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broadening the palette

February 5, 2009

I’d like to start by saying thanks to Syp, from WAAAGH! for the mention in regards to my article on 1v1 rankings. It’s always nice to know people are actually reading what we’re writing here. Back on topic, yesterday I wrote an article about PQ loot distribution. If you want to read some more on that, Jennifer at Girl IRL threw up her own which is a very good read. Anyhow, in that article I mentioned I’d be writing more about loot soon. Well, I wasn’t lying. The truth is I wanted that post to be quite a bit longer, but figured it would be best to actually talk to Omelettez and have fun with her than spend all night typing up a huge monstrosity of a post. Well, she’s going to be wrapped up for a while so… For the record, this most likely will be long, so you may want to go get some coffee, put on some music, or skim. What I’d like to talk about today is something that has been in the air for a while. I’m sure you can go to Warhammer Alliance, or quite a few blogs and find people discussing the problem of loot. The arguments range anywhere from sets being crappy, to loot options being too limited, to wanting gear for hybrids. Now, I’m not going to discuss gear models, because I just don’t care. I care a heck of a lot more about loot distribution, statistics and usage than I do about how pretty I can make my Black Orc. If I have something pointy and some metal covering my bum, I’m fine. So, let’s get to it.

Loot diversity:
Here is how the current system works: There is one item, per slot, per level bracket, per class… There are some exceptions, but for the most party this is it. Taking a look at the past, how did other games deal with this? The one most are probably familiar with is WoW. The way WoW deals with this is by giving loot random modifiers. While this does have its benefits, it also has a rather large problem. It basically turns the green you want into a blue item. That is, while it’s somewhat common to find a green item, it is exceedingly unlikely that you will find a green item with the stats you’re looking for. Leather ‘of Spirit’ gear? I’m sure my Rogue would be awesome all decked out in a set of gear with 200 spirit, but I’m not sure that’s the direction I’d like to go with my character. On the flip side, however, it did mean there were the gear options out there. WARs method of dealing with this is repairable items. This is a good solution, but let’s be honest, a lot of items repair into junk. Raise your hand if you think a Marauder wants a +21 wounds belt. I’m sure you can defend that and say that wounds is useful to everyone, but really you would level faster and do your primary job better with a lower level item with something like +12 strength, +8 weapon skill. Now, I’m not trying to argue wounds as useless, don’t get me wrong. However, a MDPS’s primary job is to deal damage so the thought that you could actually be using lower level items above higher level ones purely because there are no options is a tough pill to swallow.

So what can be done? It seems to me that the problem is diversity. Some games add in diversity at random. Others, like Ragnarok Online offer players the choice to customize gear. This is done by making most items ‘blanks’ which then have slots to modify that item with cards, giving that item a special property. Now, I’m not sure WAR would be best suited to that precise route, but I do think that’s a step in the right direction. The beautiful thing is that the system I’d like to do it is already in place.

The way repairing currently works is quite simple. You go to an NPC and click the repair button, then get an item specific to your class. Now, there is no guarantee that this item will be useful to what your want to do with your character, but you will be able to equip it if you’re the right level. What I’d like to see is the ability to take it that next step. How? Well, the system I’d something already in place in the game, but in this context would be something different; Curios. What this new system would be is that when repairing items, you could expend a ‘Curio’ which would be items of various levels from ‘armorer’ NPCs, which would then tailor the item to your needs. A basic idea would be to have something like this:

  • Gladiator Curio: Instills items with offensive stats. Depending on your class you would get an item with strength, weapon skill, intelligence, or ballistic skill. Possibly in some relevant mix.
  • Myrmidon: Instills items with defensive stats. You would get wounds, initiative, toughness in some balance.
  • Oracle: This would be a sort of ace, most often giving willpower items. While this seems silly somewhat to have one Curio only give one type of stat, Willpower can also be useful if you want to increase disrupt.

On top of these bonuses, items would have sub-bonuses which is something that is always there on that particular item. This would make the items more attractive. For instance, you may use a Gladiator Curio, but your class also gains wounds on that item. The implementation would be a rough task, as it involves creating several thousand items. On the other hand, it would help alleviate a lot of leveling woes and other problems some classes are developing. One of the chief ones is in regard to healers who, unlike tanks, are not given many items that are specific to their possible roles. There is a very large lack of both pure healing and pure DPS items for healers. Oddly, this is not the case for tanks who can, with some effort, find both pure tanking and pure DPS items. This would allow healers to level better solo, or simply have a broader selection of healing items. It would let DPS stack defensive stats if they wanted. Basically it would add flexibility to gear and allow a greater deal of flexibility.

The other way I can see to implement this system would take out the Curios, but instead offer different repairers in capital cities. You would still have the generic repair, but you could go here and find repairers who specialize in making a specific type of item. The end result is the same, but without the middleman of having another item to alter the original item. Either way is fine and each offers a different type of flexibility. One requires less ‘trips to town’ the other requires less juggling of strange items. While I’m actually very confident that this system could work, it offers no help to items that are not repairable, which brings me to my next talking point.

“Set” items:
I put ‘set’ in quotations because I mean that in two ways. The first of course is actual gear sets for various classes. The second are a couple of groups of items which have preset stats. PQ loot, BOE blues and epics, influence rewards, renown items and some other assorted items are all set in this way. I’d like to start with the second group because if I touch on one of the biggest complaints too early you might stop reading (note, if you don’t care, please skip ahead). Now you may notice that there are subgroups to these groups of items. I’d like to separate it three ways and talk about them in turn. The first grouping is, of course, PQ loot. Now, my article yesterday dealt purely with how rewards were distributed and to a large extent why contribution should be meaningful. Here, however I want to deal with the actual loot.

For those who don’t know, PQ loot is assigned via gift baggies to people who are lucky enough to win the slot machine that is the PQ loot window. These baggies come in five flavors: Gold, Purple, Blue, Green and White. Now, we can excuse white because these rewards are not meant to be amazing. They’re simply some quick reward as a pat on the back for people who didn’t actually win. The next three bags will contain something that is meant to be a legitimate reward. You’ll also find that a lot of these rewards have the same issue as repairable items; they have no diversity. This is particularly rough for the green bag, which is the first problem. Green bags offer a rather generic reward. My solution would be to offer a choice of rewards. You get boots from this PQs green bag? That’s fine, but there should be options available to make it more worthwhile. This can even fall back to the scheme of the repair system I outlined above, offering three types of reward per bag.

Now, for blue and purple bags, I have to bring in a few more group members: BOE blue and epic items and influence rewards. These items, along with the rewards from blue and purple PQ bags, should be unique. There should also be a lot of work put in to make sure that these items are useful to their specific classes. They need to be good solid items, some hybrid items are fine, but for the most part hybrid items should be avoided. I could get into why, but that would add another essay within this already long article. I’ll just pose this question: Do you want a 20 will, 20 strength weapon for your DoK, or would you rather have 35 of one of these stats? Save your thoughts on if Sac DoK are a ‘hybrid’ for later, whatever you believe on the matter, an item with purely strength on it is not a hybrid item. So, what I believe we need here on rare and very rare items, be it from PQs, or random world drops, or from influence, is strong and useful items.

The next baggy up is of course the gold bag. Here’s where it becomes a bit more interesting, enough that I’m forced to separate it into its own talking point so skimmers will take note. Before I do that I’d like to mention one last thing in regard to PQ bags. That is because of the way they work, I believe all bags should offer the rewards of lower-tier bags, starting at the ‘blue’ level. That is, blue bags contain not only the blue, but also the green bags rewards. Likewise purple bags would contain their reward and everything from the blue bag as well. Gold bags would of course offer everything. Now, on to the ‘true’ set items.

Class sets and renown items:
Here we have an even bigger can of worms. Gold bags from PQs as you may or may not know give you a piece of a class set. Renown gear is also done in this way (though not ‘official’ sets of gear). Then of course we have the tier 4 sub-tiered class sets. Now we have to talk about a token system. Why a token system? Well, because it’s convenient and it works. I know that you would all like to stay as far away from WoW as you can, but let’s be fair for a moment. The token system implemented for gearing in TBC was the best gearing choice Blizzard ever implemented. What it is actually goes back to the second talking point of this post: Repairing. The idea is that you found a piece of destroyed… something… which you can go and redeem for an item of your choosing. Now, some classes did not get a choice, while others did. So here’s what you do, count how many roles your class can have. That is how many options your token should give you for gear. In WoW the maximum number belonged to the ‘hybrids’, which in that game are specifically classes which have three roles they can play. In WAR, there are only two per class maximum. The classes with two roles are: Ironbreaker, Knight of the Blazing Sun, Swordmaster, Archmage, Runepriest, Warrior Priest, Shadow Warrior, Black Orc, Blackguard, Chosen, Shaman, Zealot, Disciple of Khaine and Squig Herder. You may be surprised at two of those listed, but you have to remember that ranged DPS and melee DPS are separate roles. Engineer is left off the list because I believe the fix to Tinkerer is outside the scope of gearing and should be handled within class mechanics.

So what you would get is certain types of tokens which can be redeemed for a piece of a set of gear that will be useful for what you want to do. You can name the tokens whatever you want, but for gold bags I think it should be… gold coins. I’m not very original sometimes, but I can use this to illustrate how this would work. Let’s say you complete a Chaos chapter 12 PQ and win a gold bag. In that bag you will receive a coin which describes what it you can redeem it for as a reward. For now let’s say it’s a chest-piece. You would take it to a rally master who governs chapters where that set drops and turn it in, they would give you an option of which item you want (if more than one) and you’d be on your way, useful item in tow.

In the case of drops that aren’t even rewarded via bag, this serves a second purpose. That is it ensures that you will not be faced with some random reward for a class which isn’t even present. It’s here that I believe Blizzard did make an error. Why use a token system, but still limit those tokens to certain classes? It was an artificial way to make sure people kept farming content. In a word, it sucked. So, live and learn, do not restrict tokens to a class. Make them bind on pickup and that’s that.

Now in regard to renown gear, this is already on a token system. We’ll call it ‘gold’ because it meshes so well with the above ‘gold coin’ idea. The way renown gear works is after gaining a certain level and renown level you redeem this ‘gold’ for your items. It’s a lovely token system that is a great model for further token systems in the game. This ‘gold’ can be redeemed for a lot of this, making it quite universal. It doesn’t even take up bag space! The problem here again is options. I’d like to go right back to what I keep trying to get across and add a ton more renown items. Green items should have three options, blue, purple and set items should have two options based on role. I don’t want boots with 9 initiative, how about a pair with 9 strength? I don’t want a chest-piece with intelligence, can I have one with willpower?

Give us options. I know that what I’ve laid out here involves adding in thousands upon thousands of items. It really does. It’s a lot of work too, particularly for set items. The others I could probably work out. Come up with an algorithm (probably already there) which governs stat worth then assign somewhat random numbers to items based on distinct item styles for classes. Having done a lot of data entry in the past, I know how much work it can get to be. At the same time I also know that the item creation part of that work could be done in under a month by a single person. With four of five people it could easily be done in a week. What I’m asking for is not items that are out of balance, but items that are given stats in a broad and coherent manner. If giving a class the stats that it wants is going to cause balance issues, then correct those issues.

Limiting player options as a tool to balance the game is not an effective strategy. Look at Blizzard’s itemization in WotLK for some great examples of that. They’ve actually stated that they don’t want to give players exactly what they want so that players feel rewarded when they get items that have the same statistical value, but in better proportion to a classes needs. I don’t mind following my carrot on a stick as long as the road has a nice view and the trip is pleasant. What I do mind is being handed carrot after carrot that I don’t even want in hopes that someday I’ll find a tuber worth consuming. Blizzard underestimates their user base when they believe that offering a series of progressively larger carrots is somehow inferior to offering progressively less-rotten carrots to their loyal fan base. Give me a small carrot, give me a large one next week, but don’t offer me rotten apples and expect me to thank you.

That’s all for now, but… I do have some more to say in regards to loot. It may wait a bit, but I’ll be sure to post another long winded speech about how I have a dream that little green boys and little stunties will one day slaughter each other in gear that’s both balanced and efficient on a shared field of gore and torment.


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