Over on his blog, Coyote went through various aspects of what makes a “great RPG”. One post was about game mechanics, and it got me thinking about how characters improve during play.

These days, there are three basic methods of “powering up” your alter ego: class, points, and usage.

D&D is a class-based system. We’re all familiar with it: as each profession advances in level, certain benefits accrue. Mages learn new spells. Fighters become better in combat. Paladins gain special abilities. And everyone, at specified intervals, chooses new feats.

The point system can be seen in games such as Titan Quest and Geneforge 4. At level up, you receive a set number of points with which you increase (or learn) skills. Usually, there is no restriction on where the points can go, except sometimes by how many it takes to improve a skill or stat.

With usage, a skill improves when you use it frequently. We don’t see too much of this. Oblivion had something like this, as did Morrowind. Both games also allowed for training to boost skills, but only to a certain number; after that, only using skills could boost them higher.

Of the three methods, “gain by doing with some training” seems to be the most natural, because that’s how it works in real life. Yet we rarely see this in games. Does point allocation have an advantage?

After all, wouldn’t you be putting points into the skills you’re using anyway? It would be silly to dump those precious points into, say, axe skill if all you ever use is a broadsword.

Of course, there are players who want to be the “everything character”, and so advance a wide range of skills. The “Jack of all trades, master of none” approach.

That may work best in the D&D type of system, where multi-classing is available. The class-based system also has the advantage of requiring fewer choices from the player; you know in advance pretty much what you’ll be getting during level-ups.

Which of these do you prefer? Do you think there’s any real difference between “learn by doing” and “points where you want them”? For some reason, I kinda lean towards “point allocation” myself, even though they usually go into a small selection.

And while you’re thinking about that, check out the post over at Coyote’s blog.

Game Mechanics on Rampant Coyote