[MUD-Dev] Re: Levels versus Skills, who uses them and when.

Jon A. Lambert jlsysinc at ix.netcom.com
Mon Jan 4 14:36:39 New Zealand Daylight Time 1999

On 29 Dec 98, Till Eulenspiegel wrote:
> "All skill-based systems are level based.  It just takes a pendant
> and a magnifying glass to find them."  J Lambert.
> I've heard this argument before, and I wonder how many people agree
> with this sentiment?
> I differentiate level and skill systems based on whether the player
> gains HPs as they achieve more power as one of the prime measures.
> Sounds like an odd yardstick but it works pretty well.

What is a level and what does it measure?   To me It's a convenient and useful 
abstraction that is used in many different games and in real life to indicate 
progression in a goal structure.    This yardstick can be a general measuring 
stick or it can have a very small granularity a measure a specific attribute.
For instance, the use of levels in a stock Diku is analogous to our public 
school system of grade levels.  The connection of hit points to level seems
to be sensical when considering elementary school children, but breaks down
when measuring adults.  It's my best guess that a level 16 senior collegiate
hockey player has more hit points than a level 16 senior collegiate electrical
engineer.  ;)

So what do hit points measure in D&D (what the Diku design was based on)? 
They are a huge abstraction.  Quoted from a rulebook:

  "It is quite unreasonable to assume that as a character gains levels of 
  ability in his or her class that a corresponding gain in actual ability to 
  sustain physical damage takes place.  It is preposterous to state such an 
  assumption, for if we are to assume that a man is killed by a sword thrust 
  which does 4 hit points of damage, we must similarly assume that a hero 
  could, on the average, withstand five such thrusts before being slain!  Why 
  then the increase in hit points?  Because these reflect both the actual 
  physical ability of the character to withstand damage -- as indicated by 
  constitution bonuses -- and a commensurate increase in such areas as skill 
  in combat and similar life-or-death situations, the "sixth sense" which 
  warns the individual of some otherwise unforeseen events, sheer luck, and 
  the fantastic provisions of magical protections and/or divine protection.  
  Therefore, constitution affects both actual ability to withstand physical 
  punishment hit points (physique) and the immeasurable areas which involve 
  the sixth sense and luck (fitness)."

In a skill-based system, levels are often hidden and more granular.  

Skill systems keyed off of experience point pools have levels determined by 
the player expenditure.  For instance in Rolemaster, I can spend 3 development 
points (generated from an experience point pool) to increase my climbing skill 
by 5%. The level system here is implicit in the use of measuring skills on the 
percent scale of 0-100.  Someone with a 55% climbing skill is really a level 
55 climber.  They may also have a 25% or level 25 longsword skill.  Hit points 
in this system are based on racial/species body types and advanced via a body 
development skill.  

The games Gurps and Warhammer have what I would call skill trees.  Experience
is still pooled but character development must follow a branch-like path.  In 
the Gurps spell system one must learn prerequisite spells before learning more 
advanced spells.  In Warhammer, skills, special abilities and spells are 
picked up while moving through a tree-like structure of professions.

There are some skill systems keyed off of skill usage.  There are many, 
many types of implementions since here the granularity becomes quite
small and what the designer decides to "pay attention to" becomes more 
diverse.  In the game The Morrow Project, skill development is done on 
a weekly or bi-weekly basis (in game time).  Any game skill that a character
has succesfully used during this time frame has a percentage chance of 
increasing a few points.  It's quite similar to that which is used in ROM
2.4b3+ except the checking is done at the time the skill is exercised.  It's
quite subject to 'bot' abuse.  Still the point scale used in either is a level
measurement of a particular skill.  

In a skill web implementation which is arguably the most realistic and 
intensive implementation, levels are hidden away in an interlocking web
of skills and weights which may also include situational modifiers and decay 
from non-usage.  In general terms it's a skill SIM sub-system.  It requires
player learning to _solve_ it and ensure the proper inputs are regularly 
stimulated at the appropriate times in order to generate the desired output.
That is, while it is dynamic, it is a solvable puzzle for any given set of 
skills.  That's why it may well be pedantic (or pendantic ;) )to take the 
level abstraction to this extreme.  I can attune my swordsmanship skill to be 
roughly equivalent to a level 99 swordsman in comparision to a level 1 game 
newbie who hasn't begun to discover the links between skills, situations, 
attributes and provide the desireable level of inputs.

The question is does such a system place a much higher emphasis on the 
player's ability rather than their game character?  Is the character's 
in-game ability a more direct reflection of the players ability to _solve_  
and/or otherwise optimize the skill web?  Can such a game become more an 
arcade game of the mental sort (chess) rather than the physical sort (Donkey 

> ObFavoriteExample:
> My favorite example of a level and skill system thus far has to be Legends
> of Kesmai.  They employ a hybrid skill/level system that uses training,
> practice and experience.
> The player 'buys' training which is applied to future experience.  Each
> point
> of exp gained is matched by one point of training - so a trained player
> earns twice the exp of an untrained one (or this is how we think it worked).

My favorite system is RoleMaster see above and earlier threads.  It's
not too dissimilar.  Experience points generate development points which are 
used to purchase new skills or advance existing skills.  

Which reminds me of another problem.  The source of experience points. 
Some muds only reward them for combat.

Oh oh, yet another silly law...

"All skill use based systems are experience point based.  It just takes a 
pedant and a magnifying glass to find them."  - J Lambert.

Hehe.  Experience points are merely abstractions of skill usage.

> ObLeastFavoriteExample:
> Well I have lots of least favorites, but UO is an easy target, with
> ambiguous
> character advancement and the lack of penalties for using dexterity skills
> in platemail (or magery in platemail).

My favorite targets are systems which have virtual inventories in which you 
can carry dozens of poleaxes, spears, suits of armor and vast quantities of 
other material and still walk and chew gum at the same time.  :)

One has to take measure of a game's FUN factor from time to time.
And different audiences (and implementors) use different yardsticks to 
measure fun. 

--*     Jon A. Lambert - TychoMUD       Email:jlsysinc at .ix.netcom.com      *--
--*     Mud Server Developer's Page <http://pw1.netcom.com/~jlsysinc>      *--
--* I am the Dragon of Grindly Grund, but my lunches aren't very much fun, *--
--* For I like my damsels medium rare, And they always come out well done. *--

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