Balancing RP and PvP


Any of you out there ever play Doom? I mean the original, Doom. Not Doom II or Quake.

That was the first PvP game I played. Man, I loved that game. At the company where I worked we had an old IPX/SPX ARCnet network on coax cables. By today’s standards, that’s ancient arcana. But after work several of us would load up Doom and play deathmatchs for an hour or two before going home. That was a BLAST. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed any first person shooter or other PvP since as much.

Sure, the newer games have better graphics, more options, etc.. But for the sheer fun factor, Doom had them all beat. It was simple. Easy to learn, easy to play. Even odds for all players. We would play that game over and over and over and have a great time running up the frag counts each and every time.

Fast forward a few years now to nearly any MMO around. They (the good ones) are a blast to play at first…but the enjoyment fades when it becomes “same ole, same ole”.

So I was asking myself why such a simple game as Doom could be so fun for so long with so much less variety then some of the vastly more complex MMOs. And more importantly, what can be done about it.

One thing that I came up with is that most MMOs are actually several different types of games in one. Sometimes mixing these different kinds of games can make each game less…hmmmm…less workable as each individual kind of game.

Most MMOs try to be two (at least) kinds of games in one and they don’t always work well together.

The first kind of game is a PvP battle game. Whether it’s one on one fighting, team vs. team or large scale sieges or open field battles, basically these are combat simulators.

The second kind of game is the RPG. Role playing. Getting into your character. Creating a back story. A biography. Having your character behave in-game as if it were a real person living in that world. Basically a sort of group storytelling.

The problem with many MMOs is that it’s difficult to strike a balance between these two types of games in a single game world since each type of game has different needs.

PvP games, for example (be it an FPS, flight simulator or whatever), are about who is the better player of the game. Whether it be understanding the strategy, terrain or having better reaction time…it’s Player vs Player. Not Player plus extra advantage vs Player. The whole basis for true PvP is that all the players have an equal chance to win and the final victor is determined by skill and maybe some luck.

When winning gives one player an advantage in the next match (like better gear, etc.) the battles can become progressively more unbalanced. You get to where the champion has no challengers since there’s no chance for anyone else to win.

This problem is made even worse when non-PvP play can gain you gear or other advantages (like levels) that allows you to defeat a potentially better player on the strength of that advantage alone. The entire point of PvP is lost. It’s no longer Player vs Player. No longer Skill vs Skill. It degrades into Gear vs Gear or Level vs Level.

And then there are the role players. The point of role playing is to get involved in the persona of your character. To weave an actual story out of the events that your character participates in. To the Role Playing player, their characters should act according to the personality and history you’ve given them. Random or goal-less PvP doesn’t work. (Though PvP in-character certainly can.)

I won’t swear to it, but I suspect that Dungeons and Dragons first introduced the idea of levels and increasing ability based on levels. The idea was to simulate for role play purposes the increasing skills based on time and experience.

One big problem with a game implementing both Role Playing and PvP is that the very idea of character levels is tough to work into PvP where the idea is to make everyone equal so that it’s skill vs. skill.

Likewise, the idea of continual battle, resurrection and more battle (standard for PvP) is tough to work into Role Playing.

So the trick for any MMO that has both PvP and Role Play (and I don’t really care about any of them other than Age of Conan) is to make each kind of play work well without detracting from each other.

So let’s look for a moment at Age of Conan and something which they seem to be doing right. Not much detailed info yet, so my take on this could be wrong, but from published accounts so far, it looks like AoC is going to PvE levels and PvP levels different and separate. 80 levels for PvE and 4 (is that right?) for PvP.

Four PvP levels. That could work. As long as the PvE levels don’t give a huge advantage over or even within the PvP levels.

Remember, the idea of PvP is that every character is created equal (or with equal options to choose from) so that it’s skill that determines the victor.

So it’s easy to go off on a rant and say what’s wrong with MMOs. But that’s not fair, no matter how fun it is. So, for better or worse, I have to throw some suggestions in here. How can the PvP aspect of a game be intertwined with the RP part without detracting from either?

So the trick is to make it so the RP folks can have the increasing abilities that come with level progression, increasing rewards from greater quests, etc. without over balancing PvP. Likewise, the the trick is to make it so that PvP doesn’t detract from Role Playing.

So here are some suggestions.

Static hits and damage control:

That is, a player’s hit points or health or whatever you call it never changes. Every player and creature deals a “reasonable” amount of damage based on the normal, average amount of hit points that a player has.

But (and isn’t there always a “but”?), then we add in player and monster levels. The chance to hit and the damage done from player to monster or monster to player depends on their relative levels. So we get the “higher level monsters are tougher” effect. The “higher levels easily beat lower levels” effect.

Where we take into account the difference between PvE and PvP is that level modifiers are not counted when fighting a player.

Thus, we get the very fair and even PvP and still have level gains that really are and advantage in PvE.

Now some folks are going to say that for RP purposes, an “experienced” character (meaning high level) SHOULD have the advantage in PvP.

Personally, I’d say that’s debatable since “pure” PvP should be player skill vs skill only. But, let’s humor that idea. Let’s humor the better gear/higher level should do better argument. We still don’t want to have level or gear overbalance PvP. Some advantage? Sure. Hugh or unbeatable advantage? No way.

So here comes suggestion #2:

Limited access to “abilities”:

Say for example that every first level character has 10 “abilities”, whatever those may be. And say further that each “level” gives you a new ability. So at level 10 you have 19. At level 40 your have 49 and so on. It could be setup so that all of a character’s abilities are available for PvE, but for PvP a player has to pick 10 of their learned abilities (the same number as the beginner) which can be used in PvP. 10 and only 10. The higher level player will have access to more abilities to select from…probably some more powerful abilities. But they won’t be as overpowered as if they had vastly more abilities.

And further, to keep gear from over balancing PvP…

Proportional Gear:

The idea here is to NOT make armor (as an example) give some kind of static armor class boost. But rather have it grant proportional damage mitigation. That way it gives big bonuses vs very high level based monster damage, but more moderate bonuses vs non-level based damage. Similar things could be done with weapon and other gear bonuses.

I have not…I have deliberately not gone into an specific formulas for these things. Figuring out the actual math for this would be something that would have to be tried and tested, adjusted, tried and tested again. But I think they are ideas that could work.

So far these ideas have been aimed at not letting RP (and the PvE that often goes with it) detract from skill based PvP. But let’s look at the other side of the coin.

Role Players (usually) are fine with PvP. Many really enjoy it. But what doesn’t fit with RP is random and out of character PvP.

Again, from the bit we’ve heard, I think the folks at Funcom may have a good start on this with the bounty system.

The notion of having “war zones”, like the Border Kingdoms, where pretty much anything goes, but somewhat “civilized” zones where attacking players will be considered a breach of the peace and have legal consequences could go a long way toward solving this potential problem.

But what would this be if I didn’t have an additional suggestion of my own? 🙂

The “I’m Role Playing so Don’t Bug Me” flag:

In some games you can flag yourself for PvP in which case you can be attacked. If you’re flagged as non-PvP you cannot be attacked. Meh…I don’t care for this system. I prefer a system were anyone can be attacked, but PvPers are encouraged to do PvP in a way that doesn’t interfere with Role Play.

So imagine a system where you flag yourself as PvP or non-PvP. In either case, you can be attacked, though if you’re flagged for non-PvP you cannot attack another player first. So how could that work? It’d just make the non-PvP person extra vulnerable.

Or would it?

Remember one of the earlier suggestions I made? Where in PvP players would only have access to 10 (or whatever basic number) of their abilities while in PvP? How about this: If you flag yourself as non-PvP, you cannot attack, BUT, if you are attacked, you have access to ALL of your abilities and thus would be a very formidable foe!

Thus, anyone could be attacked at any time, but if you DON’T want to PvP at the moment, attacking you would be a very risky business.

So anyway, there are some ideas which I believe could help to make a game work well for both Role Play (with lots of PvE) and PvP. I do think that a game that includes both can work.

And all in all, from what I’ve heard (pretty much the same as what you’ve heard if you’ve been keeping up with Funcom’s updates) it seems like Age of Conan has a lot of promise.

So when’s the beta already?!?!

Bear Shaman of the Snowhawk Clan

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