Development Diary 4: The characters and their skills
In many RPGs we see that all the characters are sorted in one or more classes that define their specialization and abilities. The different classes include the more common stereotypes, like Warrior or Mage, but also some variations like the Farsighted Druid of the Sacred Forest or the Flying Thief of the Legendary Shadow.
The classes have surely some advantages: they allow the players to clearly and quickly understand the specialization of the character, besides contextualizing the time spent by this character in his youth to learn that precise specialization. Obviously, there are also some disadvantages. For example, in a lot of RPGs some characters can’t learn some skills, and the player is somehow limited in developing his character, without a reasonable justification. It is plausible that a warrior can’t be particularly trained in public speaking or that he hasn’t studied philosophy, but why should the learning of these abilities be limited, if not even forbidden?
To offer the player a more credible, free and satisfying experience, we decided to avoid creating a system based on classes, in favor of a free development of the character that will allow the player to customize his alter ego as much as he likes. Clearly, that doesn’t mean that the player can create a non-consistent character that has the maximum in all the abilities. Our rule system is structured expressly to offer a certain freedom of choice, but at the same time the player will have to deal with some specific limits that we created to make the experience more realistic.
In fact, even though the player will be able to freely developing any ability, he will have to pay a specific price in terms of abilities when learning new ones. In addition to this, he will have to find a master who’s able to teach him the basis, so that he can increase his score in that ability. Masters aren’t only important to learn new abilities, but also to be able to raise them over a certain level. Another limit that the player will face it’s due to the impossibility, during the game, of getting enough ability points to specialize in everything. It will be then necessary to make certain choices: it is more important to have a versatile character who is able to adapt to all kind of situations, or a specialized character able to solve situations faster when acting in his own field of competence? It will be the players who will choose their favorite approach, because during the game it will be possible to go ahead with both type of character. This doesn’t mean that the choices made by the player while developing his character won’t have a real impact on the game. In fact, the expert thief will be disadvantaged in battles and, in case he won’t be able of solving a problem using his sneaky abilities, he will have to ask for the help of his companions. If not, he won’t manage to complete a specific quest, missing all its benefits and rewards. Every choice of the player will then have its own weight, even in the development of the character, bringing advantages or disadvantages depending on the situation.
Why does this happen? Because we want that the player approaches the game’s world with some kind of rationality, without the certainty of being able to keep playing with no problems because, regardless of the ability of his own character, the game is structured to be 100% completed with any specialization. We want to create a world in which the player will have to think hard to understand if his character and his party fit the situation. For example, it won’t be possible to complete a quest that requires a certain discretion if the player has no character with sneaky skills. Maybe it will be possible to get through it somehow, but the quest will more luckily fail, or the player won’t even have the opportunity to have it assigned.
A very important aspect to understand how to develop a character in Zaharia is the fact that the whole growing system is not centered around the battle, as it is in many videogames, but it depends on the whole gaming experience. To create a character who’s totally unable to fight will mean to have a useless character when you have to fight, but to create a character who’s specialized only in fighting will make it impossible to use him in any other situation. The player, when he creates and develops his character, has to understand that battles, in Zaharia, aren’t separated from the rest of the game. On the contrary, since they’re often facultative, it won’t be necessary to create a character who’s able to fight.
Another important factor to think about when a character is created is surely the fact that battles, but also the rest of the elements of the game, are strongly influenced by the context. To create a character who’s really skilled in archery means to have a character who’s daunting when fighting outdoors, but almost useless when fighting indoor, where there’s not so much space and it’s easier to start a full contact battle with the enemy or even to shoot an ally by mistake. It’s clear how all these elements propel the player to create a character who’s not specialized in only one aspect. Even the specialized ones will have to count on a certain number of side abilities they should develop enough to have a minimum of versatility. That means that the archer will have a great advantage in having some basic knowledge of full contact fights, likewise the swordsman will aptly use his stealthy skills and the magician will integrate his social skills to his knowledge and his magical powers.
The experience we want to create is then something credible, where the different characters, however specialized, will have a certain flexibility that will make them able to act in different contexts. The characters that will count more on their versatility will be able to better adapt to different situations, but they will never have the advantages of a specialist.