User:Phol ende wodan/Skill balance proposal

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My combat system overhaul is primarily focused on making the to-hit and damage systems work properly, and provide variety in fighting styles. It doesn't really help all that much in differentiating roles and the skill system, which is a secondary concern for it. I have decided to address my thoughts on rebalancing the skill system in this separate document.

This will draw on dtsund's Class Overhaul proposal, though I don't intend for it to become a class overhaul proposal itself. I'll be trying to stick to skills as much as possible.

This also assumes that the combat system overhaul has been implemented on top of vanilla NetHack, or at least the armor and shield skill parts of it.

This is not a complete proposal; I am continuing to build it.

Skill balance issues in vanilla NetHack

  • Several roles are able to enhance everything they need very early. Valkyries, for example, are encouraged to use their starting long sword as much as possible, and all they really need to do is put five skill slots into long sword and two into two-weapon combat, allowing them to be fully skilled by XL 8.
  • This is a contributing factor to the problem that fighter characters don't have much incentive to level up more.
  • Other roles, which in general means anyone that wants to cast spells, has to push that limit and perhaps go into the upper 20s.
  • Lots of skill types go completely unused; this is partly a problem with the weapon types of the "good" artifact weapons, but also because several skill types only apply to one or two weapons.
  • Several roles end up with combat styles that really don't make sense. In the worst example, Wizards are often built around throwing lots of daggers or darts instead of casting spells well into the midgame and late game, since daggers and darts can be enhanced to Expert and it costs no energy or resources to throw a dagger.
  • Chris has provided some analysis on why the skill system is the way it is:
    • As with to-hit/AC, nethack's skill system is strongly based on 1st and 2nd edition D&D, specifically the weapon proficiency system. However, nethack makes several changes, the net effect of which is to throw off the balance of that system. D&D characters received 1-4 weapon-proficiency-points (mages get 1, fighters get 4, others fall in between) which they must spend during character creation (and subject to rules forcing the player to spread the points out among multiple weapon types). After creation, characters receive additional points at a rate of 1-per-3-to-6-levels (mages get them slowest, fighters get them fastest), which they can spend according to rules that more-or-less resemble nethack's. The net effect, then, is that skill points are in much shorter supply in D&D than they are in nethack.
    • In D&D most characters want both a ranged attack and a melee attack, so they need to spend proficiency slots accordingly. In nethack most characters are happy to pick one or the other.
    • In D&D some enemies resist certain types of damage (ie, bludgeoning or slashing damage). It can therefore pay to be proficient in multiple types of weapons, so that you can use whatever is most effective against any given foe (though in most cases I don't think this mechanic is heavily used). In nethack damage types are listed, but totally unused.

Primary goals of a new system

  1. Each role should have a diverse option of combat skills.
  2. Each role should have to make choices about combat skills. You should not be able to max out all your relevant skills without taking the time to gain extra levels.
  3. There should not be too much of a disincentive for using weapons or skills you don't plan to use in the long term.
  4. Every skill type should be advanceable to Expert by at least one class. Skills that aren't in vanilla tend to get ignored completely.

Skill advancement tree

The most radical part of this proposal comes from a suggestion by NeroOneTrueKing. Instead of representing skills as an array, where all skills are enhanced separately from the get-go, skills will be represented by a tree, similar to advancement trees in other games. Thus, weapons that are not used very differently are lumped together for Basic or maybe even Skilled level, and specialize only at Expert. It still takes one point to level to Basic, two to level to Skilled, and three to level to Expert. If you are skilled in heavy swords, that is equivalent to being skilled in long sword in vanilla, because long sword is a subset of heavy sword skill.

The weapon skill tree will look like this:

  • Basic: Swords
    • Skilled: Light swords
      • Expert: Broadsword
      • Expert: Short sword
    • Skilled: Heavy swords
      • Expert: Long sword
      • Expert: Katana
      • Expert: Greatsword
    • Skilled: Saber
      • Expert: Saber
      • Expert: Scimitar
  • Basic: Short blades
    • Skilled and Expert: Dagger
    • Skilled and Expert: Knife
  • Basic: Axe
    • Skilled: Bladed axe
      • Expert: Battle-axe
    • Skilled and Expert: Pick-axe
  • Basic: Blunt weapons
    • Skilled and Expert: Club
    • Skilled and Expert: Flail
    • Skilled: Blunt-headed weapons
      • Expert: Mace
      • Expert: Hammer
    • Skilled and Expert: Staff
  • Basic: Pole weapons
    • Skilled and Expert: Spear
    • Skilled and Expert: Polearms
    • Skilled and Expert: Lance
  • Basic: Bow
    • Skilled and Expert: Bow
    • Skilled and Expert: Crossbow
  • Basic, Skilled and Expert: Sling
  • Basic: Thrown weapons
    • Skilled and Expert: Dart
    • Skilled and Expert: Shuriken
    • Skilled and Expert: Boomerang
  • Basic, Skilled and Expert: Whip
  • Basic, Skilled and Expert: Unicorn horn

The spell skill tree could look like this, but I can also see the merits of keeping each spell school separate.

  • Basic: Combat spells
    • Skilled and Expert: Attack spells
    • Skilled and Expert: Defense spells
    • Skilled and Expert: Enchantment spells
    • Skilled and Expert: Escape spells
  • Basic: Utility spells
    • Skilled and Expert: Divination spells
    • Skilled and Expert: Matter spells

Combat skills (riding, two weapon combat, armor use, shield use, bare hands/martial arts) don't overlap and are all trained separately.

Merging weapon skills

A couple weapon skills are so far gone that they will never get enhanced by anyone, ever, because there's no point in leveling them. They're close enough to other attacks that the skills can be merged together without too much of a problem.

  • Morning star merges into mace - it's basically a spiky mace.
  • Trident merges into polearms - it's basically a polearm.

Skill changes for roles

Skill Old maximum New maximum Notes
Swords Restricted (for 3 types) Basic
Polearms Restricted Skilled Also makes other pole weapons go to Basic
Club Skilled Basic Also makes other blunt weapons go to Basic
Two-weapon combat Basic Restricted
Short blades Restricted (knives) Basic
All swords, sabers, and scimitars Basic/Skilled/Expert Expert
Club Skilled Expert
Blunt-headed weapons Skilled Expert
Flail Skilled Expert
Quarterstaff Basic Skilled
Polearms Restricted Skilled
Spear Skilled Expert
Lance Restricted Basic
Sling Restricted Basic
Dart Restricted Basic
Knife Skilled Basic
Axe Skilled Restricted
Short sword Basic Restricted
Club Skilled Basic
Mace Basic Restricted
Polearms Skilled Restricted
Dart Expert Basic
Sling Skilled Restricted
Shuriken Basic Restricted
Spear Basic Restricted
All spells Skilled/Expert Expert
Club Expert Skilled
Shuriken Basic Restricted
Long sword Skilled Basic
Scimitar Skilled Expert
Mace Skilled Basic
Quarterstaff Restricted Basic

Other mechanic changes

  • Enhancing anything to Skilled takes 2 skill slots, and enhancing anything to Expert takes 3 skill slots.
  • Amnesia will cause your practice points for at least one skill to be set to a random number between the required amount for the level below your current skill level and the required amount for your current skill level, causing you to lose one level of skill for it. You will need to practice it again to be able to enhance it again. This can be used to reassign skill slots if the player really wants to, and is the only way of doing so.