Level-less Gameplay and Player Stats
In thinking about translating the creatures and heroes of the Legend of Drizzt series into a roguelike, the thought comes to mind that it won’t easily translate into a typical level based system of character progression. Characters’ physical abilities are primarily determined by their race and age, while various skills may be honed to give the different characters and creatures an edge over others. While there is variation among the races (Belwar seems to be a particularly sturdy svirfneblin, and Drizzt is more agile and aware than his fellow drow), you don’t see any particular creature or character standing out in strength too much above his or her peers.
Thus if I were to make a game based on this underworld, I think I would pursue a system of relative stats instead of absolute stats. A player would have stats relative to members of their own race, and each race would have stats relative to other races. When you’re a drow facing a hook horror, it’s really academic to wonder how many points of strength greater the creature is than the player… any single blow could crush your bone and send body parts flying. You just need to be faster and have knowledge of the creature’s weaknesses. When facing an illithid, one of the dreaded mind flayers at the top of the Underdark food chain, strength will avail you little while an element of surprise and a strong will are really what you need to survive a mental attack.
I think that players should still be able to boost their stats through use and perhaps lose others through disuse, but I don’t really see many players transcending their racial norms to be able to trade blow for blow with a basilisk, for example. Statistics that seem to matter in the books are strength (how hard you can hit), agility (how fast you can move), constitution (how long you can run / fight), spirit (your devotion to principles and endurance in spite of opposition), intelligence (your aptitude to learn and grow in your skills), and charisma (your ability to lead others). I’m sure I’m missing some that are present in the stories…
What really differentiates characters are their specialties, not necessarily their stats. Drizzt was by all means a very intelligent drow and was destined to become a wizard of the Academy before Zaknafein intervened to make him a weapon master. His intelligence honed his combat ability, putting his agility to better use and allowing him to gauge his constitution in the midst of a battle. I’d like to see a game where you don’t necessarily reroll statistics to suit a particular character but where every statistic is meaningful in some way to every type of character. As I mentioned in the previous post, I still would like players to specialize in a class, but I think your statistics should affect how well you play that class not which class you choose to play.
I think, too, that there should be a set of character traits that transcend specialties, statistics, and skills. These are things that give different types of characters and creatures an edge in different situations. The illithid are very communal and thus have an edge in open warfare (aside from the fact that they can incapacitate almost anyone from long range and then suck out their brains). Drizzt has this hunter aspect that pops up to heighten his awareness and increase his ferocity and agility in combat. Belwar is incredibly tough and can enchant his weapon-hands in combat. Clacker’s rage makes him impervious to almost any pain. Matron Malice is obviously guided by her ambition, allowing her to make great (if not foolhardy) sacrifices in pursuit of her goals. Perhaps characters have to choose some particular trait that shapes their growth and goals.
I’ll have to think about this more… It’s all about providing a different game experience that remains true to the spirit of the books and doesn’t require mere leveling to be powerful. To that end, I’d also like to see characters being blessed with some item, artifact, or piece of knowledge at the start of a game – Drizzt has his scimitars, Belwar his weapon-hands, Masoj his astral figurine, Matrons their deadly whips, and so on.