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I'm working on a design for an RPG game, and I'm having some doubts about the skill and level system. I'm going for a more casual, explorative gaming experience and so thought about lowering the game complexity by simplifying character progression. But I'm having trouble deciding between the following:

  • Progression through leveling, no complex skill progression, leveling increases base stats.
  • Progression through skills, no leveling or base stat changes, skills progress through usage.
  • Progression through items, more focus on stat-changing items, items confer skills, no leveling.

However, I'm uncertain what the effects on gameplay might be in the end. So, my question is this:

What would be the effects of choosing one of the above alternatives over the others? (Particularly with regards to the style and feel of the gameplay)

My take on it is that the first sacrifices more frequent rewards and customization in favor of a simpler gameplay; the second sacrifices explicit customization and player control in favor of more frequent rewards and a somewhat simpler gameplay; while the third sacrifices inventory simplicity and a player metric in favor of player control, customization and progression simplicity.

Addendum: I'm not really limiting myself to the above three, they are just the ones I liked most and am primarily interested in.

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This question really deserves a discussion thread instead of the format that stackexchange emphasizes. Have you tried gamedev.net/forum/17-game-design that yet, or forums at whichever engine you're using? RPG Progression is a pretty deep topic with a number of competing philosophies. –  Patrick Hughes Jul 13 '12 at 23:43
    
Well, I suspected that might be the case. I haven't dabbled much in game design before and this is the only relevant community I'm remotely active in, so I thought it couldn't hurt to ask. A nice, honest reply with a helpful link isn't too bad of a worst case scenario :) –  Anton Jul 13 '12 at 23:51
    
@Anton, that is, in fact, what Patrick gave you in the form of a comment. The issue is that your question doesn't fit well into the QA format of this site since it is better suited for a discussion forum (such as the one linked) and so, should probably be closed. Sorry if I misunderstood you, it sounded like you were still fishing for an answer. –  Richard Marskell - Drackir Jul 14 '12 at 1:02
    
@RichardMarskell-Drackir That's ok, its what I get for being (at least in my own head) cleverly vague :) I have in fact already added my own vote to close and posted the question in the linked forum instead. –  Anton Jul 14 '12 at 15:36

2 Answers 2

You might think about a leveling / XP / Skills system similar to the old Quest for Glory games. At the beginning of the game you choose your character class and are given a pool of points to distribute. You can spend extra points to get skills that your character class would not normally have (giving a mage lock picking ability, or a fighter the ability to cast spells), but those abilities will always be less than those of the class which naturally have the skill (this is controlled in two ways - a fighter with magic has limited spells they can use, a mage with lock picking can only use a basic lockpick, whereas a thief can use a full toolkit which can open things another character wouldn't be able to).

Beyond this initial character creation process, most of the progression happens in the background. You can check your stat sheet to see your progress, but there is no "You've gone up a level" moment. Th skills are leveled by using them - throw rocks to increase throwing, block attacks to increase blocking, etc. Naturally, playing the game you will do these things and your skill will increase, but the stat sheet is never front and center or the be all and end all.

In my opinion, this approach tends to let the player focus more on the story and the actions of the game, rather than just focusing on leveling up. It lends itself to a more narrative approach.

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The question is a little abstract so I'm going to make a ton of assumptions here. Holler if any of them are way off of what you are expecting.

Leveling: Normally 'leveling' implies an xp scheme, and xp is granted for doing stuff the game designer wants the player to be doing (fighting monster of the appropriate difficult, completing quests, etc). Normally this is tuned to make the players advancement a function of time. This also allows players of all skill levels to progress similarly through the game. Arbitraty XP + leveling schemes give the greatest flexibility to the designer.

Skills: This scheme results in a positive reinforcement loop on skills, encouraging the player for doing the same thing over and over. This often leads to highly specialized and potentially unique characters, often with the player having a high feeling investment in the character. The downsides are the repetitiveness and that the player might not be able to transition to using/exploring other skills after significant investment in their initial skills.

Items: I can think of 3 ways items are granted these days. (1) Random drop (diablo) - results in the psychological properties of random reward schedules, but can result in frustration due to the randomness. (2) Boss drop/reward (WoW, plants vs zombies) - progression based reward scheme, results in major feeling of accomplishment, and also elitism (both good and bad features), though can have high falloff when the difficulty of the accomplishment is too high. (3) Based on currency (LoL, final fantasy) - this basically turns make the currency a form of XP that's transformed into power thematically via the items, makes it basically like 'leveling' described above.

Many games mix and match progression schemes (along with things like 'player skill', 'distance through the gameworld/story' and others) with the overall goal of keeping the player engaged and having things to look forward to.

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In general I think many of your concerns about the complexity of the various schemes are independent of the progression scheme itself. You could imagine a leveling scheme that grants the player 1000 skill points to assign and 100 pokemon cards to build a deck from - high complexity, or one that gives you +10 hp only, no choice - low complexity. Same for the others. The progression scheme and the progression reward seem like two separable problems. –  Jeff Gates Jul 30 '12 at 22:41

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