Jonathan Steinhauer's MMO Column
Steinhauer's Opinion: Threshold Restrictions, Part 2

Jonathan Steinhauer | 1 Oct 2007 19:43
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But no doubt you are saying the novice and expert stabbing the heart is a bad example, after all, not every wound kills. Of course you are right, and that is where the final step comes in: "To Kill." Proficiency in weapons and warfare don't just include the basics of how to break through an opponent's guard and stopping the enemy from doing the same to you. It also includes where to hit the enemy that will do the most damage.

Someone without much skill will probably realize that a strike to the heart will kill, but that's about it. On the other hand, a master understands not just how to use their weapon, but where, when and what to target. Do they want to wear down their enemy with small wounds here and there, or go straight to the stronger attacks? Perhaps it's better to immobilize your opponent or even disarm them? In terms of game mechanics, the finer points of this concept are commonly used by making extra skills and moves open to higher level characters (such as disarm, shield bash, etc). I've seen some of other aspects of this begin to surface in some games as well. Rather than rolling a straight D8 plus strength (like in D&D games such as Neverwinter Nights), why not make the base damage grow as the skill grows? Oblivion uses this technique well. A low level character with 30 sword skill will do base 4 damage with an iron longsword while a character with 100 skill will do 11 base with the exact same weapon. Perfect! But now make this carry the full weight that thresholds do now. Don't make it just apply to the basic weapon damage, but any special effects as well. Instead of that fire sword doing a standard 30 points of flame damage, make it vary from 5 to 40 depending on skill. The uber weapon in the hands of a newbie isn't quite so uber anymore, is it? And yet the weapon itself hasn't been changed and anyone can use it.

There are three basic steps to fixing the threshold dilemma. The first is allowing the possibility for low level characters to succeed (albeit ever so rarely) against high level opponents. Second, the focus needs to shift from the weapon itself to the character holding it. Can they hit, can they take advantage of the weapon's quality, and how effective are they when they hit? In this way, low level characters are still prevented from being excessively powerful but it's not done by preventing a novice swordsman from picking up a sword. Instead the novice swordsman has a harder time hitting than an expert, gains less advantage from quality weapons, and does less damage when they make contact. Just like real life!

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