Created By: Koveras on June 6, 2012 Last Edited By: Koveras on January 26, 2013
Nuked

Rule-Based vs. Character-Centered Game System

Are the characters mapped onto the rules grid or the rules tailored to the characters?

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
A Sliding Scale of integration between character concepts and gameplay rules in Role-Playing Games, spanning two extremes:

  • Rule-based games have a universal Game System that applies equally to all characters, be they playable, neutral, or hostile. Character abilities are defined solely within the boundaries permitted by the system.
  • Character-centered games put character concepts in the focus and invent different gameplay rules and controls for their respective abilities, such as Signature Moves, etc.. Playable characters in particular will have vastly different gameplay styles.

Compare Sliding Scale of Plot Versus Characters. Everyone Has A Special Move is a common but not defining trait of character-centered systems.

Rule-based:

  • The Dungeon Siege games have a very simple rule-based system, which allows any character evolve in any direction, regardless of initial stats. E.g. you can hire a mage, give him an axe, and have him become a capable fighter in no time.
  • Dungeons & Dragons and video games based on it: Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights...
  • Mass Effect games are generally rule-based in that same abilities function exactly the same, regardless of the user. Mass Effect 1 was especially formulaic: its six squad members were designed to cover the entire spectrum of combat, tech, and biotics.
  • Dragon Age: Origins was very rule-based, and all characters of the same class had access to almost exactly the same abilities. This was particularly obvious in the expansion, where you could re-spec a character intended for Dual Wielding melee into The Archer for a minimal fee.
  • Final Fantasy XIII is very rule-based in regards to classes/roles, to the point where maxed-out characters are pretty much interchangeable. It compensates for this by giving each character a different set of (readily) accessible roles and unique ultimate attacks.
  • Dragon Age II retains the strong class-oriented rule-based system of Origins but gives each party member a unique additional talent tree instead of Hawke's specializations. It also restricts the companions to their (upgradable) starting armor sets that can't be worn by anyone else.
  • The Fire Emblem series has the same basic rules for each class and allows the characters to upgrade to Prestige Classes, however, the upgrade trees are unique to every character.
  • Mass Effect 2 and 3, by comparison to part one, steer strongly towards character-centered approach, thanks to smaller skill trees and larger parties. It helps that at least half of the party members are not even human, and Everyone Has A Special Move now.
  • Planescape: Torment is unique in that it is basically character-centered, despite technically following D&D rules.
  • The Diablo series features a character-based system since part two, where each playable character has a unique skill tree that no other character can ever use or learn.
  • In Final Fantasy VI, almost every character has unique abilities that effectively come with their own gameplay mechanics.

Character-centered:


Community Feedback Replies: 20
  • June 7, 2012
    Koveras
    Presence of tropes like Everyone Has a Special Move indicates that the game at least leans towards character-based approach.
  • June 7, 2012
    CosmicRock
    Predetermination VS Free will - RPG edition?(just kidding)

    - Rule based: Dungeon Siege PC games have a simple Rule based system: the player has a great deal of influence over how each character develops based on what kind of weapons or magical attacks they use. Use a bow frequently and dexterity and archery skill improve. Use healing spells to boost your intelligence and nature magic. If you don't use low level bows or nature magic spells, you won't be able to use higher level bows or nature magic spells. The same applies for melee weapons and combat magic.

    - Character Based: Diablo series PC games have a character based system. Choose a barbarian and you can unlock and use the barbarian skillset. No other character can use those skills, and you can't change classes or " take a level in" another class.

    - Hybrid example that uses both: Fire Emblem turn based strategy RPG games allow class evolution choices when a particular character reaches a certain level, criteria are met, or a certain item is used. Once the new class is picked, just like the old class, all stat boosts on level-up are random. Class choices are limited to a very basic tree. (Example: "Ross" starts off as a Journeyman, can then pick whether to level as a pirate or fighter or remain a journeyman after reaching level 10, later and with the use of specific "crest" items, he can then choose another class option based on his current class and the type of crest used)

  • July 9, 2012
    Koveras
  • July 15, 2012
    TBeholder
    Well, yeah, but... I don't see how this issue (observation?) is a trope. Though viewed as a Sliding Scale ("chess" to "narrative") it could be fairly trope-able. Also, it closely interacts with determninism-randomness axis.
  • July 15, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ Hmm, I wondered myself if this could be turned into a sliding scale, but I thought sliding scales were frowned upon nowadays?..
  • July 23, 2012
    Koveras
    If this were to become a sliding scale, what would be a good name for it?
  • November 9, 2012
    Koveras
    Well, I have rewritten it as a Sliding Scale, see if it works for you.
  • November 9, 2012
    StarSword
    This example may need to be corrected, as it's based on a half-remembered conversation with my brother. Probably falls right in the middle.

    • Traveller intentionally integrates your character's abilities into their backstory. For instance, an ex-military character might get bonuses to gunplay or starship combat. This has the side-effect of forcing Min-Maxers to come up with an in-character justification for said Min Maxing.
  • November 9, 2012
    StarSword
    • The Serenity RPG is organized around telling a story and shows by the example of character sheets for our Big Damn Heroes how to integrate character assets and complications into the character's personality and story.
  • November 9, 2012
    Koveras
    ^^ & ^: Can you also tell me where exactly on the scale you would place those examples? My guess that both would tend towards character-centered end...
  • November 9, 2012
    StarSword
    No, they're both rules-based, they just actively encourage integration of both ends of the scale.
  • November 9, 2012
    Koveras
    Wouldn't that place them outside this scale?
  • November 9, 2012
    StarSword
    I'm thinking there needs to be a category for "in the middle". This is a Sliding Scale after all. I'm actually not entirely sure where you'd put those examples.
  • November 9, 2012
    StarSword
    Under character-centered:
    • Mass Effect 1 gives each squad member a unique combination of abilities based on three power classes: combat, tech, and biotic. Characters may specialize in one or have a combination of two. The sequel shifts this to giving each character a unique skill tree. Some squad members may have powers in common, but each has at least one power that is unique to them.

    I haven't played 3, so I don't know how they put it together there.
  • November 10, 2012
    Koveras
    About Traveler and Serenity RPG, I am still not certain what to do with them. What you describe is relevant to the games' position on the Story To Gameplay Ratio scale but not to the one I am trying to make here. This here is not about how gameplay mechanics integrate with plot and back-story. This is about whether the gameplay uses Characters As Device or the characters define gameplay (which is more akin to Sliding Scale Of Plot Versus Characters than to Story To Gameplay Ratio).

    To illustrate with your own Mass Effect example: in the first game, the characters were quite obviously created to fit gameplay rules (one for combat, tech, and biotics, one for each mixed class). In the second, however, the characters were put in the spotlight and new abilities were added just to fit their characterization (Kasumi's Shadow Strike comes to mind).
  • November 10, 2012
    TBeholder
    I'm afraid, this classification is "tailored" one.
  • November 10, 2012
    McKathlin
    It's common for games to fall somewhere in the middle.
    • In Final Fantasy VI, all player characters use the same stat system and many can use the same equipment. Starting mid-game, all characters have equal access to Magicite-powered spell learning and stat gains. However, each character has different natural stat progression and a unique special ability.
  • November 10, 2012
    McKathlin
    • The Super Smash Brothers games fall near the character-centered side of the sliding scale. The range, power, speed, and direction of fighting moves vary widely from one character to another. The main unifying rule is that as a character's damage taken increases, they are thrown farther when they take a hit.
  • November 11, 2012
    Koveras
    ^^^ How so?

    ^^ I have already included FF 6 in the list as an extreme example of character-centered system because I have never seen a game with so many character-specific gameplay rules.

    ^ Can you give an example of character-specific fighting moves you mentioned?
  • January 26, 2013
    Koveras
    Well, I guess this one isn't going anywhere, so I am just going to discard this soon...

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=03yncdzlmhmunes9joye7c9d&trope=DiscardedYKTTW