Power Scaling in RPGs

I would hope most people are familiar with exponentials, especially in this current environment. The act of doubling (for example) something may seem small at first but can take off to crazy degrees very quickly. Doubling 2, 5 times gives you 32. Doing it another 5 times gives 1024. Doing it 64 times (like a chess board) is, well, too big to write down (1.8e19).

With nearly every game having RPG mechanics today, it’s a natural occurrence that scaling becomes a challenge. Now, in this regard, scaling only matters in terms of what you’re doing. God tier power on ants is meaningless. Devs go through large pains to find a balance between player power and enemy power. Normally this is done with linear increases – meaning the difference between levels 1 and 5 is the same between 5 and 10. It means the damage going in/out is relatively stable – you deal 1dmg on 5hp or 10dmg on 50hp, it works out to the same.

Where traditional RPGs struggle is in the mage problem. That of quadratic growth. In older RPGs, mages had relatively simple spells – deal some damage to a single target. Very similar to swinging a sword. They were limited in the number of times they could use the spell TOTAL in a battle (needing to rest/recharge). As they leveled up, they gained more spell slots and more powerful spells. A max-level mage had access to multiple god-tier spells and no other class could compete as they often needed to move to attack.

If you played BG2, you will see this problem exemplified. DnD 3.5 was really quite bad a this, though it took a very long time to get a mage there in the first place. DnD 4 decided to take action points into consideration, so the super amazing spells were limited in use, and even the melee folks had access to some crazy stuff. I won’t go into why Pathfinder took off because of this change (and others in 4e) but hey, it did.

Looking at modern RPGs, you see this is still the case. AC: Odyssey had no challenge at max level, primarily due to the abilities and less so the actual stats. Ghost of Tsushima by end game I couldn’t be killed and would take on 20+ enemies in a go. Abilities drove nearly all of it, as it was an action game.

Tactical RPGs are different. You don’t have defensive options, you have stat walls. You either react to damage (Cure poison), or prevent it through resistances/armor/HP. You can’t outright avoid it, at least not normally. To create that wall, you need stats, and in a linear stat game, that’s less pressing. Level 10 gear is worse that level 15 gear, but not so much to be a deal breaker.

In non-linear games, this is a problem. All of a sudden enemies 1 level higher are 1 shooting you, and you’re hitting them with a feather. DOS:2 has a scaling problem in this regard, but I’d expect most wouldn’t see it as it’s only at the tail end. See, it looks linear because to start the numbers are so small, but it’s actually a % base. Each level is about 30% better than the previous (armor/damage), which is peanuts for the for first 3/4 of the game. Most battles take 3-4 rounds to complete at that point and are a real challenge. The last quarter though, battles are over in a round, maybe 2. This makes for a larger focus on the split between a tank (lots of armor and poor attack) vs a mage (little armor and lots of damage). If my mage isn’t able to keep distance, they will be dead in a round. If my rogue isn’t backstabbing, there’s little chance I can take down the target.

I mentioned stats earlier right? DOS:2 follows the RPG model for stats, where melee care about their baseline (say, STR) and their weapon damage. Mages only care about their baseline. A level 5 wand with 2 INT/5% crit is better than 95% of any other mage weapon in the game. An ultimate sword at level 5 is beaten out by a garbage sword at level 10, simply because the damage on the weapon is more important.

What does this mean in a practical sense? Honestly, it means that my air mage can cast Thunderstorm at the start of every fight (Source Vamp to fill up after the fight), which hits an INSANE area, only targets bad guys, lasts 2 rounds, and can stun – all but wiping out every single battle in that duration. God forbid my character with high initiative uses a Rain scroll…My melee meanwhile, are not able to kill a single target in their turn due to the way weapon scaling functions.

It’s a weird model, one that I hadn’t really come to terms with until the Arx chapter. It feels a bit weird where lower items are better, and melee really suffer in the long term, but this harkens back to the pen and paper days. Where weird in something like WoW, it kinda fits here, since you need to think about WHY an item is useful, rather than just as having a higher level. Wonder how BG3 will address this.

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