Mot made a big post about horizontal progression. He considers horizontal progression to be characters gaining ability in many roles simultaneously. Certainly such progression would solve group composition problems, but it doesn’t jive with the metaphor of “the character.” If we want to let any character do anything at any time, then we’re basically destroying the abstraction of the character. The metaphor doesn’t work if any individual character can do anything, because real people (real “characters”) experience vertical progression much more often than horizontal progression. We need to create a new metaphor so that this alternative model makes sense when implemented.
Melf over at Word of Shadow came up with something similar to what I’m going to outline below. You may want to read over his post as well as this one to see two different takes on this approach. The both revolve around the same concept of disassociating the player from specific player-owned individual characters.
Instead of having the player create and maintain characters with static abilities and have those characters tied to the player, let players choose the abilities they want to have for a play session, then let them inhabit a hero who has those abilities. Players can save profiles of sets of abilities they like to use, or maybe they can buy unfettered access to certain characters they like by expending some kind of meta-resource.
This character rental system seems odd and awkward at first, but it’s not difficult to see how it could be fun. Players could assume the role of minor gods, meddling in the lives of the mortals in the game world (who are only occasionally controlled by players). Players curry favor with the mortals by manipulating the environment in minor ways, expending some kind of resource similar to mana in the process. These actions have realistic effects on the game world that penalize overuse of similar strategies repeatedly. If you make it rain more so that crops will grow, you will drown them if you’re not careful. If you manipulate the winds, you may slow down trade by creating doldrums where the trade winds once were. Such large effects on the game world cannot be done very often, though, to prevent the world from falling into chaos as whimsical players negligently exploit their powers.
At the beginning of a player’s career, he only has any control over one character: a prophet who has witnessed the player’s power first hand and wishes to draw others to the cause. This prophet, if manipulated properly, brings more like-minded followers to the player’s cause. Although providing divine inspiration by taking control of the prophet is cheap and can be done often, the prophet is weak and will not live long into the game. Players can inspire higher XP-value characters as they gain more followers. Based on the maximum amount of XP-value a player can control and the number of followers the player has, the player can configure characters with the abilities and traits that the player wishes to use in the game.
Conflict between players naturally occurs as gods with different goals, and gods of different things, use different means to curry favor. There are also a limited number of mortals in the world to work their magic on, which leads to competition to better please potential followers.
Group play can involve both inspired characters and allied player gods. The gods can use their abilities to modify the terrain and create effects that will aid the inspired character in accomplishing its goals.
Players would only be able to inspire character when they are to do important things (a similar concept to questing), and if the character does not accomplish its task or, even worse, backstabs allies or causes other problems, this will lead to the player’s followers losing faith and turning to an opposing god for favor.
What do you think about this idea? I’m aware of several flaws in it and I have my own doubts about its feasibility; I want to see if you have similar concerns and can offer suggestions to make this idea more robust.