Thursday, December 13, 2012

Noncombat abilities

I have been struggling with the borders of combat and noncombat abilities.  Keeping one from unduly impacting the other has always been a challenge in any game with a lot of options from MMOs like WOW to tabletop RPGs.  In early WOW all tradeskills were useless from a combat perspective which meant that lots of people ignored them completely.  This was fine, I think, because only the people who wanted to be blacksmiths were blacksmiths, but some people who really wanted to maximize progression were angry that all their effort didn't make their character more powerful.  As soon as combat benefits for tradeskills were introduced though everybody flocked to the most powerful ones and Blizzard has spent years trying to balance them out so people don't feel 'forced' into a particular tradeskill.  When you let combat or noncombat effects bleed across that border you get all kinds of problems.

A similar sort of issue exists in DnD of course; there are skills like Acrobatics that give huge combat advantages that absolutely everybody takes and skills like Handle Animal that are pretty much a joke.  Even worse are things like Fly or Invisibility that could be reasonably balanced for combat or noncombat applications but when they are available for both scenarios something gets horribly broken.  Thankfully DnD Next has a good system for fixing this to some extent (concentration).  Only in systems where no artificial divide between combat and noncombat exists like World of Darkness do things feel seamless but that leads to far more broken scenarios than anything else.  World of Darkness is much like the real world in that regard... unbalanced as hell but *highly* immersive.

My particular problem is having combat effects that increase stats or move characters around.  A short distance teleport is completely fair in combat but hugely problematic out of combat because it can be used constantly to escape bonds, cross chasms, and any number of other things.  Same goes for increasing Strength to do more damage; fine in a fight, but grants significant benefits outside of fights for breaking stuff, climbing, etc.  I find it hard to pick out which things are problems and which aren't because having a little bit of crossover can be fine, until everybody feels obligated to use the abilities that cross over to twink out.

So far I have been very strict about keeping combat effects from crossing over.  I think this will lead to a much more balanced system and one where the GM can maintain much better control over the player's abilities but it does feel a bit weird that people who can chuck fireballs at will can't use other less destructive talents at will too.  It is a price you pay for heroic combat, I think.  Either combat is a fun game or the system is highly intuitive and immersive; doing both really well is somewhere between hard and impossible.

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