Character Skills and Abilities

    Player Characters [PCs] have more than basic statistics. They also have skills and abilities that augment them and allow them to become more efficient. Depending on how the system is designed it is possible for every character to be identical or completely different. There are two major systems that are used for games. The first is class based skill trees while the other is free form skill sets. Both have a place within the gaming universe, however, the type of skill and ability setup is decided by the developers when the game is created.

    There is always a debate as to what kind of skill system works best for a game. Most people consider a level and class based skill system to be the best. However, this is only because it requires little thought to play. It is not hard to play a game when everything is handed to the player and there is no consideration for what needs to be learned next. This is because eventually everything will be learned by the player so the order does not matter. On the other hand, a pure skill based system allows the player to develop their own perspective and play style with the larger skill set that is available. This lets the player decided what to do next or what skills they want to learn. It also lets them explore different options that would not be available during the class based option. There is a problem with pure skill systems which is they can be so complicated that even the developers cannot fully comprehend how every skill works with each other. This is the other extreme that needs to be considered because it can cause just as many problems for the players as being overly restricted.

    Since there are different ways to do skills it is important to understand both to some degree. That way when the character and combat systems are being designed, the developer will take into consideration what the skills are and how they will progress. This is important especially in combat because proper balance can be hard to do even with a simple system. Table 1 displays a level based skill system that is commonly seen for the first few levels. It may not exactly fit the game in development but it is a good starting point.

Level Skills
1 Attack



2 Run

Quick Attack


3 Refine

Power Attack

    This progression will allow the player to see what will be given to them in the future. However it does not make the characters unique. If the player wants to be unique he will have to do so through gear and role play [RP] skills. However, for a game that wants to provide a more custom feel to each character the skill based system could be an option. Table 2 defines the same skill tree’s but slightly different. In this case there is no level but there is a tearing of skills. The column on the left is the required skill if this field is empty then follows it up to the top of the group.

Skill 1 Skill 2 Skill 3
Attack Quick Attack Power Attack
  Sword Sword Specialty
Defend Block Shield
Gather Refine Ore Processing
    Wood Processing

    The progression is similar but not quite identical. This is because the player can choose what skills to obtain. For example the player may want to work on general attacks or focus on sword specific abilities. He also may find that a shield is not something that is useful so it is a skill that is not acquired. But also notice that a requirement could be from any tier such as the case of ore and wood processing is the third skill learned but they both require refine. Skill requirements could contain any number of prerequisites but most skill systems only have a single required skill for simplicity.
    The difference between being given the skills and having the choice of what skills to use is a debate that every development team goes through. The predefined skill trees allow the players to pick up the game quickly and start enjoying it without the complicated mechanics. However, the more complex skill based system tends to encourage players to explore the skills more. Sometimes these systems have a skill cap which prevents the player form learning everything on a single character. However, a few games have decided to let it be unlimited. The capping of the skills provides a similar feel to that of the level based system where the character can only progress just so far before being halted. But the open system provides player longevity because they do not need to have multiple characters to do multiple things. By not needing more than one character to do what the player wants it frees them up to enjoy the game on that character and they do not have to grind another character to be on level but with different skills. However, having multiple characters allows the player to have a different group of friends, guilds, or stories because the characters can be either independent or intermingled.
    In all skill systems, it is also important to know that there are three major types of skills or abilities. They are active, passive, and responsive. Active skills require the player to use a hotkey, macro or click it. The passive skills are always active and normally include usability or bonuses that are gained by that skill. Responsive skills are a bit different because these skills are either active or passive and have process activation. When an event occurs that activates the skill then the player can use it normally if it is an active skill but if it is a passive skill then it will activate.
    Skills are the corner stone for any character. For example, passive skills such as shield, armor specialty, weapon skill, use skills or other skills provide access to an item or object. This is the most common passive skill but it also allows the player to know what they can or cannot use. If the character does not have the shield skill then they can either not use one or incur a penalty if they try to use it. This depends on the skill system within the game as to if it is equipable or useable without the required skill. It is recommended to deny the usage of an item without the standard skill for it. But a free form skill game often does not do this or if it does there is a basic weapon, armor, item, harvest or some other simple skill. These skills represent the first tier or the initial level of usage for the item.
    However, most games do a character level system that provides the skills available for the player to select from. Often the list is so limited that everything is always active and used often. But sometimes the open skill system and the level skill systems are crossed and the developers do a bit of both. Where the individual skills can progress over time and improve on their own without having to buy new levels all of the time. This is often seen with crafting skills such as harvesting, refining, and manufacturing but it could be applied to any skill useable by the player. In the event of a level based system there is one additional option available for the developer. For open level skills or skill systems some games impose a cap. This is the maximum level that the character can take the skill to without gaining a new character level. Not every game uses this however some games like it because it provides a level of balance and prevents the game from having a flood of crafted items that are only for the maximum level even though most of the player base is not at that point.
    When designing the character, combat, skill, crafting and other constantly used systems. The development staff but think through everything that is going to go into the project. For a single player game this can be less detailed however if the project involves multiple players or is going to be in the scope of an MMO then it should be handled with great care as to not disrupt the flow of the game when a change is required for that system.

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