possible to specialize twice in the same path, or pick one of each. Specializations give bonuses to skill modifiers for a specific set of skills. As a reference, we target chracters to reach level 25-30 by the endgame.
  • Unique game events will allow characters to become better in a skill. For example, a sage could accept to train one character to be more in connection with his magical energies, giving +25% to his magic skills. Do you use that to make your Mage an even better mage, or take the opprotunity to make your Palandin a bit of a better healer? Again, choices.
  • Some rare items will give bonuses to skill modifiers. We’ll keep these very very low in number however, as it opens the door for abuse and they lose their special status. Definitely not a standard enchantment you could craft on an item, even a high-level one.


Fighters Charge

There will be seven classes in DarkDale, currently named Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Mage, Cleric & Druid. With 2 specializations each and the flexibility explained above, it can lead to a pretty good diversity of party composition by the end of the game. Every class will have a guild side-quest line, and as you can only have 4 characters, it will require multiple palythroughs to cover all content. To show a concrete example, here’s a list of the fighter class skills and modifiers (all numbers being subject to change) :

Fighter Class

As you can see, Fighters are one of the more basic classes, centered around melee weapons and defense skills. At level 10, a Fighter can decide to become an Armsmaster, gaining a 25% (retroactive) bonus to his melee weapon skills. But he could also decide to become a Battlemage, gaining a 50% bonus to his Elemental Magic skills. Another specialization in the same path at level 20, and your Fighter – now Arcane Warrior – would be able to swing Lightning Bolts as well as a mage with a 125% Elemental Magic skill modifier. Particular specializations such as these will also be referenced in the lore, to create a more believable world where mechanics and lore work together.

User-Defined Classes

As a class is essentially a collection of skill modifiers and specialization definitions with their own set of skill modifiers, user-defined classes become a possibility for modding. Just put a defineChampionClass{} function in an lua file (like classes.lua) and you’re good to go. You don’t like the classes that come with the game? DarkDale will support overriding individual elements of the main game through modding, unlike Legend of Grimrock where mods where self-contained entities. Players will thus be able to rebalance or replace classes with their own, should they wish to do so.

Now, I know this post opens a lot of questions, on how the acutal skills work, leveling, magic… We’ll cover everything in due time, after all we have still months ahead. Meanwhile, here’s an image of the first monster the party will encounter in the sewers of Mountain Shadow, a bat I finished modeling this week:

Bat game model, with diffuse, normal and specular maps applied.

Bat game model, with diffuse, normal and specular maps applied.

    1 Comment

  1. Great stuff.
    I cant wait to learn about world interactions and crafting.
    Keep up the great thoughts 🙂


    June 2, 2013

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