Project Eternity Update #29: Fulfillment and the Pros and Cons of Nostalgia and Realism
Design update from Josh Sawyer
Let's talk about armor design. Taken on its own, armor design isn't of eminent importance. It's just one of many subsystems that make up Project Eternity. However, looking at it in detail can expose problems that can be found across our various subsystems: by making something work well in a new system and setting, we can often put it at odds with the nostalgia of the old games (and "realism").
Back in the days of 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, we had all sorts of quasi- or non-historical armor types like banded mail, ring mail, and studded leather. You wore the heaviest armor you could because it typically had the best Armor Class. If plate mail was available, there weren't many reasons to wear splint mail or (horror of horrors) chain.The default rules limited the viability of certain character concepts because most characters of a given class were funneled down a specific equipment path.
3E sort of solved this problem by implementing Maximum Dexterity Bonus, which meant that characters with high Dexterity scores would generally equip whatever armor gave them the maximum bonus to Armor Class without capping the Armor Class bonus they received from Dexterity. There were a few problems with this.
First, while it did help make previously "bad" character concepts (e.g., the lightly armored fighter) more viable, generally there were one or two choices per character build. If you had a high dexterity, you were not going to wear heavy armor. If you had a low Dexterity, you might wear light armor, but only for the higher movement rate it allowed.
Second, there was an equipment dead zone in medium armor -- the Maximum Dexterity Bonus caps and movement penalties of heavy armor without the nice Armor Class bonus. Also, if you were a ranger or barbarian, technically you could wear medium armor, but in practice you would never wear it because it disabled several class abilities.
The third issue is a common one with armor design: the ability to wear heavy armor has value (classes receive it as a benefit and it costs feats to purchase in 3E), but it's presented as something with trade-offs. This in itself is not bad, but as previously mentioned, typically the decision of what type of armor to wear can more-or-less be made at the end of character creation. If your character wears a chain shirt at 1st level, there's a good chance he or she will be wearing a +5 version toward the end of the campaign. This is sort of nice because it means that you can have a consistently viable character concept, but there's not a ton of decision making about armor types after your adventuring career starts.
Finally, there's a way of naming and progressing things in A/D&D. Once you get your "base" armors introduced (for our purposes, we will include plate armor and its 2nd Edition kin, field plate and full plate), upgrades are expressed as +1 versions. It becomes pretty easy to understand once the hierarchical relationship and spread of armor types are established.
What does this mean for Project Eternity? It means designing a new armor system that rectifies deficiencies of older systems while maintaining a familiar feel is tricky. Additionally, the more dissimilar the armor relationships are to those found in A/D&D, the more they will be re-evaluated for verisimilitude (i.e. "realism").
We would like our armor system to accomplish the following goals:
- Make wearing different types of armor a real choice for the player based on both character build and circumstance. E.g. a swashbuckling lightly-armored fighter will tend to wear one of a variety of light armor types (maybe a gambeson or leather cuirass), but in a circumstance where protection is of utmost importance, the player may still choose to wear heavy armor with a loss in build optimization.
- Disassociate armor value from class type in favor of different build types. E.g. a wizard can wear heavy armor and be a different type of wizard instead of just "a wizard who is bad".
- Allow a character to maintain a character concept throughout the game without suffering extreme mechanical penalties. E.g. a character who starts the game in some form of light armor can complete the game in some form of light armor with appropriate gameplay trade-offs compared to wearing heavy armor.
Introduce new or upgraded armor types throughout the game instead of using ++ versions (which in itself would pose problems unless we directly duplicated A/D&D's d20-based attack mechanics).
Even with these three goals, there are a number of problems to solve. One of the biggest questions is how to break up and "advance" armor by type. In AD&D, you had something that looked like this:
Plate (Tier 2)
Field Plate (Tier 3)
Full Plate (Tier 4)
Players typically couldn't afford plate, field plate, or full plate at character creation, but everything else was often within reach. It's not uncommon to see a hierarchy of armor types like this in many fantasy games, despite some of the questionable elements (did studded leather exist? Is raw hide armor actually better than cuirbolli leather?). You can get plate/field plate/full plate later in the game, but otherwise, you're getting +x versions of the base types at higher "tiers" of character advancement.
We could (as an example) structure some of Project Eternity's armor advancement like this.
Gambeson (from Doublet)
Leather Cuirass (from Hide Armor)
Scale Armor (from Scale Vest)
Armored Jack (from Gambeson)
Leather Armor (from Leather Cuirass)
Lamellar Armor (from Scale Armor)
Mail Armor (from Mail Shirt)
This could probably accomplish our stated goals (we can assign them whatever stats we'd like, after all), but it does raise some questions for us:
- Should something like hide armor be supplanted/made obsolete by leather as an "improved version" or does that effectively kill the visual concept of the rough-hewn rawhide-wearing ranger or barbarian?
- If armor types like hide (or scale, or mail) should remain viable on their own, how should that "upgrade" be expressed to the player? Functional descriptors like "fine scale", "superior hide", etc.? Cultural or material descriptors like "Vailian doublet", "iron feather scale"? Olde tyme numerical descriptors like "scale armor +1", "half-plate +2"?
- Is it okay for an upgrade from a visual type of armor to maintain its relative position to other armor types even if "realistically" that upgraded armor is now probably superior in protection to other armor types? E.g. an armored jack or brigandine armor is probably more protective than even nice suit of leather armor... but mechanically, we're presenting it as an upgrade of a padded (doublet) armor type.
These are the sort of things we have been discussing and I have been thinking about. And while it is just one subsystem in Project Eternity, we will likely face many similar considerations as we approach the design of weapons, classes, spells, and other aspects of gameplay. I'm sure a lot of you have opinions on what you'd like to see, so please let us know on our forums!
Our next design update will be in two weeks and will focus on lore and story elements. Thanks for reading!
Fulfillment update from Darren Monahan
We’ve received a number of questions via our Support e-mail address and social networks about fulfillment, and I wanted to talk a little bit about what we’re currently working on!
First off, I wanted to announce that we’re developing a fulfillment site, which we’re hoping to have online in the next month or two (I was hoping to have it up sooner, but my first baby is coming into the world in the next few days, eeep!). Everyone who backed the project on Kickstarter and/or PayPal will be e-mailed details that will give you credit on that site. After logging in, you will be able to:
- Confirm the tier of choice that you wanted. A few of you donated on Kickstarter, and then topped up via PayPal, so you’ll be able to select the exact tier you wanted.
- Confirm any add-ons you wanted that weren’t easy to specify on Kickstarter or via PayPal.
- Upgrade your pledge to another tier, or add on for, ummm, add-ons. :)
- Update your e-mail address at any time.
- Update your shipping address at any time. (Shipping address only needed for physical goods – we don’t need that info for digital orders.)
- Indicate any specific details associated with your tier (T-shirt sizes, name in the credits, etc.)
- If you live outside of the USA, it will also verify that you’ve added enough shipping.
We’ll keep you guys updated in future, ummm, updates, on how progress is coming along!
Here’s an update to our FAQ on some of the questions we’ve been receiving recently:
Q: I donated on PayPal and besides a receipt from PayPal I haven’t gotten confirmation from Obsidian directly.
A: Not a problem. When the fulfillment site goes live, we’ll be merging the Kickstarter and PayPal data together into our own system, and from there we’ll be sending out project updates. For now, as long as you received a PayPal receipt, we’ll have you on file.
Q: I need to change my e-mail address before you send out details on the Fulfillment site. What do I do?
A: Send us an e-mail at email@example.com with your old and new addresses (please e-mail from your old address if you can) and we’ll update our records before the fulfillment site e-mails go out.
Q: How do I add shipping? I missed being able to during the Kickstarter phase!
A: You can handle that in one of several ways:
You can hang tight for now and wait until our fulfillment system is online, or,
If you’d prefer to get it out of the way, you can visit our Shipping page and add it now (Amazon Payments and PayPal supported.)
Q: When will I get my backer badge on the forums?
A: That’ll come online with the fulfillment system.
If you have any other questions, feel free to visit our forums or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!