Saturday, July 26, 2008

group orders

Holy smoke, Term 2 has just flown by. Okay, so here’s that new post I promised oh so long ago.

A thing that always bothered me about Warhammer 40K when I first played it was the need to put people in units. It was really the first big-scale wargame I’d played before, and I just didn’t understand why you would want 10 men to stand within arms length of each other in a world of explosives and machine guns. It has come to make sense, however I always kind of thought that there should be the option of scattering your troops.

So, I decided when I started designing Escape from Illeria that if characters were going to work in a unit, it needed to be a tactical choice, done purposefully by the player for a perceived benefit. And thus arose group actions. Basically, in this game you only had a limited number of orders your general could give. If a group of characters were arranged closely together, and you wanted them all to do the same thing, you could consolidate your orders (i.e. “You three, go kill that ogre!”). This had the advantage that no one was permanently grouped together, but just acted together when it was convenient.

I think the rule has given me trouble from the beginning, although it has always seemed worth it. During my first playtest, well, I realized that if everyone in a group could use Teleport, they could rush a single character, and she’d be a goner, then do it again and again. So, I had to make modifications, and only allow certain abilities to be used as group actions. The list kept getting smaller. I don’t know, I think it was the last game I played where I realized that having shoot as a possible group action seemed too powerful. I think if I took that one out, it would leave move, retreat, and the rare special ability. I started to wonder if maybe the best solution was just to get rid of them altogether. I don’t know, I’ll see. It will certainly change the dynamics of the game (amongst other things, it seemed like that was a good reason to try to specialize, although it became less and less as it could be applied to fewer and fewer things). I’ll see if I like it better that way.

The one thing that does worry me about this change is that it will make rushing an optimal strategy. The nice thing about group actions in the past is that, if you played it right, you could make all of your characters act. Now, you won’t be able to (or, hypothetically I could give you so many more orders that you could, but that would take a lot of the strategy out of it). So, because of this, I’ll need to be careful to stop rushing from being the optimal strategy. I think my solution is just to limit the number of actions you can make per world each turn.

*sigh* I wish there were more gamers out here. Oh well, take care!


(and in honor of the somewhat recently deceased...)

“I am an outsider by choice, but not truly. It’s the unpleasantness of the system that keeps me out. I’d rather be in in a good system. That’s where my discontent comes from, from being forced to choose to stay outside.” – George Carlin

“If no one knows when they are going to die, how can we say that anyone died before their time?” – George Carlin

Friday, June 6, 2008

It's been too long...

Hello World,

Wow, it's been a long time since I've updated this. I guess sparse internet access will do that. So, my job with WorldTeach started, so I've been back teaching high school in a village in Africa. I won't say “loving every minute of it,” (and I dare you to find me a teacher in the world who would describe their job that way), but very much glad to be back. I don't know, it's actually kind of easier the second time around.

Anyways, term 1 ended about a month ago, and I had 3 weeks off for the winter holiday, and started thinking about Illeria again. I started considering old problems that I had been having, and wanted to share a few of them.

The big one I wanted to talk about was magic. During the last game I playtested, my roommate started saying that the magic system seemed to be broken, and that making one of each character's doppelgangers (remember, in this game each character is linked to a being in another world, a “doppelganger” is the term I use to refer to that other being), but not both, a spellcaster seemed to be the optimal strategy. I guess I should step back and explain my magic system first. As I think I already described, each character gets 2 abilities in each world. For 1 ability point, a character could become a spellcaster, and gain access to 1 group of spells (for 2 points, they could further improve their magic-using abilities). A spell group gives you access to 5 different spells, and there are 7 groups. Without getting into the nitty-gritty, spells are not cast automatically (the way they are in, say, D&D), but rather they have a failure chance. The harder the spell, the higher the failure chance. Also, each time a character casts a spell, she gains something called Residual Magic (RM), which increases her failure chance for all future spells. Thus, if I throw a fireball on turn 1, I have a 50% chance of casting it correctly. If I throw another one, I have a 25% chance, and so on. I have it arranged so that your first spell is nearly an automatic success (unless it is something like a big summon or a fireball), but after that it starts getting harder. Also, whenever you fail to cast a spell, something bad might happen (from taking damage, to having your target redirected, to summoning an evil monster). I keep toying between something bad happening 33% or 44% of the time, though am heavily leaning towards the later (unless it really is way too much).

So, my roommate complained that this was too good, because for 1 ability point, you effectively got 5 abilities. As he put it, if you wanted someone with a bow and a the ability to summon wolves, that costs 2 points. If you chose Metal Magic, you got that, plus a curse-type spell, and it only cost you 1 point. Also, because RM is shared between both doppelgangers, it is too much of a deterrent for a player to make both a spellcaster. I think he had a good point, so here is what I've thought about.

The changes I'm proposing thus far are this: If you only spend 1 ability point on being a spellcaster, you can casts spells, but are rather crappy. To gain the ability to cast spells at any decent level, you'll need to spend both points. However, spellcasting ability is cumulative, so if you spend 1 point in each world, it's the same as spending 2 in one world. Thus, if you want to either be a very good spellcaster, or else to gain any other type of magic ability, you'll need to be a spellcaster in both worlds. Along with that, I'm thinking of making it that you have some ability to share spells between worlds, and to make it easier to cast spells which you can use in both, which I hope should offset the fact that you share your RM with both doppelgangers.

I'm debating whether I want to do more than that. I've considered increasing the difficult of all spells slightly, although I'm not sure if I want to go that far. The way I feel is that if you get Fire Magic, sure you have access to 5 different abilities, however every time you use them you risk blowing yourself up, so perhaps that balances things out. I don't know, that's the one annoying thing about this continent, all of my gaming buddies are an ocean away, so mostly I am just stuck with theory.

Anyways though, thanks for listening. I need to stop taking a break and get back to grading homework. Next time I'll mention group actions, and a few other small-ish changes.