How many skills is too many skills?

What is a good number of skills for a character to possess?

  • 0. Who needs skills when you have auto-attack?

    Votes: 1 9.1%
  • 1-4. Minimalist set-up. Make every skill count.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 4-8. A decent selection. Just enough for some variety.

    Votes: 3 27.3%
  • 8-12 Large kit of skills. Like to be prepared for anything.

    Votes: 5 45.5%
  • 12+ There is no such thing as too many options.

    Votes: 2 18.2%

  • Total voters
    11

Wavelength

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I think it could also depend on how the skills scale with the character(s)? Because if, at endgame, my mage has 26 skills but only 10 of them are actually useful, it's kinda annoying and makes the skill choice interface a nightmare. On the other hand, if there's only 5 skills, and they're the exact same skills as at the beginning and the only way they've changed is because the character's stats have improved, then it's also annoying because you lose a sense of progression. So, personally, I like having a mix of simple skills that are useful near the beginning but scale as you go alongside more complex skills you get later. It can also help a lot with the problem of "okay, so these 10 MP skills don't do anything to the Big Boss at the end, so I need to give the player enough MP to constantly spam their high-power moves."



I'm really fond of this argument.  There are at least two different, very good takeaways here:

  • The obvious one: If some of your skills have become useless or some of your skills are "crowding out" other skills, you have too many skills (or a poor skill system in general).
  • The profound one: If your skill progression has forced you (as the designer) to make the MP pool for mages so big that they can constantly spam their biggest, most powerful moves, then you need to intelligently streamline your skill progression and your mana costs.


This. Beyond this, it's a fairly complicated answer. You'll have to ask yourself how many characters there are and how to differentiate them, and if you have a lot of skills you have to ask yourself how often you're going to use skills. For example, Insta-Kill spells are almost useless because enemy mobs are generally too easy to bother wasting MP on, and bosses are almost invariably immune to them for obvious reasons. Thus, you're going to be using actual offensive abilities much more often.



It's certainly good advice to avoid giving characters skills that are nearly useless or skills that they will only use very rarely.  With that being said (and with apologies for talking skill design in a conversation about skill quantity), I think that anyone who can't find a good way to incorporate useful utility/status skills into their battle system needs to immediately stop doing design and find someone who can incorporate useful utility skills, because otherwise their battle system is invariably going to suck.


Using your example of Insta-Kill (OHKO) spells being useless because normal enemies don't require skill use and bosses are immune to them:

  • Most or all enemies should be strong enough to at least warrant the use of MP.  Otherwise, why do you have MP users in your game (and why are you forcing your player to grind through these mindless enemies)?  Stronger enemies would warrant the use of possibly expensive or unreliable OHKOs.
  • Any effect that is powerful enough that you need to make most bosses completely immune to it is inherently bad design.  A much smarter way to design around a powerful effect such as a OHKO would be to limit its power - for example, if the OHKO skill works, but the target still has more than (10x the user's MAT) HP remaining, then it does damage equal to 10x the user's MAT instead of instantly killing the target.  This allows players to use the OHKO skills in general without breaking the game, allows them to "instantly kill" a heavily weakened boss monster (which feels great), and also makes it so that weakling monsters can't OHKO really strong party members - three great features from a really simple change to the skill.
  • OHKO skills are often entirely RNG-based with low chances of working.  A better-designed OHKO skill would add the chance of a OHKO onto a standard damage skill (so it doesn't feel horrible when it doesn't land its effect), and/or would boost its reliability to 100% but require certain conditions to be met (the user is in a Limit Break state, the user has already attacked the target X times, the target has certain states applied to them already, etc.).

In a way, this is connected to the reason I voted 12+ in the poll.  I believe that when a designer practices smart skill design, that there really is room for that many skills on each character (assuming the game length and number of battles in your game justifies it) without any skills crowding each other out or feeling useless.  There will be some situations where OHKO Skill #1 works well, some situations where OHKO Skill #2 works well, and other conditions where neither works well and it's better to opt for straight damage or defensive utility.
 

Oddball

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i think a better question to ask is what role does this charecter play? 


personally, i stop making skills after a charecter has its niche and has a few "useful in any situation" skills. actually, its good to make some of those skills good most of the time and amazing in certain situations. but i digress
 

Wavelength

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i think a better question to ask is what role does this charecter play? 


personally, i stop making skills after a charecter has its niche and has a few "useful in any situation" skills. actually, its good to make some of those skills good most of the time and amazing in certain situations. but i digress



A great point - once you're giving a character spells that fall outside their role, or multiple characters start to have overlapping roles, it's time to prune their skill list so they can feel unique once again.


Of course, there is still a ton of room to add skills within a narrowly-focused role.  Guild Wars 1's Skill List for Monks is a superb example of a wide variety of unique, situational skills that are all centered around healing or protection (ignore the 'Smiting Prayers' skills which fill a completely different niche).  I still think of GW1 as the gold standard for general skill design.
 

Ejronin

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I'll start by saying I did not vote, but I didn't vote because it's a contextual question. 


If you've set up your mechanic with a need for X and you have X, then it's not too many. Anything you do in excess of X becomes too many. 


For example, the current project I'm working on has 6 main classes with two specialized classes per main (as subclass or dual class). The player chooses which path they want to develop the character and can switch between either path, but 'juggling' suboptimal as one subclass can't use what the subclass of another. Additionally, the core classes have 8 skills they can learn with sub-classes have 5 specialty skills in addition. 


For example, my cleric class:


Cleric will split into Paladin or Conduit, but Paladins and Conduits will retain the Cleric Core. 


Clerics


up to light armor, staffs, no shield, no helmet, light boots, any accessory,


can cast

  1. Heal + (two potions, equivalent)
  2. Saving Grace (resurrect, 25% HP and MP)
  3. Purify (remove all status ailments except 'condemned' and 'catatonic')
  4. Higher Calling (remove debuffs on party)
  5. Missionary Mantle (reflect debuff on 1 ally)
  6. A moment of your time (charm, 2 turns)
  7. Holy Armor (DEF+++ for three turns to one ally)
  8. Metradon (high level 'escape' but for the enemy not the player)



Paladins


heavy armor only, no helmet, one handed weapons only, no shield, heavy boots, any accessory


can cast

  1. Heal ++ (50% HP, bu 10% MP cost via formula making it best as a desperation use)
  2. 1000yd Stare (cast fear)
  3. Common Good (party heal, 30% HP 0%MP)
  4. Divine Intervention (100% HP, 100%MP, total clearing of debuff and ailment, revive from KO)
  5. The Vine (deal damage equal to total HP*KO'd allies / number of enemies, two attacks)





Conduits wear what a cleric wears except they can only wield "conduits" as weapon (which is an item like a rosary, or book, or stick...)


Conduits can cast all cleric spells but their real power comes from their weapons - which each have two skills imbued within and aren't guaranteed to hit 100% of the time. 

  1. Fjorgyn Conduit (Earth):  ATK --, DEF ++, MATK --, MDEF ++, AGL ---, LUK -, MAX HP +++, MAX MP --
  2. Stribog Conduit (Wind): ATK +, DEF -, MATK ++, MDEF -, AGL +++, MAX HP X, MAXMP X
  3. Prometheus Conduit (Fire): ATK ++, DEF +, MATK ++, MDEF ++, AGL X, LUK X, MAXHP -, MAXMP --
  4. Mizuchi Conduit (Water): ATK +, DEF ---, MATK +++, MDEF +++, AGL, +, LUK +, MAX HP +, MAXMP +
  5. Arch Angel Conduit (Light / Healing) ATK ---, DEF X, MATK ---, MDEF X, AGL +++, LUK +++, MAX HP ++, MAX MP +++



so here there's.... in one character path a total 25 skills. I have 6 core and 12 sub-classes....so 150 is where I'm headed. Too much? not for my scope but some people may look at that and have a stroke. If it wasn't me, I would. 
 

Clangeddin

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It's too many when you start seeing redundancy.


When a skill stops being used at a certain point of a game because a new one makes the former completely obsolete then something was done wrong.


This is a heritage of the typical Fire1, Fire2, Fire3 approach. While it has a nice retro feeling and all, it's not really a good design, all you need is a single Fire spell that scales properly with levels and stats, you don't need to have 3 fire spells.


Still, I voted for the 12+ skills option as I think it's a number easily achievable without incurring in any redundancy.
 
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Ryzler

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Depends on the game.


Some games work by having a few skills, each skill varying greatly and offering a different strategical way to fight.


Other games benefit more from having hundreds. Such as Pokémon.


A few games even gain a little from having upgraded versions (fire 1 becoming fire 2). In Final Fantasy 3, unlocking Fira did not mean to replace Fire, because you had limited mana of each level. You had less higher level mana so burned (a slight pun) through it quicker when casting Fira. As opposed to Fire, which uses lower level mana from a largerpool.


At the end of the day; you have to work out what would be best in your game. I have upgraded versions of spells and skills in my game. And some are simply damage increases. But others are varients of the same skills: Power Shot which deals extra damage, Piercing Shot which ignores the target's defense by 50% (weaker than Power Arrow against less armored enemies but stronger than Power Arrow against more heavily armored enemies), Long Shot which deals bonus damage if you're in the back row (a little than Power Shot) and less damage if you're in the front row, Fire Arrow which deals fire damage (preying on elemental weaknesses is pivotal to most combat encounters and almost all bosses), Ice Arrow which deals ice damage, Thunder Arrow which deals thunder etc... They have different stamina costs that are equal (I hope) to their output. All are essentially the same skill but vary just a bit, coming under the same category. How is Power Shot really different to Long Shot? It's not. But Long Shot deals slightly more damage and costs slightly more Stamina (Mana and Stamina are valuable and scarce resources in my game), with an additional requirement.


Fire and Blizzard spells are not different in the Final Fantasy series, they are variations that have a different animation and work better/worse against specific enemies. Elemental spells in my game have different attacks speeds and the slower spells (Water, Ice, and Earth) gain a bonus to damage, whereas my faster spells (Fire, Wind, and Thunder) do slightly less damage, with Light and Darkness not gaining either speed or attack but the only elements that can hurt angels (Light) and spirits (Darkness). Then each element has a status effect associated with that element as well. Making them more varied.


Remember that variations are not different skills/spells. Overall, you should have a few spells with a lot more variations.
 

LightningLord2

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The thing I see is that you cannot actually have too many skills, the problem is if you frontload the player by introducing them too fast. Maybe you go through a slightly longer dungeon now and get Heal to make it through. Maybe there's an armored enemy that you need Fire to deal with. And later on, a firey opponent that takes nothing from it but is weak to Ice. Later there could be a high-attack monster that is easier to deal with by using Weaken. Eventually, you could end up with a huge laundry list of skills that the player understands perfectly.


But yeah, you should avoid having skills that have no reason to be used over another skill.
 

Fernyfer775

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In a nutshell, quality over quantity is always the best route to go. I hate when there are tons of abilities, but I end up only using like 1/4 of them, with X skill being useful on 1 or 2 fights or whatever.  
 

Vito The Boss

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Well 30-50 for character. Much of 50 are too much. If I want to use a specific skill, it will be too much waste of time!
 

sleepingforestj

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Just to add my 2 cents, I would just take into consideration what kind of characters and roles your want your game to express.
 


-With fewer skills per character, it allows each individual to fill more of a niche role and everything feels a lot more cohesive. Each character is unique in their own way and each skill feels important when planning combat strategy. The downside to this is that it offers less in the customization department and can make players feel a bit more constrained to certain characters. It might also contribute to monotony in combat because of the limited options that would have to be made up for in unique enemy encounters. It can also hurt replay-ability.

-With a more expansive skill choice, it helps add to character customization and replay-ability and can make enemy encounters a bit more unpredictable. It can certainly attract players that like a more diverse, tactical approach. With more skills though, you have to be careful not to make certain abilities significantly more useless than others. You still want each character to feel synergistic and cohesive with their play-style to the party.
 

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