Environment, the shared dilemma of Pickpocketing and Healing
I've been playing here and there for a little while now, most of my time being spent on a character who is primarily a healer. Let me start off by saying, healing sucks. It's limited in application, it's difficult to train, and the skillset leaves a lot to be desired. As this is my first real attempt at a healer, they aren't problems I ever noticed before. And that got me thinking as to why these problems exist with healing when they aren't apparent at all in skillset like Hunting Lore, or Outdoor Basics, or Herbalism, or Tailoring. After some reflection, I noticed that when it comes to healing, it suffers from the same problems as a very unlikely skillset for healing to find itself grouped with: Pickpocketing.
The problem with healing and pickpocketing, and what makes them distinctly different from the other above mentioned non-com skillsets, is that healing and PP aren't focused on interacting with the coded environment. When it comes to outdoor basics, your skills are all designed to work quite literally in the natural environment absent any player interaction. 95% of the overall gameplay associated with this skillset has nothing to do with players, who typically only come into the equation when there is a desired finished product produced as the result of using said skills. Same thing with hunting lore. It's all about the coded environment, but the amount of interaction with the environment within the bounds of the skillsets shoots up to 98-99%. Herbalism? Same sort of atmosphere, but with more available desired products at the end of production. Tailoring? Same thing. When it comes to PP and Healing, the key difference here is both of these skillsets are designed primarily around interacting with PLAYERS, and interestingly in both cases, a negative interaction with players.
Let me explain that a little bit, because there are small differences between the two. When it comes to healing, it requires that a player be injured in some way for the healer to do their job. Whether a bleeding wound, or a bandage removed, or an arrow pulled, something bad has to happen to a player, something inconvenient, for a healer to actually use their skillset. This same thing is true for pickpocketing, but the difference in this case is that pickpocketing skills themselves inherently produce negative or inconvenient outcomes for the player. You could look at this as one being an action, and the other a reaction to negative events or outcomes.
With those foundations laid, I'd like to focus on Pickpocketing specifically, and with that in mind, I'd like to offer a series of relatively low effort changes that would drastically improve the quality of the skillsets available content, and kick the door wide open for GM's to make easy and enjoyable additions in the future.
As explained above, the number one problem facing PP is the environment it is balanced to be used in: Both PvE and PvP. My first suggestion, get rid of the PvP, focus only on balancing it versus the coded environment. Once you've remove the PvP element, it's no longer about taking on the difficult task of trying to make a player feel that an interaction where something is taken from them is 'fair'. TEC has become a largely a collector game, we acquire shiny things, and skill points, and RP's, and domii, etc. The rarer it is the more we want it, and history has shown us there is almost no way someone is going to feel they lost a one of a kind 300t item fairly. I'm making the assertion this is too difficult a task to take on, and it isn't worth the headache. The staff will almost always come down on the side of the victim, and this in turn creates a feeling of unfairness for the criminal. I have to wonder why we, players and staff alike, want to submit ourselves to any of it, when we don't have to at all if we just remove that second P!
I've been thinking about this for a while, and at one point even took the opportunity to poll a medium sized group of criminal players on whether or not they would be willing to give up the PvP of PP if it meant a richer PvE environment where they could actually use a much wider variety of their skills. To my surprise, I didn't find any objectors. With that tradeoff in mind, I'd wager you would find that to be the opinion shared almost universally among thief players. What is actually being proposed here is that we give up the 1/1,000,000 chance to steal from someone who forgot/didn't know to wear a sagum in exchange for a chance at all the crazy things we dreamed of for the last 20 years and couldn't have because it would have been 'op'. More on that last part later. 😉
Once you've made that step, the second step is to start tweaking the environment. What does that currently look like for thieves? It's shallow and repetitive. There are no stakes, no accomplishments:
Look for trader
slice fur from trader
look for soldier
klift knife from soldier
slift glad from soldier
And that's it. That right there is the highest level of achievement, the most efficient and highest paying avenues of game world interaction thieves can look forward to. There are 50+ skills across PP, setups and SS, and 99% of them will never be useful in 99.999% of situations I will ever find my character in. You might ask, why doesn't it look like this?
look for trader
slice fur from trader
That's a great question! There's nothing stopping you from doing all that. But there's also absolutely nothing incentivizing you to do any of those extra steps, which adds literally magnitudes more time to how long it takes you to accomplish the same task. This is a tragedy! Especially when considered in the context of the recently added mission systems. There is almost no difference between someone with 50 in slice, and someone with 100 in every skill across PP, SS, and setups when it comes to the way they interact with the environment. Now that we've gotten rid of the PvP element, we don't have to worry about limiting what thieves can steal. It's not 'unfair' when a player grabs a ring off a patrician NPC's finger, or a necklace off their collar. We don't even have to make sagums a hard counter anymore, they can be soft and passable by skills, increasing the difficulty, increasing the risk, increasing the reward. We can have NPC's who are guarded by security who are little more than a few echoes and a couple lines of code, and not feel the need to code the same guards for players. I don't want to ramble too much here, but I really want to paint the picture of the sort of variables that open up. Your metric for balance when it comes to PP is no longer how can this be used to upset players. Your metrics are now is this too easy, is this too much reward, is this fun. Simple.
So we've removed PvP, we've started dabbling in environment and trying to find all sorts of ways for the skills to interact with it. What's next? My proposal, adjust fatigue costs on the skills themselves. Not to make them lower, make them steeper. There is almost nothing in TEC more anticlimactic and immersion killing than running a track slicing pouches or stealing swords over and over and over for pennies. There are no stakes, no accomplishments, it's a shallow and boring experience. Lets raise the stakes and the feeling of accomplishment with some simple adjustments that change peoples psychology around the task. By increasing the fatigue cost associated with the skills, you obviously limit the number of times one can steal before their fatigue is gone. Now pair this with a buff in what stolen goods sell for. You have now officially and effectively provided stakes in the form of 'good loot'. Because the fatigue costs are now expensive, you've provided accomplishment in the form of succeeding at a task you have a limited number of times to get right. This may not sound like much, but it improves the state of mind someone needs to put themselves in to actually go through the monotony of stealing dramatically. Much like criminals being willing to give up PvP for a richer PvE environment, I would wager when polled criminal players would overwhelmingly vote for less stealing more loot over more stealing less loot.
Next? NOW we tackle the skills. I think this is probably the least important and most involved of the above suggestions, so I'll refrain from putting too much time into going down a list and suggesting a plethora of adjustments. Let me first say, I would love to see the skills in PP specifically get the herbalism treatment. More ranks, you can do more stuff. Lets take quick grab for example. Quick grab is a skill used to rather visibly and violently grab an unwielded non bladed item out of another characters hands at all ranks. Ok, now at rank 10 you can grab necklaces off peoples collars. Rank 20, you can finesse rings off peoples hands, rank 30 you do it all silently, rank 40, you can reach into peoples bags and silently remove small items. Rank 50 larger items, etc. These are not specific suggestions, just relative examples. Hell, you could even do stuff like roll klift, slift, and grab all into one skill and have the different degrees of theft be milestones of ranking up. I'm just trying to provide food for thought here.
The next big area of focus I would suggest in the skills department, is trying to take that super involved and completely inefficient way of stealing I demonstrated above and making doing that WORTHWHILE. We discussed adding value to loot earlier. Well, more loot should be more difficult to acquire, require more prep, more steps. If I have to ground approach past a guard to get at your goodies, you should have something a little better than the average worker. If I steal something everyone will see knowing I'll get caught and hand it off to someone before the constables show up, the rewards should reflect they were worth the consequences when done right. There are probably hundreds, maybe even thousands of different combinations you could put together to run scams and schemes on NPC marks, and now none of it has to be balanced around players. It's possible I may be overblowing the variability here, but it genuinely seems like sky is the limit here provided loot isn't too valuable/not valuable enough, too easy/difficult to acquire, and is/isn't fun. And the more steps, the more fatigue cost, the higher the difficulty, the higher the reward all lead to higher stakes and sense of accomplishment.
Finally, incorporate this new mindset into the mission system. This seems like such an obvious place to apply usefulness to skills like handoff, or even hide/sneak, or lipreading, or signpost, or any of the dozens of skills that are almost never useful. Give me a mission where I have to go to hide/signpost in a crowded room, read the lips of somebody, and report back to somebody with the message. This is a pleasure that has been previously reserved for anyone willing to hide in a place that gets foot traffic long enough to not only get somebody passing by, but they then stop, and then whisper something that isnt' in brackets, and then that information is actually useful in some way.. It's like winning the lottery. This is a fun interaction we could be having all the time. Give me a mission where someone gives me a package, tells me I'm looking for a tall lengthy fella with one eye over at the Glub Glub around midnight, and that I need to make sure he gets this package without anyone seeing. Give me a mission where I need to city stalk someone across half the city and report back who they met up with and what they did. Again, we no longer have to concern ourselves with city stalk being OP for mugging, because you wouldn't be able to use it against players anymore. You don't have to worry about drunken approach being a fancy emote everyone knows about, to being something that actually fools NPC's when done right.
Appreciate anyone who managed to make it through my late night ramblings, and I hope someone on future staff is willing to attempt to crack this egg, even if the solutions have nothing to do with what I've suggested above. I intend to take a swing at healing at a later date. Until then,
While contemplating healing I was going over my previous post, and I noticed I could have expounded a little better on a specific point that became apparent here. One might ask, why does it matter that healing and PP are balanced around PvP? Well, most obviously, it's because they are not combat skillsets. They cannot be used like combat skillsets or trained like them, they aren't anywhere near as useful or utilitarian, and they do not get rewarded on a scale comparable to combat to compensate for that. As I went into detail on in my last post, balancing for PP has historically been done around PvP. That same principle is true for healing, in that everything healing is designed to treat and be useful for is pulled from the same category as ailments, injuries, and disabilities we are willing to apply to our characters.
So what does that mean? It means that if we are willing to move healings focus from PvP to primarily (Not entirely) PvE, we can amputate limbs, and cauterize wounds, and treat life threatening diseases, etc. For NPC's. We can sew back on fingers and put metal plates in peoples skulls to fix fractures. Much like opening the door with the PP suggestions above, this is a small change that radically expands the ground you are willing to tread with future content production. It simplifies the process by removing the difficult elements of the balancing.
So we've decided that the environment in PvE when it comes to healing is going to get a lot of attention. What does that environment look like? The most obvious, and hopefully not too cumbersome addition I can see taking place here is the radical expansion and addition of 'field hospitals'. Everywhere there's a battlefront or combat going on with humanoids, setup a little spot not unlike a locksmithing shop and have what would commonly be recognized as a job system. Have the clientele for this operation be wounded soldiers from the battlefield. Marcus was standing too close to the wall, got a grappling hook in the leg, there's a chance you can save it if you do it right, otherwise you're going to have to amputate and there's a strong chance he'll die. Timone got shot through the skull with an arrow and bits of wood have broken off inside, can you get the fragments out and save him from infection? Brutus was set ablaze when a flaming ceramic decanter catapulted over the walls leveled him with a direct hit, he's got third degree burns over his entire body and ceramic shards under his skin all over the place, can you save his life? Every 'soldier' saved is a grateful man back on the front lines to fight the barbarian hoardes on the edge of civilization.
Do the skills in healing need work? Absolutely. But like PP, I think that is a very easy problem to solve once improving the skills is no longer an issue of how do we give players negative effects to treat that they don't hate us for. Is it rewarding, is it too easy, is it fun. Simple.
Again, thanks for reading. I'm going to bed. Cheers.