Identifying problems with current system:
Skill increase is tedious.
Skill increase has inappropriate risk vs reward.
Skill increase is necessary and arbitrary.
Some skills are pointless to raise anyway.
Combat skills: Dodge + Weapon skills:
- Not tedious. You naturally and organically increase those through play, combat and exploration. There are opportunities to practise combat everywhere in the apocalypse.
- Carries risk, or at least perceived risk, in leaving a zombie unpulped outside your bedroom window to practise fighting skills on, and it can result in interesting, immersive, choices by the player as they eventually need to keep a zombie hulk unpulped for the sole purpose of providing their daily workout. This is “appropriately risky”.
- Not “necessary”. It is good to have high combat skills, but:
- Mostly not arbitrary. You are not required to have 10 Unarmed Combat skill to punch a Jabberwock. You may improve your skill in combat with extra resources (drugs, weapons, armour, allies). You may achieve combat victories without “playing fair”.
There are a few “arbitrary” and “necessary” parts, like installing gun mods requiring X skill to even attempt, but in comparison these are few and far between.
Combat skills can be pointless, depending on availability of weapons, but this can be assumed to be fundamentally “short term” as time approaches infinite. Better combat skills are always nice to have.
Pointless Skills: Bartering, Swimming, Speaking, Driving, First Aid
- Any benefits for training are comparatively low, so risk or tedium of increase is irrelevant.
Generally these skills are not so much tedious as they are pointless, and most of their benefits are acquired at low skill levels anyway or replaced with gear in the rare cases they might ever be used (swimming). It might be an idea to move some of the advantages from high stats into skills. Speaking and Bartering for extra dialogue options, First Aid gives the player the knowledge how to successfully “play dead” etc, or more likely to find medicinal herbs while foraging.
Generally, until NPC and aquatic aspects are major features, these can be safely ignored.
Book Skills: Computers, Trapping.
- These skills offer few opportunities to increase, actively penalise attempts to train them at low skills, and are valuable to have at a high level (and easier to train). Currently this means ignoring them as much as possible until you find a book, and in Computers’ case, finding the significant gear requirements to make use of it - Tablets and rare hacking tools.
Computers: Permanently locking consoles, losing loot, taking damage, creating extremely dangerous enemies.
Trapping: Triggering traps, taking damage, failing to spot a landmine.
While not so tedious, this still represents a problem worthy of consideration. Early game, low benefit tasks that players can pursue to make them more worthwhile.
Crafting Skills: Fabrication, Construction, Cooking, Electronics, Mechanics, Survival, Tailoring.
- Highly tedious: Crafting skills are heavily menu based and requires extensive repetition, staring at your character bulk crafting knitting needles for hours at a time without even a skill progress % or periodic updates.
- No risk - This emphasises boredom early game. There is nothing risky about hammering “-” to make sewing needles one by one, and if you do, very rarely, lose a skewer, who cares? Late game, resources are more plentiful, so even losing pricier components is still effectively “risk free” for the small failure chance that is present.
- Sometimes necessary - You can frequently bypass skill requirements entirely through scavenging, but in order to create certain rare items it is necessary to
- Heavily arbitrary - Being able to craft something is a binary state.
Survival is by far the best of these, and does not constitute a problem for me at all.
You can forage to increase it with mild risk (wasting bushes). Finding bushes is not menu based. You want to do it anyway (bushes contain rewards).
You also increase it by butchering with mild risk (wasting CRMs, exposing zombie meat to rot). Finding bodies is not menu based. You want to do it anyway (corpses contain rewards, and don’t get back up).
It’s possibly a grind, but the grind is short and goes down smooth, it will get the player up to a point where they will be able to do most things they want to with survival. It’s a little arbitrary: You need Survival X to craft your survival kit, therefore you must jump through those early hurdles to make their stone f00, but has the least overall issues.
Compare this to fabrication:
Level 0: Grind cudgels from wood. Cut up Cudgels for skewers. (Or nails to hooks)
Level 1: Turn skewers into Knitting Needles. Cut up Knitting Needles. Repeat.
Level 2: Mass produce Steel Knuckles. Disassemble. Repeat.
And so on, level by level.
Unnatural: You are not playing the game, you are playing a text adventure about literal needlepoint.
No Risk: You can easily craft far more than you need.
Necessary: You must progress through every step and raise every level of fabrication in order to make your Diamond Face Puncher.
No Reward: You do not need multiple ANYTHING that is not consumable or in need of constant replacement.
While it gets better later on, since crafting a doom buggy is high reward, high engagement, natural progression, early game Mechanics is even worse, since 0-1 skill points precludes so much as changing a tyre, so early levels of Mechanics are either find a book or craft several thousand Foot Cranks and Mufflers that you can’t install anyway.
Construction is sort of the opposite: Early game it’s great. You will always want to Deconstruct Furniture. At which point you reach a strange point where you need huge amounts of materials to produce things you don’t need, over and over, until you can construct the one thing you wanted to do in the first place.
This is the extent of the problem as I see it. My primary design goal would be to make all these crafting skills share as much in common with the skills that work best, and, where such a thing is impractical or impossible, to use standard gameplay as a crutch to help. One or multiple approaches can be taken.
To resolve all parts of the problem, I’d prefer:
1: “Skill Training Activity” I’d consider to be a great option to reduce tedium for crafting skills by abstracting the repetition out of it. As many have picked up, adding higher tier resources for higher level skills means this can be a great use of otherwise wasted downtime for the player.
Costs could even be additive so as to require all the resources previous levels needed to keep demand high, even for the more plentiful materials in the late game. High level tailors would always be on the hunt for specific types of zombies (police, firefighter, regular) so they could turn them into more skill exp.
Less necessary, but still a nice addition, would be to have practise have a random chance of producing a random item that uses the practise materials (You make something useable!). Rare minor rewards for the player to heighten interest.
Best of all, this option should mesh well with any other changes to the system. It doesn’t change overall balance if it’s kept in keeping with the gains from actually using the skill, just removes the busywork aspects so it’s as close to “seamless” as we can hope to get.
2: “Advantages from taking skills at chargen”: This came up partly as a way to help balance character creation, honestly it’s mostly an advantage to fixing character creation balance (make skills more useful in general to make it worth giving up stat points in exchange), but there’s one place this could be used, which is in the next approach:
3: Remove restrictions on recipe creation.
Just as the player may attempt to install or remove a CBM with 0 in every skill, as long as the player has access to a recipe, they may attempt to craft that recipe.
How it could be implemented exactly is up for debate, but one example of how success chance might work with this:
[2x Player Skill Level + [(Intelligence + Dexterity)/2] + SKILL RANKS START - 2x Difficulty Level] / 10
Skill Ranks Start, in this case, being the number of skill ranks invested in the crafting skill at character creation (Advantages from taking skills at chargen). More broadly the same type of bonus could be added to Survival’s forage success chance and Computer hacking skills.
So a character with 10 Fabrication, 8 Intelligence and 8 dexterity with 0 starting skill ranks attempts to craft a Difficulty 10 Item.
Skill 10 x 2 = 20.
+8 (Int + Dex)/2
+0 (Skill Ranks Start)
-Difficulty 10 x 2 = 20.
8/10 = 80% chance of success.
A character with 0 Fabrication, 14 Intelligence and Dexterity (they did some meth) and 0 starting skill ranks attempts to craft that item:
0% chance of success. 40% chance of succeeding with a Difficulty 5 item feels a little high, but this involves expenditure of resources (drugs), and still fails more often than not.
Craftsman who starts with 3 Skill Ranks and 8/8 stats tried to make recipes straight away:
Difficulty 3: Automatic success.
Difficulty 5: 70% success chance.
Difficulty 10: 0% success chance (at level 5 they have a 10% success chance).
While it obviously would need more balancing than a formula I whipped up in a minute (and probably the reallocation of difficulty levels on recipes), this system has a lot of potential advantages:
Arbitrary restrictions are replaced with Realistic Consequences - While I do not know the founding principles behind it, I can follow a recipe I have available to the best of my abilities. I will probably fail if the recipe is too difficult, but I can still A: Try, and still B: Possibly succeed. Just like I can try to punch out a jabberwock with 0 Unarmed Skill, disarm a land mine at 0 Trapping, swim or drive a car when I can’t, and remove complex machinery from my nostrils despite being an uneducated rube who took too much Adderall.
Risk Free Tedium becomes Risk Management Choice - While I can act safely and conserve resources, I can, if I am willing, attempt to use resources in order to potentially succeed in a difficult task. Again, this mirrors combat. Higher risk exploration results in loot, but could result in the loss of resources to recover from resultant injuries or damage. Higher risk crafting has a higher failure risk, obviously, but could offer better experience if the result was a “near miss” than working on regular items. Like combat, it becomes good to have as high a skill as possible, but is not necessary.
Skill investment becomes balanced - Finally, putting points into Crafting Skills at character creation has an intrinsic value and defines how the character grows, but at the same time does not provide an insurmountable advantage - Other non-crafters can still create the same gear, but generally take more attempts and make the gear later.
The system would also work for adding and removing car parts along the same metric, as well as construction projects.
These aren’t system-wide changes so much as more specific tweaks:
Remove Construction: Buildings are straight up inferior to vehicles and harder to make. The construction skill, as it stands, is one of the least valuable. Build menu could be kept as is, but construction of buildings could be exported to other things, primary one being Fabrication.
Deconstruct Furniture grant skill XP based on item deconstructed. Fabrication for basic wooden furniture, Electronics for appliances and other machinery like arcade machines, mechanics for industrial type furniture like conveyer belts and factory machinery.
Dig Holes: Survival.
Spike Pits: Trapping.
Beds: Tailoring (Fabrication minor)
Metal walls and furniture: Mechanics.
This removes a lot of redundancy and helps tie in all skills better to the game, while providing the foundation for more specific structures (nuclear powered kitchenette, your own nuclear powered console to store recipes and song tracks, your own pinball machine (no electricity required!), all while concentrating the available exp into a smaller number of skills for more training opportunities.
Trapping: Give minor skill experience for spotting traps - This would be a nice low intensity training regimen that would increase during play. Far better than setting bubble wrap and grinding
Computers: Give skill experience for unlocking Mobile Phones and PDAs to gain access to their functions. Low risk (common, low value items), minor benefit.