Friday, February 25, 2011

Getting rid of Weapon and Armor Proficiency the Demon's Souls Way

Pretty much as soon as the announcement that Dark Souls was going to be coming out, I got out my copy of Demon's Souls that I had put away since picking it up at Christmas and decided to give it the play through that it deserved.  I'm going for 100% trophy completion.  That is not going to be an easy task, but it should sure be a fun one.  Right now I'm about Soul Level 100 and about to finish my first run through of the game (that is only about 25 Hours of actual play time - I'm a quick one).  The other challenge I set for myself was that I was going to play the entire game offline - nobody will be helping me on this solo path towards greatness.  I will probably end up jumping online to PvP with people, but only because I'm a griefer who enjoys hunting and killing other collectors of souls.  ;P

My current character, Azmodeous (gotta love him) is a bucket of fun for several reasons.  One of those being that I decided I wasn't going to be taking him down a particular special road through the leveling process.  Instead, I decided to keep him pretty well balanced and try to make him have as much options accessible as possible.  He is turning out to be very mage-like, but he can swing one of the above big bad cloud swords like the best of them.

One of the reasons that is actually very easy in Demon's Souls is through the way that they deal with equipment and proficiency.  In order to use a particular weapon, all you need is the requisite minimum statistics.  There aren't any Feats you have to deal with, or any skills you have to train if you want to use something like a wand or a big huge sword.  All you need is a bit of magic power or a bit of strength or faith and you're good to go.  I love that. 

In the course of leveling this character up, I have tried to stay very general in the advancement process, though I have been putting a few more points into some statistics than into other.  I have tried to give him the ability to have as many magic spells as he can, as well as cast as many miracles as allowed (this game's equivalent of divine magic).  Right now, I am almost maxed out in both of these areas.  I can remember 5 of 6 possible magic spells and 3 of 4 miracles.  This gives my character a lot of flexibility as to what spells or miracles he can cast when.  Also, having both spells and miracles means that he has a pretty good balance of defense and offense making him a reasonably good PVE solo character.

But, spells and miracles are only half of it; there are also all the weapons.  There are actually suprisingly more magic weapons in the game than I remembered.  The reason for that is probably due to the fact that my first time playing through the game took me well over 200 hours.  I got beaten down badly all the time.  But, once you figure out the game, and get better at it, you learn to remember where things are difficult and where the bad things are going to come out of the darkness and the game's difficulty level becomes a bit more manageable.  Because the game took me soooooooo long to play, I remember using the same basic gear for a much longer period of time.

But now, that is a very different story.  I am going through weapons pretty quickly - I have gotten a bunch of new magical gear which keeps me entertained.  And, since I'm kind of middle of the road when it comes to stats, I almost never worry about not being able to use something - being a generalist certainly has its perks.

Maybe the simulationist has a perfectly reasonable explanation for why certain weapons may require proficiency to use well, or why some weapons are harder to use than others, or why a certain weapon might require special training to be able to actually hit someone with, but in the end, that all just feels like a lot of dead weight to me.  I don't want to have to tie myself down to using only Fullblades for the rest of my fighters career, when I pick up that Exotic Weapon Prof Feat at level 1.  Retraining aside, I think it is much more fun to simply allow people, within reason of course, to use whatever weapon they want whenever they want to use it.

The way that Demon's Souls does this is pretty clean and simple.  Every weapon has an associated set of abilities; maybe that is strength, or dexterity, or maybe it is faith, magic, or luck.  If you don't have the requisite ability score, you can't use that weapon to its full power.  You suffer some damage when wielding the weapon in question.  Most of the time though, weapons that are in the same category all pretty much use the same ability scores as a baseline.  If you're going to be hitting someone over the head with a big sword, you will likely need a high strength; the same can be said for medium sized swords, and other two handed weapons as well.  By doing this, the game allows you to pick from a lot of different weapons, keeping the game fun, and also keeping you from getting bored.  Variety is the spice of life and this system keeps life very spicy.

You could easily make whatever pen and paper RPG you are playing work the same way.  D&D 4e is particularly easy in this respect.  For example, you could simply rule that anyone with a strength of 18 can use a two-handed weapon and gain the proficiency bonus for it.  You could also say that 16 is required for things like axes; maybe 14 for stuff like one-handed swords, etc.  House ruling like this will let your players experiment with different types of weapons and will allow them the flexibility to pick up something new once in a while and try it out.


  1. I like this approach, too. Spending feats to be proficient with weapons has never quite sat right with me... there are actually two approaches I like. Yours, and the one used by Mutants and Masterminds - where there isn't really a "proficiency bonus/penalty," but you decide when building a character whether you want to be good with a single type of attack (like, say, "Swords" or "Unarmed") or if you want to invest the points to be trained in everything.

    Which I guess is LIKE proficiency, but it makes a little more intuitive sense to me for some reason, and because it's a point buy system it feels a lot less obnoxious than having to spend a feat (something that there are never enough of) to use a new weapon. ;)

    I quite like this houserule for D&D, though.

  2. I think the latest edition of Gamma World handles this pretty well, actually. You don't have different weapons, you simply have types such as one-handed melee, heavy one-handed melee, two-handed melee and so on. Within those guidelines, the weapons can be whatever you want them to be, and pretty much anyone can use any weapon.