Thursday, March 29, 2012

Evolving complexity

When I started my Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition campaign, I limited my players to the classic fantasy races, and to the 8 standard classes found in the Player's Handbook. I didn't allow the more complex and exotic races and classes from the 2nd and 3rd Player's Handbook. That had two reasons: It limited how much money people had to spend on rulebooks, and it limited the complexity while the players are still learning how 4E works. If now I had a character dying in combat, and he wanted to play a race/class from the other books, I would allow it. Also if we play this campaign to the end at level 30 and start over, I would certainly allow the more complex races and classes.

I can imagine a MMORPG that works like that. The current construct with a level cap leading to an endgame is a crutch to gather lots of players at the same level, so they can play together. It isn't even a very well working crutch, because people of the same level but with very different level of gear still won't play together. Thus if developers came up with better methods to get players to play together during leveling, the crutch of the endgame wouldn't be needed any more. Players who like raiding would be better served with a game that wouldn't even require them to level but jumped into raiding right away. And for the rest I would design a game in which players would ALWAYS be leveling.

The idea would be to limit players to just a few races and let's say 4 character classes on starting the game: Fighter, rogue, mage, and priest. Leveling would be relatively slow, something like 1,000 hours to level cap. But besides gaining levels for your characters, all xp you'd gain while playing all your characters would also count towards a meta-level. And the higher your meta-level went up, the more different races and classes can you choose from when making a new character. Expansions wouldn't add new levels to the game, but new meta-levels and new races and classes.

To get people to play together, two systems would have to be tuned: One about gaining xp while in a group, where gaining xp in a group would be faster than soloing, to make up for the trouble of finding a group, but not so much faster that soloing appears totally unfeasible. And the other to enable people of different levels to play together, using a system of mentors / sidekicks with people being temporarily adjusted to the level of their group.

In this game leveling wouldn't be an obstacle to overcome to reach the "real" game; leveling would *be* the real game. And because there would be nothing left to do at the level cap, top-level characters would be bored into retirement, but rewarded with unlocking new and more complex character classes. Thus everybody would be leveling all of the time, and you would always find enough people of any given level playing. There would not be the deserted zones everybody outleveled that we find in the games of today. Instead we would get a breathing, living, virtual world which would always be active.

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