Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Design & Development: Demon's Souls Pen and Paper Clone - Leveling and Gear P.1

It is going to take a LONG time before you're ready to
take on one of those big fellas- I should know...
 In my continuing quest to build a Demon’s Souls-esq. D&D 4e module (mod) I have been examining more closely the way that Demon’s Souls deals with things like leveling up and equipment. And I think I have come to some interesting conclusions about how I would make it work.

First of all, the leveling system in Demon’s Souls is freeform and is much more like a point-buy system than the traditional D&D style leveling system. There is no level cap in the game (that you are going to reach quickly at least – I spent more than 300 hours playing the game, but I only got to like level 150 or so, the max level cap is around 990). Leveling up consists of spending soul points on a new attribute. The number of times you have done this is called your soul level – so, if I spent 50 points on leveling up my strength, my Soul Level would be 50. There are about 10ish attributes (going off the top of my head right now) which cover things ranging from your ability to dodge, carry more weight, take damage/block, and of course your power in casting spells, using bows, and hitting with big blunt/sharp objects.

In terms of Equipment, Demon’s Souls takes a very, very basic and primordial approach to gear. What you get in your starting package (i.e. the class you pick at character generation which amount merely to your starting stats, spells, and items) is going to be with you for a long, long time. You don’t find magical items of any kind until well into the game. I was often very happy just finding a new piece of better armor in a level. Collecting armor sets becomes one of the main attractions of the playing through various levels, but these armor sets aren’t really magical so much – they are just more efficient types of armor. Finding a set of full plate is a major pain. Finding good sets of leather is also very problematic. Also, finding weapons that have particularly good properties can be very difficult. I remembered that I was super pumped to get a Katana as a rare drop because it’s a fairly fast and high damage sword. The spear, which is one of the better weapons in the game (in my opinion) was also a pain in the butt to get my hands on.

Although you don’t find many magic items in the game, there are some that you get toward the end. You can also pick up a few magical trinkets which add to some of your abilities or do certain special things. The Rings that you pick up possess the most value to your character – they provide a myriad of bonuses to things such as your mana regeneration and your carrying capacity and the like. However, one of the larger elements to the game is in crafting and forging better more powerful versions of the weapons you start with. You can level a weapon up to level 10 (I believe), but that is going to take a LONG time; there are only very limited quantities of every type of material in the game and it takes a lot of skill and timing to get these precious resources. One of the big cruxes of this system though is once your weapon gets a particular type of enhancement, you can’t give it a different one. You are stuck with that one and can only level up the weapon, adding to its damage or efficiency. You could compare this system fairly effectively with 4e D&D’s magic weapon system. You won’t find these weapons anywhere in the world, but you can make them if you put in the time and effort to find what you need to do so.

One of the ways that I want to go about making this module for Demon’s Souls D&D is through experimenting with the Inherent Bonus system that D&D sets up for games in which you have a very low magic level. Instead of letting the players simply gain these bonuses as they level up, I’m going to use a system where they have to buy them individually as they harvest Souls from their fallen demon enemies (think of residuum and its usefulness in crafting magic weapons in 4e). By doing this, you essentially turn the leveling up process into something akin to a point-buy system. Also, by using a method like this, you let your players gain those bonuses through a level, instead of only when they level up. I like that system a whole lot better than simply having to wait until you pick up your next level to get a benefit.

In creating this Demon’s Souls mod, I am also going to be very, very strict with what weapons and gear I allow my characters to either take at character creation or pick up through the game. In all honesty, I very well might do away with all of the Superior weapons all-together in the beginning of the game. When players do actually find a Superior weapon, they won’t need the feat to gain the proficiency bonus with it. They will be able to use it outright, which might give them some incentive to do some hunting.

Also, magic weapons are not going to be something that you can just pick up through adventuring. Players are going to have to explore certain areas and collect the needed resources to put a certain property on a weapon they are carrying. They will be able to do this through either personal crafting or the use of some named, godly forge-master who is their to aid them, given the proper souls and funding.

I’ll have more to talk about again soon in my Design & Development of this Pen and Paper Demon’s Souls clone. Hope you stay tuned to check it out.


  1. I'm quite curious to see where you'll be taking this Demon's Souls module. I've really enjoyed that game immensely and should get back to it. A hardcore experience like I haven't played in a long time.

    I think the biggest thing to tackle with this game will be the grinding aspect of it that is required by a player to suffer; and whether the players will be aware of the hardships and crawl in character advancement they'll be in for. But I suppose most DM's will probably tone down the suffering and kick up the pace, hehe.

  2. I see Demon's Souls as actually having a suprsingly old-school kind of feel. From what I know about Old School Gaming, it was much slower in terms of advancement than games now. There was a lot of slog, lots of random enemies and lots of dungeons. I think Demon's Souls really fits in with that mentality, but takes interesting spins on that equation. The video game is a huge slogfest - I suffered a lot playing it (not as much as a friend who died like 40 times on L.1 when he tried to play a barbarian... no armor = ouch). I think you could get rid of a lot of the grindy aspect of the Demon's Souls video game with an RPG module simply by making the creatures really, really brutal. Every chalenge that the players face should be just that, a challenge.