Skills and Special Capabilities
In addition to the basic human-like characteristics—strength, intelligence, beauty, and so on—most RPGs let characters use and improve special skills and capabilities. CRPGs allow the player's character to learn new skills over time, a rarity in other genres. The best-designed games allow the player to attempt to learn as many skills as she wants, restricted only by the time available, though her character's aptitude in that skill will be based on previously assigned characterization attributes. You may want to allow characters to specialize, especially if the character practices a set of interrelated skills, while unpracticed skills gradually decline. For example, learning one skill, basic carpentry, could provide a solid basis for developing another, such as constructing buildings, whereas learning basic gardening would not.
Skills are somewhat analogous to the unit upgrades of strategy games; like unit upgrades, they allow a character to do something that he could not do before or to do it more effectively. The unit upgrade process in a strategy game is typically called research, whereas in a CRPG, acquisition of a skill is called learning. Sometimes a new skill (or the right to choose a new skill) is simply granted as a reward for having achieved a certain amount of experience. However, you can also require the player to seek out a mentor NPC who will teach the new skill to the character in exchange for money—similar to the cost of research in strategy games.
The analogy between skills in CRPGs and unit upgrades in strategy games is not exact, however, for the following reasons:
■ In CRPGs, a skill earned by a character is permanent and stays with that character as long as he lives (and usually survives reincarnation as well). In strategy games, a unit upgrade ordinarily lasts only for the duration of the current mission or level.
■ In a strategy game, an upgrade normally applies to all units of a given type, or sometimes to the player's entire army and economic system. In a CRPG, a new skill applies to exactly one character, the one who learned the skill. It's the difference between an industrial and a personal advance. CRPG skills are individual, like the ability to play music, rather than industrial, like an improved engine. Each character has to have his own record of skills learned to date.
■ CRPG skill upgrades usually happen instantly, whereas research in a strategy game normally takes time. Although instant learning is completely unrealistic for something like archery or playing music, nobody wants to sit and watch while her character practices. Strategy game research doesn't have this problem because research happens parallel to other activities.