Replacement for the skills menu

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Lair Larrikin

Posts: 26

Joined: Tuesday, 21st February 2012, 14:46

Post Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 10:56

Replacement for the skills menu

Here is a proposal for a replacement for the skills menu ('m').


Skill allocation involves spoilery information and is subject to min-maxing. It is the area of crawl where the player feels the most in control; players are rewarded for paying attention to it. Yet, the system is probably too granular: a fair part of the time spent pondering whether Armour should be raised to 14 or 15 is ultimately lost in vain. You need to make some decisions (auto-skilling only gets you so far), you can make fairly precise decisions, but finding out the optimal allocation is spoilery. Moreover, the way this system is accessed (through the 'm' menu) is not in line with how the other systems of crawl are accessed (interacting with the dungeon and items). This last point is what, for me, makes the current skill system detract from the experience of crawl.

On the other hand, skills play the indispensable role in crawl of making character development irreversible, and thus strategic. Without skills, a mage could become a tank just by fully changing their equipment (and at some point, they will have found all the necessary pieces of equipment in the dungeon). With skills, they lose the xp they have invested in magic, thus making this transition worse than levelling up as a tank from the start.

The proposal is to reduce the cognitive load of skills by deducing their value from irreversible actions taken by the character. From this, we get an "affinity" of the character for each skill. The effective level in each skill at each instant depends on their xl and their affinity with each skill. Affinity is derived from reading strategic scrolls as well as learning spells. There is no victory dancing as there used to be with training, since there is no xp pool (just like in the current system).

Some generalist skills are folded into existing stats or become stats themselves, thus raising the relevance of the stat system (which has a lighter cognitive load than the skill system, but could gain from being more present in the game). I don't think this requires more frequent stat updates.

Proposed system

The skills are the same as they are currently. The level of each skill, however, is defined as skill level = x * xl * aptitude * (affinity / total affinity) + y*(manuals read). Total affinity is the total affinity of all skills, so each increase in the affinity of a skill comes at the price of a decrease of all other skills; x and y are suitably chosen numbers.

Affinity is calculated as follows for each skill:

  • Fighting: proportional to (free spell slots / total spell slots)
  • Stealth: folded into dex, or proportional to (enchant armour and identify scrolls used on 0-base AC armour)
  • Shields (enchant armour and identify scrolls used on shields)
  • Armour: proportional to (enchant armour and identify scrolls used on non-0 base AC armour)
  • Dodging: folded into dex
  • Spellcasting: folded into int. The distinction between int and spellcasting is covered by mutations as well as species like Ogres getting special abilities.
  • Invocations: becomes a stat, which is never picked by random stat upgrades
  • Evocations: proportional to (id scrolls used on evocables)
  • Weapon skills (except unarmed): proportionnal to (id scrolls and enchant weapon used on a weapon of that class)
  • Unarmed combat: constant. This means that the share of unarmed combat will only go down as other affinities go up. This goes into the trope of Martial arts as a discipline to which the character must devote themselves exclusively.
  • Spell schools: memorised spells of that school.

Starting skills

Starting affinities are either flat or (better) derived from the background. In that second case, it makes sense to give the melee classes a +1 or +2 hand axe instead of a war axe and so on (and count affinities as if they had read an enchant weapon scroll to get that weapon)

15-rune games

Skills become capped at xl=27. This affects extended. So be it. Increase the generation of manuals in the late branches if need be.
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Vaults Vanquisher

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Joined: Thursday, 1st November 2018, 02:33

Post Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 12:25

Re: Replacement for the skills menu

The principles described in the first half of the post seem okay to me, but the system described in the second half not as much. Tying skills to various kinds of item or other resource allocation, including items that should be removed, is not the way to go. One thing I like about your proposed system is that it makes allocation of skill resources have an element of mutual exclusion, which I think encourages specialization as compared to the existing system where costs of skill levels scale in such a way that it's best to get a lot of skills to moderate levels. I don't agree with your theory about item interaction -- the thing crawl gets somewhat right is combat, not item interaction, and the goal should be to make other systems (skills, items, whatever) impose as little as possible on the combat aspect of the game.

I think you can address the issues of granularity by handing out skills in bigger chunks. For example, you could take the existing system and scale it so that the maximum level is 9 and let the player allocate one skill level at each experience level up, possibly with some constraints on how high a skill can go at a given experience level. That keeps the mutual exclusion element of the system you describe. I think you can reproduce the effect of traditional species aptitudes here by giving bonus skill points at various levels, maybe somewhat randomly, the way bonus stat points currently work.
This is where mechanical excellence and one-thousand four-hundred horsepower pays off.

For this message the author tealizard has received thanks: 2
duvessa, galbolle

Snake Sneak

Posts: 116

Joined: Monday, 14th March 2011, 11:14

Post Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 19:24

Re: Replacement for the skills menu

About bigger chunks - what if a skill reduces armour EV penalty by 4.8? If you wear gloves of strength it might just push you over the edge. In the Crawl system, there's no way to know. Or something temporarily drains your Int. If you were at 4.8 bonus, you may be fine, but if you were at 4.1 you'll suffer more.

After playing some Rogue and Brogue I see lots of non-granular things. They have just 1 armor item - armor. In DCSS protection is a sum of body armor, boots, barding, helmet, gloves, rings, sometimes the weapon you wield. Weapon delay randomly causes you to attack twice, or suffer two attacks. Auxilliary attacks are just TERRIBLE. DCSS enemies feel watered down, I very often fight 10 enemies. Levels, branches... It's not T.O.M.E. or Angband watered, but...
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Vaults Vanquisher

Posts: 453

Joined: Thursday, 1st November 2018, 02:33

Post Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 19:40

Re: Replacement for the skills menu

The difference between rounding to 4 or 5 in an EV calculation is small enough not to worry about, in my opinion. I think a menu that allows shows the change in things like defenses, attack delay, fail rates, and spellpower to the player for each possible change in skill in a system like this would be enough to satisfy the player's need to know what's going on with these choices.

As an aside, I definitely think the item menus could be a lot better about showing the impact of equipment choices on those kinds of numbers though. It's pretty archaic to have to actually try things on and then check some other information screen to see what changed. For example, with spell fail rates, you could have lines showing say the five memorized or available spells with greatest change in fail rate if the selected item were equipped instead of whatever you already have. (Of course this gets a little harder to do with rings since there are often many possible choices to replace.)
This is where mechanical excellence and one-thousand four-hundred horsepower pays off.

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