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Essay: The real problem with Crafting and Skills in Project Eternity


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This post is brought to you by armchair dev forum poster #209158

 

Dear Project Eternity developers,

 

This is my attempt to create a well-constructed argument against the inclusion of Item Durability for the sole purpose of giving people a reason to take Crafting as a skill and some notes on your skill design and a proposed solution. Some of the stuff I talk about is ‘best-guess’. I apologize if I have misinterpreted any information I got from your forum posts at various places, but here goes…

 

Grouping Item Durability in with Crafting achieves the design goal of making Crafting a skill that multiple characters (but perhaps not all characters) will want to take; gives Crafting a combat related per-character sliding benefit to match the efficacy of the Stealth skill and is a money-sink for the player. It is even quasi-realistic.

 

It is not a bad design decision, but it is not the best one.

 

Firstly, if Crafting does not affect everything that characters use to make a repeatable standard attack in Project Eternity (i.e. implements for Wizards, if they are used to make a standard attack) then it is not going to have too much use for the Wizard class if they are playing as a ranged spell flinging wizard, but only melee wizards who wear armor and wade into combat wielding spell-enhanced weapons.

The wizard was previously the go-to ‘Crafter’ class in previous editions of D&D, so if that is the case it changes that archetype (which may or may not be a good or a bad thing).

 

The issue with tacking Item Durability into the Crafting skill is that Crafting no longer becomes the focus of the skill, the focus shifts to Item Durability because of its relevance to combat and economy. It does not matter which character in the party can craft items as long as someone can do it, but it does matter which characters take the Crafting skill because characters that are going to be getting hit often and attacking often are going to run the risk of having one of their primary weapons broken while adventuring and also draining the party’s gold if they do not take the skill.

It may not matter who can craft, because the action of crafting need only be performed by one character in the party to benefit the party, but it does matter who has the Crafting Skill because it is an efficiency and resource drain on the party and thus it is going to be a no-brainer to take Crafting on the primary melee combatants of the party.

 

This does fully depend on how mild the implementation is – how long it takes for weapons to degrade and how much it costs to repair them. If it is too mild it is an insignificant mechanic, probably not worth taking on more than one character and overall busywork, but if it is at least moderate it will have certain pidgeonholing effects on character builds.

 

This may be balanced out by the fact that characters will only be able to have two high skills in the party, and there may be other skills in the skill list that need to be taken by these melee characters in order to cover all of the needs of the party, but it seems like it is going to be important for melee characters to at least dump a couple of points into the Crafting skill just to reduce the efficiency and economic tax on the party. This mechanic creates a Skill tax on these members of the party.

 

Excluding the affect on Item Durability, Crafting in Project Eternity [essentially Crafting, Enchantment and Alchemy] is a one-person-per-party skill. The party member with the highest Crafting skill will always be doing the crafting as crafting is an action that interrupts adventuring, can only be conducted by one character at a time and has no reason for multiple characters to be undertaking it at once.

If any other characters in the party take the Crafting skill, they are merely buying “Combat Equipment Maintenance” for its combat and economic benefits. These characters will likely never craft an item in the game.

 

Why is it important that crafting [the action] be a skill that is taken by one character? I cannot think of one, unless the Crafting disciplines were split into groups rather than streamlined so that multiple characters had to take them or Crafting was a party skill [more on that later].

 

The design mandate of Skills in Project Eternity seem to be highly influenced by the combat efficacy of the Stealth skill because it allows every character to use Stealth get closer to an encounter before being noticed (e.g. one point of Stealth may allow a melee character to reach melee combat with an enemy, taking one projectile hit from a ranged combatant while avoiding the extra projectile hit he would have taken had he been noticed earlier).

Based on the current available information it leads me to believe that every other skill is being designed with a similar benefit in mind, even if the benefits are somewhat abstract to the actual skill itself.

“Combat Equipment Maintenance” is not abstract from Crafting, it makes sense, but it makes more sense that characters proficient or excellent with a weapon would also know how to maintain their weapons to make them last a longer period of time before repair. The ‘gamism’ of the design is inferior to the obvious simulation.

 

An easy way (but maybe not the best way) to solve this problem and to keep the design intentions intact is to remove Crafting from the skill list completely and make it an abstract action that any character can perform (like Baldur’s Gate 2 and Knights of the Old Republic 2). The restrictions can be present within the item recipes themselves and still achieve the same effect without having Crafting as a character skill since it seems to be at odds with the design principles of the current skill system on its own. I do not believe there is anyone that would complain about that.

 

For the sole sake of keeping the money-sink and strategical maintenance part in the game, you could keep the “Combat Equipment Maintenance” as a skill. But now without Crafting, it is solely a skill tax on equipment based characters.

The comments Josh Sawyer made regarding the money-sink part of the skill led me to believe that this was partially intended to affect the party wealth of players that do not invest in the Stronghold, but it is clear that it affects everyone, not just them.

 

You could also remove that from the skill list and make it an abstract system like Diablo 2, but Item Durability as its own entity would probably be more annoying to a larger portion of the fanbase than it is as part of a skill (conjecture, I couldn’t be certain) and it wasn’t present in the Infinity Engine games either – perhaps it makes sense in the context of the world, like Baldur’s Gate or Fallout New Vegas, only you could say.

Changing Item Durability to an inverse “Sharpness” mechanic where you sharpen an item and it has more damage and degrades over time does not fix the issue, it retains exactly the same issues and has even more plausibility (which may not be an issue for you).

 

Removing Crafting from the skill list and removing item durability/any sister mechanics from the game solves the problems with trying to make a skill out of a one-character-per-party action which was an abstract action in other games and feat(s) in some editions of D&D. It may not solve the money-sink issue for players that do not invest in the Stronghold, but I do not believe that was a good solution to that problem anyway if that was its intention.

 

But in my opinion the problem is rooted deeper in the skill design, and it is likely similar issues will be present in a lot of other skills.

 

Making skills something that every character wants to take is a hard job because most of them will likely be carbon copies of D&D skills that were only meant to be taken by one person in a party in a system where it was fine that both one-person skills and universal skills were allowed to exist and other skills that are useful for multiple characters do not have the same effect in a CRPG as they do in P&P.

It seems that the way you guys are tackling this is giving skills like Herbalism or Mechanics a gamist combat effective bonus to match the efficacy that Stealth and Perception have, which is my problem specifically with the examples of skill design I have seen so far (Survival in F:NV, Crafting in P:E).

 

The problem with this design is the exact same thing is going to happen with other skills as to what is going to happen with Crafting; people in their right mind are not going to take skills on characters for the ‘skill’ action, but for the combat related bonus. Mechanics seems like it is partially a one-person-per-party skill. Sure maybe you can open two locks at once if you have it on two people but the character with the highest mechanics skill will be doing most of the mechanics skill actions. So if you gave it a per-character sliding effect combat bonus (I’m not sure what that would be, but for the sake of argument let’s say it reduces the reload time of ranged weapons) anyone else who takes it will be taking it solely for that, with the exception of possibly being able to do a couple of Mechanics actions at once where the game world permitted.

Using reload time as an example, now you’re most likely not going to take mechanics on any melee characters. Your rogue might take it because he gets a natural bonus and it is useful in conjunction with Stealth but a melee fighter will probably not take Mechanics because he might not use a ranged weapon very often, but you’d be a fool not to take it on the Ranger because the Ranger will be (most likely) using a ranged weapon 90% of the time. It falls into the same pit trap as Crafting where melee characters will be a fool not to take it.

 

If there was a skill called Herbalism and it acted like Survival in New Vegas then the same issue would be present. The character with the highest skill points in Herbalism will do the herb gathering and identifying. No other characters will be necessary to perform this action, the only reason players would put points into it is based on the increase in duration consumable consumption. It worked for New Vegas because there was only one character. Survival was taken for Survival, not just for the bonus durations of consumables.

 

I don’t believe adding abstract per-character combat bonuses this fixes one man skills. Sure it gives you a reason to give it to more than one character but it does not make the skill-action useful for every character, it adds a subset system whereby players are choosing options based on abstract combat bonuses. The skill action of Crafting, or Mechanics or “Herbalism” remains a one-person per party action most of the time.

 

Taking points in Crafting on two characters does absolutely nothing to the action of Crafting Items. Isn’t crafting items the purpose of the skill? Wouldn’t it be better to reward taking Crafting on multiple characters by affecting the action of crafting itself, rather than some abstract bonus?

 

If taking Crafting on multiple characters had a direct benefit to the crafting of items for the party, then maybe people would take Crafting on multiple characters if they wanted to make a Crafting-build party.

 

The benefits of taking Stealth on every character are solely within the skill. Taking Stealth in multiple characters allows the party to better avoid combat or get closer to combat. You could take the group benefit of multiple characters with Stealth and apply that to other skills as well. Multiple characters with Crafting could help the crafting action of the party. Crafting already allows skills, talents and abilities from other party members to help facilitate the creation of items, so why couldn’t points in Crafting from multiple characters be beneficial for the party since the action of Crafting effectively stops adventuring anyway.

 

In fact this mechanic was present in D&D 3E, on page 62 of the Player’s Handbook under “Combining skill attempts”.

 

 

Sometimes the individual PCs are essentially reacting to the same situation but they can work together and help each other out. In this case, one character is considered the leader of the effort and makes a skill check while each helper makes a skill check against DC 10. (You can’t take 10 on this check.) For each helper who succeeds, the leader gets a +2 circumstance bonus (as per the rule for favourable conditions). In many cases, a character’s help won’t be beneficial, or only a limited number of characters can help at once.

The DM limits cooperation as she sees fit for the given conditions. For instance, if Krusk has been badly wounded and is dying, Jozan can try a Heal check to keep him from losing more hit points. One other character can help Jozan. If the other character makes a Heal check against DC 10, then Jozan gets a +2 circumstance bonus on the Heal check he makes to help Krusk. The DM rules that two characters couldn’t help Jozan at the same time because a third person would just get in the way

 

Obviously you wouldn’t use these exact mechanics, since checks aren’t rolled for skills anyway, but you could say that multiple characters with a skill in the party could assist the skill check of the character vs the static target. In relation to crafting you could add a per-character sliding benefit for every character with the skill to the character with the best crafting score’s number for determining certain things about what they can Craft.

 

The same could probably go for other skills that have this problem. That way they don’t have to have some tacked on combat-abstraction that doesn’t feel quite right.

Edited by Sensuki
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Thank you, armchair dev, for that lengthy essay on crafting and item degradation!

 

The real gem here, I reckon, is that quote you dug up from D&D 3rd ed. That would be a nice party feature that makes certain skills of all the individual characters in the party count as one, like a skill pool. In that way, you could make a crafting power house, if you want to. I'm sure there are other skills as well that would benefit from such a solution - possibly non-combat skills.

Edited by IndiraLightfoot

*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***

 

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tl;dr

 

That wizards are traditionally crafters and might not be so in P:E is a v. weak point and should just have been left out.

 

It should also be noted that character death will probably be permanent in P:E (insert dev quote here), so having any skill on multiple members may not be as useless as it seems.

 

I'm sympathetic towards characters "assisting" each other in skill checks.

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Bit about wizards was an observation only. Do you mean that from an essay writing perspective?

 

Death is permanent on Expert mode. Most people will load a previous save.

Edited by Sensuki
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Bit about wizards was an observation only. Do you mean that from an essay writing perspective?

No, I've just seen it being brought up in other threads as an argument and seeing it again just irked me.

 

Death is permanent on Expert mode. Most people will load a previous save.

this borders on another topic, but I'll just say there's also the Trial of Iron mode (no reloads). I think the game must be balanced with this as a real option in mind.

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My solution covers that? Lose a party member with highest points in X skill, o shucks that's bad. Lose a party member with smaller points in X skill, well darn, now the party isn't as effective at X skill (among other things).

 

Actually it's even better. Losing a party member that applied a bonus to the main skill-user's skill dying is bad. But under the current system, losing a character with not the highest Crafting doesn't affect the party's ability to craft items AT ALL.

 

I'd like to tune standard, at-level encounters on normal difficulty to not require the use of consumables. However, efficiency will be a bigger deal both on higher levels of difficulty and if you're under-leveled for a specific encounter. In those cases, consumable use will likely be, if not mandatory, extremely helpful.

Edited by Sensuki
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Another thing is that the developers can then reward players who stack skills in a party by balancing the game for that, so parties who stack Crafting are awesome at Crafting and can Craft items that a party with one character with a maxed Crafting skill cannot, and so on and so forth.

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A lot of assumptions in there about how skills work or how P:E will use them....

 

Not saying it's a bad essay, of course. And understandable considering our current information and the lack of a complete overview.

Edited by C2B
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In the future I'd suggest using an outline or different sections with descriptive sub-headings when writing something of this length as it make it much easier to follow.

 

I'm not sure I really understand what your main argument is... is it that including combat-related functionality in an otherwise "non-combat" skill is a mess, or that item degradation affects different characters unequally, or that this will lead to crafting being relegated to a "one character per party" role? I suppose I could agree with all three of those concerns, but for me the most glaring issue is the nature of "crafting" as an amorphous, all-encompassing non-combat skill... I tried to clarify in the announcement thread whether it was truly a single skill, as the post seemed to suggest, but I was never answered. I have to say I would be quite disappointed if this was the case... and I sincerely hope that I am simply misinterpreting things here. To me it's no better than having a single, catch-all "combat" skill. I'd even say that clumping weapons, armor, and clothes all into "smithing" is too generalized for my tastes, but hopefully at least cooking, alchemy, enchantments, and smithing are all separate skills from each other. Damn you Minecraft for making everyone believe that crafting is an adequately specific term!

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Sensuki, what amuses me is that the only reason you're upset about this is because you understand the designers' motivations behind it. If Project Eternity was just released working the way Tim Cain described without anybody knowing anything about what happened behind the scenes, you'd just have accepted it as is without raising too many questions. Because that would be the "new normal".

Edited by Infinitron
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I'd even say that clumping weapons, armor, and clothes all into "smithing" is too generalized for my tastes, but hopefully at least cooking, alchemy, enchantments, and smithing are all separate skills from each other. Damn you Minecraft for making everyone believe that crafting is an adequately specific term!

 

I'm not sure Project Eternity is the type of RPG you're looking for. It sounds like you want a skill-heavy, Fallout or Realms of Arkania type thing:

 

skills.jpg

 

The Infinity Engine games were never this skill-centric and it was never a given that Project Eternity would go that way.

Edited by Infinitron
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If Project Eternity was just released working the way Tim Cain described without anybody knowing anything about what happened behind the scenes, you'd just have accepted it as is without raising too many questions. Because that would be the "new normal".

Really? Dragon Age 2, Tiberium Twilight and Fallout 3 surely were accepted as a "new normal" by the masses.

Edited by Cultist

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Sensuki, what amuses me is that the only reason you're upset about this is because you understand the designers' motivations behind it. If Project Eternity was just released working the way Tim Cain described without anybody knowing anything about what happened behind the scenes, you'd just have accepted it as is without raising too many questions. Because that would be the "new normal".

Really? Dragon Age 2, Tiberium Twilight and Fallout 3 surely were accepted as a "new normal" by the masses.

 

 

Apples and oranges. Dragon Age 2 and Fallout 3 were no longer recognizably traditional CRPGs. Project Eternity as described by Tim Cain and Josh Sawyer is recognizably a hardcore, traditional CRPG, but with different mechanics than some people may have expected.

Edited by Infinitron
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Apples and oranges. Dragon Age 2 and Fallout 3 were no longer recognizably traditional CRPGs. Project Eternity as described by Tim Cain and Josh Sawyer is recognizably a hardcore, traditional CRPG, but with different mechanics than some people may have expected.

Why not? Maybe it's you who can't accept "new normal" for modern popamoletraditional RPG? Oh, the irony....

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Sensuki, what amuses me is that the only reason you're upset about this is because you understand the designers' motivations behind it. If Project Eternity was just released working the way Tim Cain described without anybody knowing anything about what happened behind the scenes, you'd just have accepted it as is without raising too many questions. Because that would be the "new normal".

 

Call me crazy for thinking a mechanic in an in development game that I have a vested interest in is sub-par and could be done better.

 

On top of that

 

Crafting as a stand-alone skill connected to creating/modifying weapons and armor was the skill I was least confident about in the skill system overall

Edited by Sensuki
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Yeah, well, I guess there are good chances of it being removed now, then. Non-skill-based crafting, here we come.

 

Who knows what the other non-combat skills will be like, though.

Edited by Infinitron
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Good essay. I agree that one way to make skills useful amongst multiple party members would be to allow for a partial stacking bonus. There are certain skills like Stealth that are self-evidently useful no matter how many people take them, and for those it typically doesn't make sense to stack the bonus, since one stealthy person will almost always have an easier time going undetected than a whole party. But for the skills that are typically meant to produce a single result, usually removed from any kind of pressure, it makes sense to allow the other party members to contribute part of their skill bonus.

 

Edit: You could even have the stacking bonus increase with skill level, so that party members with a higher skill level contribute a greater % of that skill level, but the numbers are likely too small for that to actually work.

Edited by Gumbercules
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Really like the idea with the skill pool. That brings a new dynamic into party based rpgs, how it should be. If I have a group of specialist wizards, then I expect new spells and rituals for research, unavailable to just one wizard. The same with crafting items, and enchanting.

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