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On Oct 25, 2000 at 12:10 The Growing Pains seminar presented by GM Banthis and myself at SimuCon 2000 focused on potential changes to game mechanics to achieve game integrity across the entire range of player levels.

In addition, changes aimed at improving the gameplay were discussed. The goals of these changes are to 1) reduce the number of instant kills, for both creatures and players, and 2) Ensure that the 'typical' training paths for various professions remain viable. We'd like to move away from the current high level mentality that the player must get the first attack off or the player dies. We also want to ensure that the average player can have fun in the game, while we still present a game that will challenge the hardcore hunter characters.

To meet these goals, we are currently working on (or have planned) multiple short and long term projects. These include (in no particular order):

1. A reduction in creature hit points and crit resistance. The game is currently focused heavily on death by critical hit, especially at high levels, and we'd like to see it shift more to the side of hitpoint attrition (fewer instant kills). Some creatures may experience an uptweak in DS. Many non-AS based spells will see reductions in their critical potential, to compensate for the reduction in creature critical resistance. Some spells will become more damage oriented rather than critical oriented. This project is currently underway.

2. An overhaul of the current stealth mechanics, including hiding, stalking, sneaking, unhiding, and searching, for players and creatures alike. The new system will allow for greater differentiation between various training paths, and will bring consistency to the various related actions. The target is to have single trainers be effective vs approximately 50% of the creature types, double trainers vs another 30-40%, and triplers be effective against the top echelon. Modifiers for race, terrain, climate, armor, and a variety of other factors will be applied. The current rogue professional bonus will be greatly decreased, putting more of an emphasis on training choices.

3. Stance adjustments or negation of parry for ambushers. As a result of the above, many players who are not well trained for hiding may find themselves unable to hide in their current hunting grounds. I expect that such players would instead move to an empty room and hide, laying in wait for a true ambush when an unsuspecting creature ambles in. Because many intelligent creatures walk around parried, ambushers will need some aid to allow them to hit such creatures.

4. Consideration of magic item use requirements for invoking a wider range of magic items. This is not slated to include swinging an enchanted weapon or wearing magical armor, but is primarily looking at the use of imbedded items created by players or sold by merchants.

5. A partial self-cast environment, particularly for powerful spells. This will include restrictions or penalties when charging items outside of the caster's sphere of knowledge (ruby amulets, blue crystals). This change will require a review of the overall offensive and defensive picture for each profession, with modifications or introductions of new abilities/spells where needed, along with creature adjustments. The objective is to allow game designers to better determine the capabilities of characters at various levels, as there will be fewer unknown external modifiers. This is in line with the objective to ensure that a suitable challenge is presented to all characters.

6. The implementation of armor hindrances appropriate for armor benefits. Heavy armor is intended to be the province of the purely physical classes, and mid-range armors are intended to be used by younger physical characters and older semis. However, with uncapped level progression eventually everyone can be fully trained for plate. In order to offset the great benefits afforded by heavier armor, hindrances will be incorporated as appropriate. This project is largely complete, though adjustments may be made as we have more time to observe the current state.

7. Partial DF Redux for bards, rangers, and magical rogues. As high level creature AS increases, semi-physical bladeswingers are unable to take a hit, as any hit is either death in itself, or directly leads to death. The intent is to allow these professions the ability to withstand a hit or two, so they can still effectively hunt with their weapons. The expected level of Redux for these professions will not approach the level achieved by purely physical characters, and when combined with their inherent spells and armor, should still result in them being less hardy than purely physical characters. However, they will not be as delicate as the pure spellcasters.

8. Revise the benefits of overtraining in spells with respect to casting strength. With the current system, a Rift-age tripler can have a CS approximately 100 greater than a like-level doubler. As players get even older, the variance gets even more out of hand. With such huge disparities between like-level casters, it is extremely difficult to design challenges for both. Either the doubler is challenged and the tripler has a cake-walk, or the tripler is challenged and the doubler has an exercise in futility. The intent is to reduce the CS bonus given for overtraining in spells, but still have a bonus. We want tripling to be a viable path, not a supreme path. This will be accompanied by a reduction in older creature TDs, along with the modifications described below.

9. Obtain consistency between warding spell results. The current disparity between the results of various warding failure thresholds between spells within the same circle presents significant problems. We currently have many "all or nothing" spells. These spells have virtually no effect until a specified threshold is achieved (whether it's a 101 warding failure or a 150 warding failure), at which point they have devastating effect. Spells like these drive the spell tanking mentality (or high TD for creatures), which results in a virtual negation of those same-circle spells that are not similarly powered. The objective is to achieve more consistency in what various success levels mean, therefore allowing game designers to better estimate what creature and player targets will face. This will allow us to adjust TDs to give spellcasters the ability to effectively use a wider range of their spells.

10. Assess the rate of increase of wizard bolt AS. Once a wizard has maximized the benefit from 425, his AS will only increase at 2 points per level. Because of this, there is only a small difference between high level casters ten, or even fifteen to twenty, levels apart. The creature hit point, critical resistance, and DS modifications will enable us to better assess what may need modified here. This may include modifications to bolt damage factors, implementing more spells, and/or modifying existing spells.

11. Institute maneuvers for squares. This entails special combat maneuvers that physical characters will be able to use in combat, further defining these professions. Possible maneuvers might include a shield bash, a mighty blow, a quick strike, jabs, etc.

12. Improve brawling, including modifications to Voln Fu to allow it to be a viable and effective combat style at higher levels, and potentially the implementation of other, non-society-related combat styles.

As a caveat, these areas of discussion may not be implemented exactly as discussed here. As we make modifications to the game, we will assess the impact of those modifications and determine if the following modifications are still necessary, and to what degree. In addition, other areas not mentioned here may arise that will have higher priority. This synopsis should give you a good general idea of the overall goals of the development team in the areas of combat, creatures, magic, and professional changes.


Warden says, "I am GM Warden of the Development team, and I'm going to be discussing our Growing Pains project this evening."

Warden says, "I'm sure most of you are at least somewhat familiar with the project, but I will be giving some background for those that haven't attended SimuCon or perhaps do not read the message boards."

Warden says, "Last year at SimuCon 2000, GM Banthis and I presented our plans for major changes to the design of GemStone III. These changes, which we have labeled our Growing Pains project, are aimed at ensuring that game integrity is preserved and/or achieved for our entire range of player levels. This will enable us to give you a fun, exciting, and challenging gaming experience, whether you're fighting goblins near Wehnimer's Landing or n'ecare in the Rift."

Warden says, "In addition to our game integrity goals, the design team is pursuing several changes to improve overall gameplay. It is our goal to change the game to be less dependent upon the instant kill, for both creatures and players, and less dependent upon who gets the first attack. This does not mean that we are removing these factors from the game, rather we are attempting to keep them to some extent while increasing the viability of other forms of attack. As an example, we wish to have one-handed bladeswingers be viable without ambushing from hiding. Ambushing would then be an option that helps define a character, rather than a virtually mandatory training path for the elder one-handed bladeswinger."

Warden says, "To meet the game integrity and improved gameplay goals, we have outlined several focal areas that we will be addressing with short term and long term projects. Some of these were implemented last year, such as the changes to armor to ensure that the training costs and penalties for heavier armors were more inline with their benefits, and the modification to roundtime handling to ensure a minimum limit of 1 second."

Warden says, "Earlier this month, the second phase of Growing Pains was implemented, addressing several more of the areas we have identified as concerns. The changes of this phase were sweeping, affecting virtually every character in the game to some extent."

Warden says, "Perhaps most important among these changes was the standardization of creature health, critical resistance, and defensive strength (DS). Every creature was reviewed and adjusted, as necessary. Most older creatures saw large decreases in hit points and critical resistance, though some saw increases in DS. With this standardization, creatures that are designed to challenge players with high-powered attacks should be reasonably huntable by those players who do not have high-powered attacks."

Warden says, "The reduction in creature hit points and critical resistance necessitated corresponding adjustments to several powerful spells. Those spells that focused on critical strikes for effect were adjusted to be balanced with the revised creatures. In addition, several spells were given increased functionality, such as forcing creatures into roundtime or causing knockdowns."

Warden says, "One of our goals in improving gameplay is to obtain a semblance of consistency between warding spell results. Previously, we had several spells whose effect was based entirely on caster level. Regardless of the warding roll result, any success was devastating at higher levels. I'm sure many of you can attest that being Blinded for five minutes by a Sheruvian harbinger wasn't fun, and it only gets worse as creatures get older. Spells such as this are great incentives to tank on spells, which is the opposite of what we're trying to encourage."

Warden says, "Another problem with the inconsistency between the results of warding spells is that players and creatures alike are going to be concerned about the most devastating spell. If a spell is blasting creatures into goo on a low warding roll, then the creatures will be given improved defenses to try to combat the spell. This is an ultimately self-defeating process, as it makes those spells that aren't deadly with low success margins worthless, and further pushes the focus on the spells that are most devastating. It is our goal to ensure that spells are better balanced across the board, giving players more versatility and allowing you to viably use a wider range of your spells."

Warden says, "Additionally, it was abundantly clear that the previous method of calculating Casting Strength (CS) bonuses for overtraining in a circle was problematic. We generally base character power assumptions on the double-trained spellcaster, yet at higher levels these double-trained spellcasters were finding themselves in quite a pickle, facing creatures that were designed to challenge players that had heavily focused on spell training. In order to resolve this issue in a fair manner, the CS calculation was revised to provide a lesser bonus for overtraining in spells. There is still a sizeable bonus for those casters who focus on spell training, but it is not of such great magnitude that it causes balance concerns."

Warden says, "We have many other changes to work on before our Growing Pains project is complete, and areas of concern will certainly shift as each phase is implemented. Among our currently expected changes are the following (in no particular order):"

Warden says, "1) An overhaul of the stealth mechanics, improving several facets of stalking, hiding, and general sneakiness, and better differentiating between player skill levels and creature perception levels."

Warden says, "2) The ability to partially/fully negate a target's parry bonus when ambushing from hiding."

Warden says, "3) Modifying DF Redux to give partial benefits to bards, rangers, and magical rogues."

Warden says, "4) Instituting special combat maneuvers for the physical professions."

Warden says, "5) Revising bolt spell damage and either modifying existing spells or adding new spells to add to bolt attack strength (AS)."

Warden says, "6) Overhauling our current brawling mechanics to make Voln brawling a viable combat option at higher levels, and to add more flavor to brawling in general."

Warden says, "7) Reviewing Ranged Weapon attacks to ensure that they can be viable long-term combat options."

Warden says, "8) Conversion of several spells to self-cast, and modifications to charging magical items outside of the caster's sphere of knowledge. This will require a review of each professions offensive and defensive capabilities and will be accompanied by necessary spell/skill adjustments to ensure that each profession can be viable."

Warden says, "9) Revising the use of magical items to require skill checks for a wider range of items."

Warden says, "10) Adding new spells, new abilities, or modifications to existing mana costs to help spellcasters with mana deficiencies."

Warden says, "As we implement each phase, our priorities may change."

Warden says, "For example, if we determine after modifying the bolt spells that wizard mana costs are not a problem, then we won't be pursuing mana improvements for wizards."

Warden says, "That is just an example, so please no heart attacks yet."

Warden says, "At this time I will be opening the question box for your questions. You will need to ASK your questions in order to submit them."

Gahiji says, 'Making spells self cast only is a good idea but how do you plan to balance TDs across professions? Currently a warrior or rogue in the rift has an effective TD greater lower only than sorcerors and clerics. But removing access to all those spells they get cast on them would be too harsh - what do you plan to do to generate magical defense for squares without giving them more than even wizards have as they do now."

Warden says, "I haven't fully decided what to do with TD as of yet. I suspect that we will be making changes to the TD bonuses given by the various spells available to reduce the vast gap between a spelled caster and an unspelled warrior. This would be coupled with drops in creature casting strengths. Ultimately I'd like to see physical characters have a chance of warding a spell, even if it isn't a great chance, while pure spellcasters have a chance to fail that same warding."

Warden says, "Triple training is not being phased out as a viable training path. There are more changes in store for sorcerers, including resolving low-level mana issues and implementing more spells. The Guild is not a part of my team's work, so I can't answer any questions regarding that."

Jauckha says, 'when, approximately, are these changes to be done?'

Warden says, "It will depend on the other tasks assigned to my team, but I would expect that this will take over a year to implement all of these changes."

Mongouse says, 'how do you plan on making redux such that rogues and warriors don't get to much, bards and rangers get just enough to get by, and all other proffesions get none...ALso, will bards and Rangers get any of these specail CM attacks?"

Warden says, "I am not prepared to detail that information at this time. I have a proposal made, but it is not yet the certain path that we are going down. At this time I do not expect bards and rangers to be gaining any of the special combat maneuvers. This does not mean that we will not see maneuvers they can use, such as MSTRIKE and TRIP."

Warden says, "My personal opinion on DF Redux is that it does not sufficiently penalize low spell training, but is too great of a penalty on high spell training for semis and rogues. What I have proposed will resolve those issues."

Carlstrom says, 'any changes to the warrior profession to make it less dependable on spells for viability?'

Warden says, "There are changes planned for the game as a whole that will affect warriors' and rogues' ability to avoid spells. I do not expect them to become resistant to spells.

Warden says, "As I mentioned, as we go to a partial self-cast system, we will be reviewing all professions to evaluate their viability with the reduced availability of spells."

Alyai says, 'when will the mana improvements happen for sorcerers?

Warden says, "I'd estimate within three months."

Calypsa says, "Which of the new improvements will be helpful to wizards?"

Warden says, "I expect that the changes to partial self-cast will be beneficial to wizards, and while I don't expect bolts themselves to become more powerful, there will be spells to augment casting strength."

Jojen says, "Are most of the changes you listed already in progress, or still ideas?"

Warden says, "About half of these are in various stages of progress. The remainder are not as yet started on coding."

Mollan says, "Can you compound on 10) Adding new spells, new abilities, or modifications to existing mana costs to help spellcasters with mana deficiencies."? As a 52 Sorceress mana is a big problem."

Warden says, "I will not detail what I have planned for sorcerers and mana at this time. I do understand that with lessened lethality your hunts are more mana intensive. This is partially by design, but there will be some changes made to mitigate the increased mana drain."

Kasash says, 'Do you have any examples of specific things that you are considering implementing?

Warden says, "An example of what is planned... for stealth, I am expecting it to become much more detailed, with a great many more factors involved, including race, climate, and terrain. Creatures will have varied methods of searching out players, as most will use visual methods, but some will be heat seekers, or use audial methods. The different methods will consider player defenses (spells, etc.) differently."

Marikaytte says, "will walls be a self cast spell?"

Warden says, "Almost certainly."

Jarusha says, "why did you limit what spells could now be imbedded?"

Warden says, "I am not aware of any changes to IMBED other than limiting Call Familiar. That was not related to the Growing Pains project, but was requested by wizards as a spell that defines their profession."

Gowain says, "First off I am concerned that while many spell casters felt a serious reduction in their casting strength, none of the casting creatures I fight regularly saw the same reduction, across the board on like age adventureres and like aged beasts, if a creature is genned trained fully for its position, cleric, sorceror , et al, why were they not adjusted as well?"

Warden says, "I do not plan to make major changes to creature offensive capabilities until we address self-cast spells and any associated player skill/spell modifications."

Geoff says, "Is breakage and repair still on schedule and are they part of growing pains?"

Warden says, "Breakage and repair are still on schedule."


Warden says, "They are not specifically a part of the Growing Pains project."

Wizardo says, "How has MD(702) been changed and how could a lvl 30 sorcerer use it?"

Warden says, "Mana Disrupt has been reduced in critical power, but still does a significant amount of straight damage. You would do better to ask on the sorcery message boards for tactics."

Warden says, "One of the changes to Stalking will be to allow a stalker to remain in the group when hiding/stalking."

Walach says, "do you have any kinds of combat manuevers in mind yet? and if you do what are they?"

Warden says, "For the most part, the maneuver list is being handled by GM Ophion. I don't know what specific maneuvers he has planned. Some that I would like to see include a Mighty Blow type of attack, which would increase damage for a swing but leave a player out of position, and a Shield Bash."

***Ophion?! Noooooo!***

Sylverfyre says, "Will the changes in mana costs affect only Wizards and Sorcerors?"

Warden says, "These will not necessarily be changes in mana costs, as they may be skills/spells that improve mana recovery. No, it will not be limited to just wizards and sorcerers. Bards are definitely in need of help with mana. We'll be looking at the other spellcasting professions as well."

Aurach says, "Can you give a small summary on how you see Semis spells affecting thier semidux?"

Warden says, "No more than I already gave: I think the current spell penalty is too light on the low end, but too harsh on the high end for semi's and magical rogues. If I was to make a rough guess, I'd estimate an 80th level ranger would be getting approximately what a 30-35th level warrior receives. It will certainly never reach a level on par with a 50th level warrior."

Akashe says, "Will the changes make empaths more viable hunters. The older I get the harder it is to hunt."

Warden says, "There are plans to improve Empath hunting spells. I have discussed improvements to Empathy (1108) with GM Iflaer, and an improvement to Bind (214) was implemented last evening."

Warden says, "Empaths also have two more spells that should be released this year."

Athais asks, "Are you maintaining the integrity of adventuring parties while making alterations to the classes?"

Warden says, "Yes, we are working to ensure that group hunting is desirable."

Ylese asks, "so with some of the questions already asked, your "improvments" will make everyone a viable candidate to a lone hunter, and only need him/herself..thus removing the group situation also, with the self cast issue, will there be more implementations for wizards to gain more TD enhancing spells?. Will the new ways of enchanting be forthcoming during the fase2 or will it again be set on the backburner like so many other promises made? And is there anything to be done, to stoke the fires of the clergy running along the lines of meditation, and the speedy way they waste 1 mana to kill creatures?"

Warden says, "It is not our goal to make solo hunting inviable. However, it is also not our goal to make solo hunting easy. While we are looking to address mana issues and to reduce the importance of critical kills, I do not expect them to be modified to such a great extent that solo hunting is preferable."

Warden says, "I am not discussing Enchant tonight."

Warden says, "Wizard TD concerns will be evaluated as we modify some spells to self-cast."

Warden says, "And GM Ophion has plans to modify Repel."

Drizgar asked, "So is there going to be any big changes to ambush other then the one stated?"

Warden says, "There are plans to assess the differences between a single-trained ambusher's effectiveness vs the double-trained ambusher's effectiveness, but I currently expect any changes in that area to be after the modifications to stealth. Ambushing skill will almost certainly have an effect on how much a target's parry can be reduced, so there will be some difference between skill levels there as well."

Gowain asks, "my question is what is your definition of a self cast, or partial self casting environment?"

Warden says, "Partial self-cast means that more spells will become self-cast only, but there will still be spells that are either group-effective or shareable on other individuals."

Trayion asks, "How are you going to make bows more useful without a differant combat system? What by giving them big advantages in DS and or hiding skills. And to the Selfcast world is the warrior spell cost going to be dropped to compansate? And TD I am a 20th warrior and I have a 63 TD without spells. And if a vereri casts at me with a 88 CS I will die. And I have a good Wisdom bonus. Are the CS of critters going to be dropped?"

Warden says, "I have not yet evaluated bows. I am concerned with both their lack of defenses and their ROI as their level increases. We will be looking at solutions for both of those concerns."

Warden says, "I do not expect to see any changes in Character Manager skill costs."

Warden says, "Creature casting strengths will be evaluated when we move to more spells being self-cast."

Haven asks, "Any news for us about thrown weapons..and if so what type of things will be factored in, said such skill?"

Warden says, "Yes, Thrown Weapons are being worked on."

Warden says, "I will let GM Ophion make any announcements regarding that skill, as I don't want to steal his thunder."

Warden says, "Okay, folks, I know that a lot of you still have questions, but unfortunately I'm going to need to call this a night. I'm sure that this will not be the last forum on the Growing Pains topic. I will also be discussing this at SimuCon this year, if you are attending."