On his blog today, Gareth Fouche muses on the matter of skill development in RPGs. Specifically, how many players tend to specialize in one or two weapon skills, ignoring the rest.

Typically, a player will develop one melee skill and one ranged skill. This is part of creating the “best build” for whatever type of character the player is running. Gareth thinks this is a bad thing.

He is getting around this – rather cleverly – by having weapon skills used for defense. For instance, if you have short sword skill, then you’re familiar with the attack patterns and can defend against them better than if you didn’t have the skill.

That’s certainly a novel approach. Like Gareth, I can’t recall any RPGs offhand that implemented such a feature, though one may be out there somewhere. And it would certainly provide incentive to learn some other combat skills. However…

However, I think the real problem here is that, too often, the various weapons available in a game aren’t really differentiated very much, if at all. Here’s an axe that does 2d6, and there’s a longsword with the same damage rating. What does it matter which one you choose?

Once in awhile, there is a small difference. Usually, that’s blunt weapons doing better against skeletons or something similar. Otherwise, you really have no reason to choose one type of weapon over another, except personal preference.

Avernum 5 gets around that by having only two types of hand-to-hand weapons: melee (swords) and polearms. The difference between the two types are: (a) polearms do more damage and (b) they’re two-handers, so you give up a shield for more hitting power.

Similarly, there are thrown weapons and bows. Thrown weapons are more damaging, but are used up in combat. Bows do less damage, but have infinite ammunition, since arrows are virtual.

This approach reduces your choices to more damage vs. protection on the one hand, and more damage vs. eternal ammo on the other. There are no worries about different weapon types, since there are just two for melee and two for ranged. It simplifies things considerably.

I’ve often wondered why RPGs feature so many different weapon types, when they so rarely have any special abilities. Each type ought to have something that makes it desirable to use, some unique feature no other has. Combine that with Gareth’s idea, and you’d really have reason to pick up multiple weapon skills, instead of concentrating on just one.

Then again, would that add needless complexity? Would players really be happy having to spread those precious points across several weapon skills instead of one or two? Would they worry about which ones to develop this level? Check out Gareth’s post and see what you think.

Cross Training on Scars Of War blog