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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Dev Diary: Examining RPG concepts

I've got diagonal movement, proper obstacles, and the map is now "player centric" or keeps the player in the middle of the map. I'm almost to the point where I need to make real decisions about the RPG framework itself. I actually have an old pen and paper RPG that I wrote in college - but it required a heavy amount of dice management. Fine when you are rolling a handful of dice, not so much for the quick point and click action I'm looking to get. I'll probably review it tonight to see what I can steal, but I thought I'd take today and ponder on some of the classics of RPG design and see if they make sense for me.

That and wait for the Macworld keynote.

So let's see:

Hit Points
I've honestly never understood HP. I mean, the basics make some sense. Creatures have health which can be decremented. More powerful attacks decrement more readily. Zero equals death. There's some simplicity of math there. What I don't get is the concept that more experienced creatures can automatically take more damage. I mean, was my level 10 thief that much more healthy than when he was a level 1? Surely a goblin sword to his kidney would have about the same effect either way?

It seems like overall health would be more of a measure of endurance and size rather than wisdom and training. Since a lot of RPG systems don't favor overall stat increases - why should the overall health sky rocket?

To Hit Ratios
"To Hit Armor Class 0" or "THACO" is the prime concept of D&D style combat. It actually seems confusing at first because a big and slow palading in full plate might be harder to hit than a mouse. But it really factors in a mulititude of aspects like speed, armor, experience, etc.

If you want to dwindle everything down to a couple of dice rolls, it's a pretty solid method. However, in doing so, you've also reduced all your action down to the same concept. Your ability to dodge is intertwined with your armor and so on.

Random Critical Hits
I find it interesting that even Marvel Alliance uses this concept. It certainly raises a characters's overall ability to deal out damage - the problem is that might not be when they really need it. Dealing double damage to a spider sucks when your facing the Troll King.

Food and Ammo Management
This is so totally a design thing. Realism versus action. Do you want to force heroes to face starvation? An empty quiver? Since I want to streamline as much as possible, these things probably aren't on my plate. I was going to consider light management, but I'm thinking that will get ditched as well.

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Anonymous said...

Hit Points - I think this is done to show that, as your player grows in skill, their 'survivability' rises - they're getting better at taking blows to nonvital areas, dodging, reading their enemies. You could just display health as 100% and then adjust it as they level, with 100% allowing them to take more and more damage - but then you'd have the exact same system as increasing a hit point number, only too vague to be useful. HP is transparent and provides instant feedback. I've seen pen and paper games with more complex systems, different types of wounds with their own effects, but they quickly spiral into major micromanagement. HP sums up all these possibilities. I can't remember which RPG does it, but

I've seen a system which uses wound counters, light and heavy. The player is much harder to hit, but they can only take so many wounds. So, for example, six light and three heavy wounds. You can mitigate a heavy wound by turning it into two light wounds, but once your light wounds are full you take heavy wound damage. After combat, light wounds are taken away but heavy remain until you heal/visit a doc. Taking a fourth heavy wound results in death. You could apply different effects for different wound 'levels' - bleeding, limb damage, dizziness, incapacitation.

To Hit Ratios - from what I understand, current D&D forgoes this system in favor of . . . something. Might be worth looking to see what they use instead. With a straight wound system armor becomes much more important - it absorbs possible wounds but takes damage.

Random Critical Hits - don't necessarily need to be random. Arcanum had a system whereby doing certain things (risky stuff like taking on higher-level foes) would net special points that could later be applied to heroic actions. So you could tag your next hit as a critical, or 100% to lockpick for the next round, et al. I like providing agency to players. This also forces them to make an actual decision - use a point for a big hit now or save it for the boss? Or a random crit system could solely cause effects rather than straight damage - crippling a limb, stun, instant kill, disarm (basically use it to add in combat details instead of just 'you hit big').

Food and Ammo - apparently there are people who like to manage food -I've never met any of them. Though it might be something to add for specific sections, like "You are traveling far away from ready food sources, you must stock rations." I've never considered food management anything but an unnecessary annoyance. Do players have to roll to see if they have to use the bathroom? What about sleep? No thanks.

Ammo management, though, is perfectly reasonable. I've never been entirely happy with ranged damage though - it's typically underpowered. Getting shot with a bow should be rough for almost any enemy. They've now got a big wooden splinter jammed into their flesh - that's gonna cause constant pain and continue to do damage until they pull it out, especially if they close in for melee. A good bow skill would allow the player to target for different results - a leg shot will slow the enemy down enough to sink another arrow or two in them, an arm shot will slow their attack (weapon arm) or block (shield arm), a gut shot will cause steady wound buildup.

Good luck on the design. Though I'd like to see more work done on Carter. Lots of great ideas in that simple system.

Josh said...

Excellent points - thanks for the in-depth response.

Yeah, I agree re: HP - but it still feels odd to me. I'm leaning to using a system of combat with an emphasis on blocking, dodging and "absorbing" (or just letting the armor get hit). I like the "light, medium, heavy" concepts though. And effects are quite possibly in the works. I want it to be fluid enough that you can order an attack in a couple of clicks, but detailed enough that combat isn't strictly linear (or shallow).

I'm considering relying heavily on energy. So if you want to make a stronger attack, use energy. Stronger defense (dodge or block), use energy. Bigger weapons and heavier armor will have an energy cost. This way a well rested hero can easily avoid harm, but will have to manage their strength.

re: THAC0 ... Have I really been away from D&D rules that long? :) Next you'll tell me they have skills ;)

re: Random Crits: yeah, I think this will get looped into the energy system. If you really want to behead that orc, power up the attack.

re: Ammo ... hrm good point. I was potentially walking down the "unlimited ammo, but watered down" approach. Maybe ammo should be a limiting factor on more powerful missle weapons like crossbows (which are historically pretty lethal).

re: Carter. I would expect to get back to it. In truth, some of this came out of ideas of blending storyworld ideas back into the framework, so there might be lessons learned which loop back into it.

Thanks again!