Practical Applications of Power

This is a follow-up on the previous theoretical post, in which I claim the link between character’s power and character’s level is much weaker than we imagine, especially in 4e. If you disagree with the idea, I’ll be happy to discuss it in that post. Here I’ll offer one possible model for explicitly separating these concepts. Bear in mind that it has not been tested.

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Power vs Levels

Today’s post concerns itself with character level, a subject I’ve already pondered in the first incarnation of this blog, back when it wasn’t so 4e-centric. You can tell it’s been rattling in my head for a while. Lets start with definitions. ‘Level’ is the number on the character sheet. It determines access to powers, number of feats, etc. ‘Power’ is the character’s ability to affect the world around him or her. It can be subdivided into ‘power through personal strength’, i.e. the ability to change the world by killing things, and ‘power through politics and social standing’, which is remarkably absent from 4e as a system. We could potentially dig deeper here, but this should be enough for our discussion. Now for a shocker: in 4e, there is no causation between character’s level and power, only correlation. Barely even that.

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Level up! Down?.. Sideways!

MMORPGs are fascinating.  They combine dazzling innovation with an almost religious reluctance to change.  The later is understandable: they cost so much to develop, any deviation from the once-discovered formula (grind-grind-grind-loot-level up-etc) is a huge financial risk. Fortunately, ramblings in a blog are cheap, so I’ll try and dissect some of the mainstays of the genre, and come up with alternative solutions.

I’m sure all this has been discussed to death. But the world simply needs to know my unique perspective. So there. Oh, one last thing before we begin. While I’ve been playing MMORPGs for several years now, I’ve somehow managed to dodge WoW, as well as many other undoubtedly worthy titles. It could very well be that whatever I come up with, has already been implemented and proven to not be fun. In that case, I’d be grateful if you pointed me in the direction of these games.

And now, without further ado… levels! They are everywhere nowadays. Up to and including a flash fish-watching aquarium “game”. Casual games got them from MMORPGs, who got them from CRPGs, who got them from RPGs. Levels are good for many things. Here’s a handy dot-list of what they provide in a game:

  • A clear short-term goal to strive for. Very important for a game that wants players to stay hooked for as long as possible.
  • A long-term goal to reach the highest level possible. Again, a great way to get players hooked.
  • A measure of how powerful a given character is, and what he or she should be capable of. Average stat values, damage output, hitpoints, etc. Helps with balancing content. Or does it? More on this (and other points) later.
  • A fantasy of character growth and development – you started out fighting goblins with a rusty sword, and you end up fighting dragons with a legendary +20 to all stats shiny sword of awesomeness. However, note that this fantasy does not universally apply to every genre. In fact, it only really applies to the “fantasy originating from D&D” genre!
  • A way to hand out new powers that doesn’t overwhelm the player. By the end of character’s career path, they’ll have about 20-30 abilities they can use (though most of the time they’ll be using a much smaller sub-set). Getting them one at a time helps the player learn to use them to their fullest. Though, this does have its pitfalls.
  • A structure, pre-defined path for all characters: this content is for levels 1-5, this – for level 55-60. This is actually more of a problem than a boon.

The first two points are strong, though there are alternatives to them. But let’s first discuss the later ones. Continue reading