Sunday, January 29, 2017

V:tM - Bloodlines ! Skill Books

So, as you bleed your way through Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, you'll encounter a few of these:
Ability boosting books. Each increases one specific skill one level, a freebie equivalent to a quest reward's worth of experience points. Sell them to a store and the store will re-stock it, allowing you to gain the bonus twice.

I hate 'em. In theory. In practice, I can't keep my hand out of the cookie jar. This time around I'm justifying it by telling myself I've picked a difficult path by focusing on guns instead of melee so I'm really just evening out the game's imbalances. That exculpates me of abusing a blatant exploit, right?

Still, my personal weakness of character aside, these gimmies represent a significant if hardly game-breaking flaw in an otherwise solid character advancement system. Role-playing games should be about player choice. Your character's stats and skills should not be automatically padded to compensate for your lapses in judgment. If you choose to go the whole campaign without allocating any points to lockpicking then run across a locked treasure chest, that's your problem, and you should suffer for it. Among the most blatant such freebies were Dragon Age: Origins' attribute boosters in The Fade.
The amount of attribute points (several levels' worth) was bad enough; worse yet their pre-determined ratio of +4 DEX, +2 CON and so forth. If you're gonna hand out attribute points fine, but let me be the one to allocate them. Hinting to players that they may want to invest in their Strength stat for future challenges is fine, but don't hold their hand and outright give them strength points.

I've already ranted against the over-use of activated inventory items in a previous post, but it amounts to the same idiocy.

Bloodlines' skill books can only be used to gain two specific levels out of the five possible for each skill. So if you're too low, you'll have to catch up. If you've already passed that level, you just screwed yourself. Along with their static, non-randomized nature, this resulted in every cheat guide telling players exactly what skills NOT to raise above a certain level until they can abuse the skill books. On your first run-through it feels like your foresight in investing in certain skills early on instead of relying on books is being punished; on subsequent playthroughs it feels like this giant freaking exploit's being shoved in your face. Use it or you're a loser.
That's my character sheet upon leaving Santa Monica. Two computer points, two stealth points and one firearms point were acquired for free, more or less doubling my character growth so far.

Don't even dare say that players who want a challenge should just deny themselves an obvious bonus. It's those lacking foresight who should be denied a safety net. If players end up foregoing a crucial ability as their "dump stat" then it's either informed personal choice, so our self-flagellation's our own business, or they're just retards and their whining should be publicly mocked, shamed and shunned. Retards should suffer.

That humorous excerpt from the Computer skill book would be funnier if I hadn't actually named my family's first desktop computer "Chip" and written it in marker at the top of its monitor. Hey, I was thirteen and it seemed punny at the time.
And yes, it was retarded of me and I do suffer every time I remember it.

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