2002-08-12: An Interview with Designer Vex – Publish 16 Barding

An Interview with Designer Vex – Publish 16 Barding

by Nadya Modavia of Catskills

In the morning, I opened my eyes to a large, dimly lit chamber with stone walls and a marble-tiled floor. Musical instruments of all sorts resided throughout the chamber. I found that once again I had fallen asleep in my music room and in my favorite rocking chair. My lute still sat on my lap, and my fingers still rested upon its strings. Smythe my butler stood in attention before me. “Oh, you scared me Smythe!” I exclaimed. “I nearly jumped out of my chair!”

“Very sorry, Lady Nadya,” Smythe apologized. “I see you’ve fallen asleep in the music room again. That is such relaxing music that you play. It’s a wonder anyone stays awake. Again, sorry to disturb you, but there is a gentleman to see you.”

“That’s all right, Smythe,” I replied. “Thank you for informing me. I’ll be down shortly.”

Smythe gave a nod and then began walking out of the music room.

“Wait!” I commanded.

“Yes, Lady Nadya.” Smythe answered after turning around abruptly.

“Did you say a gentleman is here to see me?” I asked anxiously.

“Aye, Lady Nadya. The gentleman you’re expecting has arrived.” Smythe confirmed while attempting to hide a warm smile. He knew I was looking forward to this gentleman’s visit.

I thanked Smythe, and then he exited out of the music room.

After freshening up for the morning, I went downstairs for some breakfast and some early morning pampering. Smythe and my other servants greeted me and asked if I slept well.

I nodded and said, “Yes, thank you.”

I instructed Smythe and the other servants to return to their duties and not to disturb me until my visitor had departed. As always, they respected and obeyed my wishes.

I took a silent, but deep breath, and then entered the study. A man of average size, wearing exotic leather armor, and carrying a fire horn stood before me. I could tell he was powerful. I embraced him with a solemn bow, and he did the same.

“It is good to finally meet you, Lady Nadya Modavia. Your musical skills are legendary,” the man said with a very charming accent. He was quite debonair and confident. At first, I didn’t know what to say. I was so enamored by his power and influence. I simply smiled.

“Allow me to introduce myself,” the man continued. “My name is Vex, and I am at your service.

“Thank you, Vex,” I replied while the two of us briefly shared eye contact with each other. “I have been researching the abilities and capabilities of the adventuring bard, and I need you to answer a few questions for me.”

Vex nodded.

“Shall we begin the interview?” I asked.

“Whenever you’re ready, milady,” Vex answered.

We then sat down at one of my study tables and the interview began…

As of Publish 16, Discordance, Peacemaking (when used in targeted mode), and Provocation have become difficulty based. Because of this, some of my fellow bards may not know which creatures use their barding abilities on for optimum barding success. How does a bard calculate her % chance to successfully use a barding ability on a creature, and can you give formula examples for all three bard abilities while applying various modifiers such as exceptional instruments, magical instruments, musicianship bonus over 100, peacemaking and discordance getting a +10% boost, etc.?

As a general rule of thumb, if you just keep track of success rates versus different creatures, you can estimate their difficulty. Generally, when the difficulty of a skill check is equal to your skill level, you have a 50% chance of success. At 25 points higher in skill, success is guaranteed, and at 25 skill points lower you can never succeed. (Note that this is the general case, and specific skills use different methods.) What this means is, if you succeed about 50% of the time against Orc Mages, then you can estimate their difficulty to be at or about your own skill level.

Now -- you want formulas? Ok, I can give you that, too. The overall difficulty of a bard skill check is calculated in two phases. The first phase takes into account the target's stats, skills, and special abilities. The second phase modifies that base difficulty based on the actual skill used, the quality and magical properties of the instrument, and so forth.

Using the information from the Animal Lore skill, do the following. First, total up the creature's stats (hit points, stamina, and mana only). Then, add in its skill level for the following skills: Anatomy, Parrying, Evaluate Intelligence, Inscription, Magery, Magic Resistance, Wrestling, Poisoning, Archery, Mace Fighting, Fencing, Swordsmanship, Tactics, Lumberjacking, and Meditation. Now, add in a 100 point bonus for each of the following special abilities: Magic Use, Radius Damage (like the cold radius of Snow Elementals), Fire Breathing, Undead Summoning (like the Skeletal Dragon), Poisoning, Life Draining (like the Succubus), and Poison Resistance. Note that if a creature is under the effects of Discordance, its stats and skills will be reduced, and this will make the creature's base difficulty lower! Now, take the running total. If it is 700 or below, then leave it as-is. Otherwise, subtract 700 from the number. Multiply the result by 0.275. Then, add that 700 back. Divide the result by 10. This final result is the creature's Base Difficulty.

Now, it's time to figure in the other bonuses. If you are using an Exceptional instrument, subtract 5. If you are using a slayer instrument that is strong against the target, subtract 10. If your instrument is a slayer that is weak against the target, add 10 to the base difficulty. Next, compute your Musicianship bonus. If your Musicianship skill is at or below 100, there is no bonus. If your Musicianship is above 100, subtract 100 from your Musicianship skill and divide the result by 2. This is your Musicianship bonus. Subtract your Musicianship bonus from the base difficulty. Finally, apply a modifier for the specific skill you are using. If you are using Provocation, subtract 5 more from the base difficulty. For targeted Peacemaking and Discordance, subtract 10.

After applying all these modifiers, the resulting number is the skill level at which you have a 50% chance of success against the creature. Note that this number may be off by a few points in either direction. Also note that in the future, certain creatures will have their difficulty "fudged" manually by designers for particular reasons. Also, the list of special abilities that grant difficulty bonuses may change at any time.

A bard cannot accurately calculate her % chance to successfully use a barding ability on a creature without knowing the creature's barding difficulty. To aid with this, I have accumulated and recorded information that I've learned from you as well as other UO players. This information may be found here... Is this information comprehensive and accurate enough to estimate a creature's barding difficulty? If not, can you 'fill in the blanks'? On that note, is it possible to later enhance the Animal Lore gump to include a creature's barding difficulty? This would eliminate the need to calculate a creature's barding difficulty altogether.

Well, the detail of my answer to your previous question should allow you to correct any errors on that Web page. I do like the idea about putting bard difficulty information on the Animal Lore gump, and will certainly take it into consideration. I can't make any promises right now about whether that feature will go into the game, or when it might happen.

Is there a 'sweet spot' for optimum skill gain for Discordance, Provocation, and Targeted Peacemaking? For example, should a bard train her skills against creatures that are equal in difficulty to her barding skills (i.e., 50% success)? What do you advise?

Well, here are the basic mechanics of how skill gain is tested for: Each time you test a skill, it is tested against some Difficulty value. This Difficulty value, combined with the character's rating in the skill being tested and some "focus" value, determine the character's chance of success. There are two forces driving skill gain: One is the difficulty of the skill test -- the higher the difficulty, the greater the chance of gaining skill from that test. The other is overall chance of success. Classically, a character had to actually succeed at a skill check in order for the gain check to be made. This is still true in a sense, even though for many skills players still observe skill gain on failure.

Here's why: We've decoupled many skill checks (mainly Crafting and Barding skills) from this "check for gain only on success" behavior and replaced it with two separate checks. One check simply tests for success/fail of the skill use attempt, and a separate test checks to see if skill gain is possible. For example, suppose you have a 90% chance of success at a particular skill test. One check will "throw the dice" versus that success chance and the result determines if the check succeeded. Then, the dice are thrown again (against the same number) and the result of that throw determines whether or not skill gain will be checked for. If skill gain is going to be tested, then the dice are thrown a third time with the character's skill level and the skill check's difficulty building an exponential probability curve. This means that as your skill level increases, skill gain slows down quite a bit -- but trying very difficult tasks gives you better chances to gain.

What does this mean overall? The more difficult the task you are performing, the greater your chance of skill gain, but the chance of even seeing if you can gain skill is based on your chance of success at the skill test itself! So, attempting a task with a 5% chance of success gives you a much better chance to gain than a task with 95% chance of success. However, skill gain will only be checked for 5% of the time in the former case, and 95% of the time in the latter.

Overall, the best place to be as far as skill gain goes is in the 40-60% success rate range. Under Power Hour, you wanted to perform the most difficult task possible, because skill gain was checked for all the time! It didn't matter that you had next to no chance of success.

Bards, young and vet, may struggle from time to time with maintaining their strength attribute. Since most bard templates do not allow for a skill that provides strength, how would you advise bards on dealing with this? Would you advise that bards occasionally work a strength giving skill such as mining or lumberjacking? Fortunately, stat locks will be implemented into UO, so this will aid some, but this doesn't completely solve this issue.

I think Stat Locks (which are in the game now) will provide a pretty good way for bards to control their Strength. By using skill locks in combination with stat locks, you can cause your Strength to raise by testing Mining or Lumberjacking or another Strength-base skill, even at low skill levels. If you are at your skill cap and can't afford to raise one of those skills, just set the skill "Up" and lock all your important skills. This way there won't be any available points to allocate to the strength-based skill, so it won't actually raise. But, since it is marked to go up, testing that skill can still cause a Strength stat gain.

According to the barding design document on the update center, magically aligned instruments (a.k.a. virtue or slayer instruments) will increase a bard's chance to use a barding ability against any variety of creatures that the instrument is aligned to by 20% (when that instrument is used). Does this mean that a Daemon Dismissal instrument will grant a 20% success bonus vs. balrons and succubi as well as daemons? The reason I ask this question is I don't believe this is the case with slayer weapons. For example, I have heard that Daemon Dismissal virtue weapons do not inflict double damage vs. balrons, but Gargoyle's Foe virtue weapons do. Can you clarify this?

Daemon Dismissal should be strong against Daemons, Balrons, and Ice Fiends. Gargoyle's Foe should be strong against all gargoyles (even the newer ones like the Burning Gargoyle). Exorcism handles all daemons, even some slated to be introduced into the game in upcoming scenarios!

Currently, succubi aren't considered "demons" for purposes of the Slayer Instruments/Weapons, though I can certainly see a case for it being so. I can't verify whether or not Gargoyle's Foe items are affecting Balrons, but I've made a note to look into it.

In a previous message board thread on the official UO bard forum, you once posted that Musicianship above 100 would grant a bonus of 1% per point above 100.0 Musicianship to Discordance, Targeted Peacemaking, and Provocation attempts. However, this bonus is not mentioned in the Publish 16 barding changes document that can be found here... Will musicianship over 100 still provide this bonus?

If this hasn't already been corrected, it should be fixed soon.

Publish 16 has introduced new magical instruments. One of these instruments is the fire horn. It appears that the fire horn does damage that is scaled based on the bard's Provocation, Discordance, and Peacemaking skills. How exactly is the fire horn's damage calculated, and how do the other bard skills (including musicianship) influence its damage?

Provocation, Peacemaking, and Discordance give the fire horn the brunt of its power. Provocation is responsible for 5/7th of the damage done, and the other two skills each account for 1/7th of the overall damage. Targets have a chance to resist the effect based on their Magic Resistance skill. This is where Musicianship comes into play -- the higher the user's Musicianship skill, the lower the target's chance to resist.

Also note that players as a rule take less damage from a fire horn strike than monsters. Monsters generally have many times more hit points than players. If the same damage ranges were used for both types, then the instrument would either be good against players and ineffective against monsters, or effective against monsters and ridiculously devastating to players.

Another question about the new firehorn instrument. Is it intended for the firehorn to indirectly damage other characters in its blast area of effect while other area of effect based magics vs. non-murderers do not?

Firehorns are supposed to damage anything in their blast radius that the user could legally damage. This means that on Trammel you can't damage innocent blues, but you could damage your guild mates. On Felucca, you can damage anyone in the area of effect, possibly getting a criminal flag as a result.

The official barding document on the update center states that when two creatures are successfully provoked by a bard, damage assignment will be correctly handled for both creatures involved, meaning the bard will receive correct credit toward looting rights, fame/ karma rewards, etc. without having to perform a second provoke on the same creatures in reverse order. According to several posters on the official UO bard forum, this currently does not appear to be the case for Provocation as well as for Discordance. Has the design on this been changed or is this an issue that needs/will be addressed?

No, those problems should have been corrected with Publish 16. I've made a note to have another look and see what might be wrong.

Some of my fellow bards, including myself, miss how area peacemaking use to function. What I mean is area peacemaking before Publish 16 did not require a 'wait for target cursor' and 'target self' macro setting to be programmed into an in-game UO macro. Because of this, performing area peacemaking occasionally causes targeting abnormalities such as when attempting to cast spells while performing area peacemaking. Is it possible to have a separate macro in the client for targeted and area peacemaking that will eliminate this issue?

Right now there are no plans to do this. Our bandwidth for client engineering is flooded by fancy new Age of Shadows features like customizable houses and cool stuff for Necromancers and Paladins, and some other features...

A follow up question in regards to Peacemaking. It appears that toggling out of war mode is required whenever the bard is targeted by an aggressive creature - even after the creature is calmed by area or targeted Peacemaking. This is especially an issue when the creature is close enough to melee the bard (i.e., causing the bard to auto-defend). You have mentioned before that 'low level' program code causes this behavior, and that it is difficult to address. With that stated, will this be addressed in the future?

Sorry, but I can't say for certain. I do know that extensive work is being done on the low-level combat code in the server for Age of Shadows, and I will definitely make it a point to look at the complex interactions involved when "controlled" (tamed, barded, hired, summoned, etc.) creatures fight and see what can be done to address the issue once and for all.

I have to ask. Can we bards have new instruments and new music in the future such as a fiddle, a flute, or even bagpipes? Playing that same C Major scale repeatedly throughout the years has probably caused some of us bards to become insane. You're still sane...aren't ya Vex? ;-)

It's doubtful we'll ever see new instruments, but new music would be more possible. I can't make any promises, though!

And as far as sanity goes... Well. Nobody's told me I'm not, yet, so I reckon everything's fine...

Thank you, Vex, for taking the time to participate in this interview!

-Nadya Modavia of Catskills,

Legendary Bard.