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Skills and balance in PE

skills balance non-combat

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#21
Lephys

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One more question Josh,

with 6 party members and non-combat skills separated from combat skills, how will you avoid every party looking the same skill-wise (non-combat)? Skill point scarcity? Skill synergies? Or will attributes also factor in somewhere?


(I'm not trying to imply that I'm Josh here. I just thought I'd comment while we wait on his potential reply amidst his busy schedule.)

I don't understand how there'd be any new problem in this area with separate skill types (non-combat/combat) as opposed to the non-separate system, except that now, instead of having a Mage who's awesome at Speech and Alchemy, a Rogue who's good at Climb and Bluff, and a Warrior who's good at Throw and Intimidate, you could have any one of those classes specialize in any one of those example skill sets (without sacrificing stats/skills that affect combat effectiveness.)

Are you wondering how to avoid having all party builds possess a wide range of non-combat skills? It's highly possible I'm not understanding your question.

#22
Game_Exile

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Why even bother making a bunch of one-off "skills" that won't affect anything outside of 10 or 100 specific instances of success/failure die rolls? The reason why combat is so interesting is because when the player uses combat abilities, it affects like a hundred different things in combat, i.e. it's more complex than the other stuff. If the "application" of certain skills are not particularly "dense", then these skills should at least be designed with an emphasis on how they will (eventually?) impact combat challenges. How else would you balance them?

#23
Lephys

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^ A skill level is not restricted to merely affecting success/failure die rolls. Also, you're saying that combat is so interesting because lots of deep combat mechanics affect a bunch of aspects of combat, and because "it's more complex than the other stuff." Doesn't it, then, follow, that making the other stuff deeper and more complex would bring it closer to the level of interest that combat provides?

Also, how do you balance something like Lockpicking based on its impact on combat? Sentient, hostile treasure chests?

#24
Game_Exile

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^ A skill level is not restricted to merely affecting success/failure die rolls.

When did I ever say that "a skill level" has to merely affect success/failure die rolls? It just turns out that stuff like lockpicking and trap disarming have worked out this way.

Also, you're saying that combat is so interesting because lots of deep combat mechanics affect a bunch of aspects of combat, and because "it's more complex than the other stuff." Doesn't it, then, follow, that making the other stuff deeper and more complex would bring it closer to the level of interest that combat provides?

Yes, of course it does. That's why the majority of my posts, incuding the ones you've responded to before, have been about making the "non combat" parts of the game more complex. Do you think the devs are just going to do this by magic? It only makes sense that they deliberately branch out their secondary strategic elements from the most strategically complex sections of their game, so that all the pieces fit together.

Also, how do you balance something like Lockpicking based on its impact on combat? Sentient, hostile treasure chests?

Remember how lockpicking has worked in other RPGs, smart guy? You get gear, consumables, money, quest items, quest solutions, etc. The gear and comsumables help you in combat, the money lets you buy stuff to help you in combat, and the quest items and quest solutions net you XP which will make your characters stronger in combat. Drop the sarcastic attitude, idiot, or you'll remain stupid forever.

#25
rjshae

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^^^^
...and that children, is not how to hold a mature conversation. :p

#26
Lephys

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When did I ever say that "a skill level" has to merely affect success/failure die rolls? It just turns out that stuff like lockpicking and trap disarming have worked out this way.


I wasn't aware you ever said that. I was only aware that you questioned the implementation of skills that "won't affect anything outside of 10 or 100 specific instances of success/failure die rolls". Skills tend to have a quantity of points spent in them, i.e. "levels" (usually 0-100). So, I was just wondering why skills couldn't be made to affect more than just die rolls. Also, I'm confused, because you cited that Lockpicking tends to work that way (i.e. tends to affect nothing outside of specific instances of die rolls), yet you very specifically state here...

Remember how lockpicking has worked in other RPGs, smart guy? You get gear, consumables, money, quest items, quest solutions, etc. The gear and comsumables help you in combat, the money lets you buy stuff to help you in combat, and the quest items and quest solutions net you XP which will make your characters stronger in combat.


... that Lockpicking already affects combat. I would say that pretty much everything affects combat. as long as it gains you an item or some EXP. So I don't understand how balancing non-combat skills based on their effects on combat is any different from every single implementation of non-combat skills already. Regardless of whether or not I am an idiot, I simply don't understand what you're trying to get at.

Yes, of course it does. That's why the majority of my posts, incuding the ones you've responded to before, have been about making the "non combat" parts of the game more complex. Do you think the devs are just going to do this by magic? It only makes sense that they deliberately branch out their secondary strategic elements from the most strategically complex sections of their game, so that all the pieces fit together.


If combat is so interesting because it has such depth, then why is the only possible means of adding depth to other systems to tether them to combat as much as possible? Is the story and game in its entirety (minus combat) simply a means of augmenting the depth of combat, or is combat simply a means of augmenting the depth of the story and the rest of the game?

Also, sentient, hostile treasure chests would factor lockpicking into combat greatly. You have to admit it would achieve the desired result. :)

#27
AGX-17

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To avoid situation like in Fallout 2 when you could use traps skills in like 4 places (one of them the first location) and in one quest. That made the skill redundant unless you wanted to assassinate one of the family heads in Reno with 80% traps skill check.


Redundancy is when you have two things that perform the same function. An under-utilized skill isn't redundant, it's under-utilized. There's no redundancy because there isn't a second skill meant to disarm traps.

#28
Game_Exile

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Also, I'm confused, because you cited that Lockpicking tends to work that way (i.e. tends to affect nothing outside of specific instances of die rolls), yet you very specifically state here...that Lockpicking already affects combat.

Bad articulation on my part, but try to understand. What I meant was that lockpicking, as a player action, is not interesting because pretty much the only thing the player has to consider with lockpicking is how many stat points to allocate in the lockpicking skill. Outside the stat sheet, you see a lock, you pick the lock. On top of that, the player isn't going to have a good idea, even with early game experience, how much having lower or higher lockpicking skill will hurt or help them.

If combat is so interesting because it has such depth, then why is the only possible means of adding depth to other systems to tether them to combat as much as possible?

How else would you balance skills that don't have "dense applications", other than by "tethering" them to the most strategically significant, or "dense"(?) parts of the game? And if combat encounters are the parts of your game that are the most complex and most strategically significant, then 1) more clearly defining how non combat player actions impact combat encounters allows you to better balance the game, and 2) if the player has some idea how choices outside of combat may impact combat encounters, every one of those choices becomes more significant, because you add the complexity of the combat mechanics to each choice (provided the combat encounters look challenging enough for the choices to matter). Of course you still increase the game's complexity when you increase the depth of the game's other "systems", but how interesting do you expect these "systems" to be without combat involved somewhere down the line? Will they even look like systems at all?

Is the story and game in its entirety (minus combat) simply a means of augmenting the depth of combat, or is combat simply a means of augmenting the depth of the story and the rest of the game?

Obviously the non-combat and combat portions of the game augment each other, or you would have no game system. The more sensibly linked they are, strategically and in the story/setting, the better they will augment each other.

#29
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I don't understand how there'd be any new problem in this area with separate skill types (non-combat/combat) as opposed to the non-separate system, except that now, instead of having a Mage who's awesome at Speech and Alchemy, a Rogue who's good at Climb and Bluff, and a Warrior who's good at Throw and Intimidate, you could have any one of those classes specialize in any one of those example skill sets (without sacrificing stats/skills that affect combat effectiveness.)

Are you wondering how to avoid having all party builds possess a wide range of non-combat skills? It's highly possible I'm not understanding your question.


If combat and non-combat skills drew on the same pool of skill points, that would make for exponentially greater variety of how those skill points could be spent (wisely).
If you have to decide between making your three tanks expert swordsmen or expert climbers, swimmers and trackers, or something inbetween, you can have widely different results on different playthroughs (that is of course implying that those non-combat skills are worth it).

Now this won't be the case in PE, you can raise your combat skills and raise your non-combat skills without any trade-off. So I'm asking how they will avoid having all parties looking like this:

- 1 alchemist expert (brewing healing potions and preparing flaming oil)

- 1 character who opens locks and disarms traps

- 1 dedicated scout with sneaking and tracking

- 1 character with medical skills

- 2 characters with crafting skills

The obvious answer would be "there will be many skills and they will all be useful, stupid!". Which is what I meant by skill point scarcity.

#30
Jobby

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Now this won't be the case in PE, you can raise your combat skills and raise your non-combat skills without any trade-off. So I'm asking how they will avoid having all parties looking like this:

- 1 alchemist expert (brewing healing potions and preparing flaming oil)

- 1 character who opens locks and disarms traps

- 1 dedicated scout with sneaking and tracking

- 1 character with medical skills

- 2 characters with crafting skills

The obvious answer would be "there will be many skills and they will all be useful, stupid!". Which is what I meant by skill point scarcity.


Will there be any benefit to having multiple characters with the same non-combat skills though? If not then surely there will be a degree of specialisation, in fact skill point scarcity in my mind would push players towards creating 6 specialists in whatever they consider to be the 6 major skills.

What could be quite interesting and i think someone else alluded to this would be a system where non-combat skills can increase a characters combat effectiveness, e.g. a few levels in scouting may give you a boost to perception, which in turn could be a modifier for ranged attacks, therefore whilst you may still have a tracking "expert" it could still make sense to have a few characters well versed in it.

I do think seperating the experience pools is a good idea though, it was quite annoying in Arcanum when you had to utilise skill points to learn how to make new guns, which in essence was a one use skill and even if you didn't take it you may still find the weapon in the game world.

#31
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in fact skill point scarcity in my mind would push players towards creating 6 specialists in whatever they consider to be the 6 major skills.


I wouldn't have a problem with that, as long as it's not the same 6 skills on every playthrough because the others are just flavor skills (my idea was that if you have flavor skills, make them cheap).

#32
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Fair enough, i get the impression flavour skills are something they want to stay away from, although at the same time utilisation of the word "appealing" as opposed to "balanced" may imply otherwise, but yeah in that case i'm in agreement with you, as long as there more useful skills than can possibly be obtained in one playthrough i'll be happy :D.

#33
rjshae

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I wouldn't mind seeing a tree-like 'Focus' spending scheme for skill points. For example, a mechanism skill could have specialized foci for locks, traps, and repair; spend 2 points to improve in the mechanism skill, or 1 point to improve in a specific 'focus' skill. But there would probably need to be a cap on how much you could spend in total on each focus; perhaps 3-5 points.
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#34
Lephys

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@Game_Exile:

I get what you're saying. I guess I'm just saying that you have to make sure it doesn't just go one way. If all the significance of actions and choices that aren't directly involved with the combat system lies purely within the extent to which they ultimate indirectly affect the combat system, then you're left with a game that's purely about combat. Obviously that's just an example of the extreme end of the spectrum, but, you've got to allow combat to indirectly contribute to eventual instances of non-combat complexity, too. If a part of the game allows you to choose more combat over less combat (amongst alternatives), then the rewards of that combat challenge should be applicable in dialogue options and non-combat skill effectiveness.

If you use experience or other rewards from combat to improve your stealth skills in order to utilize them to bypass a different combat scenario, then combat was used to support the depth of the stealth system, without any immediate concern for stealth turning around and supporting combat again.

It should just be very symbiotic, rather than parasitic. It's fine for combat to be prevalent in 70% of the game, but the non-combat skills and systems should be able to rely on support from the combat system for their 30% prevalence.


So I'm asking how they will avoid having all parties looking like this:

- 1 alchemist expert (brewing healing potions and preparing flaming oil)

- 1 character who opens locks and disarms traps

- 1 dedicated scout with sneaking and tracking

- 1 character with medical skills

- 2 characters with crafting skills


The simple act of splitting the skill pool into 2 groups doesn't affect whether or not you'll have a party-of-all-trades. This is just as possible in the single-skill-pool system. The only difference (unless it's horribly balanced) is that, now, your characters don't have to skip an improvement in combat effectiveness to improve alchemy. Also, with 2 separate pools, there are opportunities to grant non-combat skill points without granting combat skill-points, and vice versa. All other effects are up to the mathematical balancing, same as the 1-pool system.

#35
Sacred_Path

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The simple act of splitting the skill pool into 2 groups doesn't affect whether or not you'll have a party-of-all-trades. This is just as possible in the single-skill-pool system. The only difference (unless it's horribly balanced) is that, now, your characters don't have to skip an improvement in combat effectiveness to improve alchemy. Also, with 2 separate pools, there are opportunities to grant non-combat skill points without granting combat skill-points, and vice versa. All other effects are up to the mathematical balancing, same as the 1-pool system.


I'd agree on saying that the question of how skill selection plays out is specific to the game design.

Say you can raise any skill by an unlimited amount at every new level, and all draw on the same pool of points. You could spend all points on "sword skill", on alchemy or divide your points. That's one thing that won't happen in P:E. You'll never have a character who's great at alchemy but not at anything else (if you actually want that or not is entirely up to personal taste I guess). This is also implying that I'm a bit jaded about "combat skills"; I don't expect those to demand much skill/ thought to choose.

If all points come from the same pool and i.e. alchemy is a costly skill, that would require it to be just as powerful (or even more powerful, depending on cost) as any combat skill as it would be in direct competition with those; something that is very rarely seen for non-combat options in CRPGs as you'll probably agree. It's a real case of c&c if you decide to have a master alchemist who's entirely crap at combat and brittle to boot; maybe less so in a 6 person party (rather than the 4 of Darklands) but it's still something you'd mull over. You can't do the same in P:E or every party will have a master alchemist (since it's just one choice of what to do with those non-combat points). The questions you'd ask in P:E are "would alchemy support my current party well?", and "who's best suited to be the alchemist?". That's still ok, and balance in all things isn't bad. It's just a different setup.

What I'm hoping for in P:E is that

a) skills are derived from stats. So maybe a high INT character would be best suited to be an alchemist, thereby reducing your choice for the best possible alchemist to a wizard or cipher. So alchemy wouldn't be something you'd rely heavily on if your party concept calls for a different class to fill that slot.

b) non-combat skill points are few (thereby again enforcing choice) but this is also related to

c) there will be enough viable choices in skills so that you can't have all bases covered with 6 characters.

Also, with 2 separate pools, there are opportunities to grant non-combat skill points without granting combat skill-points, and vice versa


Well that's something I really hope won't happen (often). It's the infamous "you read book. Gain +2 tracking skill points!" thing I dread.

#36
Lephys

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You'll never have a character who's great at alchemy but not at anything else (if you actually want that or not is entirely up to personal taste I guess). This is also implying that I'm a bit jaded about "combat skills"; I don't expect those to demand much skill/ thought to choose.


Yeah, I get that. I think they just want to make sure that you're not restricted to having a character who's all but useless in combat just because you wanted to fully explore alchemy. Alchemy and combat can co-exist peacefully in the game, so they want characters to be able to be viable at both. The point limitations for 2 pools can still be balanced enough to make sure you can't be a master alchemist AND swordsman AND bowman AND nimble, stealthy lockpicker AND enchanter... etc. Fully pursuing alchemy shouldn't inherently prevent you from holding your own in combat. At the very least, your masterful skill in Alchemy should allow that character to perform extra, supportive actions and/or use potions and mixtures more effectively in combat. You don't want him so restricted that he becomes an Alchemy vendor who happens to travel around with you, is all.

I know what you mean about player's taste, and if you want to build a character like that, you probably can. I fully understand wanting to, also, even if I most likely wouldn't do so.


If all points come from the same pool and i.e. alchemy is a costly skill, that would require it to be just as powerful (or even more powerful, depending on cost) as any combat skill as it would be in direct competition with those; something that is very rarely seen for non-combat options in CRPGs as you'll probably agree.


That's true. I mean, if it wasn't, then that design would be lopsided (the points would have different values depending on what you spent them on... kind of like a sword and a twig both costing 100 gold.) But, think of it this way. In a system in which all the points are in one pool, imagine you gain 10 skill points per level. Let's assume that whatever other mechanics and factors are in your RPG, this point value is perfectly balanced. Now, suppose you simply cut them in half, and say "you can only spend 5 of these on combat skills, and 5 on non-combat skills." If you just left it completely as-is after simply splitting them, then yes... you'd have some issues, because the effectiveness of the skills would already have been balanced against the single pool of points (there'd be a much different relationship between the number of points spent in combat skills versus the number of points spent in non-combat skills.) But, with the split, the effectiveness of the spent points in each category will be rebalanced accordingly.


What I'm hoping for in P:E is that

a) skills are derived from stats. So maybe a high INT character would be best suited to be an alchemist, thereby reducing your choice for the best possible alchemist to a wizard or cipher. So alchemy wouldn't be something you'd rely heavily on if your party concept calls for a different class to fill that slot.

b) non-combat skill points are few (thereby again enforcing choice) but this is also related to

c) there will be enough viable choices in skills so that you can't have all bases covered with 6 characters.


Sawyer's statements regarding how dialogue will be handled suggest he wants stats to play a significant part in things (A), including non-dialogue skills. To exactly what degree, only time will tell. I don't know about "derived from" though. I think it'll be more that INT, for example, will provide a bonus to the effectiveness of the usage of an INT-based skill, rather than to its level. I.e. it might be easier to brew potions, or require fewer ingredients because your INT is ultra-high, but I'm not so sure about anything like a skill level cap based on stat values. I think they want the only restriction to be "You can only be 100% at so many things," in lieu of the typical "you can be pretty good at some things, but only a different class can be REALLY good at non-combat skills available to any class."

(B) and © seem to be addressed by the same thing. I think there'll most likely be more than 6 non-combat skills, and the points will be balanced by the maximum number of points that can be obtained in the game. It probably won't be possible to max out on multiple non-combat skills. There might even be something along the lines of caps once you max one out (the same thing could be true of combat skills), so that a 2nd one can only be raised to 60% or-so, and, after, a third to 30%, etc. You could still spread them out in such a system, assuming minor benefits could be gained from a variety of lower skills, but perhaps only 15% per skill if you spread them across every single one (just for example numbers).


Well that's something I really hope won't happen (often). It's the infamous "you read book. Gain +2 tracking skill points!" thing I dread.


Heh, I'm with you on that one. Such implementations might have been pushing the bounds of code complexity 18 years ago, but we can definitely do better nowadays (if it's decided to issue them separately in any instances.)

#37
Game_Exile

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If all the significance of actions and choices that aren't directly involved with the combat system lies purely within the extent to which they ultimate indirectly affect the combat system, then you're left with a game that's purely about combat.

Nothing is going to lie purely in anything else. If combat encounters are ultimately going to be the most strategically significant parts of the game, the other stuff will inevitably lead to combat, and they should be balanced for a proper challenge. The only way to make the other stuff more significant is to make those things more challenging than combat. But, just for fun, lets imagine how the dynamic changes with stuff like timers and hunger.

you've got to allow combat to indirectly contribute to eventual instances of non-combat complexity, too.

Didn't I just get done saying how combat will contribute to the significance of all the strategic elements in the game? How in hell is this NOT a reason to balance these strategic elements around combat challenges? Before we go too far off track let me remind you what I said in my first post:

If the "application" of certain skills are not particularly "dense", then these skills should at least be designed with an emphasis on how they will (eventually?) impact combat challenges. How else would you balance them?

And that is all I meant. I want the game to be a little more challenging and a little less random with things like character progression. Who actually thinks that arbitrary XP rewards, and arbitrary stat point allocation is good?

If you use experience or other rewards from combat to improve your stealth skills in order to utilize them to bypass a different combat scenario, then combat was used to support the depth of the stealth system, without any immediate concern for stealth turning around and supporting combat again.

This example makes no sense. Stealth has always been a combat skill, not even a non-combat skill, and certainly not a separate system. You use stealth to avoid, delay, or gain advantages in combat. The only exception is with quest goals that require stealth, and there it is the same as with lockpicking, where the player gets quest rewards et al.

Edited by Game_Exile, 18 December 2012 - 07:51 PM.


#38
Lephys

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Nothing is going to lie purely in anything else. If combat encounters are ultimately going to be the most strategically significant parts of the game, the other stuff will inevitably lead to combat, and they should be balanced for a proper challenge. The only way to make the other stuff more significant is to make those things more challenging than combat.


The other stuff doesn't necessarily "lead to" combat. It exists alongside it. A quest might involve combat, but there will be paths through dialogue that lead to the absence of combat, where combat would've been with different dialogue choices. Also, regarding stealth, you yourself just stated that stealth is sometimes used to "avoid," as in "to not partake in." If stealth can be used to avoid combat altogether (which it can in certain scenarios), then it isn't inherently a part of combat. Stealth is merely the art of remaining undetected. Not "the art of remaining undetected only whilst slaying things."

Lots of things factor into combat, and they should. No one's disagreeing with you there. But, I don't understand what you're suggesting that's any different from "Things should affect combat, wherever applicable, and these things should be well-implemented and balanced." I mean, if the only thing that mattered about quest dialogue was its effect on combat, then the depth of dialogue would be moot (which it is not). The only thing that would matter would be the outcome.

You have to balance anything non-combat with its effects on combat in mind, and you have to balance all things combat with non-combat systems in mind. You seem to be suggesting that, since combat situations will take up a greater percentage of the total gameplay time, that we need to worry less about the impact of other gameplay elements on the game as an entire unit and focus solely on making sure everything supports the crap out of combat. Maybe I'm the only one misunderstanding you.

#39
Sacred_Path

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Sawyer's statements regarding how dialogue will be handled suggest he wants stats to play a significant part in things (A), including non-dialogue skills. To exactly what degree, only time will tell. I don't know about "derived from" though. I think it'll be more that INT, for example, will provide a bonus to the effectiveness of the usage of an INT-based skill, rather than to its level. I.e. it might be easier to brew potions, or require fewer ingredients because your INT is ultra-high, but I'm not so sure about anything like a skill level cap based on stat values. I think they want the only restriction to be "You can only be 100% at so many things," in lieu of the typical "you can be pretty good at some things, but only a different class can be REALLY good at non-combat skills available to any class."


Well, if all classes have access to all skills, and all classes get the same amount of skill points, and all classes can raise all skills by the same amount per level, that would put a dent in the viability of a class system IMO. I'm just not sure about barbarians being great at lore and alchemy.


You don't want him so restricted that he becomes an Alchemy vendor who happens to travel around with you, is all.


I think it's obvious I'd like that ;) but of course it depends on how much depth is gained by this. In Darklands playing your alchemist resulted in taking different routes gameplay-wise; you were actively questing (and spending time and money on) gathering new recipes. You had to buy raw materials. If alchemy (or any other skill) comes down to "something to click on while resting" then of course nothing is gained by having characters built around this.

Edited by Sacred_Path, 19 December 2012 - 03:30 AM.


#40
ShadowTiger

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Personally, I think skills should be used an equal amount of the time.

It might be overbearing to say every skill occurs in exactly 100 dialogue choices each, and leads to you acquiring 25 items, 25 combat avoidances, 25 improved rewards, and 25 pieces of information. However, a structured system like this would ensure that all skills are equally useful.

Rather than being balanced, I think good flavor for the skill uses is very important. I think certain skills should be more useful if you are dealing with the thieves guild compared to the church. The skills you choose should be thematic and not just mechanical.

To balance usefulness, i think internally they will probably have some sort of point system where you look at how often you can use it. If it is dialogue only, then it should be given higher rewards than something which can be used all the time to craft items, for example. Then again, if crafting components are rare and dialogue skills are used all the time, maybe the weights should be reversed.

I do hope they try to spread item acquisition across all the skills so you don't get "combat avoidance" skills and "treasure acquisition skills". The reason being, I want to kill all the enemies, combat is the best part of the game for me. It is kind of annoying when you get a dialogue option that uses your intimidate or diplomacy skill and all it does is avoid the battle... I was hoping something more interesting would happen.

Edited by ShadowTiger, 19 December 2012 - 05:02 AM.






Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: skills, balance, non-combat

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