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A good story isn’t about characters as unchanging archetypes. It does explore innate potential and expectations, but it’s also about choices and change (or refusal to change). A good survival story in particular puts its characters to the test, but not just as individuals. A crisis is both a test of the individuals and of the dynamics between them. In designing the character and skill systems for State of Decay, we’ve tried to capture all of these elements.
We’ve talked before about the fact that you don’t get to tailor-make your characters. Instead you encounter a wide variety of survivors with vastly different personalities and skill sets and then you decide who to bring into your group and who to leave out on their own.
So that’s the high level. If you’ve been following State of Decay closely, you’ve heard that before. Today we’re going to going into more depth about exactly how characters and skills work.
Let’s dive right in.
All survivors share the same four basic skills:
- Cardio — Rule #1 for survival. If you run out of Stamina, that’s it. Can’t fight, can’t run away. You’re done.
- Wits — When the shit hits the fan, you need to think fast. The quicker you can assess a situation, the better chance you have.
- Fighting — Sometimes your best option is a lead pipe to the face. Other times, it’s getting the hell out of the way. Master both if you want to survive.
- Shooting — Used to be shooting was just a hobby. Now it’s a daily requirement.
Each skill provides a specific stat bonus. This bonus gets higher the more stars you have in the skill.
- Cardio — Determines maximum Stamina.
- Wits — Improves search speed.
- Fighting — Determines maximum Vitality.
- Shooting — Reduces recoil when you shoot.
- Leadership — Increases how much trust you gain whenever you gain trust.
Looking back at the list above, you’ll notice the last skill, Leadership, isn’t one of the basic four. That’s because not everyone has any skill in Leadership. It’s a Personal Skill that requires some natural talent or specific background. Most of the skills in State of Decay are personal skills, and they’re part of what makes characters unique.
To start, every survivor has a unique combination of Traits. These Traits define the survivor on a fundamental level and have a whole range of effects.
The first Trait for every survivor is a Personality. Chatterbox, Selfish Asshole, Coward, Born Leader, Braggart, Autocrat, and Daydreamer are just some of the dozens of personalities you might encounter. Personality plays a big role in how survivors react to success and failure, how they interact with each other, and to any moral choices you make. In the short term, Personality is the least important thing to know about someone, but when trying to make your community work over the long haul, the mix of personalities matters. (We’ll probably need to dig into that in another article.)
Many Traits reflect a survivor’s background, representing job history or hobbies the survivor had in the past. These typically provide free Stars in related skills. For example, any active hobby like Hiking, Cycling or Aikido starts a survivor with two or three stars in Cardio instead of the one star that most survivors have initially. The Aikido trait also provides a free star in Fighting. Similarly, backgrounds that require street smarts or survival skills give a bonus star or two in Wits.
Other Traits reflect natural aptitude or ineptitude and provide a bonus or penalty to how fast a survivor can advance a particular skill. Being “Eagle-Eyed” means improving all Shooting skills faster than normal, while the “Hates Gore” Trait makes some slower to improve in Fighting, and being a “Dim Bulb” means Wits takes a lot more work to raise.
A handful of Traits have unique game effects. Having a “Bum Knee,” for example, means stamina drain while crouched. So a survivor with this trait can hide in bushes just as well as anyone else but can’t use it as a way to recover.
Finally, many Traits provide Personal Skills such as Leadership. Only survivors with the right Traits have access to each Personal Skill (and the stat bonus and abilities it provides). Just as in real life, the skills that the survivors have developed can vary widely in usefulness. Here’s a small sampling:
- Bruiser — Comes from Natural Athlete, Brute, or Strong as an Ox. Provides a whole unique set of combat and exploration abilities. Survivors with this skill are few and far between, but they have the potential to learn unique melee combat techniques, to carry heavier burdens without tiring, and to use larger firearms without sacrificing mobility.
- Construction — Comes from Architect, Mechanic, Electrician, or Engineer, among other jobs and hobbies. This skill doesn’t have much effect when out exploring, but having someone with any stars in Construction is essential for building a more advanced Workshop in your home.
- Leadership — Comes from Presence or Born Leader. As mentioned above, each star of Leadership increases the Trust you gain from your actions. In addition, higher Leadership unlocks special effects from your emotes, allowing you to do things like boost the combat effectiveness of the survivors around you by cheering them on.
- Counseling — Comes from People Person, Funeral Director, Stylist, or other jobs and hobbies. This skill has no impact on your combat or exploration abilities, but provides a chance to prevent community conflicts and to raise the spirits of frightened or depressed community members.
- Sexting — Comes from Sleaze or Flirt. Without phone or internet service, this finely honed skill may be doomed to be something of a lost art.
- Sports Trivia — Just as in real life, this is one of the most common skills. Sure, it might not be useful, but did you know that Randy Moss’ vertical leap was once said to be 51″? I did. (True story.)
So we’ve talked about the Basic Skills that are common to everyone and about the Traits and Personal Skills that make survivors unique, but that’s just part of the story. You also get to make major choices about how to develop each survivor.
First, you can choose one Weapon Specialization for each of your survivors. This can be a specific category of firearms, such as Shotgun or Pistol, or a class of melee weapon, such as Bludgeoning or Hack and Slash. A Weapon Specialization is an entirely new skill line with a unique stat bonus and a whole set of unique abilities. Before choosing a Weapon Specialization, you need to unlock it by gaining enough stars in the corresponding basic skill: Gun-related specializations unlock at four stars of Shooting. Melee-related specializations unlock at four stars of Fighting. Each survivor can have only one Weapon Specialization, so choose carefully.
Once selected, the weapon specialization can be improved just like any other skill: by using it. So to raise your Shotgun Mastery skill, you have to take zombies out with a shotgun.
In addition to choosing a weapon specialization, you choose a number of Signature Abilities. Our goal in designing these abilities was not merely to provide abilities that make you stronger, but that change the way you approach exploration and combat. There are four different categories of Signature Abilities and each survivor can learn one ability in each category: Offensive, Defensive, Utility and General.
Which abilities are available varies from survivor to survivor, based on their skills. Only a survivor with three stars in Bludgeoning can learn Spinning Backhand, an offensive ability that lets you perform a spinning attack that turns an enemy around, exposing his back to you. Only a survivor with at least one star of Bruiser has the option to learn Push Kick, a utility ability that changes the [Y] button to do a powerful push kick, forcing enemies to stagger back.
The Push Kick, in particular, is an example of an ability that fundamentally changes how you approach a combat. Instead of encountering a group of zeds and trying to take them on as a group or trying to use the environment to separate them, you can use the kick to momentarily remove a few from the fight. You might choose to pair this with offensive abilities that let you kill individuals quickly but leave you vulnerable to groups or to let you focus on using pistols, which are versatile and lightweight but don’t have the physical stopping power of shotguns and revolvers. How you make use of these abilities is up to you.
All told, these choices allow you to take the same survivor and create someone who you’d want to use in very, very different ways. At a minimum, you’ll choose to focus on ranged vs. melee combat, and on fighting vs. avoiding fights, but you’ll also have a lot of specific options like the push kick that can provide interesting tactical choices. At the same time, since not all survivors have the same options, you should find yourself playing very differently as you switch between survivors.
THE SUM OF THESE PARTS
As with every part of State of Decay, we’ve worked to create a system with just the right mix of clarity and depth. We try to not to inundate you with stats and minor bonuses, instead focusing on key skills and abilities that have a big, identifiable impact. To close out, I thought I’d provide a quick look at some of the survivors you’ll likely encounter:
- Father Figure — Protects others against Fear. Objects to Selfish actions by the community.
- Carpenter — Provides the Construction skill
- Travel — Wits +1
- Camping — Wits +2, Cardio +1
- Organizer — Provides the Leadership skill
Starting Weapon: Crowbar — No zombie apocalypse is complete without one.
Thanks to his Construction skill, Thomas provides additional options at the Workshop (if you have one). His mood also improves whenever you upgrade or build a Workshop. He has no special advantages in combat, but he could still choose any Weapon Specialization if he raised his Fighting and/or Shooting skill first.
Thanks to the Leadership skill, the Cheer and Taunt emotes have additional effects for Thomas. Anyone can use the Cheer emote to try to gain Trust with allies and performing the Taunt emote makes enough noise to alert nearby zombies, but when Thomas cheers allies, their combat effectiveness increases for a short while, and when he taunts zombies he can actually draw them away from attacking allies. He’s also better at earning Trust in general and is more effective at resolving problems with community members who have fallen into a bad attitude.
- Iconoclast — Resistant to Fear. Becomes Insensitive when she’s feeling good about herself.
- Service Job — Wits +1
- Eagle-Eyed — Faster Shooting skill improvement
- Great Reflexes — Provides the Acrobatics skill.
Starting Weapon: Lead Pipe — A simple bludgeoning weapon.
Sam’s personality is a blessing and a curse. When her attitude shifts to Insensitive, there is a danger of her worsening the attitudes of community members who already feel bad. (This can be counteracted by having community members with the Counseling skill.) Physically, though, she’s gifted. She improves the Shooting skill faster than normal, making her a great choice for a gun-related Weapon Specialization. On the other hand, the Acrobatics skill, much like Bruiser, is an uncommon skill that provides a whole slew of unique combat abilities. This may mean you want to focus on melee combat with her.
- Autocrat — Resistant to Fear. Prone to Anger. Becomes Overbearing when he’s feeling good about himself.
- Law Enforcement — Shooting +2
- Loved Range Shooting — Shooting +1
- Eagle-Eyed — Faster Shooting skill improvement
Starting Weapon: Machete — Good for chopping brush… or necks.
Alan’s personality is almost pure downside. He becomes angry easily and, even when he is feeling good, his Overbearing attitude can piss off other community members. Again, the key to balancing this out is other personalities that counteract this effect or to kick him out of your community. In terms of combat, he has a clear inclination: he’s good at shooting stuff. You won’t find many better than him and that may be reason enough to keep him around.
Here is a visual example for you:
Those are just a few examples. With dozens of personalities, jobs, hobbies, talents, and personal skills, each character starts out unique, and how they develop from there is up to you. Between choosing equipment, deciding how to invest your time, selecting a weapon specialization, and learning signature techniques, you have the ability to dramatically redefine the survivors, as individuals and as a group. By managing your community, you can cover for their weaknesses and play to their strengths, or you can allow everything to fall apart. You shape their story. Their survival is in your hands.