An Indie Oldschool Role-Playing Game

Skills and Combat

Skills and Combat

on Jun 13, 2013 | 9 comments

After crunching polygon after polygon, my GPU bit the dust last week, taking the motherboard with it in its unglorious death. No data loss, thanks to regular backups and an intact drive, but two-three weeks lost of active development time, between trying the get the thing repaired and waiting for the new laptop to arrive, which is still too much days ahead for my taste. Hopefully the new 4th gen i7 processor will help catching up with better rendering times on those normal and ambiant occlusion maps.

Oh well. Life happens. Goodbye Spock (the computer’s name), you’ve been helpful, let’s hope Kirk-to-be will live longer and prosperer.

But don’t worry, I’ve not been idle either. Digged up an older computer, fired Word and set on some design and writing tasks. We’ve sketched the world setting and lore a bit better, including some history elements, and outlined how the cult/religion elements would work. But more on this another time, let’s first continue the disscussion started in the last post with classes, and talk a bit today about skills – as we’ve also used this time to design skill trees in more detail.


The Skill System

As explained in the previous update, classes will be based around the concept of skill modifier. In a nutshell: skill points x skill modifier = skill level, as shown in the following screenshot:

The skills panel of the user interface. (And the Sewers wallset WIP in the background)

The skills panel of the user interface. (And the Sewers wallset WIP in the background)


There will be seven skill levels for every skill. Everyone starts as a Novice at 0 skill points, and then follow, calculated after the modifier of course (any similarity with the skill level names in another game is not the result of a coincidance and is fully intended) :

  • Apprentice (5 points)
  • Journeyman (15 points)
  • Adept (30 points)
  • Expert (50 points)
  • Master (75 points)
  • Grandmaster (100 points)

At each level, the character will gain access to unique perks, be it special abilites, new attacks or passive abilities. The skill level itself will however be also used to boost combat stats or spells power, to avoid the slightly unfun situation at higher levels where you keep adding points on level up and nothing happens and then suddenly you gain a lot of power when you cross the threshold.

The question of trainers is yet undecided. The original idea was to include a trainers system similar to the one used in Might & Magic VI & VII for higher skill levels (Expert, Master & Grandmaster), where you would need for example to find the one Swords Grandmaster to obtain the title. On second thought, this worked well because the game world in these games was huge, allowing the trainers to be spread all over the place. As the explorable world in DarkDale will be relatively smaller, trainers would end much more packed together, lowering a bit the interest of the “quest” part. This is something that will need to be retought once the game world itself is more developed – the idea is on hold right now, but not fully abandoned.


Combat in DarkDale

To give a better picture of the skills system, let’s take a look at how combat skills will work, but first, a small discussion of combat itself. Many of you wondered why the combat is intended to be real-time instead of turn-based. Let me assure you that it is neither a buisness decision nor an attempt to make the game more “action” oriented. I love the tactical depth that turn-based RPGs have to offer, but I feel that there is still much design space unexplored in real-time crawlers.

The main critique of tile-based real-time dungeon crawlers is that you can essentially cheat your way through combat by just stepping around monsters and hitting them while they are facing another direction. While definitely an issue, I think that it is not an unsovable one, and it is the first thing that I started brainstorming about when approaching the DarkDale project. A few ideas:

  • Armor and evasion ratings, as well as protection spells, will have a more important effect, to encourage standing ground in fighting and making armor valuable. As it its, in Dungeon Master or Legend of Grimrock, if you just danced around monsters, having a shirt or a Plate Mail didn’t change anything, making finding better armor equipment a bit unrewarding.
  • Stun, paralysis, slow, webs and other similar effects will be more prevalent, to hinder constant running around.
  • Attacks will have to-hit penalties when striking at moving targets. Waiting for the monster to stop moving before attacking will guarantee a more efficient attack but also make it more dangerous. Again encourages standing fighting.
  • Running around will use stamina more quickly and, as we’ll see, stamina is required to use special attacks.
  • Monsters will have more special attacks or special AIs which play around the “two-step dance”. Legend of Grimrock introduced the side-attack for example, which was a good idea. More of the sort.

But all this won’t prevent combat from becoming boring and repetitive if there are no options for how to engage enemies. In Grimrock, exactly like in the Eye of the Beholder series, you had one option: you right-click the weapon, it hits or misses, and that’s it for the whole game. Grimrock‘s special attacks happened at random without any control from the player and weren’t adding much. Dungeon Master, on the other hand, proposed attack modes: you right-click the rapier, you get to Jab, Swing or Thrust. A great idea on paper, but poorly implemented. As the only thing that changed with better attack modes was that they dealt more damage at the cost of a longer cooldown, and that tradeoff was always at your advantage, there was no incentive to use anything but the best attack once you had the skill level to access it. So the system ended up in the same dead-end than the other games mentionned above, only with one mouse click more. Note also that in all those games, having a sword or a mace didn’t actually change much to the combat style either, apart having a different icon in your hand.


Swing & Thrust & Stun & Cleave

What if we had a system like in Dungeon Master, but where the different weapon types and the different attacks would actually matter? That’s what we’re going to attempt in DarkDale. Every skill tree will have access to three distinct modes of engagement: a standard attack, a special attack and a power attack. In comparison with the standard attack, the special attack will have the same base cooldown, but will use more stamina and generally deal less damage in exchange for a special ability, like armor penetration. At Expert, Master & Grandmaster levels, power attacks will give access to powerful abilities. These use up a lot of stamina however, and have double the cooldown.

Swords, blunt weapons and axes will exist in one- or two-handed varieties. These two-handed weapons have a +50% cooldown penalty and a -5 accuracy penalty, but the penalties go away at higher skill levels. Staffs are always two-handed and do not have particular penalties. In addition to the perks gained at each skill level, characters will receive a +1 bonus to damage for every 5 skill points, and a +1 bonus to accuracy for every 10 skill points.

While designing the skill trees, special attention was paid to make sure that all six melee combat skills had unique characteristics. Unarmed combat gives access to unique critical hits with a chance of paralysis or even instant kill as a tradeoff for the lack of equipement. Staves are the only weapons able to reach from the back rack. Daggers will allow dual wielding. Blunt weapons will be able to stun opponents. Deciding on a weapons build for the party will thus be a much more interesting and flexible process. Let’s take a look at the Swords and Axes skill trees:

DarkDale SwordSkillTable

DarkDale AxesSkillTable


As you can see, the sword’s Thrust attack is less powerful but ignores part of the enemy evasion rating, while the axe’s Cleave attack does the same for armor. Why, if the equation is essentially To hit chance = Character accuracy – Enemy evasion, isn’t the Thrust attack simply adding to your accuracy instead of taking a percentage off the enemy evasion? Precisely because it would be simpler, and would make the attack better against any type of opponent, while when calculated this way, Thrust is only better against fast and agile ones, Swing being better against the slower ones. You’ll thus be happy to have a good swordsman when facing a fast flying Vampire Bat, but an axeman will do much better cleaving away at a Stone Golem.

Power attacks may sound like a huge thing, but they don’t come for free: the stamina cost for using them will require you to carefully think when to use them instead of mindless clicking, making sure to keep some reserves if you get cornered, something we guarantee will happen.

Of course, we haven’t told you everything yet about skills, and there’s more in store for another post, so stay tuned!


  1. Hi Georges,

    Your details on skills amd combat was very enlighting of what to expect, and surely seems that the game would be really interesting. I have just two questions one regarding combat and a general one. So the first question is:
    Given that the combat will be real-time, wouldn’t it be difficult to handle 3 different options for each party member, which I suppose could be 6 in the case of having a dual weapon wielder? If fear that this could make the combat really action-oriented, since you will struggle to click on the option you want for each party member. Please do not misjudge me, I am a great supporter of real-time combat vs turn-based.
    Now the second question is: What resolutions do you plan to support for the game? Will you target from 1024×768, which I think is the minimum for a modern game up to HD (1920×1080)?


    June 14, 2013

    • Hi Greco,

      We’ll fine tune the pace of combat in playtesting to ensure it doesn’t become a clickfest. If cooldowns are longer for both the monster and the party, it will make things more manageable. If they are too long it will get boring though, so it will be a matter of finding the good balance. It was relatively ok in DM (in my opinion), so I don’t see why it should be a big problem here. Keyboard control/hotkeys can help too.

      Anyway, it’s not like the game will be all about combat… it’s ok in my view if combat sequences are a bit more stressful and active, compared with all the exploration, mapping, item management, puzzles, reading, dialogue, and so on.

      For resolutions, yes, probably what you said. I’m not yet sure, but I’m considering locking the resolution to widescreen, and it would appear with black bars like a movie on square displays. Based on recent statistics, over 90% of steam users have widescreen displays and it would really make my life easier with GUI design.

      Georges Dimitrov

      June 14, 2013

  2. Hello there,

    what are the skill points used for ? Learning ? Or do they reflect, as it seems, the level of the skill, along with the skill level ? Or maybe both ?
    If so, any info about skill learning ?


    June 18, 2013

    • The skill modifier represents a learning capacity, a potential. The skill points represent the actual investment the character has done in learning the skill.

      You can think of it as time if you wish. For example, investing 10 skill points in the Fighter’s swords skill would represent 10 days of training with the sword, and as his skill modifier for swords is 100%, his swords skill would be at 10.

      But let’s say the same fighter invests 10 days in studying how to pick locks, as he’s not naturally very talented for that (thieving skill modifier at 25%) his skill would only advance to 3 (10 * 0.25 = 2.5, rounded up to be nice).

      So skill points represent the brute time/training/experience invested in the skill. How effective this will be for the actual skill level depends on how much inclination the character has for the skill, which is represented by the skill modifier.

      I’m not a 100% sure, but I’ll probably go with a “distribute skill points at level up” model, backed by occasional gains in between (skill tomes, trainers, maybe usage will have a small effect).

      Georges Dimitrov

      June 18, 2013

  3. Thanks for the detailed answer, Georges. So, the basic skill points will be taken into account to determine the overall level ? So a 100*0,25 pickpocketing warrior will be considered a (100)Grandmaster or a (25)journeyman ?
    So, the skill points have no effects beside telling the level in the skill, and the improvement effects in the skill are tied to the reached level.
    I don’t want to brag or anything, but you might want to check the skill system I implemented in The Lost Continent, that was somewhat pretty close (except for the skill modifiers) to what tou seem to want to achieve (to summary, skill points, that were gained when using the proper skills, and general experience points, that were used to help reach the next skill level if need be. However, the skill system was quite flawed, because I couldn’t easily add a proper teacher/guild feature. But whatever.)
    However, your system seem very solid and engaging so far, keep up the great work and concepts 🙂


    June 19, 2013

    • A pickpocketing warrior with 100 skill points will be journeyman (100*0.25 = 25).

      Investing skill points at a 1/4 rate is obviously not very efficient and recommended. The idea is that for every skill, there will be one or two “primary” classes and some secondary ones. So Rogues start with a 100% thieving modifier. But if you don’t want to have a Rogue in your party, Rangers have a 50% thieving modifier, which can get to 75% with a specialization. So they can be a viable alternative, you just pay the lack of a specialized rogue with the need to invest a bit more skill points to get the same result.

      Anyway, all these numbers are still design ideas, everything will need to be thoroughly tested once the game is more developed. For example, I choose 25% increments to keep things more simple, but I feel I might change that to 10% increments to make balancing easier and character development a bit smoother.

      Georges Dimitrov

      June 19, 2013

  4. I Really like how the skill system seems to be taking shape.And of course the game in general terms.

    Hope to see some update, anytime soon.

    Do you have in mind any kind of external financiation? Pre-order / kickstarter , etc??


    June 27, 2013

    • Hi,

      Thanks for the positive words! Things are progressing well, and I should probably post another update tomorrow.

      As for funding, yes, I will need to get some financing down the road. I’m building the game with Unity3D, and I’m using the free version for now, but I will need to purchase a pro licence before releasing the game, to support better graphics (realtime shadows, for example) and also the integration with external lua files to allow the modding capabilities. I’ll also probably need to purchase some asset packs to speed development by not requiring me to model standard environment elements such as trees, bushes, rocks, barrels, and so on, but rather concentrate on monsters, NPCs, items & architectural elements.

      Kickstarter is unfortunately not an option as I’m not in the US/UK, but there’s other crowdfunding sites. I was just waiting to get the game in at least an alpha working state before starting funding campaigns and such.

      Georges Dimitrov

      June 27, 2013

    • Great!! , Pretty happy to be able to support your work 😉

      Dont´t really need to be kickstarter , as long i can use paypal / amazon or humble bundle payment method.

      Loved your next update.

      Keep it up like this, you are making a wonderfull game!


      July 1, 2013

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