Finally we get down to the dirty details! Keep in mind; the following ideas are those I've formulated over years and years playing MMORPG games, as well as games of many other genres. The motivations are drawn from what I've seen in games, what I've liked and disliked, what I've hoped and wished for, what I think is possible, and most importantly what I think will be fun and will work for the MMORPG genre.
Keep in mind, the character advancement system (which I'll simply use as CAS from now on) is only a piece of the much larger puzzle. Just one of many systems in my dream game that will work together to create what I would consider to be an awesome MMO. Now obviously, I'm not a developer, I don't work in the industry. The following are simply my ideas and I hope readers will comment and offer constructive criticism and suggestion. The point? To get people talking about what we want in the Next Generation of MMORPGs in the hopes that developers will read them and take our collective ideas into consideration when designing future MMO projects.
This will be a long read, so I apologize in advance for the eye strain!
Levels are important. Levels are a great tool for developers and players to be able to gage their strength and power in relation to the content. We know a level 10 player should be able to fight a level 10 mob or NPC. But how many levels? It's really related to how much content is in the game and how quickly you want players to get through it. For the sake of example, let's go with 50.
So what happens when you level your character from level 1 to level 2? I guess I have to start the answer to that question with a disclaimer: I hate when games put too much focus on level and gear. I'm a much bigger fan of the early UO model, or that which SWG used. I don't think a player should gain more hit points or more mana or energy or whatever when they level, instead a player should be given more options and tactical choices.
Yes, this is to be a high fantasy MMO. However, will also contain elements of technology and industry complimented by magic, which is essential to the storyline (to come later of course.)
So in my system, the player starts with let's say 100 hit points, energy points, and mana. Hit points being a representation of your characters life, when they reach zero you die. Energy being used to execute special attacks and abilities, and will regenerate quickly during combat to allow many skills and abilities to be used in a fight. Mana will be used for spells and certain abilities, and also will regenerate quickly. Health will regenerate quickly when you are not in combat. Point is to avoid downtime, and avoid auto-attack only fights. More explanation coming with the Combat section to follow (eventually).
But how does a player level? The easy answer is experience. You gain experience from killing monsters, other players in PVP, completing quests, running trade routes, advancing trade skills, and progressing your town/city. (All details on this to come later, hopefully!)
Players will have statistics, MMO basics of Strength, Agility, Wisdom, and Intellect. All start at 50 points in each. By max level, you will have a maximum of 300 total stat points to distribute between the 4, with no stat higher then 100 or lower then 50. As the stats get higher, the effect becomes greater. For instance, if you have 100 strength, 100 agility, and 50 wisdom and 50 intellect, if you take 10 points from agility and put those into wisdom, the positive effect on your abilities/skills that use wisdom will be substantially higher then the negative impact of having 10 less agility. This way, we avoid entirely cookie-cutter builds of 100/100/50/50 and 50/50/100/100. More detail in the combat system section, but everyone will use magic and energy abilities, and everyone will have ranged and melee ability. Trust me haha.
You can guess what these do, so I'll be brief.
Strength - Increased physical damage done, reduces physical damage taken, and if advanced enough will grant an increase in health. Reduces resource cost of crafting items.
Agility - Increased accuracy with all weapons, increased critical strike chance, increase chance to parry, block, and/or dodge attacks, also decreases energy cost for abilities the higher this stat is. Increases quality of crafted items.
Wisdom - Increased spell critical chance, increased spell resistance, decreases mana cost of spells the higher the stat is. Reduces resource cost of crafting items.
Intellect - Increase damage done from spells, increase size of mana pool the higher the stat is. Increases quality of crafted items.
Stat points are gained from using skills that are associated with the respective stat. Using skills that would require strength will make you stronger. You can set caps for stats so they don't continue going up or down once you reach the 300 total stat point mark.
When I say you can increase your health and mana, I don't mean by leaps and bounds. Will a complete focus (read below on focus points) toward Strength and a maxed stat you might have 150-175 health points, 150-175 mana instead of 100 if you go the other way.
Why? Kind of goes into gear and the combat system, so details later. In general, I want characters to be really heroic. Not just meat shields with a bajillion hit points with healbots following them around but players who have to make tactical choices and approach situations carefully. Where's the fun in the standard MMO- "I hit you for 500. You hit me for 400. I hit you for 500. You hit me for 375. I use a health potion. You hit me for 250. I hit you for 600 CRITICAL! and you die. I sit down and regain my HP. Next fight." BORING!!!
So back to skills. I see a game with many skill "groups" that the player can pick and choose from to create their own "class." For instance, you'll have a swordsmanship skill group that will contain individual skills for one and two handed swords, for both offensive and defensive use, and for different stances. More to come on stances in combat section. Each skill is assigned a stat that is associated, like two-handed swords would be strength while one handed swords would be agility. However, they all have secondary stat assignments, so the 2H sword will have strength as a primary and agility as a secondary.
You allow the player to pick up to four primary skill groups which can be raised to the maximum skill level of 200. As said before, you gain skill by using it. If you use a 2-handed sword, you gain skill toward your Swordsmanship skill group, your specific 2H sword skill, and depending on your stance, either offensive or defensive skill with the 2h sword. So imagine a breakdown like a tree:
-1-H Swords- (Primary Attribute Agility, Secondary Strength)
-2-H Swords- (Primary Attribute Strength, Secondary Agility)
So when you use a sword, let's continue our example of the 2H sword, as you fight you'll gain skill in your offensive and defensive 2-H sword skills, which will build and eventually level your generic 2-H sword skill, which will build and eventually level your overall Swordsmanship Skill Group.
The player can also pick 2 secondary skill groups that can only advance to skill level 100. All other skills not in the primary or secondary skill groups selected can be level to skill level 50. As you level your skills, you will gain new abilities to use, new combo options, new recipes become available, new city options, and new stances with training. More to come in other sections lol. Sorry, like I said, all systems are related, and this is just a piece of the puzzle.
Now, something well worthy of mention. Skill gains aren't limited by your level. It'll be nearly impossible to continue to level skills without leveling your characters base level as you'll have to kill monsters and craft things and everything else in order to gain skills. Pretty much, if you can level your skills by doing it, you'll be getting XP for your character's base level. But you don't "stop" leveling skills when you hit skill level 10 while you're level 2 and can't get to skill level 11 till your base level is 3. None of that.
So what happens when you level your base level? You gain stats and abilities from leveling your skills, but what about your base level? I want leveling your base level to be important. Very important. Not the quick and dirty systems we see in modern games. I want each level to mean something. This is where my Focus system comes in. When you level your base level, you gain a focus point. What's a focus point? This is where things get interesting.
Every character has a Focus Web. In this web are tons of slots where you can choice to put a Focus point into. Each point on the web has a different use. Some will give extra defense again melee attacks or magic, some will increase resistances, some will increase your attack speed, some your attack power, you regeneration rates... etc. Lots of options.
You have to start the web on the outside and work your way in toward the middle and across the web. The Focus points toward the middle of the web are the most powerful. You have to start on the outside because you can only place a Focus point into a slot that's connected to a Focus point you already have spent in a slot. So you start to build a chain across the web with your Focus points. Now you can also start multiple chains. Each "corner" of the web will be associated with one of the four stats, strength, agility, wisdom, and intellect. As you can imagine, the Focus slots will correspond with increases that will contribute to that stat. The plus attack power will be in the Strength portion of the web, the increased spell damage will be in the Intellect part. And so forth.
Does that make sense? True, it's kind of a rip off of some of the grids and maps from some of the Final Fantasy games, but why not? It was a great idea in those games, and a great idea to be applied to an MMORPG. I'm just surprised no one has done it yet. You can compliment the abilities and stats of character by putting Focus points into slots that correspond with your primary and secondary skill groups, and supplement your weaknesses by putting Focus points into areas you are weaker in. As I said before, everyone will use a combination of magic and physical combat, ranged and melee, it's just that you'll have personal preferences and play styles and through that pick your primary and secondary skill groups that define your character.
Will these be huge differences? No. 1% here, 2% there etc. But all MMORPG gamers know, every little edge or weakness can make/break the outcome of a battle. You will of course be able to reset your Focus points if you feel you made a mistake, or decide to pursue another Skill Group path for your career.
On to changing careers, you can freely swap between different combination of Primary and Secondary skill groups by visiting trainers in the cities. You never "lose" any work you put into a Skill Group. If you got your Swordsmanship up to level 150, then place that skill group into one of your Secondary Skill group slots, it'll drop your Swordsmanship down to the max of 100 for a secondary, but if you swap it back to a primary you'll be back up to 150 skill and regain all abilities and stances etc that you gained from 100 to 150. Kind of like the FFXI job system, and only because it's a really, really, really good idea.
You'll also be able to re-focus your Focus points by visiting certain NPCs in the cities.
So why do it this way? For a lot of reasons.
Flexibility and control being number one. You choose how to make your "class" and you choose how to focus it. Want to be an offensive powerhouse of melee death? A defensive spell caster focusing on protection and deception? A combination healers/nuker? Tank/healer? All options are available. You shouldn't have to re-roll a new character to change what you are doing in the game. You shouldn't be punished for trying new things.
With the focus system, even two players of the same Primary/Secondary skill groups and stat allocations can be vastly different. One can focus on direct damage while another on damage over time. One on fast burst damage and another on steady, constant damage. Same with healing and defensive tactics, tanking with a strong arm and shield or quick blade and nimble feet. With the stances and focus system (more detail on stances in combat section) you can focus on fighting groups or single opponents, fighting as part of a group or by yourself. Focus on PVP against other players or PVE against mobs/NPCs, though, my hopes with the combat system is that no matter the focus players can succeed well at both.
The point is freedom and flexibility, yet a measurable standard through the base levels for developers to balance and fine tune game play. They can know what kind of Focus point web you have at what level and the general range of your Skill Groups based off of your characters base level.
Also, this applies to PVP. Other games have done similar as I propose (like CoH/CoV) but never for PVP. What happens when a level 20 player fights a level 50? The 50 wins every time. No more!
Having a level system allows you to alter interaction between players dynamically in PVP. If a 20 and 50 fight in my proposed system, their relative power and defensive abilities are altered for a fair fight. On the fly. The 20 would fight as lets say a relative 33 while the 50 would fight as a relative 35 or 36. This way, the higher level player still has the advantage, yet isn't totally overpowering and dominating and actually has to approach the fight carefully or risk being defeated. You want to reward the higher level player with the advantage for their work getting to the higher level, yet not allow griefing and vastly unfair fights to keep things exciting and interesting. More details to come in PVP section.
What else? Hmm. Leveling your base level will be much slower then in your typical MMO. Instead of having really fast levels in the beginning then really slow it the end, every level requires a committed amount of time and effort to gain, but nothing ridiculous of course. That way you aren't spoiled with useless fast levels in the beginning and terribly slow and sparse leveling later on. Obviously, leveling is faster in the beginning then in the end, but not at the ridiculous extremes we see in most modern MMOs.
Oh yeah, gear and gear upgrades. I'm going to need an entire section to go into it, so that'll probably be next. The main point, your gear levels up with you and like the focus points, is only in small increments (1 or 2% here or there kind of stuff). So where is the fun in getting more powerful and advancing your character if it's all in baby steps? That's where the combat system comes in, for a later post! :)
That's all I got for now. I'll probably be going back and editing over and over. Especially for spelling and grammar. Let me know what you think! And keep in mind, this only "works" because of the combat, crafting, social, gear, and other systems which I'll be going into later.