I read a game designer's rather interesting rant about how 'Roleplaying = Fighting'. But then I realized how easy it is to fix that. Following is my response to the rant.
Are you familiar with Chris Crawford’s work on Interactive Storytelling Engines? You may or may not find it interesting, I just know it exists.
It really shouldn’t be difficult to make Gambling and Negotiation parts of a computer game. Negotiation particularly. How often do players buy and sell items? All of the time, especially amongst themselves. Well, all you have to do is make any prices displayed for items be subjective to the player who views them. And of course dependent on the difference in their negotiations skills.
So for example, PC1 puts up a Staff of Firebolt for sale valued at 5000 but wants a 50 potions of Healing each valued at 100 in exchange. Then PC2 who has very poor negotiation skill sees the staff going for 75 potions of Healing, whereas PC3 who has excellent negotiation skill sees the staff going for 30 potions of Healing. Voila. And if the price of something is a non-integer number of goods (like 70% of a staff of firebolt) then it’s automatically converted into gold.
Yes some minmaxers could demand to know the price in advance through text (’five thousand gold pieces’) to “make sure they aren’t gyped” but there’s absolutely nothing stopping a prospective buyer from lying about what they see is the price. They are getting taken for suckers after all!
Cooking food is kind of a chore so you might not want to have a cooking skill. Though if you do, it’s very easy to have generic cooking ingredients turning inedible or less nutritious because of poor cooking skill. Lots of eating at taverns and eating lower-grade non-perishable food then! Or inviting a cook along. But the lack of a meaningful negotation skill in CRPGs is totally fucking ridiculous. It’s so fucking easy!
Having thieves and diplomats be able to deal with all monsters (potentially) in non-violent ways is also relatively easy. Especially the part where thieves steal the objects the monsters have so the fighters that kill them don’t gain any loot by it. And really exceptional thieves could steal the monsters’ weapons (gaining a lot of XP) leaving the monsters sitting targets and so not awarding the fighters as much XP.
Oh and the diplomats? Same thing, so long as they have high gambling skill and can dice the treasure from the monsters. And again you leave them alive for the poor fighter to kill them. OR, they regain their weapons / loot after a shift change. And yes I am seriously suggesting that you talk down then gamble with Orcs. Especially if you’ve got shapeshifting! Or glamours!
Hell, a character with exceptional glamour / negotiation (aided by high charisma attribute no doubt) / gambling would probably be able to walk through the entire game without striking ANYONE. See a boss? Put up a glamour to look like a minion! How’s that for role playing? The best part is you can tweak the effect of the negotiation skill on prices up or down to increase or decrease the ratio of fighters to diplomats in the game world.
So you see, dealing intelligently with the Thief and Merchant classes is EASY. It’s not even designers’ lack of imagination that nails it. It’s their total fucking stupidity. I mean, how does one get “thief => disarm traps” instead of “thief => steal from monsters”?! Or how do you get “negotiator => conversations with NPCs” instead of “negotiator => $$$money$$ from everyone”? Again, only stupidity explains it. Because dealing with it intelligently is actually EASIER than dealing with it stupidly. Creating a generic ’steal from monster’ mechanism is easier than putting traps all over the stupid game world. And it’s just as easy to program quest objectives for item acquisition (or touching a shrine or entering a vault) as it is for NPC deaths.
Oh, and you want an Appraisal skill added to the game? Dead fucking easy! Just make sure that low appraisal values means any item you put up for sale has its price shifted by a random value up or down. The lower the appraisal, the higher the random shift. And of course, this shift is invisible to the player character but visible to every OTHER character. Do you have a character with really poor appraisal? Then maybe that Orc Chieftain looks like a Young Orc as he hits you for massive damage. Hmmm, maybe you can’t even tell Orc males from females!
It’s not like thinking up these things is even difficult.
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