Friday, December 30, 2005

[Monsters we Slay] Cool powers

Today, I have fought the first trial combats of my gamist dungeon crawl RPG that currently listens to the name Monsters we slay. I assure you that a dragon slayer and a shadow dancer have no trouble overcoming four goblins, which is exactly what I intended.

A lot of my current work on the game consists of thinking up cool powers for the heroes. In the setting I am currently developing ("Into the pit of fire" - think dungeons deep in the earth; goblins, golems, demons and dragons; elemental magic and exorcisms) there will be six hero types, and each of them needs about 25 or 30 cool powers. Currently, I have created the six first level powers of the dragon slayer, the shadow dancer and the lightning lord. Three observations from this process.

  1. Balancing cool powers is going to be very playtest intesive. It is quite impossible to judge whether it is more useful for the shadow dancer to use her 'dance of daggers' or her 'snake strike' ability - or rather, it is easy to see that they are useful in different situations, but it is hard to judge how useful they are in those situations and how often you'll see those situations. I am afraid that where many RPG designers can limit themselves to, say, 6 to 10 sessions of playtesting, this game will require a lot more testing and tinkering. This is because aspiring to tactical depth goes along with a serious possibility of breaking the system by underpowering or overpowering something or someone.
  2. Cool powers immediately open up a wealth of tactical possibilities. Almost all cool powers are actions you can take instead of the standard actions, increasing the number of options. Because using cool powers generally costs 'passion', a medium-term dwindling resource, you can't just use them all the time. Will you use your passion to increase your defense, or rather your damage? If your damage, do you prefer a big one-time boost that you can spend rerolls on to maximise, or rather a constant and reliable, but much smaller, boost that stays in force throughout the fight? Are you willing to trade in chance to hit for increased damage? Is it worth it to take the risk associated with a snake strike, or would you do better to calmly wear down your opponent? And so forth - even in the very simple fight I mentioned above, there was already a pleasing tactical depth.
  3. Cool powers are... cool! Creating a first level character comes down to choosing a class and choosing three out of six available cool powers. I actually found myself agonising about how I wanted all the cool powers, and weighing the pros and cons of all of them before I finally made my choice... and this was only a test fight. I knew that cool powers were cool - it is what makes many CRPGs so enticing. But it is good to see that I like the powers I come up with.
Also, I like the classes I have made - all of them seem interesting to play. There is the dragon slayer, a muscled sword-wielding hero with many combat options; the shadow dancer, who fights defensively until she strikes with sudden fury; the lightning lord, an archer-sorcerer whose magic is very unpredictable; the exorcist, a healing priestess with a bloody big hammer; the blue mage, a learned wizard whose spells are both diverse and subtle; and the red mage, a furious girl wielding sword and flame, not so good on defense but dealing lots and lots of (melee) damage.

Well, back to work.

2 comments:

  1. Cool powers are fun!

    "It is quite impossible to judge whether it is more useful for the shadow dancer to use her 'dance of daggers' or her 'snake strike' ability - or rather, it is easy to see that they are useful in different situations, but it is hard to judge how useful they are in those situations and how often you'll see those situations."

    My suggestion to reduce both playtest time--and, later, the possible need for nerfing--is to use the metagame to push "how often you'll see those situations" off onto the players.

    I see from the "Design Considerations / Appropriate Adversity" post that you're already putting this into the system. What if, for every encounter in which a player uses only standard actions, she gets a token? At the place/special/monsters die-roll for any later encounter, she can spend that token (or tokens) to push the result up or down a notch.

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  2. Brendan, that is pretty cool! I'm going to think about that.

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