Eliminating XP. Character growth by item and equipment ONLY

Wavelength

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@CEO1234 I'm a little late here, but the thread you linked is not similar. That thread was asking how to eliminate levels, EXP, etc. in RPG Maker. This thread is asking about whether removing EXP-based levels from the game's design would make gameplay better, worse, or both. That's why it's here in the Game Mechanics Design section and it's a perfectly valid question to ask.

===

To the topic at hand - while I'm usually a big proponent of getting rid of expected RPG standbys that don't have a good reason to exist in your particular game, and EXP is an RPG standby, it's one of the few times that I say don't remove it without a really compelling reason to do so. EXP is one of those combat rewards that not only always feels useful, but actually contributes to the sense of growth - a sense that is not provided by gold, items, and to some extent even equipment. It provides "compensation" for the resource loss and possibly frustration that combat encounters cause. If you lose that, your game's combat may start to feel hollow and pointless. This shouldn't be the case if you think about it academically, but somehow it is the case and it taps into a part of player psychology that I myself don't understand well.

"I don't want my players to get too strong by grinding" is a reason but it's not a really compelling one. You can compensate for this by simply adding very steep EXP curves into your game - e.g. 100 EXP to Level 2, 300 EXP to Level 3, 900 to Lv4, 2700 to Lv5, 8100 to Lv6, etc. The amount of EXP dropped by enemies would also ramp up in a similar fashion so that if you want players to be Level 3 at the end of the first dungeon and Level 5 at the end of the second dungeon, the enemies in the second dungeon would give 9x as much EXP as the enemies in the first. This way, even players who grind massively (maybe because they got lost in the dungeon; maybe because they just really enjoy your combat system!) will only be one level or so above the "intended" level.

Loot (such as gear) can be tricky as a substitute or alternative for EXP, because it's not always going to be useful, and generally you can only equip one instance of each type of loot at once. Let's say you've found the most out-of-the-way treasure chest and therefore gotten the best sword that's available in the current stage of the game. When you then find another, less great sword in a less out-of-the-way treasure chest, it's going to come as a sore disappointment. It's practically useless to you. "Loot" in the sense of resources (like "crystals", "dust", and similar resources you often find in free-to-play/mobile games) that is used to upgrade stuff perpetually can be somewhat rewarding, but honestly I always find that such games feel twice as good when they directly offer EXP.

So consider keeping a lot of the things you're planning on doing - such as rewarding exploration with loot - but also keeping the basic EXP system intact, and designing around a very steep EXP Curve in order to tightly control the player's level based on how far along he is in your game's narrative.
 

GammaVector

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I'm doing away with XP and Levels in my game. I feel like it has a good purpose most of the time - it gives the player a sense that their character is getting stronger, and keeps battles from feeling pointless.

Those things are really useful in your standard RPG! The standard plot line involves a hero who starts out humble and gradually becomes great. And combat is usually the bulk of a game, by sheer Hours Played. The XP and Level system keeps that combat fresh by allowing new skills and enemies to be rotated in on the regular, while providing a sense of accomplishment as the player is able to defeat stronger and stronger foes.

But my game isn't running with a lot of the standard RPG playbook. So for me, the whole concept of XP actually winds up making less sense than not having it.

Combat in my game is limited, and difficult. I'm taking my cues from horror games here - monsters are big and dangerous and my heros are just squishy humans. Better to avoid a fight than risk injury or death. The only fights that can't be avoided are technically boss fights - and they have important story purposes and can sometimes be worked around by clever puzzle solving.

In addition to that, my characters don't start off as humble farm kids and grow into being adventurers. The main protagonist does develop her skills, but she does so mostly outside of battle. I want the player to feel accomplished because they got better at manipulating the situation to their advantage, better st solving puzzles, and more comfortable in what they can and cannot do. Basically, I'm tired of games where "getting better" means "watching the numbers get bigger." There's no practical difference in a JRPG between a strong enemy against a strong player and a weak enemy against a weak player. The player will still, ideally, be doing the same percentage of damage to the level-appropriate enemy. And while that's not necessarily bad in games that involve a lot of traveling (returning home and finding you can one-shot even the strongest monsters in the area is a good feeling), it doesn't work so well in a game that takes place over a smaller area. (Also, it introduces the fridge logic problem of "Why are the general monsters around Town X so much Stronger than Town A?" Logically, a regular civilian from Town X should be much more capable than one from Town A. But somehow, our hero always manages to come from an area that only has to worry about bats and wolves, instead of from some remote mountain village surrounded by dragons and cockatrices.)

My least favorite thing in most games is how you level up and previous equipment or spells suddenly become obsolete. Some games solve this by upgrading gear and skills instead of replacing them - but that isn't a perfect solution. I'm solving it by introducing NEW gear/tools/spells that don't overlap with anything the player already has, and only very rarely (and for plot purposes) upgrading something they can already do. It's kinda Legend of Zelda-esque in that way - if you get a new tool, you can bet it unlocks a new challenge or area of the map. It lets you do things you couldn't do before and provides alternate solutions to puzzles.

Without levels, there's no reason to worry about "power creep." To me, that's much more immersive. A wolf is still a dangerous animal, no matter how many of them you've killed. By keeping combat sparse and mainly optional, I avoid the need to constantly upgrade my enemies in order to keep the player from getting bored.
 

Tiamat-86

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i feel like when remove exp also good idea to limit gold and have a good crafting system. not entirely remove gold but make it a very slow grind for it so your more likly to get mats to craft 3 pieces of gear by time have enough gold to buy 1. that way player needs to decide if want to spend gold on gear/items or just save it for the next tier to potentially skip the need to grind the next areas and just blast through that section of the game.
 

duty

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You can compensate for this by simply adding very steep EXP curves into your game - e.g. 100 EXP to Level 2, 300 EXP to Level 3, 900 to Lv4, 2700 to Lv5, 8100 to Lv6, etc. The amount of EXP dropped by enemies would also ramp up in a similar fashion so that if you want players to be Level 3 at the end of the first dungeon and Level 5 at the end of the second dungeon, the enemies in the second dungeon would give 9x as much EXP as the enemies in the first.

This is a very valid point. I hadn't given the XP curve much thought, and if balanced properly will discourage grinding.
 

Nohmaan

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@CraneSoft I'm going toward the same direction. Mind to name the game as a reference?
You can play D&D that way, where the DM awards levels on Milestones rather than XP.

OP:
Sounds basically like Item level which MMORPGs basically use now. I tend to associate item level with lack of content personally, where you have to grind the same content over and over for higher level items.

A good middle ground is something like FFIX and the magic system from equip IMO
 

BK-tdm

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First and most important: you either ditch the money or make sure its never the only requisite to get stronger, as players used to grind will find the best route to farm money and zip to the next tier of equipment, then rinse and repeat, keep money for consumables, misc and part of the gear upgrade but not the only thing needed for it.

If you dont use a personal level system but instead let the gear decide your average Level/Damage/Skillset then you need something to incentive the player to battle instead of farming lv 1 annoying bats to get enough money for the next sword and skip other difficult encounters and come back overgeared:kaoswt2:
But how? There's a few ways to do that.

Equipment levels up using "resource":
Games like Onimusha (before nioh, dark souls, bloodborne and every other "git gud at countering" games, there was this gem) God of war(1-3 at least) Devil May Cry, Bayonetta and the like let you infuse weapons with XP from enemies, unlocking new movesets (skills from an rpg perspective) and increasing the damage of the weapon, something you needed for the upcoming areas, combat is needed for progression and you can always choose which weapon (playstyle) you can focus on, this is an action game example and staple most of the time, but can be applied to combat focused RPGs.

Equipment is "made" from enemies:
The "hunting" genre loves this, you can farm 1000s of slimes all day if you want but to make the next shiny shield you need to kill a few golems for the golem ore, not just the slimy acid, and then for the upgrade its 3 more ores, the acid AND this boss part.

This choice of design comes with the dreaded combo: crafting and drop chances :kaoback:
Which needs to be balanced to make the experience enjoyable, you either guarantee drops after X kills, use some kind of "part breaking" system (like attacking with elemental weakness ensures break and ups/gives the item) or some "monster parts trading hub" this one can be dangerous if left unchecked, as some people wont bother a difficult fight with the killer dragon if they can buy its tooth at a market, even at the cost of 10k devil cow steaks if its relatively easier, doubles as rng failsafe if the player is very unlucky :kaoswt2:

Equipment is "set" and you upgrade it by inserting "magical stuff" on it:
Some games only give you one sword, thats it, how much damage the sword does, its element, the atribute bonuses it has, all depend on whats on its "sockets", we again fall into "farming + RNG" territory, as to incentive players maybe every monster can drop a gem, maybe the slime gem is +1 def/water, the wolf gem is +5 crit/earth and the minotaur gem is +10 atk/dark, then you can assign weapon elements depending on the highest number of inserted elements or just 1 gem per equipment, to keep it simple, maybe you can actually buy a new sword and it comes with a different element/state but thats it, gems define everything else.

There's a set number of equipment, and you unlock it by progressing:
Games like Zelda, Resident Evil and Metroid tie their gear to their game progression, you get upgrades and tools as you advance the game to open new paths and defeat enemies you couldnt previously get rid of because all your stuff until now turned out to be inneffective, this design ditches the EXP and equipment systems, you get new powers as the plot demands, not before or after, this needs a linear path progression most of the time as to force the player to "get the flame weapon to pass this forest as they're inmune to all your other stuff" this design mostly applies to Zelda-like ARPG games.

If you are going to define progression by gear, you have to decide what to tie said gear to in terms of upgrading, then incentive players to upgrade their gear in a way it makes it part of the gameplay and not a chore.
 
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duty

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There's a set number of equipment, and you unlock it by progressing:
Games like Zelda, Resident Evil and Metroid tie their gear to their game progression, you get upgrades and tools as you advance the game to open new paths and defeat enemies you couldnt previously get rid of because all your stuff until now turned out to be inneffective, this design ditches the EXP and equipment systems, you get new powers as the plot demands, not before or after, this needs a linear path progression most of the time as to force the player to "get the flame weapon to pass this forest as they're inmune to all your other stuff" this design mostly applies to Zelda-like ARPG games.

Leaning more towards this approach. It encourages exploration and seems like a better fit for a shorter, RPG Maker gaming experience.
 

HumanNinjaToo

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If it helps...

I've made the stat boosts by leveling-up provide very low boosts in my own game. Each level brings a bit more stats, but getting the next tier weapon or next tier weapon attachment is going to provide a much more significant boost to player stats. So leveling for stats alone is worthwhile, but no as much as progressing the game and getting to the next tier of gear.

Additionally, so that levels are not inconsequential, I'm using levels in some damage formulae, so they affect damage modifiers to some extent, but still not as much as the large stat gains granted by equipment and gear.

My end goal is to show the player that levels matter in many different, smaller ways; as opposed to being able to power level and mow down all content. Player level will also help to determine the tiers of gear available in certain loot boxes within the game, crafting to some extent, and the level of enemies that appear on certain maps.

As others have mentioned, it does feel (as the dev) like it's easier to control player progression through availability of gear at certain stages of the game. I used to entertain the idea of limiting enemy encounters, but then I found things to get boring if there were no encounters at all. Plus, if you rely on enemy encounters and loot boxes to provide crafting mats, money, etc. then you can accidentally gimp the player because, while loot boxes are commonly finite, enemy encounters are commonly not. At least to some degree, crafting systems rely on enemy encounters to provide a steady flow of 'crafting currency' for the player who wants to make everything or just try new crafting combinations.
 

RachelTheSeeker

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Funny you'd mentioned this idea, @duty! Watching @Ksi stream a RMN jam game called KO Cupid, I think Craze has done a no-EXP system well. The game's inspiring to my own game endeavors, and I hope the design choices might inspire you too.

The ideas presented in your OP involve cutting XP and levels, finding other means for advancement, right? And a potential issue is finding reasons for players to fight non-boss encounters, right? Well, KO Cupid seems to have handled both issues pretty well. As the game centers around guild-based adventurers, all the advancement mechanics revolve around questing, loot and especially Oren, the game's currency.

During quests and looting defeated enemies, players earn items to sell back for Oren. Some of those loot items can be used as consumable healing items, and getting better equipment often requires buying it. Plenty of treasure chests seemed to contain useful or salable consumables from what I'd seen. To improve stats beyond equipment, Craze took a page out of River City Ransom and allowed permanent stat boosts through restaurant meals.

I totally think people interested in non-EXP advancement ought to check this game out. Craze is an arch-wizard at gam mak, the gameplay mechanics are tight, and the characters are well-written and fun. The game is only a demo thus far, but it's an hours-long one.
 

Dr. Delibird

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Okay so this is just my POV so take it with however many grains of salt you want to.

I think if the goal is to reduce grinding from a game and the solutions is removing levels/exp from the game then all you are doing is moving the goalposts. If you want any kind of player power level increase that isn't all scripted content (ie character only gets stronger when X cutscene happens then Y cutscene then ect ect) then you will always run into the potential for grinding to be an issue. This all depends on the type of game you are making though as there are definitely ways to make a no level/exp game work but it's not necessarily going to be easier to avoid grinding as an issue. If all the good loot is found in dungeons, off the beaten path for example, then the players will get annoyed at battles because they lack any real reward so you need to adequately replace what battles usually give (exp) with something the player can tangibly use instead or you need to completely rethink how battles function in your game and what purpose they serve.
 

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