[MUD-Dev] Re: skill system

J C Lawrence claw at under.engr.sgi.com
Tue Jun 2 19:11:15 New Zealand Standard Time 1998

On Thu, 28 May 1998 08:11:12 -0400 
Andrew C M McClintock<andrewm at tiger.hsc.edu> wrote:

> I've been mulling over some ideas for the skill system in my mud (at
> this stage still no more than a fantastical whimsy) and thought I
> would bounce the ideas off the list.

> For each skill there would be:

...discussion of various learning forms and growth/decay curves...

The following really isn't in response to your post directly, just me
maundering about the area and noting things I stumble across:

My general view of game features is that they must do one of three

  1) Provide a game-world goal for players to achieve.

  2) Provide a game-world problem for players to solve.

  3) Solve a game-world problem for players.

This is based on the definition of a game as being comprised of goals, 
barriers, and freedoms.  

Skill webs primarily provide problems for players, especially as
contrssted to their prior simplistic model of levels where skills came
automatically with level progress.  

The primary problem is in gaining the necessary skills, a possible
secondary problem is in maintaining the required skill sets for a
particular play style.  A presumably unintentional secondary problem
is in determining what skills sets are required for a particular
problem or play style.

This last point seems the nastiest, and comes in two flavours:

  1) Should the fact of, or the structure of the skill web be exposed
to players?

  2) If it is exposed, how do players determine what skills are

#1 has historically been solved by exposing the skill web to at least
some extent.  Most commonly there is command or query which reports a
character's current skill status in some manner.  Given an exposed
skill tree, #2 comes into play.  How does a player determine what the
game-world import and impact of his skill tree is?  This essentially
maps down to three questions:

  a) Is my skill set likely sufficient to accomplish XXX?

  b) What skill set do I need to likely accomplish XXX?

  c) What can I do with skill set YYY?

They are related but not identical.  The answers to each has different
effects on game play and game-world solution attempts.

#A could be considered analagous to the DIKU "consider" command.
Providing this support allows (and even encourages) players to follow
a low-risk course, only attempting those actions which are
known-profitable, and which are stated as likely.

Making the answers to #A vague (large granularity) dones't solve the
problem, it mrely makes the answers unreliable and largely useless.

#B is more invasive.  Skill webs, particularly finely grained ones,
suffer from compartmentalisation.  What is actually attempting to be
modeled with discrete units with pre-defined inter-connects is a very
organic and inter-related structure full of n'th order derived
inter-connects.  It sounds messy, it is messy, its the unexpecteds
that get you.

  Yes, swinging an axe to cut down a tree is not unlike swinging a
sword to cut down a man, especially a two-handed butcher blade.
Swinging that same axe however also gains upper body strength, which
provides an ancillary ability to climb ropes, despite having a very
low skill rating in rope climbing (brute strength making up for

  Question: Is this level of skill web inter-connect valuable in a

#B additionally allows a more insidious form of predictive play than
#A.  A player can now pre-determine his character-path in terms of
goals, find out what each goal requires in terms of skills, and from
there chart a mechanical course to wend the game to the various
inflection points of the requisite skill levels.

While it may be unlikely that many (any) players will so chart a
character's life from its inception till the end, it will happen on
the more micro scale:

  Bubba wants to build a tree house.  What skill sets will he need?
Ahh, he'll need Q, R, S and T (as compared to what he has now).
Requisite actions later, Q, R, S, and T are acquired, and the tree
house is built.

Note:  This is __NOT__ necessarily a problem.  It merely /can/ be a
problem depending on your world and game type.

#C is both a blessing and a curse.  The blessing is that skill sets
now have a well known and documented useful value (Yes!  I can
decapitate 70% of trolls in a single blow using a rusty carving
knife!).  The curse is that it kills experimentation and exploration.

Chaging the answer to #B so that it merely suggests areas which may be
accomplished also removes the inter-connect values of the skill sets.

  Bubba the axe swinging woodsman may really like to be reminded that
he's now got enough strength to climb ropes with ease, and the fact of
that suggestion may prompt Bubba to consider character-life courses he
would not have examined otherwise.

  Yes, there are several "may's" in there.  Yes, the value of so
suggesting to Bubba is of arguable game-value.  Yes, it creates a
certain form of pandering Mr Rodger's-like game world.

The last bit on exposed skill sets is, what is the interface?  What
does the user see?  How does the user manipulate nd query his skill
sets?  How is the learning curve for the human user of character skill
sets in the game made manageable?  How does the user know what skill
sets are possible, what skill sets his character currently has, and in
what state, what skill sets are easier for his character than others,

I don't have answers to any of these last.

In #1, not exposing the skill system at all raises other interesting
questions.  If the skill web is not exposed at all, is there any other
sort of comparitive metric for players to judge their characters
against each other?  Is there a game-provided metric to judge and
perceive the progress of a character in the game (ala levels, or if
only as a reflection of skill set improvement)?

Not exposing the skill set concept doesn't remove the questions of:

  q) Chat are my chances of being able to accomplish XXX?

  r) What do I need to do to be likely to accomplish XXX?

  s) What can I likely do right now?

#Q, #R, and #S are of course the direct counterparts to #A, #B, and #C 
above, with the underlieing mechanics hidden.  The rest of the points
on #A, #B, and #C apply equally well here.

Additionally such variable skill set structures also provide their own
goals and problems within the game world (not surprising: organic
system).  The clarity and definition of those goals, and the problems
of initially achieving them is discussed above (what do I need, how do
I get that, etc).  The second order problems and goals are more

  I) How do I maintain what I need?  Are the activities required for
maintenance different than required for the initial gain?

  II) How do I know when my skill sets decay such that they need
maintenance (to be able to do what I want to be able to do)?

  III) What are the costs in other wanted items for maintaining that (eg
inability to be supremse master in two widely unrelated skill sets,
where do I trade off)?

  IV) What are the impacts on my game play and game style for
maintaining those skills at those levels (eg spend 90% of time
maintaing skill sets for 10% "play" time)?


  A nameless MUD did a skill web implementation.  One of the tasks
possible in that MUD was to get a boat and cross a channel from the
mainland to an island.  If you had sufficiant swimming skills (called
something.water.something_else), you made it over without effort.  If
you didn't have that skill at the needed level you drowned, presumably
because the Imp decided that non-swimmers would freak out sufficiently
at the choppy waters that they'd necessarily fall overboard/capsize
and thereby try their breathe.water skills.

J C Lawrence                               Internet: claw at null.net
(Contractor)                               Internet: coder at ibm.net
---------(*)                     Internet: claw at under.engr.sgi.com
...Honourary Member of Clan McFud -- Teamer's Avenging Monolith...

More information about the MUD-Dev mailing list