|Funny Things Happen (On the Way To a Videogame)|
Every so often we get e-mails which politely ask questions along the lines of "What exactly are you people doing over there?" Many of the complications are either boring or depressing, and in any case not worth listing. But every once in a while, we run into a problem which is equal parts charming and ridiculous. Our weight system presented one such challenge recently--and getting to the bottom of it required across-the-board changes to the game's mechanics.
A little background: The Broken Hourglass uses a point-buy system for character creation and enhancement. Traits and skills in our system each have their own cost value--so a point of Strength can have a different price than a point of Agility. Because (by and large) the biggest, heaviest weapons inflict the most damage, and the biggest, heaviest armors absorb the most damage, the ability to equip heavy items was a prized characteristic. So it was not terribly surprising when the Carrying skill, which directly determines how much weight a character may have on his or her person without penalty, was deemed by our simulations to be among the most valuable (costly to buy) in the game. Carrying is a secondary skill, which means you can choose to buy points in the skill itself, or invest heavily in its parent skills (Strength and Toughness) which spread their benefits out over multiple secondary skills.
Much like a movie or TV show, games are not necessarily implemented in a straight line from beginning to end, and by definition most of the content represents the middle power levels in the game. So as we equipped various challenges in the game and played through combats with suitably equipped and experienced player characters, it took time for suspicions over the high cost of Carrying to develop.It turned out that we had made Carrying so incredibly valuable that it was virtually impossible to build a first-level character who could carry much more than a spare pair of socks without suffering an encumbrance penalty. Even if we pumped all of the first-level points into Strength (a Sir-Bludgeons-To-Death character concept), a canonical "fighter build" of modest armor, sword, and shield was out of the question. Even putting all of the first-level points into Carrying was pushing the boundaries.
So we were left with a question of design, intent, and conventions. Internally, there was nothing "wrong" with our system--in a point-buy system where improvement comes on a fairly steady slope, it could be perfectly reasonable to say that only a more experienced, developed character can use such martial tools as swords and armor. And we knew all along that the heaviest armors in the game would in fact be a privilege, not a right. But it was not our original intention to keep players from equipping anything at all in the first stages of the game, and we knew full well that people have an expectation--a generic fighter should be able to pick up "sword and board" without penalty, while a finesse sneak-attacker or archer should be able to at least manage one weapon and perhaps a light layer of protection. Without a compelling reason to break this model, we knew we had to go back to the basic assumptions of the weight and Carrying system and make some changes which would permit canonical fighters to do something more than run around shaking their fists.
In the long run (which involved changing lots of item weights and recalculating the entire slate of skill costs), the solutions got us what we wanted--stand-up fighters can put on the customary gear of their profession. Finesse fighters still have to be selective, but that is as it should be. The Carrying skill became somewhat less all-powerful, and therefore much cheaper to buy. Spellcasting is now more affected by weight than it once was, but the lower cost of Carrying makes it easier for casters to offset those limitations in order to carry heavier equipment, should they desire.
And--most importantly--new characters don't have to go naked.