... now with 35% more arrogance!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Weapon Tree

So, while I was working to get my new computer on the internet and eventually ready for writing/layout projects, I was also playing a video game. It was, after all, one of the few things I could do until my computer was online. What I was playing was Torchlight, a game I’d never heard of before. Not surprising; I’m not all that big on video games, tend to be slow to adopt a new one and play just a small range of games for freaking ever. But someone blogged several months ago about Torchlight and mentioned that it was either free or on sale for really cheap at GOG Games, so I decided to try it out… and after a month or two, when I had a computer I thought could run it, I finally installed it.

It’s entertaining enough, but it’s a lot like Diablo 1 and 2, which as it turns out I don’t really like all that much. Not because it’s all that hard; I’ve played the Diablos and now Torchlight all the way to the end. It’s just not all that fun. It’s based on these premises:
  1. There should be lots of combat;
  2. Combat should basically be just a “click-storm”, maybe with some “special moves” (i.e. clicking with the right mouse button instead of the left;)
  3. Your other preoccupation is junk farming.
By “junk farming”, I’m referring to what some people may think is a great innovation: the way magic items are arranged and described. See, there’s a bunch of adjectives or descriptors, and each one has a specific mechanical meaning, so you just randomly assign one or more modifier to the base item to get a unique magic item, like “Spiked Epic Potato of Thorns”. Also, there are gems, in several grades (cracked, dull, discolored, etc.) and with a different bonus associated with each variety… and some magic items have “sockets”, which you can put gems into to add specific powers to your epic potato. There are also rare items that come in sets, and if you have two or more items in a set, you get bonus powers.

Problem #1: This is the dullest way you could describe magic items.

Problem #2: Since the game is about collecting just the right gear to defeat those thousands of monsters you are going to fight, and the gear is randomly generated, there’s a lot of it, to give you at least a thin chance of getting the right gear. That means you get a lot of gear. Tons of it, almost all useless, so you have to sell it. Hence, it’s junk.

Problem #3: The gear is keyed to level. Not just the magical gear, but even the mundane stuff. Hence that word “Epic”, which means you have to be about 25th to 30th level, I think, before you can use it. You start getting it when you get to about that level in the dungeon. That means even more junk, and no way to jump ahead and take a risk to get something really good, to make the early battles easier.

In short, what the designers of Diablo and Torchlight think is “fun” is something mind-numbingly boring and not the least bit special.

Now, this is an OD&D blog, not a video game blog. The reason why I brought this up is because this kind of thinking has infected D&D. And not just the WotC editions; I occasionally spot someone offering game material that sounds a lot like this. There was, I believe, an actual Diablo supplement for D&D, so that you could enjoy your boredom in more than one form. But beyond that, the way feats, skills, and templates work is much the same. I was struck by this when I read the thread about the Gelatinous Cube, because basically after the original question was answered, the optimization dorks moved into the thread to discuss the optimum form of Gelatinous Cube, based on adding templates. Half-Fiend Half-Draconian Awakened Gelatinous Cube. Sounds AWESOME!


  1. "Sockets", "sets", obsessing over "gear"... sounds like World of Warcraft mindspill leaking over... and yeah, I cringe when I see that crap seeping in to TTRPGs.

  2. You're absolutely right about that mindset infecting D&D. That was one of the first things I thought of when reading 4E. I think they even tied gear to level, which I can't stand even in a video game

    If you're looking for some good video games to play, I highly recommend Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, which remains one of my favorite games after nearly 20 years. Don't use the zsnes emulator for it, though, as it makes one of the levels nearly impossible due to a glitch with the barrels. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 also remains a classic. These will barely take any space on your computer, though you'll need a controller. I don't imagine they'd be any fun with a keyboard. I've always been a console gamer, so I can't recommend any PC games except maybe some Sid Meier stuff

    1. Thanks, but as I suggested, I'm not a big fan of video games. The ones I like tend to be closer to toys, like The Sims, or have a lot more of a puzzle element, like Hexen. If only someone would make a true "first person puzzler"!

      Right now, I'm considering whether to get Dungeon Keeper 1/2 for this computer. I had it on the other one, but my discs are in storage and so I can't install here.

    2. There's actually a really great puzzle game I was going to suggest until I realized you probably don't have an XBox 360. It's called ilomilo. It was also on Windows Phone 7 if you have that. Here's a link to some gameplay footage if you'd like to at least see what it is

  3. While I don't care for using this sort of thing in as systematic a way as video games must, I have on occasion considered some approaches which are sort of similar.

    For example, why not have a magic sword that is inert unless wielded by a hero (or even superhero)? Or have extra abilities that become available at those levels? That seems to make sense to me in the game world, and fit in with the idea that being able to use a magic sword is one of the abilities of the fighter class.

    Why is the post called weapon trees?

    1. Because the way weapons (armor, too) work in Torchlight/Diablo reminds me of the way the skill trees and feat trees in computer games work, if only loosely. There's all these crazy prerequisites, including level, but also Dex, Strength, and so on. Also, since the gameplay is built around collecting a set of gear that will make you bad-ass, it calls to mind the "Christmas Tree" effect in late-edition D&D.

      I don't mind a very limited use of level restrictions. Just a few magic items, functioning more like you say: adding powers at one or two specific higher levels. Or maybe with an increasing chance of the weapon improving. I'll probably have more to say on this.

    2. I believe the 3E Unearthed Arcana had something like this called "item familiars". I never cared for 'em, but you might find something you like in there. It should be in the variant rules section of the d20 SRD

  4. Looting items - those games were designed about giving addictive sense of progression using a loot just a little bit better than before. Players gets decent item, want better and continues to play, gets another one and another. You cant make them appear statically or make each item stronger than last. First one is too time consuming task especially with multiple skills, also it would get repetitive. Second one would make player get bored with too easy progression, therefore player receives random worthless loot, which gives him feeling that anytime soon he could get something better and when he finally gets it it does feel like achievement. Sometimes a really great item kicks in. Player wont have real chance to get anything better and therefore progression feeling keeping player at the game will burn out. But there level system kicks in. So you can start upgrading again! And play more. And its fun for most people. Its not sophisticated fun but it works for them.

    However it does not work that easily for D&D. Giving simply bigger numbers leads down to power creep and while it makes easy to create new stuff it cant work as main content. Fight with some strong but stupid orcs after killing witty enemy may be fun. But killing orcs, more orcs, more orcs and then bigger orcs is boring. Tabletop games are also less dynamic but they can focus on creating meaningful events, characters, equipment, abilities in order to make things memorable, engaging and fun. H&S choose to focus on totally different things due to limitation of medium, costs and dynamics of game play. Mindless application of solutions is bound to fail here.

    Still there are some interesting combat mechanics ideas in H&S. I've played Path of Exile for some time and liked ability to modify skills(special attacks) and main mechanics of characters. I could make projectiles split after hitting enemies, throwing multiple lightning shooting traps at once, concentrating area spells in smaller but stronger one or sacrificing ones life/defense to cast spells. Equipment which slows you down when you are healthy, and hastens you as you get wounded(or other way?), boosting your offensive power but makes you vulnerable to spells. Defense mechanics where some regenerate in combat, some don't but are easier to get or evasion which allows you to easily ignore powerful hits but gets you killed when you are swarmed by many monsters compared with armor which protects only against weak hits. Most of them wont work in pen-and-paper game such as D&D, but if I would make game with characters with special powers I would rip off some things off, especially changing way in which skills work.

  5. I'm going to write a rant about guys who rant about "Weapon Trees" but then you read their whole post only to find out it has nothing to do with lethal botany at all.

    1. And then I will write a rant about guys who write rants about rants, Mr. Ranty McRanter!

      Although come to think of it, "Weapon Trees" are a great idea. I will write one.