Improving issues that crop up over time
I'd love to be able to address the following issues before the game comes out i.e. without a mod:
It's worth noting that Drox didn't suffer from the following issues because it never had the skill system in place. The only balance issue I'm aware of with Drox is the monsters gaining strength faster than the Races, and I'm not sure if that's still a problem.
As far as I can tell, the skill system DL, much like the fantasy games before it, suffers from two main problems. I'm offering 2 ideas which are orthogonal i.e. they can be applied independently of one another.
1. The curse of magic characters. Magic characters have always been at a disadvantage in Soldak games. Not only do they rely on mana heavily (as is to be expected), they also have semi-linear scaling for their magic attacks, which means a player has to constantly invest points in the magic skills to survive against increasingly strong monsters. This is in huge contrast to the fighter/bow characters, who rely on weapons for attack damage and boost it with percentages from only a few necessary skill levels. The latter is a much easier power curve to balance against the monsters, whereas linear damage levels in skills is much harder.
Even though Zombasite seems to add some non-linear damage in an attempt to deal with this problem, this is still very difficult to balance with respect to monster strength.
Additionally, magic characters really don't benefit much from, nor do they care about, items. They get weak armor items such as robes, and weak weapons such as staves. Just the other day I saw another complaint about Zombasite's damage scaling for magicians -- it simply doesn't scale very well, and honestly it's a pain to make sure it scales well.
My recommended solution to this is to add a 'magic damage' or 'magic channeling' stat to every weapon. It will be the opposite of damage, ie. axes and such will have the least magic channeling, and staves will have the most. Then, each magic damage spell will do a percentage of magic damage. AOE spells might do -66% of magic damage, with further investment bringing up the amount. A fiery blast might do regular spell damage by default, since it's got no splash damage. Each spell would translate the magic damage to its own element ie. fire, ice etc.
There. Balance problems should not be an issue for magic users again, and magic users are now interested in items, but in a different way than fighters. Also, a fighting magician may want to switch between swords and clubs, or just use swords, which have less magic damage.
2. Skill points numbers. Over the 100 levels of the game, you get around 1050 skill points. That's a crazy amount! What's more interesting is that by level 50, you only get around 250 skill points! So halfway through the game advancement-wise, you have only a small fraction of the total skill points you'd get.
In general, schemes with heavy number inflation have unexpected consequences. They create weird effects, such as being able to add a ton of low-level skills from the high rewards given at just one high level, instead of needing to save up. Also, the lack of points at the lower levels translates somewhat into the struggle magic users have to just keep their skills competitive (but see section 1 above for what I think is a better solution).
How do we solve this massive skill point inflation? Make skill points per level uniform, or at least capped at a reasonable number. If every level gives you 3 skill points, you still end up with 300 skill points for the game. Alternatively, have the current scheme (of more skill points every 5 levels), but cap it at 4 or 5 skill points per level tops.
(Note that with the suggestion above of changing the way magic works, we no longer need to take 40 levels of a magic skill, eating up all the skill points. Magic users can relax and pick their favorite skills, knowing that they'll scale with equipment too.)
Skill costs can now be adjusted down, either staying at their initial cost for the whole game (which would make cheap skills much cheaper than more expensive ones, and therefore very attractive cost-wise), or increasing slowly, every 5 levels or so, which would not have that same cheap skill boosting effect, but still slow down the price growth of skills.
Tackling these 2 issues I think will make this and future Soldak games well-tuned from the get-go, much as Drox is well-tuned due to its design choices. Though they might need a few tweaks after the initial adjustment, this should make it much easier to get a nice, playable experience from beginning to end, and make magic skills truly competitive with non-magic skills at all levels.
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