Gluby's Comprehensive Guide
to Character Development Mods

A guide to Morrowind mods affecting
leveling, skill gain and attribute development


Version 1.01 (Oct. 16, 2009)


Mythic Mods >> Gluby's Comprehensive Guides >> Character Development Mods

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Contents

 


Introduction


While perhaps seemingly minor, character development (how your character improves in skill and power throughout the game) is one of the most important areas of gameplay, because it so fundamentally affects the game experience. Bethesda's default system, as implemented, has some serious disadvantages that can be corrected via the use of mods.

The problem is that the unmodified character development and leveling system in Morrowind is quirky and tedious, requiring planning and odd repetitive behavior to achieve decent attribute scores in the mid- and late-game. Though skill gains themselves occur in a clever and intuitive way, how they translate into levels and attribute gains means that you either accept haphazard and often poor attribute gains, or meticulously grind away, MMO-style, at certain skills in a way inimical to immersiveness and to playing the game in a free-flowing, enjoyable way.

Though some do enjoy it as is, many find it frustrating, and most, whether erstwhile min/maxers or pure roleplayers, do not want to play stunted characters merely because they played in a sensible way. (For a more complete explanation of the default attribute gain and leveling system in Morrowind and why it is problematic, read the FAQ below, and also see Galsiah's short summary of the issue at his page for Galsiah's Character Development).

The mods in this guide are designed to redress this problem and eliminate the necessity of planning and grinding. There are two categories: Alternate Character Leveling Systems, and Alternate Health (Hit Point) Systems. You should carefully consider which to use, as these mods can have significant affects on game balance, and are not so easy to pull in and out of an ongoing game. Of course, it should be noted that most mods affecting the same things are not compatible with each other.

 

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Alternate Character Leveling Systems


There are a number of mods that provide alternate character development, or "leveling," systems, all of which ameliorate the problem and allow players to just play the game, without having to worry about grinding at this or that skill to ensure desired development. All except one involve a global script that runs constantly, and most are essentially minor fixes to eliminate the planning-and-grinding rough edge.

The two major mods, and generally the most well-used, are Galsiah's Character Development (GCD) and Madd Leveler, both of which also make a number of additional changes, including removing the default cap of 100 for skills and attributes (optionally in the case of the latter mod). GCD is by far the more radical of the two in its approach, as it makes fundamental changes to the character development system that lend themselves to a different playstyle and that make the game more challenging, but at the same time make the character skills and attributes more tightly integrated and amenable to characters focused on one or another path of development (under the default game, characters start different and end up all alike at the end; under GCD, they start different and stay different).

Balor's Levelling, Kobu's Leveling Mod and Stealaxe's Dynamic Leveling all are more limited in scope, focusing instead on eliminating the planning-and-grinding element while still keeping the basic leveling attribute-gain system intact, although each has some other features and differences (for example, Balor's Levelling is particularly noteworthy for its introduction of a skill/attribute atrophy mechanic, adding a whole new dynamic to the game).

Finally, the most purist of the mods, Linora's Leveling Mod, is in its own category as a lightweight character development system tweak that leaves the original fully intact and uses no scripts whatsoever. Instead, it accomplishes the goal by merely adjusting the game settings (GMSTs) that determine how many skill points are required to achieve full level-up stat gains.

Of course, again, you will want to carefully read the descriptions for the mods that most interest you before using, as, again, some of them are not so easy to change or remove from an ongoing savegame, once in place.

 

Galsiah's Character Development (GCD) v1.08 [Galsiah]: A complete alternative attribute gain system that radically changes the way leveling is done, eliminating the level-up screen altogether and making attribute gain much more of a background process. It is widely used and generally highly-regarded, appealing to those who enjoy more fluid and realistic gaming. It also increases the difficulty of the game by effectively lowering the player power level, and makes magic-specialized characters more competitive. (And, at the same time, it makes melee-specialized characters somewhat less powerful.)

The changes are extensive and change the leveling system to make attribute and skill progression seamless, rendering level merely an indicator of the character's development, rather than the determining factor of it. In the words of the author, "[l]imits are removed from skills and attributes, and skill gain is slowed down exponentially to preserve game balance. Skills influence attributes, health and magicka directly. Characters remain diverse throughout the game, with strengths and weaknesses dependent on initial skill choices, skill increases and racial factors."

The fundamantal mechanic change is that attribute gain is no longer tied to leveling, but instead occurs automatically during game play as the relevant skills increase. In the base game, each attribute is effectively a simple number, determined at CharGen, to which bonuses are added at each level-up. Under GCD, each attribute becomes a dynamic function of its governing skills (which are themselves broadened to include major and minor influences, as will be explained below). Luck increases at, roughly, the average rate of character's overall attribute development. The overall result is that the player need not worry about planning skill increases to ensure adequate attribute gains.

GCD accomplishes the goal of making characters diverse throughout the game by making the relative skill and attribute values chosen during CharGen far more important in skill progress. Under the base game, all skills and attributes follow the same progression regardless of whether they started at 5 or 50. Under GCD, the starting value of a skill strongly influences its rate of improvement, as that starting value is used to calculate the threshold at which development for that attribute begins to slow down drastically. It does not set any hard limits—any attribute or skill can rise to 125 and higher, theoretically—but it implements a development curve that makes it so major skills selected during CharGen can rise to 125 in a reasonable time, whereas miscellaneous skills will be very difficult to increase above 90. As the author explains, "a specialised character might, after a very long time, have scores of 140 in a couple of attributes, but only 60 or 70 in several others."

As mentioned above, GCD broadens the influence of skills on all attributes. Under the base game, each attribute has precisely three skills that effect it; all other skills have no impact on that attribute. GCD makes this far more dynamic, with each skill having a minor influence on three to five attributes as well as the primary governing attribute. This is one of the places where initial CharGen values are determinative; among skills that share the same primary governing attribute, major skills chosen during CharGen will have a greater impact than minor skills (the example given is a fighter with Long Blade as a major skill and Axe as a miscellaneous skill; both are governed by Strength, but the character will gain more attribute points by developing Long Blade than by developing Axe).

Finally, under GCD, Health is freed from any relationship to level gain, instead becoming a function of Endurance and relevant skill scores, and Magicka now regenerates at a rate based on Willpower and the other magic skills. Magic-specialized characters receive an increased rate of increase of their maximum Magicka. (However, the Magicka regeneration system is optional and can be turned off if another Magicka regeneration mod is preferred.) Note, however, that the Health change does produce characters with lesser Health at higher levels, so it does increase the difficulty level.

GCD comes in three variants: easy, medium and difficult. It includes a handful of compatbility patches for other widely-used mods, and a few optional plugins that provide minor fixes for other game issues.

Note on Minor Bug: Note that, while GCD is conclusively considered a solid, tried-and-true and reliable mod that works well, it has been known to cause some increased instability, resulting in more frequent crashes to desktop than otherwise would be experienced, at least for some players, because of a Morrowind game engine bug that it triggers (specifically, the 34th variable bug). Unless and until a patch is released for GCD, those comfortable with editing a few of the scripts may find their games more stable if they apply the quick fixes discussed here (more information can also be found here).

[Oct. 2005. Compatible with race, birthsign mods, and alternate CharGen mods, as long as they do not later (during the game) modify attributes in-game with certain script commands. Many mod authors specifically address GCD compatibility in their readmes, and some include GCD-compatible versions.]


Madd Leveler v1.0b [Madd Mugsy]: A modular set of changes (contained in separate ESP plugins) that basically retains the original game system, but automates attribute gain, thereby eliminating the tedious need to grind for skill improvements each level. It is intended as a milder change that keeps the style and flavor of the original system, while getting rid of its rough edges.

The mod accomplishes its goal by setting level-up attribute gains to a multiplier of x1, regardless of skill point gains, thereby making leveling a less important part of attribute gain. Instead, the bulk of attribute gain occurs during play; one point is added to a attribute for every three points gained in a relevant skill.

Madd Leveler includes a number of modular plugins that offer different options. One option (which comes in two variants) switches around some skill-attribute linkages (changing Short Blade skill, for example, to be based on Agility, rather than the default Speed). Another makes attribute gain slower, changing the attribute gain rate to one attribute point gained for every four points gained in a relevant skill. Finally, the mod includes a plugin that eliminates the 100-point cap on attributes and skills. [Sep. 2004.]

 

Levelling v1.0 [Balor]: Another milder alternate character development system aimed at slowing the rate of attribute gain, eliminating the necessity of micromanaging skill gain, and making the game more challenging and realistic. Attribute gain at the time of leveling is reduced to a maximum of 2; most attribute gain occurs inbetween levels. For every three points the skills under a given attribute increase by a total of three, that attribute goes up by one.

Notably, the mod includes the possibility for attributes and skills to atrophy; skills and attributes have a chance to decrease that gets more likely the longer the player has gone without exercising that skill. However, the mod does not allow skills to fall beneath a base skill value (the starting skill level plus a bonus determined by the highest score achieved in that skill). The mod, in the words of the author, is intended to "'gently' push players to play more specialized chars, while not banning ability to become omnigod, only adding extra challenge to it." [Mar. 2005.]

 

Kobu's Leveling Mod (a.k.a. Kobu's No Planning) [Kobu]: The first alternate leveling/attribute gain mod, Kobu's mod addresses the micromanagement problem by weighting the character's chosen major skills five times heavier than minor skills for the purposes of leveling and attribute gain, thus causing major skills to be far more central. As a result, skill increases tend to average out to a healthy 8 per level, without the player's needing to "plan out" and grind at certain skills.

The mod makes a small adjustment to Speechcraft skill gain, making it so failures generate a small amount of progress. For Health, it abandons leveling entirely as a determining factor, instead setting Health strictly to a simple formula of Endurance * 3. It includes a hard version, which makes Athletics more difficult to improve. [Jun. 2002.]

 

Dynamic Leveling v1.1 Beta [Stealaxe]: An alternative character development mod designed for more casual players who prefer character level to play a more important role in game mechanics, but want to be freed from the planning requirement for character development. Like other mods listed herein, Stealaxe's mod makes it so skill gains directly increase attributes (with the gains being applied when the character sleeps).

The relationship of Health to level, Strength and Endurance is kept without much change, except that Health is determined dynamically as a function of level and current Strength and Endurance, eliminating the need to focus on Endurance early to ensure adequate Health later, but keeping the essence of the default formula.

The mod makes a more fundamental change to Magicka, making level a key determinant of it (in the vanilla game, Magicka remains relatively static as a function of Intelligence and a constant base multiplier, usually 1), and implementing Magicka regeneration (at a rate of Willpower divided by 20).

[Feb. 2008. The developing modder disappeared while the mod was still in beta status, and has not reappeared; use caution, as the mod may still have significant bugs. The mod conflicts with Magicka regeneration mods, though the conflict is easily resolvable via in-game console command.]

 

Linora's Leveling Mod v2.0 [Linora]: The most lightweight, and most recent, of the alternate character development mods, Linora's mod uses no constantly-running scripts (as do the other alternate character development mods) and does not alter the way the game handles leveling attribute gain. Instead, it simply alters the GMST (game setting) values that determine attribute gain during leveling, such that the minimum attribute gain is three, four, or five (depending on whether the Hard, Medium or Easy version is used). However, even on the Hard version, ten skill increases still yields five attribute points. To balance this change, the mod also slows the rate of gain in miscellaneous skills. [Apr. 2009.]

 

Morrowind Decapitated v1.2 [Fliggerty]: A character development mod that retains the leveling attribute-multiplier system of the base game, but that uses Morrowind Enhanced (MWE) to remove the skill and attribute caps, allowing them to improve above 100, without abandoning the existing game mechanic† for skill improvement progress (which, under the base game, stops once a skill has reached 100). [Apr. 2008.This mod is no longer supported or recommended for use by the author due to internal MWE bugs that cause some skills to fail to improve under the mod, and that result in an incompatibility between Morrowind Decapitated and Aerelorn's Combat Enhanced (ACE) that causes the game to crash when the player hits in combat if both mods are used together.]

Technical explanation: Morrowind's scripting engine has many commands to set different variables (such as attributes, skills and other stats) directly, but does not have a command to do so for the skill progress counters that are maintained for each skill and incremented by one whenever the skill is used successfully (you can see them as progress bars when you mouse over a skill on the skills). Because of this limitation, mods that make systemic changes to skill development tend to need to find other ways to work around the game engine's skill improvement mechanic, since they cannot affect it, and most do this by scripting their own replacements for it. This does involve additional complexity and scripting overhead. MWE is an external "wrapper" for Morrowind that is run concurrently with the game, and adds expanded functionality not provided by the base game, including the ability for a mod to increment and change the skill progress counter. For more information on MWE, see its web site, but do not download and use the version there; the latest version, generally required, is version 1.6, for which the download is linked above.


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Alternate Health (Hit Point) Systems


Health (hit point) gain in Morrowind is done in the style of many older level-based pen-and-paper role-playing games: you have a running total, which starts at a relatively low amount, and a certain amount is added to that total each level. The character begins with an amount of healthy equal to the average of her starting Strength and Endurance, after which the character gains an amount of Health each level equal to 10% of the character's Endurance at that level. The amount added then becomes an undifferentiated addition to the running total. It is never recalculated if Endurance later increases. Likewise, Strength never again affects the character's Health score, whether it increases or decreases.

In other words, if your Endurance in your character's first 20 levels is low, resulting in an accordingly low Health stat, but you then increase it significantly after level 21, the increased Health will only affect the Health gain from level 21 onward. It will not retroactively increase the Health gain for previous levels. This fact, combined with the way leveling and attribute-gain work in Morrowind, means that players must grind away at Endurance-based skills to mind-numbing degree during the early levels, being very careful not to level. Not immersive, not fun, and not really necessary. You could, of course, ignore it and not worry about it, accepting a more fragile character, but it may be preferable to have a more sensible Health mechanic in place.

These mods seek to accomplish that goal, making the Health stat more consistent by calculating it dynamically, rather than keeping it as a static number to which some is added every level. Again, they are not necessary, but some find them preferable. As far as I am aware, there are only two such mods.

Compatibility Note: Galsiah's Character Development and Kobu's Leveling Mod include their own alternative Health systems, and so players using these mods will not require the use of an alternate Health system mod (and, further, they are likely to conflict, unless one manually disables or removes the relevant scripts). Madd Leveler includes an optional example plugin that gives a minor additional Endurance-based boost to Health at every level (on top of that already given in the game), but can be easily forgone in favor of one of the below mods. Balor's Levelling and Linora's Leveling Mod do not appear to have any effect on Health determination, and so can likewise be used with an alternative health determination mod without any tweaking.

 

State Based Hit Points [HotFusion4]: Modifies the Health-determination mechanic so that, instead of determining base Health from the starting Strength and Endurance attributes and adding 10% of Endurance to it at each level, Health is constantly a strict function of Endurance and Strength, therefore eliminating the "need" to raise those two attributes early in order to have more total hit points later. [Feb. 2005.]

 

Health Fix v1.4 [Kote]: An alternative mod that changes the way Health is determined similar to HotFusion's mod, but in this case changing the Health calculation formula to be a strict function of Endurance and level (twice the sum of Endurance and Level). [Sep. 2007.]

 

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FAQ


 

How does the default character development system work, and what's so wrong with it?

A full explanation can be found at the Morrowind: Level page at the UESP Wiki, but here's my own explanation.

Morrowind is a hybrid skill- and level-based game in which the character development mechanic works as follows: instead of relying on the acquisition of experience points (usually by killing fierce monsters, hungry rodents and hapless townspeople) to gain levels in a certain class or profession, thereby gaining access to higher abilities and powers of that class/profession, Morrowind relies on the development of skills by using them in the course of the game.

Indeed, in Morrowind's system, profession has no specific relevance except as a handy label for different packages of primary skills, which are the real defining dynamic of the character. Five major skills and five minor are chosen during character generation, and these are the skills to which level is tied; whenever a total of ten points are gained during the course of play in any of these major and minor skills, the character gains a level. All skills falling outside of the chosen ten major and minor skills, it should be noted, are considered miscellaneous skills, and do not contribute to level gain, though, as will be discussed shortly, they do play an essential role in contributing to how much attributes can increase at level-up.

The issue is what happens when the character gains a level. Leveling has two very important effects: Health (hit point) gain and attribute gain. Its primary role in the rest of the game is determining the power level of enemies the game will spawn, but we're only concerned here about the actual effect on the player character.

Health: Gaining a level grants the the player an increase to Health equal to 10% of current Endurance. Health is treated cumulatively, not dynamically, meaning it is a running total of individual gains at each level that is never recalculated. This means that, if you do not develop your character's Endurance early on, your character will have accumulated significantly lower hit points throughout the game, even if you later develop it to 100. Thus, the default game mechanic forces you to choose between playing naturally, or grinding away at Endurance skills (Heavy Armor, Medium Armor and Spear) to some degree at low levels to ensure adequate Health gains throughout the whole game.

Attributes: While the Health gain mechanic can be irksome, the more serious problem is presented by the nature of the attribute-gain mechanic. Adequate attribute gain in Morrowind is essential to the character's competitiveness, and often to gaining access to guilds, factions and quests. At each level-up (done during resting after the requisite ten major/minor skill increases have been accomplished), the player is granted the choice to increase up to three attributes. Each of the the three possible attribute increases ranges from one to five (the "multiplier"), depending on how many skill points were gained in the skills governed by those attributes (whether they Major, Minor or Miscellaneous skills). Ten skill increases in an attribute yields a multiplier of five, while none results in a multiplier of one. It is possible, with planning and care, to gain 15 total attribute points per level, if the player achieves ten skill increases in each of three skills, one major/minor and two miscellaneous.

However, skill increases can easily be "wasted" under this system. Unless you (1) meticulously design your character around this mechanic, choosing major and minor skills specifically to allow for skill improvement in each attribute that does not result in leveling, and (2) carefully plan and manage your skill increases in a controlled way, you end up with many skill increases that will not contribute toward attribute gain multipliers during level-up. Indeed, if you "just play the game," as it were, you are likely to end up with a stunted character, with sometimes frustrating results.

By the time you're reading this, you likely have already become embroiled in this munchkin's min/maxing game already. Even if you aren't a min/maxer, you have to "manage" your skill gain to a significant degree just to avoid having an uncompetitive character who has trouble working up the attributes to meet the requirements to join factions and gain access to quests. Failing to do so also translates to a more difficult game, which punishes the exact personality type that is likely to find skill-planning and grinding excessively tedious (i.e. non-hardcore-gamers who are focused more on storyline, immersion and so forth).

It's a pain. And, despite the beauty and flexibility of Morrowind's skill and attribute system, its implementation violates one of the most important rules of good role-playing games: the mechanics of the game should not force players to pay far more attention to them than to the actual storyline and action ("bogging them down" with the game rules and infrastructure itself). It's similar to the rule that computer games should not make players fight the user-interface more fiercely than they fight the actual opponents.

Fortunately, however, Bethesda made the underlying game engine powerful and flexible enough to allow clever modders to change the character development system to make the system both highly configurable and even, with some ingenuity, replaceable. So, in the end, they still deserve much credit for the game as a whole.

 

Is it safe to use an alternate character development mod with an alternate CharGen mod?

I personally have not had problems with incompatibilities. I know for certain from personal testing that GCD and SkipTutorial work fine together, and I noticed no problems between GCD and Definitive Birthsigns (which is notable for having specific one-time post-CharGen scripts run to accomplish special birthsign effects), though I did not test it extensively or with many of the birthsigns.

More information, if anyone wishes to contribute it, is welcome..

 

Can an alternate character development mod be applied to an ongoing game?

Yes, though do not do it without thoroughly reading the readme on how to go about it (running a startscript at the in-game console, for example), and making yourself aware of any pitfalls to watch out for.

 

 

 

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Version History


 

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Credits and References


As with my other guides, I have drawn heavily for inspiration and research on the work of the Morrowind Mythic Mods team, and these guides are largely built upon their efforts.

Thanks to the ES Forums community for information provided and questions answered, with particular thanks to the following: AfroKing, C Mireneye and Galsiah, with particular thanks to Galsiah for questions answered.

And, of course, thanks to those whose who have shared their time, energy and talent with the community in making and releasing these mods

 

Feedback

I welcome feedback. Corrections, suggestions, things I've missed, broken links, additional information that would be useful, better technical explanations, hey-that's-kinda-obtuse-writing and all other kinds of feedback help me to make these guides better, so don't hold back. I'm not touchy.

I can be contacted at the Bethesda ES Forums, or by e-mail using the Contact Us links on these pages.

For licensing and permissions information, please see the Permissions section of my main guide.

 

 

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