Tobold's Blog
Monday, July 02, 2007
Gnome warriors, hobbit guardians

My first World of Warcraft character to hit level 60 was a troll warrior. But sometimes I regret not having made a gnome warrior instead, because I really like playing short races. My troll just doesn't look good in plate armor, while the same armor looks much more impressive on a gnome. I'm happy that in Lord of the Rings Online my tank is a hobbit guardian. But the really surprising thing about those choices is that the effect of your race on gameplay is so small.

If you play classic single-player computer role-playing games, like any of the Might & Magic or the Wizardry series, or if you play pen and paper D&D, it is very obvious that a troll, half-orc, half-giant or whatever big and strong races the game has is far superior as a warrior than a gnome or hobbit. From the small races only dwarves usually make good warriors. Making a gnome warrior in most games would be a serious penalty, you would basically gimp your character. But in MMORPGs like World of Warcraft it doesn't really matter. The difference in stats and abilities, especially at higher levels, is so tiny, you'd have a hard time to measure it.

This isn't immediately apparent if you look at starting stats, where for example a troll has 24 strength versus a gnome's 18. But that difference doesn't go up with level, so at level 70 in the same gear the troll might have 524 strength versus the gnome's 518. The only real difference between races are the racial traits. And while the troll racials are arguably better for a warrior, the gnome's escape artist is certainly quite useful for a warrior in PvP. There is a difference, but it isn't really big enough to matter. Nobody would turn a gnome warrior away to take a warrior from some other race with similar gear and experience into his group. Race, which used to be an important characteristic in earlier RPGs has become something that is mostly cosmetic.

The reason for that is that word "gimp" I used earlier. My first Everquest character had the wrong race for his class, plus at the very start I had to distribute stat points and did that in a wrong way, based on bad information in the printed manual. By the time I found out how the game really worked, I noticed that I had gimped myself, making my character noticeably weaker than others of the same class and level. And, there being no way to repair that, I started over with a character of the same class, but a more suitable race and all the stat points distributed to where they should be. At some point in time between EQ and WoW game developers decided that the ability to gimp yourself was not something they wanted to have in their game. Instead of allowing any race to play any class, but some races being better at some classes, they just made all races nearly equally good for the classes they could play. And they simply disallowed the combinations they didn't want, like gnome hunters or orc mages.

Is preventing players from making bad choices a good idea? It does make the game more accessible to people not used studying guides and websites before jumping into the game. But it also makes these choices uninteresting, because they simply don't matter that much. It is hard to imagine how a game could allow you to change your race later in the game, so making the choice of race matter a lot risks setting up a trap for the unprepared. But I liked the elegant solution of Final Fantasy XI, where your choice of race was final, but you could always change your class. You'd lose your level, but not everything else, so if you found that a Taru didn't make a great warrior, you could still continue playing him as a mage. I think it is okay to allow players to make bad choices, as long as there is some way to repair it at a penalty less harsh than deleting your character.
It's good to hear that there are other folks who prefer playing short races. This is one of my main criticisms of WoW; that the horde has no short races!

One a side note, one of the only reasons that WHO interest me is the inclusion of goblins.
I think game designers can make two choices:
1. Don't allow players to gimp themselves, or
2. Allow players to remedy their mistakes without re-investing time.

If a game allows to you gimp yourself due to whatever (as simple as your own misunderstanding as everyone's a noob once, or because the game's impossibly complex) and then makes you re-roll your toon to get around it, where's the fun in that? It's just poor game design, and only going to appeal to the elitist jerks in the audience :)

As for your other comment, I personally think that all gnomes, hobbits and other races the subject of inbreeding should be put to sword and flame without mercy. It's very hard to suspend disbelief when a Gnome Warrior tanks Rangaros - I mean serious, you're kidding right? It's hard enough believing a huge Tauren could do it... Ah nevermind, the cutesy crowd has to have something to play, and griefers will always roll Gnome Rogues called "Stabby."
If race is mainly cosmetic, why are there no Gnome Druids in WoW, I wonder? It's probably purely a Lore thing but as we all know, Lore changes on a whim; Blood Elf paladins, I'm looking at you.

It's a restriction that on face value seems vaguely arbitrary, and is somewhat annoying to someone like myself, who likes playing the more diminutive races but often finds that none of the classes that I find interesting are available to those races.

I personally feel that restricting certain classes to certain races doesn't add enough depth to a game to counter the feeling of constriction that occurs when your favourite race and class are not compatible with one another.
Let me add that I also bought that damn official guidebook, and built my first character based on what it said. From time to time, some old timer like Tobold will mention how that guide screwed them up, and I feel a little less stupid knowing that I wasn't the only one that got hoodwinked.

My first character was a Monk and I made the mistake of putting some points in Str.
i like to see your "level" aka age be seperated from your class.

so you would have level-xp, and class-xp. if you decided to change clas, it can be, you just have to skill up your class-xp all over again.
WoW doesn't completely prevent bad choices, but it has a "cash penalty undo". I.e. if you misclick when picking a talent you can undo it for cash. Then you decide if the respec penalty increase is worth the mistake you made.

I remember when leveling my first character I did misclick... and decided to not pay the respec cost. So yeah the game allowed me to gimp myself. But it did have a penalty undo. Free respec costs would have made that a game that really doesn't allow me to make mistakes.

In many ways self-gimping is indeed bad game design. I see it as a relic of paper and pencil D&D. There you could customize your character, but unusual distributions could still "work" because the game master could make creative use of an unusual character. A computer game has hard rules and those will railroad a character. In D&D a character could go all out intelligence (for scholarshipy stuff), diplomacy and leadership skills and a game master could make that character work. But the reason is that the game master again prevents gimping.

Same for computer games that act as game masters... they really need to prevent gimping or it's bad.
Abel, I don't think the GM makes creative use of an unusual character, that's down the player himself. What the GM can do is adapt the encounters so as not to penalise players who don't want to be restricted in to creating optimal race/class characters and try something new or different. If Melmoth, above, wants to play a Gnome Druid, let him, he just won't be as good as an Elf Druid because his link with nature isn't as good. He can be unusual for a gnome in that he has a strong link with nature nevertheless.

And this is why the races don't matter to much, because there is no GM to balance encounters to accommodate unoptimal characters. Each instance is designed and set in stone. Nothing changes from one time to the next (with a few exceptions of random abilities in raid dungeons, but this isn't the essence of what I am writing about), whether you enter with a mage for crowd control or a rogue, a paladin to heal or a druid, a druid to tank or a warrior.

The group set-up is currently something of the form tank, healer, DPS and crowd control. A pencil and paper party could do without any of them, using a rogue with Use Magical Device and a healing wand, or a complete lack of spell-power, or no fighters. With a decent GM the encounters can be balanced in advance to still be challenging, achievable, and fun. Remember, it's a game and the idea is to have fun. Play what you want, within reason, and let's have some fun with it.

If races made a big enough difference to affect class selections during character creation, you would not be looking for a tank for your party but for a dwarf tank. People already don't want a non-protection-specced tank for instances, for example. You want to increase your survivability in instances. It could be possible to get through an instance with a skilled but non-optimal race/class combination, but it would be a risk.

Whether it's feasible to adapt instanced encounters to take account of party composition in MMORPGs is beyond my knowledge. However, I would imagine that this is a needed feature before race becomes an important choice again.
Charging for re-specs is a perfect example oh how developers screw up mmorpg design. Unless, of course, their actual intention is to promote a robust gold farming industry. Why not allow free re-specs. Because the developers want money sinks. Well then, why not just make re-speccing free and simply put less money in your world. The same goes for talents and armor repair. These in game cost are simply money sinks, but what you really get is a chicken and egg; what comes first - the money sinks or the gold. You don't need one unless you have the other.

Eliminate the money sinks and the need for gold is diminished; then drop the other shoe by simply reducing cash drops to a more manageable level.

Think of gold farmers as a fire. you destroy the fire by taking away it's oxygen. In mmorpgs, oxygen is gold, and by eliminating all the tedious gold sinks, you kill two birds with one stone.
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Eliminate the money sinks and the need for gold is diminished; then drop the other shoe by simply reducing cash drops to a more manageable level.

I remember hearing that WAR was cutting back on how important gold is, but I can see why games tend to have tons of gold pouring into them: flying mounts cost five THOUSAND gold! Five THOUSAND! Thats a LOT.

Of course, at level 40 I struggled to get 100 gold, and that was a LOT at that level. I'm guessing the next WoW expac will increase gold drops even more, and some day we'll be buying stuff for one MILLION DOLL- er... gold. Because that sounds awesome. I guess.
Another piece on the history of "gimp". In the very early MUD days, lots of muds would grant you stat increases with a randomness factor. Same for character creation. There was variability in total stats and stat distribution. Class choices would just change the random weights. You could still end up with a weak and fairly intelligent warrior type and a strongish but rather dumb mage.

With bad luck you could start off with a sub-optimal character, and with bad luck he wouldn't get the best stat increases at each level.

So some maxers would actually reroll their characters to try to luck out with an uber character by chance.

Even early solo RPG computer games had some of this, where you'd reroll your character over and over again to max out the right stats etc. People who weren't savvy or didn't enjoy this pre-game game would end up with a ... gimp.

I actually think it's good design that WoW and LOTRo doesn't have these features. While this mini-game may entertain a selective audience it certainly never seemed to me to be broadly appealing.
mmm - lost my comment somewhere :/

anyway - you just can't change race
you could change your hair or get a facial - take up a new profession, study another art of war or religion, but race? no way! (look at Michael Jackson ;)

I choose my character carefully - and try to adapt my spec and playstyle according to his strong points. My Orc is a Demonology specced warlock.
Let's not forget the 5% exp bonues that Halflings got!

Cause, you know, Halfling Druids, Rogues, and Clerics just weren't up to snuff, so they needed a bit of helping out )
btw, free respecs is the worst idea.

that means absolutely no differences in classes, might as well throw them away.
Nah I disagree. Free respecs would only mean that people could explore their class more, would whine less about being pigeon-wholed by a certain playing style (e.g. holy priest vs solo grinding vs pvp).

See you still have to rearrange your buttons, go to the trainer and learn to play the differences well. One doesn't turn into a great elemental shaman just by speccing there within a second. But one gets an honest shot at trying and practicing.

I don't think that in the end people would respec a whole lot more... except for healers and tanks...
I believe each new MMO goes farther and farther away from making character creation important. More and more are trying to streamline the process to get the player into the game as soon as possible.

Personally I would prefer a middle ground. Let us pick some stats/traits, and leave the rest for further levels. Many people re-roll as it is, why not give them some further options when they do?
I think this topic reveals that, for the most part, the fantasy elements are an increasingly thin veneer on top of game beneath. And it's the game that most people are playing for.

Oh, the veneer is important. Very important. But--especially for games like WoW taht are designed to be as accessible as possible to as broad an audience as possible--they can't be much more than a veneer, or people will indeed gimp themselves.

In a true roleplaying game, gimping would have to be possible (though I'd argue it should be mostly surmountable). But such a game would lean more toward simulation (as a backdrop for roleplaying) than true game.

In a way, this topic points up the issues of compatibility between roleplaying and gaming.

For instance, I know someone who put off playing WoW for nine months because she couldn't play the race-character combination (gnome-hunter) she wanted. She sees herself as a serious roleplayer and couldn't get into any of the other combinations. But, having settled on a combination she likes, she's playing the game in substantially the same way everyone else does.

The details of the veneer mattered a lot to her, but don't affect gameplay for her. And such details matter to us all. Even with exactly the same mechanics, I doubt "World of Bunnies and Burrows" would've gotten as many subscribers (though I have to admit, I'd give it a try).

But for the present, the "roleplaying game" and the "game proper" are still quite distinct things. The interplay is interesting, but by no means free of issues.
Guild Wars has a nice system associated with specs. It allows you to save off specs so that you can easily switch between them. It's a pretty nice feature. It would be nice to be able to--say in the WoW domain--switch to my shadow spec for leveling up/farming/etc, and then when a group needs a healer, flip back to my holy/disc.

I'm curious what benefit WoW/EQ2/LOTRO see in making adjusting specs expensive? Does it make gear itemization easier?
I think that an important part of this too is the shift of information sourcing for MMOGs. Tobold's mistake resulted from bad information in the official manual. I take that as meaning that the game mechanics had changed since the manual was printed. Where you had to rely on the D&D manuals for rules to play, because MMOGs are inherently works in progress, anything printed on paper is likely to be out of date in a matter of months. Actually, LOTRO has a banner on the load screen that warns "GAME EXPERIENCE MAY CHANGE DURING PLAY." This forces players to reverse engineer the game in a number of ways to extract useful and necessary information for playing.

Add this to an inflexible game engine and it's way too easy for a player to screw up by relying on bad information. So from what Tobold and others say, game designers have built in ways to compensate. One of these is the talent change system in WoW, either for money or for free if there's been a class review. LoTRO handles this with traits that can be switched out at bards. (I'd be interested to know how min-maxers handle the blend of characteristics that come with each trait.) Another is the flattening of differences between races. It's too bad in a way, because it really detracts from the RP roots of the RPG. But that shift began long ago when RPG dice rolling mechanics were transferred to the computer.
I believe in FFXI race is far more important. You will see tons of Taru-taru black mages, because their intelligence is naturally much higher, and playing a Hume black mage would be suicidal. Same goes for classes like red mage, where usually only Mithras can play well.
And you already mentioned I need to read every paragraph before I open my mouth...
In wow you could still make bad choices - pre bc a druid who didn't take the armour trinket as the reward for killing drakish would find getting the right gear for tanking much, much harder. In fact I remember that there was almost always a post on the first page of the official forums from someone saying 'how/can I switch my choice'
Pikel Bouldershoulder is a Dwarf in R.A. Salvatore's Forgotten Realms universe. He has green (died) hair and prefers to wear sandals and a green sleeveless robe than hobnailed boots and mail armor. Pikel refers to himself as a Doo-Dad! and for a Dwarf is a strangely capable Druid. While not following the traditional lore of fantasy worlds, a Dwarven druid is not that far fetched of an idea.
Taking choices away from players is a bad idea. You need to have the option to make bad decisions in order to feel like any decision you make is actually meaningful. I hated when the City of Heroes development team turned from a pick an origin/pick your own powerset concept to the archetype system that went live. They did so because they didn't want players to 'gimp themselves'.

As long as the ability to customize a character in any meaningful way exists, someone somewhere is going to find a way to gimp themselves. The solution is not to remove choices, but to have ways for bad decisions to be undone. Developers want players to make 'meaningful' choices (and so don't want to undo things) but also don't want them to gimp themselves (so limit the 'choices' that can be made).

A system that gives players the chance to make real decisions (even bad ones) while giving an out if they make the wrong choice would bring a lot more player investment to the character creation process.
I'd say WoW still allows interesting choices with talents at least. I agree if it was a permanent choice, then I wouldn't want it to be easy to make a mistake. But it's quite easy to have wierd or off specs that, while a bit gimped, can be fun to play for non-min/maxing reasons.
"Eliminate the money sinks and the need for gold is diminished; then drop the other shoe by simply reducing cash drops to a more manageable level."

Not exactly. Lowering the money input into your gameworld only delays the problem. You always need some way for money to come out, and so you need moneysinks.

Less cash means you need less severe moneysinks, but they still need to be there. Respecs are one such way. Repair costs, BoE equipment, AH fees, etc etc make up the rest, and if you do it right, no one really notices.

Charging 5000 gold for a flying mount is not doing it right, imho. :)
Are you talking about the mark of tyranny? That's the one to choose?
Yeah. Druid bears get an insane multiplier on armor and armor trinkets used to be hard to come by in WoW 1.0. For any tanking bear that mark of tyranny was a must and the really hardcore did level enchanting so they could get Smoking Heart of the Mountain.

The problem here is that Blackhand's Breath at the same time is an awesome feral offensive trinket so it was easy to think there is a choice here and lots of druids picked the wrong one.
But feral should should take the other one?
With TBC there are better trinkets for both functions but tanking ones are still harder to come by. If you are feral and ever tank anything you absolutely should take tanking stuff over DPS stuff, because there are more DPS options in general.

If you never ever go bear to tank, nevermind. In fact even if you do solo feral, having great armor kit will help you solo elites and large groups ;)

The short answer: I'd virtually always take the mark over the breath. So no.
To clarify, really, in FFXI you don't abandon a job when you swap. You're not so much losing your levels as you are leveling a different aspect of your character. The levels gained in a particular job stay with you.

In fact, you need to level multiple jobs to a point, since the only job you gain XP on is your main. Support jobs must be leveled seperately.

Technically though, you can level every job in the game to 75 and freely swap between them in town.

"I believe in FFXI race is far more important. You will see tons of Taru-taru black mages, because their intelligence is naturally much higher, and playing a Hume black mage would be suicidal. Same goes for classes like red mage, where usually only Mithras can play well."

Race barely matters in FFXI. About the only thing that really comes up is MP levels for Galka mages and such. They're still functional though.

While base INT is lower on any other race than Taru, that doesn't really matter much. It's a small amount of damage difference, if that.

A Hume (or Mithra) has all of 7 less INT at 75 than a Taru (72 versus 79 for BLM/RDM). You'll then add another 30-40+ in gear easily, then stack Magic Attack Bonus or damage% for most of your real damage increase.
A better geared/merited Hume can very easily beat a Taru. That's not suicidal, especially since the Hume will have more HP to boot.

IMO, the main stats that are hard to fully compensate for are HP and MP. To continue with BLMs, if you're gearing for accuracy/damage with spells, a BLM of any race will want to use Elemental skill, MAB, INT, etc. There's not much room for MP gear in there.

There are very good Galka mages out there, and very good Taru tanks. They have to push a little harder to get there, but it can be done.

The less extreme races have little trouble playing any job in the game.
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