I have been thinking about RPG stat and leveling systems recently. It seems that most games use a few basic systems: Point Buy, Fixed Stats, and Random Stats. I will focus mostly on computer games, but this should apply to other games as well.
Point Buy is probably what most people are familiar with for computer RPG games. I am generalizing this a bit here though. The standard point buy system from Dungeons and Dragons is explained here.
Many computer games use a modified point buy system. If we generalize, there are two main parts to the point buy system:
- The player has a pool of points to draw from
- The may purchase stat points for his character using points from this pool
A fixed stats system is one that provides predetermined stat scores for characters. Many games start all characters out with 100 hit points, for example, or if the game has multiple classes, each class may start out with predetermined stats.
A random stats system is one in which the stat points are determined by some random factor. Dice may be rolled, or the computer may use a random number generator in some fashion. Often, limits or options are presented, such as being able to choose the higher of multiple numbers.
In The Game
Most computer games use a combination of these systems. A standard mixture is point buy on top of a fixed stat base. These can also be used during the game for character advancement as well. Not only can stats be improved, but skills and abilities can be selected as well. Other stat bonuses from equipment or skills are often included in the system as well.
These examples are just games that I am familiar with at the moment.
- World of Warcraft — Uses a fixed stat system for characters (each class has set starting stats) with an emphasis on increasing stats with equipment and talents. Stats increase by a fixed amount when the character increases in level. Talents are selected using a point buy system. The character receives 1 talent point every level after 9 and talents cost 1 point to improve.
- Diablo 2 — Uses a fixed stat base (each class has set starting stats) with a point buy system on top. Each character receives 5 stat points and 1 skill point per level. Stats and skill cost 1 point each to improve. Some quests may grant stat or skill points as a reward.
- On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness (Penny Arcade Game) — Uses fixed stats throughout the game. Stats increase by a fixed amount when the character increases level. The player has almost no control over character stats. Some quests in the game will increase certain stats, however, but these values are fixed as well.
For me, it is interesting to look at these games and examine how the leveling systems affect my play. I enjoyed playing all of these quite a lot. If I rank these games based on amount of character customization, I find that the games with more customization options are games that I want to replay. I have almost no desire to play the Penny Arcade game again because I have already done almost everything. I do want to play more World of Warcraft, partially because there is a lot that I haven’t done (the game world is very large) but also because there are many ways that I can customize my character. Diablo 2, in contrast to WoW, has a much smaller game world, and I have explored almost all of it, but it also has a very high replay value because of amount of character customization that can be done.