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Rampant Coyote on Creating Good High-Level CRPGs

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Rampant Coyote on Creating Good High-Level CRPGs

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Mon 11 February 2013, 20:50:39

Tags: D&D; Jay Barnson; Rampant Games

It's a commonly heard complaint on the Codex that "high level D&D sucks". Jay Barnson had a few thoughts about that while reminiscing about a deadly high-level PnP D&D module called Necropolis. Here's an excerpt:

At the high-level game, players have access to all kinds of powers that can change the game. This was always by design, from the early days prior to even the first edition D&D rules. Does one door lead to certain death? Okay, well, the players should have all kinds of divination spells to learn what is behind each door. They can cast disintegrate spells on the doors (or the walls next to them) to bypass whatever might be on the doors themselves. They can teleport to where they want to go, bypassing the doors altogether. They could animate an object or summon an extra-dimensional being to do the job for them. Or they could try far more mundane tricks to figure things out. Simply tracking footprints to learn which door has almost all of the traffic could solve the problem.​

[...] I think that’s how the high-level game in RPGs should go, in general. At high level, characters should be able to change the rules of the game, to make the unfair reasonable. In a fantasy game, maybe it’s using magic to warp reality in their favor. In a science fiction RPG, maybe it’s calling upon powerful (perhaps alien) technology to do the same. Or in a more mundane setting, it’s calling in contacts and favors and paying bribes to redefine the problem. ‘Cuz sometimes nuking the site from orbit is the only way to be sure.​

RPGs at high level should demand that the players do the impossible. Not just beat ever-tougher bad guys.​

In my perfect world, CRPGs would be exactly the same way. The only way to do this is to create a more open-ended design, and to make what some games would term bugs or exploits to be perfectly legitimate approaches to solving encounters. Think less Dragon Age and more Minecraft. It’s the approach Richard Garriott seemed to embrace back in the earlier days of creating the Ultima series.​

What would a CRPG need to accomplish this?​

#1 – A very strong, if simple rules system.​

#2 – A very flexible quest / plot progression system that makes no assumptions about the manner in which quest goals are achieved. If the scepter is in deepest dungeon of the Fortress of Horrible Death, the quest to obtain it shouldn’t break if the player simply tunnels under the fortress and grabs the scepter in five minutes.​

#3 – Lots of player-acquired high-level abilities that change or break the rules.​

#4 – An open-ended approach to creating challenges, including a willingness to make them completely unfair against a “brute force” approach, and a willingness to let the player ‘cheat’ his way to victory. And no more making ‘boss monsters’ impervious to the most debilitating spells!​

#5 – Some cool acknowledgement of the player’s clever actions periodically. Was the player able to obtain the Sword of Thumb-Smiting from Lord Gregor the Thumbless without killing poor Gregor over it? That’s quite an accomplishment no matter how it was achieved, and surprised NPCs should make a note of it.​

It's a sound approach. Although, I would say that it's also a kind of admission of defeat. As your characters grow more powerful, they tend to converge to a "high level singularity", such that the game's RPG mechanics recede into the background and it becomes more of a puzzle or adventure game.

There are 31 comments on Rampant Coyote on Creating Good High-Level CRPGs

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