Jonathan Steinhauer's MMO ColumnSteinhauer's Opinion: Threshold Restrictions, Part 2Jonathan Steinhauer's MMO Column - RSS 2.0
So last time we saw poor Gilran become a Warg chew-toy and looked at the not-so-wonderful world of threshold restrictions. They exist as a means of limiting low level characters from being overpowered with uber equipment. But the mechanic is a band-aid, arbitrary and artificial. Aside from having little precedence in real life, it kills the classic theme of little hero taking down the big villain. Furthermore, it sets some magical goal number as the key to sudden enlightenment. At Level 9, I'm pretty good with a plain iron longsword, but that iron sword of fire is beyond my ability to comprehend. Suddenly, in a moment, as I hit Level 10 the knowledge cascades over me and I know, I know! Yeah right.
So how do we fix it? Unfortunately there is no golden solution to this pervasive problem. This is because the need for the threshold limitation goes to the very heart of the game mechanics themselves: to the basic concepts of how damage is dealt in combat.
But even if the perfect rules are in place to resolve this problem, there is a crucial first step that must be taken: the basic acceptance that Jack will sometimes slay his giant. If that idea is anathema, then the band-aid mechanics must remain. If you can accept the long odds sometimes come true, however, then there is hope. The change comes when you shift your whole perspective on weapons and damage.
The second step of the fix comes by looking at what was called "To Hit" in classic board wargames jargon. The difference between a novice and an expert stabbing an orc through the heart is nonexistent, it's the reaching the heart that makes all the difference. So rather than prohibiting a new character from wielding that high-power battleaxe, just make them have a hard time hitting with it. A thousand points of lightning damage don't mean squat if you can't actually hit your target. And that's what level really means anyway, isn't it? The same thing applies for armor. Anybody can put on a full suit of platemail (assuming it fits), but can everybody move effectively in it? That's where training comes in.
To take this onto a side note, this is one thing that has always bugged me about D&D. You get a high level hero with hit points through the roof getting ambushed from behind by a bunch of punk goblins and surviving despite the fact that the hero becomes a pincushion. In other games, Cyberpunk comes to mind, it doesn't matter how big and bad you are. A headshot from some punk kid with a pistol means you are rolling up a new character. But getting back on track, there is also the matter of weapon quality to look.
If you don't know the first thing about swords (other than the basic rule: "stick pointy end in enemy"), then how much difference will it make for you to wield a crude bronze age broadsword versus a perfectly balanced katana that has been folded two hundred times? Probably not much. On the other hand, it will make all the difference to a weapon master. This actually allows a lot of flexibility in game design. You aren't just limited by two warriors' raw weapon and defense skills. Quality becomes a gradient too. Greater quality equipment yields minimal gains for a novice but exponential improvements for someone who knows how to take advantage of it.