Unsexy stat gains
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 January 2013, 3:17 am
I am currently preparing the character sheets for the next session of my 4th edition D&D campaign. There are a lot of changes, as the players leveled up to level 4: In 4E you get a bonus to just about everything of half your level rounded down, so every even level all your skills, attacks, and defenses go up by +1. In addition each player could choose a new talent, and increase two basic stats by +1. So overall a lot of numbers went up, and numerically speaking the characters are now measurably stronger if they would fight the same monsters again.

And there's the rub: You rarely fight the same monsters again. That isn't particular to D&D or 4E, but something that is also a regular feature of single- and multiplayer computer role-playing games: Your level goes up, and then you fight new monsters which are also of higher level. Thus my players treated the level gain like some sort of non-event. If your attack goes up, but the monsters defense also goes up, ultimately you don't hit any easier. And vice versa, your increased defenses are being overcome by the higher level monsters' increased attacks.

What the players found a lot more interesting was the previous levels, where at level 2 and 3 they gained new powers. They are looking forward to level 5, where they again gain a new daily power. A new daily power isn't a huge gain in power, because you can use it only once per adventuring day, which could spread over 2 or more game sessions. But unlike a stat gain a new power is a new option, a new tool in the player's arsenal. New powers are sexy, stat gains are unsexy.

And I think that is what the Blizzard developers also realized, when they changed the talent trees for the umpteenth time again in Mists of Pandaria. The unsexy stat gains are gone, and now the talent trees are basically a choice of a new power every 15 levels. But still most games like World of Warcraft or Diablo 3 are very much stuck in an unsexy stat progression, with the numbers ever increasing towards the ridiculous. I wonder whether one day role-playing games will just get rid of all those unsexy stats and stat gains, and just increase the options a  player has with level. The game I'm currently playing, Deus Ex: Human Revolution already works like that, and I'm not missing the stat gains at all.
Tobold's Blog

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