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AfroJarl

The Importance of diversified companions on a mechanical level.

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Companions are, and have been integral parts of party based ©RPGs for as long as I can remember.

It's already been discussed to great length that, for any companion to stand out, they need an enticing back story and have some sort of meaningful relation to the story yet to unfold.

The above problem is usually handled fairly well, with specific honors going to Mass Effect 2 (Garrus, Tali), Planescape: Torment (Morte, Dak'Kon) and Baldur's gate II (Several characters)

However, more often than not, and not to knock those examples specifically, characters in RPG's are only really interesting from a Story & Dialogue perspective.

 

Bioware games in my opinion are the biggest offenders of these all encompassing class systems, with Mass Effect, Baldur's gate, and Dragon age all suffering from samish companions during combat and gameplay.

As an example, the Dragon Age: Origins characters all share the same skillsets, depending on their predetermined class (Rogue, Mage, Warrior)

Leliana and Zevran, while both rogues, each have a different specialization initially  with the former being a Bard that specialises in ranged combat and the latter being an assasin that specialises in dual wielding. They can however, given enough time to advance in level, take over each other's specialisations. Essentially everyone in their respective class  has the same options of advancement. This isn't inherently problematic from a gameplay perspective, but they can all pretty much be molded into what you want them to be while you're able to carry the most desired characters into battle based on their personalities, rather than their skillsets. (ideally you'd balance both)

In the aforementioned game there are two exceptions to take note of: Your Dog and Shale (a golem) both defy the class systems and have a skilltree of their own. As a Result no other companion can provide what they each provide, and vice versa. This makes them unique tactical party options. it also makes them more interesting.

 

 

Games to this very day are still struggling with this very problem.

If we look back, However, Planescape: Torment already did differentiate between companions & their mechanics in a big way.

In planescape, the first companion you meet (and get forced to party up with) is a floating skull with, I believe one or two equipment slots, very similar to the Dog from Dragon Age in that respect. This skull, Morte, has a bunch of Unique-to-morte damage reductions as well as a taunt skill called Litanny of curses. If someone in the planes were to curse excessively, Morte would take notes (how?) and improve his taunt ability. Morte improves his attack if you manage to equip different sets of Teeth on him, and Morte can further improve his statistics through story elements and Dialogue choices, as well as the good ol` experience based levelling system.

Morte is a Fighter by class, but unlike any other fighter.

 

The next Fighter you meet is Dak'Kon. This guy is a Githzerai, a race who live in Limbo and place great emphasis on holistic knowledge and *knowing*. Anyway, this guy is actually a Fighter/Mage, but the way he operates is, he learns spells through advancing through dialogue choices involving the circles of zerthimon, if you manage to help him come to terms with the teachings of zerthimon you can further increase his stats, evolve his character bound weapon, and increase his arcane knowledge, as well as  providing you, the Nameless One, with the ability to learn spells unique to this Gith, provided you're playing a mage. (and you should be)

He, again, is nothing like the other companions.

 

What both of the above have in common though, is that their advancement and unique traits are meshed into the game's story and dialogue mechanics as well as combat. They also aren't balanced perfectly in comparison to the other companions, and those two facts create a more immersive and interesting gaming experience. For the same reason Brothers: a tale of two sons was so well received.

Making them diverse not only in dialogue and story, but also mechanics adds an extra layer of depth to characters, and increases player immersion and attachment to said characters.

 

 

I'd like very much for this to be a bigger concern in Pillars of Eternity, as it is in my opinion, even more so than the expert writing, what sets planescape apart as a masterpiece even to this date.

 

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What both of the above have in common though, is that their advancement and unique traits are meshed into the game's story and dialogue mechanics as well as combat. They also aren't balanced perfectly in comparison to the other companions, and those two facts create a more immersive and interesting gaming experience.

 

 

I can't say I agree with you about the balancing thing.  To use your DA:O example, I barely played with either Dog or Shale because Dog was far too weak after the early game, and Shale was hands down the best tank in the game.  I kind of felt like Dog was more of a support character and shouldn't have even counted as a companion.

 

I actually do like when companions have unique abilities or even quirks in their builds, but for the most part I think they should exist within the system's rules, not outside of them.  I'm with you in regards to letting the companions advance through story and dialogue as well as combat, though.

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I'll concede that dog was too weak, and Shale, both as a tank and a crowd control machine was too strong. They may have been a poor example because of these balance issues, but both of them were interesting due to their unique abilities, I think especially dog simply suffered from poor implementation: I.e. lack of advancement.

Balance in planescape wasn't too important because the game barely had any combat in it, and to say the game had strategy to its combat would be an overstatement; the weaker characters however still managed to make the stronger characters (especially in their upgraded form) stand out.

Those characters however, as criticism to planescape, don't have to be companions. Your companion should at the very least have a niche viability.

 

Balance in RPG's is too often done through restricting companions to the same skillsets as all their counterparts. 
In Planescape it made sense to hugely diversify characters from the class templates since much of the lore was incredibly left field;

Unique abilities/deficiencies do not however have to exist in another dimension to work.

 

edit: I might add that many of Planescape's bigger balance issues were probably due to a shortage of development time, while a certain Modron had options to become the deadliest killing Machine, your only thief had no real evolution about her whatsoever.

 

The point I'm failing to make is that extra-systematic diversification can and will lead to imbalance, but as long as these imbalances aren't mountainous obstacles, and as long as there are niche reasons to take a certain member with you, it should be fine.

 

Deviation from the system can be incredibly exciting, although, if the character were to just have a random extra ability to go berserk while otherwise being the most ordinary ranger in Faerun, (ahum, Minsc) then that'd be a huge missed opportunity.

Edited by AfroJarl

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"Balance/imbalance" is always an inexact thing, when it's done right. It can only be perfect when everything's apples, and yet it's much more interesting to have a variety of different fruits. But then, you're balancing apples and oranges, as the saying goes.

 

Of course, you can still get it really close. You don't have to get a bag of apples and a bag of oranges to weigh exactly the same amount, just to get one to not be twice as heavy as the other, etc.

 

The most important aspect of balance is really restraint. How close together everything is isn't as important as how far apart everything isn't allowed to be.

 

If character A has an ability that does 50 damage, but is pretty slow, and character B has an ability that does 15 damage but is quite fast, then you don't need to weed through the game, making sure that the number of enemies that are "strong" against slow attacks (easily able to dodge and/or interrupt) is exactly identical to the number of enemies that are "strong" against low-damage attacks (armored or something), for example.

 

So, yeah, I very much agree with that aspect of uniqueness that you're getting at. It's nice when companions bring something to the table only they can bring, even if it's not the single-most game-changing thing in the world.

 

In PoE, the classes already seem to be wonderfully diverse in their mechanics and such, which is great, but it'd definitely be nice to have the cherry of companion uniqueness on top of that sundae. :)


Should we not start with some Ipelagos, or at least some Greater Ipelagos, before tackling a named Arch Ipelago? 6_u

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I do feel that it is important for companion characters to distinquish themselves in combat through one quirk/ability or another. Because there are so many classes available to us, and fewer companions than this to boot, I'm not too worried myself about companions "bleeding" together in terms of combat role in PoE though. The problem we address in DA:O comes about because there were only three real classes available - warrior, mage, rogue - and so many more companions. Though these companions are designed to each serve a unique combat function, any two of the same class can effectively become the other with little hassle. I'd like to see this as less viable or practical in PoE.

 

As far as evolving in combat through the narrative, I recall that DA:O tried this also by granting slight buffs or abilities to companions your PC was friendly with. This makes sense - I imagine I'd fight better with a close and personal friend than even a long-term aquaintance - but the execution didn't really ring any chords in me. They didn't in any way shape a character's role in or out of combat, they were, IIRC, just slight passive buffs. I guess the best analogy would be to say "Hey! I'm glad we're close friends and that you're willing to help me resolve the ghosts of my past. Here's a dollar."

"Um ... okay. Thanks."

The slight reward didn't really mean anything. Certainly not more than the mere experience of aiding a familiar companion. As I say, it wasn't exactly bad, it just felt superfluous and pointless.

 

If I was to see something similar in PoE - and I'd like to - I'd rather see it aproached a little differently. Passive stat buffs mean nothing to me, it'd be much neater to see companions evolve to gain a unique ability or two. As AfroJari says, something distinquished, but not too envelope-pushing. Furthermore - and if anything is to be taken from my post, I'd hope it be this - I'd prefer to see my companions evolve both in character and in combat based on the choices my PC makes. I think it'd be cool to see my companions grow in a way that, at least slightly, reflects the flow of the narrative. For instance, at one of those defining points at the end of a companion's personal quest-thing, said companion could learn one of two or three unique abilities based on the manner by which the story arc concludes. If she kills her own mother to save a score of strangers, Shialla gets one new ability, and if she elects instead to spare her at the cost of their lives, she gets another; and presumably your PC's influence will help determine the path. This need not be restricted to companion quests of course, but could apply to any major, or even minor, branch in story.

 

tl;dr: Companions have distinquished abilities/roles, and evolve as a function of player choice, not because I talk to them between every mission.

Edited by Pipyui

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As far as evolving in combat through the narrative, I recall that DA:O tried this also by granting slight buffs or abilities to companions your PC was friendly with.  This makes sense - I imagine I'd fight better with a close and personal friend than even a long-term aquaintance - but the execution didn't really ring any chords in me.

Now that you put it like that, I actually think even that exact same setup would've worked a lot better if the bonus they gained had simply been synergy with your character in battle instead of straight-up standalone bonuses. Still wouldn't be the absolute best system in the world or anything, but, I just never really considered that possibility. The more familiar you are with someone, the better you'd fight in conjunction with one another. If anything was to be represented by something like that, it seems to me that synergy would work the best. Aka, you do more damage to targets stunned by Steve the Party Member, etc.

 

Sorry, mild tangent... but your words made me think of it. 8P


Should we not start with some Ipelagos, or at least some Greater Ipelagos, before tackling a named Arch Ipelago? 6_u

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^
I think that's an excellent idea, to refer to planescape once more; in planescape you could 'screw up' while conversing with your characters, and while that's certainly not a bad thing thing from a realism standpoint, it'd be much more interesting to see the companion change according to your actions and words, rather than 'improve' because you happened to say the right thing. Of course there would still be the matter of resonance, where a certain choice could have a bigger impact relative to others, which would also be an interesting prospect to fiddle around with.

big thumbs up!

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^ Maybe they even learn from YOUR mistakes, sometimes! Like, instead of picking all the "Hey, you should totally be calm and collected all the time, because anger leads to rash decisions that may come back to bite you in the arse" options, and urging a given companion to do that all the time, you instead just pick all the rash decisions you can (the "wrong/bad" decisions), and bad stuff happens as a consequence. Then, that companion thinks "Whoa... you know, I've realized that rash decisions can be pretty problematic on down the road. I'm not sure I want problems like that. Better keep my temper in check."

 

Just for example... :)


Should we not start with some Ipelagos, or at least some Greater Ipelagos, before tackling a named Arch Ipelago? 6_u

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The companions in this game will have unique items similar to the companions in Baldur's Gate 2. I think they might have a unique ability/feat here or there. Something similar to Minsc's berserk, Mazzy's buffs, or Imoen's Bhaall powers. The classes in this game are role heavy. This means that for each companion in this game, no other companion will be able to do what they do. In BG2 some characters didn't feel as unique as they could have simply because of the gaming system. A tank is a tank. A better designed system will make the characters feel unique by necessity without having to resort to lengths required by Planescape. I love Planescape, i'm just saying they did what they had to do to make the characters feel the way the did. They had to break the system. This won't be necessary with this game.

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No. Frak special snowflakes with special unique skill trees and crap.

No.

A thousand times no.

Frak not doing that.

I like it when NPCs don't work like PCs.

If the NPC does what I do, than there's two ways that works out:

If the NPC isn't as good as me, they're a third wheel and get dumped (Example: wizards other than Edwin)

If the NPC is better than me, I feel like a third wheel and my PC becomes pointless (Example: Edwin)

If NPCs are like Dakkon or Fall from Grace and do something that you flat out CANT, than you don't have to compete with them.

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Frak doing that.

NPC's and enemies should work like PC's. Same rules. Same world.

 

Competition? That's a shallow way of looking at it.

Even if you have two wizards, you can spec them differently. OR you can spec them the same and double your awesomeness in one area.

 

 

 


If the NPC isn't as good as me, they're a third wheel and get dumped (Example: wizards other than Edwin)
If the NPC is better than me, I feel like a third wheel and my PC becomes pointless (Example: Edwin)

If NPCs are like Dakkon or Fall from Grace and do something that you flat out CANT, than you don't have to compete with them.

 

Competition mentality either exists or it does not, regardless if the skill you have are exactly the same or not.

 

Does NPC's special skill work better than yours? Then you are "a third wheel and pointless"  (I utterly and completely reject this kind of absolutist thinking. Either you're the very best at something or you suck???)

 

Nothing really changes with special skills. It's just a different wrapper. The "problem" of character efficiency remains the same, only instead of"does character A make better use of skill X than character B" you go "does unique power/skill X of character A synergize better with this class/my party then unique power Y of character B"


* YOU ARE A WRONGULARITY FROM WHICH NO RIGHT CAN ESCAPE! *

Chuck Norris was wrong once - He thought HE made a mistake!

 

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Gorramnit why do people say Frak?

 

more on topic: I don't think there will be much asymmetry in how the classes play-out, if earlier debate is any indication.


Remember: Argue the point, not the person. Remain polite and constructive. Friendly forums have friendly debate. There's no shame in being wrong. If you don't have something to add, don't post for the sake of it. And don't be afraid to post thoughts you are uncertain about, that's what discussion is for.
---
Pet threads, everyone has them. I love imagining Gods, Monsters, Factions and Weapons.

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Competition mentality either exists or it does not, regardless if the skill you have are exactly the same or not.

 

Does NPC's special skill work better than yours? Then you are "a third wheel and pointless"  (I utterly and completely reject this kind of absolutist thinking. Either you're the very best at something or you suck???)

 

Nothing really changes with special skills. It's just a different wrapper. The "problem" of character efficiency remains the same, only instead of"does character A make better use of skill X than character B" you go "does unique power/skill X of character A synergize better with this class/my party then unique power Y of character B"

What I mean is specifically when they clash with the main character.

 

A bad NPC is Edwin. If you're a wizard, he is you but better. While he would fit with a fighter Bhallspawn, he makes a Bhallspawn wizard redundant. An optimal party would ditch a PC wizard and put Edwin in that slot.

 

A bad NPC is that halfling fighter you find right outside Candlekeep. If you're a mage, he can be a meatshield to protect you from the Candlekeep wolf. However, if you're a fighter, he's you but worse. He takes up a party slot that could instead be used on someone useful, like Edwin.

 

A good NPC is Dakkon. If you're a wizard, than he can be a fighter who occasionally buffs himself to absurd heights in order to take out important targets. If you're a fighter, he can be the magical artillery, but can still pull out a sword and start slashing if the need arises. He can be used no matter what the PC is, and will never compete with the PC.

 

A good NPC is Fall from Grace. She does something you can't do. She doesn't make any pc redundant, as she is unique.

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A good NPC is useful, and a good RPG has enough NPCs to fill roles that the PC isn't built for.

 

A good NPC isn't so absurdly powerful that a PC filling a similar role is a waste, nor so badly built the PC has to fill the role in order to have a decent [insert role] in the party.

Edited by KaineParker

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Competition mentality either exists or it does not, regardless if the skill you have are exactly the same or not.

 

Does NPC's special skill work better than yours? Then you are "a third wheel and pointless"  (I utterly and completely reject this kind of absolutist thinking. Either you're the very best at something or you suck???)

 

Nothing really changes with special skills. It's just a different wrapper. The "problem" of character efficiency remains the same, only instead of"does character A make better use of skill X than character B" you go "does unique power/skill X of character A synergize better with this class/my party then unique power Y of character B"

What I mean is specifically when they clash with the main character.

 

A bad NPC is Edwin. If you're a wizard, he is you but better. While he would fit with a fighter Bhallspawn, he makes a Bhallspawn wizard redundant. An optimal party would ditch a PC wizard and put Edwin in that slot.

 

A bad NPC is that halfling fighter you find right outside Candlekeep. If you're a mage, he can be a meatshield to protect you from the Candlekeep wolf. However, if you're a fighter, he's you but worse. He takes up a party slot that could instead be used on someone useful, like Edwin.

 

A good NPC is Dakkon. If you're a wizard, than he can be a fighter who occasionally buffs himself to absurd heights in order to take out important targets. If you're a fighter, he can be the magical artillery, but can still pull out a sword and start slashing if the need arises. He can be used no matter what the PC is, and will never compete with the PC.

 

A good NPC is Fall from Grace. She does something you can't do. She doesn't make any pc redundant, as she is unique.

 

While I have nothing against NPCs having their own unique quirks, I cannot agree that in a 6 character party that some redundancy is bad. I played Baldurs Gate and Baldur's Gate II with 2 wizards and did not regret it at all.  Even in the case that the NPC or PC is slightlymore  powerful, one can learn different spells, skills, or powers, or use different equipment (Fighters specializing in different weapons, for example). Also Edwin was a specialist Conjurerer, which shut him out of using certain spells, and there were some quite useful ones, which my PC used.

Edited by forgottenlor

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I had Jan Janson cover for divination.

And while redundancy isn't bad, there's another problem: party size.

I want to have Viconia, Jan Janson, Minsc, Edwin, Mazzy, Korgan, and Immoen in the same party. As this is impossible, I have to start cutting people.

This is where redundancy hurts. I end up either having a sub-par wizard (because I don't have Edwin), or missing a character I wanted to have with me (because I dumped Mazzy instead.)

Edited by khalil

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I don't think there's an issue with any and all redundancy. I don't want Steve the Fighter to have some completely different "Steve The Fighter Skill Tree" as opposed to some other Fighter's skill tree. BUT, it's nice if he's got something unique about him. I mean, he's probably a fully grown adult, right? So, he's had different life experiences than other fighters, and maybe he's developed a favored technique/ability that other people don't really use because they had no need to develop it like he did.

 

THAT kind of thing is nice. It's a bit like the difference between characters of the same class but different races (in fact, that would even do it); maybe your Tiefling Rogue can become shadows for 5 seconds, while a Rogue of a different race cannot, because that's a Tiefling ability (for example... I'm just making this up, so it's probably not really a Tiefling ability in actual lore/rulesets that involve Tieflings). That sort of thing. There's something about that character that makes them not a cookie-cutter, functionally. That's always nice. Even if it's just that they come with unique background traits or something, that provide passive bonuses.


Should we not start with some Ipelagos, or at least some Greater Ipelagos, before tackling a named Arch Ipelago? 6_u

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That brings up another thing: companions should have something memorable about them. They should not be like companions in bg1, a group of cookie cutter stereotypes whose deaths affect me less than that of one of the eighty snipers I get burdened with whenever I play TF2.

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Well, I have to say, that if NPCs are as any PC can be, then PC would not be special. And NPCs either.

 

Altought it's true that having a custom skill tree for every NPC is also out of place, NPCs needs something that makes them special. A player should never be able to create a PC exactly like a companion.

 

I think Baldur's Gate is a good example for this. Every NPC was unique. They were a character following the game rules, but with some exception. A exception that suited their role in the game. Minsc, a ranger with access to the rage skill is the perfect example. Jan Jansen with his special equipment and the ability to create his own ammon. That was super nice, and it makes it interesting to replay with other companions. The characters still suits the rules, but they have their unique selling point.

 

How to make the character to not to feel behind? Easy: give the PC another unique skill. After all the PC is probably some kind of choosen one, it will be easy to grant him some benefits that makes him also interesting, even if you play with a team made of custom characters, the MC will be also unique.

 

I really think that as long as this special change suits the role of the NPC, it's more than welcome.

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