Why does D&D still use levels?

MisfitZMisfitZ Anchorage, AKMember Posts: 368

"If the class/level/quest model is so bad then answer me why Tabletop gamers (Dungeons and Dragons etc.) have been using it for over 30 years. They've had more than enough time and freedom to change it if they wanted to - why haven't they?"

Two main reasons, one of which applies to CRPGs, one of which doesn't.

1.) It's traditional. It's been around this long, if they introduced a sweeping, fundamental change to the system, they would lose a huge percentage of their playerbase.

2.) It's simple. Relatively. Especially now, with 3.5 Edition. No more THAC0, streamlined rules, mostly d20 rolls. No one wants to do excessive amounts of calculations (with notable exceptions being kicked out of the group) while playing D&D, they want to have fun. This problem doesn't apply to CRPGs. Calculation can happen in the background, billions of times a second, without the player even needing to acknowledge their existence.


In essence, CRPGs use the familiar level-based advancement system because it is just that: familiar. There's nothing preventing them (developers) from exploring new mechanics. It's merely a tried and true method.

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Listen Asmodeeus, seven years ago, Ultima Online didn't even have those pathetic "quests" that you refer to or those "professions" of ninja, samurai, necromancer, and paladin. Nor did it have any of the neon crap, or bug mounts. It didn't even have any "combat moves." You turned on attack and jousted with simplistic swings. It was a better game then. if you can't guess why then just uninstall the thing and move along. - Crabby

Comments

  • NeanderthalNeanderthal Member UncommonPosts: 1,737

    I've always known that level based system are idiotic.  All the way back during my tabletop days in the 80's I rebelled against the sheer stupidity of the D&D level system and made up my own rules to use with my friends.

    I came up with a good system that worked and allowed for a consistant world that made sense.  Not the idiotic level based crap where a rat bites Alric and he falls over and dies but Alrics older brother (same species, same equipment, but higher level) gets stomped by a herd of elephants, falls off a mountain, chewed by a dragon, and riddled with poisenous arrows and he hardly even notices it.

    You simply CANNOT create a virtual world with a level based system.  It might not have been so obvious for most people in tabletop gaming because each adventure was tailored to the level range of your characters but it becomes more and more apparant with every level based mmorpg that comes out.

    The disparity in the basic toughness of high and low level characters makes it impossible to create anything that even vaguely resembles a world.  You have to break the "world" up into different level areas.  So instead of one consistant world you end up with a series of distinct areas. What you end up with is not a world it's a bunch of little separate playgrounds.  And this is part of what leads to these games being nothing more than linear progression grinds instead of adventure filled virtual worlds.

    Instead of adventuring in a world you grind in the little playground areas.  Start in the low level area, can't do anything much outside of it because you aren't tough enough yet.  Grind out some levels then move to the next little playground area.  But you can't move on further for the same reason as before and you can't go back because now you are too high level for the area you left behind and there isn't anything of interest or challenge back there for you now.  So you just keep grinding out levels so you can keep moving on to the next little playground area.  Just hoping you don't get bored to death of the one you're in before you can move on.

    It just drives me nuts that some people are so stuck in this rut that they can't even imagine anything different.  Try to explain to some people why level based systems inevitably keep developing the same problems and they act like you're talking about advanced particle physics or something.  They just give you a blank stare and when you're done talking they say something which demonstrates how they completely and utterly missed the point.

  • MylonMylon Tampa, FLMember Posts: 975


    Originally posted by Neanderthal
    The disparity in the basic toughness of high and low level characters makes it impossible to create anything that even vaguely resembles a world. You have to break the "world" up into different level areas. So instead of one consistant world you end up with a series of distinct areas. What you end up with is not a world it's a bunch of little separate playgrounds. And this is part of what leads to these games being nothing more than linear progression grinds instead of adventure filled virtual worlds.
    Instead of adventuring in a world you grind in the little playground areas. Start in the low level area, can't do anything much outside of it because you aren't tough enough yet. Grind out some levels then move to the next little playground area. But you can't move on further for the same reason as before and you can't go back because now you are too high level for the area you left behind and there isn't anything of interest or challenge back there for you now. So you just keep grinding out levels so you can keep moving on to the next little playground area. Just hoping you don't get bored to death of the one you're in before you can move on.

    I'm curious, but how would you handle this while still allowing players one method that makes MMORPGs somewhat amusing, being that of character advancement?

    My general idea is to have about 5 "levels" of heros. Beginner, competent, adept, advanced, and heroic. Ideally, a player can romp around in any area up to 1 level away from his level. So a competent character (something that shouldn't be hard to reach) can explore and make use of about 60% of the world, and that's close to the beginning. The "levels" as they described here are really broken up into a bunch of skills with their own levels, with the "levels" I've described being mostly an abstract assessment of a character. So there's plenty of progress being made, but it's at a finer and more frequent level. But players still have to work up their way to being able to fight dragons and the like.

    The trick, and this is a problem I haven't solved yet, is what comes after dragons? You end up having to put a cap on player development (which I think is a bad thing...) or adding more and more levels which take up more and more time to reach until there's a practical limit to player power. And players go from fighting dragons to fighting demonics and extra-planer beings and aliens from outer space and other silly excuses for there to be even more powerful stuff in the game. Eventually one gets to the point where there's a ton of different "levels" that players can fight at and the relative amount of content a player can access at any one point is tiny. At most I can try and widen this so the amount of content available at any one time is large, and thus players focus more on playing the game than levelling up to reach the next "area". I'm thinking of having a dynamic levelling system. Experiencing roughly 60% of the content available for any one level increases a player to the next level. As more content is added, this advancement is changed to be slower. Sure, older players get to the higher levels faster, but newer players have more to do. This way more content need not necessarily be added at the end end of everything, but may instead be added in the beginning and middle, as well as the end.

    If anyone else has any ideas for the solution to such a problem, I'd like to hear it.

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  • CennCenn HelsinkiMember Posts: 239


    Originally posted by MisfitZ
    "If the class/level/quest model is so bad then answer me why Tabletop gamers (Dungeons and Dragons etc.) have been using it for over 30 years. They've had more than enough time and freedom to change it if they wanted to - why haven't they?"

    Umm, tabletop RPGs have moved on.

    actually, a lot of games - old games - dont use levels.

    Runequest - nearly as old as D&D and was nearly as popular for a long time, has no levels. It is a pure "skill based" system where you get a chance to improve skills on using them - this influences a bunch of other games - such as HeroQuest, Call of Cthulu, - also such things as Rolemaster, Gurps etc etc.

    Also such things as the storyteller system (White wolf publishing, arguably one of the most popular current RPG systems out there) are level-less and use completely different mechanics from D&D.

    Basically, RPGs have evolved from D&D days.

    the Progression was Tabletop wargaming (tin soldiers etc) -> D&D -> Simulationist RPG.

    Computer games should do the same.

  • CennCenn HelsinkiMember Posts: 239

    Actually.
    go read this
    History of Roleplaying

  • rentantilusrentantilus Alpharetta, GAMember UncommonPosts: 798


    Originally posted by MisfitZ
    "If the class/level/quest model is so bad then answer me why Tabletop gamers (Dungeons and Dragons etc.) have been using it for over 30 years. They've had more than enough time and freedom to change it if they wanted to - why haven't they?"

    Read up on the progression D&D has made over the last 30 years and you'll see that they're slowly but steadily working their way away from the class-based system. Back in 1st edition AD&D, you were literally just a race, a class, a level, and some equipment. That was it. Then in 2nd edition, they broke classes down into proficiencies, added sub-attributes, and even implemented a rudamentary skill system. By the time 3rd edition came out, the game was 50/50 class/skill based, where everything was modular. Tweak that a bit for 3.5 and you can see they've removed prohibited skills alltogether, so that now literally any class can use any skill. Maybe not by the time 4th edition rolls out (probably around 2008 at the rate they're going), but definitely by 5th edition (2012?), Dungeons and Dragons won't have classes anymore. Who wants to play Human Fighter #847 when you could fine-tune and modify your character from the ground up any way you choose with a malleable skill-based system?

    __________
    When you see a new MMORPG, honestly think to yourself: "Is this game designed to EARN my $15 per month subscription with content, originality, and long-term value, or is it just designed to SCAM me out of $50 when I buy the box at the store with flashy advertising, biased reviews, and empty promises?"

  • TithrielleTithrielle UKMember Posts: 547

    If it aint broke, don't fix it.

    Cry more, UO fanboys.

  • Jimmy_ScytheJimmy_Scythe Macomb, ILMember CommonPosts: 3,586

    The first table top RPG that I ever played was Star Frontiers which was also made by TSR. This game had no classes and, technically, no levels. You rolled your stats, and picked three skills, one of those being your primary skill and you were off. The skills themselves did have levels but they only went to level 6 and that was just a modifier to the base stat for that skill. In order to advance, you would spend XP to increase stats and skills or buy new skills.

    Most of my PnP RPG experience was spent with this thing called GURPS. With this system you built your character out of points, typically 100 although the number could go as high as 400 in some settings. Much like Star Frontiers, you spent your XP in order to buy better stats, skills, etc...

    I personally like the idea that you roll your stats and then pick your skills. I was born with my strength, dexterity, intelligence, etc and had no say in them. I did however, have a say in what I learned and did with my life. This also gives the player much more freedom to customize their character. The problem is balancing this kind of system for use in an MMO.

  • NeanderthalNeanderthal Member UncommonPosts: 1,737

    -----I'm curious, but how would you handle this while still allowing players one method that makes MMORPGs somewhat amusing, being that of character advancement?-----

    You wouldn't like my answer because I feel that the focus should be shifted away from personal character advancement. I'm not saying character advancement should be eliminated but the power variation of characters of the same species should be kept within a reasonable range.

    But ask yourself what character advancement is for. Isn't it just there to give people a goal and a reward for playing? Now ask yourself if a virtual world could give people goals that are not based on increasing personal power. If you can't think of any goals for people that don't result in the character becoming tougher/more powerful then you aren't really thinking of a virtual world you are thinking of a progression grind.

    Ok, but there does need to be some form of character development. However, if something can be gained there must also be a way to lose it. And I'm talking about perma-death and equipment loss here. You can't just allow people to perpetually increase in power without ever the possibility of losing power. Otherwise you end up with exactly the sort of problem you were talking about, sometimes refered to as high level stagnation. Everyone tops out at maximum power and the virtual world you created for them becomes trivial and irrelevant.

    I actually have a very specific idea of how to handle this in a way that I think would be percieved as fair. It wouldn't always be quite as painful as an unmodified version of perma-death and would reward careful/lucky/skillfull players. But an entire game would have to built around this system. It couldn't just be slapped onto a game that wasn't really built for it.

  • FandomlifeFandomlife HartlepoolMember Posts: 23



    Originally posted by MisfitZ


    1.) It's traditional. It's been around this long, if they introduced a sweeping, fundamental change to the system, they would lose a huge percentage of their playerbase.
    2.) It's simple. Relatively. Especially now, with 3.5 Edition. No more THAC0, streamlined rules, mostly d20 rolls. No one wants to do excessive amounts of calculations (with notable exceptions being kicked out of the group) while playing D&D, they want to have fun. This problem doesn't apply to CRPGs. Calculation can happen in the background, billions of times a second, without the player even needing to acknowledge their existence.


    With respect to traditional role-playing games, non-CRPG ones, neither of these comments make much sense.

    While it is true to say that they don't change the level system beccause it would annoy the fanbase, the reason it would annoy the fanbase is a level-based system is what they want. D&D is by and large the largest selling traditional role-playing game in the market, it outsells everything else by a significant margin. In fact, the role-playing industry is D&D, any other game is largely hobby development, with the possible exception of White Wholf.

    What you have to realise, and this is true for MMORPG's as well, is people play role-playing games for many and varied reasons, and D&D focuses on a specific type of play that many people enjoy. It's not so much for me, but many people like it. D&D is essentially a tactical game of small unit tactics and resource management. A group of adventurers get together, have certain resources and unique skills and they apply them to get past challenges. The combat system is designed to be a tactical challenge. The DM is given all sorts of tools to create appropriate different types of challenges, etc. The reward for overcoming these challenges is expeirence which gives you more power, essentially more tactical options and so on.

    In fact, the D&D model of play established the MMORPG model of play, and not just in levels. The reason being, D&D is essentially a game of 'acquiring widgets', those widgets being new levels, new powers and new equipment. In D&D, there are legions of books that players just buy because they are full of widgets they can get (equipment, feats, new classes, etc) as they level - so the D&D market is based a sort of subscription fee of players wanting to buy these books of new widgets.

    The fact remains, the average person involved in role-playing games wants to level, wants to get new kit, wants to beat the latest dungeon, etc. This is why D&D is popular in the traditional role-playing market and it's one reason WoW is popular in the MMORPG market.

    True, you don't have to play D&D as described above, I don't, but that is how the game is designed, especially in 3.5 - which has the most complicated version of the rules yet. It may be more logical, but it is the most complicated. So the idea that the rules are simple is also incorrect.

    Also, keep in mind there are legions of role-playing games designed with dramatically different intents to D&D, there rules being based on totally different principles. It is quite a complex subject. As an example, there a lot of games now that have rules that aren't based on providing a tactical challenge, or simulating any sort of reality but have rules purely to foster dramatic stories to take place like in TV shows. Many examples, I could go on, but it is certainly not an area of stagnation - in the traditional RPG market anyway.

     

  • GRIMACHUGRIMACHU AndoverMember Posts: 528


    While it is true to say that they don't change the level system beccause it would annoy the fanbase, the reason it would annoy the fanbase is a level-based system is what they want. D&D is by and large the largest selling traditional role-playing game in the market, it outsells everything else by a significant margin. In fact, the role-playing industry is D&D, any other game is largely hobby development, with the possible exception of White Wholf.

    I think that's putting the cart before the horse somewhat.
    Levels are 'popular' because D&D has them, they're one of the sacred cows of the game and a holdover from the pre-RPG wargames days. You can directly equate the troop levels of the old wargames...

    Green
    Regular
    Veteran
    Elite

    To the levels of character advancement.

    They're an ancient and creaking device and they really should be got shot of, most games other than D&D have gotten shot of them. Tradition is illogical, but it's strong.

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  • coyotebullcoyotebull Charleston, SCMember Posts: 3

    Well all of these arguments are nice but it boils down to each of us has a different opinion.  Rarely do I ever see one of you come back with a comment like 'Wow that was a diferent way of looking at it and well detailed'.

    My opinion is most of us do hang too much importance on a description.  The term level is just a description of the relative power balance of the character in any given game system.  It can be used for a character in a skill based system or a D&D system. 

    It is just a mater of semantics.  Every game needs balance so a gm can say these characters are of this power level so I need to provide this level of chalenge for thier enjoyment.

    So a 100 point vamp is like a 5th level death knight.  ( comparison is for example not for precise power level)  Debating which semantics to use only relates to the world you chose to enjoy.  If you play D&D then you use level if you use Gurps you use points.  It generally breaks down to power/ability of the toon.  So all of the mmorpgs do both but use the description of level.  It still boils down to you have so many skills and can handle a certain degree of chalenge.

     

  • GRIMACHUGRIMACHU AndoverMember Posts: 528


    Originally posted by coyotebull
    Well all of these arguments are nice but it boils down to each of us has a different opinion. Rarely do I ever see one of you come back with a comment like 'Wow that was a diferent way of looking at it and well detailed'.
    My opinion is most of us do hang too much importance on a description. The term level is just a description of the relative power balance of the character in any given game system. It can be used for a character in a skill based system or a D&D system.
    It is just a mater of semantics. Every game needs balance so a gm can say these characters are of this power level so I need to provide this level of chalenge for thier enjoyment.
    So a 100 point vamp is like a 5th level death knight. ( comparison is for example not for precise power level) Debating which semantics to use only relates to the world you chose to enjoy. If you play D&D then you use level if you use Gurps you use points. It generally breaks down to power/ability of the toon. So all of the mmorpgs do both but use the description of level. It still boils down to you have so many skills and can handle a certain degree of chalenge.

    There's other factors, customisation and control of your character, simulation/realism/genre emulation qualities. 'Niche' protection, role limitations and so on.

    This isn't so bad, necessarily, in a fantasy oriented game but breaks down more in modern and SF games.

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  • FandomlifeFandomlife HartlepoolMember Posts: 23


    Originally posted by GRIMACHU
    I think that's putting the cart before the horse somewhat.
    Levels are 'popular' because D&D has them, they're one of the sacred cows of the game and a holdover from the pre-RPG wargames days.

    They're an ancient and creaking device and they really should be got shot of, most games other than D&D have gotten shot of them. Tradition is illogical, but it's strong.

    Well, we can agree to disagree, but I think you'll find there is a hell of a lot of D&D players who know a lot about the other games that exist, what their options are, and still choose to play D&D because of what it delivers.

    Not saying I'm one of them, but there is plent of them.

    People can argue until they are blue in the face, the fact is the tactical focus, mini-wargame approach, with widgets as a reward (levels, powers, gear) is popular because a lot of people like it. It's delusional to think otherwise.

    Anyway, leave you to it.


     

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