RPGMaker: Talents and Skills

One of my broad strokes in building an RPGMaker game is to model, more or less, the Echelon chassis.

Specifically, the talent system. At each level a PC gains a talent and upgrades a talent. The new talent is gained at the current tier (that is, it is a level-appropriate ability) and I expect — but do not require — that the upgraded talent be from the tier below the current tier and upgraded to the current tier.

The Challenge

I run into a slight problem here, at least as far as RPGMaker is concerned. To be honest, I suspect it might prove to be a problem with a tabletop RPG as well. I expect each talent to give a quantitative (numerical bonus) benefit and a qualitative (something new you can do) benefit at each tier.

At high level this becomes troublesome to keep track of. At level 28 (D&D 3.x/Pathfinder level 20, basically) you have a total of 32 talents. This is not a bad number, really… until you realize that 8 of those have 7 abilities, 4 have 6 abilities, 4 have 5 abilities, and so on, for a total of 140 abilities.

If each of these abilities is what RPGMaker refers to as a ‘skill’, an action that can be selected in-game (often in combat, but not always), I can imagine it will not work well. Things would likely either be an overwhelming number of options from round to round (bad) or boil down to a handful of really good options that keep getting used while the others are ignored (much worse).

Also, assuming characters each have different skills, I’d have to come up with 140 distinct skills. That’s not going to be fun.

Potential Solutions

There are several things that I think can help me.

Improving Skills

Improving a talent doesn’t have to grant an entirely new ability. Instead, increasing a talent could let the character use an ability better, such as by decreasing the cost of using the skill or by increasing the outcome. For instance, a healing spell might cost a few less magic points, or restore more hit points… or both.

Expressed this way, it’s basically a quantitative benefit. It just affects numbers. I’d rather add a new ability entirely: perhaps instead of just restoring more hit points with a cure spell, the character can also remove conditions, much like paladins in Pathfinder can apply mercies when using their lay on hands ability.

Regardless, I think Yanfly’s Skill Master Levels plugin will be a help here. I would need to change how mastery is gained, to grant it via talent improvement rather than just reuse.

Binary Abilities

A ‘binary ability’ is an ability you have or you do not have, and might change how certain tasks are resolved. These do not necessarily imply a skill to be applied.

In Pathfinder, the rogue’s trapfinding ability gives a bonus to certain checks and allows the rogue to use Disable Device to disarm magic traps. Anyone can look for a trap, but a rogue with trapfinding is better at it and can disable traps others cannot. If I choose to have trapped chests I would assume an automatic check (fail means you don’t find it, success means you learn of the trap and its nature, and can decide whether to try to disarm it or to leave the chest alone).

In Master of Magic, various heroes have binary abilities that simply happen, and apply to the group. If I recall correctly, Pathfinder improves overland movement, and Scouting increases the radius of how much the army can see around it.

Making abilities have a binary effect reduces the number that need to be explicit skills.

I am not certain how to implement this. I’d like to avoid special-case logic, but I suspect I mostly cannot. I will likely have a bunch of flags along the lines of “this character has trapfinding”, then use those flags when resolving certain actions such as opening a chest.

Uncontrolled Abilities

An ‘uncontrolled ability’ is a special case of binary ability that is not wholly under the character’s control. One of my broad strokes involves modeling something like AGE’s stunt system. An ability in this game might give a character more options when a stunt is triggered.

For instance, when using the lightning spear combat style, a stunt result might give extra (lightning) damage or paralyze a target. No skill involved, it’s just something that happens sometimes.

Yanfly’s Weapon Unleash plugin looks quite close to what I’ll need here. This plugin allows a game to replace the Attack and Guard commands, or give them a chance of randomly applying a skill when using one of those actions.

Okay, yes, technically still implemented with skills, but that’s just because skills are a convenient mechanism. The skill does not have to appear in the character’s inventory.

Item-Specific Skills

This doesn’t actually reduce the number of skills a character has, but can reduce the number of skills the player has to consider at any give time. The lightning spear talent obviously works only with spears, the cutting wind talent works only with swords. Both give ‘martial skill’ options (possibly using TP), but if you’re not using the right weapon the skills are not available for use, and thus are not presented for selection.

This is actually built into the Skill system, the ‘Required Weapon’ dropdowns.

Skill Hierarchy

This actually doesn’t reduce the number of skills a character might gain, but can reduce the number of skills displayed at any time. Instead of having a long list of skill types that appear in a the (four-line) first menu, then a second menu that can display about a dozen skills, the player can see a short list in the first menu, then the second menu can be the various more-detailed skill types, before selecting specific skills.

In my case here, the first menu might be things like ‘martial’ and ‘magical’, then the second level be specific talents, then the skills within the talents. Or perhaps ‘spells’ instead of ‘magical’, then broken out by spell level (each talent potentially giving knowledge of certain spells, which get slotted into the appropriate places).

SumRndmDde’s Skill Extender plugin implements exactly this.

It looks like Yanfly’s Multi-Type Skills plugin might also be relevant, especially if I organize the skills by talent — it’s possible two talents could give the same skill.

Closing Comments

I haven’t found any final answers. I think I am, however, finding some direction and finding better questions.

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