Item Decay

Any open-ended virtual economy that does not provide for the decay and loss of items will always overflow.  This is also related to uncontrolled cash inflation, since a society of millionaires has no incentive to try and sell off their collections of expensive crap if they don’t have to pay taxes on them.  Insufficient item decay equals powerful item inflation equals player power inflation, and you eventually have a situation where most of your content becomes a joke, as your entire playerbase is outfitted in top of the line stuff handed down by hoarding patrons.  Naturally, they’ll still hoard the stuff they don’t even use, taxing your server and your patience.

The sort of item decay people think (and whine) about most is the decay of weapons, armor, and other battle gear.  Realism provides us with yet another good reference.  The day after a battle, a soldier who had survived more or less in one piece was spending most of the next day fixing his stuff.  Battles are hard on equipment.  It only stands to reason that armor and weapons have limited lifespans, and you can only grind down a sword blade (the only way to keep its edge) so many times before you have a piece of wire with a handle.  Weapons with wooden handles are cheap, but they get snapped more frequently than all-metal ones, and the best way to keep your spear functional is to sharpen the head again (if there’s enough metal there) and fit it onto a new shaft.  This, of course, requires a crafting model robust enough to allow for multiple components (get the shaft from a woodworker and a spearhead from the smith).

Shields are a special case.  Shields are always mishandled in fantasy RPG’s, unless you happen to playing GURPS with every little impossible to find variant rule in the book.  Shields were considered disposable items.  A typical shield was made primarily of layered wood, edged with metal to absorb chops to its sides, and maybe reinforced with bands, though this made them cumbersome.  The proper use of a shield was as an angled deflector to shove kinetic energy to the side, or (if you were feeling lucky) you might try to catch an incoming swing on the metal bands to catch or break an enemy’s weapon.  Regardless, you can only punish a shield for so long, and they were generally discarded after one battle.  The all-metal shield model so popular in fantasy imagery would be too damn heavy to lug around on the field, let alone carried on a mountain trek.  A buckler might be made primarily of metal, but bucklers are exceptionally small and require great skill to use effectively, and still aren’t indestructible.

In any case, it is to the advantage of the game world to allow for the destruction and loss of anything.  Items can be assigned hit points and similar ratings, and (if your engine really rocks) variable damage types.  A fireball might recrystalize a piece of steel, but say goodbye to that apron.  Things may be repairable to a degree, but every time you patch something up, you weaken it.  Eventually, you need to outfit yourself again, discarding your ruined gear, and helping the economy along in the process.

2 Responses to “Item Decay”
  1. Ringwraith666 says:

    Very smart. I’ve only played WoW, but its Durability system for equipment, while it begins to address this problem, allows for inifinite repairs.

    I would throw in one crazy suggestion: what if *players* wore out? What if players ages and received permanent injuries, such that a person expected – knew from the get-go – to roll up a new character every six months or so? Older grizzled veterans would get put on the shelf as their injuries took their toll, living out their remaining days as crafters and teachers, while new young bucks climbed the adventuring ladder. This could make perma-death easier to swallow.

  2. What you’re describing is pretty similar to an aging/permadeath system I worked out in a proof of concept module for NWN but got too bored to implement in a final module. The basic idea was that your character had a lifespan, which was limited by whatever you choose to overcome to inherent problem in MMOs of everyone logging in at different rates. At the end of the lifespan, you had an option to create a new character in the lineage, who got a fraction of your experience, reputation and wealth, with a higher fraction if you chose to voluntarily retire as opposed to dying in battle. Criminals executed had a lower or no fraction since their stuff would be subject to seizure, and of course you get some of the stigma attached to the criminal character. The big problem in implementation is that in order to maintain balance you need to age everyone at some rate, even guys who are permalogged, which makes things more difficult if you want to attract old players back into the game, and because casual players have less maximum potential than hardcore players due to the active hours; a casual player in a standard MMO can conceivably get to a maximum limit just like the hardcore player but it takes longer, but in an aging system the casual players are hard limited. This can be ameliorated somewhat by imposing a soft cap on overall character potential that is low enough to balance, so that the hardcore player will get there faster but unused skills decay, etc.

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