Character Balance Part 2, Non-Combat

in Design

So, in my last article on this subject, I discussed characters having niches that they fit into, and specifically addressed combat niches rather than addressing the whole.

Which I got called out on, and to be honest, rather fairly (though, I already had some thoughts on this before working on the next article), as as I’ve already posted about not too long ago, Combat Isn’t Everything. It was a zoomed in view of a specific part of the design of the entire game.

Sometimes, I really really want to combat the lock. I think I have it this time... nope, there goes another pick.

Sometimes, I really really want to combat the lock. I think I have it this time… nope, there goes another pick.

On the other hand, if you have a game that has more differentiation between character ability outside of combat, you can easily change things up a bit balance wise, as long as the balance works across the entire game. A character that can, for instance, let you gather more money in some way, either through pickpocketing, increasing the drop amount of monsters, etc, can increase your party strength by allowing you to buy better equipment faster than a normal party. So, they can be weaker in direct combat by comparison.

A character who would let you bypass combat in some way, by taking secret passages, or some form of stealth, would also increase your party strength, as less combat means less attrition, and could also be less effective in direct combat to balance these abilities.

One game that did this very well was the Japanese only Dragon Quest Monsters Caravan Heart.

Though I won't tell you how, its totally possible to play this in English, search around.

Though I won’t tell you how, its totally possible to play this in English, search around.

To put some context, I’ll do a rough overview of how the game worked.

In the game, you had between 1 and 3 wagons in your Caravan. Each wagon would have a guard monster. Your guard monsters were entirely only used in combat, so they aren’t the important part of this discussion.

They weren’t the only part of your Caravan though. Each of your wagons could carry up to 4 humans who had various classes. Each turn in combat, starting with the first character, one of the characters in your wagon would do his special combat action after the guard monster for that wagon went. On the second turn, the second character in your wagon would do his special action. etc. etc.

But the character classes also had some neat out of combat effects. The cook for instance, had an ability that let you use less food when adventuring. The game used a meter like fatigue from a Roguelike called “food” and you needed food to keep adventuring. Being able to do this longer was incredibly nice. The cooks actual combat ability wasn’t that strong (though kept you going longer as it healed MP every round), but his ability to preserve food was a necessity in the early game. You could even get updated versions of the Cook, all the way up to Master Chef, that healed even more MP per round, and conserved your food.

Wait, no, not that type of Master Chef.

Wait, no, not that type of Master Chef.

His MP and food conservation abilities didn’t make your party better at combat, it just let you explore much much longer. Its power, but a different KIND of power than just pure combat destruction. The game was filled with neat ideas like this, and is the best JRPG example I can think of when it comes to combat and noncombat balance. And even though originality isn’t good for its own sake, Caravan Hearts unique party building is definitely something I would suggest trying it out for some inspiration for a unique approach to character balance.

Out of combat vs combat balance is definitely something you can play with. The stronger a character is in one arena, the less strong you need to make them in another arena. The one thing I would suggest, and what we will talk about next article, is that no character should ever be BORING in any arena, even if they aren’t as strong.

So what is your opinion on Out of Combat vs Combat balance. What games do you think do it well? Have you implemented Out of Combat strengths in your own game? Join us in the comments below, or on the discussion topic on our forums!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mmo Person

    I was never a fan of balancing things out of combat vs combat, I don’t find that fun or engaging. The primary reason people play most RPGs is for the combat and story combined to bring a good atmosphere, so when you do things like this it feels like it detracts from half of the most important experience. I certainly have the most fun in combat for RPGs, so having to sacrifice that for out of combat benefits feels bad. I’m not saying out of combat abilities and activities are bad, but I think they are if they hinder the in combat side of the game.

    • Nick Palmer

      I think the most important thing is that you HAVE to make playing a character in combat interesting, even if they aren’t that powerful in combat. As long as it remains interesting, a less powerful character can still be fun to use. I’m mostly going to talk about making characters interesting next week, so that you aren’t just hitting fight every round.

      • Mmo Person

        That’s another important topic to talk about, too. Personally, I LIKE games where you spend most of your turns just spamming “Fight” or “Attack,” as long as it’s supplemented with occasional uses of skills in most typical non-boss battles. Like FF6 for example, you could win most battles just by spamming Fight or you could have some fun with Blitzes, Tools, SwrdTech ect. but they typically weren’t REQUIRED outside boss battles. In more difficult fights, of course I want “Attack” to be used less frequently and have more heavy use of spells and skills with some strategy involved. But there seems to be this heavy vibe of “You should never design your RPG to use “Attack” command every often in most battles” at this community and it bugs the heck out of me. I enjoy it. I enjoyed it in Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Golden Sun, Dragon Warrior and all kinds of standard setting RPGs. I tend not to enjoy the games where it’s not as common.

        I guess this is all off topic though and for next week, sorry haha.

        For more on topic, I dunno’. I can’t think of a single game that I enjoyed less powerful characters in combat but utility outside. Maybe those kinds of games just don’t tickle my fancy, considering your example of Dragon Quest Monsters is definitely a game I have no interest in whatsoever.

        • bmwd Gaming

          I know it’s a bit dated for replies, but I’m actuall with you on this. Mindless button smashing for most random encounters is nice. It doesn’t require thought, and allows the player to remember where they roughly left off. Obviously, as you stated; not all battles should be less intuitive. Some – like boss battles – should require thought. Random encounters; especially when grinding levels, should not require multitudes of thought processes to understand how to defeat regular enemies. It simply feels detouring.

    • Ulrike

      I’m almost completely in the opposite here. Maybe it has something to do with some of the very first CRPGs somone plays .. for me that were the old Aventuria Games and when a game offers only fighting skills or skills that benefit fighting directly (healing quicker, encounter rates) I get very quickly bored.