Archive for The Secret World

TSW Builds : To Elite or Not?

NOTE: This information was current for The Secret World. Since the conversion over to Secret World Legends, build theory is significantly different; so this likely no longer applies.

After posting my Auxiliary Weapons extension to my TSW build analysis, in my How many builds are there? thread on the TSW forums, Novarind brought up the point that my analysis assumes everyone will want to use an Elite skill in both their Active and Passive selections. This may or may not be the case; so the question was raised how choosing NOT to select an Elite Ability affects the number of build choices.

I’ve updated my spreadsheet to allow you to choose not to select an Elite ability then ran the numbers for four scenarios.

Here is how things breakdown…

No Elites: 2,508,577,928 “viable” builds
Passive Only: 2,164,937,116 “viable” builds
Active Only: 4,476,090,029 “viable” builds
Active & Passive: 3,862,927,011 “viable” build

I guess what you can infer from this is that choosing a Passive Elite actually limits the different ways to build your character (by 14%), however Unlocking and adding in the Active Elites actually increases your choices by 78%. Choosing to do both still adds 54% more build options; so the positive addition vis-a-vis the Active Elites outweighs the limiting factor of the Passive Elites.

Also keep in mind that this is purely math / statistical analysis. The specific effects of the abilities drastically changes how viable each build combination would be.

Updated Spreadsheet: tsw-skillbuilds-auxiliary

TSW Builds Update – Auxiliary Weapons

NOTE: This information was current for The Secret World. Since the conversion over to Secret World Legends, build theory is significantly different; so this likely no longer applies.

So a LONG time ago now, I posted my “final” review of TSW Builds

However, since that time, Funcom introduced Auxiliary Weapons. Someone the other day pinged me about how my numbers were way off since auxiliary weapons (of which there are current 5 to choose from) multiply the build diversity. So, factoring in Auxiliary Weapons, there would be a theoretical build diversity of…


Passive Combinations

x 16,982,901,936

Active Combinations

x 5

Auxiliary Weapons

= 386,292,701,143,169,000,000,000

Theoretical Builds

x 0.00000000000001

1 millionth of 1 percent

= 3,862,927,011

Potential Viable Builds

And an update to my spreadsheet as well: tsw-skillbuilds-auxiliary

The Secret World – Skill Points

NOTE: This information was current for The Secret World. Since the conversion over to Secret World Legends, build theory is significantly different; so this likely no longer applies.

So there are several great places to go to get information about selecting skills for your character builds. My personal favorite is TSW Guides: TSW Build Page. But a question that comes up over and over again on The Secret World Newcomers Forum is about how to spend the skill points. Since skill points come at 1/3 the frequency of ability points, it’s a legitimate area to be concerned about. So I thought I’d write this up to explain how I allocate my skill points when I start a new character.

To explain, I was in the Closed Beta portion of testing and each new build I would create a new character from scratch; so this approach comes from a few dozen character rolls that I did during that time.

What Are Skill Points?

Skill Points (SP) are used to allow you to equip ever more powerful equipment (weapons and talismans). Since your major increase in strength comes from the gear that you can wear, allocating your skill points to maximize your potential is an important part of character building. You gain a new SP every time you completely fill your experience bar. Another way to measure it is you get one skill point for every 3 ability points that you earn.

There are a couple of important things to keep in mind about skill points.

  1. The Quality Level (QL) of equipment you can use is one higher than the corresponding Skill Level (SL). For example, if you have an SL of 3 in Blades, you can equip up to a QL 4 Blade weapon.
  2. For weapons (which have two paths to spend your SP on), your SL is the HIGHEST of the two paths, NOT the sum. So investing in both paths usually doesn’t pay off from a pure SL standpoint
  3. There is an SP cap (currently 44). Once you have 44 unused SP, you won’t earn any more. So it doesn’t make sense to keep banking them forever.

Where Can I Spend My SP?

You open the Skill Point tree by pressing (K) in-game. You can also get to it from your Ability Wheel (N). The SP tree is divided into weapons on the top half and Talismans on the lower half. A full discussion of weapons and talismans is really beyond this guide. Suffice it to say that weapons are how you enable your character to use abilities tied to those weapons and talismans are the stat generating gear typically associated with armor in other MMOs.


Each Weapon is further divided into two categories. The first is always Damage. Allocating SP in the Damage category will enhance your damage dealing skills with that weapon. Read the descriptions for each weapon to see exactly what each weapon skill enhances. The second branch for each weapon is going to either be Survival, Support, or Healing. The buff associated with allocating points in this branch usually help with tanking, buffing/debuffing, and healing abilities respectively. The following list is a summary. See the in-game tree for details.

  • Fist
    • Damage – Buffs Sweep and Regrowth skills.
    • Healing – Buffs healing delivered to targets.
  • Blade
    • Damage – Causes additional damage.
    • Survivability – Self heal on blocked attacks.
  • Hammer
    • Damage – Causes additional damage from hammer attacks
    • Survivability – Reduces damage received when blocking.
  • Pistol
    • Damage – Additional damage on successful hit
    • Support – Heal defensive target when you hit opponents
  • Shotgun
    • Damage – Additional damage at close range
    • Support – Shield for defensive target when using a shotgun turret ability
  • Assault Rifle
    • Damage – Stacking damage buff against target
    • Healing – Improves Leech effects for AR abilities
  • Elemental
    • Damage – Additional AoE damage to enemies
    • Support – Buffs defensive target damage output when using Manifestation abilities
  • Blood
    • Damage – Damage buff while Blood Offering is active
    • Healing – Heals defensive target when Barrier expires
  • Chaos
    • Damage – Potential for additional attack causing damage
    • Survivability – Evading attacks further reduces the damage you receive

Note that you will only get the stat benefit for the weapons you are actually wielding. For example, putting points into the Survivability line for Blade won’t grant you the self-heal if you don’t have a Blade weapon equipped.


Talismans are divided into Head, Major, and Minor categories. These correspond to talismans that fit into the following slots on your character:

  • Head – Your head slot. Buffs Magical Protection.
  • Major – Wrist, Neck, Finger. Buffs hit points (hp).
  • Minor – Waist, Occult, Luck. Buffs Physical Protection.

Theory Behind My Approach

I break this down into three phases of the game.

  • Phase 1 – First Upgrades – The first equipment upgrades you’re likely to receive are going to be weapons. Therefore, I want to make sure I can use a new weapon as soon as I pick it off some zombie’s rotting hands in Kingsmouth.
  • Phase 2 – Talismans, First, Second, and Third – Over the long haul, you will find more talisman upgrades than any other. Makes sense, right? Since you have 7 slots for talismans but only 2 for weapons?
  • Phase 3 – Maximize buffs

My First 32

The part of SP allocation that I want to focus on here is how I spend my first 32 SP that I earn. I’ll provide some overall guidance following that, but let’s hit those first 32 first. I’ll lay out the table of how I do this, then follow up with some discussion.

SP Allocation SL
1 Major Talismans 1
2 Minor Talismans 1
3 Head Talismans 1
4 Primary Weapon (Damage) 1
5 Secondary Weapon (Survival/Support/Healing) 1
7 Major Talismans 2
9 Minor Talismans 2
11 Head Talismans 2
13 Primary Weapon (Damage) 2
15 Secondary Weapon (Survival/Support/Healing) 2
18 Major Talismans 3
21 Minor Talismans 3
24 Head Talismans 3
27 Primary Weapon (Damage) 3
30 Secondary Weapon (Survival/Support/Healing) 3
31 Primary Weapon (Survival/Support/Healing) 3
32 Secondary Weapon (Damage) 3


The first 2 points go to my weapons. Whichever I’m using for damage, gets a point in it’s Damage category. The other gets a point in the supporting branch. This will allow me to equip up to QL 2 weapons, which gets me through most of Kingsmouth Town.

The next points go in order to Major Talismans, Minor Talismans, and then Head Talismans. I choose Major first because it also buffs my HP (which everyone can use more of) and it supports 3 crucial talisman slots on my character. Minor comes next because it covers 3 more talisman slots. While Head talismans account for bigger bonuses than the others, since they are also more rare, I leave those for last.

Once I have everything at level 1, I proceed to get my 2 weapons and my talisman skills up to SL 3. This will allow me to equip up to QL 4 which gets me past Kingsmouth and well into the Savage Coast.

Finally, just before I enter the mid-game part of my strategy, I put one point (and ONLY one point) into the “other” branch of my weapons trees. The reason I do this is because the first point is usually a significant buff for whatever skills that weapon is supporting. Subsequent points will raise bonuses from 5% to 5.5% or something similarly trivial. But that first 5% bonus for 1 SP is worth it in my book.

Where Do I Go From Here?

Well, that depends. In my case, I decided I wanted to diversify from my Blade/Fist build which serves me well for soloing and work on a tanking build using Blade/Chaos. So I started putting some points into those skills. I’m also slow playing the whole game (I’m still on Solomon Island with 2.25 days of /played time). so I don’t need gear that can handle Egypt yet, which allows me to branch out and look at some healing and other builds as well. For me, going back and running through the Kingsmouth Town quests with new weapons is kind of fun.

On the other hand, if you’re sticking with the weapons you have, then you could just continue the pattern. Major, Minor, Head, Primary, Secondary until you reach SL 9/10.

I hope this was helpful to someone. Let me know if anything is unclear (or even worse incorrect).

TSW Builds – Final

NOTE: This information was current for The Secret World. Since the conversion over to Secret World Legends, build theory is significantly different; so this likely no longer applies.

Now that we’re reaching the 30 day mark for The Secret World being live, I figured it was time to give the final analysis of the number of potential character builds based on the current ability wheel in-game.

A Brief History of Builds

I’ve made several posts over the last months in regards to why I think that TSW’s build system is unique and offers some challenges and opportunities for those of us who like to crunch numbers. Here is the history of those posts…

The Real Deal Wheel

On the live wheel, there are 9 weapons and 3 “general” ability segments. These are:

  • Magic
    • Blood Magic
    • Chaos Magic
    • Elemental Magic
  • Ranged
    • Shotguns
    • Pistols
    • Assault Rifles
  • Melee
    • Blades
    • Hammers
    • Fists
  • General
    • Survivalism
    • Subversion
    • Turbulence

The weapons each have 24 Active and 24 Passive abilities plus 5 Elite Active and 3 Elite Passive abilities as well. The general ability segment each have 3 Active, 3 Passive, and 1 Elite Active ability in their segment.

Selecting the Building Blocks

As mentioned previously, a build in TSW consists of 7 active and 7 passive abilities. You’re allowed to have 1 Elite ability in each Active and Passive parts of the deck. For Active abilities, you’re further restricted that they have to be either tied to one of the 2 weapons you’re allowed to equip or part of the general segment of the ability wheel. Passive abilities can be equipped no matter what weapons you’re using.

Active Abilities

With 2 weapons, and 3 general segments, there are 13 potential Elite Active abilities. There is also a pool of 57 normal active abilities from which you can build your deck. Assuming that you want to use 1 Elite ability if it is available, that leaves 6 active abilities to be selected from the pool of 57. The math works out as follows:

1 Elite Active out of a pool of 13 = 13 combinations

6 normal actives out of a pool of 56 = 36,288,252 combinations

13 x  36,288,252 =  471,747,276 combinations for each weapon pair

Since there are 36 ways that you can select 2 weapons out of a pool of 9 options…

36 weapon pairs x  471,747,276 active combinations per pair =  16,982,901,936 possible ways to select your 7 active abilities at the end game.

Passive Abilities

Passives are a bit easier since they aren’t dependent on weapon selections. There are a total of 27 Elite Passive abilities and a pool of 225 normal passive abilities to select from when creating your build.

1 Elite Passive out of a pool of 27 = 27 combinations

6 normal passives out of a pool of 225 = 168,488,720,400 combinations

27 x 168,488,720,400 =  4,549,195,450,800 possible ways to select your 7 passive abilities

Builds and Viability

So with 16,982,901,936 different ways to select Active abilities and 4,549,195,450,800 ways to select passive abilities, you end up with …

16,982,901,936 x 4,549,195,450,800 = 77,258,540,228,633,700,000,000 potential builds

If, once again, we use 1 millionth of 1 percent as our viability estimator, we still end up with 772,585,402 potential ways to build your character.

With over 772 million possible builds, I’m pretty sure that balance should end up being a non issue.

Once again I’ve uploaded my spreadsheet that I used to come to these conclusions. One number you could play with is the “synergistic sets”. For raw number purposes, I assumed that all 36 weapon combinations could potentially work. You could look at it and decide that only 10 of those weapon choices are actually likely to work together. But if you do that, I’d recommend you adjust the Viabilty factor as well.

TSW Skill Builds – Final

The Secret World Diversity, Round 3

NOTE: This information was current for The Secret World. Since the conversion over to Secret World Legends, build theory is significantly different; so this likely no longer applies.

A Brief History

In previous posts, I’ve talked about the vast number of skills and combinations (decks) there of which can be used to customize your character’s skill sets. For background on this, I’d refer you to:

New Information

In reviewing some recent comments from developers and players at the PAX East conference, I’ve come across two things that have made me revise my model:

Elite Abilities

Each of the 9 weapons has an Elite Active and Elite Passive ability. However, in your build deck, you are only allowed one of each. I’ve made the assumption (which I feel is safe) that the elite abilities will be strong enough that one will want to have them included in your build deck. This has the following effects on your skill selections:

  • On the active side, since you can only have 2 active weapons, you’re going to be choosing 1 of 2. This has the added effect of reducing the active ability pool for the other 6 actives in your deck by two.
  • On the passive side, there are 9 passive elite abilities which can be chosen independent of your active weapons. Therefore you can choose 1 of 9 and your pool of abilities for the remaining 6 passive abilities is reduced by 9 as well.

Active / Passive Split

I’ve seen a couple of comments which go along these lines:

“There are 9 abilites in each cell of the skill wheel which alternate Active then Passive”

If this holds true, then the split of active to passive skills should be 5 to 4. So I’ve adjusted my respective pools using those numbers for now.

Back to the Math!

With this new information, my calculations break down as follows:

Active Builds

Select 1 of 2 Active Elite abilities, giving you 2 possible Active Elite combinations.

Select 6 of 60 Active Standard abilities, giving you 50,063,860 Active Standard Combinations.

Multiply and get 100,127,720 potential Active Builds

Passive Builds

Select 1 of 9 Passive Elite abilities for 9 possible Passive Elite combinations.

Select 6 of 226 Passive Standard abilities for 168,488,720,400 possible Passive Standard combinations

Multiply to get 1,516,398,483,600 potential Passive Builds

Complete Builds

Multiply the Active Builds and the Passive Builds and you get 151,833,522,774,325,000,000 potential character builds. Using the 1 millionth of 1 percent number that I’ve used to filter for viability, that still represents 1,518,335 potential viable builds!


While each bit of information that we get reduces the raw numbers of builds that we can use, I think it stands to reason that this number is still staggeringly diverse and should allow for an extremely high degree of customization for our TSW characters.

For those of you who wold like to disect my math model, I’ve uploaded my latest version of the spreadsheet as well.

Excel 2007/2010 format: TSW-SkillBuilds-v3

Excel 97-2003 format: TSW-SkillBuilds-v3 (2003)

The Secret World Theorycrafting

This isn’t a post so much as a notice that in my links section, I’ll be linking to forum topics and other blogs / sites that have information about the numbers and math behind The Secret World. I’ll try to keep the link section as up to date as I can.

The Secret World character builds

NOTE: This information was current for The Secret World. Since the conversion over to Secret World Legends, build theory is significantly different; so this likely no longer applies.

This is actually an update to my previous post Balance, Diversity, and The Secret World. Please take a look there for the basic information about how character abilities are built into a “deck” for your character.

In a dev blog entry from Martin Bruusgaard, lead designer for The Secret World, Martin shares some additional information about how abilities work, the syngergies between them, and refines the numbers slightly. Read the full article at: Martin Bruusgaard explains character development

For purposes of the math I’m about to do, the salient points are:

Total abilities a character can unlock: 525
Starter skills (not associated with the weapons in the game) : 3
Weapons (used to categorize abilities): 9
Abilities / Weapon: 58

A character can have up to 2 weapons equippped. The seven active abilities in the character’s deck are selected from the pool of abilities for those two weapons.

Passive abilites are not restricted to the equipped weapon, and therefore any passive ability can be selcted to be part of the 7 passives each character can have in their ability deck.


My main assumption is that the split between active and passive abilites is 50/50 and consistent across weapons. If I get additional information about the ability design, I can revisit this to remove said assumption.

Active Abilities

If I can select 7 abilities out of a pool of 58 (2 weapons * 29 active abilities each), then there are 300,674,088 different combinations of active abilities to choose from.

Passive Abilties

Since I select 7 abilities out of a pool of 264 total passive abilities, there are 16,366,799,252,232 different combinations of passive abilities to choose from.

Total Builds

To get the total potential builds, we multiply the number of active ability combinations by the number of passive ability combinations. This means there are 4,921,072,438,643,940,000,000 total potential character builds. If you’re having issues counting the commas, that’s nearly 5 million trillion potential character ability decks!


Now, gamers know that all builds are not created equal. It wouldn’t do any good to have a build where all of my passive abilities are improving conditions that my active abilities can’t take care of. Viability numbers are often a point of contention. I’ll decide that only 1 trillionth of 1 percent ( 1 / 100,000,000,000,000 ) would be good enough to be considered “viable” by most gamers.

In that case, from our pool of 4,921,072,438,643,940,000,000 builds, we’d be reduced to “only” having 49,210,724 that actually work. In other words there would still be over 49 million ways for you to build your character’s ability decks which would be useful to play the game. And that’s assuming that only 1 in 100 trillion builds were useful!

What’s this mean?

Ok, Karl, the math is mind boggling. Even the government doesn’t consider those types of numbers. But what does it mean to game play?

Well, one of the fears that MMO gamers often express is “Will the classes be balanced?” This is especially true for Player verses Player (PvP) players. Since they don’t want to choose a Warrior only to discover that Rangers are kicking their arse each time they step on to a battle field.

The beauty of a system like what Funcom is using for The Secret World is that they don’t HAVE to balance classes. They don’t even really have to balance abilities. If it turns out that one of the Hammer abilities is really good, any player can pick that ability up and use it too.

And with almost 5 million trillion ways to build a charcter, I still say that I have a really hard time believing that there will be a character build that is SO overpowerful that there’s no way for another player to counter it.

Balance, Diversity and The Secret World

NOTE: This information was current for The Secret World. Since the conversion over to Secret World Legends, build theory is significantly different; so this likely no longer applies.

Balancing and Diversity

As I mentioned almost a year ago in my The Balance Myth post, I’m not sure gamers really want complete balance as much as they want to make sure that no powers / skills are so overwhelming that there is no defense against them. Likewise they’d like to make sure that whatever character they are playing always has a way to be useful in the situations they’re playing in.

Funcom has talked extensively about the freedom of progression in the way that skills are handled in their upcoming The Secret World MMORPG. From time to time, people have asked on the public forums about balance issues with this type of system. My standpoint is if the above guidelines are adhered to (no overwhelming / no counter powers and make sure I don’t totally gimp myself with my choices) that the shear diversity of options will handle the overall balance “issue”.

I’ve posted a few times in these threads about the math behind my stance, but I figured I’d add it here as well so people can truly see how diverse your choices will be.

First the Facts

Funcom has said that they plan to have over 500 skills in the skill tree. Players can freely choose to purchase whatever skills they would like to have. There is a progression of sorts within the branches of the skill tree. So if I’m purchasing skills in the Fire Magic branch, I have to buy the first skill before I can buy the second skill, and so on. These skills are unique; so I’m not talking about buying Fireball 1, then Fireball 2, then Fireball 3. A fireball is a fireball whether you’re just starting out or have maxed out your skill points. It will be possible (given enough time) to earn enough xp and skill points to purchase all the skills in the game.

Now, even though you can have up to 500+ skills, you can only have 7 active and 7 passive skills that are selected at once. They have compared this to building a deck in a trading card game. You’ll be able to save these templates and load them again; so if you have a tank build that you really like, you can save that, swap to DPS for the PvP battle you’re entering, and then reload the tank build for the raid this weekend.

Now the Math

Although Funcom has said there will be over 500 skills (and word from the current beta is that there are more than that right now), let’s go with the 500 number. It’s daunting enough.

We don’t know exactly how those will break down between active and passive skills, but let’s say that it is 50% active and 50% passive. That means there are 250 potential active skills and 250 passive skills.

While you have to purchase skills in order, selecting them for your build is not order dependent; so from a statistics / mathematical standpoint, we’re talking about combinations, not permutations.

( If your statistic math skills are a little rusty, this site does a good job of explaining the difference and how they are calculated: Combinations and Permutations )

Let’s take each active/passive combinations first. Selecting 7 of 250 potential skills means that there are  11,126,241,217,000 different ways to select your 7 active skills and  11,126,241,217,000 to select your 7 passive skills.

Since the selection of active and passive skills are independent, we multiple the two numbers to arrive at how many potential builds are possible. Ready for this?

There are  123,793,243,618,870,000,000,000,000 different ways that you could select 7 active and 7 passive skills from the pool of 500!


Ok, I know what you’re probably thinking. What if I select 7 shotgun skills, but all my 7 passive skills do is buff cold damage.  I’m really wasting that build. So that number is crazy.

I agree with you.

So let’s say that only 1% of all those builds are actually viable and effective. Then we’re left with only  1,237,932,436,188,700,000,000,000 potential builds.

Still too high? Yeah, probably so. So let’s say that only 1 millionth of 1 percent (0.000001%) of those builds were effective. What do we have now?

1,237,932,436,188,700,000 potential builds!

In words, that’s 1.2 million trillion builds you could choose from. That’s a number even bigger than the government understands!

So Are We Balanced?

With that staggering number of potential builds, I find it hard to believe that there will be one killer skill deck for which there is no counter. But I acknowledge that the belief stems from my premise at the start … that there are no skills created which do not also have effective counter skills. In other words, if I stock up on fire magic, my opponents should be able to stock up on fire resist skills.

But How Do I Choose?

My concern in this system is not balance. It is how do I build one of these skill decks without building one of those 99.999999% of the builds that aren’t considered viable? This is where I hope that Funcom is going to help us out. I’d like to see things work in 2 ways.

In-game when I’m selecting skills, it would be nice if the UI suggested complementary skills for me. Don’t force me into those choices. I may be choosing passive skills that provide defensive bonuses even though my active skills are all fire damage. But help me by pointing out that if all I have are shotgun and fire magic, choosing a passive skill that buffs cold damage output wouldn’t be a good idea.

Secondly, Funcom has said that we’ll be able to save these “decks” as templates and reload them later. So if I create a good tank build, but my party needs DPS for the upcoming PvP battle, then I can save my tank, load my DPS and party on. Then on the  weekend when we’re going to do the new 10-man raid, I can reload my tank build without having to remember how it works.

This is great, but I hope that they go one teensy step further. I’d love to see it that when I save that build I can either take the build file and upload it to a forum or website, or even simply if there was a code assigned to the build that other people could type in to load the same skills on their character, that’d work too. This would let the community work together on creating effective builds for the various situations they’ll find themselves in.

Balanced Diversity

I think the math stands for itself in saying that the amount of ways that you’ll be able to build your character in The Secret World should allay most concerns about the balance of power. As long as Funcom helps us control the beastly levels of diversity, players shouldn’t have any concerns about their character’s ability to participate in whatever aspects of The Secret World they choose.

I’m really looking forward to seeing this work in practice as it has the potential to change how game developers view our character’s progression.

What If?

If you’d like to play with my numbers (adjust the numbers of skills, the split between active and passive, the percent of viable builds), I’ve uploaded the Excel spreadsheet that I used to do the math for me. Feel free to have fun.

TSW Skill Builds (Excel 97/2000/XP)

TSW Skill Builds (Excel 2007/2010)