Psychochild’s weekend challenge for this week is up, and hits on a topic that I’ve turned over in my mind for years.  To quote…

…Let’s say you’re working on a typical combat-focused online RPG. One feature requested on the forums is that players that take wounds should perform worse than a fully healed character. Your job is to design this system to work within a game…

Obviously an atypical implementation.  I’m not sure I can recall more than a couple of CRPGs that implemented anything similar… the only one I can link to offhand is UnReal World, a roguelike variant out of Finland.  (It’s an interesting game, btw, I recommend giving it a whirl if you haven’t already.)

(Edited to add a link to the original post… good grief, how did I forget to do that?)

Challenges

The first, most obvious problem is the “feedback loop” that such a system implies, as hinted at in the title of the challenge.  In a system where an opponent can be disabled to some degree, the first combatant to land a disabling hit is most likely to win, since from then on their opponent is at a disadvantage, which will presumably become even more daunting with each additional hit.

Depending upon the implementation, the feedback loop may not be restricted to each individual combat, either.  If healing is slow or restricted in some way, injuries sustained in one battle may also impact the character in the next one.  In this scenario, wounds become conditions similar to Feeblemind and various curse effects in DDO, carrying over from battle to battle until appropriate healing can be obtained.

Following up, however… is a basic wounding system (+quick healing) really that much different than what the typical system is now?  Two evenly matched opponents, with similar hit points, attack rate, to-hit percentages, and damage ranges/DPS ratios… first hit likely wins.  Is a wounding paradigm and the related feedback really different, or just far more noticeable?

Assuming you work your way through the feedback problem above, perhaps one of the less obvious challenges of a wounding paradigm is the fact that fights can potentially end in what is essentially a draw: no winner, no loser.  If both sides are too wounded/disabled to continue fighting, what happens?  You need to consider the likelihood of that event, and determine how it impacts your reward system… in a typical game, where you are only for actually winning, that could be problematic (just like the concept of “escape” is currently problematic, particularly in PvE).

I actually posted a query related to this particular nuance on the IGDA boards (login required?) a while back (early 2005).  Some good responses in that thread, including from the ever-present Craig Perko (copious blogging, 3000+ IGDA forum posts… does the man sleep?)

Brainstorming

One of the ways to deal with the feedback loop problem is to have an offsetting advantage that can be brought into play through wounding as well.  For example, reaching certain elevated wound levels might allow a character to go “berserk”, mitigating the wound effects for a time and applying damage bonuses.  Less absolute concepts like “Rage” as found in WoW and CoV might also be tied directly or indirectly to the level of wounding/disability. 

An even more subtle tradeoff, such as slower attacks, less likely to hit, but with a damage bonus and subtle additional damage resistance from an assumed adrenaline/fear reaction, might be a palatable alternative for dealing with the feedback problem as well.  The devil is in the details, of course.

My assumption with the above is that the combat system being discussed continues to use the concept of Hit Points, and that disability is essentially based on percentage of hit points remaining.  If wounds are implemented more like “negative buffs”, instead, a wider array of options might be available…

You knew I was going to get around to this eventually….

Since my own dream design centrally embraces this entire concept of disability, wounding, etc., I can’t resist at least summarizing it here.  It still definitely has it’s potential issues, no argument… but I’d love to put it into play at some point and at least work out some of the kinks.

First off, there is nothing truly analogous to hit points in my system: the closest analog is probably the health/energy scores.

Stresses are applied to one of three “health/energy” scores, depending upon the type of stress: Stamina (physical), Sanity (mental/rational), and/or Spirit (emotional).  To illustrate: a thrown dagger is an attack against Stamina, a minor Confusion spell is an attack against Sanity, and a Taunt is an attack against Spirit.  In the end, all three work essentially the same way.

These scores differ from “hit points” in three ways. 

  1. they are simultaneously used by the character to power their own desired actions. 
  2. reducing any particular score to zero or below has a momentary effect, at best… the character is momentarily exhausted and unable to perform actions with that cost until somewhat recovered.  That’s all (no “death”).
  3. they recover extremely quickly: zero to full in 10 seconds for an active character, half that time if “resting”.

In this system, combatants are not truly trying to deplete their opponent’s energy scores… at best, that’s the long, drawn-out path to victory.  The real goal is to attack at advantageous moments in time in order to achieve “criticals”.  In the system, a critical is suffered when a stress exceeds 25% of the character’s current health/energy score.  A 60 point hit when the target is at 250 Stamina just reduces the character to 190 momentarily (60/250=24%); however, that same 60 point hit when the character is at 200 is a Light Critical (60/200=30%).  The greater the percentage achieved, the more devastating the critical, as hinted at by the categories below…

  • 25%-33% Light Critical
  • 33%-50% Moderate Critical
  • 50%-100% Severe Critical
  • 100%+ Lethal Critical

Criticals can apply a variety of wound effects to the character, depending upon the type of stress that generated it.  A Piercing critical, for example, is likely to involve bleeding, and long-duration, difficult to heal nerve/organ/internal Injury conditions.  A Crushing critical would have far more Stun effects and bone-related Injuries.  Most Injuries also have both a short-term Pain DAdv effect and a longer-term Disability DAdv effect: the Pain fades away relatively quickly, while the Disability effect lasts in some measure until the Injury is fully healed.

The critical system isn’t only for physical effects, either: Confusion criticals can apply recurring memory lapses, distraction penalties, hallucination episodes, etc.  Enrage criticals can impose everything from temporary loss of concentration or awareness to Berserker-like loss of control.

Death occurs when specific hit locations are reduced to certain DAdv totals.  100% or more DAdv to the Head, for example, is highly deleterious to most characters’ chance of long-term health and wellbeing (but not necessarily fatal).  In contrast, reaching 200% DAdv on the Head is insta-death (because that usually rather vital appendage has been removed entirely).  200% on the Leg?  That’s rather different… so, how do you feel about being called “Peg-Leg”?

The specific element of this system that ties back to the original question are the wounds, distractions, etc., everything that applies a penalty to further actions.  All of these conditions/”anti-buffs” apply a number of “disadvantages” (abbr: DAdv) to the character for any activities related in some way to that Injury effect.  (A 50% DAdv wound on the right arm has little-to-no effect on actions with the Left Arm, for example).

The DAdv penalty is rated as a percentage, and applied to each and every basic Skill Check as such… in other words, if you have a 100 Skill Rating, and 50% total DAdv, your effective Skill Rating is 50.

This system has some advantages, as I see it.  First, it gives me some detail to hang quite a varied selection of techniques and skills on.  Warrior-style characters will be able to pursue techniques that allow them to ignore/mitigate/delay various effects through “willpower”/Spirit expenditure: allowing them to pursue a kind of “Take the hit, and keep on swinging” philosophy.  Healing can be diversified into specialities, with techniques addressing different types of injuries/wounds: bone vs. nerve vs. muscle/tissue, and so on.  Given the specifics of my skill/character development system, this potential diversity is extremely helpful.

The entire DAdv concept is also one of several ways I strive to give players a reason for developing a character’s chosen skills beyond “perfect”, i.e. 100%.  That helps allow a more open-ended character development system (I really don’t like “hard caps”).  Why have a skill of 800?  Because then you can still be 80% effective even at 90 DAdv.  (And yet, note that even the character with only 50 skill still has at least 5% effectiveness at 90 DAdv.)

The challenges of such a system include finding ways to mitigate the feedback effect by providing options (techniques, etc.) where decisions of the player can briefly offset or eliminate the impact of injuries/wounds.  Essentially, to make such events as much as opportunity, or at least an addressible challenge, as they are threats.

Another way in which the system somewhat mitigates the impact of the wound/injury effect in particular (or more precisely, rewards the player/character for dealing with it) is in the skill advancement mechanism.  This is a usage-based system, where each attempt, successful or not, adds 1 or more “tallies” (i.e. XP) toward skill advancement.  The number of tallies added for any particular attempt is based on the chance of success: an action that has almost no chance to fail gets the minimum 1 tally per attempt, while an action with a 50/50 chance of success grants 20 tallies per attempt, and on up from there.  (Note: there are/will be strict limitations on when techniques can actually be used, to try to discourage/prevent Oblivion-like “skipping thru the meadow picking flowers” situations.)

Does this set of systems solve all the problems introduced by the underlying concept/question?  Frankly, I have no idea… it’s weird enough, and complex enough, that I’m not sure anyone could really definitively say yea/nay until it was actually put into play.  Probably more than most anyone (but me, of course) wants to make the attempt at implementing, however.

Conclusions

(Congrats for making it this far… this one got way longer than I thought.)

As to the question of what players might be looking for by asking for such a system… I really don’t know.  As detailed above, my reasons for pursuing it relate to supporting an expanded and detailed character development system, amongst other goals.  Presumably, typical player reasoning would be more along the lines of “it’d be more realistic”, or “it’d be something different”.   Reading the supporting commentary would probably be necessary to get to the real underlying reasons for the request.

That’s prolly enough for now… maybe more later, after others have commented and generated new ideas…