NON-COMBAT SKILLS & PARTY MEMBERS

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I hope no one minds if i open another topic. I have a few ideas on my mind and like to discuss them with the community to get a better picture of what players like and what is disliked in RPGs.

I am facing a problem when designing a Non-combat skill system for one of my side-projects. There are a lot of non-combat skills to spice the game up a bit and I wonder how the party members get involved in the skill-check mechanism. I better explain using an example:

Imagine you have a party of 4, standing in front of a locked door. you dont have a key but some of your party members are able to pick locks. picking locks is done by a simple skill check (skill VS lock difficulty). but its 1 lock and 4 party members, so what do you think is the best solution for this situation?

1. all party members work together - but their skills are treaded individually
Pro: Relatively easy and fast
Con: As all skills are added together, the single skill value of a hero becomes less relevant. In fact you could simplify it down to have only one "pick lock" skill for the whole party. otherwise you have to do book-keeping for 4 skill values, that are practically treated as one.

2. all party members work together - there is only one "party lock picking" skill
Pro: Very easy and fast
Cons:
* when we use only one skill value for all members, what about skill advancements in general
* a thief joins your party, the party lock pick skill has to be increased.
* the thief is leaving again, the skill has to be increased (what happens with meanwhile skill advancements?)

3. you select a party member of your choice from a dialog.
Pro: Freedom of choice and all party members can develop their skills individually.
Con: I have to script a select dialog for every skill and the player has to make a boring dialog choice every time he encounters a non-combat-skill-check.

4. the best party member is automatically chosen.
Pro: Easy and fast
Con: The other party members never have the chance to test their skills, in fact their skill points are absolutely useless.

Any thoughts on this one? As a scripters note: When every character has skill values, i have to do book-keeping for all skills *4 - wich enormously increases the variables i have to manage. in addition to that: a select dialog makes more work and is (in my oppinion) game-play-wise not really interesting to the players (= "oh no, lock nr. 15 on this dungeon level and i have to click to chose my thief again and again!")

I really appreciate every helpful comment.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5146
If you have permanent party members for the whole game, option two beats out option one every time. If you can choose party members, option one has some merit. If you have a permanent main character, option two is equivalent to only giving non-combat skills to the main character. If party members only come and go as part of story events (FF4-style), option 2 prevents story events from drastically lowering the player's non-combat skills.

In fact almost every reason I can think of to go with one of these over the others boils down to how you handle party members joining. So how are you handling party members joining? Knowing that should at least knock out one or two options.
@LockeZ Thanks for the reply:

Your main character is fixed, but you can choose his class in the beginning and develop from thereon. The other characters are variable, you can hire them throughout the game. player character encounters are tied up like on a string, but: you can dismiss them in a town and hire one of the others again. so I would guess the rest of the party is more or less exchangeable.

Yes, i was thinking about having only skills for your main character. but what when a skilled thief joins (and your main-char is bad at picking locks). still using your main-chars skill-value because its the only thing i coded just sounds stupid...

i just need a reasonable, elegant and easy to manage solution

(best solution would be to limit the game just to one char, but thats not what i have built the project for)
If other party members are that interchangeable you could just let them give you bonuses to skills. So that like there's a sword of +1 to badassery you can buy you can also hire a thief for +1 to thiefery.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5146
Shinan's idea is functionally pretty similar to your method #1, except that I guess the majority of your skill points would probably come from the main character, and the other party members would all have 0 points in most skills. I think it works pretty well. It makes things very simple to keep track of for both you and the player, and no one's skills are ever useless. Making it so the recruitable members only have a few skills each cuts down a lot on player-side bookkeeping.
Sated
puking up frothing vitriolic sarcastic spittle
4064
"Too many cooks spoil the broth". Only one person can actually stand at the door and attempt lock-picking. Lock-picking is not something you can ask a group of people and allow them to debate, it is something a single person has to attempt alone. Not everyone can have their hand on the lock-pick at once. Based on this, I think that only one person's skill level should count.
LockeZ
I'd really like to get rid of LockeZ. His play style is way too unpredictable. He's always like this too. If he ran a country, he'd just kill and imprison people at random until crime stopped.
5146
That argument makes sense for lockpicking, but not for, say, persuasion or heavy lifting. Also, the thief can at least stand behind you and coach you through it for a small bonus. So I can see his presence providing a lockpicking bonus. I can see it going either way logically, so do whatever makes the gameplay work better.
Sated
puking up frothing vitriolic sarcastic spittle
4064
Well, I was only talking about lock-picking. It's obviously something that changes dependant on the task the party is faced with.

A thief could probably stand back and coach someone for a small bonus but they could probably do it themselves much easier and with far more skill than they could impart on someone else in a short space of time. In terms of lock-picking, just have the game take the highest value present in the party and use that value for the stat comparison (choice #4).
Thank you for the input so far.

Of course there could be skills where the party works together, while others have to be done by a single character. in terms of scripting simplicity I would ignore this fact, as its already complicated enough.

this is my current idea from what i read on this topic:

1. We do not need a character-select dialog at all, this reduces GUI elements & repetitive player input.
2. All skills are performed by the main character only.
3. Players as well as the engine only have to book-keep the main chars skills.
4. other characters add to your main chars skill value, this bonus is removed when the car leaves your party again.
5. only your main char can increase his skill level.
6. your main char will always have the highest value, as the others just provide bonuses.
7. skill attempts do not require any kind of GUI at all. you either press the "interaction-key" or the engine asks for a skill-check itself, then an animation shows the outcome of the skill-check ("success" or "failure").

So, this is not my personal "perfect-solution", but its easy and re-useable. my favorite would have been to have skills for all chars and select one via dialog every time you atempt a skill check. but i sacrifice this idea due to simplicity.

this was already very helpful - any more thoughts?
The difference between #3 and #4 seems to be rooted in some assumption about how non-combat skills get better(?): there's no obvious reason to pick anybody but your best guy in #3, but then everybody else's levels of that skill are just as useless as in #4. (I can conceive of exceptions such as "who's expendable enough to set off the trap?", but that's probably accurate in the general case.)

If you're going to give individual characters redundant copies of those skills it does become an issue how experience works, at least, as well as how people join, leave and get KOed. If experience is gained from exercising the skill, is it possible to screw yourself over by opening a big enough fraction of a finite number of locks in the game without the best lockpick? If skill improvement comes from general leveling, will it ever really be worth it to take the time to have someone with a small inherent lockpicking bonus catch up to the main group? (One reason I do like the one party skill value where characters give bonuses is it eliminates a lot of these annoying cases.)
author=Shinan
If other party members are that interchangeable you could just let them give you bonuses to skills. So that like there's a sword of +1 to badassery you can buy you can also hire a thief for +1 to thiefery.
I did this in my game Hellion. It worked out pretty well.

For those interested:
http://rpgmaker.net/games/146/hirelings/
http://rpgmaker.net/games/146/oobs/
@kentona Thanks, in fact i have your game on my computer and its very well done.
in the original D&D skills were a simple binary check, you either had a skill or you didn't. It is this format that I feel works best for most rpg's.

If someone in the party has the skill (Pick Locks) then you can attempt a lock picking mini-game to pick certain locks, or simply bypass locks that you would have otherwise had to obtain a key for. Perhaps in this case there can be different levels of this skill, like say, a more generalized (Theif) skill that can only open simple locks.

If someone in the party has the skill (Diplomat) then in dialog events, you have access to special options where the character in question speaks up, same thing with similar skills like (Bluff) or (Attractive) or (Trustworthy).

If someone in the party has the skill (Scholar) then you get different text prompts from examining bookcases and similar items, that give out clues to hidden content, boss weaknesses, as well as simply more bits of world lore. The (Scholar) Trait could also have the character chime in with hints to solve puzzle rooms, perhaps even allowing the player to automatically solve some rooms.

basically, by bringing certain characters with specific skills to different areas, you can change the way that entire encounter progresses, or just unlock additional content or loot that would otherwise not be available.

You can make dungeons like Zelda games where there's 10 locked doors and 10 keys. You can by-pass the need for a key if you pick a lock successfully. You can only attempt to pick a lock if the thief is in your party. If you're a good eventer and decent spriter, you can make a lock-picking skill game that the player plays to attempt to open the lock. In that case, you could make it difficult and annoying, and let the player attempt it as many times as they want. Otherwise, just make it a probability thing, and if you fail the probability check, then that's the only chance you get. You can rationalize it as the character kept trying to pick it repeatedly until he/she got tired and stopped attempted to pick it.
There's also the route of lockpicking mini-games as seen in flash based games where you have to time the clicks or look for when the pick is wiggling.

In terms of immersion I much prefer crafting items that serve as locks rather than stat checks for the RPG maker type games.

The problem with JRPGs is that it's even sillier to not be able to bash doors when CRPGs can do this with a simple fireball which is a low level spell in JRPGs.

It would make much more sense to me to tie lockpicking with a magic ward system where it takes a certain high MP to produce a lock and this MP is taken from the collective efforts of party members.

The best simple implementation I've seen though are where locked doors are part of a story. Despair Labyrinth is the best one I've played that portrays this in as simple a manner. There's no special script. There are just events where some enemy is said to have opened the door or some commotion causes the other side to open the door or there's a secret door that's timed and you need to find someone in a given time to discover said path.
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